His cheeks felt warm. Maybe he was standing too close to the fire. The heat wrapped a comforting blanket around him on this chilly December night. It was just like her. Radiating a sense of warmth and comfort even under trying circumstances. He should have felt at peace. Her presence always had this effect on him. But not tonight. Tonight he was cold. It seemed like the chill of the night had seeped into his very being, claiming his soul and leaving an empty space where his heart used to be. He knew he would now have to carry the burden of this emptiness for the rest of his life after this night.
He watched as the others started to leave. The fire had settled comfortably into a steady rhythm and burned with a sizzle. He sat down next to her, in companionable silence. He always treasured these moments with her, when they could sit side by side and not say a word. Out of habit, he reached out for her hand, anticipating the comfort of interlocking fingers. Tonight, she didnt respond. His fingers gripped cold air and startled, he quickly withdrew his hand.
He had prided himself on being a no-nonsense, no-emotion kind of man. A man of few words, he believed his actions were sufficient to convey his minimal emotions whenever required. And she had understood. He remembered her eyes widen in surprise when he had once confessed how much he needed her in his life. The look on her face had been worth letting down his guard, even if for a few moments. He now wished he had done it more often.
Memories are dangerous. Simultaneously created with every moment that you are alive, they hide in the dark recesses of your mind. And rise to the surface when you are least expecting them, taking you by surprise and often leaving behind intense pain in its wake. She was doing that to him now. Coming alive in his mind as a laughter, a pout, a glance or a kiss. He shook his head in an effort to clear the images but she just wouldnt let him be. The wind joined in, laughing at his misery, as it ran through the trees.
The fire was starting to die. It would be morning soon. He knew he should leave but he was not ready to let go of her, not just yet. He was so lost in his thoughts that he had failed to see the two men sitting in the shadows, their backs turned to him. Perhaps they were respecting the privacy of his moments with her. So he was surprised when a dirty hand offered him a cup of steaming hot tea. He looked up to see a dark man in a tattered shawl and dhoti, extending the earthern cup to him. He was shocked to note the lack of warm clothing on this man. Noting his questioning look, the man nodded towards the area surrounding them and quietly said, 'these fires keep us warm.' Handing him the cup, the man walked back into the shadows.
Holding the hot cup in his hands he realised he had not smoked ever since he had come here. The aroma of tea had triggered the latent nicotine urge and he reached into his pocket for his pack. He welcomed this opportunity to share a smoke with her, smiling at the memory of how they planned to quit smoking each time they lit up a cigarette. The fire was now just a warm glow but enough to light up the last stick he would share with her.
The sky was waking up as the still hidden winter sun coloured it with a misty hue. He rose and dusted his trousers and pulled his jacket tighter around himself. He then did something which was so unlike him and so much like her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his clean, neatly folded white kerchief and spread it open on his palm. He bend down and with his free hand, scooped up a fistful of ash. Gently, he placed that ash on the cloth and tied it into a tiny bundle and kept it in his pocket. Pushing his hands into his pockets, he turned and began the long walk to his car, parked just outside the iron gates. He did not glance back as he quickened his steps, not wanting to see what he was leaving behind. An empty earthern cup, a cigarette butt and her funeral pyre, now razed to the ground...