Anita hadn’t wanted to regale Khushi, her older sister, her best friend, her beloved Di, with all the gory details of her relationship, non- relationship actually, or perhaps strange equation would best describe it, with Aman, with one of the prominent reasons in her head being that she didn’t want anyone – Khushi included – to think poorly of him. And even as this particular thought crossed her mind, she realized she had finally been able to forgive him, 100%, for what her hindsight could best describe as a brief episode of temporary insanity on his part. His kiss. His thoughtless kiss that had immediately been followed by his rearing back like a startled horse, shamefaced. And now that she looked back at it, it hadn’t even been a proper kiss – not even close to it – not that she was some goddamned expert on kisses.
And of course, what had hurt more than the kiss itself was his regret that had followed and the fact that he had allowed it to happen while being cognizant – God knows for how long – of her feelings for him. That’s what had hurt her the most at the time, a deep gnawing hurt that even his tentative hinting at an ambivalent state of emotions – that conversation by the swing in Allahabad – hadn’t been able to alleviate. She had been too hurt to wonder about it; it had all been much too complicated. Now, almost a year later, one thing was certain: Aman wasn’t the only one to blame in the whole fiasco. Knowing as she did that he was pining for her sister, that his heartbreak was still fresh, she should have just left him alone. Gosh…what a naive imbecile she was.
But yeah, she hadn’t really wanted to tell Khushi about that kiss. But…she went ahead and told her anyway. The words slipped out before she could swallow them…
She watched Khushi’s expression with interest, trying to gauge her reaction from it. She was carefully maintaining an impassive demeanor however, gently nodding her head and scraping up the last of her frozen yogurt with a thoughtful face. Bet she’d learnt this new poker facedness from Arnav Bhai, she thought, smiling a little at the top of her downturned head.
“So?, she said, “What do you think? Crazy right?
She watched as her sister’s eyes paused over hers for a fraction of a second. She didn’t know what she saw in them but those hazel eyes softened.
“Of course, it was crazy “, was all she said however in the same no nonsense voice that they were accustomed to using with each other, “But then I’m sure we’ve all done or experienced some level of crazy in out teens”.
“So you’re basically blaming it all on my hormones?, Anita said with an eyebrow raised – yes she could do that with aplomb and was rather proud of it too – incorrigibly with mischief, “Really, Di? Do you realize how cliched your response is?
“Truths and cliches are not mutually exclusive you know”, her sister said with a twinkle. She sobered the very next moment, her eyes hardening at a as yet unverbalized thought.
“More than you…I’m surprised at Aman. He’s supposed to be older and wiser – at least that’s what I thought of him until now – he should have known better. He shouldn’t have encouraged….
Anita found herself jumping to his defense at once, “We’re both equally to blame. I shouldn’t have followed him around like a star struck groupie. That too at a time when I knew he was trying to get over you. God..this sounds even crazier than it did in my head. It makes me cringe to even think about it now…And he realized his mistake and backed off at once. Shouldn’t that tell us something?
“I guess”, Khushi shrugged, her eyes slightly resentful still.
“I’m glad”, she added after a while, her eyes probing her face like twin magnifying glasses, “I’m glad that it ended well. That you were able to walk away from it in time, wiser, and with your head held high”.
It was Anita’s turn with shrug and say an equally ambiguous, “I guess..
“So what does he want now?, Khushi asked after a while, her tone almost too casual in quality.
“I don’t know”, she said, knowing that was the actual truth at the moment. Well, almost. Her mind flew back to a conversation they’d had on their third…date?
He’d taken her to a night spot located in the heart of campus, not too far from her dorm, and one she’d already been to with friends. It had been his friend’s engagement celebration with this particular bar being the place where the two had first met as college students. Everyone was much older than her but she hadn’t felt bored or out of place – she almost never did anyway…for better or worse – and that’s what she told Aman too when he asked her the same. It was while Aman was walking her back that he began to talk about endings and new beginnings and the way the two overlap sometimes, continuing to ramble on as they walked across downtown to reach the entrance to her residence hall. That might’ve been meant as a cue for her to pick but due to reasons unknown or not fully understood she just let it be. She chose to leave it unaddressed, politely feigning ignorance instead. She was unsure if she wanted to tread out of the safe ambiguous terrain their relationship – non relationship- seemed to be positioned in at the moment. Aman seemed to have understood her too. He’d looked into her eyes before leaning in to press an affectionate kiss on her cheek. It had made her throat constrict and she hadn’t even known why.
“Hmm”, Khushi’s voice snapped her out of her recollection, “What about you? What do you want? And if you say I don’t know again, I’ll throw something at you”.
Seeing her sister’s knitted brows, Anita laughed and said, “Ambiguity and honesty aren’t mutually exclusive either, Di”.
Khushi grinned before saying in a worried voice, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Anu. Apart from everything else – the history, the complexity – I feel he’s too old for you”.
“No, he’s not”. The words slipped out before she could rein them in. What was Aman’s diagnosis for her? Foot In Mouth disease. That did seem about right at times like this with the only consolation being that she was improving every day.
Even as she bowed her head, pretending to stare at the raspberry sauce splashed over peanut butter yogurt, she earned a thoughtful glance from her sister and fresh fodder for thought for her own confused self.
“Did you meet anyone interesting in college?, Khushi asked lightly when they stepped out, heat from the concrete sidewalk rising up in a tangible wave.
“Well I did go out on a couple of dates”, Anita said.
“The first date”, she pursed her lips, her eyes shining with the glint of a person who manages to find humor in situations generally deemed unfunny by most, “I was glad when it was over because my date and I seemed to be…at cross purposes in terms of our expectations from it. He’d seemed such a quiet nerdy guy, I would have never guessed…”.
“Well to be fair, at least he was straight forward and knew when to back off…and I learnt not to judge a book by it’s cover. And in the second case, I did enjoy talking to him. We had many things in common…similar backgrounds, interests…but he never called again”.
“And honestly Di”, she said as they halted and stared at a shop window – designer shoes – together, “I’d rather just chill and hang out with my friends instead”.
Khushi nodded in understanding, perhaps in remembrance of her own non existent dating life in college. “Or study”, she said lightly but there was a quality to it that suggested underlying seriousness. “Like Michelle Obama said, there is no boy cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting an education. Or something to that effect”.
“She was addressing high school girls”.
“Yeah…but relevant for college goers as well”.
“What if you’d met Arnav Bhai in college?, Anita wiggled her eyebrows as they slowly rose up to their sixteenth floor apartment.
She watched as her sister smiled and turned her question in her mind, seriously considering it.
“I don’t know”, she said slowly, “Of course, things would have been a lot less complicated….or…maybe we would’ve just remained acquaintances, not showing any romantic interest in each other”.
“How can you say that?, exclaimed Anita, who secretly was a firm believer in soul mates.
Her sister chuckled at her expression, “What I mean to say is that the person I’d fallen in love with was Arnav from two years ago and the person who’d fallen in love with him was myself from two years ago. In college, we were two different people…so hard to say how we would’ve reacted to each other”.
They reached the apartment door and Arnav, who’d just reached home, probably heard the sound of their laughter and opened the door for them. Even as he greeted Anita with an affectionate side hug, she said teasingly, “Do you know what Di just said? She said if she’d met you in college, there was a possibility there might not have been a love story at all”.
Even as Khushi rolled amused eyes at her, Anita saw Arnav turn toward her, his eyes narrowing with mock menace and her sister’s face developing that indescribable glow from within it often did when under his gaze. It was a beautiful sight. Even as they bantered with each other, It filled her heart with an unknown yearning.
Anita loved their home, from the views from the windows to the pictures on the wall to the inexplicable serene air that seemed to permeate it along with the much touted Florida sunshine. There was many things that she loved about her sister and brother in law individually but the thing she liked best about them as a single unit – as newly weds- was how normal they were with each other, talking easily about this, that and everything else, pulling each other’s legs and generally going about their life with minimal fuss and no over the top displays of affection. Only an occasional glimpse or two of something she caught their eyes sometimes made her blushingly realize that a lot of it might be for her benefit – to make her feel at home – and that they might be a different ball game altogether when alone.
Whatever the case, she was grateful that in just a few days they’d made her feel so much at home, taking her out to beaches, restaurants, long drives and local hotspots. Even when they were at work – because there was only so much time off full time physicians can take at a time – Anita went out and explored on her own, even enjoying the solitude at times.
One Thursday afternoon, when the shadows had lengthened and the sunshine had mellowed, she strolled along a picture perfect intercoastal view with coffee in one hand and a book in another. She was at a famous waterfront park on Clematis street – the millennial park – and since it was a Thursday, she watched it slowly fill with people for it’s free weekly outdoor concert series. She’d read about it in a travel brochure last night. It had become a local tradition and a tourist magnet in recent decades, showcasing local talent week after week, giving them free publicity in lieu of free performances. Anita could hear the distant sounds of a band rehearsing in the amphitheater.
She sat down on a bench, pulling her phone from the back pocket of her jeans.Tapping on the Facebook messenger icon, she read their text exchanges from the past few months, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. She had yet to reply to his last text…
AG: Have you ever felt like you are not you any more? Like you’re watching yourself from afar, watching yourself play a role…pretending to be you?
AG: “Ignore my previous message! I’m probably crazy or tired or both”.
AF: How was your date ?
AG: It was not a date.
AF: How was your non date with your non ex in that case?
AG: Non-eventful and nondescript.
AG: Look I’m trying to be more careful this time. Not stick my neck out too much and too soon. I think.
AF: Sounds like a plan. But if you ever need to cry again – remember your favorite Agony Aunt is just a text away. Although no complimentary Mile High Club memberships this time 😂
AG: You’ll never let me forget that, will you?
1 week later.
AG: Don’t you find our “friendship” weird? I do sometimes. Sooner or later one of us is going to stop replying…and put an end to it.
AF: Quite likely. And if you think this is weird, you have no friggin idea what weird actually is.
AG: I wasn’t born yesterday 🙄 And you’re probably just a couple years older.
AF: A million years in general wickedness 😉
Few days later,
AF: I hate ketchup. Mofo!! I FUKNG HATe Ketchup!!!!!
AG: Excuse me???
AG: When you said we’re all mad here, I didn’t realize you’d meant it literally.
AF: Congratulations you’ve just joined the ranks of special friends I send drunk texts to 😉 And just so we’re clear it was a rant against that red vileness in a bottle and not ecstasy. And pardon my typos.
AG: I’m curious. Why this animosity against – I beg to differ – heavenly puréed tomatoes in a bottle?
AF: It’s a long story.
AG: Score: AF- 2 long stories. AG – 1 long story. The one with the least long stories wins.
AF: Dang it. Gotta balance it out soon.
One Day Later,
AF: I was once locked inside an apartment for two days. I’m told I’d feasted on ketchup, mustard and dill pickles the whole time 😂 Score Even.
Anita turned her phone off. Gazing at the drifting boats, she listened to the seagulls circling above. That text was from a week ago. She hadn’t replied to it. She had been unable to. The images it aroused in her mind had disturbed her in unexpected ways. Still did…when she thought about them.
After a while, she turned her phone on again.
AG: Hello from the Sunshine State! I must say it’s pretty darn awesome.
It was late in the night – way past midnight – when his response came. She went to sit on the window seat, her form silhouetted against the glittery skyline, her face lit by her phone screen.
AF: No kidding!
AG: I’m visiting my sister.
AF: I didn’t know you had a sister in Florida.
AG: There’s a lot you don’t know about me 😉
AF: We should definitely meet! We could go to Universal’s or I could take you for a bike ride – the one and only way to truly experience Florida. What say you?
Anita stared at the screen for a little while before turning her phone off. Much as the plan tempted her, she didn’t think – for reasons unfathomable – that it would be a good idea to move their “friendship” from virtual to real.
I don’t think that’s a good idea, she murmured to herself even as her eyes grew leaden.
Fate seemed to think it was because the very next week her weird equation with Arian Foster – a virtual friendship that wasn’t quite virtual – got even weirder.
It was Friday and Arnav and Khushi insisted on taking her to a nearby bar – Green Martini or some such name – to celebrate her 21st birthday all over again. Anita suspected recent disclosures about her eventful – utterly unforgettable- 20th birthday played a prominent part in the plan’s inception.
They left a warm muggy night behind to step into the cool, ambient and thrumming bar interiors. A band played on a stage elevated behind the bar, against a grid of blue lit cubby holes. Light streams angled from above while the lead vocalist’s voice glided over the soft notes of the piano, the weeping of the acoustic guitar, the rhythm of the drums. It was a famous folk rock song – perhaps one of the most loved and most lauded songs in all of modern music’s history. It ranked high in Anita’s all time favorites list and whoever was singing it – she thought, walking down to their reserved table – was doing a damn fine job.
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence…
Thanks to everyone who’s still here❤ Next update in around 7-10 days.