He recollects some of the past memories as she unravels the news to him in this part 2 of “No One Else”.
Continued From: PART 1
I remembered it at once. Nicole had once showed me her old photo albums when I went to her house. It was a long time ago. I remembered laughing with her when she showed me a photo of herself in striking red dress holding a twig that shaped like a gun, pointing the twig to her side while sticking her tongue out to the camera. “How ridiculous I looked then,” she said. She was probably no more than seven. Said she was more of a tomboy when she was a kid. “I can’t believe this was me,” she said, laughing in embarrassment, and went all red in the face and became more beautiful as I saw her. But as her eyes lay on one photo album, her expression changed slightly, just enough for me to notice it. She took the photo album into her hands and flipped through it quickly before putting it aside. She made no comment of it. At later time, when I went to her house again, I had secretly gone through that photo album when she wasn’t looking.
It was, as I had guessed, one that held a special kind of memory to her. For she had a kind of poem pasted at the last page of the album, one about blue mountains and two people in love. It was very neatly pasted, and had been cut, also neatly, probably from a magazine. Like she had carefully run a pair of scissors around it in such a care, gentle, like she treasured it. And the way she handled this very photo album that day; she held in in her hands, quietly, in a moment or two, before she put it aside, like it was something so dear to her, one that, however in love she was with me, she couldn’t let me touch. Like however in love she was with me, there was certain memory that she wouldn’t allow me to ruin.
The photo album, itself, had more to tell than the poem that had been cut and pasted to its last page. A man, probably a few years younger than I was; around Nicole’s age, was in almost every picture in the album. Jacob, his name was, I later found out. Nicole talked about Jacob once, when I questioned her. She was reluctant to talk about him, but once she did, she did so in such a care, that when she spoke his name, she sighed and paused, and became soft at the story of him that followed. He was her first love. Her first love that had come and gone. Her first love that I wasn’t quite able to replace. Jacob, she had referred him as in the beginning. The more she talked about him, it then became just ‘Jake’. “It was a long time ago… Jake and I”.
I did not ask her about Jacob anymore after that. Soon enough, I began to forget there was ever anyone named Jacob in her life, in her life before me. Forgot that there was someone, always, able to take my place anytime he wanted to, had he wanted to. She had been faithful to me in our relationship. And of the privileges that she gave me and made me feel, I went on forgetting. One fight we had not too long ago before she went to the South reminded me of it all.
Before the fight, she had been avoiding my gaze and was being unusually quiet for a few days. She said nothing was wrong when I asked. But she continued on acting that way. Finally after I stopped her from going into her house one night after we went out for dinner, she told me.
I had walked her to her door that night. She was looking down to her key in her hands the whole time we were walking to her door. It had been like that for a few nights and it made me feel uncomfortable. It had also, somehow, made me mad. When she turned her key on the doorknob and was about to push the door open, I grabbed her by the hand. She looked partly surprised. Partly, she looked as if she was expecting it. There was tiredness in her face, tame eyes and soft expression that made me suddenly feel so fondly of her. But I said it anyway; “How much longer are you planning to keep at this?”. At that, her expression went softer. “I’m sorry,” she said, dropping her gaze to the floor.
“Saying sorry won’t change anything, Nic. I want to know what is going on here?” I demanded firmly, with my hand still clutching hers. She did not say anything. I had to guess before she could finally say it.
“Was it something that I said?”. She shook her head. “Was it something that I did?”. It was something that I did. She had seen me with someone else; another girl. She said doubtfully, “Last Sunday, you said you had to — had to work”. She said it in her lower tone of voice, as if afraid saying it any louder would cause an avalanche to come down on us and bury us both.
I had to come to work, the Sunday she was referring to. I had also gone home early and had a tea with my boss on our way home. It was her idea, my boss. And we had talked about nothing but work. Nicole must have been somewhere near, saw us, and made something up in her mind.
“You know, the problem with this relationship is you always make assumptions on your own,” I said to her, letting go of her hands. Not softly. I was mad at her. “The problem with you is you never want to talk about things!” I said, and she looked away. When I caught a glimpse of her face again, there were tears in her cheek. The fond feeling that came to me when I grabbed her by the hand earlier came again, lingered, reminding me that I loved her, so very much. But I had too much pride, I left her and got into my car.
From inside the car, I saw her going into her house, shutting the door behind her quietly. And then the light on the second floor where her room was came on. I sat still in my car, replaying what just happened in my mind. Finally I got out of the car and made my way to her front door. I meant to knock, was almost sure she had locked it, but upon turning the knob, it opened. Slowly I climbed up the stairs and walked quietly toward her room. Soon as I reached her bedroom door, I saw her sitting on the edge of her bed, holding that very photo album that she had kept from me. The one with a poem about blue mountains and two people in love on its very last page. It reminded me of it all. Nothing had changed. Nothing had changed since I last saw her holding that very photo album. After all these times, her feeling she held so dearly of that photo album, and the person in it, remained unchanged.
I walked inside and sat by her on the bed. “I’m sorry,” I said. Her tears had dried, but it started again when I said that. “I’m sorry,” I said it again. I drew her close to me, held her tightly in my arms, whispering ‘I’m sorry’ again and again. And there it was, that very photo album, tight in her arms, as I whispered my sorry, as her tears soaked my chest.
And so when I heard his name again; Jacob, when Nicole returned from the South, I knew it at once. I knew it at once that nothing could save me this time. No sorry or embrace could save me. Not anymore.
Continued Here: PART 3
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