Stephen Court was already burnt, but the landmarks of my schooldays thankfully unscathed: Flurys (shifted to the Street), MusicWorld and the rest. We looked up at the charred hulk of gutted upper storeys. Silently I recalled the day when flames had still been flickering, hoses spraying, politician screeched. The crowds. The bodies of those that jumped. The inherent voyeurism of the average Kolkatan when witnessing tragedy. It had been her birthday and I had other things on my mind.
So we find ourselves on another Saturday evening, post-beefsteak (no beer). What was in her mind as we stood below the white blaze of KFC, gazing up? The trajectory traced by burning souls? Not my place to wonder anymore, I admonish myself. We had parted though never having truly met.
This was just a catching-up for three old friends, a stolen gasp between relationships (hers), midsems and projects.
As I drop her home we chat freely again - of cabbages, kings, ex-s weeping over phonecalls (bogus I say!), the current older guy and pensive thoughts on a Brahmo marriage. Wondering how truly easy it was to slip into old shoes. I searched in vain for a trace of bitterness or even a glimmer of want. Just felt tired at the end of the day. And more glad than ever to have a friend near again.
"Damn, we haven't done this in a long time. Missed all this."
Put forth my toothy grin, past the enthu to read something more into polite banalities.
She left without looking back and I did not call after her. As I had often done in headier times.
Settled down as dark lanes whizzed past. There was no more turmoil, no more yearning and sudden spurts of despair-fueled attempts to own. Only a sense of disappointment - that even with more things in common than I dared hope, it always had been a fool's chance.
Tiredness once again.