What is this place? She seems to have come a long, long way away. Somewhere at the end of a long walk, a long, nameless drive. Across mountains and rivers, fields and forests. Manisha can see walls, coarse and earthy. She can see stars in faraway lands…is that the sky, and a window? Is that a doorway, there, afar?
Manisha turns at the corner and reaches over another part of the maze. She has been walking for a long time now, or wait, is she climbing up stairs? For she is moving higher up with every step and the world descends below her, step by step. There are mosses on the wall. There are tea-light candles in different colours, hanging from the roof. Lavender, chamomile, thyme, lily, rosemary, lemongrass and sandalwood. Like the ones she collects, the ones she stores away in anticipation of special occasions, special guests… But, what is the occasion today?
A metal handle, cold as brass, glistens under the wrap of her fingers, for she is now standing before a door. She pushes the door to get in. There, a matchstick strikes up against brown dots… And now, suddenly, there is light….
And, as it seems now, Manisha is back in the coffee shop from last evening!
There, the dreamcatchers are swaying from left to right and back, like pendulums. As if, if this were a dream, they are timing her in it.
Wait, is this a dream? What time is it now? And, where’s the breeze coming from? Tinkling sounds in the air… Or, does she hear a church bell now?
The old man comes out from behind the counter and places a glass of water on the table, filled to its brim; his eyes, bright as candles. He smiles at her and Manisha smiles back. He knows her, she knows. He always did. But what does he know about her?
A cup of American cappuccino arrives before her, steaming, forming shapes in the air like clouds. Mists. Rains.
She is suddenly swept by images, of kids in white shirts and pleated skirts, blazers… The Sunday masses, the quiet lap of tall, white candles into which the fire melts its destiny. They’d hold the candles as they walked to the church, waiting to put fire to them, waiting to bow their heads down, together, in a prayer… The bell would ring in a melody of peace, vibrations in form of circles, expansive, eyelids down. Quiet evenings, services…the touch of satin, the white frilled end of the gown that she held out for the bride, her friend’s sister. She was reading out a vow, looking at the boy, blushing. The words formed shapes on her lips, almost mythical, under the stillness of the candles and the chimes of the bells.
And, where is that other man?
Yes. Like her, he too has come. He too has taken his place, at his own table.
Pale green checked shirt, a black frame around his thick glasses. The man sits at another corner of the shop, sketching a sketch with quick strokes of a pencil, occasionally looking up. Before him on the table sits a square piece of crystal base—a decoration made of pebbles and sea shells, and… is that white sand?
Is he empty too, like her? Alone? Like her?
But wait, she is not alone. She only has this strange, irrational, nagging void working its way in her. When it comes, it makes its presence felt, this emptiness. Like a serpent, evil, hideous. Is it an emotion, this void? The dreamcatchers, they are swaying, pregnant with dreams. They make a tinkling sound against each other. Can they give dreams, if she asks? What dream would she ask for?
Is this a dream, now?
Manisha watches this man intently, as if there’s nothing else to do than to sit here and watch a stranger, in the light of candle flames, against the cadence of splashes and careening thunders… Manisha keeps looking at him. His eyes, aren’t they kind? She suddenly feels a breeze pass her through, safe, soothing. Like someone has wrapped her up in a blanket. Like someone has lit her up a fireplace in the middle of a snowstorm… Assured and alive. Rescued. Abundant.
But, who is he?
This man looks calm, composed. He looks comfortable with the time and space, the here and the now. His face does not give away the slightest hint of any emotion. He takes off his glasses and wipes them, and then puts them back. He is getting up from his chair. And look, he is walking up to her. But why?
Manisha shifts in her chair, suddenly uneasy. For that man is now coming towards her table. He is looking back at her.
She does not take her eyes off him. He looks so alive, and yet he is so ancient, as if he has always been, always. It seems that they have known each other for a long time. Through ages, through time and back. Across river banks and temple staircases, across branches of wood on the mountain slopes, through solar eclipses and the stars.
But, how does he know her?
And, does she know him too?
For now, he has almost reached her. And, she too has stood up to him. He is looking at her. Stubbles on his cheek, the soft brown tan on the skin beneath them. His eyes…long eyelashes, those deep, dark pupils looking straight at her. There, Manisha can see herself in them, right at the centre. She has split; she is into two, on each of his eyes. His eyes, they hold her…a gaze, fixed and piercing. His forehead, the bridge of the nose. His chin, is he very proud? He had brown eyes, freckles on his face skin. He smiles. He is so lovely. Not handsome, no, but…what is upon her, pray?
And…what does he want, now? For now, he is walking closer.
He walks into her, impelled. As if she is not opaque anymore. His body, it blows in the air.
And she? She takes a step towards him, a step closer. She gives her up to him. She grants him, herself.
He smiles as he holds her, firm and tight, by her shoulders. Manisha lets herself be held. To be kept safe. Be cocooned. Rescued.
He blows into her like a feather, unbodied, dissolved. They melt into each other.
They become one.
You can buy the book here – https://www.amazon.in/Elixir-Sinjini-Sengupta/dp/9385854542