He could guess her words before they left her lips and she could sense his emotions under the cloak of his outwardly strength. Hitherto had either experienced such a rare connection with any other soul.
An overwhelming sense of respect flowed between the two. He cherished her optimism and humor; she, his kindness and intellect, and they relished the moments of playfully challenging each other’s wits with a new conundrum every now and then.
He was overly ambitious and she, overly idealistic and this naturally lent to some differences between the two, for he used the crutch of cigarettes to exhale away the stresses of his workload and she endeavored to live a life free of any addictions. On occasion, she would exhort him to kick the habit, not in an effort to change him, but rather to suggest the lethal damage that such a product can inflict on the body, a sight she had seen in her mother’s charred left lung. Perhaps God did some justice not to make cancer contagious for she slept many nights by her mother’s side whose eyes always conveyed the regret to not have quit sooner. She convinced him to not face such a regret. In return, he was content to see how happy his quitting made her.
Tribulation was sheltering close by as she wished to marry him, and he returned to the comfort of another tempting cigarette between his lips, the same lips that always caressed hers with as much tenderness as he could beget. He disguised his weakness in the puffs of smoke that escaped his mouth. Over time, his responses grew shorter while her questions grew at length, till a compromise was achieved and communication was rendered meaningless.
A year later, she challenged every relationship advice column by contacting him. She asked for one last favor – for nine days, he speak to her as lovingly as he did during their happier days. Initially, he was hesitant to open another wound of her heart, but that one ounce of humanity was sufficient to change his mind and dial her number.
There was palpable tension on the line, on account of the rosier memories that surfaced to mind and the mystery behind asking such a favor. She promised that she would not bother him post this last request and encouraged his vulnerable heart to love again, pretend if he must.
Ironically, his loving self restored to its original state, just as her disease progressed to its last stage over the same days.
On the ninth day, he expressed his wish to meet her in person. She followed his past stead of shattering promises by breaking her own and making one additional request.
“We can meet if you promise to hug me.”
When he met her at her residence, he saw her sunken cheeks, and realized the terminal nature of her illness.
Afraid that he may compromise on her immunity, he restrained himself from leaning close to hug her.
“Don’t worry. I am willing to risk anything for this hug.”
When the disease consumed her body and she breathed her last, he, too, exhaled his last cigarette; when the light of her soul extinguished from her eyes, it simultaneously extinguished his own weakness to love again.
At times, those who are most hesitant to love are the ones who need it the most.