‘Tell me why you are here?’ I caressed the back of her delicate hand like one caresses a dead bird – a last gesture of useless kindness.
‘Tell me why you are here….. with me…….in this very moment?’
‘I really do not know.’ A tiny smile danced around the corners of her lips. She peered into my eyes looking for an answer or perhaps solace. Then she looked away.
Vienna was the usual evening chaos. Desires following desires – an endless pursuit. The lights of some old gothic palace reflected in and danced along the soft waves of the Danube. The river was the cauldron of some invisible and ancient witch; and the subtle but intoxicating fumes from the broth heightened our senses.
Across the cobbled yard, stood a couple of street musicians – the tall graceful woman was playing a symphony of loss on her violin; while the old man was plucking joy from the keys of his weather-beaten accordion. The combination of the two was like incense smoke spreading across the surface of a dark green lake. Loss and love, singing their eternal duet.
She looked back at me.
‘Why don’t you tell me……. why you are here?’ A challenge flashed briefly in her unsmiling eyes. ‘Why are you here in Vienna?’
For a single brief moment, she became what she was a half-decade ago – a beautiful golden dragon that breathed the fire of unspoken desires. An unpredictable dragon – an independent dragon, free to roam the wide blue skies.
‘Why am I here?’ I asked myself bending down my head. Then I raised my head and looked back at her smiling:
‘I am here for the saudade – the love that remains.’
When I first met her, I was not as young as I once used to be, but I was as restless as a pine tree. She was the strong wind that had blown through my branches after a very long time. Slim and charming with soft brown hair, cascading all around her lovely face; and a taut sensuous body. A deep and unnamable seduction weaved its magic wand and I fell under her spell.
I remembered looking at her for the first time. She reminded me of the dark mysterious forests, smelling heavily of the tropical rains. She reminded me of the dark green moss, climbing and curving along the tree trunks. And she reminded me of the wet dark soil, emitting wisps of fragrant mist. Whenever I try to remember what all I felt on first seeing her, someone always whispers a one word answer in my ears – desire.
But it was not a sensuous desire at all – well maybe it was a bit sensuous too. But it was more a desire to love her unconditionally.
She looked like a goddess. From behind her dark unsmiling eyes, peeked a light of brilliance. Sometimes, I looked at her face closely and under my worshipping gaze, her fair features gradually melted into a soft and malleable kindness.
Yes she was a goddess who demanded to be loved, while hiding behind tradition and humility. And the possibility of coming across her but not loving her frightened me.
‘I think I am in love.’ I whispered excitedly to the old banyan tree standing in the courtyard of the Tomb of the Lonely Saint. The saint was long dead but his spirit, as I felt it, was residing within the tree.’
‘And when did you realize this?’ He asked in a deep, old and rusty voice – its texture as rough as his bark.
‘It came slowly – almost like a hesitant monsoon rain. But now that it is here, I feel as if struck by a thunder bolt.’ I sat down with my back to the trunk. ‘I can feel the lightening tingling along my spine and nerves.’
‘Beware son!’ The old tree whispered. ‘Love is a banshee disguised as a butterfly. It may be kind to some and cruel to others. But to those who recognize and understand her and submit to her power willingly, she is always cruel beyond words.’
‘In your case….’ The tree thought for a moment. ‘I believe it is desire – a desire that does not dissolve with the waning moon. But a desire that is capable of evolving into love one day.’
‘What if it always remains a desire?’ My heart trembled with an unknown fear.
‘Hmm….!’ The tree rustled its many branches and the legions of tired pigeons flew out, scared of the sudden movement.
‘Desire is one of the most powerful of all forces of nature.
It is the force that makes the world goes around in circles.
Desire takes birth deep within the warm recesses of our ever-hungry hearts.
It climbs us like a vine climbs up a tree, entrapping and teasing the branches.
It starts with an almost erotic touch and then embeds its tentacles deep below our skins.
And then it starts sucking.
It hungrily sucks in our soul and our ego and our character and our self-control; and it leaves us empty and dry.’
He said it all deliberately and in his usual sing song style, cherishing each word like wisdom was old wine, each sip to be savored and treasured.
‘How do I ensure that this doesn’t just remain a desire?’ The unknown fear was gradually assuming the shape of loss.
‘Whenever two souls come across each other, floating along the river of time; it is always for a higher purpose. And the purpose is always love.’ The tree smiled.
‘Don’t worry son!’ A few dry leaves floated down and caressed my shoulders. ‘If it is meant to be, it will.’
‘You have always had the habit of talking in riddles.’ She took a sip and closed her dark beautiful eyes for a moment.
‘Well that is just me.’ I smiled at her. ‘Anyway, why are you here in Vienna?’
‘New York troubles my soul sometimes.’ She looked back into my eyes. ‘The chaos disturbs the quest for inner peace. Then one day I just saw a picture of Danube and decided to come visit Europe as I had always desired.’
We grew quiet for a moment. The musicians had stopped but the notes of their strange sad-happy symphony, were still whispering beyond the silence. I looked at her face. I was wrong. She did not look as young as I had initially thought. There were lines on her face – very fine lines. I peered at them closely. Each line became a crack and the crack widened into a gorge and within that gorge, there flowed the river of time.
‘Why are you here?’ She suddenly broke the fragile silence hovering around and between us.
‘I curate a small museum of antiquities along the Bräunerstraße. And in the evening I come here. I listen to the music and I write.’
‘Do you find it strange…….?’ She hesitated – the delicate mouth quivering like a bow stretched in full. ‘Do you find it strange…….us meeting here in Vienna?’
‘I haven’t been able to understand something.’ I changed the subject.
‘And what is that my son?’ The tree asked kindly.
‘Why doesn’t she ever smile?’
‘And why do you want her to smile?’ He chucked softly.
‘I want to see her face breaking into a smile.
I want to see the light of happiness shining through.
I want to see the smiling lines appear around the corners of her mouth and eyes.
I want those lines to become an intricate treasure map.
And then I want to trace my fingers along those lines and find the treasure.’
‘Ah!…yes.’ The tree sighed with pleasure. ‘She will smile one day.’
‘An oyster lies deep within the ocean and awaits the arrival of a single grain of sand.
And once that grain enters the oyster, it takes years and years to coat that grain with nacre.
With patience and with time, that grain of sand becomes a lustrous pearl.
The oyster remains patient.
It shuts that pearl within his shell, hiding it from greedy eyes.
But one day, when and if the true seeker of the pearl arrives, the oyster opens up willingly and offers the pearl.
She is the oyster and her smile and her love are her pearl.’
‘Do you find it strange…….?’ She hesitated – the delicate mouth quivering like a bow stretched in full. ‘Do you find it strange…….us meeting here in Vienna out of the blue?’
‘Nothing is out of the blue. A friend once told me……….’ I thought fondly of the old banyan tree.
‘Whenever two souls come across each other, floating along the river of time; it is always for a higher purpose. And the purpose is always love.’
We didn’t speak anymore words. We just sat there along the Danube, as silent as shadows.
Then her hand moved and covered mine. It was warm and soft.
I looked up at her. A slow subtle transformation was taking place across the beautiful landscape.
Her eyes crinkled a little and her lips stretched some more.
Lines appeared around their corners and then formed a smile – the loveliest of all the smiles in the whole world.
The lines were the map….showing the way to where the treasure was buried.