A car zoomed past me, slightly brushing my jacket, and jerked me back to my senses. I was back in Delhi. I would do well to remember, I thought. I carefully crossed the road.
I was going to meet Shariva. She was still working in the same organization, in Noida. I took the metro, and then an auto to reach sector-135, Noida, and waited outside the SEZ area, where they had all the offices. Where, I had my office too, once.
‘Hello, you here? Give me 10 min,’ she picked up my call and responded curtly. It felt good just hearing her voice. I craved to look at her.
I had my eyes fixed on the entry gate for what seemed like an hour. The long and heavy wooden bar protecting the entry had already been raised and dropped a thousand times by the guards to let the cars pass, but she was nowhere to be seen. Then I saw her, swaying past the lecherous guards, walking her full height. She stopped beside the gate, elevated her chin gracefully and peered across the road. It would have been difficult to spot me in a crowd of people enjoying street food. So I took my time and kept staring at her from my open hideout. And it was only after she started dialing, that I stepped forward and raised a hand.
She had her phone attached to her ear when she noticed me. She brought the phone down, smiled and waved me a silent ‘hi’. I gestured her to stay there, and crossed the road, excited, dodging a speeding bike on the way.
I was standing right in front of her now, jealous people trying to hurt me with their eyes, roaming all around. I was immediately entranced by her fragrance. I recognized it too well. Within a split second, before our eyes met, I noticed that her nose had a sparkling diamond now – on the left side, and her hair had been pressed straight. She was looking gorgeous in her business suit. I realized she must have been promoted to the team manager’s role by now.
‘You’re looking good,’ I said, thinking whether to go for the hug or not.
She probably read my mind, and offered her hand instead. ‘Thanks! How are you?’
‘Good. Let’s go to Cafe Coffee Day,’ I said.
‘OK.’ She turned right and led my way.
For five minutes, we moved in silence, like two strangers. My mind was frantically searching for a topic to break the ice.
‘You have enough time today,’ I said, ‘for us?’ I hesitated while uttering the last part.
‘Yeah, don’t worry, how much do we need anyway,’ she said, and went back to tapping her phone.
We reached the CCD and decided our seats. I went to the counter and ordered two cappuccinos, like old time, but she came hurrying and said, ‘Make it one cappuccino and one espresso, please. Thanks.’
‘So what’s up? How’s life?’ I said rather nervously, sipping my coffee. All these years away had again made her that unachievable beautiful stranger.
‘A lot has changed Sam. You tell me. Have the years of serenity brought some wisdom yet?’ she looked at me playfully.
‘Wisdom,’ I laughed. ‘I was wise all along, wasn’t I?’
‘Wise! You!’ And she laughed too. ‘In breaking off, yes, you were.’
‘Er..that’s not what I meant,’ I said.
‘Don’t worry. That’s OK. I mean it. It was a good decision, to part ways. We weren’t compatible anyway. And since that was the last time we talked. That’s all I can seem to recall looking at you.’
‘You know we didn’t part ways because it was good for us. And, it was a mutual decision…’
She cut me off, and said in a firm voice, ‘I know everything, Sam. It was mutual. You just said you were going off to a forest, leaving your career and the city. And I just happened to be a part of the city.’
With a deep and long-drawn sigh, I reclined on the couch. I had just returned to Delhi, and here I was, in front of the girl I once loved, starting from where I left three years ago.
‘I am sorry,’ I said quietly, afraid that she might start crying. ‘I just wanted to see you, and know how you were doing.’
‘Sorry, I brought up the useless past,’ she smiled gently.
‘Hey, no. That’s okay. I just wanted to know if you are fine. You were devastated that day,’ I smiled back.
‘And you were not,’ she paused and then laughed hard. ‘Sorry. Just kidding.’
‘Oh,’ I tried recovering, laughing meekly, a little taken aback.
‘Anyway, look at yourself. What happened to you? You really living in a forest Sam?’ She gestured at the whole of me.
‘What? Beard is in. Long hair has never gone out of fashion. I look no less ugly than I used to.’
She smiled, and tipped her head on one side, ‘Why have you come back? Is your book complete?’
‘Then? You aren’t here to specially meet me. After all these years. Are you?’
‘What if I tell you that I am shifting back to Delhi?’
‘I would laugh it off.’
‘Seriously, I am.’
‘You said on the call that you were here for a week only.’ She reminded me.
‘Yes for the time being. Will shift soon.’
‘What are you talking about?’ She appeared disturbed.
‘I have enrolled for the Ph.D. program in Delhi University.’
‘Don’t tell me,’ she said wide-eyed.
‘Yes, you know I always wanted to do that.’
‘But when did you complete your masters?’
But before I could answer, she said, ‘Distance learning…?’
‘Yes,’ I nodded.
‘Wow! English Literature?’
‘What else?’ I shrugged.
‘Great to hear Sam.’ She looked at her watch. ‘It’s time to go. I wish you all the best for your future.’ She stood up.
‘Hey wait! I wanted to talk to you. I was thinking…I mean…are you seeing someone..anyone?’ I asked looking up at her.
She didn’t answer me. She just looked at me piercingly.
‘You have a boyfriend?’ I asked rightfully.
Her lips curled into a broad smile. She shook her head slightly, and sighed. ‘Sam. Let me make it clear to you,’ she sat down. ‘I get what you want. But, no, thanks. I am happy in my life.’
‘You don’t have a boyfriend, then? That’s what it is.’
‘NO!’ She startled me. ‘I don’t think it necessary to tell you whether I have one or not. THAT’S WHAT IT IS!’ She suddenly looked like someone I never knew. I hesitated to say anything to her. Should I pursue her or not? I couldn’t understand.
‘Okay,’ I mumbled.
‘Okay, then. Need to go,’ she got to her feet, turned, went to the counter, and then left without looking back. I couldn’t gather the courage to stop her. She took away that right from me. I wanted to tell her that I had come back because I felt alone without her. I had the solitude I always wanted. I wrote but it wasn’t the same without her reading it.
I decided to call her and found to my horror that I was blocked.
That was indication enough for me to go away. I hauled myself up with all my might and headed for the door.
‘Excuse me, sir!’ I heard the voice, seemed to have been directed at me.’ It came from the cash counter.
‘Yes?’ I asked, puzzled. The man came hurrying towards me.
‘This is for you, sir. Shariva ma’am left at the counter,’ and he handed me a book.
I glanced at the book, surprised, and sat down again. The book had the name “Shariva Sen” imprinted on its cover. I flipped the pages with disbelief.
The understanding struck me like a bolt of lightening.
I had left my job to devote more time to writing. I had settled in some remote village in the Himalayas to seek inspiration and solitude.
I didn’t think twice while breaking up with the one girl who meant everything to me to avoid distraction. And what did I achieve?
A manuscript still unworthy of being published.
And this girl…
She never even wanted to write, and she is a published author now. I couldn’t believe it. I sat there stupefied for a long time.
Then, several minutes later, I finally came out of my trance, lifted my head with an effort, and closed my eyes.
I smiled satisfactorily, feeling happy for her. ‘One cappuccino please,’ I ordered, adjusting into my seat, and started to read the first page…