Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Short Story: Carpe Diem

He watched as she walked down the aisle, the flair of her impeccable white gown swirling around her willowy frame.

They’d grown up together, the noisy, mischievous boy and the quiet, clumsy girl next door. While he was the older one, by a year – not a year! Just eight months! Her indignant voice rang in his head – they were best friends from the time they were in their diapers. The two of them were around each other so much that their names always flew of others’ tongues together. Like bread and butter. Table and chair.

Lily and Chris.

A three-year old Chris pulled the blankets up to his chin as his mother began the bedtime story. “In a land far, far away, there lived a very brave prince called Chris. He was a good person and all the people of his land loved him. One day, a messenger from another kingdom came to his palace. The messenger said, ‘My king requests the brave prince Chris to rescue his daughter, Princess…’”

His mother faltered as she tried to come up with a name for the princess.

"Lily! Princess Lily!” the toddler supplied his playmate’s name.

Smiling, his mother continued the story, narrating how Prince Chris set out on his horse, fought many beasts, killed a dragon, tamed evil spirits and finally defeated the wicked wizard who had kidnapped Princess Lily. “… The princess was brave as well – she did not cry even when she was all alone in the dark room. Prince Chris, amazed at her courage, asked her father permission to marry her… and the king happily agreed. And so, Prince Chris and Princess Lily lived joyfully ever after.”

“Mama”, little Chris asked, blinking, “So will I marry Lily?”

The amused mother’s peals of laughter pierced the silence of the night.

He was Lily’s knight in shining armour, standing by her even through the “girls-have-cooties” stage, defending her against all the playground bullies. She was his partner-in-crime while stealing chocolates from the refrigerator and pranking their mothers with plastic lizards.

As they left behind their dolls and action figures, they grew to be each others' personal diary and encyclopaedias of the others' likes and dislikes. They may have been like chalk and cheese – the popular guy and the wallflower – but to each other, they were books for kindergartners, easy to read and comprehend. Chris and Lily knew each other not like the back of their own hands, but much better than that.

But somewhere along the line, somehow, Lily became… mysterious. Chris panicked. He couldn’t understand what had gone wrong, why he could no longer read her like he used to. She still was the same old endearingly clumsy, bookish Lily – the only reason why he got his homework done, the one who went gaga over stories and poems, the girl who easily scored the highest marks and yet freaked out on the eve of exams – but something had changed.

Chris found himself mesmerized by the way her frizzy black hair wouldn’t stay put, the way her doe-like eyes shone when she talked about the newest book in the library. He began to notice how pretty her toothy grin was. It was as though his neurons were injected with caffeine whenever Lily was around; his senses went on high alert – he saw the little dimples on her cheek, he smelt her strawberry shampoo, he heard the echoes of her words…

… And he felt guilty. For the first time in his life, he’d kept secrets from his best friend. But he couldn’t do anything about it and contented himself with weaving fairytales around the two of them.

However, it took just a day to bring him crashing back to reality.

In a mad rush to catch the bus, his mom’s words went unheard. He was getting late for school, and there always was the evening, right?

There wasn’t.

Chris breathed in the nauseous smell of Dettol as he paced the hospital corridor, his despairing gaze flitting to the closed doors of the Emergency Unit. His mom wouldn’t go, not because of a damn truck that rammed into her car. Mother would put up a fight. She had to.

The agonizing wait for some news on his mother’s condition was put to an end fifteen minutes later by a doctor’s regretful announcement.

Chris relived the day his four-year-old self had been separated from his mother in a crowded park.

Now, at seventeen, he felt the same way – terrified, helpless and alone.

Acceptance was painful, but even more painful was letting go.

Chris managed to pick up the shards of his broken life and reassemble them, albeit different than earlier. But getting through even a single day seemed tougher than usual, and several times he was struck by the thought that he had often taken his mother for granted. How had she managed to find his school tie beneath his badminton racquets? How had she prepared his favourite fruit trifle? How had she found time to sew the buttons on his shirt when she had dozens of other work to do? And what had she said that morning? Why, oh why hadn’t he stopped to hear her out?

Through the sudden turn his life had taken, Lily became his rock, even more so than before. She quietly listened as he rambled about his mother and lent her shoulder so that he could cry out all his pain. With her by his side, he stumbled through Plus Two, the entrance exams and four years of slogging in Mechanical Engineering. And in the middle of all these, the butterflies in his stomach, which had vanished after his mother’s death, fluttered with increasing vigour whenever Lily was in vicinity.

Finally, steeling his nerves, he decided to confess.

Lily was in her garden, potting a new chrysanthemum plant. Even with her mud-caked hands and the streak of dirt, she looked beautiful, he thought. He stood at the gate, not realising that he was staring.

“Oh come on in, TISCO’s latest recruit. I won’t hug you and dirty your t-shirt... but congrats!”

He smiled and kneeled down beside her, helping her with the gardening. “Thanks. And no, I wasn’t worried about you sliming my brand new tee. It was more like being wary about that spade in your hand.”

Not a total lie, he reflected. After all, she could as well use it on him once he got off what was on his mind.

“I’m not that clumsy!” Lily protested, trying to brush her hair off her eyes without getting mud on it. Chris unconsciously leaned forward and swept her hair back. Her eyes held his like magnets to iron filings.

Come on, idiot, just three words! His mind screamed.

He’d spent the whole night in front of the mirror, practising what to say. But now that zero hour was here, the words lodged themselves in his suddenly dry throat, refusing to come out.

“Hello? Chris?” A concerned Lily snapped her fingers in front of his eyes, bringing him out of his reverie. “You zoned out a bit there. Are you tired? Go and rest, I can get this done on my own!”

Chris forced a smile and stormed back to his house, furious with himself.

And here he was on the altar, seven months after his botched attempt to confess his love for the girl who always had his heart. The day had unfolded like he had always imagined it to, except Lily had not tripped, but conducted herself with an uncharacteristic grace.

And except for the fact that he was the best man.

“Carpe diem, Chris, seize the day!”


  1. Such an amazing story! The ending was sad but beautiful! Masha Allah, Zainab, you get better with each post!

    1. Thanks a lot! I was experimenting with a new style, juxtaposing the past and the present... glad to know that my efforts paid off! :)

  2. Good one Zain, glad to be the first one to read it ;)

    1. Thanks! And you're entitled to have that privilege, cuz BFFs have to "Be the First to give Feedback"! :D

  3. This is one of the best stories I've ever read! I have forced all of my friends and family to read it