They walked on the mud road.
Their sandals, slapping against the wet red clay, made soft by the rains.
The girl, on one side. The boy, on the other.
They maintained this distance, of an arm’s length, throughout their walk.
And then two…
The boy couldn’t break through the wall of her musings.
Her concentration was impenetrable.
He finally asked her that, which had been on his mind for far too long.
“Are you beautiful?”
She looked up. For the first time, he had managed to break that barrier.
She did not meet his eyes.
When she spoke, her voice flowed out, musical and soft. So soft that had it not been quiet enough to hear the crickets chirp, he might have never caught her words.
“I’m as beautiful as you want me to be.”
He looked at her.
He really looked at her.
He looked at her dark eyes.
Her luscious black hair, braided into one thick plait.
Her face, dabbed unevenly with talcum powder.
The gap between her two front teeth.
Those golden hoops, dangling from her small ears.
Her wrists, lined with glass bangles that shone in the light.
The saree, that was draped around her.
The smell of jasmine, that he knew only as her own.
The sound of her laughter, echoing through the air, resonating with unfathomable happiness.
Her’s was a simple life.
The pleasures that gave her those moments of happiness, too were as simple.
The sweetness of a mango, as she squeezed its flesh, while biting into its pulp, juice dribbling down the corner of her chin.
The laughter when she saw the children play on the street.
The innocence with which she looked at men.
The honesty in her eyes when she spoke to him.
The trust which she had sold to him, at the price of her life.
The reverence that she associated with only family.
The fear of loss. And, of regret.
The wonder when she looked at the stars, scattered across the night sky.
The playfulness with which she gathered the cool water in the palms of her hands and splashed his face.
The naughtiness with which she climbed trees.
The awe with which she spoke of her big city dreams.
The care with which she added spices in the food she cooked.
The love in her eyes when she smiled.
The childishness that she embodied.
The unadulterated glee that he heard in her voice, whenever she spoke.
And how he wished that she would speak more often.
The musicality of her voice, and in her words.
The colours that burst out of her, more colourful than the brightest hues of any Holi celebration.
The bravery, coupled with kindness.
The lives she inspired.
The pale shadow of the moonlight, on her face, when she snuck out on full moon nights.
The sunlight that illuminated her face in the early mornings.
The life in her when she danced under the crying skies, during the first rains of the monsoons.
“They are only tears of joy”, she would say.
The little quirks that defined her.
Her spirit that said nothing would stop her.
Her ideas that were far beyond her age.
The simplicity that underlined her upbringing.
The determination that she would be someone.
The ethereal sight that she was in the depths of darkness.
The lessons that he had learnt from her.
The friendship he had found in her.
The need that she had instilled in him.
She looked at him, and smiled, barely.
But that alone was enough for him.
“How beautiful am I?” She whispered.
“As beautiful as beauty can be.” He breathed.