Can you write something about soulmates?
Aunt Maya showed me her old photographs one night, decades of her life divided in stacks. She had a black bob in the 80s and wore long pants dripping with youth. I was so pretty then. She sighed. Aunt Maya is 52 now and lives with 3 cats- Bob, Leah and Metatron. But she was 25 once, and had a blonde shag in the 90s. She rode a motorcycle. Oh, who's this?, I ask. The picture shows a man, young and tall, on a black harley, my aunt wrapped around him, a brunette this time.
"He's Connor, an old friend."
I wait for her to continue. She doesn't, so we move to the next page. I see the same man with her, in bars and beaches, at home and in a garage. They look good together, I think. And I look up at her, her eyes lost somewhere else, some other time. I flip the page again, and he's there again, in group pictures, alone with my aunt, with her best friends, lan and Sherly. A drop falls on the album and I see her face again, sketched with wrinkles and smile lines, a tear rolling down her left cheek.
I know what he is to her and what he means, a part of her past buried in albums becoming a part of her life once again.
"Look at him, he looks so happy here", she points to a picture of him in a cabin. He's holding her hand and they're giggling, her hair longer with blue tips.
"When I look at him, I'm 19 again, and he becomes everything, my past and my future. I always wondered what he'd look like when he was old. I wondered if he thought the same for me, I still wonder sometimes."
"Do you still love him?" I know the answer.
She's lost again, in old restaurants that have shut down, forests that don't exist anymore, in moments she has guarded as memories, refusing to forget them. Slowly, she pulls herself back to me.
"I did, once. I don't know, memory is a faulty thing and the past moves in circles. I don't think about some things for months, only to obsess over them for a week. Also, I don't think I know him now. I did once, and I loved him, loved who he was and who he could be. But I know he's a different person now, I am too."
We stay quiet for a while.
Quietly, she begins to flip the pages again. We silently watch her life, their life together. Seasons go by in minutes, hair changing from the brightest yellows to purple streaks, a glorious technicolor of Aunt Maya. I realise a while later that Connor stops showing up in her photographs. New men and women take his place, stay for a while and then disappear. She looks older now, and her friends change, people moving in and out of her life. The photographs change too, become more clear, vibrant, sharper. At one point, her hair stops changing, a tuft of grey emerging at the roots, getting longer and finally taking over. She still rides motorcycles and goes out with her friends, gets Metatron first- an entire album to his name. Bob and Leah follow.
At a point, the pictures stop. Mobile phones take over the empty pages in the albums. We sit still for a while.
"Was he your soulmate?"
She stared at me for a while, then smiled.
"That's just a word." She laughs, a hearty, full chuckle, her eyes shining with life. "Can I live without him? Yes, I already have. Did I love him the most? That's absurd, there's no scale for loving. Also, I think I love Metatron the most." Another chuckle.
"I think we loved each other with the kind of love that lasts lifetimes. But I've loved many people with different kinds of love that would last lifetimes. We had our time and we lived a beautiful life. Is that enough to become a soulmate? I don't know.
"I guess that's it. You love someone in the moment, and you make more of them and then you hope those moments will last forever, knowing that they won't. So you gather those moments in your memory, hold them close and cherish them and make new ones.
"I think that's what soulmates are, moments of your life that you want to keep forever."
-Ritika Jyala, excerpt from The Flesh I Burned