Whenever the dust settled after an afternoon storm, the sweet seller arrived at my doorstep with a guilty smile on his bearded face. He would sit in the verandah for about an hour, carefully blowing away the red mud from the surface of the homemade sweetmeats. I often asked him how he could live with selling those contaminated sweets but he claimed that the earthiness enhanced their flavour. Despite this clever justification, he would always keep my batch at the bottom of his bag, cautiously wrapped in butter paper.
Feelings diffused through the wire mesh of my front door, creating a wonderful harmony on each side. I was sheltered yet troubled while he was wild and raw but frightened of overstepping the boundaries defined by society. He was so afraid of disturbing the fragile balance of this friendship that he always left my bundle of sweets at the door. The risk of the dream ending with an accidental brush of fingertips made him insist on keeping the barrier of the wire mesh between us at all times.
Whenever I asked him about his family, he would cheesily remark that in this city I was all he had. This response was not unfair considering that he never questioned the absence of another soul in a bungalow that was clearly not meant for one. Our sporadic encounters were enough for love to blossom in our youthful hearts. With no means of contacting him, I would pray for a storm whenever I yearned for his company. He would magically appear from behind the murky curtain of smog, his tray of sweets dangling from his neck, his hands behind his back as if they were holding a message that he was too shy to deliver.
Ours was a language of silence, of subdued smiles and unheard whispers. He knew nothing about the world that existed beyond the shadows of my drawing room but he knew everything about me. Softly humming my favorite song, he would display the sweet treat of the day as if it was a painting expressing his love. Layers of powdered sugar always embraced his thick fingers that were evidently meant for a hardier profession than brewing syrups. It almost seemed like he was running away from his past, trying to hide his pain in the whirls of his Jalebis, concealing the blemishes with thin slices of almonds.
His gentle voice would echo through the empty house until the next storm brought him my way. Years passed, neighbours changed, the paint of the bungalow started peeling in places, but the taste of his Coconut Barfi remained the same. Not all storms are the harbingers of happy times though. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
One night the thunder shook the house and the pouring rain didn’t cease for hours. As the feeble rays of the rising sun struggled to pierce through the shroud of clouds, I heard a strange metallic clang at my door. There he was, wet, pale and cold. This storm was one that he could not defeat. His tray of sweets still couldn’t manage to breach the boundary that had kept us apart for years.
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