The Girl Who Died Next Door - 9

Almost blue.


(Story so far: A new neighbour moves into the vacant apartment next door to Kavya, a television professional. His name is Shayan and he's an artist. The apartment had been abandoned after Suvarna, the teenaged daughter of the family that lived there, committed suicide. Shayan becomes obsessed with Suvarna's spectre and paints her day and night, allowing her to age and live through his canvas. His obsession comes in the way of Kavya's strange fascination for him, and keeps their story from ever becoming something more than a neighbourly friendship.)

I saw Shayan so little these days that it almost felt like I'd gone back to my neighbour-less days. I was almost blue, because I wasn't sure that it mattered whether I saw him or not. Chet Baker's Almost Blue seemed the perfect choice for the moment. As the mellow notes caressed my weary, melancholy soul, everything seemed clearer; all those times Suvarna had averted her eyes from me, in fear I had thought. But suddenly, I was reminded of a woman in the train who bore burn scars all over her neck and arms. Her eyes had held the same furtive, frightened flutter. One might have perceived it as hostility but fear was what it really was and perhaps, a call for help. Was Suvarna's seeming avoidance of my company a convoluted cry for help? Were the rumours about the servant true after all? And if so, perhaps she was having her revenge on me for not coming to her aid; for not hearing her silent, veiled pleas. Perhaps that was why she had chosen to monopolise Shayan's canvas - both physical and mental. That canvas seemed to have become her playground; a sorry substitute for life. Sorry? Really? My mind whispered. It was right of course. There was nothing sorry about the medium Suvarna had chosen. Within his palate, Shayan possessed every fathomable colour; every hue known to mankind. Did life offer such a wide choice? It does, but the tragedy is that much of this choice is out of reach. If our lives were paintings, there would be a dominant spectrum of colours in each but none would boast of every colour in the kaleidoscope. None would be able to say - "I've seen it all." Perhaps, living within Shayan's brush-strokes was not such a bad idea after all. Idly, I contemplated haunting Shayan when I died.

***

The doorbell rang one Saturday morning, while I was deep in alcohol-induced slumber. In my dream, I missed a step but before I could plunge headlong into nothingness, my eyes cracked open. For a moment, I thought I was suspended in mid-air in a land of no-return. Sometimes I think I had a narrow escape from being marooned in that world of no sensations except heart-stopping dread. My head spun when I stood upright. It seemed that the phantom of last night's inebriation was still determined to haunt me. I decided not to fight it. With the honey-brown phantom's arms wrapped snugly around my neck, I walked unsteadily to my door. When the clouds cleared, quite unlike the stubborn monsoon sky, I saw a dishevelled Shayan shuffling on my doorstep. His eyes simply wouldn't focus on one single spot and I wondered if he could have possibly downed more whiskey than I had the previous night. And then he surprised me by reaching for my hands. "Kavya, you have to help me. She's going to die and I have no idea how to stop it! I simply cannot stop painting." I watched his features contort with pain and desperation and contemplated upon the warmth in his fingers. I like people whose hands are warm and heavy with something pleasant. People with cold, clammy hands make me want to jerk away with a combination of distrust and repulsion. "Show me," I said, and followed Shayan into his apartment. Our hands were still entwined and I had to hold my breath so stop his warmth from seeping into me.

His apartment looked even worse for wear than the last time I had set foot in it. And yet, the blasts of colour that emanated from the portraits carefully stacked all over, somehow made the rooms beautiful. And I hated them for it. I hated the fact that every stroke resonated with careful deliberation and loving perfection. I despised the softness in her features and the dreamy wistfulness in her eyes. I wanted to shut my eyes against the realisation that that was exactly what Suvarna might have looked like, had she made it past the turbulence of her youth. "I wished I'd known," I found myself saying. "Known what?" "That the servant was molesting her. I'm sure of it. She tried to tell me, many times. Not in so many words but in several other ways. I wish I hadn't been blind." If I had bothered to listen, Suvarna would still be alive, Shayan would have never been a part of my memories and he would still be smiling and sane. He would still be himself and not this raging mass of despair that now stood over me, refusing to let go of the comfort of my skin. I jerked my hand away and for a moment, enjoyed the hurt that crossed his face. Of course, that was immediately followed by regret. That seemed to define most of my life - impulse followed by regret. "Where's the last painting?" I asked and followed the motion of Shayan's pointing fingers. There she was, Suvarna, in her twilight days, her beautiful features wizened by the curvature of years and her milky glow dimmed by the shadows of approaching oblivion. "I don't want her to die," Shayan whispered, the thickness in his voice like a coil around my bones, pressing until they threatened to snap. I made the mistake of speaking my mind. "Isn't it a good thing? You'll be free, at last." Bony hands were gripping me by the hands and enraged eyes threatened to set my face aflame. "Free?" Shayan said, the low decibel of his voice pooling at the bottom of my heart like inky fear. "These have been the best days of my life, Kavya. I have never felt so absolutely absorbed in my life and my art as I have felt these last few days. With every wrinkle and silvery strand that I paint, I find my soul shrinking. I fear there may be nothing of me left when she's gone." With a start, I realised that my eyes were moist. This was unexpected. It struck me that Shayan had spoken of Suvarna as though she were his soulmate. "Why don't you ask her what to do then?" I said coolly, wrenched his fingers off my reddening arm and managed to walk out of his apartment without shivering once.

I spent the next hour staring vacantly into the morning, from my perch on the balcony, resisting the strange moisture in my eyes.

(To be continued)