Nudraat Nawer Khan
My Dear Sunflower
“It’s disgusting,” he groans, forcing a cough at the end.
“No! You just haven’t tried the good ones yet,” she retorts.
Faizal sits on the corner of his bed, munching on some leftover noodles as his new classmate tries to explain how good sushi can actually taste. When he called her to ask about the pending assignment for the next day, he hadn’t expected the conversation to last this long, let alone be about rice wrapped with raw fish. “Do you like anything that’s not sushi?” He mocks.
“No, not really,” she says with a soft giggle.
“It’s not worth it. I’d rather spend my money on Limon mama’s tong,” Faizal reiterates.
“Your opinion is as useless as the h in an hour.”
“You’re awfully snappy for someone who looks like a penguin.”
“You resemble a goat way too much to sit in a classroom, and yet, here we are.”
“That can’t be your best comeback.”
“At least it’s a comeback.”
Faizal fixes himself up against a pillow as the conversation reaches an awkward pause. Apart from the love-hate for sushi and the assignment they never got around to talking about, this conversation was dying; and neither of them was ready for that. “So, Suri….” Faisal begins, and she hums. “Apart from your love for sushi, what else fascinates you?” He finishes after a good 30 seconds. He hears her chuckle under her breath, almost as if she was relieved for that question. She pauses to think and after a while, replies, “Pens.”
“Pens….?” He asks, his tone filled with curiosity. She nods, “I like collecting fancy pens. I think they’re my aesthetic.”
“So, you’re a stationery fanatic?”
“Not really. Just pens,” Suri replies, without stuttering this time.
“That’s truly very unique if I must say. I have never heard anyone say they like pens before.”
“Well, it’s a little hard to do when you are constantly wearing monochrome shades, but I try.”
“So what? Wearing shades constantly is also your aesthetic?” He laughs to himself imagining Suri in big, round comical black goggles.
“I am colorblind,” she says, in the calmest tone ever.
There was a long, uncomfortable pause. He didn’t want to say anything insensitive, but staying quiet would make the situation worse. Faizal starts thinking if he already offended her in some way by joking about the stupid aesthetics thing. Why can’t he just keep his mouth shut sometimes? This was the end. The first week of university and he’s already made fun of someone with disabilities. “Disability”- the word sounded even ruder when he put it into a sentence.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to express your condolences or tell me you’re sorry for making that joke. I’m used to this and not ashamed of it,” she says, breaking his chain of thoughts. He audibly heaves a sigh of relief. “I am really sorry, I didn’t-,” he tries to say but she cuts him off. “If you’re going to apologize, I would rather you do it like everyone else. One hand on your chest like you’re having a heart attack, and the other waving across my face to check if I’m blind.”
“People wave their hands at your face?”
“A lot more than you’d think,” she laughs this time, and Faizal instantly feels more comfortable. “I feel like people need to educated on 3 things in this country. Sex education, taxes, and differentiation. When I say I am color-blind, I mean I can’t see hues, not their pathetic attempts at understanding if I am visibly impaired.” Suri says everything in the most nonchalant way ever, but it comes out extremely smart and witty. She went on to explain how to collect colorful pens as a colorblind person, and he couldn’t think of ever being more amazed by someone.
“You will never realize how every color differs from the other until you pay close concentration. It’s like all of them are significant in their way, and have a place in my memory. They’re all a different shade of grey, or black. Some cooler than the other, some a bit glossier, some a bit ashier. After I lost my color sense, I memorized the color patterns. I’d compare something I was familiar with the color of to that of the ink of the pens. And so, I memorized the colors in a greyscale format,” she elaborates, completely lost in her world; talking about shades of grey and black like she could paint the whole world with just those two dull colors but still make it look more vibrant than it is today. He sits there in total awe, patiently hearing. On a good day, he had an attention span of about 45 seconds, but that day, he listened to her talk about the two sole colors in her life for 20 whole minutes as if she was a magician, capable of taking the two hues to make up anything in the entire universe.
Suri and Faizal spent that entire night talking about two colors, sushi, and lame memes they found on the internet. To him, she was like someone he had known for years but never took the time to appreciate it. Faizal was a closed book and he acknowledged it. He had spent years building up a wall to keep everyone out and he was confident it would stay that. But he was always keen to listen to Suri. She didn’t ask a lot, fearing it would intimidate him.
Time went by, and their conversations only got longer, topics got more abstract. They started spending more time even on campus, after classes or during breaks. They’d share rides home. They were on the preliminary stage towards becoming a cliché yet cute university couple.
“Have you ever wondered how underrated sunflowers are?” Suri says one day, peeping out the car’s window as they pass the final turn before Faizal’s drop-off point. “Uhm, no? Sunflowers aren’t really nice,” he mumbled, not paying attention.
“Buy me a sunflower!” She says in the most excited tone ever, but she’s pouting at the same time.
Faizal simply hums.
Suri turns to look at Faizal to find him going through his wallet, like he didn’t even pay attention to the whole thing she just said, and for the first time in months, she was genuinely infuriated by his words. Faizal gets off 5 minutes later after waving her goodbye, but she sits there still with her hands crossed over her chest. At first, he doesn’t think much of it. Suri loves to frown, she could do it for a living. It was her own way of telling you she needed your undivided attention for the time being, or she would have a mini-mental breakdown that consisted of her impulsively making tiramisu, posting some shady memes thinking she’s being very discreet while she wasn’t, and a whole monologue: “Sorry I bothered you with my friendship. I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
3 hours since the sunflower incident, which he still hasn’t taken that seriously, Faizal leaves a text: “Hello????????? Is anyone there?”
She’s online and he knows it; the green dot next to her name is beaming brighter than ever. After 10 more minutes, he leaves another text: “Paging Suraiyya Azmin, come in Miss Azmin.”
She replies with a hello. Nothing else; just a hello followed by a full-stop.
Faizal: Did you reach home?
Suri: I am talking from my grave.
*Seen at 9:34 pm*
8:30 am classes and Suri didn’t go together. She could recognize 400 different shades with 2 colors only, but for her own life couldn’t make it to class on time. 17 minutes into class, he decides to text her again, ignoring how she seen zoned him last night.
Faizal: Where u (8:48 am)
Suri: My car got into an accident (8:51 am)
Faizal: WHAT? (8:51 am)
Suri: By accident I mean, it bumped into a CNG and my car got a dent, so some policemen were trying to penalize the CNG driver. I’m on my way. Did he take attendance already? (8:59 am)
Faizal: Yes. (9:01 am)
Faizal: Are you okay? (9:04 am)
Suri: I’m intact but I’m not so sure about my driver’s job anymore :))) (9:06 am)
Suri: I’m here. (9:17 am)
Suri: Oh damn! You know what, I’m going to sit outside since I already missed attendance. (9: 17 am)
Faizal: Where are you? (9:18 am)
Suri: In the café by the 2nd gate. (9:20 am)
Faizal: Wait. I’m coming. (9:20 am)
Suri: Class? (9:21 am)
Faizal: Not really interested. I don’t want to know how to pronounce P correctly. I’m out already. (9:22 am)
Faizal never lied to her, he didn’t have a reason. This was the first time he did it and he wasn’t sure why. The second he had received the text that she had been in an accident, he had rushed out of the class, leaving even his backpack behind. He had gotten extremely anxious but was not ready to give it away. He checks his pocket for his wallet; it’s there. Faizal runs down towards the gate, almost tripping thrice. How could she tell him she had been in an accident so casually and not even care to explain further?
The café is about a 10 minutes long walk from the 2nd gate, but this time it took him around 6. He stops outside the café abruptly and tried to catch his breath, holding onto the door handle. Once he calms down a little, he walks inside. His eyes scan the almost empty perimeter to find Suri sitting on the corner most booth with her head down on the table, carelessly playing with an empty juice bottle. “So she’s alive!” He chuckles, pulling out a chair to sit.
“I am bored.” She gives out an exaggerated sigh.
“Do you want to go get ice-cream? My treat,” he proposes, but she doesn’t react, so he tries again. “What do you want to do?”
“I want fuchka,” she pouts again.
“It’s 10 am.”
“That doesn’t change anything.”
“I can find you Chinese food here but not fuchka.”
“Let’s go to Pink City!” She gushes, instantly sitting up with her eyes all sparkly. Faizal raises an eyebrow. “That’s in Gulshan. It’s an hour away from campus. We have another class.”
The glimmer in her eyes dies down instantly and the sadness consumes her yet again. She is about to go back to her initial sulking position when Faizal sighs loudly. “Let’s go!” He declares, standing up. She looks at him like a 5-year-old and voices, “Really?”
In the next 10 minutes, they call for an Uber and are off to get Suri her most wanted fuchka. On the road, she is overexcited as she points to everything and says random information. Faizal doesn’t say a word, mostly because he is zoned out, but also because he was slightly occupied with sneaking peeks at her. The way her hair swept around in the breeze, and how she’d cough every 30 seconds to get it out her face but still not tie it up. Suri takes snaps of everything. “The sky is a very subtle shade of blue today, it’s extremely rare,” she babbles on, pointing to random clouds. Faizal takes a look and notices it was actually a very beautiful color; not too bright, not too dull that it would make everything gloomy. He was bewildered by her love for the one thing she couldn’t even experience properly: colors. At times, he wondered if she pretended to show interest in all those just to seem cool. But then he got to know her, the real her. He’d see when the crowds died down and no one was there, she would hum to herself as she effortlessly drew the most colorful and neat doodles he had ever seen in his life. A hint of purple there would go well with the baby pink, and the red in the middle to tie it all together; Suri might not ever have gotten to know how the guy, who had the attention span of a goldfish, appreciated every single stroke of her pens. He hadn’t really seen a lot of doodles since he wasn’t really into art; but to him, hers were probably the best.
When the cab stops right outside the shopping mall, Suri glances at her phone and takes out 3 Tk 100 notes and leaves them on the middle seat. After this, she almost flew out and ran towards the stairs. He stares down at the money for a while.
“Hey, Suri! Food’s on me,” he shouts after her.
As he is descending from the car, his eyes fixed on a small flower shop at the north-west corner of the mall, and some bright sunflowers neatly arranged in a clay vase. Something was going on inside him, probably trying to remind him of a detail he had completely chosen to delete. He tries to put more focus. What was it? What is with him and the sunflower?
“Faizal! You coming?” She calls from behind, very impatiently.
“Oh! Yeah, right there.” He walks away but finally recalls what that sunflower was supposed to mean to him.
At the back of his mind, Faizal knew he had to press the pause button. This was escalating a bit too fast and he didn’t even know what “this” was. He resists the urge to walk on over to the shop and buy a sunflower, just as pretty as her and hand it to her. He tells himself that even if he did buy it for her, she wouldn’t be able to see how colorful it is anyway.
So, what’s the point?
They missed class that day. She decided she was in the mood for coffee after eating fuchka and he didn’t oppose it. They walked around the mall, casually going into every store. She made him wear a pink floral shirt with silver embellishments, he made her tell the barista her name was Shormila. Faizal had a realization that amongst all the worries about whether Suri is okay or not, he had left his backpack in the classroom, and now he would have to fetch it from the lost-and-found the next day.
They left when the color in the sky had shifted from a mild shade of blue to a striking mix of orange and red, and exhaustion had taken over both of them equally.
Inside the car, Suri proceeds to show him a meme which said: It’s impossible to shop for men, what else do they like except other girl’s photos? Faizal sees it and sticks out his tongue, clearly not amused.
“Do you ever talk?” Suri suddenly asks, catching Faizal totally off guard.
“Do you ever talk?” She reiterates, emphasizing each word.
“Am I not talking now?”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“What kind of conversation would you like for us to have?”
“The one where I get to know more about you than your worries about your grades and hatred for sushi.”
He glimpses at her direction for a split second and quickly looks away. He knew he couldn’t get away this time with irrelevant jokes.
“What do you want to know?”
She glares at him. “Anything.”
Massaging the temples of his head, Faizal lets out a deep sigh. “I don’t know. I’m just not an interesting person, I guess?”
“That is by no means, true. You just don’t want to tell me anything.”
“That isn’t it, Suri. I just don’t like talking. I prefer observing so I can make judgments.”
Suri mouths an “Oh”. “What do you do with those judgments?”
Faizal lets out a small chuckle. “I treat people based on how I think they are.”
“So, what are your opinions about me?”
“Oh, it’s terrible. I think you’re a horrible person.”
Suri’s mouth curves up into a small smile, one that Faizal had yet to see. As days went by, she only showed more shades of her. It’s almost like she contained all the colors of the spectrum within herself; waiting to unleash it onto someone who would be willing to earn it; one bright streak at a time. In front of her, he felt so small. She had all these things to talk about, all these stories to keep him up for hours; was he like that to her? Probably not. Faizal speaks first this time. “When I met you, I thought you were the kind of person to be the center of attention wherever she goes. You’re making friends on the go. You attract people towards you like you’re a ball of sunshine.” Faizal realizes; he has gotten carried away and revealed more than he would like to, so he stops instantly. She presses him to say more, but he is hesitant. “I am not the kind of person you would typically be friends with, Suri. I don’t keep count of who’s in a feud with whom, or who cheated on whom with their friend, these things are beyond me. I tend to overthink, like a lot,” he pauses and looks at her only to find her staring intently at him as if she was memorizing every word. He continues, “I am not a people person. I can’t express my feelings, it’s hard for me to open up. Somewhere down the line, everyone started assuming I’m devoid of feelings.”
“What do you mean, ‘devoid of all feelings’?”
“It’s like, when I told my friends something was bothering me, they would joke about it, saying how they didn’t know I was capable of complex emotions. At one point, I decided to keep to myself; completely. I have monologues with my conscience internally all the time, just to make sure that I don’t do something that might hurt someone.”
“I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“No one does, I don’t let it show. Truth be spoken, I thought I would be too bland of a person to even be associated with you.”
She was never usually speechless, but this time was an exception. He seemed totally unfazed by everyone’s opinions, but who knew all along he was just paying attention to the smallest details.
“I think I got too good at this ‘poker face’ game. I can’t differentiate between the real me and the fake one anymore.” When he finished, Faizal shoots her a “Don’t-look-at-me-like-that” look. He’d shrink if someone showed sympathy for him not being able to open up.
“I just hope you know that if you ever talk to me about your feelings, I won’t say they’re meaningless,” she says, almost like a whisper. The traffic lights shine bright and illuminate the side of his face as he was staring out the window, lost in thought. “I know,” he assured after quite some time. “Hey, Suri?”
“Can I hold your hand?”
Suri feels a chill run down her spine, numbing her in every place it touches. She doesn’t know what to say so she except extend her hand in his direction. He takes it quietly and holds onto it for the rest of the road. They don’t say a word; the silence seems peaceful and comfortable.
About a year had passed since the university had started, and life was starting to not seem that colorful anymore. With the impending pressure of finals and term papers, Suri could be seen lurking around the library more than ever.
She enters the library for the 3rd time that day with 2 books and a marker in his hand. A friend of hers, Noor, follows, scampering around to find some empty seats. After they finally sit down, Suri starts finding it difficult to concentrate. Her mind just doesn’t want to contain some finance at that moment.
“Hey, Suri?” Noor asks, poking the ridges of her shoulder. Suri hums softly.
“Did you get done with the report on economics?”
“Halfway there. We have the paper, we don’t have the presentation ready.”
“The coordination between my economics group is so bad that we have hardly gotten anything done.”
“Who’s in your group?”
“Ruhan, Arshi, roll number 34; I can’t seem to remember his name, and Fa—,” she stops midsentence. Suri goes through the pages of her copy like she didn’t even hear anything. Then, she very coolly says, “Faizal?”
“Why did you stutter on his name?” Suri asks.
“No reason. Concentrate on your notes,” Noor replies sternly. She takes a sip of water. “I can’t study on an empty stomach. I have to run down to the cafeteria. Do you want something?”
“A packet of chips and juice.”
“Coming right up”. Noor pats the top of Suri’s head and exits.
Suri tries reading her notes out-loud in an attempt to focus on the notes. His mention has somehow triggered a bunch of emotions that she was trying to suppress for the sake of her academics. She might not have remembered the last photo she saw in bright colors, or even her first kiss, but about Faizal; she could write down every detail about.
That day’s memory is still fresh in her mind and she could almost play it like a movie right in front of her eyes. She had walked up to him, gathering all her courage, just to tell him that she felt a certain way for him. She wasn’t sure what it was, for sure it wasn’t what people called ‘love’, but the feeling made her happy, anxious, exhilarated, sad, jealous all at the same time; keeping it inside was killing her. Faizal was looking exceptionally pale that day, so she worried he was sick. “What’s up?” He said, offering her his bottle of juice. She took it with a small smile, “I was a bit thirsty.”
An awkward silence yet again. She was going to chicken out at any moment so she needed to spew the words out. “Come on, Suraiyya! Just do it…..” She kept saying in her head, desperately trying to get her mouth to listen.
“Are you okay? You look like you are about to explode,” Faizal teased.
“Mhm, I am fine. Completely fine. 100% fit.”
“Is something bothering you?”
“Yes! I mean, no! I mean….. sort of.”
“What is it?”
Suri knew she needed to get it over with. She was getting more restless as days went on. Seeing him with anyone else made her furious, and he would act dumb if she made any indications regarding that. She should just say it. “I have feelings for you.”
Faizal blinked multiple times to register what he had just heard. “You have feelings for me?” Suri nodded, her heart pounding against her chest and ringing in her ears like a drum. She had shut her eyes as she pulled on the ends of her scarf, hoping for the best. She would count to 10 and then open her eyes, and she would see Faizal looking at her the same way she looked at him; with all the admiration and adoration in the world.
…8…9….10…! She opened her eyes, but Faizal had seemed to disappear. There was no sign of him anywhere. She dialed his number a few times but no response.
Suri always thought that the day she was declared colorblind was the worst day of her life. It was a hazy memory; she remembered sitting in the lobby of the hospital, playing with her Barbie doll which looked very different than what it was like when she first got it. Her mother walked out of the doctor’s cabin and sat down next to hear. She was shaking as she wrapped on to Suri so tight that Suri felt breathless. “Everything looks the same, mother. I hate it,” she had said.
Faizal had managed to replace her distorted worst memory with a painfully new one. Suri wanted to reach out to him; ask him what went wrong or just apologize for springing this on him. He acted like a completely different person now. He would rarely show up to class, even if he did, he made sure to limit conversations with everyone. His entire friend group complained that he never replied to them anymore. It’s as if he had cocooned himself to get away from everything. After multiple failed attempts at closure which made her feel dejected and pathetic, Suri decided to give up on her once most precious friendship. From that day on, they were dead to each other.
The last smoke of his life; Faizal had promised himself he would give up smoking on his last day at university. Well, technically, it wasn’t the last day; it was just the last class. Life had changed drastically between the 4 years. He had dated someone in the middle and broken up 7 months later, made some amazing friends, almost got kicked out of university; many more stories were pinned in his mind. However, the one constant thing in his life was his thoughts about Suri. She was different now: much more confident and composed.
She had landed a job as a sketch artist under a relatively famous animation house and was on cloud nine. He always knew she had it in her to achieve the best in life. Now, he could watch her play with all the colors she ever wanted and bring her imagination to life, all from a distance.
“This degree is almost as irrelevant as the h in an hour,” she had said multiple times to her friends, and he too had heard her from the sidebars, laughing soundlessly every time. He knew he was long forgotten by her, he had come to terms with it. Yet, that sick feeling inside his ribcage wouldn’t let him rest. He was leaving for Canada in 6 months to get started on his post-grad, and she was leaving for Singapore as soon as the exams were over. This was how most university relationships ended these days. But then again, they weren’t tied in any sort of relationship, to begin with.
“There you are, Faizal.” A voice calls out from behind and he turns around to face Noor running towards him. Originally a friend of Suri’s, Noor had grown closer to Faizal over the years. “Everyone’s talking a picture, last one if you’d like to call it that,” she snorts. He frowns. “Is it compulsory?”
“Don’t be such a bore, Faizal. Come on,” the friend says and pulls on his arm, so he follows. Everyone is standing or sitting in the most organized fashion he had seen them in to date. No one wanted to mess up the last photo. He is standing in a crooked manner in the 2nd row from the top when his eyes fall on Suri sitting on the last row, at the very edge. She was trying to brush the tangles off her hair while sporting the brightest smile. The thought that he would probably never see her again after 10 more days hit him harder than he would like it to.
After the photo session was done, everyone hugged each other; some with fake smiles, some with large grins, some with tears in their years. After 4 years together, everyone hugs. Noor swings an arm around his shoulder. “You’re making it way too obvious,” she comments.
Dumbfounded, Faizal asks, “Making what obvious?”
“That your eyes keep searching for Suri.”
He voices the most unconvincing “no”, immediately hiding from her prying gaze. “Faizal….. it’s been 4 years. Just go talk to her,” Noor prompts him, but he keeps shaking his head violently.
“And tell her what? About how ‘sorry’ I am for abandoning her when she confessed she had feelings for me?” He snickers mid-sentence. “I doubt she would be interested in that apology.”
“Then tell her your side of the story.”
“My side is too complicated.”
She scoffs. “Everything is too complicated with you, Faizal.”
“I told you back then, I never felt I deserved her. I tell you now, I still don’t deserve her.”
“This isn’t about you feeling like you don’t deserve her. This is about you finally coming clean after all these years of suppressing your feelings. Both of you need this if you want to make a fresh start.”
“Suri doesn’t need me randomly entering her life after all these years.”
“How are you so sure about that? You can’t keep making up scenarios in your head and expect everyone to be like you want them to be.” Noor growls this time, visibly annoyed.
“Noor, I am genuinely not in the mood for this conversation. Can we please just go home?”
She looks at him observantly; his shoulders are drooping and he is sighing every other second. Sitting down next to him, she mumbles, “Can I tell you a secret?”
Faizal shakes his head and starts walking away from her, from the crowd. Noor is relentless. She chases after him and grabs his bicep. “I’ll say it anyway. Even after you two stopped talking, some of us hoped you would be back together. We told ourselves that you two were meant to be together.” He narrows his eyebrows and shoots her a look. “Really?
“Sort of. You two were like two characters from a movie about soulmates. You might not have been in love with each other but you two fit into each other’s puzzles so easily that we thought this would be something we could talk about even after many years,” she finishes, and if no one knew she was talking about her friends, they would surely think she was talking about her own heartbreak.
Faizal has a weird smile on his face, the kind you have when you are getting delusional. “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because it has been 4 years. And this is not the ending any of us were hoping for.”
“I apologize if my life didn’t match your pathetic and cliché imaginations,” Faizal snaps. She stops in her tracks and he feels Noor’s hand releasing his own. He has once again, managed to hurt someone whom he considers close to his heart. Was he thriving off his selfishness now? “Noor, I didn’t mean that,” he tries to console her, reaching for her hand. She swats it away. Faizal notices her teary eyes, glowing under the soft light of the falling sun.
“You listen to me, okay? I have watched you two pine for each other for 4 whole years and now that this is all going to be over, you act like you don’t care? Is that the kind of person you really are, Faizal? Huh? Deceiving good people into thinking you care for them while in reality, you don’t give a damn?!” Noor sobs, wiping the tears on the corner of her sleeves. She steps away from him with every word. It’s like she is disgusted with him. Seeing her like this reminds him of how Suri must have been like when he left her and ignored her existence for days. Faizal’s poker face starts to break bit by bit.
“I love you both like my own family. Watching you two treat each other like strangers is so disturbing. This is not how it should be. Do you want to remember each other with only bad memories 10 years from now?” She continues, tears streaming down her face.
“Noor, listen to me… Noor!” Faizal snaps once again, tightly grabbing both her arms. “Come with me, right now!”
She declines but he doesn’t hear her. He drags her to the café. The café by the 2nd gate.
Noor sits there with a straw in her mouth, sipping on some pineapple juice. Her nose is slightly red and she keeps pulling on it ever so frequently which makes it even redder. Faizal lets out a small sigh. “I am going to regret this, he starts, but she chooses to ignore him. So he pulls the glass away, invoking an annoyed expression from her. He has gotten her attention.
“You are right. I’ve held onto these things for a very long time and it is high time I let it go. But I can’t talk to Suri. What I can do is, tell you a little about the incident. Maybe that will decrease my guilt.”
Noor doesn’t want to listen to him give another monologue about how he can’t process his feelings, but the look on his face isn’t of one who was going to lie. He appears distressed, as if he needed an outlet for his feelings but was scared. She leans back into the chair.
“I’m listening. No judgments, no suggestions. Just tell me the truth, Faizal.” Her words give him hope. He is terrified, but he doesn’t want to feel this way anymore. And for that to happen, he must open up the box he has kept locked inside him for 4 years.
Faizal takes a deep breath. He was taking time to sort through all the incidents and create a link between everything. In his mind, everything was so scattered. The nights where they talked till one of them fell asleep, days just before exams when he had to convince her to take 200 photos of her notes to send him, the day she came to cheer him on as he played football, the jar of fairy-lights he had gifted her on her birthday with a photo of her and him on the cover, the night he had accompanied her to a burger joint at 11 because she was just in the mood for it, and especially the day she was almost in tears because he might have had an excess amount on hash brownies.
That day was one he could never forget. Even though the details were somewhat hazy, he remembers the important ones He had eaten a bit too much of those devilish “pot-brownies”. They made him nauseous and he went slowly went black, so he sat in the same place for hours waiting for the sick feeling to go away. She sat by his side the entire time it took for him to gain a little of his senses, offering him this or that to eat or wiping away his sweat.
“The way I felt for Suri was….. is something I have never experienced before,” he begins. “That day she told me she likes me, I froze. I knew I wasn’t good enough for her. Suri is like a ball of sunshine. She can’t see colors but if she could see from my eyes, she would see that to me, she is like the warmest shade of yellow; the color that spreads joy wherever it treads. I felt safe with her, but I knew I couldn’t make her feel the same way. So, for her own good, I left. But God knows, I have never stopped thinking about that moment after that. It’s always, “What if I could go back?” or “Should I tell her how scared I was?”. But I stopped myself every time, because I could never be the right person for her.” Faizal pushes back a strand of his hair and focuses on the horizon through the windows of the café; the sun is almost setting. If Suri was here, she would get down to dissecting every single color and gush over how well the hues looked in the great blank canvas. “To you, this is probably a very stupid reason to keep someone away, but I wish you were in my shoes. I fret I would dull her, that my monotone would catch onto her. You don’t put a sunflower and a handful of dead grass in the same vase. They don’t make sense.”
“You just assumed you’re synonymous with grass? You just deprecated yourself to the point that you found yourself no better than grass?”
“Did she ever tell you you’re like that? Or, did anyone ever tell you that?”
“Not really. I just assu-”
“That’s the point, Faizal! You keep making up stuff in your head and then you act like you want to. Have you ever considered that some of us may disagree with your opinion? That Suri might not think you’re as irrelevant as dead grass?” Noor starts yelling.
“I am the most two-faced person on earth to you right now, aren’t I?” Faizal says this like it’s a joke. “Yes!” She replies, instantly.
“Noor, did you know? Suri has this affection for sunflowers. She asked me one year ago. I always regret that I was never able to get her one. But it’s not like I didn’t try.” Faizal gives a smile that would make the strongest of souls feel a slight sting of sadness. He picks up his backpack and opens the largest chamber, pulling out a big sunflower from inside. The petals are almost falling off and the stalk is bent in the middle, but he holds it delicately as if he still wished to give it to someone. Noor’s mouth falls open at this. This makes him laugh for the first time that day.
“I would always buy one whenever my eyes landed on a florist shop. I would ask for the biggest, brightest sunflower they had and put it in my bag. But the final place for those flowers has always been my dustbin.”
“Why?!” She demands to know, tapping her feet against the ground.
A chuckle escapes his lips. “Because, I would walk up to her, admire her from a distance, only to realize how my absence didn’t leave a single mark on her life. Naturally, I would fall back and get rid of them. The only plus side was, every time I threw away a sunflower, I knew she was doing fine in life.”
“You didn’t speak to her once. How can you be so sure she’s fine?”
“Listen, Noor. All I know is that I could never be a valuable addition to her life. I have never been certain about anything, especially my feelings. I know I like her. But I am not the right one for her. I was never sure about the way I felt towards her and even if I had been, I suck with expressing myself. This won’t change, ever. So I didn’t want to lead her on.”
“You could have at least tried to talk to her!”
“And tell her what?” He slams his fist on the table. “That I am sorry for leaving her but I might do it again because I overthink the most minor details and mess up my emotions? No one wants that in their life.”
Faizal starts hyperventilating a little, so Noor grabs his hand and waits for him to catch his breath. She gently pats the back of it and whispers, “She would have understood, Faizal. I understand. We care for you and we will understand.”
Faizal closes his eyes as he leans against the window, taking deep breaths. “When she told me about her feelings, I just felt all the pressure in the world on my shoulders. I felt as if I was being forced to piece my scattered feelings together, and I got scared. I was never good with these things, but it was Suri who was on the other side. Of course, I cared for her. It’s too hard for me to put my thoughts into words. I couldn’t own up to my emotions because they got overwhelming for me.”
He faces Noor, who is trying her best to not burst into tears. He looks at her straight in the eye and just asks one thing, “Does she hate me?”
Noor gulps and answers, “I can assure you, she doesn’t hate you. In fact-” she tries to finish but he cuts off her. “That’s all I need to know,” he states.
Noor seems conflicted. “Don’t you want to know how she feels about you? I feel like I’m crossing the line here, but do you not?”
He shakes his head. In the gloomiest tone ever, Faizal says, “I spent too much time thinking about the what-ifs. Now, if I get to know she still likes me, I will mess it up; I will mess her up. Do I hate myself for never making things right between us? Yes. But, does it matter anymore? No. Things have gotten too far ahead and it’s only right that we move on towards our new lives.”
She rolls her eyes and snatches the flower from within his hand. “You won’t mess up.”
“Yes, I will. That’s what I do. Mess things up. I can’t even handle my own emotions, how am I to be trusted to safeguard hers?”
The two don’t speak about this for the next hour. He buys her some noodles and she talks about how she is never going to date again. Faizal laughs. Noor could be a funny person if she wasn’t confronting you. The sunflower lies on the table, going a bit brown and on the verge of dying. He might be laughing, but his mind is still set on one question that he just needs the answer to. So he goes ahead and asks it. “If Suri doesn’t hate me, why didn’t she talk to me all this while?”
Noor glimpses up from her food with a mouth full of noodles and then chugs down water to force it down her throat. “Well, to start,” she coughs a little, “You ignored when she tried to do it back when the incident happened. She tried for a while but there is only as much as she can handle. Then, you started dating that girl, which didn’t really make sense to me, apologies if I offended you. That was like a final blow to her. And as time went on, you turned into like an after-thought. Like she cared for you, but you were a chapter she didn’t wish to reopen.”
He rubs his face aggressively, then splashes a little water on himself. “That relationship was a mistake. I pretended to be something I’m not and as soon I realized what I was doing, I broke it off. But, I messed up, didn’t I, Noor?”
“You have time.” She says this and squeezes his hand. “Fix it.”
“It is too late, now. Be realistic and tell me it isn’t too late.”
Noor doesn’t answer, so Faizal gets the reassurance he needed. For once, he wasn’t making a decision based on only his feelings.
“I have to let her go.” He repeats the words in his head as the sun sets, and the surroundings get a little too downcast for even Faizal to handle. “I trust you to keep this between these 4 walls,” he murmurs, and she gives him a nod. “I am happy you told me all this, Faizal. I really am. I can’t say I agree with your decision but I have to respect it,” Noor comments as she gets up from the chair to hug him. He hugs her back, a little bit longer this time. Who knew how long he could have her in his life without messing it up as well? “I’m dropping you home, by the way.” She smiles at him, “I’m going to go call an Uber. It says there’s one 10 minutes away.”
He looks at the sunflower and then at the sky. He knew he needed to take care of some unfinished business. “Yeah, wait for me here. I have something I need to do,” Faizal announces, picking up the sunflower and pacing out of the café, leaving an extremely confused Noor behind.
He was standing at the same place where he had left her 3 years ago, and now, it was time to close that chapter of his life. He breathes in the cold air of the night, feeling a gentle breeze brush up against his skin. He has a sad smile on his face. He puts something down on the floor and turns around.
As a less melancholic Faizal walks off into the distance, the lonely sunflower lies on the ground. The ground that witnessed Faizal and Suri go from being strangers to acquaintances, to best friends, to soulmates, to an unknown entity in just 4 years. The flower has been through a lot; so it’s dying. The petals have wilted and now they’re flying off with the breeze of the night, each carrying something about Suri that Faizal had finally decided to leave behind.
First goes her information; then her quirks; followed by her thoughts, one-liners; images of her stuck in his head. Suri had finally left his life as peacefully as she had entered it. She now existed only in his memory, but he hoped he wouldn’t exist in hers.