The phone stopped ringing. Skype didnt reverberate in its uppety roundaabout ringtone. Peace. Did she want this peace? Anna stood on the terrace garden peering through the vine shrubbery onto the busy Chatham street in Hampshire. The rail track behind her apartment was rallying the cry of a nearby approaching train. Sipping a cup of hot cocoa she sifted her fingers through her pixie hair. The first thing she did after being released from the hospital was get a haircut. The doctor told her to keep it light..everything light. Light it had to be with no Ben to keep demanding a bit of her everyday since the time they decided to spend their lives together. It had been a month since Ben left, since the phone stopped ringing, since she stopped waiting, since Anna called it all off.
A barrister by profession, Anna had been selected to pursue her Masters in International Human Rights at Columbia Law School. Three years before she received a place in Columbia, Anna met Ben in another Barrister’s office. Ben was four years her senior. Ben was everything Anna was aspiring to be; shrewd and in control of courtroom tactics. But Ben became a barrister to be powerful and be looked upon with respect by all those around him. To Anna, law was an extension of the bountiful world of language, expression, art and the deceiving use of the English Language. She breathed law as if it was an eternal romance with her soul. The legal arguments and twisting of legal acumen excited her grey cells. Little did she know that her grey cells would never be able to handle the twists of Ben’s arguments. For Ben, law was about winning, about playing the Devil’s advocate to a universal truth, about battling it out in his personal life as well. Opposites attract but toxically in Anna’s case.
Anna squinted her eyes to the blistering June heat. Hampshire, a cosy hamlet near Winchester, England was searing hot especially that particular summer. She glanced over her shoulders on hearing footsteps, only to see her mother walking in with a bowl of hot porridge and sandwich. Anna woke up from her thoughts and went inside with her mom. Life changed drastically for her. Anna and Ben had decided to set up a law practice together in the heart of Winchester. But that was a month back till she collapsed, till she suffered a fit and a nervous breakdown, till Ben started screaming at her for not making him happy.
Anna and Ben dated for two years before Anna flew across the Atlantic to finish her studies. They were in different time zones when she was surrounded by law books and classes in Columbia. Ben didnt formally ask Anna but straight away met Anna’s father. Anna’s father was only too happy to see a self made man asking his daughter’s hand in marriage. Anna fell head over heals on the level of affection Ben displayed. Little did she know, it was all about acquiring..exactly the way you acquire land starting with possession then moving onto sale deed to will. Willing his own desires over hers. Ofcourse Anna’s concerns couldnt pierce through Ben’s web of established notions and reasons of right, wrong and everything in between.
Both were madly in love for the years they were together and at different ends of the ocean. Difficult to imagine for ruthless barristers. Over the course of time and due to the grueling routine at Columbia, Anna’s peace of mind started to rattle. Her class timings, her assignments, her life with her housemates, her hobbies all took a backseat. Ben came first. After all she was to ‘become his wife’. She wanted to support him in becoming the best in the legal profession. He told her all sorts of things one densely says in love- “Anna, love! you’re the kind of woman behind every man’s success”; “You’re my princess, honey”; “Dont ask me to control myself, you already know the answer”. Once she reached Hampshire, the love between them became a whiff of smoke. Ben’s web of thoughts became a blackhole for Anna. She couldnt understand why. Why did she collapse?
The train blew its whistle, Anna couldnt hear anything.
Her mother’s voice like a flash scurried away these dark thoughts that messed her every morning.
“Anna darling, Anna love, do you want me to lay out the table near the shrubbery, where you can relax and eat? Are you sure you’ll be okay? I don’t have that much work in the hospital today… If you want we can make a day of it.”
“Anna lets go out for lunch if your classes are cancelled.”
“No I cant. I have a call with Ben.”
These were the many reasons Anna gave her housemates whenever they made a plan to go out together. She only went out after she had spoken to Ben and he had gone off to sleep. Anna was living in two different time zones. She had to put in the effort if she wanted to make the relationship work. After all, Ben was ‘supportive of her decision’ to do a Masters a year before they were to be married. Like an understanding partner, Ben ‘gave her the freedom’ to do what she wanted. Anna would sometimes wonder how her personality was slowly getting enmeshed into Ben’s and she couldn’t untangle herself from his postulations of life.
Deep inside Anna’s subconscious, she could feel the twingle in her heart, a voice saying- Get out of it now. Ben never told her to call or speak but would automatically do the same once he got off work. Anna found it difficult to breathe and eventually became scared in conveying this to Ben whose sentiments she feared she might hurt. For Anna, love meant to walk together, not to walk together in chains with the key not in your hand. But Anna did as he wanted and the following instances made her more of a ‘Stepford’ than a companion.
In the fall afternoon of a pleasant Sunday, Anna visited the Studio Museum at Harlem with a couple of her friends. This was immediately a week after she had moved to Columbia. Ben’s Sundays were quite relaxed and expressed a strong desire to talk to Anna, to find out what she was upto and ofcourse to make love to her digitally. Anna wasnt available to talk to him and while she was walking back from the museum, he called quite a number of times. He screamed at her for not picking the phone while she was surrounded with her friends, while she was admiring a Jordan Casteel oil work, while she wandered in her own innermost art world. Anna could see herself being pushed into a corner. A sprightly girl full of confidence, could see shackles being put around her all because of an emotion called ‘Love’. Her subconscious would reprimand her and often quote Charlotte Bronte’s verse-“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” But are not humans the ones chained to their minds and opinions? Birds are more free than us. She would console herself with the thought that he loved her and was sincere towards her. Tugging herself in a vertigo of denial and love, she moved ahead with Ben towards the brighter lights of being in a relationship.
When Anna moved to the US, she spent a week at her friend Fifi’s pad in Boston before moving to Columbia. Ben was extremely restless and demanded that she talk to him regularly. If she was hanging out with Fifi or running errands, Ben would get upset. He would tell her to run errands in the later half of the day when he would be asleep on the other side of the Atlantic. Anna’s intelligence and reason fell prey to the fool’s paradise that one willingly goes to when mystified in passion. Ofcourse, somewhere deep inside her, she could feel a hand trying to choke her. She didnt share this with anyone till she reached Hampshire, till Ben started screaming at her for not doing as he wanted, till there were three months left for the church wedding.
The taste of her mother’s hot porridge garnished with vegetables and thyme, took her immediately out of this jarring memory. As she was eating the porridge, she shivered and wrapped herself in a warm blanket. These memories would instantly rattle her body as if her soul was shrieking to get out of it. Her soul couldn’t relate to the mental and physical scars on the body.
Anna looked to the sky at the birds, and the stillness of the spectacle, once again submerged her fragmented soul safely into nature’s blanket.
The vertigo of love that Anna was trapped in didn’t seem the way the swoon-ers and poets described. Her escapade with the dreaded emotion was in divergence with the beauty associated with it. Love became a riddle for her where she was eventually gasping for breath. Anna initially blamed herself for calling everything off and leaving Ben in the lurch, but the freedom and simple beauty of peace and solitude was too good to pass up. Everything now seemed like flowing water, as if the ocean naturally curled into a wave on reaching the shore after a long arduous journey through storms.
She was once again in love with the hardbound cover of the books, she could read without having to leave it in between, so that she could make someone else happy. She found love in her own company and in the company of those that made her smile. Those were the birds, the blue sky, the green meadows, the lavender plant her mother got her for her reading table, the parrots that would often visit the vine shrubbery, the cliff overlooking the vast North Sea, the piping of the bees in the summer afternoon, the characters of her books and lastly law; whose exciting world gave her the strength to once again enter a Courtroom after a gap of six months.