Updated: Jun 21, 2021
by Sharon Aruparayil
When he was just a young boy, his grandmother used to tell him stories about the red string of fate. He would sit next to her rickety old chair, fingers trailing across the well-loved velvet as she would tell him to close his eyes and imagine his body going transparent. He would picture the millions of rivers of blood that fueled his existence, especially the ulnar artery, as she called it. The most important connection of all that connected his heart to his little pinky finger. She would tell him about the Japanese legend: the river emanating from his heart would not end at the pinky, but flow out of his being. It would flow in the form of a red string and intertwine with the red strings of the people around him: his family, his friends, his teachers and even that little girl that lived at the end of his street that nobody else could see.
It would connect his little heart with one special person, as it was said that two people connected by this special connection were bound by fate itself. These two people were destined to meet, a profound encounter that you could never plan. The strings would sometimes stretch or entangle, maybe they found someone special to be a part of their life, but they weren’t him. It could take years, decades even, but when he would least expect it, his special person would walk into his life.
He would ask her if grandpa was her special person, and she would get a faraway look in her eyes as they glazed over, and his mum would usher him out of the room. He would dig through her bucket of yarn to find some that was red, tie it around his little pinky and run around the neighborhood trying to find his special connection. He tried asking that little girl his age with brown hair, but he couldn’t see her anymore. He couldn’t see her anymore. Was he too late?
It was like clockwork.
He would wake up exactly two minutes before 4 am to the lilting melodies of Satie’s first Gymnopédie. He would lie awake in the dark, staring into space as she played the familiar tune over and over again. The notes getting lighter at each repetition until they were barely higher than a whisper. He would get up, careful not to make a noise, as he walked towards the dimly lit room.
He would watch as frail fingers leaped gracefully across the ivories, casting honey-like melodies out of the rotting mahogany and tarnished iron. They would narrate the stories hidden between the keys, peals of laughter slithering across the cracks in the wood as he walked closer. She was once beautiful, caramel brown ringlets framing her delicate features, and a smile that brought hundreds to their knees.
Like always, she would tell him about her childhood in a small village tucked away in Kolkata. She would get that same faraway look in her eyes, glazed over as she transported back to that rickety tuk-tuk. It would creak and groan along the gravelly roads, turning the corner as she passed the little neighborhood shop where she spent her childhood bargaining for boiled sweets with rupees scavenged from under the sofa cushions. She would close her eyes as spirals of dust rose around her, lush green fields glistening at the horizon as she found herself slowly being lulled to sleep by the crooning melodies of her ancient driver. He was ironically named “little one” or chotu, as he would tell her with a toothless smile, framed by a deeply tanned face littered with scars from what seemed like a lifetime ago. The tuk-tuk would barrel past her old school, only for her to get jolted awake by the sharp ring of the lunch bell.
Like always, he would look to the right, and find a new number on the wall. Today it was, “5 4 12”. When they first started appearing a year ago, he would spend hours researching the significance of those numbers. Every day, without fail, he would notice a yellow post-it note, her favorite color, on the wall facing the piano and the scrawled numbers in her cartoonishly big handwriting. She would look up at him, and smile with the radiance of a thousand suns. The kind of radiance that would weave through his ribs, settling where his heart used to be - warm and full of love.
He tried to savor that moment for as long as possible, refusing to let himself blink. He knew that she would go away when that happened, that same radiant smile would burn into his eyelids, and his heart would return, thumping uncomfortably in his chest. He turned around to go back into his bedroom, tears burning salty streams down his face, as he blinked. He didn’t look back; he didn’t have the heart to see her disappear again.
He spend decades wondering about her, that little girl with curly brown hair that lived in his dreams. He thought he lost her forever. Until his first day of college, at an 8 am history class with an ancient professor that he regretted immensely, until she walked in. She walked in twenty minutes late to a fifty-minute class, and when the professor apologized for having an early class, in an attempt to mock her, she replied with “it’s okay!” and smiled at him. It was like the sun shone brighter, that every sensation was somehow more intense, and he found exactly what he was looking for. She walked up to him, dropped her bag on the floor and sat cross-legged on the chair next to him. He asked her out for coffee after class ended and falling in love with her was the easiest thing he’d ever done. Grandma was right about that string of fate, he was completely unprepared, yet as ready as he could ever be. It was going to be the adventure of a lifetime.
Until she got taken away from him.
He was expected to return to work like nothing happened. The gnawing pain in his chest was supposed to go away, her absence was to be replaced with nostalgia, and she… was to be buried six feet under the ground. The pain did not go away, it expanded, aggressively taking up space inside his chest, consuming his heart, his lungs, and the pit at the bottom of his stomach. It would grow to consume him entirely, leaving behind a shell of a broken man. He had an ordinary life, a job that he hated, and a shoebox of an apartment. He was an ordinary man, with nothing to lose.
Grandma used to tell him that it was impossible to break the red string of fate, but something inside of him died that day. He would never look at yellow the same way again, and Satie’s melodies would ring in his ears. He would try to drown it out, blasting heavy metal to drown out the lilting melodies, but they wouldn’t go away.
Nothing would bring her back.
It had been five years, four months, and twelve days since she was gone. It was time for him to go too.
They found him at the bottom of the river. He would watch as they fished his bloated body out, a piece of red yarn tied around his little pinky. He would look to his right and she would smile, that same radiant smile that would make him weak at the knees.
(Destiny extended to the afterlife too, right?)