There are things that upset us. That’s not quite what we’re talking about here, though. I’m thinking rather about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. Our hearts skip a beat a ratatat drumbeat in our chests, and we fight for breath. Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked.
And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead. There are things that wait for us, patiently, in the dark corridors of our lives. We think we have moved on, put them out of mind, left them to desiccate and shrivel and blow away; but we are wrong. They have been waiting there in the darkness, working out, practising into the gut, killing time until we came back that way.
The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mould beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, an inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night.
What do we need to be warned about? We each have our little triggers.
(Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman)
He read, a sentence longer but couldn’t read a word more. The voice in his head was slowly being replaced by her soft voice. He could imagine her reading out to him, those dark eyes of hers, always curious, always searching. Her lips, red, perfect- always slightly parted, as if she was contemplating the next lines in her mind. More often than not, she was, but it was rare, that those words would slip through her lips.
He took another drag of his cigarette, letting it out slowly; he turned the page, trying to read some more.
The words were a blur now, triggers, warnings, the words of this old tattered book stood out strongly. He shut it, almost pushed it away. He lit another cigarette, ordered another coffee- dark, and strong. Gautam was getting restless now. His feet seemed to be working faster than the thoughts in his mind.
“You’re hilarious.” She laughed, it was the second time they were meeting outside of work. He wasn’t sure how this had happened, or when actually. But he was sure of one thing, these meetings, both of them wanted more. Always. Their conversations never seemed to be enough- it was always, “One last cigarette?”, “One last coffee?” or just, “One more message?” Their conversations, they made her eyes sparkle… and this wasn’t just him being immodest. This was something that made the tables around them eager to listen, to wonder what this boy was telling this girl, that made her smile like the fireworks and stars were settled deep inside them.
That evening, she was talking about his sense of humour, and ability to notice the smallest, strangest habits of hers. She blushed at times, sometimes even tried to hide her face as she looked away. Yet, every single time they went out, she told him to tell her the strangest facts about her that only he seemed to notice.
The barista came over with that second cup of coffee, the dark and strong one. She smiled at him, noticing something in his eyes… something that wasn’t there when he walked in, yet something that seemed to want to walk a little slower, push her hair behind her ear, smile a little more.
The city of Spain was known to be the city of love, love and beginnings- that is what brought her to this beautiful city of Seville and leave long stories and broken hearts back in Munich. She decided to start a little conversation with this mysterious stranger. Besides, it was time for her to take a break in any case. She nodded to her friend by the counter inside, her friend winking back in reply.
Gautam, indifferent to this story he was becoming a part of, searched around for some sugar when the barista who dropped by with the coffee seemed to stand around waiting for… something?
“Excuse me?” She had a thick accent, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
He looked up in her direction, her smile wide, her hair tied up neatly, a cigarette, unlit.
“Can I borrow the lighter?” Her voice was sweet, inviting. He nodded, smiled back and reached out for the matchbox she had given him when he first entered her café.
“May I?” She motioned towards the empty chair in front of him. Both of them knew that no one would be sitting on this chair tonight.
He was calm. Too calm. His table was neat, yet distracted- like his mind. A worn out book, Trigger Warning was on the table, two cups of coffee, one stained, the other still steaming, a packet of cigarettes that seemed to be almost over now, and then there he was. Sitting across from her, his eyes, they seemed to be reading her soul. He wasn’t shy, yet he was waiting for her to talk- two can play this game. And she decided she was in the mood to play today.
“Interesting book…” She began,
He surprised her, “My best friend gave it to me. She was my soul mate probably.” He lit another cigarette. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again. He blinked, settling back in his chair,
“So, this best friend… where is she now?” Was this a love story gone wrong? Her eyes fluttering to the folded yellow pages of the book.
“She’s always with me. I don’t ever need to have her, physically around me all the time.” He smiled at her. He seemed to want to tell a story, but maybe, was it, that he was always on the receiving end with his soul mate? Was she the story teller, and him the observer.
“Do you want to take a walk?” She surprised herself now. He blinked, “I’m Gautam.” Holding his hand out, she shook it, smiling a little more now. His touch made her feel a little differently. Enough for her to want to go for a walk, with this stranger who had a story to tell, probably for the first time, he was ready to share it.
They didn’t walk beside each other, but close enough to hear each other’s stories. They shared a lot, some intimate details, some vague, some even they were surprised to share with each other. But he wasn’t talking, he was doing what he felt most comfortable with. He was listening, he was being the observer. The streets of Spain, they need to hear his story, they needed to know more about his life, and less about hers.
It happened all of a sudden though. They were standing in front of a wall, she was just about to tell him how they started with sticking letters to this wall- deep promises, long secrets, there was a lot that was up on this wall. She thought she could get it on this wall, his story. But he started before that.
They found a space to sit in front of this wall, and as he stared at the foreign languages on the colourful letters, he told her his story.
He was an architect. While his name wasn’t one that would be recognised often, his work, his sketches, his thoughts- he was inspiring. He was educational. He was probably even enlightening. But he was modest- and he didn’t want any of this credit.
As they passed new and old buildings, forgotten churches, cobbled roads- he made her stop in some places, her favourite parts where when he stopped her suddenly, stood behind her, put his hands gently on her chin, pointing out sights to her that she, in a world she believed she knew, was new to her.
She prodded him about his personal life, the soul mate he wished to speak about, but he wasn’t ready just yet. There was a time though, when they were standing in front of a crossroad with signs pointing in every direction. She was looking away, her back to the signpost, while he was staring at it- more intently than he should have been.
“Do you know where she is?” She caught him staring. He genuinely was caught by surprise. She used to tease him, sitting at that café, her hair carelessly flying around her.
“You never tell me things about your life.” He laughed it off, “I don’t know when you think the right time is, but you never tell me anything.”
“She thought I used to hide things; or probably not wish to speak about them.” He told her, they both lit another cigarette. “See that sign post?” She nodded.
“Well, one direction points to Paris, and the other, it’s pointing to Sao Paulo- her two favourite cities- her heart always running in two conflicting directions.” Gautam smiled. He felt like he was deceiving their secret relationships, by talking about her like this… But he laughed.
She liked his laugh. It came from inside of his soul. It came suddenly, and every single time takes her by surprise. He spoke more, of this girl, of their relationship. She loved the way he told his story.
It almost made her jealous- she wondered out loud, “So, you love her?” Her heart pinching, surprising even herself.
His eyes lit up, his soul was ready to answer- but he stood up. His legs, again restless, his mind wandering farther away than when they began this walk of theirs.
Gautam had no idea how they began this conversation, whether it was this city that reminded him of her- or it was the way he world worked in mysterious ways. But here he was, in one of her favourite cities in the world, and no matter how many days it had been since they had last spoken, a time to which he would never be able to put a number, she would always be around him. Her laugh, her smile, the way that she looked at people around her, made stories from the world she lived in…
The more Gautam spoke about their time together, they more she wondered, does he even realise that he’s the one who made her like this? Does he realise that it was his hearty smile and his way of knowing and seeing the world that made her realise that this world, the good, the bad, the beautiful- it’s just all a part of this whole story.
He wanted her to write, he taught her how to smile, how to love, how to share. He had watched her cry, he listened to her deepest stories… Gautam was her…. Hers.
Cassandra smiled, smoked her cigarette and looked at Gautam, “So where is she know?”
He gave her that smile that made her feel a little lighter in the head. He could see the jealousy in her eyes, she tried very hard not to show it- but he wasn’t sure if she could handle an unhappy ending. His breath quickened, he couldn’t hide it from her either. Cassandra tried to ignore the fluttering in her heart. She was not expecting an end to their story, not yet-
“Do you know how architects create- when they make something, it’s long lasting. The building, that’s only the last part of it all- there’s planning, there are ideas, there’s a lot to process.” He began, they were now sitting in front of a river, the sun was setting, and setting fast.
“When we meet people, we connect with them… there is no final process to a relationship of course. But the process of building, the emotions that go with it- love, care, happiness, protectiveness, anger even sometimes, frustration… it’s an emotional turbulence, but it’s always building something. Even if it’s destruction. Even if it’s all going to be torn down in the end, there will always be a stray brick, or metal rod that once used to hold something together.
This book I’m reading, she gave it to me years ago, Trigger Warning. I hated her choice of books, or songs, they always had sad endings. Even the stories she used to write. Maybe she didn’t realise this, but I saw, hidden in those concrete layers of sadness, a smile, a smile so beautiful, so real, that it made me want to bring out the architect inside of me, and create something so special for the world to admire and see. She was my trigger. Her quivering voice in the middle of the night, or long excited emails in the middle of the afternoon; she was my trigger, and I always, always know that one day, the trigger will release.
And so before that, she had to be timeless. And she is, she’s here, like I said before… she’s around me, we have shared great memories together and probably owe a lot of who we are today to each other. My great story began listening to hers… and today,” He turned to face Cassandra, her eyes with a hint of tears, holding her delicate face in his hands,
“Today, her story, it’ll help you too.”
She hugged him, a second longer than she should have. Gautam wished her love and luck, for all the stories that he wished she would soon share. Today, he was the storyteller and tonight, he was going to write to her. It had, after all been a lifetime since they had spoken.
Photo Caption 1: Room for Conversations.
Photo Caption 2: Cassandra, the Storyteller’s Muse.
Photo Caption 3: Hope at the End of the Road.
Photo Caption 4: A Wall of Tales.
Photo Caption 5: The Road through Gautam’s Eyes.
Photo Caption 6: The Road through Gautam’s Eyes.
Photo Caption 7: The Road through Gautam’s Eyes.
Photo Caption 8: No Direction – A Story of Conflict and Love.
Photo Caption 9: The Sunset before the Storm.
From the series: Wanderings in Spain.
By: Richa Sheth, 2015