Winters were harder on Saumya. Although the sheer feeling of slight cold on her bare skin during the dawn was romantic, she still shuddered whenever the cold breeze blew through her hair and made the back of her neck tingle. It was like the kiss of her old lover – soft and cold.

            Saumya had waited for him for 17 years now. Every morning she would sit below the giant oak tree in the center of their homes, which were just opposite each other, and would wait for him to accidentally come home and find her there. The oak tree was a witness to all their love. Even though it was right in the middle of the verandah where his and Saumya’s families had lived for generations, it had a way of hiding from the world – just like their love.

            Growing up with him under this very tree was the best thing that had happened to Saumya. She remembered her mother talking about how both the families would initially gather under the very oak tree every Sunday to picnic – where Saumya and he were barely infants. Saumya learned to eat nails from him. Saumya learned to throw sand on each other’s faces from him. Saumya learned to laugh heartily from him. And Saumya learned to cry stubbornly from him.

            He was always a bad impression on her. Always.  Somehow, he always wanted to fall loose. Go away. Simply vanish from her life. Which he did. 17 years ago.

            Saumya grew up to love him. First as a brother…then as a friend..and finally, as a lover. There was nothing that he didn’t know. He could write a poem as easily as he would repair a lightbulb. He knew how to anger the elders, and only he knew how to cool them down. He knew how to love Saumya and he taught her how to love someone else too. Although, that never happened. Even after he left. 17 years ago.

            The cold breeze broke a tired, withered leaf from the tree and touched Saumya’s cheek. Like every morning, her eyes were on the main door of the house. She hoped it would open anytime soon and he would come out of it, looking for her as much as she was looking for him. But the door that had closed 17 years ago never opened.

            It was this very day when his entire family had started to perish in a pandemic that had disrupted many, many such families. He was the last one to go. He was young but that couldn’t save him. Saumya had been there to catch his final breath. He had struggled for it, looking at Saumya as if expecting her to give her own beating heart to him. She would have if she could. But she couldn’t. He died hoping to catch up with her in some other life where they could live and leave together.  

            For Saumya, 17 years felt more than 70. She could never allow herself to marry someone else. She knew that the last breath he had taken was entrenched firmly in her own lungs, she didn’t want to breathe a single day without that breath. Every dawn ever since, she had come under the oak tree, waiting for him to come to take his breath back from her and start life anew. The birds woke up. The sun smiled. But he…he never came. After he left. 17 years ago.

   But as they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.