This story was written by me for Write India Campaign, Author Ravinder Singh's Contest . Read on and let me know the feedback in the comments section :)
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It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend's wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn't know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell. Four years was a long enough time to move on, which I already had or so I guessed. I found it a little strange that my heart started pounding at her mere sight. By the time, I could figure out what to say, she was already standing by my side.
“Hi, Ayaan! It’s such a pleasure to see you. I mean, you know, actually, it’s kind of unexpected!”
She was almost stammering while trying to find right combination of words for initiating a conversation. So, I took the charge “I had no idea that you were coming! You have been pretty much off the social space; I mean, hardly anyone knows about your whereabouts. Anyway, it’s nice to see you, Smita! …” My struggle to find some suitable words was luckily interrupted by the passenger standing behind me in the queue. He nudged me to keep moving along with the queue. So, the two of us became quiet and waited for our turn.
The time after check-in was a little awkward initially. The flight was about half an hour later and both of us were in a strange situation. A situation where you, actually, have so much to say that words just evade you.
“So! When are you planning to get married? Any Boyfriend?” I winked at her trying to clear the air of awkwardness between us.
Whenever she used to hide her nervousness behind her smile, her nose twitched a little bit. Ah! It was that very smile, “Umm.. Actually I did not get anybody as nice as you”, she gave an evil grin and after a moment’s pause she said, “And what about you?”
“Well! I guess! I am at my parents’ disposal now!”
The next half an hour was spent reminiscing about the memories of college time.
Tanay in his golden sherwani was all set to take a ride on the horse. All eight of us batch mates were so much infused with energy that the ground beneath us could have literally got some cracks. Nobody’s feet were stopping. Smita and Pragati had taken the lead and six of us guys were behind the two girls. Tanay was himself making a few moves while sitting on the horse. Smita was looking ravishing in her black saree with golden border. I was stealing a look at her after every few minutes. I wondered if she had grown more beautiful with time!
Tanay was basically from Amritsar but his family had settled in Bangalore. Though his wife Sakshartha was kannada, the wedding was arranged mostly in Punjabi style.
The wedding vows were chanted in both hindi and kannada. The knots were tied and soon our dear bachelor friend became a married man.
The next morning, everyone was ready to leave. Pragati and Kunal were leaving for Mumbai and rest of the guys were headed to Pune. My flight was in the evening and it turned out that Smita was travelling via the same flight. What could be a greater coincidence! Anyway, after seeing everyone off, we decided to visit our college before heading to the airport.
The wedding had kept us all busy; it had been almost an entire day since I had a cigarette. Smita was well aware of my smoking habit since college days. Initially, she used to lecture me and we used to have disputes over the issue. But slowly she got accustomed to the fact. And anyway, I did not smoke too much; just one or two cigarettes a day. So, I just asked her to excuse myself for a minute so that I could smoke. I thought I was mistaken when I heard her asking for one too. “Sorry! Did you just say that you want a cigarette? Well, did I hear it right?” I was perplexed when she reiterated the same thing. Was it the same Smita who was completely anti-smoking once upon a time? May be I was thinking too much. People do change with time. I handed her a cigarette; it took me by surprise the ease with which she was smoking it.
We roamed about for a while. There were so many memories associated with that place, it was making me nostalgic. The life inside and outside of the college was completely different. Smita had become quiet all of a sudden. It felt as if I was walking alone. Her face had a tired look. I wondered what she was feeling.
We headed to the airport after an hour. I was seated two seats ahead of her. Usually I am not the one to swap seats in flights, but, that day I felt an urge to be seated near to Smita. The lady sitting beside her agreed to exchange seat with me and that’s how I got seated beside my ex-girlfriend for the next two and a half hour.
She had closed her eyes. So, I was under the illusion that she was asleep until she suddenly started speaking.
“You were surprised at my smoking a cigarette. Weren’t you?” She took a brief pause to let out a sigh, “It was after a few months of passing out from college. I was still searching for a job in Delhi. My CGPI was not helping me much in getting a descent job. It broke my heart to keep asking for money from home. Everyone around me was happy with nice jobs and a nice career ahead. Slowly, I started feeling out of place among friends. I deactivated my facebook account, deleted my whatsapp and slowly, I started pushing myself to anonymity. In a span of six months, I attended some fifty interviews and yet I could not clear a single one. My self-esteem was lower than ever, I was going into depression. I could not break my parent’s heart by telling them what I was going through. My mother, sometimes, gave subtle hints to me that may-be I should consider giving up and coming back home to Moradabad. I was putting unnecessary financial strain on my father. For a middle-class family with only one earning member, ten thousand bucks per month was a substantially large amount. With a small salary of a primary school teacher, my father had done everything for me and my brother. We were never denied anything. Whenever, I would think about his struggle and how his face never showed any sign of grief; my heart would become full and my eyes welled up with tears. It made me feel so worthless to think that the entire amount he invested in my engineering education had resulted in no returns for him; as if everything had gone down the drain. A year was enough to shatter my spirit and create a void in my soul which convinced me of my worthlessness. I decided go back home. Before going back, I had one last interview to attend at The Dexterous Technology Pvt Ltd. It was a small IT services company. The results of this one took me by a nice surprise. This small achievement was like a silver lining in the dark clouds which had overshadowed my life.”
I called back-home in a super-excited mood; but, before I could say anything my mother’s trembling voice said something from the other side of the phone, which created a hole inside my heart. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer; in third stage! My father took the phone from my mother and consoled me that it was nothing. The man was made of iron indeed. I told my mother to come to Delhi so that we could start his treatment immediately. He was not willing to shell out a large amount of money on his treatment. Somehow, we had to convince him that his health was the first and fore-most. I had a job to take care of the routine expenses of the family. So, we admitted him to Appollo. His surgery was scheduled for the following week. Doctor had apprised us of the fact that he may not live more than a year; hope alone was our last resort. He had started to lose weight but his spirit was unbreakable. Soon, after surgery, his chemotherapy sessions were scheduled. In a span of five months from the start of his treatment, the bill amount had already crossed a figure of ten Lacs. The only time when I saw my father’s face shrink was when he looked at the bills. His entire savings were almost exhausted. One day, he became very adamant about quitting the treatment. He did not talk to any of us. My mother kept trying to feed him, but he would not look up. Little did we know that the end was supposed to be like this. He died without saying one last word to his family…”
Saying that she erupted into tears..
I was staring at her like a lost man with no idea of what to say. I was left wondering was it the same girl who was dancing like crazy a few hours ago. I hadn’t the least idea about anything she had been through in all these years. I grabbed the water bottle and offered it to her.
She kept sobbing for a few minutes and continued again, “It was after eight months of being diagnosed when he left us all. With him gone, all the responsibility of our family was on my shoulders. My brother was supposed to go to college after a few months. His college fee, my mother’s expenses, my own house-rent, every small and big expense was to be taken care of. Almost all the savings of my father had been used up in his treatment. At that time, I realized how important this job and its timing had been for me. My brother has always been a brighter student than me. He cleared the entrance exam and got selected for NSIT Delhi. Though my father’s savings could meet his tution fee, the hostel fee and the other routine expenses were on to me. I worked very hard at job to create an impression for myself. It was a small company, so good work meant getting acknowledgement and appreciation from every corner. As they say, time is a great heeler; the life seemed to be back on track and the feeling of loss kept fading away. I was doing good at my job and my brother was doing good at his studies. I asked my mother to come stay with me, but she preferred staying with the memories of her husband in Moradabad.”
“It was all going fine, until, six months back; a client meeting came up in Mumbai. My Boss had been happy with my work. I had a lot of spot awards, appreciation letters and certificates to my credit. So, he decided to take me along for the meeting. He is a middle aged man almost touching forty. When the meeting was over, he asked me out for a few drinks. The man had a rapport with me and there was no way I could have assumed something to be fishy. But, it’s a cruel world; you can’t be sure about anyone’s intentions. It was only in the morning that I realized I had been taken advantage of under the effect of sedatives which were mixed in my drink. I was extremely annoyed, I decided to confront him. But, I was a needy woman who could not afford to lose a hard earned job at this point in life. I was weak, I am weak, I kept quiet as if nothing happened; I am still working in the same place under the same man. Every time I look at him something boils inside me, and yet I choose to move on with life. I put on a happy face for the world, I don’t show my pain to anyone but I am not strong. I did not want to complicate my life or that of my family. I don’t want to be judged for things that were beyond my control. I have had enough and I don’t want more. So, I silently smoke away my pain and agony.”
“Next year would be my brother’s last year at college. Once he joins a job, I will be relieved of my responsibilities. I want a break from this life, Ayaan! More than ever… ”
Her sudden pause made my heart beat faster as I was no expert in handling such situations. I had no advice to offer her and no words to console her. All I could feel at the moment was a feeling of veneration for the lady who was sitting beside me; lady who once was a juvenile girl, who loved to play with heart shaped balloons; the lady whom I thought I had known and yet I was completely ignorant of what lied beneath the poised layers of her existence; the lady I had known to be a dove but who just surprised me in her avatar of a Phoenix. She was broken, but she was beautiful.
When we had broken up on the pretext of the notion that a long distance relation hardly works, I had no idea I would hold her hand again and in this way.
She was not weeping; but the feeling of pain had taken over her entire soul which was visible on her tired face. She broke down, perhaps, because, she had not done some real talking in a while. The pressure had been building for quite some time, and it was just released. In that moment, as I looked into her eyes, I saw the depth of an ocean. The depth of her soul made me fall in love with her; yet again. May be the love had always stayed. I don’t remember which precisely was the moment when I took her hand into mine. The only thing I remember is that, in those few moments, I had decided to never leave her hand again. In that two and a half hour flight, my ex-girlfriend became the ever-lasting love of my life.
After a few months, my company was having a referral drive; I referred Smita. She switched her job eventually. When her brother passed out, she quit her job. She went off to Nepal for two weeks to soothe her senses. When she came back, she told me that she had got it figured. The coding and decoding, the hectic schedules, the corporate etiquettes and the tight deadlines did not excite her anymore. She wanted to experience the world through a pen. It’s where she wanted to put all her energy. We got married soon thereafter.
This is the back story of Ayaan and Smita’s Happily-Ever-After. I am happy to share our journey with all her readers.
Ayaan : )
Ayaan finished writing the note which Smita wished to insert as “Note from My husband” before the starting page of her first novel which was going to print in a matter of few days.