DAYLIGHT was beginning to filter through the leaves. It was a new day. Mano opened his eyes slowly and felt the warmth of the sunlight streaming through the open window and on to his face.
It was silent in the old house. Sakunthala was, he presumed, already awake and out. He inhaled deeply, a frown slowly knitting his brow: the smell of toast and coffee was noticeably absent in the air. That wasn’t quite like Sakunthala. She always had coffee ready first thing in the morning.
Slowly, he turned his head. And was relieved to see her right next to him. She sleeps like an angel, he thought. So quiet. So still.
His eyes lingered on her face: Sakunthala had a beautiful face; the years had been kind to her. Though now lined with wrinkles, hers was a visage of youthful joy and laugh lines still noticeable around her mouth and eyes.
Her eyes — those beautiful soft-brown windows to her soul — were large, expressive and heavily lashed, quick to tears of mirth and sorrow. Her nose was sharp and high. And that luscious mouth…it had never failed to excite him in his youth and even now at the twilight of their lives, her well-formed lips still left him breathless.
His gaze traveled lower to her breasts. He remembered the high, proud breasts of Sakunthala’s youth. She was so beautiful, he thought; she still is.
He smiled at the memory of their first night; how he could not wait, how his hands shook as he unwound her sari and lifted her blouse, how majestic and lovely she looked unclothed. How her heartbeat would resume its slow regularity as she lay, spent, after their lovemaking.
But something was not right. Sakunthala’s chest was still. Sweat began to bead on his forehead as realisation dawned on him.
He reached out and caressed her face. She did not stir. Her skin still retained the warmth of the bed. Reaching out, he gingerly placed his finger at her nose: there was no breath. She was gone.
So quiet. So still.
Slowly, he sat up and leadenly made his way to the kitchen to put the kettle on the boil and bread in the toaster. Made coffee for two; buttered two slices of bread as if in a trance.
It was bright now. What a pretty day, he thought. “Fit for a spot of gardening” Sakunthala would’ve said on a day like this. She doted on her garden and the house was resplendent with vibrant gardenias, heliconias, hibiscus and all manner of exotic flowers and plants.
Mano stared into space. Today was supposed to be a special occasion. They were supposed to meet Sakunthala’s long-lost sister and she had planned to wear the green sari that matched her honey brown skin and brown eyes.
Calmly, he carried the tray of coffee and buttered bread to the room, his steps slow and halting from the arthritic ache in his joints.
Sakunthala was the first thing he saw as he entered the bedroom. She looked serene. So beautiful, even in death.
He placed her cup of coffee on the bedside table which held their shared memories preserved in pretty silver photo frames: Sakunthala radiant in a brilliant red and gold sari and henna-ed hands as she looked up at him shyly on their wedding day; him, young and sporting a fedora set at a jaunty angle; the two of them resting against their trusty 1960 Austin 850 after their honeymoon drive; Sakunthala bashfully waving away the camera in the garden of their first home. Her favourite musical box lay open on the table next to a clay figurine of the madonna. There were more, but his eyes had begun to mist over.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his chest. Could this be the pain one feels at the loss of a loved one? Or is this a symptom of the end for me, he thought, not daring to hope. After all, what would life be without his darling Sakunthala? Without the kisses that she gave him unfailingly each morning; without the sound of her voice humming — what a musical voice she had — as she massaged his painful back each night? What use is the heart when the heartbeat is gone?
When the pain passed, he walked to the wardrobe door. His vision was assaulted by the many hues of her clothes. Sakunthala was as colourful as her outfits. He pulled out the green sari that she had planned to wear that morning and laid it gently next to her. No point in trying to dress her up in it – he did not know how to tie a sari anyway. Sakunthala loved pairing it with a black choli with gold trimmings. She had it stitched by a tailor in Brickfields long ago, he remembers. Finding the black choli, he held it to his face and breathed in the scent of her. It was still there, the faint ylang ylang scent of her perfume.
Then the tears came: soft sobs which he tried to suppress. The pain surged through him again causing him to buckle slightly as he clutched at his heart. Maybe it was his time after all.
Mano rummaged deeper into the cupboard and pulled out his best attire — a nice cream coloured kurta and pants. He put them on and bent to kiss her, his teardrops wetting her face.
“I love you, Sakunthala. And I always will beyond this life,” he whispered to her.
Then calmly, he walked to his side of the bed and lay down, his hand on hers.
Maybe it was his time too, and if so, he wanted to be prepared. Let them find us like this, he thought. With our best clothes. In love. In bed. Together.
So quiet. So still.