Anita sat up straight and bit her lip, her eyes stormy with trepidation. She blinked once or twice at the phone screen, at words that had flown in – zipped in – sooner than she had anticipated. It was once thing to give in to a moment of inexplicable – foolish, some might say – impulse and another to be brought face to face with it’s consequences almost at once, even before one can get one’s wits together and let the import of that foolish impulse to sink in somewhat.
“I’m right here”, he says, she rolled her eyes and then sighed. And what in the name of god am I supposed to reply to that, so I don’t come across as a complete and total idiot? And why do I even feel this need, this necessity, this urgency to reply considering the person at the other end is not even a real acquaintance or friend? Not in the usual sense anyway. Why can’t I just put an end to…
What were you even thinking, Anita? What did you mean by ‘Where are you? And what did he mean by humoring me – a stranger – with a reply as prompt as his was? She was known to do crazy things at times, although that she was improving with age was something she certainly would like to think, but what did he mean by being an equally willing participant in a conversation – a ridiculous, purposeless text conversation with a stranger, more so – that has been going on for almost a year now?
After a quarter hour worth of exercising her brain – a particularly fruitless exercise at that – she came up with exactly zero answers and a million additional questions all muddled together in a senseless, frightening, barely understood mess.
Something deep inside told her to bolt. To delete both FB account and messenger app and indefinitely hunker down under the radar. It was a very very quiet voice however and the next thing she knew she had the phone in her hands and her thumbs were busy typing out what had to be her longest text ever. Now, if Arian Foster thought she was crazy or worse, weird, and ghosted her, she’d be glad, she told herself, to have the decision taken from her hands and to instead have him snip off the strange threads that connected them somehow.
Arian felt better after a hot shower and the pill dear Dr. Raizada was kind enough to give him a sample of. Khushi Raizada. His lips curved slightly as he headed out back to his room…
He’d been convinced he had strep throat, which was quite reasonable considering that was what every single of his band-mates, including Regina, were recovering from; he sure as hell was glad he didn’t because he’d had strep before – twice – and the timing couldn’t have been worse. With LSAT in two days, his third this year, he really needed to get an acceptable score this time – a score worth attaching to applications to decent law schools that is. Now that he actually felt he could review notes without his head threatening to explode, his future didn’t seem quite as fucked up as it had earlier in the day – which wasn’t saying much.
He walked up to the small desk that had come with the apartment and pulled the chair out. It creaked as he lowered himself into it, his back conscious of the silent guitar on the bed. The desk faced the window and his eyes clouded – soft gunmetal clouds – as he stared at the lights outside for a while.
They were all tired of him, perhaps even more than he himself was. They were tired of what must seem to them, he knew, as his now half hearted interest, lack of motivation even, in planning out jamming sessions and gigs, in showing up for practices. He didn’t even try to hide his frustration anymore and it got pretty vocal at times. He was just plain frustrated. For all their success and following in the local music circuit, recently, in the last few months, several independent record labels, after initial interest, had passed them over for others either more willing to take suggestions and change, or to conform to mainstream music. The pathetic royalties their original music received from Spotify was more than anything else an added insult – a morale buster.
He was not naive. He knew indie musicians often have to struggle for years, often with multitude of sacrifices, often with difficulty of compromises, before being able to get the recognition they deserve or think they deserve. And they were not even three years old. For all practical purposes, they’d barely just started, they were infants in the field. So it was not that he believed in instant success or expected instant recognition from Warner or Sony as the next Jeff Buckley. Far from it. It was just that, lately, he had become increasingly unsure if he had it in him to be a true artist, whatever the fuck being a true ‘artist’ entailed.
If his constant worry about finances and future, his refusal to drop semesters to tour – a major bone of contention between him and his bandmates – his disinclination to give up Plans B, C, or even D (a college degree at the very least! ) to wholeheartedly follow his dreams excluded him from this exclusive club of temperamental geniuses…Arian’s lips curled…there was little he or even his passionate love for music could do about it.
Their resentment had been simmering for far too long and the last few fights they’d had and subsequently resolved by getting wasted together hadn’t been enough. It was only a matter of time before it all went down, before shit hit the fan. Hell, his eyes gleamed darkly – a perverse part of him even looked forward to it.
He stretched, weaving his hands behind his head, and yawned. His eyes flew up to a wall clock. Shit. He needed to stop wasting time.
It was around two that his phone buzzed as he’d, weirdly enough, somehow known it most likely would. It was the longest text she’d ever sent. It also was as unexpected as their strange bond, friendship, if one could call it that, and every inch as unpredictable as what he’d come to expect of her – an intriguing ghost of a person who’d once, seemingly a life time ago, flown above and across the continents with him – discreetly shedding tears that had probably soaked up the air line blanket and could have filled the oceans below too – and moreover someone who’d faced the morning that had followed with all the grit of a freshly armed and armored soldier. An idea, an image, who kept popping in and out of his life in mysterious ways…
And…he was being unnecessarily fanciful, thinking like a nut job…
Well, nothing made sense to him. Not her. Not him. Not their ‘friendship’.
Neither the purpose of this long confused text that he was somehow being subjected to! Nor his fucking willingness – nah, readiness, to be subjected to it!
“Arian”, it began with a startling directness – bare plain words gushing from where had previously been a facade of carefully typed and spelled words, all Ts figuratively crossed, all Is figuratively dotted and much of all meaning obviated by duels of wit and humor that left him feeling oddly buzzed at times. Arian, she began, and in response, he cocked an eyebrow, paused, and mused if it were the first time she’d said – typed – his name like this, his reaction ultimately proving to be equally startling to him. What the fuck, he groaned and moved on to what came next.
“Can you believe we’ve been texting each other – on and off – for almost a year now, without – and this is rich – either of us having the faintest idea why. Last time I brought this up, you said you had no idea why either – and yet you continue to reply. Like when I was crazy enough to text ‘Where are you? ( I’m so embarrassed!) you went ahead and responded with something even crazier – “I’m right here”. And what takes the fucking cake is the reason why I reached out to you in the first place. It was to share wacky thoughts about my even wackier love life with you. Again! Why do you put up with this?
His eyes flickered as he thought – thought long and hard – before coming up with – “Hmm”. His mouth twisted humorously as he promptly got hit by a wild row of interrogation marks.
Biting back a grin, he tried again after a pause, “Because we are friends. Duh”.
“Are you sure?
“I’m hurt”, he typed, his grin at odds with his words.
“I mean this is hardly real friendship. This is all just virtual…”.
“We can easily remedy that”.
“Anita? You still there? Call me. 352-524-6675”.
Two Months Later.
It was Halloween and as Arnav commented, the evening did seem to relish playing it’s part in the brightness of it’s twilight, the blackness of it’s shadows and the sinister slither of leaves adrift sidewalks and lanes. It was not the same in Florida and Khushi was glad they were there for the weekend to visit Astha who’d just returned from her annual sojourn to Srinagar.
The contrasting innocence of trick and treaters at their doorstep – in a variety of shapes, sizes and costumes – kept them, Astha and her, amused until the very last treat in a large glass bowl had been gleefully carried away.
The delight Astha took in interacting with her pint sized quests was a beautiful sight – and almost as heart wrenching as Arnav’s deliberate absence in those hours was. He’d headed out to get a beer with a school friend who was still in the area, and who had somehow managed to get in touch with him again. After he’d left, Astha’s eyes had somehow found their way to Khushi’s, confirming in the subtlest of ways that their thoughts matched and that she wasn’t thinking too much. Some of the concern must’ve shown in her eyes because Astha had surprised her with a hug, whispering, “It will get better”.
After running out of candy and turning the porch light off, they went back to the movie they’d been earlier watching and making fun of together. Astha had a wicked sense of humor and her one-liners on the overacted, overdressed onscreen drama – that she followed religiously, actually – kept her in stitches.
The clock struck ten when it ended and even as Astha turned the TV off, an uneasy silence crept in between them somehow. They both knew they were thinking about the same person.
“He should stop running away”, Astha murmured and Khushi, who sat with her legs tucked underneath her, turned toward her, her eyes blinking as the import of her words sank in slowly.
She swallowed and said, “I guess he needs time”.
“He has to learn to face his fears, to deal with them – to start looking toward future…
Khushi bit her lip, “It’s a battle that is ultimately only his – a battle he fights every single day I’m sure”.
She felt Astha sigh quietly and smile, almost felt her pull her together with time strengthened strings. “It will get better, Khushi, it’s already getting better…
“I know. It really is”, Khushi nodded, her lips curving into a smile that matched the older woman’s in comfort and reassurance.
Arnav came back soon after and even if their hearts ached secretly at his efforts at putting up a normal front, at words that flowed a little more smoothly, a little more lightly from his lips tonight, they kept it to themselves, matching him wholeheartedly in his efforts instead. And it’s funny, Khushi mused as they all gathered around the TV again after dinner, how it all became effortless and genuine after a while, spontaneously, inexplicably, their gaiety no longer forced, their humor flowing naturally.
After going through a pathetically limited list of Hindi movies on Netflix, Khushi chose Sholay, specially because Arnav had once confessed – at their very first date at PF Chang’s – that it was his all time favorite Hindi movie. She had always enjoyed watching it and tonight it was twice as fun with Arnav and even Astha beside her.
Although, half the time, her heart was too caught up with the smiles and chuckles and comments of the person sitting next to her to be able to focus on the movie itself.
“Lines of the century”, he said to Asrani’s famous “Adhe idhar jayo, adhe idhar jayo, aur baaki hamare saath aao” and giggling softly, Khushi rested her head on his shoulder, her heart a full cup.
They were at “Basanti, in kutton ke saamne mat naachna” – which for reasons best known to him made him crack up like nothing else had so far – when Anita called. After insisting that they continue watching the movie, that she knew the movie by heart anyway, she uncurled herself and walked over to the den/ library while talking.
“We were watching Sholay, Anu, and you can’t imagine how much I miss you and all the fun we would have watching it together, especially with you trying to perfect Helen’s Mehbooba Mehbooba moves with every watch! I think I even recorded you on that old camcorder we used to have before smart phones came and changed everything. That little cassette should be there in the house somewhere”. “Look for it”, she added tongue in cheek, “I can include it in your wedding slide show”.
“I will look for it”, Anita said, “And when I find it, it shall be destroyed”.
“You sound like Dwight Schrute”, Khushi grinned and added, “And if I find it, you shall be blackmailed”.
“Anyway”, she said seriously after a pause, “What’s up? How come you are letting me do all the talking?
“I’m not”, Anita said with a laugh, “I’m just tired, I guess”. Her voice sounded different, tired. Older. “I just came back from this party at Aarti’s house and now have tons of school work to catch up on”.
“Was it a costume party? What did you dress up as?
“Send me pictures”.
“So, what else is new? Did Mom decide on a color for the living room walls yet?
“No!”, Anita said, “And it’s driving Dad nuts!
A pause sneaked in and stretched until Anita, being Anita, sighed and spoke of what they both were thinking about and willing the other person to address it first.
“Aman and I have been seeing each other a lot lately”. Her voice reeked of a touch of defiance and…fear and it made Khushi wish she were near so she could gather her close in a tight hug.
“Anu”, she said, “Whatever makes you happy makes me happy, okay?”.
“Ok”, Anita said and her voice was so soft that she could have easily missed it.
“Also Anita. Are you still there?
“Yes, yes, I’m listening”, she said briskly, sounding a lot more more like herself.
“If there is anything – anything in the world – that you want to talk about, I’m always here. You know, where you are concerned, if there is something you should never expect from me, it’s judgement. Are you following me?
“I am, Di”, Anita said, “And really, it’s nothing that dramatic. We’ve both just decided to give us a chance, to take it slow…to see if it works”.
Khushi’s eyes flickered worriedly as she listened to her younger sister – her baby – and although it was harder than she could have imagined, she held back her comment and decided against vocalizing her opinion..
One Month Later…
She’d come to the mall to return a shirt and ended up buying two that she was sure she’d return too next week. There was something to be said about the melancholy of being at the mall alone, with just your own self to keep you company as you glide aimlessly against streams of people, sometimes stoping to stare at one’s own reflection on window glasses. A cup of hot chocolate did lift her spirits some as did a favorite song erupting in the background like a dearly loved friend.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
Her footsteps petered and stopped and the old lady close behind her huffed in annoyance before sidestepping and continuing on her way. Her eyelashes flickered with an unexpected deluge of trepidation and she looked around dazedly for a moment before making her way toward a bench.
She wore a lightweight puffer jacket and she patted the pockets to decide where her phone was. She took it out and stared at the dark screen while time marched on, moment after moment.
“Ridiculous”, she finally murmured to herself, “Why was she hell bent on this a greater deal than it really was?
She pressed the home button and swore at her heart for being a chicken as the screen blinkered into life. His last message was from three months ago.
“Anita? You still there? Call me. 352-524-6675“.
She took a deep breath and tapped at the number, pausing to stare at the options that popped up before calling him.
It was the ridiculous the way she felt she had to rise to her feet and keep moving as she waited for him to pick up. She sighed with almost- relief when he didn’t, quickly hanging up after 4-5 rings without waiting for it to go to voicemail box.
She was near the mall exit when her phone rang. It made her jump and extremely annoyed at herself. She crossed the sliding doors and held her breath against the expected blast of iciness. Her fingers trembled with cold as she fished her still ringing phone from the pocket and halted just outside the exit.
She pressed accept and held it near her ear but before she could finally speak, he did.
She’d forgotten what his speaking voice sounded like or maybe she’d not really paid attention when they last spoke to each other. It was strong with a faint southern drawl and gravely at the edges. He said something else but it was lost in the sound of her own heart beats. It made her confused and furious…
I never dreamed that I’d meet someone like you
I never dreamed that I’d lose someone like you
And I…don’t wanna fall in love.
And I…don’t wanna fall in love
Hope this is still keeping you interested 🙂 Would love to hear your thoughts as always. With the holidays and a vacation coming up, I am going to take a short break from writing with the promise that I will return in the new year, in the second week of January with Part III of this story.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year in advance to you and yours 😍 May you all be blessed with love, laughter and beautiful new memories in the new year. I’m also working on a humble little gift that you all will receive in your inboxes on Christmas Eve ❤