"It is going to be hard, Mrs. Iyer. I understand. But your husband does not have a clue who you are," Dr. McKenzie told me in her office a few days ago.
"Because of the crash? Amnesia?" I asked, after like what seemed like five minutes of awkward silence as I tried to digest the thought.
"Yes. But not amnesia in the right sense. Your husband has partial amnesia," the doctor explained.
"Only a part of her memories are lost. My guess would be from the last five years or so. He remembers being in Malaysia. But he has no clue of ever coming to Harvard to study law, or his internship here in New York."
I did not know what to say. My husband no longer know who I am.
"Would you like to see him?" the doctor asked.
She escorted me to his ward. There he was.
"Maddy... do you remember me? Do you know who I am?" I asked him, trying to look into his eyes.
He starred at me, his face full of puzzlement. Even before he shook his head, I knew his answer. It saddened me. Maddy, who was always full of joy and confidence, whose presence just filled once heart with happiness, never looked like this before.
"She's your wife, Madhavan. Madhumita. You remember me telling you about her just now, right?" Dr. McKinzie explained.
"My wife? What? What? I... I never got married! I'm only 16! Please! I want to go home! Can you call my parents please? Where am I? How did I get here? Please help me! Please!" and with that, the ever confident, ever manly husband I once knew began weeping like a child. I tried to hug him to comfort him. But he pushed me away.
On our way home, I tried to explain everything to Maddy. His parents turned him out after a big misunderstanding in the family. After getting his scholarship, he left Kuala Lumpur for Harvard with me. We started dating during our first year and love simply blossomed between us. We decided to get married after graduation. We had been on a year long internship under a special programme here in New York. We only had a few days more to return to Malaysia.
"This is our room, Maddy. Don't you remember it?" I showed him our house. He looked around puzzled. We had only been living here for a few months, but this was our first home together as husband and wife. It should trigger something. But the poor guy just starred around in strangely, as if he was completely alien to this place.
"Why don't you go wash up? I'll get dinner ready," I said and turned towards the kitchen.
"Can I have my own room... please?"
I remained calm. I then showed him to another room.
I told our boss at the law firm that Maddy will not be able to come over for his last few days of his internship because of his condition. The boss, Mr. Chadwick did not mind as he was already very much impressed with Maddy's work. But he regretted not being able to see him one last time before we return home to Malaysia, but promised to visit whenever he flies over.
Before leaving for home that day, I visited a friend from the Malaysian Embassy, who through some contacts had managed to get me details of Maddy's family. There was nothing much I could do if he could not remember me. All I could do was depend on his family.
"Hello, Mr. Iyer?" I asked the man on the other side.
"Yes... Who is this?" he asked back.
"I'm... I am Madhumita. I'm calling from New York, sir."
"Okay... Do I know you, girl?"
"No... we haven't actually met, sir. I'm a... a friend of Maddy's sir?"
"I'm sorry. Who?"
"Maddy, sir. Madhavan. Your youngest son?"
Suddenly, there was a long pause. All I could hear to was the noisy subway.
"Who is this, exactly?"
"I'm Madhumita. Madhavan's wife..." I forced those words out.
Again there was a short pause. But Mr. Iyer then asked synically, "Is this Philipa? Philipa Lee?"
"No, sir. I'm Indian. Naa Tamil, sir. Naa unge payee odei samsoro, sir. My name is Madhumita," I explained again, partially in Tamil so he did not mistaken me for a Chinese girl.
"Oh. Oh, I see," he seemed taken back for a moment. "Did... Did Madhavan ask you to call?"
I knew this was a big shock to him. But he seemed open to it.
When I got home with some vegetarian Chinese takeaway, Maddy was on the laptop. I forgot to knock, and he was startled to see me come in.
"I'm so sorry. I was all alone. There was nothing on TV. So I just went online for a while... I'm really sorry," Maddy apologized repeatedly.
"Hey, don't sweat it. It's your lappy, by the way. Mine I brought along to work. You can use it as long as you want," I explained. He then reluctantly took the food from me to lay out the table for dinner.
So he has always been like this - respectful and responsible. It was not something he grew into, but something he was very much part of.
It has been a few days since Maddy had returned home... and I was no longer a complete stranger to him. We could talk casually, although I could sense him feeling uncomfortable.
"Can I ask something?" he suddenly said as we were having dinner.
"Yeah, sure. Go ahead."
"Why... why did I run away from home?"
Suddenly, it hit me! I should not have told him he ran from home. His father was more than happy to have him home and pretend like nothing happened. His family missed him for all these years. He could have just gone home and everything could have been normal. But thanks to my big mouth...
"Well... you were in love with this girl from school. Your parents did not approve. They had you engaged to relative's niece or something. You two were to get married before going off to college. But you and this girl ran away and started living together. I don't know where but..."
"Living together? You mean... without getting married?" he was shocked.
"Yes... but that's fine. You both were young and you regretted doing that. And that was a long time ago..."
Maddy had turned sour. Of course, living in sin was a big crime according to his upbringing... our upbringing. When Maddy first told me this, I was taken back. Not just by this truth but by his honesty. Sure I was rather disappointed that not only I was not his first love, but I was not his first love partner. While in fact, I had prepared myself all for this. For this special moment to be enjoyed in the holy boundaries of matrimony.
"What happened then? Hold on. Were... Were you that girl I ran off with?" he asked.
"No. No, I wasn't. You had a scholarship and a good place at a local college for your foundation before you leave for Harvard. That girl had nothing. She was from a rich family, but she was bad at school and had no future. Her future was either you... or returning back to her family."
"But we decided to stay on together, right?"
"No. Obviously not. She went back to her family. You were too ashamed to go home. I remember you during first day of orientation. You were a mess. You remember anything of that day?"
He shook his head.
"Well... I suppose you really liked her. No... she must have been your first love. You were crazy during your first year. Lost of drinking, cigarettes, drugs... You mixed with the wrong company too. Lots of clubbing... hell knows what else you did. One day some of your friends got caught and were expelled. I suppose you and a few others were safe as they had nothing on you.
"Then do you remember the first week of our second year? We were in the same tutor group. That's how we became... close. I took you to temple. You cried when we went in. It was the first time in months for you..."
Maddy had his eyes fixed on me... never leaving me... like he did when we were in love... "Then?"
"Well... we became friends. Then, we dated. It was the first time for me. You were special. We did everything together, you and me. Your grades just shot up. You were recovered from the heartbreak. You became yourself again..."
Dinner ended on a gloomy note. We had never talked so much about Maddy's past. The doctor had said that there was no saying when he would regain his memory. It could take days, weeks, months, maybe even years!
How were we supposed to live together until then? He was nothing more than a teenager now. Only his family would know what to do. Taking him home would be what is best for him at the moment.
As I got ready for bed, I noticed Maddy's laptop still switched on. He had simply left it like that when I walked in. His Facebook was still unlogged. He had saved his password and that had made things easy for him. I was curious to know what he had been searching for.
He had just sent her a friend request. When I checked his GMail, he had also sent her an e-mail.
Of course! He was still in love with her! There was only her in his heart now. What if he left her for Philipa?
She wanted to tell him the truth. The truth that she had been hiding from him for months now. But now is not the time. That's for sure.
Just then, the phone rang...
"Alan, not now. I meant what I said during the Christmas party. It's over!" And I switched off my phone. Then I rushed to my room and jumped on the bed, forcing myself to fall asleep. But that did not work. I could not hold back the tears any longer. I just sobbed. Sobbed uncontrollably...
It's funny how not spending time with your loved one for so long can suddenly make you appreciate every single detail of them. As Maddy got preoccupied with his work, we hardly spent time during the last few months. Now, just everything about him simply touched me.
I loved the way he would always make sure he would be at the door first, just so he could open it for me. I loved the way he rushed to the table first, just so he could pull the chair out for me to sit first. I loved how he always insisted he carried the bags for me. I loved how he made sure my hair was always in place before I left home. I loved catching him staring at me for what could be hours my eyes were fixed on the telly watching my favourite show. I loved that he always held my hand when we were walking, and always being so overprotective each time we were crossing a busy street in the heart of the Big Apple.
Today, he reminded me of all that and lots more when he made sure he carried every one of our luggage to the trolley. Then as we stood in line to be checked by the immigration officers, he took my passport from my hands and showed them at the counter. This is what I had been missing all these while... this tenderness, this lovingness, this warmth, this protectiveness... this love....
Then there they were - the Iyer family. There was a middle-aged couple - Mr and Mrs. Iyer. Then there were around half a dozen siblings, all awaiting our arrival. The once alpha male husband of mine suddenly abandoned me as he ran to his parents in tears, hugging them dearly, apologizing repeatedly. As the family invited me into the circle of hugging and tears, I bowed before my in-laws a sign or respect, and Mrs. Iyer and the sisters embraced me, welcoming me into their family.
Having been brought up at an orphanage, I had never felt what it was like being a part of a conventional Tamil family. But now, I knew. And it was the best feeling in the world - and no man could take that away from me, God bless.
Now, I was finally home. It had not changed much. It was still the same corner load, double story semi-detached 'taman' house in one of Kuala Lumpur's suburbs. Just next door lived my uncle and his family. Only a few miles away, an aunt lived with her family. All of them were at home to welcome me with a surprise party.
My cousins - Jeya, Mani, Lalitha, Naina, Arjun... how they had grown. The boys were taller than me. Imagine how shocked I must have been when I noticed those bulging biceps on me. And now here was Mani and Arjun who could barely reach my shoulders the last time I remember, now towering above me with physiques that could put professional wrestlers to shame!
Mom, dad, my uncles and my aunts were older. Their hair had silvered in time. Dad and uncle had retired. Mom got promoted. But of course I would not know. Even if I had my memory, I would not remember since I ran away.
And when I was shown my room, Madhu was already in it. She starred back at me as I walked in. Of course, it must be still awkward for her since I had forgotten my memory. I was not the man she had fallen in love with. I was just a boy.
I was shown to my old room then. My pictures from school were still on the wall. Only my stubbly face had unchanged. My body was as skinny as a matchstick back in those days. Dad never approved of sports. It was always books and studies 24/7.
There was my class photo from my senior year. I was assistant prefect. Next to me was a Chinese girl whose face seemed to be cut out from a movie magazine and glued there.
The next morning, I received the best gift I could have asked for. Philipa had approved my friend request. She was excited to finally get in touch with me. She was working in Singapore. She was in Kuala Lumpur the following week with a client and wanted to meet me at the cafe not too far from my place, which was still there.
I could hardly believe it. I was going to meet her. It was as if she had never left me. It was as if everything Madhu had told me never happened. Philipa was still my one and only. The thought of her having left me just baffled me. Even before marriage, we had solemnized our vows. Together forever. She always said that. Always! And now this Madhu girl was telling me she left me to be with her family!
Maybe it was because we had stayed in the same house for some time since I was discharged from that American hospital, I was somewhat fond of her presence. True, she was beautiful. But her beauty can never match Philipa's.
But she must have been a good wife, right? If she can have the patience to stay with me and never loose hope on me, despite me not remembering ever loving another girl besides my Philipa, I suppose that makes her an amazing person. She would make a great wife, if she could stay this loyal and sincere for one man. Had not I met Philipa, I suppose I would have fallen for Madhu...
What?! No! Cut it out! Enough of this nonsense! There was only Philipa, and Philipa alone! There is no place for another woman in my heart, may she be as admirable as Madhu.
I pretended to be asleep. At two in the morning, I crept out. Everyone was fast asleep. I walked to the 'mamak' cafe. It was renovated over the years, and now looked almost like a fancy restaurant. I walked inside. And there she was...
All I could do was rush to her and hold her in my arms for as long as I could. I never wanted this moment to end.
"Maddy, it's great to meet you too. But you need to get off. People are looking. This is Malaysia, not America, darling..." she pushed me away, though tenderly.
For about half an hour or so, we just starred at each other, then the wall, then the ceiling, then the floor, then the street, then back to each other, and then the circle repeated.
There she was. My Philipa. Looking as beautiful as ever. Her hair was shorted now, and brown. She was puffing away, a habit she had not seemed to have forgotten.
"It's so good to see you, Maddy. It really is," she said and held my hand. Then, once again there was that awkward silence.
"So, you're a lawyer now. It was your dream, wasn't it? Not like me. Selling myself off for money. Strangers using me for their own lust. It's like that - Singapore. It's like that in every big city."
I was speechless. A call girl?
"How is everyone at home? You haven't been home since college, have you? How's your parents? Your brothers and sisters? Your cousins? How are they all?"
"Yeah... they're all good. Happy to have me back. More happier than I had expected..."
Then once again, the silence followed. Hell! How did this happen? It was like only yesterday we last met, literally for me at least. But for her it mush be ages!
"Is something wrong, Maddy? Do you want to tell me something? Is there a girl in your life? A girlfriend?"
I looked away.
"There has to be someone, right? Bright, intelligent, matured, family girl... so unlike me!" she said with a painful chuckle.
I could not leave this unanswered. "Yes, Philipa. I do have someone with me..."
She looked stunned, but quickly washed it out with a smile - the same way she always did every time I shocked her with a sad news. I knew. I remembered.
"What's her name, Maddy? Tell me about her. Please?" she pleaded.
"She's a really nice girl, Philipa. Most beautiful I've ever seen. Being in love with her is like living in a Bollywood film or something. Almost as tall as me, slim and simple. Loves talking about everything. She can never live without me. Always texts or calls me whenever I'm not around. her. She changed me as a person. I became a rebel of some sort. Looking back at my life, it made me look so wasted! Like, why haven't I met her before? She never thinks badly about people. She always has the best of intentions. I still remember her last words to me: together forever..."
This time the shock on Philipa's face can never be washed out with any smile of any length. It must have been a big blow to her that I was still in love with her... very much in love with her.
"This cannot be, Maddy."
"Why? You have someone else?"
"No! It's just... your wife!"
"My... my wife?"
"And also... I'm not the same Philipa. It's been so many years. People change. The world changes. I've changed. I may not like giving myself to other men, but the price of it is to die for. I'm almost a millionaire myself now. Next week, my latest client is taking me to Prague. Then, maybe even Toronto perhaps. All I need to do is to be with him. You loose some, you win some. But I'm happy. Happier than I have ever been. I have some contacts now. Great contacts. One day I will be back here in Kuala Lumpur. I will open my ownboutique. And I will make money of my own. But not now. Someday... when I'm so old that even plastic surgery cannot keep me beautiful, but the money and property I've collected over the years can provide for me the life I'm already living now. But for now... this is my life."
"Philipa..." I tried to hold her hand. But she pulled away.
"It's no use, Maddy. You will always be my first love. And for that you will always have a special place in my heart. But I cannot give you my entire heart. It's been so many years, Maddy. Don't tell me you haven't moved on. Go away, Maddy. Please..." She turned and ran away, towards her car parked up front.
I rushed after her. My eagerness to catch her seemed to make me bounce in thin air... The motorcycle that hit me did a somersault over my body and crashed on the road as I landed hard on the rood of Philipa's car.
"Maddy!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I heard her scream. No, it was not her.
Thank God nobody was badly injured. My husband's head was bleeding and he was unconscious. But nothing serious. We rushed him to the nearest hospital in Philipa's car. I could only pray that God kept him safe. There was so much more I had to tell him. So much more. Or I would never get forgiveness.
He was still in deep sleep when I went in to see him. I tried combing him hair. I wanted him to look as handsome as he always was. But when I walked out, I was in for a shock of a lifetime.
"Alan!" I gasped. What was Mr. Chadwick doing here?
"I was in the city on business. I came to this hospital because a client is here admitting a friend. What are you doing here?" Alan was as charming as ever. And he was not even trying.
"Errr... Maddy met with another accident. But it was just a small one. He is fine. He is resting. Listen, you really should not be here..."
"You made yourself quite clear, Madhu. No more pressure from my side. It simply baffles me how you can still stay loyal to him. Partial amnesia is just as bad as normal amnesia. It could take years for him to recover. Or he might never even regain his memory. You really think it is worth all this? You're so young. And beautiful. You could have anyone..."
"And I choose my husband. Now can you please leave?" I begged him, but I was almost shouting. A few nurses and patients waiting along the corridor turned towards us. Embarrassed, Alan left without another word.
Philipa was seated at a corner, deep in thought. She was still in love with Maddy as much Maddy was in love with her. Except she was consumed by the materialistic world she lived in. The thought of loosing her Maddy to death must be killing her from the inside.
This was the time. This was what was right. This was what I was fated to do. God be with me. I walked to Philipa, my heart heavy, but never having been more sure of something.
"It was you wasn't it?" those were his first words when he gained conscious. "The one at the cafe. You screamed out my name when I got hit. It was you wasn't it?"
I nodded, the tears streaming out of my eyes. It was not easy, but God was with me. What had been fated had been decided. I was not quiting on the man I loved. In fact, I was fighting for him, even if it meant letting him go.
"Maddy, I've talked to Philipa. You won't be surprised. But she never exactly meant what she said last night. She is ready. She is willing to start over. She is ready to start anew."
"What? I don't get it..."
"She still loves you. You are all hers. She is waiting for you outside. You're all hers..."
Maddy could not believe his ears. Of course. His one true love all his again. He got up slowly, but steadily. He was ready to embrace his love. He walked towards me... for the door. But he stopped before me. Never had he been so close to me in months...
"Madhu..." he called my name, also the first in a long, long time. "I thought I only had Philipa. But you were there, too. It is not just important that you love someone. It also matters that the person loves you back. Or else, the love is pointless. I ran away from life once, only to end up disappointed. And I'm not doing that again..."
"Shush..." he placed his finger on my lips, silencing me. "Last night, when I was telling Philipa about the girl I loved, it was not her. It was you... The love I forgot, you've reminded me of in just that one week of loving and caring for me..."
"But that Alan! I've always wanted to tell you..."
"No, no, no... I know about him. It's all slowly coming back to me. I know about you and him. But I don't care. You could have left me for him with me in this condition. But, you didn't. You stayed with me. All because you loved me..."
And then I wept, unable to control myself. "It was a stupid mistake. You were always away... and it was just one night. One date. One meaningless date. That's all! I feel so stupid. Please forgive me..."
But Maddy was silent. He came down on his knee. Looking up at me, with his round doe eyes, he said, "Madhu, will you fall in love with me? All over again? Like how I'm falling in love with you right now? Please. will you?"
As I looked in through the glass window, I saw the young husband and wife embrace each other in a long, passionate kiss. I knew my feeble attempt in making Maddy pursue me like before would not work at this rate. I was ready to let go of my world of dreams for a world of love. Guess it is world of dreams back again.
"Philipa? Philipa Lim?" a deep voice called out behind me. I turned around. There he was. Most of the men who have me are these old, lifeless billionaires. But here was a white hunk who despite his middle age, could be easily mistaken for a Hollywood hunk.
"Ah. Mr. Chadwick. I must say you don't look as handsome as your picture. But you will do."
"I say, you're rather picky, for a call-girl."
"No! No! Not any call-girl. You know my clients, don't you? If I were a just a call-girl, I won't be charging at the rate you have to pay me, right? So, shall we proceed? Where are we to after Prague? Toronto, right?"
"Oh. Change of plans. I have to go back to New York for a couple of days. But you're welcomed to join me there as well."
"Well, you can talk to my manager. I charge triple for change of schedules without prior notice. But that would do just fine."
As the two unlikely couple left the hospital building, attracting much attention with their matching good looks and the chemistry they shared as they walked the corridors, the true couple left the ward.
It was love all over the air for Maddy. He was falling in love again, with the same woman. And Madhu had her man by her side. No more secrets, no more lies. Just love for a lifetime.
As they walked away from their past, Maddy held his wife's hand close to him, his eyes telling hers he would never let go of her again.