She ran straight to Gladys aunty’s shop, crying uncontrollably and sat at one of the benches. Gladys walked over, calmly and sat beside her. She looked up at aunty, momentarily holding back her tears and then put her head on Gladys’s loving lap and resumed crying. Gladys signaled to one of the other students around to close the temporary wooden shutter and put up the “closed” signboard. Then, assuringly stroked the crying angel’s hair to calm her down. A few minutes later, when the crying stopped and she was sitting up again, Gladys asked her what happened.
“He told me that he loved me and asked me if I felt the same and I said no but I actually do but when it ends it’ll ruin everything we’ve had and I don’t want that for him or for me and I don’t want to complicate this relationship Gladys.” she said, fighting back her emotions.
Having listened to the whole story, Gladys laughed, stood up and walked into her kitchen to make some coffee. As she returned, she said, ” 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. “
She giggled, still wiping her tears away.
” I told him that story last evening. What I didn’t tell him was that I said no to Matthew. “
“Oh. But why?” she said, puzzled.
” Because I was in the exact place as you are in. I was so worried about what will happen in the future if that marriage doesn’t work out. And how it’ll affect him and me and all those things you’re wondering. I was afraid of making a commitment.”
She was listening, intently.
“I didn’t know what my parents would say. What his parents would say. How we were going to run a family. Nothing. That was,until the next day.”
The tears had dried up by now. Curiously and attentively, she listened as Gladys narrated.
“Matthew came back to me, this time with a bottle of beautiful red wine and a bouquet of the best roses in the world, went down on his knee and told me, Gladys. I know you love me. And I know you’re afraid but you don’t have to be because I’m here now and I’ll be beside you for the rest of our lives. I’ll work as hard as I need to and keep you happy. Marry me Gladys.”
She smiled, not just because of the story she’d just heard but also because of the nostalgic smile that had broken on Gladys’s lips.
“And like he’s done for so many years after that, he gave me confidence when I was in doubt. That’s when I said yes. Only when I was convinced that it wasn’t worth worrying about when it would end because when you’re really in love, it doesn’t have to end. Ever.”
Through her moist eyes, she looked into Gladys’s and hugged her.
“I don’t know what to do Gladys.” she said.
“If he’s half as smart as I think he is, he’ll surprise you. If he doesn’t, it wasn’t ever meant to be. The guy is an idiot if he doesn’t try again for a pretty little thing like you.” she answered and walked towards the counter to re-open her shop for business.
She sat there for a while longer and then walked home, pondering over all those things Gladys had told her.
The next evening, she walked to the pond and sat there, staring into the calm waters.
“A friend once told me that I shouldn’t be so unaware of my surroundings.” he said hiding something behind him, grinning, referring to the advice she’d given him when they first met at the pond.
The sight of him changed the expression on her face. From a straight face deep in thought to a smiling face in confused love.
She saw that he was hiding something.
“Please turn out to be smart. Please turn out to be smart.” she chanted in her head with baited breath.
“Aashi. I know you love me. And I know you’re afraid but you don’t have to be because I’m here now and I’ll be beside you for the rest of our lives” he said, bringing forward the bars of chocolates she loved and a couple of roses.
She was ecstatic. She put her arms out so he could hug her. He sat beside her so that he could and hugged her, still unsure of her answer.
“Yes!” she whispered into his ear. And rested her head on his shoulder.
He was mad with joy. But he wasn’t jumping up and down only because she was resting on him. What would’ve been a mad celebration, turned into a silent, romantic moment they could savor for all eternity.
A few awkwardly silent moments later she raised her head, looked to him and said, ” You went and spoke to Matthew uncle, didn’t you?”
“Yep.” he said, looking back at her.
“Over-smart ass.” she grinned, as she nudged him in the stomach.
“Ouch! But I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you very much” he grinned back, pulling out a pack of breadcrumbs from his pocket and keeping it between them.
“Congrats on a well-managed show yesterday by the way” he said as he reached for some of the crumbs to feed the fish.
“I couldn’t have done any of that without you.” she said, reaching for some crumbs at the same time.
Their hands met. And neither moved. He locked her hands in his as she rested her head on his shoulder again. And like every story with a happy ending, they lived happily ever after.