Anita lay facing the window in the darkened room, her eyes flitting back and forth on the city lights restlessly. The walls were thin and she heard her sister’s murmured voice followed by her brother in law’s low laughter seep in from the adjoining room. They were so beautiful together, her mind began to wander down that familiar track again before she shook her head impatiently to cut off the nascent thoughts. She was beginning to obsess with them and their love story. She needed to stop. It was becoming borderline creepy. It was high time she started focusing on her own life and story. Her non existent love story. She rolled her eyes in the dark. And before you head toward that slippery slope of self pity, Ms. Gupta, she chided herself immediately, let me remind you that not everyone’s story, not all stories have to be love stories in life. It just has to be a good worthwhile story. The ability to inspire grand passion in a man should have – has – nothing to do with a woman’s true worth.
With that matter resolved in her mind somewhat and a semblance of balance restored in her heart, she exhaled and sat up in bed, leaning over to pick her phone from the nightstand.
She had meant to finish the book she was reading but somehow ended up reading Arian’s last text again. Damn social media, damn internet and damn their sneakiness in sucking every last drop of productivity out of you. Her mind went over the evening and their unexpected encounter – if one could call it that – for the hundredth time. What if he’d seen her trying to avoid him? Did he see her? He did seem to turn and look straight at her but it had been too dark to gauge his reaction. Hopefully, it was too dark for him to recognize her. It had been almost a year since they’d last seen each other, right?. But then, he could have gone through her FB pictures since. And what if he had? What if he thought she was trying to avoid him? Why should it matter? Why should it matter to either of them? It wasn’t as if they were real friends or friends in real life, right? It. Did. Not. Matter.
Gosh, she groaned after just a single moment of peace, this suspense will kill me. She stared at the screen and almost willed it to erupt into a notification – a humorous text informing that he had indeed seen her. That would be perfect. If anything, it would end this silly suspense that was keeping her from her mandatory novel reading. She paused to consider her possible response if at all her wish did come true and he did take it upon himself to text her about the evening. Hmm, she mused, tilting her head. She had two options. She could either laugh it off with something light and (hopefully) witty or…pretend she hadn’t recognized him. She would, of course, augment the latter with a realistic outpouring of surprise. And maybe an army of exclamation marks, she giggled at the screen silently. What?!!!! That was you?!!! What the heck…I mean, what were the odds? OMG!!! I guess, I wasn’t paying enough attention!
All the time and effort that went into thinking those texts through went to waste when his text her texts were supposed to be in reply to never came. It was quite an anti-climax. An uneasy thought woke her from her semi-slumber a couple hours later. She cringed. What if he thought she was stalking him?!
And why hadn’t she wanted him to see him anyway? What had she been afraid of? She frowned thinking of her panic – disproportionate, incongruent, silly, uncalled for panic – at the time. Whatever the reason, it was probably the same that had prevented her from replying to his last text until now. On that note, she pulled her phone from beneath the pillow again.
She read the text again. Steeling herself, she decided to reply. It was downright silly to think too much about it. It wasn’t as if they were real friends, she repeated, it wasn’t as if she cared what he thought of her reply…or if he cared what her reply was. She was behaving like an idiot. A prize idiot.
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?
I would have loved to!, she typed, unfortunately, I’m in Miami right now and going back home in two days.
And if he had really seen and recognized her at Green Martini, she thought with lips pursed firmly, she would brazen it out and insist it couldn’t have been her because she was in Miami at the time! He might or might not fully fall for that, of course, but she had every intention of sticking to her guns with this particular lie being – due to some obscure reasoning – the only option that appealed to her now.
She did have to leave for home in two days though; that part of her reply had been true. So two days later, while she waited to board her flight, listening but not really listening to music, a sadness she was quick to chalk up to missing her Di crept up on her. Turning the music off, she tugged the ear plugs out one by one, her eyes looking out a glass wall where an aircraft stood motionless. She jumped when her phone broke into a low buzz. Picking it from her lap, she checked the screen. Her lips curved into a smile. It lit her eyes with joy…and relief.
It was Aman. Aman Agarwal. Dear, sweet, wise – for most parts, anyway – compassionate, reliable, familiar Aman Agarwal. She didn’t receive the call. She just stared at the screen and thought of him. She thought of everything that had made her fall for him in the first place. She reminded herself of everything that had made him seem so dear and special to her. With a prolonged sigh, she thought of what had to be her first love.
Rising from her seat abruptly, she walked up to the wall and rested a shoulder on it. Their history was complicated as hell and past painful but he was still in her life. He still wanted to stay in her life, still wanted to remain a part of it. Surely that meant something. Although it was too early to hope that’s what those swirling letters on the wall appeared to be aligning themselves to. Hope.
When she called him a few moments later, the familiar warmth and cheer of his voice traveled across the miles to her. It soothed her restless heart, filling it with an odd comfort instead. His voice was lighthearted as always as he asked what she was up to, how Khushi and Arnav were doing and when she planned on coming back.
Why? Did you miss me? She asked silently before launching into an account of her past ten days in Florida, the weather, the ocean, the places she’d visited and…everything Arnav and Khushi. She threw the last one out deliberately, almost cruelly, as a challenge of sorts. She wasn’t disappointed when Aman rose to the occasion spectacularly, expressing without a trace of awkwardness the right amount of interest in their lives and activities.
“When are you coming back?, he asked after a pause.
“Why?, she couldn’t stop herself from saying this time.
“Well”, he said after another pause, “I’ve got these complimentary tickets to an Adele concert in front of me and was wondering if you’d be back by…
“Oh God, Yes!!”, she exclaimed much louder than she’d wanted to, flushing with embarrassment when glances – ranging from startled to blank to amused – were flung at her from seats both near and far.
“I would love to”, she added in a lowered voice, “I’ll be back in a few hours. I’m just about to board my flight”.
After she’d settled in her seat, and just before turning her cellphone off for takeoff, she found herself checking for messages again. There were no new messages. And perhaps it was just as well…
Aman stretched and flexed his neck, working away a crick developed from hours before the computer. It was almost time to call it a day. His mom had called him earlier in the day, asking him to have dinner with them. Anjali and her husband, Shyam, were visiting and he looked forward to seeing them after so long, especially little Aryan. He wished his mom wouldn’t bring up Arnav and Khushi again; the vitriol she still harbored against them had a tendency to ooze out on unexpected occasions without warning, never failing to shock him. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried convincing her it wasn’t Khushi’s fault, that Arnav was a nice guy, that he wasn’t suffering in silence like she seemed to think he was despite countless assurances to the contrary. It was tiring to say the least. It hinted at a facet to his mother’s nature he wasn’t comfortable dwelling upon, especially because his as yet indistinct thoughts were at odds with his inbred loyalty for the woman who’d birthed him, who probably loved him like no other.
He wondered what her reaction would be when she came to know – like she surely would one day – about him and…
Even as he heard explosions in the far distance, Aman took a deep breath to clear his mind. He would cross that bridge when he reached it.
He thought of his conversation with Anita – her overly enthusiastic response to his invitation – and his lips curved into a smile. He’d always found her child like zest for living heart- warming and amusing, and it made him happy to see it return in glimpses like these…
It is contagious, he thought with a grin as he signed off the last of his charts and pushed back his swivel chair back to rise. Although it did make him feel tired at times…and old…
A knock tugged him back to the present. It was Mira, a thick bundle of radiology reports in her hands. He groaned comically, bringing one of her elusive smiles to her face. It was the kind of smile that transforms faces completely, a smile that catches and stretches glances – all glances – without meaning to.
“Most of them are negative, Dr. Aggarwal”, she said in a brisk voice. “Except two that were already diagnosed on the day of visit. I’ve already talked to them”.
“You are a gem”, he said with a smile, accepting the reports from her. As he read and signed them one by one, he was unable to stop himself from wondering about her personal life. Just as he was unable to stem the accompanying rush of outrage or the judgement that tinged it. Why would a smart, beautiful, educated person like her put up…
With an inward head shake, he reminded himself that what she – his employee – chose to do or not do with her life was none of his business.
“Do you need anything else, Dr. Aggarwal?
“No. I’m good, thank you”, he said without looking up. His pen paused in midst of a signature when an afterthought attached itself to his earlier stream of thoughts. Is it always a choice- an easy choice – though?
The Adele concert was followed by a movie in two weeks and by that time Anita had given up thinking of the future overmuch. There was something peaceful about taking one moment at a time and just living in it; she enjoyed Aman’s company, Aman seemed to enjoy hers and that was enough for now.
“Did you like the movie?, she asked at the end of the movie as they slowly drifted out with the crowd.
“It was okay”, Aman said with a lazy grin, “Terrible Timepass, I guess, is how my dad would have described it. That’s his favorite thing to say. How about you?
“Same”, she sighed, popping leftover popcorn into her mouth. She considered her reply and spoke slowly, “On one level and for some parts, I was able to enjoy the comedy, but on another level, I couldn’t help noticing all that was wrong with it. And lately, the second level seems to be getting louder than the first, if you know what I mean”.
“I guess I’m getting old. And cynical”, she added as they walked past the sliding doors into a late summer evening.
That made Aman chuckle. “You are getting old? You? I’d better start finding a retirement home for myself in that case”.
Anita laughed with him before her mind – ever the wanderer – strolled down a fresh line of thought. “Which states do you think are the best for retirement?, she asked with a twinkle, even though there was an odd little vacuum in her heart.
A/N: Sorry for this delay. We’re having freakish weather where I live with Indian Summer one day and snow the next. [Yes, Mr. Tr*mp, climate change/ global warming is not a thing!) As a result, I, my hubby and my kiddos (4 and 2) have been having non stop colds this winter 😦 It’s being going round and round in our household since December. It would be funny if it weren’t so painful 😛
Anyway, hope you liked this & thank you so much for still being here and for all your thoughts and kind words.
Also, Happy Holi to those who celebrate 🌸🌸🌺🌺❤💙😊