اب کے ہم بِچھڑے تو شائد کبھی خوابوں میں مِلیں
جس طرح سوکھے ہُوے پھول کِتابوں میں مِلیں
احمد فراز ~
Ab ke hum bichhde toh shayad kabhi khwaboñ meiñ mileiñ
Jis tarah sookhe huay phool kitaaboñ meiñ mileiñ
~ Ahmad Faraz
She evoked memories of another time, another person. She wasn’t reticent, she asked her questions however silly they might seem, she was there to learn. He was glad to teach. He might redeem himself yet.
His sessions were carefully placed baits, designed to make his students curious and disarm them of doubt and fear and encourage them to secure their chopping boards and create that natural almost fluid motion of the knife, slicing and dicing and chopping away to glory; to toss those sliced and diced and chopped ingredients into a pan; to find the strength of a spice and to season their meal and transform it, as if by magic. Their reward at the end of a good session was some fine wine.
She was making rapid progress in class as in life. Her kitchen shelves were no longer subject to the monopoly of packed foods. There were spices, oils, sauces and seasonings. The mostly empty drawers were peopled with pots and pans and she looked at cutlery with a new interest. The fruit and vegetable and meat in the fridge was used and replenished and no hours were empty anymore.
She surprised the class and most of all, him, one day, when she turned up with a chocolate cake she’d baked. It was her father’s birthday. And a year since he’d passed away after a painful struggle with cancer. There were years filled with sadness, rancour at fate, life perhaps. But she chose her memories carefully. The class was extraordinary that day. An impromptu celebration, happiness and memories shared.
What surprised him wasn’t the cake. It was the ease with which she could remember, she could evoke the memory of her father with only happiness and gratitude. Would he be able to remember without pain?
That night after class, he thought of her, the one that stood at the edge of the sea, a hollow in the world in her place now. He thought of the promises of half a century ago. He did not know then, that forever existed only so far as the next turn on the road. He was angry, sad. She was gone forever. He hoped to see her when forever ended. Theirs had been a particularly short one.
Fifty years could not dim the pain.
All the travel of those years, all the love and warmth he received, all the wealth and fame could not replace that emptiness that was her’s alone.
Food alleviated the pain of memory to an extent he found it easy to live and love again. But never found the courage to turn back and face his demons. They might catch up with him someday sooner than later. That night, for the first time in fifty years, he’d dared to look. His demons were there where he expected to find them alright.
They sucked out the life from his blood and left him gasping for breath. He remembered the chocolate cake from earlier in the day and dragged his feet over to the kitchen. It was cool, sweet, and just the right amount of moist. He felt life return to his blood slowly and he poured himself a measure of bourbon.
When he returned to his room, his thoughts, and his demons, were waiting for him. They looked less menacing now. Perhaps it was the bourbon. Perhaps the chocolate.
He’d sold off all of his fancy cameras and lenses at the prime of his photography career and taken a long holiday, travelling the world, searching for answers, avoiding questions that haunted him. He fell in love with Spain. The colours, the aromas of the streets of Madrid, the colourful dances, the full-bodied music and the heady wines, the fiery food, and even more fiery women. Spain felt like the home he’d searched for all those years. Spain helped him forget.
He searched his cupboard and found it. He hadn’t used it in years but it worked just fine. It was an old manual SLR that belonged to her father and she’d gifted to him. It was the only camera he didn’t dispose.
It was his turn to surprise the class with an impromptu portrait session. It was his turn to surprise himself with his ease at a skill he believed he had forgotten.
His demons seemed smaller and weaker that night. He thought of the sunset and sea and her. She no longer stood at the edge of the water. She dared herself to wade in, to submit to the waves. She turned and smiled at him as she waded further in.
The last day of the sessions, his students didn’t need anymore baits. Food wasn’t just a necessity anymore. It was an extension of their personalities. A part of their lives. They were grateful. The portraits were moments frozen in the safekeeping of time. There was happiness.
That night, he found mere shadows where his demons had once lived. That night, he remembered her laughter mixed with the waves of the sea and he wept.