The early morning sunlight filtered through the dusty window in her room and kissed her forehead. She’d only gone to sleep a couple of hours earlier and didn’t appreciate the love that Mother Nature was showering on her. Rudely, she turned her face away from the window but the unrelenting golden sun rays graced the tender skin on her neck as they tried to wake the sleeping maiden.
Unable to sleep anymore, she tossed her blanket aside and dragged herself out of bed and walked up to the half broken mirror hanging over the wash basin.
Her eyes were red from all the sleepless nights she’d been having. As chief organiser of one of the mainstage shows, she had to be the first to reach college in the morning and the last one to leave.
As she brushed her teeth, she ran through all that she’d planned for the day. They were done with setting up almost everything. All that was left now was to invite the other colleges. For the organizers, it was the last leg of the marathon before the big show and the most tiring. They would have to travel all around town and beyond to campaign. She’d made a team of 4, including herself and made a list of colleges to invite. She ran through the whole plan one once more and then started getting ready for a hectic day.
Just as she reached Shazia manzil, she heard him call out her name from behind. She turned around and waved as he ran up to her. As he got closer, he noticed her bloodshot eyes. They looked like they carried the weight of the world. She was struggling to keep them open but she put up a fake smile to cover it up.
“When was the last time you slept properly?” he asked, worriedly.
“I don’t know. 4 days ago. Maybe 5. Doesn’t matter. Let’s go!” she said, dismissively and began walking again.
He reached out, held her hand and pulled her back.
“Go home and get some sleep” he said.
” I’ll be fine. Today’s the last day of organising anyway. I’ll sleep after coming back from campaign.” she tried assuring him.
But he wasn’t listening. He knew she was suffering and he couldn’t stand it. He looked warmly into her eyes and said, “I’ll do it”.
“You’ll do what?”
“I’ll go campaigning for you. I’ll take care of it. Go home and sleep. I can’t stand… You need the rest.”
“You can’t stand what?” she asked, a little smile appearing on her famished face.
“Nothing. Now go home” he said.
“No! No! Tell me or I won’t go home” she threatened.
“It’s nothing! I’ll tell you later! Go home and sleep” he said and turned his back to her and walked towards her house, still holding her hand.
She smiled curiously and walked beside him.
“Ok. You’ve got to go to Stefan’s, Mary’s convent, MES, Gloria high and..” she began listing when he interrupted her.
“I’ve got this. Don’t worry” he assured her calmly.
“Once you’re back, make sure you ask everyone to come early next week before the fest.”
“I’ll do that” he said.
“Actually, I’ll call a meeting the day before the show, never mind.” she decided.
“Ok. I’ll tell them that then.” he said as he opened the gate for her. “Take rest” he told her and walked back.
She followed him, stood on her toes to reach his ears and whispered, “Thank you” and ran back into her house, giggling.
He stopped for a moment, smiled and carried on walking to college, realizing he had a long day ahead.
He met the rest of the team in college, finalized the list of colleges they’d visit and set out in two autorickshaws.
After campaigning all day, back in college, an extremely tired group of volunteers gathered around him.
He began speaking to the keenly listening group on her behalf.
“You’ve all done a magnificent job for over two and a half weeks now. Your real job though, starts next week. We’ve prepared really well for this. Next week, we’re going to be part of the biggest ever fest in the district. But that’s next week. Now go home and get yourselves some much deserved rest. There’ll be a meeting a day before the fest to decide everyone’s final roles. Congratulations on a job well done guys! And thank you all for your efforts!”
After 3 years of organising, these speeches came naturally to him. And he understood the importance of motivating his team.
He walked back home, wondering how she was doing. He left his bag at home and went across the road to the pond. His regular spot was unusually occupied.
“My team was impressed by your speech” she said, looking over her shoulder and gesturing him to sit down.
” Wow. News travels fast.” he said as he sat down, surprised that she’d got all the updates already.
She looked fresh as a daisy and she sounded bubbly as usual too and that made him feel much better.
They giggled and laughed as he described all the different kinds of students and teachers he’d met through the day.
One week later…
The main stage was prepped for the dance show. He’d called the usual sound guys, Maniyan sound systems, and arranged everything she’d asked for.
She hurried around the stage making sure all the teams had everything they needed.
He went and sat on one of the benches at Gladys aunty’s shop and asked her for his usual, one coffee-double strong.
He was disturbed. He’d kept it locked within himself for a while now. But now, he couldn’t help himself anymore. He was in love with her and he had to tell her. He wasn’t sure how she’d respond. Infact, he wasn’t quite sure how he’d tell her. He had never been in love before. Gladys Aunty saw right through his eyes.
” How come she isn’t here?” Gladys asked.
“Oh she’s busy with the fest and everything.” he replied.
“You like her, don’t you?” she asked, catching him off guard.
” what? Me? No! We’re just friends” he stammered, uncomfortably.
” You can’t lie to me boy. You should see yourself around her.” she said, making him blush.
“Oh you boys nowadays. I remember when Matthew asked me to marry him. He gave me a bottle of brandy and a bouquet of some flowers he picked from outside MY house and told me how much he loved me. The idiot didn’t know red wine and roses would’ve been more appropriate but he tried and I loved it. It wasn’t the fanciest proposal but it was beautiful because he put his heart into it. I guess they don’t make men like they used to anymore.” she reminisced and continued, “Here, these are her favorite chocolates. Now go and do what you have to do. And let the words fall out.”
He was still giggling at Matthew’s brandy instead of wine gaffe as he took the chocolates.
“Thank you aunty” he said as he got up to go back to college.
Behind the stage, she was still getting some of the props in place. “Not the best time, maybe sometime later when she’s free” he thought to himself and settled in the audience.
The dance event began and the crowd roared as the home team started proceedings with a fast number. He cheered them on with the rest of the crowd. A couple of performances later, there was still no sign of her and the dances didn’t interest him.
His mind only thinking of her, he walked into the library and sat there reading the latest edition of the Manorama Yearbook, something he enjoyed doing.
When he walked out an hour later, he stood on the far side of the ground, away from the stage and scanned the audience. He found her sitting with her friends enjoying one of the final performances of the day. Her job was done. All that was left now was for the judges to decide a winner.
He sat behind her quietly and slowly moved his seat closer to hers. His heart was now racing. His hands were trembling and his head felt heavy. He took a couple of deep breaths and took the chocolates that Gladys had given him, out of his pocket.
He closed his eyes, took another deep breath and opened his eyes slowly, trying to calm down.
He tapped her on the shoulder with the chocolates and let them fall gently on her lap. Not realizing what was happening, she turned to look.
” I’ve only known you for less than year. But since I first saw you while making that magazine, and then again when you came back to give me my umbrella, I knew you were different. You were special.” he said , , she turned around to face him, a little worried, thinking about where he was going with this.
“Everyday when we walk home, it warms my heart just watching you talk and smile and giggle. I’ve never done this before so I don’t know how it’s usually done. But I can tell you one thing I know for sure. I love you. I really do. And I want to know if you feel that way about me too” he said, now sweating profusely.
She said nothing. She hadn’t seen this coming.
“I’ll wait for your answer. I know this is overwhelming for you. Think about it and tell me later.”he said.
She stood up, shaking her head as her eyes teared up, the chocolates falling off her lap in the process and in a breaking voice said, “No. No. No. Not later.”
Tears escaping her eyes, she said,”I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t.” And ran off crying.
To be continued…