I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul…

Saira would often quote Neruda around me and I pretended not to understand.

***

The first time we met, she was twelve. She was struggling with her satchel and water-bottle.

“Here, let me help!” I offered. She smiled revealing a missing canine. I have been in love with her ever since.

Her plait would become undone by recess everyday. She always knew it was my handiwork but never complained.

Mallik was our town’s godfather and Saira, his only daughter. Abbu had taken a bullet aimed at Mallik for which Mallik was forever indebted to us. My Ammi’s only wish was my education. Mallik had complied.

****

We were sixteen.

I chaperoned her to the school and back. Sometimes she held my hand pretending she could not see in the dark. Her nearness both exhilarated and scared me. But I did not dare to declare my love openly. I was not that stupid.

Then one day, Ammi visited Mallik and begged. “He has cleared his boards. You had promised us employment.”

I suspected Ammi’s desperation for my gainful employment stemmed from her desire to keep me away from Saira. I was right. “I have a storehouse in the next town. Meer will look after it.” Mallik had sealed my fate.

***

“Meer?” Saira had come to see me off at the station. I ached to hold her, but she was way out of my league. Blushing pink, she handed me a  book and left.


It was Memoirs, Pablo Neruda. 

****

She texted me daily till I blocked her. It was for the best.

Then she had visited me one-day looking miffed.

“I want my book back.” 

“I thought it was a gift.” I couldn’t help but smile.

“I would rather give it to someone who understands poetry…and love.” Her voice broke.

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you because I know no other way..” I finally confessed. 

She pulled me close and we kissed with passion that was pent up for years. 

We went out for dinner. “Abba is getting me married.” She blurted. I sat her down

 and discussed our options. We realised we didn’t have any. We eloped.

***

Saira was ill. She hated the roadside food. It made her sick, she said. She was scared to sleep on pavements at night. I felt guilty of putting her through this.

I was out buying food when I was suckerpunched. I managed to open my eyes and saw a livid Mallik.

I looked at Saira, hoping she could calm him.

But she was quiet.

“Thank Allah, Saira could call me.” He raised his gun. ”Did you really think you would get away with the kidnapping and extortion?”

It was the moment of epiphany.

Saira had betrayed me. But why? We loved each other. Maybe only I did..

The bullet pierced my head and then there was nothing.

****

Author Credit : The story is inspired by Mirza-Sahiban, the popular Punjabi folk-lore.

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Photo By: Niko Macaspac

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This is an entry for #TheLie #Five00-8, a room8 writing event –in 500 words.
Check out the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/room8/thelie

Room8 appreciates your rating the story out of 10 in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

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