The ‘Stuff’ About Death

This is Shubhra’s last day of relationship. But something else also happens today. A story about love, life and sudden endings.

When she opened the door, a brisk breeze of the month of October brushed across her face. This is what wind on a dead body must feel like, she thought. But October was only being itself. A gush of life in a suffocating vacuum. Shubhra untied her hair only to tie it back, in a slightly different way. For women like Shubhra, tying and untying of hair can mean the change of an era, a change of heart, a change of self. She thought about what all had gone down that day-a lot had. 

For starters, he was late! She had woken up early just for this. A ‘quick little thing’ as he had phrased on the phone. But Shubhra knew, packing the ‘stuff’ of your 2 years long, live-in ex-boyfriend was not at all a ‘quick little thing’. “It’s insane how I am always late and people get mad at me. And on these rare occasions when I make an effort to be on time, people decide to be late. It’s like, they WANT to suffer..” she theorised. Even though she was completely out of line in that sentiment, she felt an urge to send that in a text to Rishabh. He would have found the humour in her audacity and even understood the place Shubhra was coming from. Today, Rishabh was coming, not to understand but to leave. And Shubhra needed to understand that. 

Her phone buzzed finally, she read the text without opening it and opened the door. He entered, looked around him and then looked at her. They exchanged a hug, a chill went down her spine. They couldn’t waste any time, after all, it was supposed to be a ‘quick little thing’. So they began. “I think we should start with the big stuff” Rishabh said. So he attacked the biggest piece of his belongings in the house. It was his work-cum-gaming haven. As he began to dismantle the parts of the console, the screws of Shubhra’s brain came unhinged to the ground. She remembered how that big, monstrous thing monopolized Rishabh’s time. Shubhra hated the fact that the one thing she had to be jealous of in this relationship was essentially an inanimate object. Hate derived from jealousy equaled to her feeling stupendously silly. How does the math of emotions even work? She wondered if Rishabh- The Architect’s analytical mind would know the answer to that equation. But she obviously couldn’t ask that. That’s the problem with breaking up with a best friend. Who do you go to for life’s big questions when your boyfriend WAS your best friend. 

As Rishabh was finishing up placing each piece of silly emotion into a cardboard box, Shubhra decided to collect all the small stuff from the bedroom. His books, his bean bag, his favourite mugs, his unfinished design projects and his toothbrush. If only she could pluck out his first DM, his goodnight kisses, his compliments, his laughter, his smell as neatly as she plucked out his ‘stuff’. 

When she came back to the living room, she saw Rishabh moving the couch towards the pile-up  corner. Shubhra dropped the bean bag to help him with the couch. The pace of her footsteps was interrupted by a phone call. It was her sister, crying. Shubhra’s face changed colour and her loud voice asking, “What happened?”, alerted Rishabh. Every movement in the house came to a halt.

Her sister told her that Anamika’s brother passed away. Anamika was her sister’s long lost friend. To Shubhra, she was another big sister- someone she would fondly call didi as a teenager and enjoy her bread rolls. She was also there when the friendship between her sister and Anamika Didi, all of a sudden, fell apart and her sister would refuse to answer any questions about the fall out. But there was no time for unravelling the knots from the past, which string went over what and made which loop. This was the time to ask important questions. Shubhra’s voice laced with confusion, exhaustion and shock asked, “how?”. Her sister answered, “I am not sure, I just got a text. But I can’t believe it. What is happening?” Her sister was reading her mind. She answered her sister’s question with the same question. Rishabh ran up and was standing in front of Shubhra like a ghost. Looking at her face, he was trying to move her from the spot of a comma to a full stop in the living room. So step by step, as an overwhelmed and unsure Shubhra tried to pacify her sister, saying sternly, “you don’t cry, okay”. “don’t cry, okay”, they took the slowest four steps of their life to the couch. He sat her down on the couch and took a spot on the floor himself. Holding her one hand in his, caressing it with his thumb. That touch was all too familiar to Shubhra. It was a trigger and a pacifier. It was the chaos and the quiet. It was death and life. As she hung up the phone, Shubhra looked at Rishabh’s face, her eyeballs turned into two liquid-filled crystal balls, ready to burst with a poke of a single word. So Rishabh said none. She hung her head down to him, sitting up on the couch and he held her hands, looking up from the floor. They made an original rendition of the dualism of yin-yang in that moment.

She slid to one side of the couch, gesturing Rishabh to come up. He did. This news of death, prolonged the last moments of their dying relationship. They kissed, one last time. Patting the couch, he told her, “you should keep this. This belongs here” So she did. As Rishabh, loaded his stuff on the mini van and said his goodbyes, October skies let out a breeze, just for Shubhra. Shubhra went back inside and the couch caught her eye. There it was – an abrupt ending, sitting in the middle of the living room, ready to be moved for another run with life.  

Swati Dey

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