Usman ascended the stairs to his college, just like any other day of the week, brimming with confidence. This was his domain. This was where he shone. In this arena, he was King.
A Dr. Faustus not yet damned to hell, that was how he viewed himself. And not even the Marlovian hero could match the sense of self importance that inflated Usman’s chest as he surveyed all those around him with the smug smirk of superiority.
He had just given a presentation. A presentation on a novel he detested. A novel he considered so beneath him, he hadn’t honoured it with more than a cursory read-over. And his presentation touched levels of sublimity that astounded even his professor. Thus, pride boosted ever higher, Usman strode with all the pomp of Napoleon marching into Italy’s capital just fifteen days after the invasion had commenced.
He stumbled. He knew that voice. He would know it anywhere. It was her, it was Amin. The most delicate tinkle of Chopin’s piano would sound jarring to his ears after the tenderness he experienced in that one word. That one, halting, faltering utterance by which she beckoned to him. It sounded as if it came from the most perfect chord ever struck on the harp of Angel Gabriel in the ninth heaven. Even hours later, the melody that was her voice resonated in his ears, which had begun to burn a fiery red.
His proud gait crumpled instantaneously, his smirk vanished and suddenly each of his limbs behaved as a foreign object each with a mind of its own. This was most certainly not his domain. In the arena of love, he was very much the lowly peasant.
He gazed around reluctantly, his brain furiously searching for the appropriate facial expression to arrange his face into. But try as it might, his face remained rigid, dumbstruck, Bambi like.
“Yes?”, he asked breathlessly.
And then came the moment. Her reply. One of those moments that lovers of literature have learnt only to expect when reading the high poetry of Shakespeare and have learnt never to expect from life. One of those moments when a simple human speech takes flight and soars to such dizzying heights that the bystander is left questioning his own sanity and the authenticity of what he has just experienced.
O! Misery! As if her voice were not sweet enough, as if his heart did not choke with an overflow of honey at the very hint of the trembling voice her feminine lungs forced forth. As if it was not ordeal enough for him to rein in his passion, his overpowering, overbearing, overwhelming lust for her at the sound of her voice alone. But now the voice that so ruthlessly marauded his heart came back with reinforcements. It arrived with heavy artillery to back it up. It arrived with poetry.
Sweet poetry, as thou burst forth from Amin’s angelic lips
Did’st thou spare a thought for this weakling heart
Whose world thou hast set alight in terrible eclipse
Whose sinews of reality thou hast rent apart?
Such power in words he had not heard, not in the learned attacks of Nietzsche, nor in the passionate discourses of Adolf Hitler. They were words darker than the observations of Oscar Wilde. Be it the unrequited love of Faiz, the dark and disturbed wit of Ghalib, the passionate overflow of Beethoven’s anger or the morbid serenity in the gnossiennes of Erik Satie, none could match the depth and fervour of her words. And yet, they were not fancy words. Not in a language tough to decipher in the manner of Spinoza or a Darwin. They were not words so removed from reality that they remained irrelevant like the words of Lao Tse. They were not words that travelled in circles, round and round until they made you dizzy like the evasive arguments of Socrates or Plato. They were words so beautiful and so apt, that he would not have been surprised if the universe’s entire existence up until then had been staged solely to set up this particular situation so that these particular words could be said at this particular moment.
“Could you explain the meaning of proliferate?”, she asked, gazing at him, “Actually, could you explain this whole chapter to me? I’m having a little trouble with my Cultural Studies paper.”
Usman stood frozen, stricken by the beauty of the words, their glorious interplay and hidden meanings. The delicious suggestive subtext. Was there nothing this Temptress could not do? Nay, she is not Amin. Aphrodite reincarnate, that is her true guise.
Neither Da Vinci’s portrait’s mystery
Nor Mozart’s operatic hell
Nor Geoffrey Tempest’s Demonic spree
Nor Black Sabbath’s satanic bell
Can compare for a moment, to Sweet Amin
They are but minions to her, the Glorious Queen
He was afraid, mortally afraid, to meet her eyes. The same fear a zebra feels when it crosses a river. Knowing that crocodiles lurk beneath, but knowing it has no other choice but to cross anyway. His eyes met hers, and he felt the shivers travel all the way down his spine. Even the immortal lines of the Beatles describing one “getting the thrill through the fingertips” seemed slightly underwhelming. What wells of despair, what rivers of melancholy she withheld behind that hardened external cornea?
I see the depth of her love for me within her pining eyes
And its glint that reminds one of long forgotten tears
I see her quivering lip and the silent plea that on it dies
And her countenance struggle to contain long repressed fears
All this he saw and his heart burst asunder. What grave injustice when an angel, too, is forced to live without the one person who gives meaning to her life. The one shining light in her dark and despairing existence. He could see within those endless depths that were her eyes, remnant memories of the long and innumerable nights that she spent weeping over the fact that she had lost him. Her flight to salvation had arrived to save her, but she had overslept.
He had always had a sympathetic heart. When it came to love, his will was always weak. He could not see her this way. Silently, he reached for her notes and then clasped them, dearly, tenderly, to his chest.
Signifying to her that no matter if she be delicate as a paper leaf, he would always be her stapler.
The message was not lost in translation. Immediately, a beautiful radiant flush began to creep up her cheeks, reminiscent of sunrise on a summer retreat in a mountain resort. He could almost hear her heart go aflutter when his finger brushed against hers while taking hold of her notes. Her breathing, usually more imperceptible than calcium deficiency spots on an albino, suddenly began to grow raspy and short. She lowered her gaze immediately and, to his eyes at least, in the same manner as Helen of Troy must have when she first came upon Paris.
But suddenly a terrible thought took hold of his brain. Perceiving the extreme effects his presence was having on her, seeing her in such an excitable state, hearing the rhythm of her heart upset itself, stutter and start over again, he feared for her. The angel was in love, but she possessed not the strength for it. Her heart was weak.
Learned creature of God that hath captured my soul
I prithee, descend not from thine Olympian altar
Stay thee elevated, and keep the heart that thou hath stole
Lest much intimacy betwixt us cause thine own heart to falter
No. It would not do. He would not have the death of such a noble and beautiful creature attached to his being. It would be a scar, a dark, brutal blemish that no future feats or even miracles would conceal.
He spoke as if in a trance. Ignoring the irony that he was teaching a Bhutanese student the need for cultural studies, he pressed on, mechanical in his discourses. However, try as he might to kill the emotion in him, some must have escaped through, for he could see she was not yet rid of the bedazzlement she had fallen under, though she tried to conceal it very well. Her heaving bosom was the only hint of the inward chaos that his presence had wreaked within her. In other respects, she remained chaste as the mother of Jesus.
He had reached the end of the chapter. His eyes made their treacherous journey back to look into her eyes one last time, and when they met, he slipped for just a second. One second was all it needed. In that one second, the almost feral passion that resided within him gushed forth and inundated his gaze with its intensity.
Nay! Friends, chide him not for his frailty. He, too, is human. He possesses his own set of weaknesses. And such a test as this proved to be one step too far for his heart. It was but a droplet from the ocean of his passion that broke through his defences and entered his eyes, but a grain of sand in the deserts of Egypt, but a leaf in the vast Amazon. Just one fragment, and she was overwhelmed.
Her look, O! Would that Homer were present to witness her expression, a thousand Odysseys would he have sacrificed for the Honor of describing that divine vision. Imperceptibly, she nodded at him, whispering the words loaded with emotion, “Thank you, I understand now.”
And lo, he was at peace. She knew! She had witnessed the abyss that resides within him from whence the molten lava that was his love for her streamed forth. She saw the fire of his emotion, spitting and crackling with the fury of Mars and carrying within them the very flames of hell. Tolkien’s Mount Doom would be put to shame by the splendour that resided within him. Dante would be forced to redefine the term inferno if he were present to witness this spectacle. He knew she had witnessed it, because he could see the reflection of his fiery flames reflected off the sweet moistness that touched her glistening lips.
O! Dread! For those words she spake
That snapped her heart in twain
O! Dread! That for this mortal’s sake
An Angel cries in pain
“Goodbye,” she said.
Usman’s heart raged, roaring in anguish at the prospect of separation. It sent out an animalistic scream that split the very fabric of the atmosphere in two, a primitive cry almost in defiance of every Divine creature from Zeus to Hades, just challenging them to bring a single tear to those incarnations of unfathomable perfection that were Amin’s cheeks.
But that same heart knew that it was necessary to leave, for love’s own sake. He was the forbidden tree in her garden of Eden. She could not possess him without losing herself. And he could not bear to be the reason of her downfall. One original sin was quite enough for a lifetime.
And so it was over.
The greatest flame of love that every burned bright
Was doused before it could even be set alight