I opened the door and peeped in. I had gone back to get an umbrella.

She wasn’t there so I called and asked aloud for an umbrella.

Still no response, but the balcony door was open so I stepped out. She was there, in her favourite chair, watching the drizzle. I had left her just a moment ago, but the face I saw was not the same.

She looked bewildered. As though the raindrops perplexed her. As though they were not supposed to be there. As though she was wondering what they were.

“Hey,” I said, and explained why I was back.

She looked around, blinked and came back —to this world.

A shiver spread through her. There was a breeze, and it was cold, but not that cold. She looked frail to me, all of a sudden. Frail and weak and… unprotected.

No, she wasn’t. The shiver had given me that notion.

“Umbrella,” she said and began wandering through the rooms. “Umbrella.”

She doesn’t have much use for one, I realised, for she rarely went out. Perhaps to the store nearby, or to get a haircut. She could choose her time. She need not go when it was raining.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Don’t bother.”

But she was on the prowl and nothing could stop her. Muttering to herself, as to where she had seen it last. I just stood there, watching. Thinking. She was like a tiger in a cage. Searching, seeking, restless. In her eyes, the memory of wilderness lost, never to be found again. Wrapped in a cloak of solitude. Isolated. Desolated. Neglected. Abandoned. Forgotten. Yet living, as only some can.

She found it finally, but by that time the rain was over. It was just a drizzle after all.

She went out again and gazed at the light. She took a cloth and wiped a few drops off the railings. Had she forgotten my presence already?

I wondered if I should stay a little longer. She still had the wild look in her eyes. Just a few minutes ago we had had lunch together and she was a different person.

Now she was enveloped in this shroud.

It was strange.

But was it, really?

I had been conscious of this quiet transition. The shadow had been gaining on the light, in small steps. Today, my reappearance had brought her back. Tomorrow, she would wade into it for longer, and the next day, even longer, until one day she would pass entirely into the darkness.

We all lead two lives, a day and a night. As long as they exist in their own halves, we appear normal. For some, the light chases away the darkness; for others, the darkness shadows the light. There’s an overlap that’s normal; a shadow region with varying depths that’s acceptable. And solitude, an overdose thereof, often lets the darkness in, gradually. We may even allow it to grow on us. The dark side is like a thrill – we know it is leading us astray, that it is shattering us to pieces, but we need its trance, if only to dampen the effects of our inexorable righteous thoughts.