For all the times he felt like a walking- talking cliche as an Indian physician in North America, and for all the jokes about the same circulating around, Aman Aggarwal quite enjoyed what he did. And although he gave allowance to parental power of suggestion, because as long back as he could remember his parents had always let him know he was going to be one, it had ultimately been his choice to become one. He liked working at his dad’s thriving suburban private practice too. He disliked changes and had never felt allured, like many of his friends did, toward an urban lifestyle, the attractions of the big city…or any change in general.
He was scrolling down the appointment list when a Medical Assistant showed up at the doorway to his office with a message.
“Dr. Aggarwal called”, she said, “He’s going to be a little late from the hospital”.
“Oh okay”, Aman replied, his eyes halting on a name that was a couple patients down. Navin Gupta. After a moment, he looked up at the MA who was leaning against the door jamb wearing navy blue scrubs. Smiling absentmindedly, he said, “Thank you. Is he still on the phone?
“No, he hung up”, the MA replied, “Yvette wants to know if you want us to stop accepting walk-ins for now”. Yvette was their office manager.
“No no”, Aman answered, his eyes flicking fleetingly toward a faint bruise on her cheek, “It should be alright. I’ll manage”.
After she left, Aman frowned. This was the second time he’d noticed a bruise on her. He wondered if it was something he should be worried about, something he should take seriously. Should he bring it up with Yvette? But then, she seemed alright- cheerful, efficient and absolutely normal in her dealings with staff and patients. He was probably overthinking, he dismissed the thought, pulling a sheaf of lab reports that needed signing off toward him. In between urine cultures and blood counts, he thought about Anita again, his mind dwelling on the likelihood of her being the one accompanying her father like she usually did. He initialed the last report and slammed the ring binder they were all organized in shut.
Turning his head toward the open window near his desk, his restless eyes skimmed across the dim winter landscape without actually registering it. Guilt was an uncomfortable companion to join one’s breaths and heartbeats with and while his guilt didn’t give him sleep less nights or feel as corrosive to his heart as it’s often described in literature, he didn’t plan on waiting it out. He didn’t plan on waiting for it to mitigate to an occasional twinge he could learn to live with. He was going to tackle it by righting the wrong he’d inadvertently committed last year due to his narrow vision and thoughtlessness.
He knew what he had to do. It would require a lot of patience but then patience had always been his forte. With a wry smile, he rose to head towards the exam rooms.
“Have you been eating healthy, Uncle?, Aman leaned against the small work counter of the exam room and asked with a smile that Anita kept her eyes stubbornly averted from. Sitting quietly, her jaws worked on gum that had probably lost all its juice about an hour ago. With her hands folded primly on her lap, her eyes stayed focused on her father.
“Oh yes”, said Navin with something akin to disgust in his voice, “Sujata makes sure I do. She is quite the task master. Lots of salad. I’m starting to feel like a rabbit”.
“Well, you can eat from all food groups but moderation is the key”, Aman said, folding his arms. His voice, unfailingly pleasant to the ears, could switch from professional to old family friend with enviable ease, “Our office dietician is all booked up today but I’m going to make an appointment for you”.
He turned toward Anita, his eyes probing as he addressed her with a direct question she couldn’t evade. “Or do you want to call us later, Anita? To make an appointment?
“Yes, that would be better”, she said, turning toward him, her eyes flickering slightly as they met his, “I have to look at my schedule”.
“Sure”, he said with a smile, “You can let me know and I’ll have the front desk make Uncle’s appointment”.
“Thank you. I will let you know”, she smiled politely at him, with just a touch of color smearing her cheeks hinting at the possibility that her indifference was a facade. It warmed his being with not only that unmatchable feeling of being liked, even loved, by another human, it also swelled his heart with a protectiveness he didn’t know what to make of.
He left the room when he ran out of reasons to linger. A smile played on his lips as he knocked at the door of next exam room. There was something to be said about the calm that comes with having your future cut and dried as he did.
Now if only hearts would stop pining for the impossible and revisiting the ghosts of unfulfilled dreams.There must be a way. Others had done it before him and there was no reason why he couldn’t too. He was determined to.
Anita considered herself fortunate that her best friend lived in the same neighborhood as her. Aarti. The fact that their friendship spanned a relatively shorter period of time when compared to her other friendships over the years had never stood in the way of it forging ahead of them all to become one of the biggest reasons for her smiles and laughters in life. She still remembered the first time she’d met her with high definition clarity. She was well into the second semester of sophomore year in high-school, eating lunch with a bunch of friends and acquaintances when she’d first seen her, a new face, through a cafeteria window. She sat on a bench by herself, her eyes focussed on her phone screen, appearing utterly lonely although she tried hard not to; and on an impulse, Anita had risen to go to her. Her family had recently moved to Ohio from India, she learnt soon, and on hindsight it was surprising how quickly they opened up to each other, bonding effortlessly over greasy cafeteria fries, Indian TV and a common love for historical romances. After that first meeting, Anita had taken her under her wings, helping her ease into the surrounding alien environment, their relationship strengthening into friendship as days, months and years went by.
“Aarti. You’ve been at it for an hour now. Any makeover that takes this long is an epic fail anyway my opinion. I don’t even need to look in the mirror. Because who on earth would have this much time..
“Shut up, Anu”, said Aarti, wielding a small bottle of lip color, “And open your mouth wide. Wider”.
It was Saturday evening and Anita and Aarti, who were both home from their respective campuses, were trying out new makeup on each other.
After filling in her lips with sheer color, Aarti stepped back with pursed lips and critical eyes.
“It looks very good”, she said seriously, “See when your eyeliner is perfectly winged and your eyelashes curled, it brings out the natural slant of your eyes. They look sharper”.
She turned the swivel chair she sat on toward a mirror leaning against a wall and Anita shrieked in mock-horror.
“Damn. That does not look like me at all”.
“You don’t like it?, her friend sounded disappointed,
“I like it”, Anita said slowly, staring at her reflection, “But it’s not me. Not my real look. It’s a deception”.
“What crap?, said her friend, “I’ve used bare minimal amount of makeup here. All I did was to accentuate and highlight what you already have. Mainly your eyes.That’s all. I call it making the best of what you have, not deception. So stop being an idiot”.
“Fine”, breathed Anita with a toothy grin, her shoulders sagging perceptibly, “It does look nice. Although I can never get my eyeliner to do what you did to my eyes here”. And most of the time, I’ll be too lazy to bother, she added silently to herself,
Aarti hugged her from behind and they stared at their reflection together. “You look like Jasmine, bae”.
The affection in her friend’s voice swelled Anita’s heart with emotion. She wondered if a part of this impromptu make over session was related to a conversation they’d had last week when she’d shared, or had been forced to share, the unfortunate outcome of her first crush/ first love – whatever the heck that thing between her and Aman was.
“Jasmine kaun?, she wiggled her eyebrows and asked in a gruff voice.
“A whole new world“, Aarti sang, winking at her reflection, “A new fantastic point of view…waali Jasmine. Aur kaun?
“And don’t get up yet”, she ordered a laughing Anita, “Let me take a picture first”.
Anita had almost reached home when Aarti called her to ask the most unexpected question she could’ve ever imagined.
“Who is Arian Foster?, she asked in an exaggeratedly suspicious voice.
There are some moments in life that take you completely by surprise, knock the wind out of your system, so to speak, and this happened to be one such moments for Anita.
“Huh?, Anita said stupidly, “Why…what…?
The reply to her incoherent question was intriguing to say the least but it also began morphing into the lines between the proverbial dots.
“I captioned our picture as Me And Jasmine and some Arian Foster commented on your wall: Jasmine. Of course. I’d wondered why your face seemed so familiar”.
“You posted my picture on Facebook”, Anita cried in dismay, waiting at a red light, “And you tagged me without asking. Wait till I get my hands on you. Just you wait”.
“You’ve got 73 likes and 50 comments already, sweetie. Even your Di commented. And her husband too”.
“Di commented. Arnav Bhai too”, Anita repeated with her eyes wide.
“Yes, they did”, said Aarti, getting distracted for a while, “And what the hell are they doing on Facebook? They’re supposed to be on honeymoon”.
“So?, said Anita with her lips quirking, “Even the most arduous of of passions must need occasional breaks from all that honey and moon, right? And although they might not agree with me, this is their second honeymoon anyway”.
“Damn”, said Aarti with frank envy before getting back to the subject at hand, “Anyway, let’s try not to deviate from the main subject of our conversation here. Arian Foster. So here’s what I know about him so far from my expert stalking. University Of Florida. Part of an Indie band called- what the heck- no that’s not the name of the band although I wouldn’t be surprised with anything these days- Politics On The Beach. Not a regular FB user. Mainly uses this profile to promote his band. Can’t really figure out his looks but cool shades. For crying out loud, they need to change their profile picture…
“Are you done?, Anita grinned teasingly, pulling into the garage of their home.
“Jokes apart, spill the beans ASAP. I’m very close to dying of curiosity”.
“There’s nothing to tell, Aarti”, Anita laughed, “He sat next to me on the flight to Amsterdam. That’s all”. She hesitated for a second as memories of a kindness too invisible and too formless to acknowledge in words skimmed over her mind…like a breeze out of nowhere.
Late in the night, Anita logged on to read the comments. There they were, all lined up in a neat column with each comment as gratifying as a bite of her favorite dessert. Some were from friends; some from family. And some from fleeting acquaintances who were practically strangers in ways that matter. She couldn’t help her heart from glowing with satisfaction. It was probably an illusion. It was probably a mirage. Whatever it was, it seemed to be doing wonders, albeit ephemeral wonders, to her self esteem. She felt hypocritical for all those times she’d derided Facebook and it’s inherent narcissism. Maybe it wasn’t just about narcissism; maybe it was also about people with battered self esteems seeking a moment of fake glory.
She reached the end of the column and frowned. Where was that comment, Arian’s comment, Aarti was talking about? She scrolled through the column twice before realizing Arian must have deleted his comment.
As this was something she did a lot- writing something impulsively and later chickening out and deleting it, she smiled widely with amusement. An imp cleared her throat and tapped on her shoulder. She tried squashing it for all of two seconds. The imp won.
“Too bad. You were a second too late“, the FB messenger conveyed to him, “I’d read it already :D”.
The sand felt soft under her toes- sun warmed talcum powder where the ocean couldn’t get to it and shifting silk under the frothy waves. She couldn’t get enough of it. She had really meant to go for such a long walk but there was something about long secluded stretches of uninterrupted beach that made you lose sense of time and distance.
Her bare legs were wet and sandy and her hair sun kissed and tangled. Her white sarong, tied low on her hips bellowed in the breeze. She stopped and knelt over a sand dollar half buried in the sand. As she gently pried it loose, she smiled in delight. It was a whole, intact piece. A rare find that is guaranteed to bring joy to even the most experienced of beachcombers. She rinsed it gingerly with water and held it on her palm, admiring the flower like etching on it’s surface.
She turned hearing his voice, sun glinting off of the tip of her eyelashes. He stood on the deck of their small Art Deco style villa, one of the two rental properties on the small private island, his forearms resting on the white rail, a coffee mug in hand. It was just before noon and he’d only just woken up. Khushi rose and gestured him to join her. She watched as he approached her in khaki cargo shorts and white button up shirt, shimmering sand flying off of his bare feet.
“Look, what I found”, she said when he reached her and she could see the wind burrowing through this hair, “A whole intact sand dollar”.
Arnav glanced at her upturned palm with unenthusiastic eyes, “Nice”.
“It’s a flattened sea urchin”, she added, “It’s rare to find it in one piece”.
“A flattened sea urchin!”, he exclaimed with faux interest, his eyes glinting with humor, “Now, I’m really excited”.
“None of your sass with me”, she threatened, her fingers curling into his shirt front, her face mock vicious before crumpling to join his infectious laughter.
“I was going to give it to you”, she smiled as he pulled her close, “but never mind now”.
“I love sea urchins”, he committed a volte face, looking at her with loving eyes, “They are favorite flattened animals in the world. They are so interesting…so rare…so”.
“Stop”, giggled Khushi, slipping it into his shorts pockets.
He pulled her closer, nuzzling against the crook of her neck, his nostril flaring at her floral scent, his tongue tasting sun and salt. She shivered as he nudged a swim suit strap down a shoulder and grazed it’s downy softness with his teeth.
Her toes sank in the wet sand as she stood on their tips to slide her arms around his shoulders. He raised his head and smiled at her, “Want to look for more of these?”.
With their hands intertwined, they walked along the foam and the sand, the salt laden wind carrying their lighthearted bantering to a hidden preserve of time..
“Isn’t it befitting “, she said in a teasing voice, “That I’m a diabetic. I mean I can’t tolerate too much sweetness…so…
He stopped with his eyes narrowed and his lips pursed. His eyes danced with humor.
“You, Dr. Raizada, are going to be punished for this”, he said grimly, sweeping her effortlessly in his arms and ignoring her shriek.
“Oooh, I’m scared. What are you going to do?”, she asked with twinkling eyes, tightening her arms around his neck as he carried her deep into the ocean, “Throw me down to the sea urchins”.
Arnav laughed at that – a deep, rumbling sound that never failed to warm her heart or curve her lips.
As he kept walking, her eyes widened with slight alarm, “Don’t forget I’m shorter than you”.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart”, he said confidently, “Main hoon na’
When he was hip deep in the warm, roiling waters, he adjusted the position of his arms and wrapped her legs around him in an intimate embrace.
He kissed her gently at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only stable thing in a vortex of sensations. Consumed by him and consumed by his namesake- the ocean.
Aaj kal paon zameen par
Naheen padate mere
Bolo dekhaa hain kabhee
Tumane mujhe udate huye
These days, my feet don’t touch the ground..
Tell me, did you ever see me fly?
A/N: Thank you so much for your love and concern. I’m feeling better now. Here’s is Ch. 5- Hope you enjoy it. Would love to hear your thoughts as always 🙂
Have a wonderful weekend,