By Jackson Ningthem
It was a mild summer afternoon in May when I met Engallei at Eco Garden. She was dressed in a light pink floss shirt and a skin tight blue jeans. She was dressed simply yet elegant she looked. Her hair though, I think she overdoes it sometimes—constantly alternating between maroon, gold and stripes of violet. The styles change quite often. Her hair reminds me of Marie Antoinette. They smelled good; it’s not chinghi but a type of shampoo. Anyway, I’ll move on. Wait! There is something else I have to tell. It’s about the curve. No, not that. I am talking about the smile. She must have the best smile in the whole of Northern Hemisphere. I can bet my life on that. Okay, I need to stop.
All these are not to distract from the fact that I had to wait for 30 minutes. I did come a little early but there was no sign of her. It disappointed and saddened me at the same time, conjuring up thoughts that she didn’t care about the date of meeting me. But all that anguish vanished the moment I saw her. She had the kind of aura that gives you eternal joy; it’s like the warm sunlight shining on the face of a caveman. I say this because I am like the caveman, introverted and solitary. Making social relationships is one thing that horrifies every nerve in me. But I am willing to break loose from my fear only for her.
I found a table for us and all the while my heart was thumping like a beatbox. I was worried and nervous. We sat face to face. But I couldn’t bear to even look at her eye-to-eye. My face turned red, and my head felt like a pumpkin; it was very heavy! To make things worse, I started sweating. My hands felt like a balloon. My senses were betraying me; my body was shaking. Then, she asked, “Hey, are you okay? You are sweating a lot.” I replied stuttering slightly, “Yeah, yeah I am fine. Aaaa… Just probably the heat…the sweating…I mean the sweating is due to the heat…I guess.” “Oh really? It’s not that hot. I’ll get you a glass of water. You must stay hydrated,” she said and left for the counter. Phew! That was ridiculous. I need to get my act together. Freaking hell! I am here sitting with the most beautiful being in the Northern Hemisphere and I am sweating! Well, on second thought, I think that’s an understandable reaction. But, I need to pull myself together and get a grip.
Just as I was wrapping up my thoughts, she came back with a bottle of water and two glasses. She poured and gave me one. I drank the whole glass; it felt great. This time I mustered enough willpower to look at her and asked, “What did you have for lunch?” She replied, “I didn’t eat. I just had some maggi.” “Oh, so you’re dieting?” I asked her playfully. “Haha. No, it’s not about dieting. I just don’t feel like eating much these days” I didn’t want to carry on further this discussion as if I am her dietician. Now, I have run out of things to say and the awkward silence fell again.
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Snap! I realized I was at a restaurant. So, I asked her what she wanted to eat and we ordered some. She ordered only a lemon mojito! That put me in a corner. Now, I couldn’t afford the audacity to order some good food. So, I asked for a half plate chow mein and a mojito, obviously. After this, I started wondering how I could resume the conversation. There was also the thing I wanted to tell her; should I just jump to that or should I build it up slowly? I was feeling hot again. Just as I was going through my thoughts, she asked, “So, you said you wanted to tell me something?” “Yes, about that…” I replied nervously but slightly taken aback. “So? Tell me then,” she said and posed herself as if she were waiting for a toddler to say its first word.
Sure,” I replied flatly. What is happening?! Why am I sweating again? Oh no, it’s happening again. My hands, I can’t feel it. My heart, it’s pounding heavily. I am done. I am choking; I am choking again. But quick, I have to say something, anything. “Noi lou pari kaya liege?” I burst out. What did I say? Oh no, this conversation is damned. She was shocked at my question and replied, “This is what you wanted to ask? Are you serious?” I reacted quickly, “No…wait…I am sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. It just came out. I’ll tell you what I wanted to say. It’s something personal.” Now. Now is the time. I must summon all of my cat-face power and say it. It’s now or never. Do or die. Now is the right time. I am finally ready to spill it. All my hard work has led me to this moment; now I won’t let it go. I opened my lips and said, “What is your favorite chili? Do you like the green one or the red one? What about uumorok? I personally prefer green chili. But if I have to choose between uumorok and green chili, I will choose uumorok. What is yours? I bet you don’t eat chili. Am I…” I stopped myself realizing that I have wrecked another chance. Why did I ask her about chili? What is wrong with my brain? I want to cry. “Is this a joke? You must be kidding. You’re wasting my time. I am leaving,” she cried out, staring at me furiously, and stood up to leave. I was dumbfounded for a moment but I quickly comprehended that I had to do something; I have to stop her. So, I stood up and chased her. I saw her at the parking lot. I ran up quickly to her Activa, grabbed her hand, looked her into the eyes and told her, “Ei nangbu nungshi.” “What?” she replied “I love you.” I reiterated firmly.
The next moment I knew everything was blank. My face was feeling hot again. I felt something strong had wacked my cheek. I realized it was her hand. As I looked up, I saw her staring at me. However, it was not an angry one but remorseful. Then, she said, “I am sorry but I can’t repeat the same mistake of loving you again. The last one cost my life.” She then drove away.
I was heartbroken. Tears rolling down, I stood there looking at her as she drove away but my thoughts were also filled with innumerable questions. What she meant by “loving you again”? What life? What mistake? I can’t process… I needed an answer. I had to go home. I saw the waiter running towards me but I jumped onto my bike and drove away, never looking back. As soon as I reached home, I searched for my mother. She must have the answer. I kept shouting, “Ima! Ima! Ima!” Finally, she emerged with a concerned look on her face and asked me what was wrong. I asked, “Who is Engallei? “Engalei?” she replied somewhat surprised. “Yes, Engallei. Who is she? Do you know her?” I asked her again impatiently. Then, she went on, “Yes, I know her. She was the daughter of a headman of Maram village in the 17th century. She fell in love with king Paikhomba and became her wife. But her coronation as the queen was opposed by the Meitei noblemen and officials of the kingdom as they believed a Maram tribe can’t rule over the Meiteis. One day, when Paikhomba went away for war, her house was set on fire and Paikhom’s family drove her away. It is believed she disappeared in the Langol hills. We now worship her as Tarung Lairembi or, more popularly, Langol Lairembi.”
“So, what happened? Why are you so curious about her all of a sudden? Did you call me just to ask this?
“Nothing, ima. I just wanted to know her.”