Every Friday afternoon, Sarah and Azhar would go to the same blue park bench not too far away from the zoo at Regent’s Park. Sarah would bring with her some sandwiches, and Azhar, a flask of hot coffee. As was their ritual, she’d hand him a sandwich and he’d pour her some coffee into a tumbler. And as was their ritual, too, that they’d sit together in silence for a while before they’d begin to speak.
It was close to the end of autumn. The blazing red and gold of the leaves had long turned into several shades of sad, dull brown. The breeze that had been so sweet not too long ago had become blustery and biting with cold. The birds and the squirrels had long disappeared, leaving their playground to return home and face the harsh reality of the coming winter. But none of this mattered to either Sarah or Azhar. What mattered to them was that they were together, regardless how brief it would be.
Sarah turned to Azhar. “Doesn’t she ever ask you where you go every Friday, armed with that flask?”
“She doesn’t know about this flask, Sarah. I leave it at a friend’s place. I’d drop by there first, make us some coffee and then make my way here.”
“What a tangled web we weave…” she said, almost to herself.
“And what about you, Sarah? Doesn’t he ever ask you where you disappear to every Friday with your sandwiches?”
“Mat? He hardly notices me even when I’m at home! Anyway, he did ask once. I told him I was going to feed the ducks at the park.”
“Feed the ducks perfectly good cheese sandwiches?” Azhar chuckled
“Yes, ridiculous isn’t it? I swear to you, I’m invisible to the man except when he wants me on my back with my legs in air –”
Realising the effect of her words, Sarah reached for Azhar and touched him gently on his cheek. “I’m so sorry, darling. I didn’t mean to –”
He took her hand in his and smiled. “That’s OK, Sarah. We both knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Remember?”
They nibbled at their sandwiches and sipped at their coffee. The tired, grey London sky, for a second, almost seemed to feel for them. It was as if it understood their plight. But they weren’t any different from any of the thousands of other couples who had met, perhaps, a tad too late. They weren’t the first and they weren’t going to be the last.
“And what about you, sweetheart? Doesn’t she miss you when you’re not there with her?”
“She does, but I think for all the wrong reasons. She’s the same control-freak she’s always been. As long as she can tell me what to do, when to do it, and how it is to be done, she feels good about herself. So I let her. It’s easier that way…”, his voice trailed into the cold of the evening.
Sarah wrapped her arms around his and let her head rest on his shoulders. It felt sweetly liberating – the scent of her hair reassured him that he could be himself all over again and not fear being judged for the things he did or didn’t do. He hadn’t felt like that in a long time. Then Sarah came along and changed all that. With her, he was once again free to be who he truly was and not have to worry about having to take the blame for anything. Finding Sarah was like being pulled out of the raging, vicious whirlpool that wanted nothing more than to drown him over and over again.
They sat like that for the longest time – not having to say anything to each other at all. When it was possible for two people to speak to each other’s hearts, words were no longer necessary. Despite willing it with everything their souls could give, time simply would not stand still. They knew it would soon be time to go.
Sarah snuggled closer to Azhar, “Tell me sweetheart, if what we are feeling is real, how come it hurts so much? Why does it–”
He brushed her hair from her eyes and put his finger softly upon he lips. “Darling, it hurts because it is real…” He looked at her lovely face for the longest time, every fibre in his body twitching with the urge to kiss her, just once. But he resisted: he was certain that after knowing her kiss, he would die if he were never to have it again.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?” she asked, sensing his anguish.
He just smiled and turned his head.
“You chickened out again, didn’t you?” she chuckled. “I might as well take this first kiss of ours off the table – for good!” she teased.
Before she could draw her next breath, Azhar kissed her with all the passion and longing that he had so long denied. When their lips finally parted, they trembled, feeling powerless in the intensity of the feelings they felt for each other. It was some time before either of them could speak again.
“What do we do now, sayang?” asked Sarah, her voice weak with uncertainty.
Azhar held her close. “I don’t know, darling. But do you remember what that dead, mad, poet once wrote?”
She held his hand in hers and repeated the word of their favourite Middle Eastern poet: “And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”
“That’s a good place to start as any, I guess…”
As the evening turned to twilight, they went their separate ways; coldly unsure of the future but at the same time, warmly assured that what they shared was real.