Sleep had vanished that night. Her countenance was silent and dead. The unstoppable clock was the only sound in her room. It was 2 am and eight degree Celsius in Kashmir and there was not a single shred of a sweater or a shawl covering her tender body which had a silky off-white blouse and a long skirt. She closed her eyes for a moment and rose to do what her heart had always wished for. She went near her husband and felt his breath as she kissed his forehead. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. She did the same to her small kid. Without making any sound, she opened the door and got slapped by the milky fog spread all around her. She turned, took a final look and left…to be his forever.

<8 years ago/> <Pahalgam/>

Sabreen was the youngest in the Ashfaque family, one of the most respected ones in the paradise. With an interesting medley of beauty, innocence and intelligence, the twenty two year old girl was the most loved in her neighborhood.  However, the only thing she hated was the period between December to March when the air would turn into chilled ice-creams and snow would be the new jacket.

It was one such evening on 14th January, when she was shivering in spite of being stuffed in three layers of clothing and sipping kahwah. That’s when a voice called her, ‘Excuse me!’

            ‘Huuuuhhhh, yeah!’

            ‘Can I click a picture of you?’

            ‘Why?’ she asked, shivering. ‘Who are you?’

            ‘Hi,’ he stepped further and offered a handshake. ‘I’m Shiraz Hakim, a photographer from Iran. I usually visit Kashmir in winters to capture the scenic beauty of this heaven. Everyone seems to enjoy these winds except you, so I thought of clicking a contrasting picture.’

            His blue eyes, sharp eyebrows, straight face, a slightly crooked nose and pinkish red lips, nothing escaped from her eyes while his introduction was on. As if the winters had stopped troubling her for a moment. She knew something happened inside her when she heard his husky voice.

            ‘May I?’ he asked again. Finding it hard to reveal her affection, she simply nodded. Shiraz went ahead and explained her the pose and captured the moment. He thanked her and left, but she knew that something had still not left her heart and maybe it will be there for a while.

            Sabreen visited the same venue for a week, but Shiraz had disappeared. She tried looking for him at all the places possible, but she didn’t find him. He was gone.

<2 years later/> <Shrinagar>

            Sabreen started working as an assistant professor in Amar Singh College. Her life was pretty simple, until one day when she saw Shiraz Hakim in the campus, identification didn’t take a second and the excited soul ran to catch up with him.

            ‘Hey!’ she called. The blue-eyed boy turned and she went red…again.

            ‘You remember me?’ she continued.

            ‘How couldn’t I?’ he paused for a moment and said, ‘Sabreen!’

            And then there was no looking back. The two advanced from strangers to acquaintances to friends pretty fast. Shiraz made sure they would go out at night only, in ten degree celsius, so that every time she vibrated, he would give his coat. The two would stay out whole night eating dum aloos and drinking sheer chai. His mere presence would make Sabreen forget about the cold. Her warmth lay in his existence. He was five years elder to her, but she never felt so. The chemistry was sparkling, making those four months the best period of their year.

            It was after three winters when Shiraz was about to leave, Sabreen proposed to him.

            ‘How will it happen?’ he asked her.

            ‘I will make it happen! We are soul mates. From now until forever!’

            The couple visited her house and the secret was revealed. The result was unexpected, yet known.

            Shiraz was thrown out of the house and was warned never to see her again. Sabreen was slapped and taunted.

            ‘This is what we have taught you?’, ‘We’ve done so much for you, and this is how you repay us?’, ‘The boy looks like your brother, has no family, doesn’t earn much, lives so far and you want to marry him?’

            The couple didn’t stop. They used to meet discreetly, love each other as much as possible in the short amount of time, discuss about their hypothetical wedding, kids and their names. The cold winds had never been loved by her as she embraced him and experienced his soothing warmth. The fog had never been loved by her as she held his hand and walked with him. Life was prefect when they were together.

<2 years later/> <Pahalgam/>

            Her face had makeup, but no expressions. Her body adorned the most beautiful attire, but she felt naked. Her hands had bangles, but she felt like handcuffs. She was getting married, but it was not Shiraz.

<Present/>

              It had been hours since she had left. The sun rose and her steps were on until she halted opposite the giant snow clad mountains and simply stared at them. Her body stood firm amidst the speedy winds. No sooner did her eyes fill with tears, they reflected her pain clearly. With lot of effort and courage, she took her next step and resumed her journey, remembering the unfortunate time of her life.

‘Forget that guy Sabreen, you have to get married!’

‘I can’t abbu. I love him. My soul belongs to him. I can’t.’

‘You will. Akram is a good guy. He will be joining politics next year. Bright future, nice family, big house, money, servants, what else do you want?’

‘Shiraz, my husband!’

‘Sabreen, let’s run away. We will go somewhere far. We will build our own world. Are you with me?’

‘Till my last breath!’

‘Sabreen Ashfaque? Yes? Do you know Shiraz Hakim? Yes, what happened? He has met with an accident. He took your name. Come soon!’

‘No, no, no, no Shiraz. You can’t leave me. I won’t let you go. I will die, I swear, Shiraz. I need you, baby. I need you!

I’m always there, Sabreen. With you, by you, in you. You are mine. You will always be mine. You understand?’

‘Yes yes yes!’

‘Bury me at my favorite place and until we meet next time, I…….’

            And she finally met him. The gray stone was almost covered in snow and the red pashmina cloth that was wrapped around it was still intact. She fell on her knees and remembered all the moments she had spent with him, right from the first click till his last incomplete sentence. Hugging the stone, she screamed his name aloud and sobbed. There was no one to hear her cries. No one to hold her hand.

            The only thing now that was between them was her clothes. So, slowly she took them off and the same girl who once hated winters was now sitting naked, embracing the stone as tight as she could in order to feel the same warmth.

           ‘Shiraz!’ she tremored and said, ‘I’m yours now. Only yours, until we meet next time…!’

            Sabreen died the next day only to be his…forever!                                      

THE END

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