Lockdown Love: FaceTime
Virtual calls that brought the world closer during the coronavirus could not connect these two anymore.
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Lockdown Love. Our new series explores love in this new ab-normal life. Where masks have replaced kisses and hugs have become emojis. Where cold steel and glass have replaced the warmth of flesh and blood. How has love changed? Or is it still the same, underneath the layers of disinfectants and face-coverings? Tell us a new love story. In 250 words or less. Send your submissions to email@example.com.
We will publish the best ones on Mondays.
By Maria Goretti
October 26, 2020
Rabia is at the airport, she is about to board her first flight after the lockdown. And after all the required protocol and safety rules that have become the new normal, she is sitting in her seat. She has just a handbag, filled with extra gloves, face masks, sanitiser, perfume, lip balm, her wallet, and a small gift. Her phone rings, she reaches into her bag and searches for her phone amongst all her things. She sees a name flash on her phone and under her dark glasses, behind the face mask and the face shield, tears spring up.
She goes back to a year ago, well, more than a year.
September 17, 2019
She was in Sydney, at Bondi beach, with her installation that was featured in 'Sculptures By The Sea'. It was called 'Amour'. It was made with thrown-away parts of vehicles shaped into pieces of broken hearts when you looked at it from an angle. Just a mangled mass of metal from another. And then a beautiful heart from another angle.
She met Maddy right at it. He was there on a tour, presenting his wine at a wine conference. 'Elsewhere' was in business for about 22 years now, and he worked tenaciously to build his brand from nothing to all it was today.
Rabia was talking animatedly about her installation and could see Maddy walking around her installation and watching her, with a smile. So she waved out to him, and said, "Come over, I don’t bite."
Maddy replied, "Yup, but I do; you look yummy and I’m hungry!"
Cheeky, she thought and wanted to laugh, but ignored what he said and went back to explaining to a bunch of eager listeners about her piece 'Amour'.
Maddy walked around, he was looking at how animatedly she spoke, how her eyes were aglow and how she smiled a lot, and when he saw that she was walking away from her piece to check out the rest of the installations, he quickened his step and offered her a glass of wine from the servers floating around.
"I don’t drink with strangers," Rabia said, laughing.
Maddy smiled cheekily and said, "You absolutely should not. But technically we hung together with "Love", so you know me now. I’m Maddy, by the way."
"That’s terribly cheesy," Rabia laughed and her eyes squinted in the sun.
And for some unknown reason, they just walked and laughed together, and realised they were both from India, here on work. Maddy lived in Nasik and had his own vineyard. Wine was something he learnt along the way to set it up.
Rabia lived in Mussoorie. Landour, to be precise and was a metal sculptor and an installation artist. She lived in Budapest for a few years, but came back and was sure she wanted to definitely live in India. She lived with her dad and just loved the mountains.
And, they walked around "Sculptures By The Sea" for the next three hours, dissecting each installation and breaking into Hindi when they did not want anyone to understand them.
Maddy asked Rabia what she was doing in the evening, and Rabia told him that she had to attend a dinner that the organisers had planned for all the artists. If Maddy was a bit disappointed, he did not show it. He said he was leaving the next day and would have loved to spend time with her, if possible. Rabia looked at his earnest face and made a mental note saying, "Nope! Don’t fall for this line!"
She said bye to him and they both walked away, in different directions.
In the evening, Rabia was dressed in her favourite Mekhela Chador and was walking around a room of familiar faces she had acquainted herself with this past week, during the work that had to be done for the installation, leading up to the exhibition.
"You need to taste this wine, it’s really really good, it comes from a small vineyard called ‘Elsewhere’." She turned around at the sound of a voice, she kind of recognised, straight into the smiling eyes of Maddy.
She laughed so loudly that everyone turned around. "Are you stalking me?" Rabia asked.
"Absolutely," said Maddy.
And he led her out into the garden with a bottle of 'Elsewhere' and two glasses.
"I don’t leave parties with strangers," said Rabia.
"Must I remind you that you spent the afternoon drinking with me, so I’m not," said Maddy.
She put her arm through his and walked out.
Her head easily reaching his chest, that she so wanted to just rest on, tired in her four-inch heels. And she liked her arm nestled in his, it felt scarily like home.
He seated her on the grass on his jacket and said, "To amour!"
"Yup, may it never go Elsewhere, and just stay," she said, with a naughty grin.
And they both laughed.
Maybe it was the September moon, or then that beautiful Sydney salty breeze or sips of that desi wine on foreign soil, that cast a spell.
They sat right there and talked to each other till nearly morning.
And laughed and giggled, and shared their life.
At least bits of it.
Rabia was out of a long-term relationship and had moved back to India about two and a half years now.
Maddy was in the middle of trying to find what he liked and wanted in life. After a string of love affairs that did not work out, he decided to stay single and just be. They were both sure that marriage was something that they wanted to avoid or at least the pressure of it all.
You know what they say, that sometimes you know a person for years and don’t know them at all, and sometimes just a few minutes are enough to reach inside someone's soul.
"Don’t you have a flight to catch?" asked Rabia.
"I would love to cancel it," said Maddy.
Rabia said nothing.
Then she looked up at him and laughed, "Maybe I can drop you to the airport and make sure that you don’t stalk me again!"
Four hours later, she was standing outside the airport, saying bye to Maddy.
"See you at my vineyard soon, Rabia. I really would love to get to know you!" And Maddy just put his arms around Rabia and kissed her.
She kissed him back and said, "Yup!" And smiled into shiny black eyes, set in the most beautiful eyelashes.
By the time they both got back to normal life, back home in India about a week later, they seemed inseparable despite the jet lag and miles between them. They were constantly in touch.
September 24, 2019
"Maddy, I’m growing immensely fond of you." Rabia texts Maddy, post-work at 11.30 pm. "Are you awake? Can we talk?"
"Well I was going to sleep, but since you are getting immensely fond of me, I’m fully awake," said Maddy. "But listen, I want to at least see you, so I’m going to FaceTime you, pick up your phone."
For two people with hectic work that took them half the way around the country all the time, this looked like it would never work out. And yet it did. Mostly over FaceTime. (Illustration: Sukriti Vadhera Kohli)
Rabia picked it up immediately and started laughing, "Ok now I don’t know what to say."
‘’You were telling me that you like me," said Maddy.
"No, I did not say that," said Rabia.
"Do you do this often? Calling guys and telling them you like them," said Maddy.
"Yes," said Rabia and laughed.
And they continued flirting and spilling their beans to each other till Rabia realised that its nearly 4:30 am.
‘’How much do you talk Maddy! Seriously," laughed Rabia.
"It’s just you Rabia. I can talk to you for hours, it’s crazy," said Maddy.
And then they both decided that they had to stop behaving like stupid teenagers, they both had work in the morning and had to sleep.
And they both did, with a smile on their faces.
The next day they decided that maybe in-between their work, they could meet somewhere, between their flights for lunch. So that they could actually see one another other than on FaceTime.
So they matched schedules and met each other while they had to take a connecting flight, once in Mumbai and once in Delhi.
October 12, 2019
"Maddy, I need to say this to you. I don’t like crowded relationships. I get jealous and I’m falling in love with you," she called Maddy at 4.30 am.
"Rabia," said a very groggy-sounding Maddy.
"I think I love you, Maddy," Rabia said, very matter-of-fact. "And I don’t like playing games, so thought I should just tell you."
Maddy was silent. Then a very groggy but happy voice said, "What do you see in me Rabia? Listen, I’m not all like you imagine me to be, ok? I’m not that nice!"
‘’You are just enough for me, Maddy,’’ said Rabia.
"Ditto," said Maddy, "I thought I should not scare you away, so I was taking it slow."
And then they kept talking to each other, till Rabia fell asleep with the happiest heart she had in the longest time. Maddy could not sleep immediately; he was just trying to think straight, and Rabia’s words just put the biggest grin on his face. "So this is how comfortable and easy it should be," he thought to himself.
It seemed so easy to fall in love, but meeting each other was like a beautiful puzzle with a few pieces missing. Yes, Rabia and Maddy were officially in a long-distance relationship, with the algebra equation of distance factored into the scarcity of time, overwork plus lots of love multiplied by craziness. So it was quite a calculation. Trying to match schedules.
For two people with hectic work that took them half the way around the country all the time, this looked like it would never work out.
And yet it did. Mostly over FaceTime and calls.
November 3, 2019
Maddy wanted Rabia to come home. And to introduce her to his life, he invited Rabia home to the vineyard. He wanted to introduce her to his elder brother, who was more of a father-figure than just a brother.
"Do we have to involve family right now?" Rabia sounded unsure.
Maddy heard the concern in her voice and said, "Rabia, we have been stuck to our phones since we met, and hours on FaceTime. I want to see you more often. I know we are going to have to figure out our feelings, our life, and we have to start somewhere. Don’t you trust me? I want you to come home and let my family at least know the reason I’m always smiling at my phone like a psycho. I would like you to come. We can talk there. You mean a lot to me and let me show it to you. I know you said you don’t want to involve our families till we are both sure, but I’m sure! You think about it and let me know. Take your time."
Rabia was trying to figure out how to do this. She was never in the habit of saying anything she did not mean, so she was wondering what she was going to have to say to her dad about going to Nasik to meet Maddy.
November 5, 2019
Rabia was flying off to Chennai the next morning. She had work in Pondicherry for the next three days. And this was high season for the vineyard with the festive season coming, so the only way they could meet would be if she flew to Nasik for Christmas.
They spoke to each other every day, but she said nothing about visiting and he did not ask her anything.
Maddy was flying to Mumbai for four days of work. He was organising a wine festival with an art exhibition.
"Hi, can I please speak with Mr Vichare?" asked Rabia’s voice.
Maddy’s voice answered, "Yes this is he, and where did you get this number from? It’s private."
"Well," said Rabia, "I am a sculptor and heard you are organising an art exhibition in Mumbai, and I wanted to be part of it."
"Sorry, I did not get your name. And all entries are closed. So maybe, probably, next time," said Maddy in his pretend-formal tone.
"Oh, that’s a pity," said Rabia, "Ok then, it’s no use booking my flight to Mumbai now."
"And you are giving a stranger this information, because?" continued Maddy.
"Aaaah hahaha," Rabia laughed, with no holding back, "Maddy, I’m coming to Mumbai. I have a few days off. I won’t get in your way. There is this guy I’m quite crazy about. I just want to hang with him!"
"I’m sure, he too is crazy about you!" laughed Maddy.
"Yup, he is!" laughed Rabia.
And they coordinated their dates and flights.
Illustration: Sukriti Vadhera Kohli
November 18, 2019
And soon, they were both sitting at a hotel by the sea, having dinner with each other. And in the middle of Rabia biting into a big morsel of salmon with capers, Maddy said, "I love you, Rabia. Thank you for choosing me."
Yes, of course, Rabia knew Maddy loved her to bits. But to hear him say it to her in person just caught her by surprise, and she was only able to reply with a stupid "Ok" after she gulped the morsel down, with the coyest grin.
This felt so peaceful, she thought.
It felt good to be loved. They both felt brand-new.
Rabia and Maddy always had so much to talk to each other about. Rabia never left his side, she loved to watch him work. How serious he looked, how he spoke about his wine, how the ones around him reacted to him with respect and warmth. She could easily spend more than just a few days with him, if only they had the luxury of just living in the same city.
Four days flew by with lunches, sightseeing and lots of beautiful loving moments in each other’s company.
As she kissed him goodbye at the airport, she said, "Maddy, get a room ready for me at your vineyard. I’m coming over for Christmas."
"You are staying with me," said Maddy.
"Nope," said Rabia, "Not at your place."
"You are crazy, Rabia," said Maddy.
"Yup, crazy about you," said Rabia.
They both hugged each other tightly.
One more airport.
One more flight.
One more goodbye.
She hated this and had no clue how to work her life into his. And he looked at her, thinking exactly that.
"Ditto," he said.
"Call me once you land," said Maddy.
"Miss you already," said Rabia, hugging him tightly. She put her dark glasses on and walked into the airport, out of his sight. She hated every step away from him. Maddy just did not like the feeling of her walking away.
December was a really busy month. They were both looking forward to spending time with each other.
Rabia told her dad about Maddy. He looked happy; he was happy to see her smiling a lot more. She had immersed herself in her work and rarely said anything after the break-up with Vansh.
Rabia had started packing for Christmas. Gifts for Maddy’s brother, his wife and their 16-year-old son. Then his mom, whom he loved to bits.
And lastly, for Maddy.
She had no idea what to give him. She did not yet know his likes and dislikes and sometimes that’s a good thing. So after much confusion, she got him something small for the vineyard, a mul shirt and a photograph he loved at a photography exhibition they both attended in Mumbai.
It was a picture of a tiger, looking at a bee.
She hoped he would like it.
December 23, 2019
"Rabia, I will pick you up from the airport. Just message me when you board your flight," said Maddy.
"Love you," said Rabia.
Nervous as hell about meeting Maddy’s family, she went off to sleep.
Pune airport was not so crowded.
She was out in no time.
Another airport, she thought with a smile.
She had begun to love flights if it meant Maddy would be waiting for her at the airport on the other side.
She saw him waiting for her. It had been so long since she last hugged him. She ran to him and launched herself into his arms.
"I missed you sooo much," she said. "I did not," said Maddy holding her tight.
She loved how she fit inside his arms.
Three hours and lots of conversation, songs and kisses later, Maddy stopped short of the vineyard, about 10 minutes away. And got out of the car. He went to the other side, opened the door and led Rabia out.
"Welcome home," he said, and put his arms around her and kissed her. He pointed out to his home down in the valley and to the slopes of his vineyard. It was a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Maddy was telling her how he may not be able to have her in his arms in that crowded, bustling-with-Christmas-preparations home of his, and wanted a little bit of just "us" before he shared her with everyone.
Rabia was not hearing anything anymore. All she kept thinking was how much she loved this amazing man.
In a bit of time, she and he were lugging her bags up to her room.
Spending Christmas with his folks was really lovely. They were the welcoming, non-judgemental kind.
The house was filled with friends, who usually stayed with them for the Christmas-week.
By the fourth day, everyone at the dinner table was asking Maddy if he was going to be shifting to Mussoorie or whether Rabia was going to be shifting to Nasik.
Or whether they were going to continue meeting like gypsies in various cities and keep travelling through various airports.
It was all very funny how everyone laughed, except Maddy and Rabia.
And for the first time, there was an air of confusion between them.
Post dinner, Rabia was really quiet.
"Listen, don’t take all that talk seriously. We will figure this out," said Maddy.
"Really?" asked Rabia, "Are you really happy with how we are?"
"Yes, Rabia, what choice do I have? You live in Mussoorie, your work is there. My work is here in Nasik, all that I have built is here. I can’t get up and leave!" said Maddy.
"My dad lives in Mussoorie, Maddy. How do I leave him? As for my work, well, that skill just goes with me wherever I go," she said.
"But if we one day decide to take this further, you probably will have to find a way to come live with me, Rabia," he said, "Would you be able to work from here? I think I can keep you happy."
Rabia looked at Maddy, "I’m happy with you anywhere, Maddy. But slow down. You are going too fast for me. Let me figure this out, and the fact of the matter is that we hardly know each other."
Maddy looked at her a little irritated, "Well, I talk to you every waking moment of the day, you know exactly what I’m up to all the time. Do you think I’m just fooling around?"
"No, no, Maddy. Of course not. But I feel we need to give ourselves time. Let us get to know each other a bit more. Maybe once we get to know each other really well, we may not feel like taking another flight to see each other," she tried a feeble laugh.
Maddy looked at her a bit upset, "I’m going to ignore what you just said, Rabia. Maybe we should go to sleep. It’s been a long day. We'll talk tomorrow."
And they both walked, fingers entwined, under the moonlight, towards the house that was still resounding with laughter and music.
The next two days went by so quickly, and soon Rabia was saying bye to Maddy again at the airport. She kissed him goodbye, and said, "I love you, Madhavan Vichare. I love you very very much. As much as I love your surname haha!"
Maddy laughed back and said, "Listen, I’m getting tired of meeting you at airports. So figure out your life, Ms Rabia Fauji. And come back soon."
They kissed each other.
Rabia walked into the airport and New Year 2020 alone.
They wished each other on FaceTime.
January was very busy for both of them, and though they tried to coordinate dates and places, their stars were just not aligned. It was mid-February somewhere.
Illustration: Sukriti Vadhera Kohli
February 18, 2020
Delhi was where they met.
Rabia was doing an installation at a new roundabout and Maddy flew in to meet her.
She was standing outside the airport, freezing.
And she saw Maddy. She ran to him and just hugged him tight.
And kissed his nose. She loved his nose, she would constantly tell him that.
She stayed back post work for four days to meet Maddy and then they would both fly home. Their respective homes.
After three days of behaving like tourists, they were sitting opposite the Qutub Minar, having dinner at one of the new restaurants.
"I hate saying bye to you," Rabia said.
"Well, I love it," said Maddy.
Rabia started laughing but saw that Maddy did not have a smile on his face.
"This is rubbish," he said. "This is not how a relationship is supposed to be. All we do is travel to and fro once in a while and the rest of the time, it’s either phone calls or FaceTime. I’m really fed up! And I don’t think I can do this anymore. I want to have some semblance of a relationship. This is not how I envisioned us."
"Maddy, we both work from different cities, it will be difficult, but give me some time. Let this pan out for a bit more. I will figure out how to do this. I can’t work out of anywhere but Mussoorie at the moment. We agreed that we both are not in a tearing hurry to get hitched. And we are doing fine. We love each other, we make time for each other, we are involved in each other’s lives," said Rabia.
"Really?" said Maddy in a very distant voice, "Involved how? Over FaceTime and calls? You hear me during my day and I see you work in your studio? That’s not real. That is not real at all. Do you think the few days we spend together make a real relationship? That is nothing. If you count the days on your fingers, it will be what? 15 max 17 days in all these months. I don’t know what you think a relationship should be like, Rabia. But this definitely amounts to nothing."
"Don’t say that, Maddy, that’s really mean," said Rabia, looking really hurt.
"You know, the world is right. Long-distance relationships do not last," said Maddy with finality and hurt written all over his face.
"Maddy, we will make this work. But I have loose ends to tie up and I need time. At the end of the day, I will be leaving my dad, my home, my studio, my childhood friends — all that I have grown up with. It’s a huge huge step. I need a bit of time," said Rabia slowly, holding Maddy’s hand.
Maddy disentangled himself from her fingers, saying, "Rabia, I don’t see you trying to change anything. You seem to be very happy meeting me once in a blue moon and look pretty satiated with just calls and FaceTime. Somehow, this is not how I want my life panning out." Maddy felt miserable inside him but he had to tell her the truth.
Rabia sat in silence. She had been trying to figure out her work, her dad, her studio. But since there was nothing concrete to show, she had nothing to say.
"Can I have some time, Maddy?" she said in a very soft voice, with tears streaming down her cheeks.
Maddy held her tight, "I’m sorry Rabia. This came out all wrong."
"No Maddy. You are probably right. But I’m going to need time. I don’t want to do anything in a hurry. And as much as I would love waking up in your arms every morning, I have certain responsibilities in my life that I first need to take care of. But I love you to smithereens, and we will work this out," she said.
That night, Rabia and Maddy hugged each other very very tight as they slept.
They both went back to their own cities, FaceTime and calls. But there was something not right anymore. There was always this tension in the air and as much as they both tried to avoid it, once a week they would come back to the same conversation about long-distance relationships.
March 16, 2020
Maddy was going to be in Jaipur on work, and Rabia fixed a few meetings in Delhi and from there she was flying to Jaipur. The threat of coronavirus had reached India and with the number of cases escalating, the country was trying to grapple with a situation they were still learning about. But work was still going on as usual, despite the threat.
Rabia reached Delhi, finished her meetings and called Maddy. She was at the airport, going to board a flight to Jaipur soon, but it was delayed.
She called up Maddy and told him about the delay. She asked him about his meetings. He was there to meet with a hotel chain that wanted to retail his wine.
So he would be in meetings for the next two days.
Rabia would keep herself busy with a city she loved, and just rest. She had been working non-stop and this was going to be a great break.
"Hi, Abbu! My flight is delayed. I’m taking off in an hour.
"No Abu, I will be fine! Ya, all my meetings went well.
"No Abbu, all flights are taking off. No, there are no cancellations. Even Maddy’s meetings are on schedule..."
"No Abbu, don’t say that..."
"Let me call you back, Abbu..."
"Ok, relax, let me call you back..." Rabia put the phone down.
She called Maddy. He did not pick up. He must be in the middle of his conference, she thought.
She tried again. "Maddy, listen, my dad is very very worried. He feels I should come home and not take this flight to Jaipur."
"Rabia, I’m here only because of you! Otherwise, I could have done this meeting on a video conference. I did not need to fly to Jaipur."
"Maddy, my dad is just worried and is getting paranoid since he is constantly stuck to the news and those goddamn WhatsApp forwards," said a tense Rabia.
"Rabia, should I pick you up at the airport?"
Rabia walked out in a terrible mood.
"Hi, grumpy," said Maddy.
"I missed you too," said Rabia, "I really really hate WhatsApp. Like, really hate it."
"Really?" said Maddy, "I thought you love it, you are constantly sending me messages, calling me and FaceTiming. So it does not feel like you hate it!"
"Not funny, Maddy."
"True, not funny, Rabia."
Rabia snuggled into Maddy, and Maddy hugged her tight.
And they both sat in silence, in the car till the hotel.
Jaipur was lovely. But Maddy had a lot of work to do.
And Rabia spent most of her time arguing with her dad about going back to Mussoorie.
"I’m thinking of preponing my ticket, Maddy. My dad is driving me insane. He wants me to come back and is so worried. I feel bad but also irritated!"
"Do you want me to talk to him? Tell him I’m looking after you really well? Maybe he is just jealous that you love me more than him hahaha," said Maddy, laughing.
"Maddy, I’m serious ya. Listen I’m preponing my ticket. I should go home!"
"But you just about got here, Rabia. Today is just the 18th. We will both leave together on the 19th. Chill, let me talk to that Fauji!"
"No, Maddy, let me talk to him. We'll figure it out."
5 pm, March 18, 2020. Jaipur airport
Rabia hugged Maddy tight, "I will see you soon."
"You mean on FaceTime. Yes, of course," said Maddy, a little dryly. "Call when you reach, ok?"
"I love you, Maddy."
Maddy just smiled back at Rabia.
Hours later: "I’m home Maddy, I'm crashing," she messaged him.
She woke up in the morning and called Maddy, but there was no reply. She left a message for him.
She has lunch with her dad, who is obsessed with the coronavirus.
Post lunch, she tries Maddy again.
There is no reply, she falls off to sleep.
And wakes up in the evening to a message from Maddy.
Actually, it’s not a message; it’s a song. They would do that a lot, send songs to each other.
She listens to it and then calls Maddy.
"Where were you, Maddy? I called you. I hate going to sleep without saying goodnight to you."
"Sorry, Rabia, I was wrapping up the final deal all morning, I was exhausted. I just passed out. How’s Fauji? Is he happy that you are home?"
"Well frankly, Maddy, Abbu was out for a walk, then breakfast with his walking buddies, then a meeting with the school, and lunch with me, and is out again! I miss you, my Maddy."
"I miss you too, Rabia, and I have no clue when I’m going to see you next."
"I really don’t know too Maddy. Can I FaceTime you, if you are not busy?"
"I’m just packing for the airport, let me check out and call you," says a busy-sounding Maddy.
"I love you, my Maddy."
"Love you, Rabia."
Rabia spends the evening unpacking and cleaning. She makes drawings of her new installation — it’s going to be made with cellphones and laptops that have been scrapped, she is just working on the concept...
Maddy spends the evening travelling. He is exhausted by the time he reaches home.
They don’t talk to each other that night, just send a voice note to each other.
March 19, 2020
Rabia wakes up to her dad telling her that he is so happy she is home. That evening, the Prime Minister announces a curfew for the March 22. Abbu feels that he really does not think it will open in a hurry. "Look at what’s happening around the world, and the numbers in Italy," he trails off.
Rabia immediately calls Maddy. "This better not be extending, Maddy. How on earth will we see each other?"
"Maddy just shut up, I’m serious."
"So am I, Rabia. I do not like it like this at all and really wonder what the hell we are doing," he says.
"You know, Maddy, truthfully, even I’m wondering the same. You are right, this is probably not how it should be. And all the time I spend with you anyway amounts to nothing, right?" said an irritated Rabia. "And you are probably right. There is no hope. So what should we do? Long-distance relationships really suck," says Rabia, and then just goes silent.
"Rabia, listen. All the way back from Jaipur, I have been really thinking about us. How many more flights and how many more hours of FaceTime to sustain this? I’m actually tired. And I don’t want to do this. We are going to end up hurting each other."
"Maddy, you can’t give up on us. Just give us a little time," said Rabia.
"Rabia, how much time do you want? What do you want me to do till then? Do you want to keep meeting at airports?" he sounds like he had made up his mind.
"No, Maddy, I... I want to be with you."
"Even I want to be with you, Rabia. But this does not look like it’s working. Real relationships do not sustain themselves on FaceTime and WhatsApp calls. Real relationships are more than that. Not a few days here and there. That amounts to nothing."
"Maddy, stop. Don't... Please don't say anything. I’m sorry. I can’t get up and leave. But believe me, I know we will find a way and be more than just fine... Just don’t give up on us, Maddy."
"I’m sorry, Rabia. I can’t do this. I want more. I want a normal life," says Maddy in this tone she cannot penetrate...
"I want more too, Maddy. I want a lot more. But I’m going to have to figure out how," says Rabia, choking on a sob. "Maddy... listen, I have to go. My dad thinks we need to stock up. Talk to you later." And Rabia put the phone down with a heavy heart.
Maddy sat with his phone in his hands. He felt miserable and confused. He was going to find a way out of this. Though he loved Rabia, he could now see there could not be a future or maybe he could not see it.
March 20, 2020
Rabia woke up looking like all the butterflies she carried in her heart had died.
She mechanically shopped with her dad for the next few hours.
"Rabia, I just want to say that Maddy is a wonderful boy. But long-distance relationships are very tough, my bachcha. I hope you find what is good for you."
Rabia’s face is streaming with tears.
She turns around, wipes her tears and continues adding tomatoes to her basket.
No. All has not been fine since she went to visit Maddy for Christmas.
But she just thought that she had enough of hope — for the both of them.
She reaches home, sits in her room and dials Maddy.
He does not pick up the phone.
She goes off to sleep, crying.
She wakes up at around 4 pm and calls Maddy.
He does not answer.
Maybe he too is busy with getting his home ready for the lockdown, she feels.
He calls her back after an hour.
She picks up the phone and just says, "My Maddy."
And then she can’t say another word.
"I will call you back." She hangs up.
She gets on WhatsApp and writes to Maddy, "My Maddy, I’m going to have to really sort my insides. And I need to get it through my head that there is no hope... Somehow when I talk to you, I don’t believe that... I’m going to stay away, for a bit... I’m sorry I called."
And just like that, Rabia and Maddy stopped calling or FaceTiming each other.
The curfew that started on March 22 kept extending and extending some more.
The whole world went into slow motion.
Rabia, in time, stopped looking at her phone. She knew Maddy would not call back.
The world became a prettier place, nature got a new lease of life. The whole world developed new ways to keep in touch with each other. WhatsApp calls, normal calls FaceTime calls were the only way forward if you wanted to keep in touch with the ones you loved.
Keeping in touch virtually became the new normal for any relationship.
The irony of it all was that Maddy and Rabia let go of each other because the technology was too frustrating to bridge the miles between them.
Zoom calls, Houseparty or the apps that brought the world closer during this virus, could not connect these two anymore.
They could not meet each other at any more airports or take any more flights to each other.
Rabia immersed herself in her work.
She wondered how the world was going to find love if you could not meet one another anymore.
She thought of all that she and Maddy did together for the past few months and just inhaled in deep.
How was the world going to find their magic, hidden behind a mask and from a two-metre distance, and fear in everyone’s hearts about a virus that was destroying our world as we knew it?
Maybe love will find a new way. Maybe in a line for grocery or with the two-metre distance over a cup of coffee when coffee shops open.
Seriously, how were people going to meet and fall in love? Would it be through their Insta stories and posts that people would get to know each other, or would people introduce you to others over Zoom calls?
Maddy and Rabia were separated by miles of heartache, despite the world finding new ways to reach each other. What was not the real part of their relationship became the new way for the world to communicate. Even with your next-door neighbours...
And life went on.
Slowly. Very slowly society limped back to a new normal.
Rabia was trying to figure life without any calls, songs, texts or FaceTime with Maddy.
Maybe Maddy was also doing the same.
She could not ask him to wait for her. That would be unfair.
She realised that she loved him enough to let him go. He deserved the life he wanted.
Every day she picked up her phone to call him and had to remind herself that he had no hope that they would ever make it together.
And she reminded herself of that fact every day as she wrote to him and pressed the delete button.
It’s funny how the number she once dialled, without a thought, now became a number she just stared at as tears flowed down her eyes.
Maddy wondered how Rabia was doing. He missed making plans with her, her madness and telling her that he loved her. He wondered if he should call her. But decided not to further something that was going nowhere.
He felt she would find a happier path if he stayed away.
While the rest of the world spent a lot of time trying to keep in touch virtually, Maddy and Rabia spent all that time away from all apps that could connect them.
Rabia gave in. She stopped tugging and pulling and trying to always fix everything.
Maddy just decided to live life, without any expectations.
October 26, 2020
Rabia is in her seat, about to take off, her face mask intact.
She dials that missed call...
"Hi," says Rabia.
"Hi," says her dad, "Call me when you reach, bachcha!"
"Yes, Abbu, I will!"
"Tell Maddy that he needs to come to meet me. He cannot take my girl away by buttering me every day on FaceTime!"
"Yes, Abbu," says Rabia, with a big fat grin on her face, and tears in her eyes, "I love you, Abbu."
Rabia walks out of the Pune airport, searching for a face she has not seen physically in what seems like forever.
Maddy is standing behind a glass partition. He watches Rabia walk, dragging her luggage, looking for him. He decided to wear the shirt she got him for Christmas.
He is waiting for her to come running and hug him. She always did that.
Rabia drags her luggage and walks towards the exit. She can’t see Maddy anywhere.
As Rabia walks out, she sees Maddy walking to her with two cups of coffee.
She leaves her luggage and runs to him, throws her arms around him, and drops the coffee .
They look at each other with moist smiling eyes.
Maddy pulls off his mask and hers.
He puts his arms around her, and she hugs him tight.
Maddy kisses her and all the butterflies come back to life again.
“Hi,” says Maddy.
“Hi,” says Rabia, as she buries herself in his arms.
(Illustrations by Sukriti Vadhera Kohli)