I dropped the fork I was holding and it clanged on my plate with the clarity of a doomsday prophecy. Everyone in the small restaurant looked around in alarm. Asha had gripped our table and was about to get out of her chair. Her large eyes looked around in alarm for the source of the sound, like a deer looking for a predator. When she realised the sound was just me hiccuping, she sat down with downcast eyes. Her face began to color, it first looked like a freshly dug out turnip and then like a beetroot. I was amused by this and wanted to mention this to her but,
Someone at a nearby table jumped. It was my turn to blush. I wanted to apologise but was afraid it might turn into a volley of hiccups. I drank some water knowing full well that it would do nothing to cure my hiccups. My hiccups were like a popular meaningless pop song, the kind that once it got stuck in your head would take ages to get rid of. I still had to figure out a cure for my hiccups, so I could do nothing more than sit there hiccuping loudly and hoping it would stop soon.
Asha had gotten so low in her chair that I could only see the top of her head, her bangs quivering in the aftershocks of my hiccups. It had taken me a long time to convince Asha to come out for lunch with me, and this had to happen. It was one of her favorite places too. Being invited to it by Asha herself was nothing short of an honor, and here I was ruining my chance with a volley of glass shattering hiccups. I opened my mouth hoping to utter an apology but
I am a quiet person normally as I had repeatedly reassured Asha during the short time we had known each other. And I am, I swear. But as if to make up for all of my civilised attempts at silence in daily life, my body rebels by having me hiccup like a giant toad in heat. There is no easy way to describe what my hiccups sound like. Imagine a bad karaoke singer singing a difficult song at the top of his voice has a stroke and is dying from it but still decides to finish singing his song before he dies. That is what I sound like.
I wished I could see Asha’s face just to know what she was thinking. She gave me a sideways glance and with a shy smile said, “It means a loved one is thinking about you.”
She sat up a little straighter, “Where I come from, we believe that you get hiccups when a loved one is thinking about you, and they go away only when they stop thinking about you.”
“That’s an interesting HIC belief!”
I went through a mental list of my exes wondering who would be thinking about me now and why. If Hena knew I was out with Asha she would definitely think about me just so I would hiccup and look like a hysterical hyena and ruin my chances with Asha, yes Hena would definitely do that. I wondered if Manasa was still in Pondicherry and if she still thought of me whenever a cold draft of wind blew through the hot afternoons as she had promised she would (my name means ‘wind’ in Hindi). Or maybe Sunita was on a beach in Vizag her feet dug into the sand wishing for me to build a sandcastle around her feet as she liked me to do.
I was still going through my list (yes it is a long list, it is true what they say about us silent types, we are more devious than we seem) when Asha looked straight at me and said, “I never get any hiccups.”
“I don’t even know what a hiccup feels like.” she said with a smile
Now I felt guiltier about my hiccups. I remembered what she had told me about herself, growing up in a small town in a large joint family, feeling lonelier in a crowd than she did by herself. I wondered what it felt like to dislike your family so much that you moved out at the first chance you got. I tried to imagine being silent for so long that you conveyed more meaning through your silence than you could with such graceless constructs as words. I was suddenly very glad for my hiccups!
“I just hope that someday I have hiccups as violent as you do!” She said.
Maybe it was what she said but my hiccups receded and by the time we finished our lunch I was almost hiccup free.
We went to her room that afternoon, as if we had planned it before hand. It was a small meticulous room that looked like a still life painting. We sat in silence on her bed, smiling at each other occasionally. I was not used to this, I spoke a lot before…you know, it was my way of getting comfortable. But I knew not to speak then. There were two silences in the room then, hers and mine and I knew they had to communicate before we could. And so I waited praying desperately that no hiccups disturbed the silence on my end. It was strange but I could feel our silences merging as if they were coming together to form one language. When they did find that language we found each other.
She was the softest, most silent, ephemeral person I have ever been with. I had to often check that she was still around and had not sublimated into the silence. I tried my best to be as silent as possible.
Afterwards we lay on her bed, my ragged breathing the only sound in the room, I could not even hear her breath. She lay curled up besides me with her head on my chest, I could see it rise and fall with each breath.I remember thinking she was aptly named (Asha means hope in Hindi) she weighed about as much as someone’s hopes would, she felt as material as the metaphor of an idea. It felt like she was a dream that I was having that I would forget if I thought too hard about. Maybe that is why I never thought too hard about her and we just drifted apart like two silent submarines parting in a silent sea.
(This is poetic bullshit of course, I am horrible at keeping in touch and now that I think about it this might explain my violent hiccups.)
Well Asha, wherever you are I hope you are happy, and I hope you are hiccupping violently, because here I am after all this time, thinking about you.
[Image credit: http://www.zmana.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Hiccups-images.jpg]