"Exhale love" by Anusuya Chhetri
An excerpt: “Feeling very much sunken and dejected, she closes her eyes and only sees Gloria lurking in her mind like a formless ghost. She particularly remembers that day when they had kissed each other for the first time hiding behind a lamppost on a rainy evening when the street was empty and eerily quiet as if somebody had died and the world was mourning the loss. Clasping each other tight, Nitya had sucked in the wet lips of Gloria and they had kissed each other for a long time. Drenched completely in the first rainfall of the monsoon, Nitya later had pulled Gloria inside a narrow alley and had kissed her again slowly reaching for her breasts. Her hands fumbled for the buttons of her shirt and one by one she undid them in the heat of their passion. When her cold icy hands finally touched Gloria’s erected nipples, she told her to stop and pushed her away.”
Nitya slams the door of her bathroom so loud that it scares her pet cat and it scurries itself out of her room. The fingers of her brother Slok stops punching the keypad of his phone, he looks up clueless. And begins wondering if the door was slammed shut out of protest.
“But why?” he asks himself and resumes back to texting his girlfriend, Gloria.
Inside, Nitya is agitated like never before. Sitting on the toilet seat, she tries to suppress her tears covering her face with her hands, and when the tears almost choke her, she hurls a shampoo bottle that lands on the floor. Slok pauses again. He feels like he heard something and listens close by switching off the ceiling fan whose noise had otherwise filled the room. But he hears nothing and sends another message to Gloria. They are planning to go out on a date this Sunday.
The tears don’t stop flowing down and Nitya wipes them tearing another piece of a tissue paper and throws back the roll on her lap. Burning with jealousy, she pulls out her hair like she was a madwoman locked in the attic.
“Are you okay?” Slok knocks the door of her bathroom after a few minutes when she still doesn’t come out.
Immediately, Nitya fixes her hair and wipes her eyes and takes a long breath.
“I am fine. Don’t be so bothered.” She replies trying hard to not sound offbeat.
In return, Slok doesn’t say anything but goes out of her room. Lately, he has been noticing several changes in Nitya, his sister who is elder to him by two years. It all first started from the night three days ago when she bickered bitterly with him on the dinner table over a salt shaker which he had taken time to pass as he was busy fiddling with his phone. On that same day in the morning, he had introduced her to Gloria who had visited their house for the first time and was surprised to know that Slok’s elder sister was nobody but Nitya.
“Hi.” She had said awkwardly to her.
For some reason, Nitya had refused to talk much to Gloria and had feigned an excuse for a severe headache. On the other hand, Gloria had denied staying for more at their house and had nagged Slok to take her somewhere else instead.
“But why? You haven’t yet met my parents. Stay till evening.” Slok had implored.
“Next time, I really have to go now. Please.” Gloria had pleaded in return.
And later at the dinner table, Nitya with her puffy eyes had chosen to remain silent. Their parents who were both university professors had asked if she was okay.
“I am fine. Just a headache.” She had said hanging her head low and refusing to look up.
In the ugly spat that followed next, Nitya had behaved as if Slok had committed the greatest sin by not passing her the salt shaker on time. She became so furious that she had even refused to eat the dinner and had barged inside her room.
“I don’t know what is wrong with her. She isn’t talking much to me.” Slok said to his parents who considered it one of Nitya’s usual tantrums.
Concerned, his mother walked up to her room and knocked on the door several times until she answered calmly,
“Leave me alone, Ma. I am not feeling good.”
“What’s wrong? We can talk about it. Just open the door.” Her mother had said peeping inside her room from a small crevice. She could just see her back lying face down on the bed.
“I will talk to you tomorrow. Trust me. I will be fine.” Nitya had said in return.
A little relieved her mother had walked back to the table and had declared that she was okay. However, Slok did not feel that she was telling the truth. Also, he was hurt because he couldn’t understand why was Nitya so mad at him. He just did not know what his fault was.
Few days have passed and Nitya is still upset and has started to remain aloof. Slok wants to find out the reason behind his sister’s sudden animosity towards him. He is not being able to bear this rift in their relationship. Just a year is left for Nitya to stay home and after that, she will be gone to a different city for her higher studies. Their parents have already started to hatch plans for her future. Some months ago they had celebrated the New Year at one of her friends’ house partying till late night. They had cheap alcohol with charred meat and had danced all night, had lived that moment in the best of the best spirits. Nitya had gifted her brother a brand new guitar which she had said was also an advanced birthday gift. Throughout the year, she had saved her money bit by bit from the little amount which she received from her part-time job as a tutor. That night Slok’s happiness knew no bounds. He had nothing to give back in return except a tight hug.
When Gloria came to his home for the very first time, he was a little nervous for never before he had done anything remotely close like that. Right from the start of his boyhood days, he had been with a string of girls but had never dared to bring them home. But as he reached the tenth standard, he gave himself the license that he was a full-grown adult now. He not only stopped shying away from buying a packet of cigarettes openly but also began to smoke freely whenever he walked down the street with his group of friends. In his new-found liberty, he felt that it was safe for him to bring Gloria home, a girl who he had met just a month ago on the internet.
It's after lunch when Slok turns on the TV. His parents are not at home. Nitya is in her room. Her door is locked. They have already spent a week of their summer vacation talking very little to each other. One after the other, he starts to surf the channels. There isn’t anything very interesting to watch. Back in the childhood days, he would fight with Nitya for the remote control and they would take turns watching their favorite Cartoon shows. While Slok liked to watch Power Rangers, Nitya preferred watching the Power Puff Girls. It was only Mr. Bean and Tom and Jerry which brought them together to watch the same shows without any conflicts and arguments.
Bored, Slok turns off the T.V. He wonders what Nitya is doing in her room and climbs up the stairs thinking if she will answer to his call.
“Didi, Can I come in?” He says knocking faintly at the door.
“Not now,” Nitya replies promptly who is trying to read a book in her bed but can barely concentrate.
“Let's play chess sometime later,” Slok says hoping that she will agree to his proposal.
Nitya doesn’t say anything. She closes the book and lies flat on her bed. After a few seconds, she hears the flapping sound of Slok’s slippers as he hops down the stairs and not in a very good mood. Feeling very much sunken and dejected, she closes her eyes and only sees Gloria lurking in her mind like a formless ghost. She particularly remembers that day when they had kissed each other for the first time hiding behind a lamppost on a rainy evening when the street was empty and eerily quiet as if somebody had died and the world was mourning the loss. Clasping each other tight, Nitya had sucked in the wet lips of Gloria and they had kissed each other for a long time. Drenched completely in the first rainfall of the monsoon, Nitya later had pulled Gloria inside a narrow alley and had kissed her again slowly reaching for her breasts. Her hands fumbled for the buttons of her shirt and one by one she undid them in the heat of their passion. When her cold icy hands finally touched Gloria’s erected nipples, she told her to stop and pushed her away.
“What’s wrong?” Nitya was surprised.
“I should go home,” Gloria said buttoning up her shirt.
The sky gurgled and there was a heavy downpour. In the first stroke of the thunder and lightning, Nitya began to cry. She suddenly felt embarrassed for all that happened between her and Gloria with whom she had been friends for about fifteen days and had just confessed their love for each other.
“I am sorry. I am really very sorry.”She started to apologize profusely to Gloria who stood at some distance with her head down and shivering.
On reaching home, Nitya as usual had found her brother in her room strumming his guitar and eager to sing a song which he had practiced recently. But all she wanted, was some alone time with herself so that she could calm down. Her parents were also at home that day and preparing together a Sunday dinner. The house had reeked of strong spices but Nitya had totally lost her appetite. Seeing Nitya fully drenched, her mother had scolded her for not carrying an umbrella to her tuition classes. Without a word, she had retired to her room and had rushed inside her bathroom. Slok had thought it better to not bother her for he was well aware of her temper and tantrums. Taking all her clothes off Nitya had stared at her naked body in the mirror. And had cried bitterly for she had felt ashamed of herself. But she also knew that it was too late now. She was already in love and it was nobody else but Gloria. At night when she talked to Gloria again, she asked her pardon for her actions and confessed that she just was not able to hold herself back. But also, at last, she had told her that she was madly in love with her and wanted to see her again.
“I cannot stop falling in love with you.” She had said to Gloria.
“I love you too.” Gloria had told her back.
Tossing and turning in bed, Nitya had fantasized about Gloria and when she thought about their kiss, her heart fluttered like she carried a million butterflies inside of her. But also was consumed by fear at the same time because she was in love with a girl and a love like that was fatal in the kind of society where she lived in.
Slok clasps Gloria’s hand tightly by intertwining his fingers on hers as they walk on the street at an early hour of twilight. They have met after a week and Gloria isn’t talking much. A lot has happened in her life too after that accidental meeting with Nitya. She feels that she is slowly losing her mind because she just doesn’t know how to handle the upheaval inside. Her bisexuality isn’t what is depressing to her but it is more to do with her long lost lover who has again entered in her life like a gust of strong wind and is sweeping her away in an unknown direction.
On the other hand, Slok wants to talk about his ongoing rift in the relationship with his sister that isn’t letting him stay in peace. Still holding Gloria’s hand, he asks
“How did you find my sister?”
Gloria immediately frees her hand from his and starts fidgeting as if she was asked a very uncomfortable question. She even stops walking.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” Slok is totally surprised.
“No. I am fine. Don’t worry.” She says hiding her nervousness.
They begin to walk again. This time Slok doesn’t hold her hand and they walk freely but not as conjoined twins like before. Gloria looks pretty in her floral dress which is deep necked and protrudes her collar bones. Her long hair is sleek and falls down from her shoulders. Time to time she pushes few strands of her hair at the back of her ears. Right from the start, Slok had admired her femininity which stands so starkly different from his sister’s androgyny. And Nitya makes it pretty apparent from her choice of clothes and the short haircut which she hasn’t changed in years. It is only her heavy breasts that help her identify as a woman otherwise she would look like Slok’s brother. Also in a few occasions, people have mistaken her as a boy which never did affect her much rather she took it as a compliment. Time to time she even borrows Slok’s clothes, mostly his baggy t-shirts which she wears them confidently with her pair of equally baggy jeans.
“Did you like my sister?” Slok asks again.
“Yeah. She was good.” Gloria answers promptly battling with her racing heartbeat.
“I don’t know what is wrong with her. She isn’t behaving like herself since the past few weeks.” Slok says as they take a U-turn and enter a children’s park where a group of toddlers is running around. It is fully dark now but the street lights are bright enough to combat the darkness.
“It's from the same day when you first came to my house. Do you think she did not like you or something?” He adds further.
They sit on an empty bench and watch the children giggle while playing at the see-saw. Gloria thinks of her childhood days when her father would rock her back and forth in a swing and she would feel like a bird flying high up in the sky. Taking out a long breath, she says, “How would I know?”
But she exactly knows that what really has happened to Nitya. Their sudden meeting with each other has taken them back to the days when for a total of one month, they had fallen madly in love with each other. It was an instant attraction when they met in the tuition classes and immediately became good friends. Soon they started spending time even after their classes were over. They did not take much time to fall in love. A little confused of her sexuality, at first Gloria did not understand that what triggered her to act flirtatious before Nitya. In contrast, it wasn’t the same for Nitya. She knew that she was attracted to girls and had been hiding in a closet for a long time.
“That’s right but should I talk to her about it?” Slok says innocently.
“No. Don’t talk to her,” Gloria says as she starts to get anxious.
Slok is a little surprised and says
“But why? I can’t go on like this. I have to find out what is bothering her.”
“I mean-I am not telling you to not talk to her. But- you know, not now. At least, not right now.” Gloria replies by keeping her hand on top of Slok’s in order to convince him.
“Alright, if you say so.” He answers and holds her hand tight as if suddenly afraid to lose her.
On reaching back home, Gloria takes out a wooden box where she has stored letters and postcards from the past. She takes out a pale yellow envelope which contains a letter that she had written to Nitya. Holding it close, she sniffs it and transports herself back to the time when she had first written it but could never summon the courage to actually give it to her. On the cold month of December, she had stayed all night and had poured out her feelings, blotting the blue ink with her tears. Before meeting Nitya, she had never been so intensely in love with anyone that it pained her heart to think that she could no longer be with her despite loving her so much.
Just a few weeks to Christmas, she had lied to Nitya that she would be out of town with her parents up until the New Year. Their tuition classes were over and they hadn’t met each other much in a long time. On the last day of their tuition classes, Nitya had scribbled a message to Gloria on the last page of her textbook where she wrote that she loved her and wanted Gloria to promise to always be by her side.
“Promise me.” She wrote pretending to solve a sum that their tutor had just copied at the blackboard.
“This is not the right time. Later.” Gloria had answered back hurriedly.
And after the classes, they had spent a long evening together. It was hard to part with each other after that. Both had secretly wished if only they could freeze time.
That night she sat with a fresh blank page and an ink pen and began writing down everything which had burdened her heart. Like she was writing in a journal, she made sure that she did not miss out on anything. Packing every word with her emotions, she continued writing a three-page long letter. On finishing it, she read it again and again like reading a script for a film. As she pictured Nitya’s face in front of her, it aggravated her pain and she cried like a small baby holding the letter close to her chest. At last, she sealed it with her lipstick mark and put it inside an envelope and wrote in bold letters,
However, the letter never reached her lover. The very thought of bidding the last goodbye to Nitya made her heart feel as if it was torn apart into million pieces. So she thought it better to not say anything but to keep quiet. At first, she stopped taking her calls, or even if she did, she talked less. Slowly when Nitya began to notice the change in her behavior, she asked her one day whether she had fallen out of love. They were talking over the phone and Nitya waited patiently for her answer. But she remained silent and did not say anything.
“Tell me, is there anything that you are hiding from me?” Nitya asked.
“Yes,” Gloria replied.
“What is it?”
“I can’t talk to you anymore.”
“What do you mean? Are you breaking up with me?”
At first, Gloria stayed quiet but later with much struggle had said
“Yes. I am breaking up with you.”
“But why?” Nitya said and banged her hand on the table in rage.
Hearing the loud thump, Gloria shuddered and promptly answered
“Because I don’t love you anymore.”
The words had stung Nitya hard and she had nothing to say after that. Considering it as a joke first, she asked again
“Why are you lying to me?”
“I am serious.”Gloria had replied.
Unable to say anything further, she had disconnected the call and had switched it off. On the other side, Nitya had hurled her phone on the wall promising to never get in touch. But the next day she had ringed her from her mother’s phone again but had found Gloria’s phone still off. It had happened after two days of the New Year celebration. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected that everything with Gloria would end so abruptly.
That was two years ago when their relationship suddenly met with a tragic ending with Nitya left behind with so many unanswered questions. A few more times she had tried to reach her but she soon realized that she changed her phone number. She did not see her after that and with time had pushed her in the deepest corner of her mind. All Gloria wanted was to forget that they once were lovers who had promised each other a lifetime of togetherness.
Gloria folds the letter and slides it back on the envelope and runs her fingers on Nitya’s name. And she starts missing her so much that she ends up texting Slok at the middle of the night and writes
“Can we meet this Sunday? I want to talk to you.”
And next morning he rings in her phone early morning to check out if everything is fine with her. To which she replies
“Everything is fine. Don’t worry. Just meet me on Sunday.”
It is Saturday morning and Nitya has started to feel that she can no more hide the secret from Slok. Also, she wonders whether Gloria has told him about it already. She hopes not because she wishes to be the first person to tell him. On the breakfast table, she initiates a conversation with her brother adding to everybody’s surprise. It is because she had remained quiet all this long and seeing her being chatty all on a sudden is something which Slok and her parents hadn’t expected yet.
“Do you have any plans for the day? I mean, are you going out?” Nitya asks her brother biting on a slice of toasted bread.
“Not really. Why?” Slok asks stirring his mug of milk coffee.
“I was just asking. We haven’t played chess for a long time.” Nitya says.
“Yeah, I know,” Slok replies.
Their parents just look at each other and smile. They avoid saying anything.
After food, Nitya frets in her room struggling to tame her mounting anxiety. Today is the day she wants to tell everything to Slok before it’s too late and her heart races so fast that she feels that it will come out of her chest anytime sooner. She wonders how he will react after she tells him that the girl who he is in love with had been her lover once upon a time. But more than anything, she is worried to disclose the truth about her sexuality.
She draws the curtains of her room in order to block the sunlight, pours herself a glass of water to take few sips. The shrill cries of the bird add more to the cacophony inside of her. Nitya sits on the bed plugging in the earphones and waits for her brother to enter her room.
On the other side, Slok feels happy that her sister is back to her normal self again. He had been waiting for this day to come when once again they would bond like best friends. All this while he had missed spending time with Nitya and the sudden lapse in their relationship had really troubled him. There are so many things that he wants to share with her especially about Gloria because he isn’t fully sure whether she really liked her or not.
“Can I come in?” He says when he reaches Nitya’s room. He feels a little awkward to barge in like he used to before.
Nitya doesn’t hear him as the volume in her earphones is loud and booming.
“Are you there?” Slok calls this time a little louder and even knocks the door.
“Yeah come in,” Nitya says taking out her earphones.
As Slok gets inside her room, she begins to feel very heavy inside. Unable to think from where to start and what to say, Nitya feels as if the words have choked inside her.
“I have to tell you something.” She says all at once.
A little surprised, Slok asks
“What is it?”
Taking a long breath, Nitya at first says
“I am so sorry.”
“What for?” Slok says as he sits near her.
Gazing upfront for a while, Nitya replies
“I am in love with Gloria.”
Slok is stunned and he bulges his eyes out.
“Have you lost it? What are you saying?” He says.
“You heard it right. The girl who you brought home last time was my lover two years ago. We have dated each other and I am still not over her.”
Slok feels as if the ground beneath his feet is shaking. He denies it to be true.
“No that is not possible”. He says.
“I am extremely sorry,” Nitya says in return.
Without saying a word he goes out of his room and dials Gloria’s number while Nitya sobs bitterly.
In the fourth ring, Gloria receives the call. She answers in a very relaxed tone
“Hey, what’s up?”
But Slok can barely keep his composure down. With a throbbing heartbeat and rising temper, he says
“Why did not you tell me the truth?”
Gloria in return is hit by her first bout of anxiety. She feels as if her heart has been poked very deep. A part of her knows that what Slok is actually talking about but she pretends as if she has no idea about what is he talking about.
“What truth? What are you even saying?”
“Don’t act ignorant. You exactly know what I am talking about.”Slok raises his voice a little louder.
Gloria is fully consumed by her fear. She just doesn’t know what to say so she keeps quiet for a while.
“Will you say something?”Slok says.
“Nitya and I were lovers two years ago. I am extremely sorry.”Gloria finally speaks out the truth.
Slok feels shattered. It's the same as facing his worst nightmare.
“I have to say this but we can no more be together,” Slok says and disconnects the call without waiting for Gloria to speak anything further.
For a long time, Gloria tries calling on Slok’s number but he doesn’t receive any of her calls. She then shuts herself in her room, dives in her bed, and cries her heart out. Never did she wish to hurt Slok but she also couldn’t tell him the truth right away. Also, she was planning to tell it soon and this is why she had called him to meet on Sunday forgetting the fact that life throws curveballs so unexpectedly.
A week later Nitya and Slok are playing chess. Just a few days are left for their summer holidays to get over. They have avoided talking about anything that has happened in the past. After a bitter spat a few days ago, they are now in a good space and are back to their normal selves. Their parents have no idea about the matter. Also, Nitya and Slok want to keep it as a secret. In a way, Nitya feels very light and free to finally shed the load which she had been carrying all this while. Now she no more has to fear the truth of her sexuality or about her past relationship with Gloria.
As for Slok, it took him some time to forgive both Nitya and Gloria. At first, he was really angered by them but soon he realized that they are nothing to be blamed for. Hardly did they know that this would happen two years later. At first, it felt a little awkward for both Slok and Nitya to talk to each other again and revive the bond but they acted as if nothing really happened.
On the other side, Gloria broke up with Slok and it was a mutual decision. She also expressed her heartfelt apology to him and informed that she would be leaving the town soon as her father got transferred to a different city. Even if she felt like seeing Nitya for one last time, she anyway killed the desire.
Slok pushes the king ahead in a chequered box and says to Nitya
“Can I ask you something?”
With her eyes fixed on the chessboard, Nitya replies,
“Why did not you talk to Gloria? Aren’t you still in love with her?”
Nitya puts down the pawn on the board and says
Inside her heart, she knows she is lying.
© Anusuya Chhetri
Editorial comment: This is a story of three people - Slok, his twin sister Nitya, and his girlfriend Gloria. Going back and forth in time, it deals with 'love', in its most naked form. Gloria is the girlfriend of Slok, but she also has a moment with Nitya. Bisexual, they are and they both love each other. What happens when Slok finds out. Take your time, relax, and read this roller coaster through time and emotions.