Forever, for Ava

Nudraat Nawer

24th January, 2020

Not a morning person. Definitely not. Like, it baffles me people can like the piercing, scorching rays of the sun immediately after they’ve woken up. It’s almost half past 10 and I’m waiting for my coffee. Maintaining a journal seems stupid like I haven’t willingly sat down to write something in the past decade or so. But I promised myself that I’d process my feelings better, and I can’t be a disgrace to my family and someone who doesn’t keep his words at the same time. That’s just plain anarchy. 

Shadhin doesn’t do anarchy.

11th February, 2020

Do people wonder if they’re the single loneliest soul on the planet at least once every single day, or are they normal?

Wow, 23 but sounding like 13. 

13th February, 2020

Azhar dadu died.

The only neighbor I ever interacted with. I am going to miss him lecture me on my shorts, scolding me for having a few cigarettes at the tong, and probably his wrinkly skin crinkling even more every time I made a really bad joke.

Our houses are adjacent; it’s on the north side of my room. His bedroom window aligns with my balcony’s, and that’s how I always found him with my mom. “Mumtaz! How have you been, child?” He’d say every time, flashing a smile the best he could with the limited teeth he had. She says he used to be a father-figure to her.

What do I do with all these bad jokes?

3rd March, 2020

They cleared out Azhar dadu’s flat. I saw some other family move in today. How do I know? Because my mother has this pathological need to be liked by everyone so the moment she knew we’re having new neighbors, the woman cooked a three-course meal! I had to go over and invite them this weekend. She even made my shave my beard, cause apparently I looked like a Neanderthal who had been melted out of an ice block.

No problem. I won’t even be here when they’re over. Not my guests! I’ll just grab a smoke with Tahsin, chill on his roof, listen to some Shironamhin till I feel like jumping off the building. Stupid neighbors who stupidly accepted the stupid invitation.   

29th March, 2020

I’m this close to adopting the furry, adorable little calico that seems to have found the perfect resting place on the tin-shed house on the next plot. It’s just the cutest thing, I swear! Whenever I try to get its attention (with high-pitched loud shrills almost resembling a field mouse’s), it looks up and lets out tiny mews. Grown men don’t squeal, but grown men can appreciate adorable felines that are super fuzzy. I was doing the latter. In a background dull and depressing, the cat looked like a little ball of sunshine that would occasionally meow at you. Yes, I am obsessed with cats. Moving on.

Maybe my mental health would be better with a pet in the house. Is my family ready for that sort of conversation?

4th April, 2020

Quarantine isn’t as bad as I’d expected it to be. I stay inside all day, watch some Netflix, get cussed at for only sleeping, eating, and watching Netflix; but it’s fine I guess.

Something weird happened today. After I took a relatively longer shower, I had walked to the balcony to fetch a fresh, dry pair of shorts. I just couldn’t wear sweatpants again – it’s too warm! So anyway, I moved to the corner of the balcony and peeked down. And of course, what do I see except those adorable cats? They seemed to be just chilling there. But it seems like they were looking at the nearby house’s balcony.

The top of the tin-shed is on the east side of my room, while the house I’m talking about is Azhar dadu’s, specifically the 2nd floor’s balcony. I don’t know, those cats looked like they were expecting someone. But then again, they could just be planning on sneaking inside to steal a piece of fish, so what do I know?

11th April, 2020

I KNEW IT! I KNEW THOSE CATS WERE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE!

As per routine, I walked into the balcony after a bath and searched for the cats. They were at the edge of the tin-shed, their usual location. But they were standing facing the balcony, so obviously my eyes wandered to what they were looking at. 

It seemed to be a girl, all draped in black as she fed the cats some chunks of rice. I couldn’t see the entirety of her face because I didn’t have my glasses on, but I can say from memory that she has waist-length dark black locks. 

Aren’t these the kind of “girls” they talk about in horror movies before revealing there wasn’t a girl at all? Huh, such cliché.

Anyway, I didn’t want to look like a creep so I left abruptly. But I’m happy to know that someone in this neighborhood likes cats apart from me.

14th April, 2020

Sorta made awkward eye contact with the girl today.

It wouldn’t have been that awkward had I not been staring at her feeding the cats with an ear-to-ear grin plastered on my face. But in my defense, I was just admiring the thick chunks munching on their food.

She might’ve felt me staring so she craned her neck up a little, catching a glimpse.

I don’t know. Was it the cats and the affection I felt for them that made me think the girl is kinda cute. Like not my type at all. The sunlight illuminated a side of her face as she gazed at me, and I realized she had those bewitching heterochromatic eyes. Little freckles across her nose like constellations on a night sky. She was in all black again with her hair up in a messy bun. She does look better with her hair down though.

……. Okay, I might not have anticipated how poetic I would sound just now. What’s up with me? I barely know her. Wait! I don’t. I don’t know her name, who she is, or what she was doing feeding the cats?! 

I feel like a stalker. Ew.

20th April, 2020

She’s the new neighbor. 

Ava. Short for Avani.

Cute, not gonna lie.

30th April, 2020

She looked at me again today. But not with the same disgust as the past few days. Maybe she’s realized that I have no vile intentions, I just wish to fawn over the cats.

Considering her not frowning while looking at me gave me a positive sign. A sign that maybe she wouldn’t run away from a small conversation. I don’t know where I got the guts but I did say something. Maybe not the best introductory line, but it was something.

“You like cats too?” I asked.

She was busy feeding the cats, and at my question, she gave me a quick but sharp nod, not bothering with a reply. As she refocused on the felines, I gulped. Of course, she likes cats! What the hell was wrong with me. I coughed and tried again.

“How’s your name pronounced?”

She said something at first, but almost like a whisper. “Can you repeat?” I asked, at a shockingly louder tone.

The glare instantly returned, but it did mellow as soon as it had appeared. “A-e-va!” She replied, still soft like cotton. I mouthed an O and lost her attention once more.

Now, I know she’s kinda sorta adorable but I wasn’t going to keep a one-sided conversation going. I walked away, obviously.

13th May, 2020

I had promised I would not engage with Ava. Like I kept seeing her after that day, every day as she fed the cats who eagerly waited for her. But after that cold interaction, she lost my interest.

However, she wasn’t clad in black today. Instead, she wore a milky white dress with tiny pink flowers all over. I haven’t ever seen her in anything except black and blue, and I wasn’t honestly expecting myself to stare for as long as I did.

In my defense, she did look………. Awfully……beautiful.

With one spare hand, she effortlessly pushed back a few strands of her hair. She has that slow-motion effect, like the ones they show in movies. Hers is so much more natural. She was humming a song to pair up with the subtle melody of her glass bangles jingling against her wrist. And every time she smiles, her whole body expresses the excitement. Maybe I was admiring too hard….. too hard to notice she had her dark orbs fixed on me – not the usual glare, but the inquisitive gaze.

She moved her head in a gesture that indicated, “What?”, as in what I was looking at. I shook my head, a tiny smile on my lips.

She titled her head to a side, much similar to that of tiny kitten’s. “Did you change your frames?” She asked bluntly.

Completely thrown back, I touched the corner of my spectacles. “Uhm, yes.”

“Oh.”

“You noticed?”

A small but prominent blush crept onto her cheeks. “You spend so much time looking at me. I guess I did.”

Okay have to give her that. Clean bowled. 

“Hey! I look at the cats,” I guffawed, but I do think I was lying a little.

“Sure,” she said coolly, diverting her attention to the calicos. “Here Monty! There you go Hinata!”

“You named the cats?”

She looked at me as if I had asked her if she smuggled drugs in through the border. “Yes,” she answered, the same blush reappearing. “The calico is Hinata, the white one is Itachi, and the black one is Gara.”

I don’t know what happened at that moment, but I could’ve sworn I heard a tiny click somewhere. Anyway, moving on. Her names made me laugh, and for the first time, I think I even saw her breaking into a small chuckle. “It’s cute, okay?” She weakly added.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t.”

She tucked her hair behind both ears with both hands at the same time. We stood there for a while in complete silence, watching over the three balls of furs just sunbathing and letting out occasional mews.

21st May, 2020

Ava came to the house today.

Like not that kind. She came to invite the family over for dinner the next weekend. I didn’t know because I slept till 1 pm, again. 

Is it bad that a little part of me wishes I could open the door? I haven’t seen her in “her full glory” yet, as maybe I’m curious how tall she is. Or maybe I just want to see what she looks like when I’m not staring down at her balcony. I don’t know. I just feel sucky for not being able to open the door.

27th April, 2020

“Are you coming?” Ava said today in the tiniest voice as I desperately attempted to throw some food down to the cats without making it into mush.

I probably wasn’t paying attention so I didn’t answer. It wasn’t till a solid minute later when the words had registered into the brain, and I realized I hadn’t given her answer. She stood there, leaning against the balcony rail, doing something on her phone. “What did you say?” I asked, hoping to hear that question from her again.

“Nothing.” In the calmest tone ever. Almost too calm. I won’t accept it to anyone else but it did almost annoy me. All I wanted was her to accept she cared enough to ask me whether or not I’d be at the dinner that weekend.

I fail to understand why she’s always giving me the cold shoulder.

29th May, 2020

I might’ve shaved my beard after 3 months today.

No big deal. Just didn’t feel like looking like a bear.

Tahsin thinks it’s because of the girl, Ava. Calls me a simp. What does he even know?! Okay Ava is cute, but I don’t think I’m simping. Plus, it’s a stupid term anyway. You shouldn’t be degraded for caring about a special one, geez.

Wait wait…. I’m not calling Ava a special one.

I barely know her.

I don’t….. right?

Sure, I know she wears her hair down on days she’s upset. I know she hates fish so she saves bits from hers for the cats. I know she is very observant, so she’s aware I only have 3 shirts that I repeat every day of the week. I know she wears a pendant around her neck that signifies “Balance” because she believes everything in life needs to be in the perfect mix. I know she has an unhealthy obsession with anime, so she randomly names the other stray cats’ characters from the show. I know she doesn’t wear monochrome on days she feels a bit happy. She told me that one day when I caught her obsessively brushing some tangles off her hair with one hand and holding some fish bits with the other. “I look weird!” She had cried out. “You absolutely don’t. You never do.” The words shot out of my mouth before I could gauge what it sounded like. (Un)fortunately, she didn’t seem to catch that. I was so thankful for her attention span. Did I mention she has the attention span of a sparrow? You could distract her with almost anything, even a comprehensive documentary on the different types of ribbons. She hears everything with so much interest.

Ava is just so weird. So quiet but she always ends up expressing the most.

9th June, 2020

I think I was too dazed to note anything in the past few days. I had gone to Ava’s for dinner. It was fine, I guess. Our parents were getting along pretty fine. I got to know she’s an only child, so her parents are extra protective of her. Is it weird that she’s almost 21 but has only gone out with her friends twice her entire life? Ava doesn’t seem to mind. She says, “People leave. Animals? You love them right; they stick around forever.”

Who even taught her that? What a unique woman, my God!

I don’t know what happened after that day, but I don’t see her anymore. I see the cats waiting at the same place where they’d always find her throwing them food, but I never see Ava. 

I don’t miss her, okay? She couldn’t just vanish into thin air, right?

20th June, 2020

I saw her!

There she was, at the dead of the night, standing with a flash-light feeding the cats. Was it around 2 am? Probably. I remember because that’s my designated “1 cigarette a day” hour. Ammu keeps bugging me with the “Kemon jongli lagtese toke! Aar koto biri khabi?” Honestly, it’s a waste of money in quarantine. So, I’m trying to reduce it.

But hey! What was she doing feeding the cats at 2 am? Is she planning some sort of world domination with the cats? Is she some sort of a weird cat whisperer?

I’ll accept: Talking to her has made me much more of a whimsical fellow than I’d like. 

I didn’t disrupt her, because I know she’d not come out that late if not for a reason. I’m just curious.

5th July, 2020

I woke up this morning after 8 repeated calls. It was weird given I wasn’t important enough for anyone to be called that many times. I glanced at my phone with bleary eyes; an unknown number. Uninterested, I put my phone on silent and slipped back into slumber.

I woke up at around 1 pm, losing track of time and with a bad backache. The first thing in my routine is to check my phone, so I did that. Only to realize there were about 2 dozen phone calls and even more texts waiting.

All from the same number. The number I had ignored.

Tensed at the sudden turn of events, I flick my lock screen and my phone reveals the mystery. The messages arrived after the calls, all like a minute apart.

Will you pick up?

Please pick up.

What the hell is wrong with you?

We wouldn’t be here had you not slept at 5 am.

Shadhin…..

:’(

It’s me.

Pick up.

It’s me, Ava.

I’m running away from home. I wanted to see you one last time.

So you’re actually sleeping, huh?

Please remember to feed Hinata, Itachi, and Gara thrice a day.

How open are you to the concept of eloping?

I don’t like you but the thought of never seeing you again doesn’t make me happy.

I’ve never had a phone before. This is fun. I can text all the people I want.

Oh no…. the battery is almost over.

I’m going into hiding. Ninja style!

Do you think the cats will miss me?

Will anybody miss me?

I’m in your favorite place. If you want to meet me one last time before I disappear, be there at 2 pm.

For an entire minute, I malfunctioned. Trying to grasp onto reality, time, and the situation, things got overwhelming super quick. Okay, what the hell did Ava think she was going to do by running away? Why did she….how did…. Anyway, it was almost 1:15 pm, and the moment I registered that I have to be somewhere in 45 minutes, it went time.

I grabbed a small comb and stuffed it in the pocket of the jeans that had been lying out since the start of quarantine. Ammu was probably waiting for me to wake up so she could serve me breakfast, but I zoomed out of the house. I don’t know where I was heading but I knew I had to be somewhere.

Quarantine had loosened up. Hundreds of people roaming the streets. She was in my favorite place. What did she imply? Maybe I forgot everything about myself for a while because all I could think about was how she is, where she is, and if she’s okay.

“Ava! What the hell!!” I shouted as my eyes fell on her, sitting on the railing of the roof. After a lot of running around like a headless chicken, I recalled telling her that I enjoyed late-night walks on the roof, that it gave me peace. And I didn’t have a lot of time to think here. Thankfully, my hunch turned out right.

Somehow, she had sneaked into the roof of our building and had positioned herself neatly on the border. Seeing me, she flashed the brightest smile; and let me tell you, in all these months, I’ve never seen her smile so wide. “Hello,” she welcomed me. “I thought you’d never figure it out.”

Panting like crazy, I furrowed my brows at her. “You better have an explanation for this.”

She shrugged. “I’m running away. That’s that.”

“You can’t just say you’re running away like that. You think this is some sort of game?”

“Everything’s a game if you play hard enough.”

“Okay, I didn’t almost have a heart attack to hear you shoot philosophical things at me.”

She grinned eerily. “I’ve never sat on the roof before. The chilling breeze is dismantling me.”

She rambled on for a few more minutes but I didn’t catch anything. I was still in a trance. Shy, quiet Ava has somehow left her home, managed a phone, and was now on my roof. What the actual…..

“You’re never going to see me again. This is your chance to say something,” she commented as if the statement was as light as asking me to say goodbye to her for an hour.

Letting out a deep sigh, I looked up at the fluffy clouds dancing in the light blue canvas. “I didn’t know you owned anything pink. You look good.”

“Anything but compliments.”
“Okay. You’re crazy for running away.”

“Anything but that.”

I turned to look at her and saw the fun dissipate from her eyes slowly. She was being serious. “I don’t understand. What happened? Why would you leave?” 

She blinked several times. I wasn’t sure if I had offended her, or hit a raw nerve. 

“None of your business,” she established.

A rather harsh scoff escaped my lips. The audacity of this girl. Just because I let her off the hook easy. “It’s damn right my business when you run away, text me, and then take shelter in my house’s roof.”

“Should I not have contacted you?” She said, and I noted the tiniest crack in her voice. “Should I have gone somewhere else? Somewhere no one could find me. Somewhere I could be alone with my thoughts till they strangled me, granting me a painful dea—–”

“Ava!” I snapped, much harder than expected. I saw her jump a little. It was tough fazing her, so watching her get a tiny shock was quite different. The crack in her voice resonated in mine. “You are being nonsensical. Come on, I’ll take you home.”

“Okay,” she said in a calm tone, and it was my turn to catch off guard. Wasn’t expecting her to cave that easy. “I’ll go home if you can promise me that I can come here any time I want,” she added.

“W-what…… I mean… sure, why not?” I said, quite confused.

She stared at me back then – blankly, not blinking, just a deep stare. I could feel the temperature rise around me. The usual perkiness and confidence that would always reflect in her eyes were gone. It was like gazing at an empty canvas. Not a second later, she burst into a laugh again. “Deal.” She held a hand out.

I’m not going to describe how conflicted I felt. I don’t know, just didn’t feel right. Even that small request. “Deal,” I replied, grabbing her hand. First time I held her hand. Brain registered it as a new kind of feeling. Not like I’ve never held a girl’s hand before. I’ve had girlfriends and everything, but this was different.

She let me lead her back to her house with her old, cold demeanor. At the gate of her house, she turned to me and paused, as if she was studying me. “You’re my friend, right?” She asked in the tiniest voice I’ve ever heard.

“Yes, of course.”

A tiny smile crept onto her face. “Will you remember me?”

I groaned again. “I see you all the time. What do you mean?”

The smile on her face widened. “Nothing!” She answered. “Goodbye, Shadhin.”

“Goodbye,” I said, but with a normal, non-creepy smile.

She twisted on her heels and popped inside the gate, vanishing within seconds. 

What a strange girl.

10th August, 2020

Dear Ava,

Hinata had kittens today! I’m not sure, but I think Gara is the father. Ugh, you’d love it. They’re the cutest. I think Ammu might let me keep a kitten. I might cry.

Do they have cats up there?

I hope you’re resting well. I mean, at least you aren’t caged anymore.

I hope you’re happy now. Do I hate you for leaving like this? Only a little. I hate myself more for never holding your hand when I should have, for never hugging you and questioning why you abruptly left your house. Forgive me. I would’ve never guessed. I just thought you were being childish…..

Maybe one of these days, we could sit under the orange sun, and talk about all the happy things. Where there are no sad goodbyes. Where I could watch you feed the cats again…. Our cats. I’ll see you in my memory forever, sweet Ava.

*Case File GHE1299843

Name: Avani Rahman

Cause of death: Death by hanging

Items retrieved from the place of occurrence: A diary, letters to a man named “Shadhin”.

Signs suggest extreme depression and anxiety. Assumptions are the patient died from psychological decay due to prolonged isolation. *

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