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.
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…
Instantly, he remembered her. How could he ever forget that face. She was the prettiest girl he’d seen in college. But in the few hours that they were together, working on the college magazine, he couldn’t gather that courage to tell her that. He remembered getting lost in her beautiful earthy brown eyes. In his mind, he was quite romantic. That he was too shy to actually say what was in his mind was the biggest tragedy of his life.
” Hi ” she said again, waving her hand this time, wondering if he hadn’t recognized her.
“Hi!” He said timidly, blushing but trying to hide it.
” I came to return this, thank you ” she said, pushing a neatly wrapped umbrella through the grill.
She saw the perplexed look on his face and told him about how she was trying to get his attention the previous evening in front of shazia manzil.
“Luckily for me, this umbrella fell out of your bag! I would’ve never reached home in that rain if it wasn’t for you ” relief, gratitude and happiness written large on her face.
He was embarrassed that he hadn’t noticed her. He wasn’t sure how to react. He just smiled, still a little ashamed.
” Do you walk that way everyday?” She asked.
” No”, he said spontaneously and then corrected himself hoping that he’d have a chance to walk with her, ” I mean , yes I do”, looking around to make sure his friends wouldn’t reveal the truth.
” Haha. Ok. I’ll see you around ” she smiled and walked away with her friends.
“Bye!” He said waving his hand slowly, his heart lost in her charm.
He felt a shiver down his spine. Maybe this was love, he thought to himself, still staring out of the window. Then he felt a dampness on his collar. He turned around to find his friends grinning, one of them with a, now half full, water bottle in hand.
” so you won’t be coming with me in the auto anymore I suppose?” one of them said with a teasing smile.
Just as he was going to react, he noticed that the teacher had entered the class and was now staring down at him. Quietly, he took his seat.
As the teacher went on and on about signal processing, he remembered his dream again. Only this time, he could see her in it. Maybe it was fate that they should be together he thought. Why else would he carry two umbrellas instead of one that day? How else did that umbrella fall out of his bag exactly in front of shazia manzil? Why else would he have decided to walk home instead of going out with his friends? Why else would he have that dream on that same day?
Definitely fate. Had to be, he convinced himself.
That evening, he decided to walk home, hoping to find her on the way. He went past the railway crossing and the grocery store, this time paying attention to every detail around him and looking around to see if she was there.
As he approached the turning leading to shazia manzil, he looked around once more, realizing that he was almost home but she wasn’t anywhere there.
He walked past shazia manzil and turned into the narrow lane to his house.
As he climbed the stony slope from his gate to his house, he heard an auto go past the gate. It went past in a flash but he managed to catch a glimpse of the pretty passenger inside. He ran down the slope to see where she was going but the auto had turned a corner by then.
Disappointed, he went back into his house.
Later that day, he walked across the road to the temple pond on the other side. He often sat by the pond when he was too tired of studying or too bored of watching TV. He carried some bread crumbs to feed the little fish there. It was peaceful and he loved the serenity.
He sat there, wondering about all that had happened in the last two days, his head tilted to a side, shoulders dropped, legs crossed and his mind lost as usual. The late January evening breeze giving him company.
She walked upto where he was sitting and sat next to him.
“You shouldn’t be this unaware of your surroundings you know” she said, giggling.
Startled, he dropped the handful of breadcrumbs he was holding.
The giggles turned into laughter.
“You stay there, don’t you?” She said, pointing to his house.
“Yes” he said, still not completely out of the shock of seeing her.
“I live on the next lane. I’ve seen you sitting here often. So I decided to see what you do for myself. This is nice! Very nice” she said, admiring the pond and all the beautiful things around it.
He shook his head to get back to his senses. “It is, isn’t it? I like feeding the fish” he said, taking another handful of crumbs from his pocket.
She took some of it and joined him in feeding the fish.
“Do you walk home everyday too?” He asked.
“No. I generally take an auto” she replied. “Hey! You know what? We could share an auto” she said.
“We could! I normally end up paying that idiot more than I’m supposed to anyway” he blurted out, not realizing what he had done.
“But you told me that you walk home everyday” she said, a questioning smile on her lips.
“Oh!Umm. On a few days I share an auto with one of my friends” he said, trying to cover his tracks.
She looked at him knowingly and smiled a little more.
” OK fine! I share an auto with my friend everyday” he confessed, realizing that she already knew.
She burst into laughter at his innocence.
“Ok. It’s decided then! Wait for me near Gladys aunty’s shop after college” she said, referring to the 8X10 coffee stall owned by Gladys aunty, a quiet, polite, knowledgable 60 year old who always had advice for anyone seeking it.
The next evening, after college, he waited next to Gladys aunty’s shop as planned. A few minutes later, she joined him. They sat at one of the benches and he asked aunty for 2 coffees. They chatted animatedly over coffee for a while and then flagged down an auto and went home. A routine they’d follow for many months to come.
Half a year later…
It was mid October. Always a hectic period in an academic year. Most colleges hosted intercollegiate cultural fests during early November and his college was no different. St.Thomas fest was one of the biggest intercollegiate events in the district. The college ground was nicely decked up in a flowing, colorful tent. All the classrooms had been invaded by enthusiastic volunteers, setting up the events they were responsible for. In the basements and terraces the college music and dance teams were rehearsing their acts.
For three years in a row he was in charge of the quiz. A popular event that happened on the main stage on the third and final day. This year, he decided to take a break. She’d asked him to help organize the group dance. Again a main stage event that needed experienced organizers. She wanted his help with the sound systems, an area he knew like the back of his hand. He didn’t enjoy dances. But he agreed to do it anyway. He just wanted to spend more time with her. Besides, with all that was happening inside his head, he’d barely be able to concentrate on doing anything else.
To be continued…
He walked past the railway crossing and the local grocery store, generally a very “happening” locality in the otherwise sleepy suburb. Not today though. The heavy clouds looked all set to pour its fury down on the simple folk of the neighborhood. The grocery shop owner pulled down the shutters, cursing the rain gods for all his misfortunes (as if it was their fault that his daughter ran away and got married to the local tailor. )
The railway gate operator pulled down the transparent plastic sheet and covered the opening where, legend has it, a window once stood.
There were birds flying around frantically and trees swaying softly.
The dream still troubled him. He looked up to the sky hoping for some answers. A large drop of rain landed on his nose and proceeded to flow down his face. He wiped it off with his shirt’s sleeve. He noticed a sudden increase in the activity around him. People were running for cover, hotels being shut, windows being closed, leaves of coconut trees rustling in the strong breeze that had now set it.
The light drizzle became heavier and got still heavier. The swaying trees hummed an enchanting tune, the birds flying back whistled a matching melody, the rain set the rhythm in the background as it hit the crudely made country roads. As the potholes filled, the rhythm took new dimensions.
He took an umbrella out of his bag and opened it before he got too wet. He generally carried only one but today, by some mistake, he had two. The orchestra playing in the background, his thoughts firmly on the dream, he walked on. Not even taking the time to close his bag properly.
He reached the turning leading to Shazia Manzil, a palatial house that was atleast a couple of decades old. Yet, it was majestic. Apart from the unartistic green colour the current occupants had painted it, it had a definite charm about it.
A young girl stood near its gate, under the large canopy to escape the heartless rain. She seemed to be looking around for something. A companion, maybe. Or an autorickshaw to go home. It looked like she had given up all hope of the rain letting up. Her forehead crumpled, her eyes swelled with tears, she waited. The wind blew her hair over her face. She looked around once more through her hair that had quickly tangled up into an utter mess. She saw no one. A lonely tear escaped her eye and rolled down her cheek and soon, a few others followed. She tossed her hair back and wiped the tears. To her right, on the opposite side of the road, she saw him walking in her direction. She’d seen him in college. They’d worked on an article for the college magazine together but that was for only a couple of hours a year ago. A large smile crawled onto her face. He even had an umbrella! She began waving frantically at him, ID card in hand. She hoped that he’d recognize her. Atleast from the ID card.
Head bent down, deep in thought, he walked in front of shazia manzil and past it. He wasn’t paying attention to anything around him. Not even the pretty woman getting wet in the rain trying to cross the road and get to him. His house was just around the corner and he didn’t even have to look up to find his way.
The next day, in college, he occupied his normal seat. Next to the wall at the back of the class. He found that place very convenient.
There was a window behind him from where an almost perennial breeze blew. The wall on his left let him rest his head and dream but stay awake. And of course, it was the last bench so he had all the privileges that come with that too. The only disadvantage was that the corridor was behind him too and that meant any passing teacher could see exactly what he was doing.
His friends began recalling the episodes from the previous day’s lunch outing. They’d settled for the usual place. ” Malabar paradise” . A small eatery, popular among college students for its cheap food and free stories from the military days of it’s
proprietor. It was located inside city centre, the local mall. And so, was unaffected by the rains. Infact, they had more business than usual because of all the hungry people who came inside the mall to take cover from the rain.
As his friends described the mouthwatering wraps and appams and heavenly coffee, he craved for some of it too. The rest of the class was spent in scribbling down the precise circuit diagrams that the teacher was drawing on the board with multiple colours of chalk.
At the end of the class, everyone stood up, wished the teacher and sat down. He stretched his arms out wide and let out a yawn that lasted significantly longer than average hippo yawn. He rubbed his eyes, trying to stay awake and drank some water. Somebody tapped his shoulder through the window. He turned around and looked out. A pretty girl stood there.
“Hi “, she said.
To be continued…
A story, not of him and her finding love but one about their beautiful journey while love finds them.
This is the first installment of a 5 part series. Exclusively, on dudurudh.
He opened the boot of his rickety maruti 800, now almost old enough to pass off as an antique piece. The boot creaked open to reveal a few bags and a disfunctional spare tyre. He rearranged the suitcases to make space for a picnic basket. Carefully, he lifted a mat from it and flung it on the beach sand. Then, with a loud thud that momentarily disrupted the peace on the little coastline, he shut the boot, lifted the mat and walked towards a lonely tree in a corner not too far away.
She stood there, leaning on the tree, listening to the music playing out loudly from her phone. She shuffled a bit to make sure the cruel sun wouldn’t be able to see her pretty face.
He laid out the mat in the shade and walked over to where she was standing. She looked up at him shyly and in a nasal voice not befitting her otherwise pretty self shouted, ” What is the code word?”
Another unfamiliar male voice shouted back, “110010110″.
Startled, he lifted his head and looked around, only to find himself in cryptography class. He drank some water so he doesn’t slip into a day dream again.
The teacher seemed uninterested in what her students were doing. The students, just as uninterested in what she was doing. “WRONG!” She shouted, chasing away any remaining sleep he had.
But the events in the dream lingered in his memory. He wondered who she was. It certainly wasn’t one of his friends. But that face. It was so familiar.
A shrill bell brought the boring class to an end. As he packed his bag, his friends gathered around and initiated a discussion on a place for lunch. He opened his wallet to prove that he had no money to go out and in one swift motion, picked up his bag and walked to the door.
It was a gloomy day. But the sun was right behind the dark clouds, jostling for some space in the unending sky. It was the perfect day to walk home, he thought to himself. With no money, he had little choice. But it would also give him the chance to think about some things that deserved his attention.
He tried playing out the dream in his head once more. He saw the beach and the car and heard the music playing out loud. He saw the tree and the mat and a phone lying beside it. But she wasn’t there.