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Notion Press Singapore Short Story Contest 2017

The Christmas Gift

By Divya Dixit in Romance

"You're beautiful", Aaden whispered in a deep, husky voice looking at Veda without blinking an eyelid. "And you are flirt", she proclaimed with an assertion. He gawked and all his facial muscles twitched in sync. An unaffected Veda closed her book and said, "Well, I am done for now. When are you leaving, by the way?" Aaden stood up and walked towards the passage where he had removed his shoes. Tying his shoelaces, he gave an angry look to Veda and banged the door as he left.

"Of course this has upset him", Aditi tried to reason with Veda. "He loves you. We all know. You know," she said emphasizing on 'you'. Veda was sarcastic in her come back, "Love, my dear, is a failure of imagination that too in epic proportion."

The next few days were normal except Aaden didn't talk to Veda. He didn't say even a passing 'hello'. The silence between them was deafening. Veda started feeling guilty and in a bid to clear this uneasiness she decided to talk to him.

"I want to talk to you", Veda was standing beside Aaden's desk.

"Why?" Aaden was nonchalant in his response.

"As if you don't know", Veda tried faking confidence in her voice. Aaden gave her a look which would pierce through a warrior's jacket. He fumed, "I don't know. You tell me why?" This time Veda was pleading to him, "Please Aaden, I want to talk to you. Please." Yet, Aaden was in no mood to relent, "Why would you like to talk to a boy whose only motive is to bed you? Who is a lustful wolf! Madam, you are a good girl and you must stay away from a bad boy like me." This time there was no come back from her.

We all have the past which grips our thoughts. Its shadow defines our every sunny day. Yet, the brightness of the day cannot overcome the darkness of the abyss. Outside you may be a confident person ready to take on the world, but in the interior, there is a wreck losing the battle of survival. Veda wanted to trust people. She wanted to experience love. But how could she when she was still coughing up water from the last time she was left to drown.

The chains of her abusive past were preventing her to move towards the future. On the surface she was living a normal life; scratch a little and cracks would resurface. She had confessed to Aditi once, "Every seven years the body destroys each cell and replaces them with new ones. How comforting it is to know one day I will have a body he would have never touched." Aditi hugged her. She was her only friend. Tapping her head like a mother would do while comforting her child Aditi reminded, "You've survived a war. But your body is not a battlefield. You are what lives on after the war. You are the healing, the surviving, the rebuilding. You are that moment of victory which comes right after the war."

Today even Aditi was not talking to her. Her support system was moving away from her. She couldn't let this happen. With welled up eyes and a lump in her throat Veda begged, "Don't abandon me, please." Aditi closed her eyes. She drank a glass of water in an attempt to push the silly lump which mirrored in her throat down to her chest. She whimpered, "Come, let us talk in private."

Some of the best conversations in life happen while walking on a footpath. "I have never seen you weak Veda. Not in the office at least. We all are obliged to respect the decorum of our workplace", Aditi explained in her calm and soothing tone. "I know. But I felt so ruined..", Veda responded with that lump making a reappearance. It was refusing to leave, distorting her voice. Aditi's expressions changed. One could read the sternness on her face. She lectured," What are you, Veda? Rome? And remember, Rome is also built on its ruins. What remains is the spirit to survive, the will to remain. Circumstances happened. Now, move on. Let life happen to you. Six years have passed since. Aaden loves you. He loves you knowing your past. Love is knocking at your door. Open the door, please."

But is moving on so easy? How can you open the door when in the past the same door you opened ambushed you? How can you allow someone in your heart when the last time you did so, destroyed you? You are a product of your actions, of your decisions. In a way, of your past. Veda was hesitant because her yesterday had more blood on the bed-sheet than one can imagine.

Veda looked at Aditi and said, "I promise to try. Only if it was as easy as you said." Taking a deep breath Aditi lectured, "Every time a gaseous nebula collapses a star is born. So collapse. This is not your death. This is your birth."

Realization is a tricky word. So long as you are away from it, you are in search of it. The moment you achieve it, you regret every passing minute of your life. Realization is of little consequence once the moment is gone. Veda didn't have one but many such lost moments. She always thought about Aaden as a philanderer and his expression of love towards her, his lewdness. Although her analysis about Aaden wasn't wrong, he did have a reputation of a flirt, there is no smoke without fire. Life took a strange but beautiful turn when Aaden met Veda. Her obscure nature puzzled him. She made him think. She would talk to no one but Aditi. He tried to approach her a couple of times but her cold stare froze him. He couldn't muster the courage to talk to her. Women would fall for his charm but this woman didn't even notice his presence. And then he came to know about her past...

Veda's wounds were not for public consumption but gossip needs no legs, it travels through the mouth without any consideration. There came a time when Aaden realized why Veda always wore a cold garb around her. Her restrictive nature, her touch-me-not attitude, her avoiding him all the time. Aaden took it upon himself to protect her. He became her self-appointed knight in shining armor. He along with Aditi tried hard to isolate Veda from colleagues and so-called friends who talked negatively about her. Like a flower, Veda had blossomed. Thanks to her friends, she got a second chance to boom.

In a candid moment, she confessed to Aaden, "You know about me what I don't know about myself." Aaden retorted, "Oh my Lanta!" Veda cross-examined, "Are you having heartburn? You must go to a pharmacy." Aaden knew it was his moment, "Heartburn, yes. But not the way you are thinking." Veda's forehead crinkled in confusion. Aaden didn't want to miss this moment, "Veda, you know about me. I am not going to defend my reputation. But I want to confess, you've changed my perspective. You've given this direction-less man an aim in life. I have realized there is more to life than sex. Life is not always about 'having a good time' but also about 'sharing some good times.' I want to sit next to you remain silent. I want to sit next to you and talk. I want to sit next to you and shout. I want to be a part of you, forever. I want you to be mine. I want me to be yours." Aaden was panting by now. He was waiting for Veda's response. His heart was beating faster than the wings of a hummingbird. Her eyes were wide and she made several attempts to speak, but no word came out of her twitching lips. And when it did, it was a no. A plain, simple, No.

Aaden tried to convince Veda but she was adamant. Recovery was not an option for her. Hatred of the self is exhausting. Indeed. He had no other option but to wait until the time she was tired of hating herself. But the human mind is frail and patience isn't a virtue which everyone possesses. Veda's unwavering no was pushing him away from her. And one day it did happen....

Falling in love is easy. Having sex is easier. But bumping into someone with whom your soul can establish a connection is rare, sometimes once in a lifetime. The prick was even more painful when she would see a couple, holding hands and walking in a sun-kissed afternoon. Murmuring sweet nothings in each other's ears, giggling and falling over each other; watching them Veda would often question herself, "Why didn't I give him a chance? Why didn't I give myself another chance?"

With every passing day, the emptiness in her life only increased. Aditi's words echoed in her ears - Every time a gaseous nebula collapses a star is born... collapse.. collapse... birth... collapse... But, Aaden was long gone. He had not left as much for Veda's happiness as much for his own peace. Unrequited love is like an unanswered prayer - you can only wonder why, but not question 'the why'...

Absence is magic. Only your absence can reinstate the importance of your presence. Veda had a tough task ahead; finding Aaden. But this one was easier in comparison to finding love.

After weeks of emails, social networking, and phone-talking, Veda had finally got Aaden's contact. He was working for a nonprofit organization. The organization was preparing for a grand Christmas event for all the registered orphanages in the city. Aaden was the chief supervisor for this event. Veda called him and expressed her wish to meet him. Though surprised by her call, there was no reason he wouldn't meet her. He told her about the event and requested if they could meet at his office where they were preparing for this grand Christmas party. She agreed.

She saw him after a year. Tears of joy were trickling down her eyes. She wanted to hug him but restrained. She was experiencing life, like never before. He came close to her and said, "I don't have a handkerchief now, let me get a tissue for you." She jolted to reality, "Oh! I didn't realize. Don't go anywhere, I will use my sleeves." He smiled. To make her comfortable he didn't ask about the tears though he had this inescapable urge to ask her - Really, you're crying. Diverting the topic he said, "Hey come in. I will show you our Christmas decoration. You're going to love it. It is... “His words didn't reach her ears. She was looking at his face, his eyes, his nose, and his lips

After a hot cup of coffee, she asked, "Why didn't you contact me after leaving?" He questioned back, "Why? What was the point?" She didn't answer this one and started staring outside the window. He deflected the topic again, "How is your job going on?" She answered, "Good." And then started a mundane session of how, when, where, was. "What is happening to me?" she thought in her mind, "I didn't come for this. And what has happened to him? He knows why I am here and he is not helping me at all." Aaden was asking her questions but he was not asking the question she wanted him to ask her. The conversation was going nowhere when she popped, "Are you in a relationship?" Wrinkles of surprise appeared on his forehead, "Not yet. But what has happened to you? Why this question?" Veda tried to play it off, "Just like that." Taking a deep breath Aaden said, "Sometimes people change for good." Veda gave a blank look at him and affirmed, "Yes." With his eyebrows knitted close together he asked, "What?" Realizing her silliness, Veda babbled, "Nothing. I am getting late. I will see you later. Bye."

Aaden didn't try to stop her. As he looked at Veda going away from him once again, he murmured, "You have to overcome your own demons, Veda. No one but only you can help yourself. I am not going to say what you want to hear. Never." He went back to decorate the Christmas tree.

Walking on the dusty street Veda's head was banging with thoughts, "What has happened to me? Why can't I say what I want to say?" She had come all the way to confess her feelings to him and what did he do? Didn't he realize why she had come there? Why was he acting cold and indifferent towards her? Tired with the influx of thoughts, Veda sat on a bench nearby. Resting her head on the headrest of the bench, she was trying hard to break the chain of thoughts. This is when her meek, inner-voice, asked her, "Why are you waiting for him to give you a sign? Why are you waiting for him to happen to you? Why don't you go and scream in his ears and tell him about your feelings for him?" This time Veda didn't try to subdue her inner voice. She didn't try to defy it with logic. She didn't come to any conclusion. She didn't reason with her inner voice. Whether he will accept or reject her was not the question - It was all about this moment which might never come again.

Veda mustered all the courage she had and went again to Aaden's office. He was not there. She went to the lobby and checked a couple of rooms. He wasn't there either. She saw a peon and he told her Aaden was in the central hall. She rushed towards the central hall and saw him busy attaching candies on the tree. She smiled in relief. She went towards him and tapped on his shoulder. He turned around, "ACK! You're still here!!" She said trying to control her fast-paced breathing, "Yes. And before you say anything, I want to confess." Aaden didn't say a word. His face was devoid of any emotions but his heart was beating fast, very fast. Veda continued as tears of ecstasy trickled down her cheeks, "I know I am late. And I regret it but I want you to give me another chance. You remember I once told, you understand me the way even I don't understand myself. It still holds true. Will you still hold my hands..." That strange little lump reappeared and Veda couldn't speak any further. She was waiting for an answer. But what had happened to Aaden? He looking her without blinking an eyelid. Veda couldn't look in his eyes any further. She decided it was best to leave. Just as she was about to leave, Aaden hugged her in a timeless embrace. He murmured in her ears, "Don't sweat being late; you’ve always been worth the wait.”

Copyright Divya Dixit
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