The Photo Album
The Photo Album
By M. Awais Aftab
By M. Awais Aftab
He was sitting in his personal library reading Sartre's Nausea when he heard the shrill, complaining howl of wind outside, as if the wind goddess was venting out her anger. He put down the book on the side table, took off his reading glasses and walked up to the locked window. He hadn't seen it ajar since… he couldn't remember the last time. With a strong jerk, he yanked it open. An eager burst of cold air greeted him, and he shivered in reflex. "Huh… it's cold!" slipped out of his mouth without warning. He stared outside at the starless horizon. The night was like a young maiden with dark hair -- dark like magic, dark like memories. He had never felt comfortable in cold, and even now his chest, a chronic victim of bronchitis, was suffering from the merciless hammering of the arctic air, but somehow he was tempted; like a priest caught in the glutinous gaze of a prostitute. He felt the warmth being sucked out of his limbs. The goddess was fuming indeed but it was the frosty nature of this fury that mystified him. Something was out there; and that something was trying to tell him something. He didn't know how long he stood there like that; the chilly fingers of the tempest playing with his body.
Time had frozen but not his wall clock, which announced the arrival of midnight with mechanical indifference. That striking broke the mesmerism of the moment, and he drew back. His hair ruffled, his skin pale, his mind confused; he panned his gaze around the room, searching for some unknown item. And he found it, the electronic calendar on the far corner of the shelf displaying the date. He spoke the date aloud, and the gale shrieked in affirmative. He sat down on the couch, weakened by the realization. So many years had passed since that day. He shook his head in disbelief.
Slowly, he rose and staggered to a closet. The stiffness of the lock bore witness to the dark, ancient moments caged inside. It was a prison of memories… memoirs that had gone delinquent and needed to be incarcerated. With shaking hands, he took out a photo album, clad in a dark binding. Sitting on a chair, he flipped the cover with hesitation. It was a moment of asking the old questions again, questions which had no answers. Every picture in it had a story to tell -- tales of love, sacrifice, and tragedy. There were relationships that just died away; there were intimacies that were brutally murdered, there were affairs in which he was the victim. "Why is this particular one so special?" he wondered; perhaps because she was still a mystery, perhaps because he had never understood her. She had walked away with silence, and that silence still permeated his existence. Like a wild question mark, she drifted along every sentence of his life. Like background radiation, she was always present. Would he ever encounter her again? He did not know, but he would not complain even if he did not -- an enigmatic, unanswered love was something he could live with; something which would make him still ponder when he would have forgotten even the names of other women. He would always ask himself the question, "If she didn't love me, why did she come back, only to leave me again?" He would remember her as the woman whom he had failed to understand, who had always left him perplexed, who had defied all his precious axioms of human behaviour. He closed his eyes and began to hum a song that came out of the memory attic:
"Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Even the stars refuse to shine
Out of the back you fall in time
I somehow find
You and I collide…"
And without realizing, he drifted away into sleep. The photo album was still on his lap but the spot on which it was opened was empty; there was no picture on that page.
[Published in Us Magazine today.]