May 17, 2008
By Sanjana Mathur, Mumbai, ZZ

Reed walked along the river that flowed through the town. It was more of a stream actually, but the townsfolk took pride in calling it a river. In proportion to the tiny town, it would seem to be one anyway.
He sighed; it had been an uneventful day. His shift at the hardware store where he worked had ended early for mysterious reasons of which he would probably find out the next day. The world had no shortage of gossips, certainly not his town.
One of the reasons he wanted to leave the town and move to a city or at the very least a place larger than his current home, was the utter lack of activity other than work and the occasional outing with friends. He was reminded of this as he lay on his bed, staring up at the movement of the shadow cast by the tree outside his window onto his ceiling. The elongated period of time spent looking at the same spot from where he lay on his bed was causing spots to appear before his eyes.
“This isn’t working” Sleep didn’t come that easily at 6 o’ clock in the evening. Getting up he slipped his well-worn shoes onto his feet and pulled a jacket over his hunched shoulders. He exited his apartment, his keys safely tucked into the elastic hem of his track pants. Losing his key once before, two years ago had resulted in much trouble on his part. He had been lucky that time, his keys had been found by a person kind enough to locate him through the tag he attached to the keys. He now preferred to have the cold metal present against his skin to reassure him of its presence.
The sky had taken on a hue of pink and purple, tinged with gold where the sun could be seen sinking below the eye level. He found that watching crows fly as a flock was intriguing beyond what one would imagine. It was almost like a dance, as they flew in a circular spiralling motion. They were flapping their wings incredibly hard to maintain the sharp curve or the spiral. It was his belief that they did it to numb their senses as preparation for whatever excruciatingly long journey they had ahead of them. How correct his thought was, he did not know; but it did seem that way.
“It looks like they’re dancing doesn’t it?” came a voice from beside him. He had been too absorbed in his thoughts to notice the approaching presence of the girl now sitting besides him.
“How did you know?”
“You told me so two years ago”
Reed was powerless to stop the smile that stretched his mouth painfully wide. “Welcome back Lisa” he said squeezing her narrow shoulders together with the force of his labour-honed arms.
“Is it permanent?” he asked.
“Is what?” she returned.
“Your gracing the town with your presence” he said.
Lifting herself off the ground, she said ever so lightly with a grin gracing her features:
“The nature of my visit depends on what’s in it for me. Care to help me decide?”
“With pleasure” he said, returning her grin, “only if you would be as kind as to inform me of your whereabouts this past year, you disappeared rather suddenly you know, I never got to say goodbye properly” he said earnestly.
The speed with which her features reassembled themselves into a grim expression was almost scary.
“I’m afraid that will have to remain unknown to you for a while longer” she said, her slim eyebrows meeting. Everything about her was just so narrow and slim; almost like she could simply vanish.
His face formed a semblance of confusion. “Okay then,” he said, hesitating a moment before continuing, “Would you still care to have dinner with me tonight?”
Her smile instantly returned, relieving the tension that lingered. “You know I’d never say no” The joy filling within him by her presence could not be diminished by the mystery shrouding her past.
“I see you are keeping your key more carefully this time round” she said, eyeing the silver hanging from the waistband of his pants.
“Always. Since I could no longer count on you to be around to miraculously return it to me” he said.
It was a pleasant enough evening. Her countenance alone was enough to fill any gaps of silence that prevailed as they ate at the town’s most popular restaurant cum bar. Enjoying the warm air that tasted of steak and potatoes, the conversation revolved mostly around what had happened in the town during recent times.
Her refusal to speak about herself left most of the talking to Reed, her contribution being mostly comments on what he said, accompanied by the occasional chuckle from deep inside his throat. Given his lack of interest in local affairs, and his policy to ‘leave the gossiping to the gossips, don’t get involved’ scrounging up enough to support an entire conversation was difficult. But her presence was easing to his mind. It was what allowed him to ignore the odd looks being sent his way by all surrounding people. He was reputed for keeping to himself anyway; they were just surprised to see him socializing.
She was able to make him feel open in a way that no one else did. She wasn’t the same carefree person he had known, but the change wasn’t bad.
“Move in with me”
It was more of a statement than a question. The alarming degree by which her eyebrows shot up conveyed her surprise at his request.
“I have a place, it’s alright” she said, her lips twinging upwards in the ghost of an apologetic smile. “But I’d love to meet tomorrow”
It wasn’t until Reed was home that he realized he had neither Lisa’s address nor a phone number. He fell asleep convincing himself that he would run into her again sooner or later. It was inevitable in a small town such as his.
However, the next day he stepped out of his building to be faced by her figure standing there, a pleasant expression on her face, and a basket in her hand.
“Sorry for dropping by so suddenly, it’s a Saturday and I figured you’d be free. Picnic?” she said, lifting the basket in her hand to dangle in front of her.
She insisted on a secluded park. “I like solitude” she claimed. He didn’t really have a problem either, he never did like crowds.
He considered it his duty as a gentleman to insist upon carrying the basket containing the food. It was much heavier than Lisa had made it look. She had carried it with extraordinary ease. When he thought about it, she did make everything physical look simple, even the manner in which she walked. Her feet seemed to float just above the ground, although he attributed that to her commendable poise.
He let her pick the spot for them to settle down. She chose a nice spot well sheltered from the sunny skies.
“Its 11, would this be called breakfast or lunch?” he started.
“Let’s just settle on calling it brunch,” she laughed, “Although lunchfast would work just as well”
Careful not to breach the topic of her past, they enjoyed the picnic. Accepting her without a question was a task only too easy for him.
He continued with her in this fashion for a week more, by which time he was sure of it. He was in love with Lisa, just as he had been before she left two years ago.
He did not manage to progress beyond a week before being approached by the few friends he had in the town.
They said:
“We haven’t seen you in ages. There’s a disturbing rumour going around you know, people have been saying that you’ve gone crazy, going round town, talking to yourself. They even said you were talking to air at the bar”
“That’s bull; of course I was with someone. People just need more to talk about around here. They should mind their own business. If you must know, I was with Lisa” he said, indignance lacing his words.
Eyebrows raised, his friend said “Lisa as in Lisa Nashville? You better start listening to the talk around you. She died a year ago in one of those hit-and-runs”
“You’re joking, I’ve just been with her for the past week!” he said as his features contorted into an expression which was a mixture of horror and confusion.
“Are you sure you’re okay? Maybe there’s some truth in ‘em rumours. A visit to the doctor’s may be a good idea”
Reed stumbled backwards slightly, before abruptly spinning on his heels to run to his apartment. There he found the person that he wanted to; yet dreaded to; see.
“Hey there, I took the liberty of letting myself into your apartment with the spare key you gave me” she said.
“You’re dead, how can you be here” he asked.
“You found out sooner than I had hoped. Not questioning too deeply had always been one of your finer attributes. Looks like that isn’t the case anymore” she replied unfazed by his question.
“You’re dead, why are you here” he repeated.
“In movies this would be the part where the villain reveals their entire plot in an exaggeratedly long detailed explanation, although I’m hardly a villain. I suppose you have heard of spirits returning for unfinished business? Mine is to spend my entire life with you” she said, approaching him with her arms open to embrace him.
“No” he muttered, backing up against the wall, his deep brown eyes spinning in every direction.
“Yes,” she whispered, “I’ll be with you forever. I’ll be with you until you die. I’ll follow you wherever you go. No one will see me, no one else with invade our happiness. Quit your job, stay with me.”
He had nowhere to run as her arms wrapped themselves around him. They were so cold; they held him in place, freezing him there.
Five days later, he was found cradling himself in a corner of his bedroom. His face gaunt and bags apparent below his eyes he looked up at his co-worker with slightly wild-eyes.
“Is she gone? Is she gone?” he demanded, grabbing the front of his co-worker’s shirt with both fists.
“She said shed be back. This is my chance, I have to escape” he muttered frantically
“Escape from what man? Why haven’t you been coming to work?”
Reed’s co-worker never got his answer, as Lisa entered the room, visible only to Reed’s eyes.
“Where are you going?” she asked, her gaze pinning him to where he stood.
“Away from you.” He edged to his left; further away from the door, closer to the window.
“Reed, man, what are you doing?” He had completely forgotten about his friend.
“Freeing myself.” With that Reed climbed into the open windowsill, his now frail figure a lip of a silhouette against the evening sun pouring in.
“You know you can’t do it” taunted Lisa
“Of course I can.” To prove his statement, he took a giant leap.
He was spiralling now; spiralling just like the crows. He opened his arms wide to flap them. It was his preparation for the journey ahead.

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