Except for Azhar, there was not a single soul at Regent’s Park that day. He had been waiting for her at the blue bench – their blue bench. Where was she? She should have been there over an hour ago. Only the ambient city sounds coming from faraway Marylebone Road and the cold biting wind of the London winter cushioned his sense of desperate desolation. It didn’t make him feel any better; only less alone. Azhar fought the cold, but more than that, he fought the feeling – an ugly foreboding – that she would not be coming. He missed her so much that he would have easily given up breathing forever rather than deal with the thought of not seeing her again.
She could be down with a cold. That’s it! A cold would not be surprising given the severity of the winter. Or, her work could have called away from London – like it sometimes did. It could be any one of a million things. But there was no way he could know for sure.
Azhar told himself, “It’s not time to worry yet”; a line from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, a book both of them enjoyed immensely. But deep down, a persistent uneasiness steadily gnawed at his very soul; an uneasiness that was slowly but surely turning itself into cold, stark terror. He shook his head to clear his mind of the thought. It refused to go away. He tried again, only harder. But it refused to go away.
The darker the sky grew, the deeper the cold bit into him. But his fast descending core body temperature was the least of his worries. His hopes of seeing her again began fading with the dying remnants of light in the horizon. Deep in him, he wanted to believe that Sarah would appear, if only he held on for a few more minutes. But his mind told him that it wasn’t going to be.
Azhar slid the unopened flask of coffee into his jacket pocket, stood up and walked away. After a few steps he turned to look at their blue bench, half hoping Sarah would be there with her beautiful smile – the most beautiful smile he had ever known. All he saw was a blue bench, empty and barren from the cold. Defeated, he walked away with steps so heavy he could hardly move his feet.
Could this be how it was supposed to end? Though they had often talked about the possibility that his day could come, he wasn’t ready to let go – not yet. Simply having discussed the possibility, no matter how often hadn’t prepared him or helped make it any less painful. She still ached for her. He still yearned for her. He knew he always will.
But in his heart he also knew that even if they had to go their separate ways, they’d find each other again – someday.
—— / / / / / ——
From where Sarah parked her car, she could make out Azhar in the distance. He was there, at their blue bench, waiting for her. She wasn’t sure if she could pull off what she wanted to do. Every fibre in her body rebelled against her conscious decision to stay in the car. Her heart tore itself to shreds, her mind losing its tenuous hold on sanity. There was nothing in the world she wanted more than to be with him, to hear his voice again and maybe even gently run her fingers across his cheeks. But she knew she had to stay in her car.
It was that stupid kiss, wasn’t it? That blasted kiss: the kiss to end all kisses – the kiss that changed everything. If he kissed her like that again, touching her soul like no man had ever done, or ever would again, there could only be one outcome: she’d end up sleeping with him. Though everything in her cried out in anguish for that to happen, she knew she would not be able to pay the price. Guilt was the worst thing any human could possibly be made to endure. It was perhaps, even worse than not having him at all. She knew she had to stay in the car.
Even if they were meant for each other, it remained – in this reality, at least – that they both belonged to other people. There was no changing that. If only they had taken a different turn, a different decision, they probably would not have met the way they did – a tad too late. Even so, deep inside her, she was glad that they had met. In a world that was fast turning on its head, Azhar was a beacon of hope; a reminder that she was still capable of love and being loved – for who she truly was.
Watching him from the distance, her heart cried out to him. How betrayed and disappointed he must be feeling right now. It broke her heart seeing him all alone in the cold, waiting for her; and hoping. But she had to stay away; it was her only hope of hanging on to her world as she knew it. After all, if he loved her – if he really and truly loved her – he would understand why she had to do what she was doing. If anyone could love her like that, so completely and so unconditionally, it would be Azhar.
She felt a tear fall down her cheek as she fought the need to be with him with everything that she had. Wiping it away, she saw him walk away from their bench. When he stopped to look at the bench again, she could not hold back any longer. She unbuckled her seat-belt, unlocked her door and burst out of the car. But when she looked up again, he was gone.
As she stood trembling in the bitter cold, with tears in her eyes, she began to smile. An unexplainable primordial knowing enveloped her very being: No matter what happened, no matter how bad it got, she knew he’d find her again.
Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow – but someday – he’d find her again.