It was the time when dusk turns into twilight. That moment when the sky is a brilliant, but diminishing, hue of colours. The day was still young.
That was when I met him. Me walking slowly along. Him, riding by on his bike.
It was the bike that attracted me, although it was nothing unusual. It was not even a trendy-looking sports bike. Just a usual one, like him. Yet, it attracted me for the stories that I knew it would help me learn. After all, walking through every nook and corner in search of stories is tedious. Quite so.
So, when he stopped and offered a lift, I jumped at the opportunity. Even at the cost of giving up my freedom. Even at the cost of agreeing to be swept under his wings.
I can only guess what he thought of me, or what he expected when he took me aboard. Actually, I can only think I can guess. In reality, the truth may be far away from my guess. Who knows, really!
I, though, wanted to get swept by the current that was life. I was learning to let go of my inhibitions and living the moment. That, I believed, would allow me to experience and learn far more than the safety of peaceful shores would ever allow. I wanted to ride the raging waves.
So, on I went with him on his bike, marvelling at the way the wind tussled my locks. It felt like freedom. Wild, dirty and yet fulfilling. Soon, I forgot I was actually letting go off freedom.
Boy, was it an enriching experience. We did exactly what I wanted to do — roam aimlessly across nameless and faceless streets and roads. Stopped wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. My face was constantly shrouded in merriment, wonder and a huge grin that spread from ear to ear. It really did, I kid you not. Those memories still shine like they were made from gilt.
Soon, we crossed a border into a new territory. It was confusing to say the least. Yet, we went on, confident from our previous escapades that we would win this strange land too.
And that’s when the jungle started. Our bike gave up in defeat to the wildness in the jungle. We had to walk. I could handle walking better than he, so used-to he was his bike.
Imagine how harsh his first lesson in walking was. There were no paved roads, but uneven treacherous land. There were mosquitoes swarming over our heads unlike civilised lands. Not to mention the prickly bushes and branches that we had to sweep away with only our hands. I should have realised we were in waters way over our heads. We should have stopped and turned back.
But that’s the folly of the youth. We think we know our strengths. We scoff at limits. Yet, life is full of limits. Respect them and you will escape with minor scratches.
You know what is the other folly? Denial. He never budged from his stubborn denial. I humoured him. After all, I was under HIS wings, not vice versa. He was leading the way, not I.
I had heard of the jungle, but never understood why it was so scary. I thought every thing in this world had a logic. If one could only get a hang of it, the road would be easier to travel.
I was quite wrong. That is not the universal truth. The real truth is that everything has an exception. And the jungle was the exception to the rule that I thought applied. The jungle had no logic. Emotions have no logic. It is just a big mess. The antithesis to logic. It is chaos. Utter chaos. And we were in the middle of it.
My friend, the lead, finally had the sense to show me a separate path, one that could lead me out of the jungle and back to the roads I knew. He, though, was injured. The jungle had already played its game. He was stuck in the illusion of a quagmire. One that was slowly sucking him in.
I was being played by the illusion of a fog in the jungle. It hid away my vision from me. I was blindly stumbling along, with only my muted gut feeling to guide me. So, I agreed with every word he said, ignoring the rising wariness in my gut.
That’s when he told me he could see a way out. He told me to get help. He told me he will have to stay. It was his game, you see. Bless his soul. All he wanted was to get me back to safety, even at the cost of his own life.
I considered for a while. Standing there was hopeless, he said. It would do no good. My logic agreed.
So, I ran. Away from him. For his sake. And for mine too, if I were honest. I was tired of the jungle. I was getting tired of following him blindly. My gut feeling was getting exhausted by my constant, conscious ignorance.
I stopped for a while and turned to look at him. I needed one last glimpse of those twinkling eyes, those dimpled cheeks, the familiar contours of his face, and the steady strength in his tall figure. I memorised the glance until it was etched in my memory. It still is.
I continued to run after that stopping for nothing. I ran even as I heard something break behind me. One. Two. Three. I counted as I ran. I was afraid to look back and see what was breaking. I ran with greater urgency. As if my running could stop the breaks.
He was right. It did lead me out of the jungle. As the vegetation became sparse, I could see my beloved road. But it was empty. I didn’t know which way to go. Surprisingly, it was still twilight. It was not night. The day was still young.
Inertia is the reason why people can’t accept change. You hold on to the past. I held on to the idea of him. The idea of our friendship. The bike. Those memories. Yet, only silence remained. A silence that spoke of the end.
I looked back at the jungle. Smoke rose from a distance. It was him. As I stood collecting my thoughts and my breath, I knew he was done. His chapter in my life was over.
I turned and started walking the way that took my fancy. I often looked back, wondering about the jungle. His thoughts were my steady companion. I tried to quell the questions. What if…
But there is one thing I do best. I move on.
And on I walked, away from the jungle of emotions. Away from him. With my lessons learnt.