The Damkeeper and the Baker

The dull ache that had made itself home in my chest was heavier than usual. With every breath and exhalation it tightened a bit more, constricting itself, adjusting its dense body and making itself a little more comfortable in the nook surrounding my heart. It was alive and it grew, just the same way any ‘thing’ that was alive grew. It needed the same essential ingredients for its survival, which I, though unwilling was bound to keep feeding. I convinced myself I could, at times, hear its hoarse rattling breathing when i stilled my own. It came from deep within; a low grumble, a tremor that I could feel like a shudder through my bones. Slight it may have been, but ever present. It had become a part of my existence, a weight I had to bear with every waking moment. The ache in my chest was like a living lump of coal that I had swallowed years ago that had lodged itself inside me, getting heavier and heavier as the days passed tethered to my heart and living off my grief.

What was the word for a form of love that was willingly given, but not returned? Like a cupcake freshly baked and warm out of the oven, it was made of chocolate with gooey melted chunks of rich goodness inside. It was decorated with a swirl of pink strawberry cream with a casual handful of sprinkles thrown on top. The baker had made these with her heart full, each one a little insight into what was felt inside, for someone. At first, he had taken them gladly, he had savored the warmth and gave smiles in payment. That was enough, at first. His smiles sent sunshine into the darkest of places and sent molten gold bubbling to the surface. His smiles spread smiles to her face, and those moments were enough to keep her heart full. But as time went by, the smiles slowly turned into passing comments; conversation which once flowed easily and smoothly like a river of crystal clear water downstream over the ease of polished smooth boulders allowing transparency into the depths underneath, had slowed down to a trickle of muddy water in damp, cold, wet sand and a desperate thirst hanging in the air. It was as if he had built a wall, a dam, across the river.

She had seen him carrying the bricks but had refused to believe he would ever complete it. ‘I’ had refused to believe that he wanted to, I wanted to believe that his indifference was only skin deep, and that he was good inside to appreciate a person who cared for him so much. Reassurance in our friendship was not something I ever received. And the smiles that never came anymore were replaced by silence. I could not bake any more cupcakes, when I didn’t know whether he even liked them anymore. Maybe the chocolate was too rich, or the cream was too sweet or just that maybe, he had had too many to eat these past few months.

I could only speculate the reasons, though they kept me up at night. The silence was deafening, and in a moment like this is when the Ache had creeped in. It had come silently, one night, starting off as a little cold pebble picked up from he riverbed as the water had started receding. I hadn’t thought too much of it at first, the hope that things will get better was still too fresh and continued to bake. The pebble had found itself a place inside me, and as the months went by, and though the cakes went unreceived, I never even knew if he took a bite out of the last ones I had sent. The pebble had grown, become harder and coarser inside, a living thing with its tail wrapped around my heart. It was heavy, an overwhelming weight in my chest, aching for its thirst to be quenched.

But the dam seemed shut, its walls even too hight to climb and peek over, and there was nothing I could do but sit on its shores and wait until a time when the Damkeeper might let his walls down, quietly longing for a small piece of cake because after all, the cake had been a small yet secret indulgence in his life. I didn’t know if that day would ever come, it was all but a fantasy in my mind, a wishful dream that he even felt the slightest bit of affection for my being. He acknowledged my existence, yes, but I could be nothing more than a face in a crowded bar with whom he nods the cordial hello, or passes a quick amicable hug. But his attention lasts only a few minutes as if he on purpose moves on to the next person in passing. Politeness, should not be mistaken for kindness?