Aaron was in my first year English class at the University. He sat behind me the entire semester and we never talked once and I’m to blame. I have always had starting trouble with talking to new people and I hardly spoke to anyone during the first semester at the university. Aaron’s attempts at talking to me were met with silent smiles from me and maybe he had given up after a while. But one day in class, he was sneezing to almighty heavens. It was obvious he had a severe case of flu and he ran out of tissue papers to wipe his running nose. I turned back and offered him my hanky. He lifted his eyebrows, he couldn’t believe that I was actually offering him something, even though it was as insignificant as a hanky. He took it gladly and I could hear him happily blowing into it while I looked at the lecturer in the front of the class with a smile on my face. The next day, he was about to return the hanky back to me but I wouldn’t take it. I did not feel right about taking it back. He tried to give it back many times but I did not take it back. A “D” was stitched onto one of the corners of the hanky. My mom used to stitch our initials to the hankies that we used (we, being my sister and I). My sister had a flashy “S” (her name was Sapphire) and I had a “D” for Danielle in almost all the hankies that I used through school. Even though I stopped using hankies when I got to university, I kept a couple of hankies with me because it reminded me of mom and home. And I had given one of these personalised hankies to Aaron and for some weird reason I wanted him to have it. Our friendship started with that hanky. And from acquaintances, we grew to friends, from friends to best friends and then soul mates. So when he asked me to go steady with him, I was not surprised. And I did not have to think twice to say yes.

 I was doing my Civil engineering while he was doing his Mechatronics. Even though we had no common classes after our first year English, we always found reasons to be together. The cafeteria, library, student residences, we were inseparable. It was towards the end of our second year that  I got the dreaded phone call from home saying that mom had passed away. Aaron came home with me and helped me through my grief. On our journey back to college after all the formalities at home, he asked me to marry him. I looked at him. I found it very funny. We were both tired, we had a long bus journey of 9.5 hours in front of us and the only food we had with us were Diary Milk chocolate bars. In fact, I was gobbling up one of these bars when he asked me to marry him. I looked at him hard and burst out laughing.  We were only 20. We were still studying , we had nothing to fall back on, no job, no financial security, and no career milestones. I stopped laughing when I saw that he was not laughing. His face was serious. He did not want to get married immediately. He wanted to achieve something before we tied the knot. But he wanted me to be the one. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. This time, I had to think long and hard before I said yes. And eventually I did say yes. He held my hand, smiled and went to sleep with his head on my shoulders while I continued to nibble on my chocolate bar and ponder over the fact that I was unofficially engaged. Needless to say, I did not sleep on our journey back to hostel, while I could hear Aaron’s soft snores. I badly wanted to wake him up – how dare he sleep so well while I couldn’t? But I didn’t wake him.

Years moved on. We got married few months after we graduated. He had landed a job in the Ministry of Interior in Saudi Arabia and he wanted me to accompany him there. Needless to say, we did not have a honeymoon after our wedding. Saudi was the last place for it. I hated it there. Aaron knew I was not happy. Maybe to compensate for my unhappiness, he surprised me with a gift out of the blue. He gave me the charm bracelet three weeks before our first wedding anniversary. Shining in silver, it had 6 charms on it. A dainty folded hanky with a “D” on the corner, a miniature bus with the words “Ace Travels” to indicate the bus we took that day five years ago from my home back to college where he asked me to marry him, the tiny replica of a Dairy Milk chocolate bar,  an open umbrella to remind me of our first kiss (yea, we had our first kiss movie style in the rain, under an umbrella, in a public park! Beat that! ),  tiny rolled graduation diplomas, and last but certainly not the least, miniature copies of our wedding rings inscribed with ‘Together’ on his ring and ‘Forever’ on mine. I was too happy for words when I saw that. I hugged him tight and thanked him profusely. I loved the gift. It was personal and so very special. I looked at the 6 empty slots and asked Aaron with fake anger “Waitiamintit, what do you mean by only 12 slots?? Are you trying to tell me that we won’t be together after that?? “

Aaron laughed at me and held me tighter in his big arms “Of course not, what I’m trying to tell you is that after every twelve years, I will get u a new memory bracelet. I aim and plan to give you at least 10 more. What say?”

I joined in his laughter. “10 more? What? You want to live with me for 120 years?? Really?”

He seemed hurt. “What is 120? I want to be with you forever. An eternity. What do you say to that?”

I pretended to think for a minute. “Eternity? Naah, that’s too long. I think I will get bored of you after maybe 50 or 60 years.. Don’t you think so?”

Aaron let go off me and fell to the floor as if he had just been knifed through the heart. I laughed out loud and bent to the floor and hugged him again. He kissed me on my forehead and we both knew we wanted a forever together. Good times. If only we knew.

Life moved on. We moved to Bahrain the following year and I was instantly at home in this new, lovely country. The next year, Aaron added a miniature charm of a driving wheel to remind me what a dreadful driver I was. I had obtained my driver’s licence after failing the Driver’s Test 6 times. And right on our first drive, I was over speeding and hit my car into a tree. Aaron had scratches and I had three stitches on my forehead and a few fractures too. I vowed I would never take the driving wheel ever again. Aaron forever teased me over this and I was definitely not surprised when he gave me the driving wheel charm. The year after that was not a happy one. I was pregnant with our baby and in the 8th month, the child got aborted. My uterus was ruptured and the doctors told I would never be able to bear a child again. That night when we hugged each other and sat on the terrace of our villa looking at the school walls nearby, Aaron promised we would always have each other, that we would maybe adopt a child from an orphanage. I was too sad to say anything, I rested my face on his neck and shed silent tears and I knew he was also crying for our unborn, dead baby. That year, he added an empty crib charm to my memory bracelet. The next year, Aaron was promoted to Assistant General Manager at work and we could finally afford a luxurious European holiday. Well, considering the fact that we never had a proper honeymoon, I looked forward to our trip. At least for that one week, we pushed away all thoughts of work and our sadness and enjoyed each other’s company. And when we sat side by side enjoying the sights of Venice in a Gondola, Aaron suddenly got on one of his knees and extended a ring to me and surprised my asking me “Danielle, my lovely Danielle, will you marry me?”. The tall gondolier looked at us and smiled.

I couldn’t hold my laughter. “Marry you? Didn’t I already do that some years ago?”

“Yes, you did, and I’m glad that you did.”

“Aaron, what’s happening?”

“Will you take the ring already? My knees are hurting!”

I took the ring from the purple velvet box and put it on my finger. “Now, get up and tell me what’s happening.”

“Naah, nothing. I have always wanted to propose to my wife in a romantic setting. No denying that a night trip to college is the least of the romantic places. Plus, I did not have a ring then. So now, I’m just making up for it. Do you like your ring?”

“Like it? I love it!” And I did. It was crafted in platinum and had 20 tiny diamonds. Our wedding was on the 20th of February and I did not have to ask him to know that 20stones stood for the 20th. The smart gondolier cleverly looked away while we hugged each other so tight and stayed that way till the end of our trip on that beautiful Gondola. That year, the charm was a tiny replica of a Gondola. By now, I was eager to finish of the remaining three slots of my memory bracelet. And I could go to my second bracelet as Aaron promised. Three more years to go. I couldn’t wait. The next year, Aaron was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away before we could celebrate our 10 years together.

My thoughts came back to the present. I discovered that my pillow was wet with my tears. I got up and went to Aaron’s study. I sat on his favourite chair and closed my eyes. I loved the memory bracelet. It was the one thing that was the most special of all of Aaron’s gifts to me. Even greater than my wedding ring. The three empty slots reminded me of Aaron’s absence and the fact that they were going to stay empty forever did nothing to make me feel better. Maybe I should give it to Asghar. He had never asked me for anything. Or would I be letting Aaron down if I give it off to Asghar? I did not know. My head swam with questions and doubts and before I knew it, I was fast asleep on Aaron’s chair.

The next day, I was stiff all over because of my not-so-comfortable sleeping position. Asghar came to class and started his work as if nothing had happened yesterday. I watched him the entire period but there was nothing from him to indicate that he even knew or cared that I was in the class. After the bell rang, I asked Asghar to stay back. This time he did.

“Asghar, you wanted this bracelet of mine, right?”

He nodded.

“Here you go,” I took it off from my wrist, opened his palm and kept it in the hollow of his palm.

He still said nothing.

“Asghar, this is a very very special gift from someone I loved very much. Will you take good care of it?”

He continued to look at me.

“Please don’t spoil this bracelet or lose it. Please do take good care of it, okay?”

Blank stare.

“You can go now”

He did. I did not know why I did what I did. I earnestly hoped I hadn’t made a mistake.

The exams began the following week. I knew all my students would pass in my subject, well, maybe with the exception of Asghar. But Asghar surprised me by passing in all his subjects. True, he barely scraped through. But he did pass and I knew that it was an achievement. I congratulated myself and once the results were announced, I had a small party with my class of junior (now, Senior) students. It was the first time after Aaron’s death that I was genuinely happy and somehow, it felt good and bad at the same time.

The new academic year brought a significant change in almost all my students, including Asghar. All of them wanted to graduate with good marks and they put in the required efforts. Asghar still stayed aloof from me and the rest of the class but he was showing improvement. He stopped staring vacantly at people and I do not know if I was imagining it, but he seemed happier. Like he had a secret source of happiness and did not want to share it with anyone. But as long as he did okay in his class work and exams, I had nothing to complain about. He did not talk to me until and unless it was very necessary and he most certainly said nothing about the bracelet. I did not know if it would be right to ask him about it, so I did not. The year moved on. The senior students took their exams and with a tear drop threatening to fall from my eyes, I watched each of them graduate. Yes, including Asghar.

I kept in touch with most of my students. They belonged to the first batch of my kids at school and there was a special love and place in my heart for them. New batches came in and year after year, all the students who took Engineering Graphics as an elective boasted of 100 percent graduation rate. I knew I was doing something right. Or maybe God was just being merciful to me. Eight years passed. Few of my kids got married and almost all of them were working either as Engineers or as Interior Designers. I had no clue about Asghar. Neither did his old classmates. Therefore I was more than pleasantly surprised when I got this package from him.

Dear Teacher,

 

I do not know whether you remember me. It has been eight long years since we last met. Even if you don’t remember me by my name , I’m sure you would recognise your charm bracelet. True, I got it crafted in gold and I added a few additions too, hope you don’t mind. I still have your sterling silver bracelet with me and wouldn’t let anything happen to it.

 

You came to teach us the year after my mother passed away. My father married again after 3 months and it was needless to say that I was an unwanted member of the family. He would abuse me, verbally and physically and I was sick and tired of my life and living. In fact, I was contemplating of taking my life. But I remembered all those stories my mother told of God and his guardian angels. And I struck  a bargain with God. If he wanted me to live, he had to do something different the next day at school. And that was the day you first walked into our classroom. It was the middle of the year and the other teacher had resigned. When I saw you for the first time, I asked myself and God “Is this the different thing that God was doing in my life?” I did not know. You seemed uninterested in what was happening in  class and you stopped coming for a while. I came to know that your husband had died and to tell you the truth, I did not expect you to come back to teach us again. But you did. I put my suicide plans on hold. Then during the Parent -teacher Interaction, when you came to comfort me, I felt my mother had come back from the grave. But it wasn’t my mother. It was you – a stranger. I wanted to tell you what was my problem, but I couldn’t not bring myself to talk about it. I was very humiliated that day in front of my teachers when my father hit me, I started thinking of suicide again. And I told God so. In fact I prayed and begged him to take my life away. I was too scared to kill myself. It was as if he heard my prayers, the next day, you were showing so much interest in the weak students and I wanted to tell you then. But I couldn’t. I was emotionally a wreck and the only thing I looked forward to was coming to school and attending your class.

 

But I wanted to know that you really cared. I had seen you involuntarily touch and play with the bracelet that you wore on your wrist. I used to observe that very carefully. I had seen nothing like it before. I mean, it was obvious each of those tiny charms that hung from the bracelet had a special meaning. I wanted to know if you cared for me enough to give it to me. Emotionally vulnerable that I was, I put another wager in front of God. If you gave it to me, I would work hard and graduate, that’s what my mother would have wanted. And if you did not, I would take my life. The day when I asked you for the bracelet and you refused, I swallowed nearly 30 prescription pills. But fortunately or unfortunately, my step mother saw it and told my father. He put his fingers into my throat and made me vomit it all out. My first attempt had failed. I do not have to tell you that he hit me till I could hardly stand. I was angry with God. And with renewed vigour I promised myself that I would definitely succeed the next day. But the next day, you gave me your treasured bracelet. Now, it was my turn to keep my end of the bargain. I had to pull myself together. And that was exactly what I did. Every time I felt that it was almost impossible for me to go further, I thought how much my mother wanted me to be a successful person. Then I thought about how you gave me your bracelet. I was responsible for it now. And I had to move on. I had to make it in the world. You, being my guardian angel and maybe my mother from her grave left me no choice. I had to prove myself to the world.

 

You know that I graduated from school the first time round. I took up civil engineering at University. My mom had put some money in my name for my education and my father gave some. The third year and the fourth year, I got scholarships and I graduated college with honours. Then, along with three friends from college, we started a small company and the Lord almighty has blessed it abundantly and is now “Miracle Construction and Interior Designers”. I couldn’t find a better name for my maiden attempt at something. My life is nothing short of a miracle, as you now know. I met a beautiful young woman and we are engaged to be married in three months.

 

If you look at the Memory bracelet that I have sent you, you would see that I took the liberty of adding three more charms in the last three empty slots. I do not know the meanings of the others but I want to tell you why I put these three new ones. The first one I added was the miniature replica of a 30degree set square, I’m sure you know why. The second – a Civil Engineer’s site-cap is the smallest representation of all that I have achieved. The third and the most important is a baby in the crib. I knew you did not have children of your own and I have lost my mother. You came into my life and changed it when I missed my mother the most. If it makes you feel any better, I would want you to take me as your own child. Maybe not a conventional way for a child to be asked to be adopted. But I mean what I say. I wish you would come and live with me and my wife and complete our lives with your presence. It would make us very happy. By the way, did I tell you my fiancée is an orphan?

 

Please do consider my request. And if you chose to deny it, I want you to always know that you were always loved, at least from the moment you gave me your memory bracelet. I pray for you every day. If you change your mind and wish to see us or come and stay with us, our door and hearts are always open for you.

 

God bless you, teacher. Hope to see you soon.

 

Much love,

Asghar Khalifa.

Tears of happiness and pride rolled down my cheeks and I made no attempt to wipe them away. I cherished the moment and I knew it was not every day I would feel something like this. I sank bank into my chair and thought of Asghar and how he was all those years ago. I thought of how I impacted his life and he, mine. I held my memory bracelet and slipped it onto my wrist.

Three months later, as I hugged Asghar and his beautiful bride Tamara after their wedding, I knew Aaron did make the right decision in pushing me to go back to school. I could almost see his boyish smile and knew he was happy for me. We had a child now. Asghar.

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