There was a gentle rain falling outside. The incessant caress of the water had washed away every speck of dirt from each leaf, each blade, every flower. The roads, once covered in the dry summer dust, had soaked in the rain and was now wet. The old houses wore a drenched look, gathering moss on the eroded walls, ferns bursting out of the cracks and crevices.
Inside it was damp, dark and dusty from unuse. The closed cupboards reeked of mothballs, the rotting wood peeled out of its polished surface, the walls bulged and bloated in places thanks to the humidity in the air. The restive soul wanted a breath of the fresh, wet air, heavy with an unknown fragrance from an unknown white flower blooming in the wet bush outside the door. He did not belong to this city anymore. But it rained the same way from where he came. And that was why he wanted to be outside, under the drizzle, letting it’s cool touch remind him of home. He was not particularly homesick, but the rains made him nostalgic.
But he was also not new to this city. He had once lived in this alley with the decaying houses, from his first day till when he became a successful engineer. The doors in the alleyway reminded him of the many faces behind them. There was a man who listened to the radio very late into the night at no. 3A, the lady in 4/1/B was a widow with four children, the house with the unusually purple Bougainvillia creeping up it’s walls used to be the home of one of his best friends who had since moved to the Middle East. He wondered how many of those faces were still a part of the decaying houses behind those doors of the alley that ended at his door.
It was only yesterday, when he stood in front of this door, he had felt a happy lost feeling. Lost in the alleys of his childhood, his house tucked away in the older part of the city with the chaos of life around him. And then his gaze had turned to the green door next to his door, a special door from his boyhood. The fragrance of heena from the freshly washed hair, the clinking of thin, gold bangles, an array of colourful chunnis, the dark kohl lined, almond eyes darting coy looks and then quickly looking away if he happened to look. He remembered a bashful encounter on a Holi morning – the only time when he happened to caress the blushing, warm, softness of the cheek , with her sporting a disobedient plait playfully pushed back where it belonged – an image from his eager boyhood.
But the man had not come back to reclaim unrequitted love. They never had a love story. He had found love in another city, in another girl. She had been married to a banker in a relatively newer part of the city. He had another purpose today to have returned here thus.
He walked out into the small opening outside his door where the unknown bush grew the unknown white flowers with a heavy, sweet scent. Turning around, he looked up at the facade that was a pale shade of yellow many monsoons ago with broad parapets and arched windows. The window on the second floor was his, with his table and chair by it and his world of books, music, kites and football. The table and chair are now housed in his home with some other memories, the rest gathered dust and grew mouldy behind the closed door of this house.
Then with a shrug he turned the brass key in the latch. This would be the last time he would step into this house again.
But at a later date, the house will don a fresh coat of paint, the windows will be thrown open to the southern wind, there would be new curtains in the old fashioned windows, there would be new footsteps on the stairs climbing up and down. A new love story would perhaps bloom with another girl next door. With that promise to his past he handed over the keys to the man who stood outside under a black umbrella holding a cheque to his name.
He climbed into the waiting car at the end of the alley, rolled up the glass and took one last look at the house before it went out of sight forever.