Not guilty

She looked at him through the hazy glass, her eyes welling up.

It had only been a month, but for her it felt no less than an age. She seemed pale. Sorrow and despair written all over her.

He just smiled wryly, trying hard not to let his emotions get the better of him. His face, once bright and clean shaven, now had a thick, unkempt beard. Bereft of hope.

For minutes on end, they just stared. He, into blank space. She, across him. Not a word was said, not a sound made. The silence was loud. The silence was reality.

*

It had taken immense courage on his part to face her. For an entire month, she came and she waited for him every single day. But he would never turn up. He knew that she’d be disappointed, that she’d hate him.

He didn’t want that.

He wanted their last memory to be a happy one, of the kiss they shared on her 18th birthday, a night before that fateful evening.

He didn’t want the most beautiful part of his life to be marred by any negativity. For that was all he had left to cling on to.

Her smile, her love, her affection. Her.

Their romance, their journey, their memories. Them.

He didn’t want to meet her, but he also desired that she move on with her life. No matter how tough it was, he couldn’t be selfish.

He wanted her to find someone else, to forget about him and live a happy life. He wished and he prayed that she does. Always.

*

He walks to the visiting area at the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York gingerly, knowing fully well that it’s going to be the last time he sees her. It’s scary, it’s painful. But it is the truth.

The previous evening, his lawyer had told him that the situation was grim. They had appealed against the seven year sentence he had received, but were not expecting anything to come out of it.

He had stopped bothering. But not her. She read and watched anything and everything related to his case.

That’s because she still hoped, and she always would.

Even though he can’t muster the strength to make eye contact, he manages to catch glimpses of her. Her long, wavy hair. Her jet black eyes. His favourite hoodie of her’s. Her tears. Her anguish.

He takes it all in, one last time.

Dressed in the shabby orange prison uniform, he looks nowhere like he used to. Once full of life, he now seems dead from the inside.

As he sits on the chair across her, his heart, his mind, his everything is screaming. In agony, in despair. In pain and suffering that others can’t comprehend. But his face is straight, deadpan straight.

She wants to hold his hand, she wants to hug him tight and whisper in his ear that it’ll all be over soon, that it’s just a bad dream. She really wants to, but she can’t.

They are separated by a glass panel. And a whole lot else.

Today, unlike ever before, there is a barrier between them. Both literally and metaphorically. And it’s an unbreakable one.

After endless minutes of profound silence, she puts her hands on the glass panel. And with tears that symbolise the worst kind of pain, she asks him “why”. Now in an uncontrollable state, she gasps for breath, for her life, for him.

He doesn’t respond. He can’t.

*

A week earlier, in court, he looked as morose as he was looking today. He avoided every soul there. His parents, his friends, her. Maybe himself as well.

While being questioned, all he gave were one word answers. Yes or no.

He was being tried for the murder of a small time burglar, who had, as he would admit, got into a fight with him over a rash driving issue. As things got worse, the burglar took out his unlicensed revolver. And while both of them fought to fire a shot into the other’s leg, he somehow pressed the trigger that sent the bullet right through the burglar’s throat, killing him on the spot.

While he stood there, a middle aged couple driving by informed the police, absolutely shaken and horrified.

The two police officers, who reached the scene just minutes after the call, had their work cut out. For he didn’t flee, he didn’t point the revolver at them, he didn’t move an inch. A horrid look on his face, he surrendered.

He had an ill feeling about the future. And he wasn’t wrong.

The jury sentenced him to seven years without parole.

It was more like life.

*

In court, he hadn’t said much. But his eyes, his detached face, his silence spoke a lot.

What he admitted to in court was not true. The jury didn’t know it. She did.

She knew what his mannerisms were like when he was speaking the truth, and what they were like when he was lying. Call it some crazy power, or call it love. But she would always know. This time too.

*

Back in the visiting room, when she asks him “why”, he wants to pour his heart out.

He wants to tell her that he killed the burglar not because of some stupid rash driving argument, but because that man had been stalking her.

For over a month, he saw this man whenever they went out together. In restaurants, outside clubs, at the movies. Just about everywhere. But he never let her know, lest she get reminded of the time she was almost sexually assaulted as a child.

And today, with her parents holidaying abroad – they had dropped them off to the airport in the morning – that man had probably decided the time was right to break into her house, to assault her, maybe to kill her.

As he started to drive back after dropping her home, he saw the man, in his old Ford pick up, waiting for him to pass so he could proceed to her house.

But he didn’t drive past. Instead he crashed straight into the pick up truck. And during the ensuing brawl, killed him, purposely, in all his senses.

*

This was the truth, one which nobody except him knew. No one.

He really wanted to tell her, but he didn’t. That’ll not let her move on, that’ll make her feel guilty, that’ll ruin her life.

Thus, when she asks “why”, he doesn’t respond. He can’t.

For two hours, they just sit like that. Remembering the happy times, dreading the future.

And when the guard says that the visiting time is over, he gets up and utters his first words, a pained “Forget about me and have a happy life. Goodbye.”

She howls. Back in his cell, he does too.

*

A week later, on the following Saturday, she is there again. She’s driven six hours from her home. Today, she is not sad. She knows it’s going to be tough, at times even next to impossible. But there’s no other way she would have it.

Today, when he comes to the visiting area, he talks. About books, the weather in New York, her life, her friends, her last year in school, about normal stuff.

This time, there are no tears. No goodbyes. Just two eighteen year olds madly in love.

This time, she doesn’t ask “why”. Maybe she knows, maybe she doesn’t.

*

Seven years later, all grown up and mature, she stands at the same place where she does each weekend, alongside guards who have now become good friends.

Back in her car, lies a bottle of champagne and a ring.

Today, she’s there to take him home.