Ayer counted the money from his drawer with his eyes closed, still half asleep as he had been working day and night at the tailor’s shop. He had been counting the money for months now and he could tell by just touching them what kind of money notes they were. He now had a few thousand Rupees. But that still was
Deepavali was in a week’s time. But unlike the previous years, he did not have enough money to buy his younger brothers and sisters any new clothes as he was saving up for something important. These were not his biological siblings, but the younger orphans who lived at the orphanage he grew up in. Already half the money he had saved up was used for his operation he had undergone recently. Now the other half of it was for Sheila and Sheila alone.
Life seemed such a bore for Ayer. He was mostly content with life, having grown up with a roof above his head, with three square meals per day, and free primary education. Being a well-built, strong young man, he survived mostly by doing odd jobs. He was not sure if anyone would hire him now with his condition after his operation. But whatever it was, the money he had earned would be useful for Sheila. And that was all that mattered to Ayer at the moment.
Sheila. Sweet, beautiful little Sheila. She was the love of his life. Only after Ayer met her, did his life change. There was a certain excitement knowing that someone cared for you out there. That someone would tell you they loved you, and actually meant it, not out of sympathy since you are an orphan, or because you are in the same boat with them. It was her laughter that probably made Ayer flip. Or it could be her smile. Or perhaps even the way she moved her hair behind her ears flirtatiously when they were together. Ask Ayer what was most beautiful about Sheila, and he would say probably everything about her.
The fact that Sheila was blind since childhood never bothered him.
The town of Pondicherry was beautifully decorated at this time of the year. There were colourful lights and decorations on every building in honour of the festive season. Ayer could tell there was celebration in the air. Soon, he would propose to Sheila. And she would surely accept. Then, they would get married. They might run a florist stall by the beach. Sheila always loved flowers and was often fascinated by their smell. Surely once she had her eyes fixed, she would enjoy being around flowers, enjoying their various colours and scent, all coming together to form a paradise of beauty.
“Sheila, my dear,” Ayer called out.
“Why, there you are. You’re here late, for a man who has both his eyes functioning perfectly” Sheila got up from the floor of her tiny apartment to get to the kitchen to lay out the dining table. She had been sewing some torn garments for customers who were fixing their clothes before Deepavali. People living around this area were not the type who could afford brand new clothes every year. They would just what they have.
As the two love birds were having their meal that evening, Ayer finally decided that it was time he told Sheila the special news.
“Sheila, I have something to tell you,” he went.
“Yes? Is the chicken not good?”
“No. No. The chicken is just fine. It’s just that... you know that Deepavali is just a few days away. And that they say it’s the day light triumph over darkness.”
“Sure. We call it the festival of lights for a reason.”
“Well... I really felt this is the best time for it. I want to bring back the light in your life. At least before our wedding, so we can have a beautiful married life...”
“I don’t get it. What are you trying to say, Ayer?”
“What I’m saying is, we found a donor for your eye operation. He was someone from my orphanage. He passed away recently and it so happens his blood type matches yours. I never really told you this but I’ve been saving up for your operation for months. The doctors have even fixed your operation. It will be on Deepavali eve.”
“Oh...” Sheila seemed like she was about to faint for a second. She was speechless, but then got up and tried to reach for Ayer across the table. I hugged her and kept her close to me, as Ayer would do forever. She then sobbed uncontrollably. Tears of happiness. This was Ayer’s dream, my goal in life; to see his Sheila happy. All of a sudden, all his sacrifices seemed right. It was all worth it. Sheila would get her sight back. That was all she ever wanted, what she always talked about. It was her dream too. And now she would be forever happy, just like Ayer seeing her happiness. All was well.
It was Deepavali eve. It was raining that night, as if God was washing the streets for Sheila to travel back home for the celebration with her sight back tomorrow morning.
“Ayer, my sweetheart. Thank you. Thank you so much for everything,” Sheila said as she held Ayer’s hands tight.
“Don’t thank me dear. This is all His doing. We should be thankful to Him. I have given an idol of Ganesha, your favourite deity to the doctors so that when you open your eyes tomorrow for the first time in years, you can see Him and get His blessings on Deepavali morning.”
“Why, that’s so thoughtful of you, sweetheart. Thank you. But I want you to be the one holding His idol for me. So I can see the both of you when I can see again. Will you be there?”
“Of course I will,” Ayer kissed the tip of her gripped fingers and rubbed it on my cheeks. She was warm, as she was beautiful always. She was taken into the operation theatre. Ayer waited outside patiently for the next morning- a Deepavali more special and meaningful than any other.
It was early the following morning. The doctors announced that the operation was successful and that Ayer could see Sheila in a few hours time. That gave him time to freshen up and look good before his loved one. He washed his face, trimmed his stubbles, brushed his teeth and styled his hair. He could not tell if he looked good, but he knew his Sheila would like him no matter what.
It was finally time for Sheila to open her eyes. She was already awake and was all excited to see Ayer. The nurses gave him the Ganesha idol he had given them. There were tears of admiration in their eyes to witness this beautiful love story unfold before them. The doctors, however, were sceptical. They felt Ayer should have told Sheila the truth rather than play this sick joke on her.
A nurse opened the bandage covering Sheila’s eyes, revealing her deep brown eyes. She opened them slowly. Sitting before her, with an idol of an elephant headed deity was the love of her life. He was as tall and muscular as she had felt every time they touched. His face was as handsome as she had imagined it; his heavily tanned skin, his sharp nose, full lips, wavy hair, high forehead, square jaw; it was all perfect!
And his eyes, they were a deep ocean blue. But wait. They were still and were not directed at her. Then it hit her. Ayer was blind too. He was blind all along! What kind of a prank was this? She pushed the surgery equipment before her crashing down to the floor.
“What kind of sick joke is this? You could have at least told me! Liar! Filthy hypocrite! How am I supposed to live like this? We’ve known each other for years. I loved you with all my heart, and now that I can see, must I see you like... like this?! A blind man? How am I supposed to live with you, run a family, have kids, lead a normal life, all with a blind man? What was the point of finding me a donor all these years when you could have done the same for yourself? Why, Ayer? Why? No! I cannot stand the sight of you any longer. Get out. Please get out. Out! Now!” The girl was hysterical.
Ayer could not understand why this was all happening. Wasn’t she happy enough now? Maybe she was simply beyond his mind’s understanding. He got up to leave, simply turning around once to say:
“I’m sorry I lied to you, Sheila. I just wanted you to be happy. I didn’t know you wouldn’t want a blind man as your life partner. If leading a life with a blind man is as sad as being blind yourself, then I shall walk out of your life forever. I hope you find someone who can make you happy. My eyes are yours now. I hope you can see all the wonders of the world now, all the beautiful colours of the flowers that you so missed. God bless you, Sheila.
And he left. Just like that.
Sheila could hardly believe her ears. She fell unconscious on the floor, unnoticed by the doctors and nurses who watched Ayer walking away, perhaps not even knowing which way the exit was...