Story of a Valentine

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Emperor Claudius held his royal staff in his left hand. His body leaned towards the right, his elbow on the arm chair bearing the burden of his weight. The Emperor wore his ceremonial “trabea” entirely covered in purple. What was it that he was celebrating with a wide smile across his face?

His eyes had settled on a man who kneeled before him. The man bowed before the Emperor not out of respect, but forcefully. He had no fear in his heart, no regret on his mind or guilt on his soul. In the silence of the court, the only sound that echoed the corners of the court was that of the King’s staff tapping against the royal floor. Courtesans looked in curiosity for the Emperor to deliver his verdict. Most were not in his favor. But then, who were they to judge the King who ruled several realms of Rome?

The man who kneeled before the Emperor was known to one and all. He was the most beloved man of Rome, the man who touched a million hearts and summoned words that spoke only the language of love. His name was St. Valentine.

And his guilt was to only have spread love without the Emperor’s consent.

“Do you confess to your guilt?” the Emperor questioned pointing the staff at Valentine.

To this, Valentine only nodded in denial. Nothing could more aggrieve the Emperor than a foul criminal’s ego. No one could stand challenge to the might of the Emperor.

“So be it,” said Emperor Claudius. “Your debauchery has cost me gravely. You decimated my army with a single word, love. I, Emperor Claudius, banish you from any freedom Gods can offer. May you rot and die in the dungeons of my prison when the time be right. From thus forth, Rome will never see a marriage.”

And so it was decided. Valentine was thrown in a remote cell where not a speck of sun’s light could touch the walls. Not a soul wandered or a whisper lingered. The man of love spent his days in a corner, only wishing the Emperor could understand the essence of love. So he believed that God’s angel will send a cupid and the Emperor will be diagnosed of his hatred and filled with love and only love. He pondered over those he had secretly married off against the Emperor’s will.

Days turned to months and months to years. He was reduced from muscles to bones. Soon his time would be due, he knew for sure. And one day, what had not happened in years, was about to ensue. An echo fell on his ears, one that he had not heard in a long time. The footsteps were soft, gentle, like a breeze touching a leaf. His eyes searched in the dark until they found a figure standing outside a cell.

She had long hair. Her eyes did not look into his but he could tell the color of them.

What game the mind plays in my dying days? He thought.

He closed his eyes wondering if this was a dream, and opening the eyes would make the figure in front of him vanish. Not that he wanted her to go. No man in his right sense would want to stop looking at a beauty as such. For a brief moment he pushed his mind to focus, to relieve himself of this beautiful dream.

When he opened them again, the beautiful lady was still standing in her place.

“She is my daughter,” said the guard approaching the cell.

Valentine had not spoken in years. But the love inside him was still afresh. He smiled at the new face. For a day, he had seen too many good faces. He could only ask for more.

“You may not remember me,” the guard continued. “Long time back, you had secretly married me to a girl, against the will of the Emperor.”

Valentine had married off thousands of couples. In fact, more men than there were in the Emperor’s army. This was the reason he was where he is. Not once he regretted having married off those lovely couples. The love in the eyes of the groom, the bride in white shinning gown and the blessing he showered in whispers. The secrecy he never revealed to anyone, the promises he kept for the couple, and he never regretted any of those. His years in this cell were worth each of those moments.

“It is because of you that I am blessed with a beautiful daughter as such,” the guard was in tears now. “You do not deserve this for the blessings you bestowed upon us. When I narrated your story to my daughter, she insisted on meeting you. I could not keep her away. How could I deny her from meeting a man so full of love?” He turned to the entrance and back to the cell. “I must leave you two alone here. I will stay guard by the door.” Saying so he left for the door.

When Valentine turned to the guard’s daughter, he looked directly in her eyes. She had dreamy eyes, a strand of hair fell across her face. It was as though he was rewarded with a second life. It was not until she spoke her first word, that St Valentine’s heart was overwhelmed with such happiness that his weak body could bear no further. Streams of tears began to roll down his cheeks. Not since his birth had he cried like a baby.

“My love,” she said reaching through the cell rods, “what injustice the Emperor does to a man who knows no hatred?” She reached for his hands and held them firmly in hers. Valentine was coming back to life again.

As days passed on, the guard’s daughter frequented her visits to Valentine. For hours they would talk. She would describe to him the happenings outside the cell. She would cook for him healthy food. She would stay by his cell till he had had his food and drifted off to sleep holding her hand. She would then leave for her place, only to look forward for her next meeting with Valentine.

Daily and slowly, her presence lifted Valentine’s spirit. When he felt retrieved in his prime, with the help of the good guard, he started secretly marrying more couples. This he did with the help of his lady love. He taught her the rites which she performed secretly outside.

But as fate had it, the Emperor was relieved of the treachery one day. His heart was filled in such rage and hatred that he decided to finish the tale of Valentine on the same day. The day was the fourteenth morning of February, 269 AD.

In a public gathering, the Emperor held captive the guard, St Valentine and his love. Not a moment he spent in beheading the guard with his own sword for his treachery. He turned to the St. Valentine, “You dare defy the words of your Emperor. No more shall I let your love prevail. Your last wish?” he asked.

To this, Valentine produced a piece of paper. Turning to his lady, he read through it,

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou art my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine:

The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

That day, St Valentine and his love was sacrificed on the altar of hatred. Years later, we still continue to celebrate this day, to spread the love that originated in the heart of St Valentine.

Note: This is my version of the story of Valentine. The story may defer as per the source I read from.

Poem Courtesy: St Valentine.

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The Rear View Mirror

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“Drive faster,” she voiced her demand.

 “I am driving fast enough,” I replied pointing at the speedometer that jogged around 30.

 “Oh come on, that guy on cycle just passed us. Drive faster.” She mocked throwing her hands in the air. “Don’t be so sissy.”

 “I am not being sissy.” I said in my defense. “We are not protected. And I have not decided on dying like this. At least not here and now.”

“Really? Are you telling me that you have already decided how you want to die?” That was the beginning of a string of questions to follow.

Damn.

“Well no, I mean yes. I mean it is too complicated.” I stuttered.

“Really? Complicated? With the speed you are driving at, I think I h`ave enough time to listen and fathom. Go on. I am all ears.” And that is how she gets stuff out of me. Every time.

“Well you know how I think?” I said clearing my throat and trying to put some sense in each word I uttered. “I have plans for everything. Come to think about it, I have plans for us too.”

“Yeah? Like what?” She shot again.

These women.

“Like spend loads of time with you and love you to the core, marry you someday, have kids, grow old, and then die with you still by my side.” I prayed that made some sense.

“You know, on second thought, I like the plan.” She said smiling.

Gosh, how did that happen?

“You do?” I asked surprised at hearing that. I was expecting whats and whys and hows.

“Totally, and lets have 2 kids, a boy and a girl. Boy, we will name Josh and girl, Amanda.” She said, her voice growing curious with every word.

“Sounds good.” I said, clearly enjoying the conversation. Then something struck me. “Wait. You had this planned before, din’t you? You even decided on the names, without my consent.”

“I did not.” She said trying to defend herself. “It was a mere suggestion. You can pick the names if you want. I can give you the book.” And the ball is in your court baby.

“The book? What book?” I saw her bit her tongue at the question.

Gotcha.

“It’s no big deal. I just bought a book of names for babies. Just to see what name our kids could have.”

“Oh my God. And all this while I thought I was the crazy one making plans. You are even crazier than I am. You named our unborn babies.”

“Whatever.” She said making a straight face.

I stepped on the accelerator and the speedometer rushed, forty, fifty, sixty. The bike zoomed on the deserted road.

“What are you doing?” She asked with a disagreeing look.

“I thought you wanted me to drive faster.” I said in a confused tone.

“We are not protected. And I have not decided on dying like this. At least not here and now.”

The Pact

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Note: This blog is a guest post by Urmi Vaz. My sincere thanks to her for taking time out from her busy schedule and give us yet another glimpse of her unique writing style and brilliant storytelling.

P.S.: This post can be read both horizontally and vertically.

By: Urmi Vaz

Author’s Personal Blog: Karma and Some

Talking Titles

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“It’s quiet in here.” I accost glancing around the place.

She looks at me in revulsion. “It’s a library,” and nods her head contentiously.

I force a smile of discomfort  and shrug. She occupies herself into the book she has been reading all along.

“What book are you reading?” I interrupt intending to get her attention on me.

She lifts the book up so that the title is shoved in my face.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” I blurt the title aloud and grin impulsively, “For the facts, the man who wrote the book was himself divorced and married, twice.” I mock with my two fingers wriggling.

She slams the book closed and looks at me in resentment.

“What do you want me to do?” I shrug again.

“Shutting up may be a good start.” She leaves her seat and starts fishing for a different book.

“Look, I said I am sorry. It wasn’t a big…”

“I thought you were going to shut up,” she cuts me off.

“Ok. If that is what you want.” I plant my hands in each pocket and sigh. She continues with her search, completely ignoring me, as if I do not exist in the room.

I stay close on her heals, trying to get her attention by moving around her. She relents. Few minutes pass by and I begin to feel twitchy.

Ignoring is the worst thing you can do to meit literally kills me. I think in my mind but refuse to convey to her. May be because I know I deserved it.

Another minute has passed by and my restiveness has reached its zenith. I leaf through the numerous books lined up neatly on a shelf labelled fiction.

She is still busy when I walk up to her with a book in hand. Tapping her lightly on the shoulder, I run my finger across the title of the book. P.S. I Love You.

She nods in denial, pulls out a VCD from the movies section and thrusts it in my hands. Liar Liar.

I scroll through a few more books and point out at one in the corner. Trust Me.

She denies again and pulls out the same book. She turns the book to the back cover and underlines a sentence from the book summary with her finger. All Men are bastards.

She slams the book in my hand and moves on leaving me quizzical.

I make another move with two books, one in each hand. I hold one up in the air while she reads the title. I’ll Take You There.

She looks back at me with a questioned look. I bring forth the second book in my left hand for her to read. Five Days in Paris.

She heads for a shelf and comes back with one in her hand. She raises an eyebrow and the book simultaneously. Be Careful What You Wish For.

I hold her hand signifying a promise. She looks away, still not satisfied by my apologies.

I step back holding a finger in air beseeching her to wait for me. Up and down the library, I run for a couple of minutes. I return to the table where she is standing and plead her to close her eyes. She obeys.

I place the several books I have been hugging around on the table and begin to arrange them.

I hold her hand and get down on my knees. She opens her eyes; I direct her glance to the arranged books on the table.

It happened one Autumn.

On the Night of the Seventh Moon.

A Smooth Talking Stranger.

A Beautiful Mind.

Perfect.

It Had to be You.

Where Dreams Begin.

From This Day.

Love Story.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine.

Once and Always.

Dreaming of you.

I am Ok, You are Ok. 

Everything is illuminated.

One Hundred Years of solitude.

For Better, For Worse, Forever.

Till Death do us apart.

I make an innocent face, urging for her forgiveness. She breaks into a cherubic smile for the first time. Her smile makes me smile. She pulls me up close to her.

I pass her the final book I have been hiding behind me. Say You Love Me.

“I love you,” she breaks the silence and rests her head on my chest.

“Let’s get out of here,” I suggest.

“That would be a good start.”

We begin to step out when the librarian shouts pointing at the dozen books on the table, “Oye! Are you going to buy those? Where do you think you are going?”

I direct him to a book on the top selling shelf. A Walk to Remember.

Read Me

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“Honey!!! You don’t have to do this.”

“Why not? You always keep doing these sweet little romantic things for me. I can be romantic for once.”

“But you already are.” I look convincingly in her eyes. She already has something planned for the day. Disappoint, is the last thing I want to do to her. “Fine, what’s on your mind then?”

“Just be honest,” she says. “Close your eyes and do not open until I ask you to.” The enthusiasm in her voice is hard to resist. And so I follow the orders with utmost gratitude.

She calls for a cab and walks me towards the door while holding my hand.

“So what’s with the idea of blinding me?” I ask her, hoping to extract something out of the conversation. She refuses to reply, but squeezes my hand gently in return.

The cab comes to a halt a few minutes’ drive later and she helps me out carefully. While my eyes are honestly closed, I work on the noises in the background. The place is less crowded, the only blare I can here is that of a hammer against a nail. The smell of freshly baked cookies fills my nostrils. Somewhere nearby, I can hear little girls playing hop and skip game.

“Careful,” she warns, “boardwalk ahead.”  She pulls me up towards her, I try not to stumble. One, two, three…I start counting the number of steps from the pavement towards wherever I was heading.

“You can stop counting now.” It freaks me out the way she can read my mind.

“How did you know I was counting?” I ask only for a silence in reply again.

We walk through a door and into a quiet room filled with a familiar fragrance. My curiosity is at its peak, I wish to open my eyes, but I have a promise to keep.

I hear her murmur in the background and eventually the voice fades and is replaced by a scribbling. Her hand slips back into mine and we start walking through a series of doors.

 “Sit,” she says finally. I follow, throwing my weight backwards and landing on a couch. When in love, you just have to trust what your partner says and you will always land on a soft surface. I brush my fingers gently on the cushion.

 “Now,” she says interrupting again, “to answer your questions. I don’t want you to ever know where this place is. I want you to remember this day for the rest of your life. Can you do that for me?” Her hand moves softly over my face. “You can now open your eyes.”

Suddenly, I feel like an 8 year old, who has been asked to open his birthday present.

“Ok then! Here we go.” I open my eyes and see her sit in front of me. Cold wind is blowing from a window nearby. I turn around and find myself at the centre of a children’s section library. The shelf on the right is covered with all the books that have ever been written for kids. There is the Harry Potter series, the Pinocchio, the Arabian Nights, the Aesop’s Fables, the Gulliver’s Travels, the Three Musketeers, and a lot more than I could have never imagined in one place. On the adjacent side are tables lined up with games like, Scrabble, Scotland Yard, Monopoly, Battleship, Rubix Cube, Snakes and Ladders, and another long list. The ceiling is painted to form a Milky Way, with all the planets in their orbital position. At the centre of the Milky Way, hangs a huge chandelier that shines yellow and plays the Sun, thus deservedly completing a universe. The walls are covered with many posters of cartoon characters and Super Heroes. I cannot help but grin at the scene.

“You remembered,” I say finally turning back to her. She is smiling; I can see her eyes filled with satisfaction.

“When we met the first time,” she reminds, “you told me how you were fond of books. But you had never visited a children’s library because your father would always buy you encyclopedias and science books. I thought this did be perfect for a lazy day, huh Mr. Geek?”

“This is perfect.” My excitement is pouring and I can see some kids ogling at me for having crossed their territory. “How did you get us in a children’s section?”

“Oh I have contacts,” she mocks walking towards a bookshelf. “We have all day long. So where do you want to start from?”

I point at the Pinocchio and she pulls it out from the lowest shelf. She sits on the couch wearing her spectacles. She pats on the seat besides her and I follow her instructions.

Today, I am like a child who is about to hear his first bedtime story. Today I revisit my childhood.

Hold It Tightly

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“What?” I catch her staring at her fingers. One of those moments, when something goes on in her head and she waits till I take the initiative to ask her.

“Why do we have spaces between fingers?” She asks smiling back. I know what she is expecting.

I move close and hold her hand, filling up the space between her fingers with mine. “That is why.” I say smirking.

——————————————————————————————————————————

I am sitting in a cafeteria, my usual table in the corner of the world. I stare at my fingers; the space has been there for a long time. I stir my coffee with the spoon, a whirlpool forms, and gulps in the sugar. The same whirlpool that gulped me when you stormed out. I sit there in a corner, all by myself, with all the questions bouncing in the back of my mind. The moments have passed by and I have taken shelter under the dark clouds.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

“You are not holding it right,” She complains.

“There is a technique to hold a girl’s hand? How come I dint know?” I mock.

“Do you want to let me go?”

“No! Why would I want to let you go?”

“Well then hold it tightly.”

——————————————————————————————————————————

I pick up my cup; it slips and shatters to pieces. I should have held it tightly. That voice inside screams painfully. Too many things have broken. And the time’s run out to mend those things.

The chapter’s closed.

You had told me the last time we talked. Here I was building the castle of cards for you while you were busy blowing whistles. One card gave into the tunes of your whistle and then it came all crashing down. The chapter had closed.

I look at the spilled coffee, dispersing in all directions. Too many things scattered.

The Timeline

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Sunday
20:00 Hrs

It was the coldest mid January winter. I bolted the front door and double-checked the lock. Ann was waiting downstairs. It was our first wedding anniversary and I had booked us a ticket for the latest movie at a multiplex downtown. She always insisted on a simpler plan. In a red Versace gown and a shawl wrapped around her, she looked as beautiful as ever. I hugged her from behind.

“I love you,” I said as I tightened my arms around her never wanting to let her go.

“And I love you more,” she smiled, “lets get going before we lose the beginning in your romantic talks. We have all night for that.”

“When have I been late?” I complained.

“Remember that day, when you turned up 30 minutes late for our wedding,” Ann mocked stressing more on ‘wedding’ part. I knew I had to hear that for the rest of my life. Women never forget being stood up, even if for a minute.

The plan was simple.

20:00 Hrs: 15 mins walk to Taxi Stand.
20:15 Hrs: 30 Mins Drive Downtown.
20:45 Hrs: 10 Mins alley walk toward the theatre.
20:55 Hrs: Theatre.

What she dint know was that a surprise party was waiting for her after the movie.

20:05 Hrs

We were nearly half way towards taxi stand. A year later, I still felt more in love each day that I held her hand and walked down the street. She is my pride. I just could not stop thinking about her. We crossed the back alley of a meat shop, when the butcher came out to close for the day. Some think struck my mind then.

“What?” Ann asked guessing the obvious expression on my face.

“I think I left the back door open.” I said. “I should go and check.”

“Oh no, we will be late for the movie. I hate missing the prelude.”

“Honey, the credits are worth being missed. Don’t worry we will get there in time. I will be back in 10,” I promised.

20:10 Hrs

I had a reputation of being finicky. I liked double-checking every time I left my apartment. The obsession went back to my 10th grade year. My father took us on a vacation to a beach on west coast of Hawaii. Two days later, we received a call from our neighbor saying our house had been robbed. They took everything from cash that my father had been saving for my high school year to most of the electronic equipments. It turned out that my father had missed a window that served the entrance for robbers. I ended up attending a community college near by. The worse two years of my life that I scrapped through.

I checked the back door, thrice. I had locked it neatly although I failed to remember when. I turned back to join Ann. We had just lost 10 minutes. Given the time frame, we could still make it to the theater by 21:05 hrs. What harm could a 10 minutes delay cause?

20:25 Hrs

“What after the movie, honey?” she asked sliding into my arms. This was the right time to throw her off the hook and then surprise her with my master plan.

“I guess we will go for a short sight seeing and then head back home,” I answered as if it was the best plan I could come up with.

“That’s it? You want to go home and sleep on our wedding anniversary. How depressing are you?” she questioned, to which I only managed a shrug. Playing it cool was not my cup of tea.

20:55 Hrs

I held open the cab door for her, marrying her had not made me lose my charisma. She stepped out clenching harder to her shawl. It was beyond freezing on that particular night. I unbuttoned my over coat and wrapped it around her. I asked the cab driver to meet me at the same place at 23:00 hrs. We started walking towards the theater. The alley was dark and deserted as if no one had visited it in decades. Streetlights hardly managed to do their part of the walkway. Rest of the part was dimmed by moon light. I drew Ann closer to my side as we walked past closed shops.

“We should have been in the theater by now had you not gone back to check the already locked doors.” Ann mocked my finicky nature.

“Well my nature comes with me in the marriage. It’s a package deal honey. Bear with me. And anyways what’s with the movie credits and you.” I said sarcastically. She did not react, her face turned pale as she stopped and looked in a far corner.

“There’s someone in that corner,” she said panicking. I looked in the direction where a middle-aged man stood with a gun in his right hand. His long hair covered his face and his over grown beard made it even harder to read him in that dark alley. I moved Ann behind me and took slow steps towards him.

“We don’t want any trouble. Take all you want and leave.” I said taking out my wallet and tossing it at his feet.

“I don’t want any trouble either, if only you co operate like good generous citizens,” the mugger replied bending to collect the wallet. “The necklace!”

“What?”

“Your wife’s necklace. Toss it this way before I blow her head off.” He said pointing the gun at Ann.

“Ann! Give him the necklace. Hurry.” I said as I moved to cover her. “Here, now let’s not push this any further. We have given you all we had. Just walk away and I promise we won’t have any trouble or cops.” I held Ann’s hand and walked slowly away from him.

I saw a man approaching from behind the mugger. The dim light failed my eyes to locate a cop approaching stealthily. Too late, I thought as I realized that the mugger had suspected a stranger’s presence. He turned around to look and panicked at the sight of a cop. Adrenaline rushed through his body as he pulled the trigger in terror. In a fraction of second, the bullet left the gun and sped towards Ann.

Too late, I thought. Happy Anniversary my love.

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