The wind was sun toasted and golden. It was beginning of May and just as it had been on Anita’s mind lately, the fleeing months were on Aman’s mind too as he parked his silver SUV and headed towards the Dave & Buster’s entrance. A farewell party in Yvette’s honor, who was retiring next month, was being held there. Although he and his senior partner – his father – had already recruited a replacement worthy of her, he knew just how badly he was going to miss her – not just professionally, and not just because of the warm understanding threading through their years together at work. He loathed change – anything that hinted at unpredictability, even if temporary, and the discomfort – inconvenience- that was invariably associated with it.
Even as he took off his aviators and walked into the cool interiors of the premise, he wished Anita was there with him. He’d asked her of course but because he knew and understood how bogged down she was by course work currently, he hadn’t pressed. And even if a part of him had itched to lecture her on the importance of staying organized, not wasting time, and not leaving things and assignments for the very last moment – just as he would to Anjali at one time – he had succeeded in holding himself back. Anjali had never appreciated his lectures, he smiled to himself, and he doubted Anita would either. Although he did wish at times that she would cut back on being deeply interested in, pondering upon and talking about every damn thing under the sun – many of them unworthy of more than a thought or two in his opinion. He wished she would sensibly focus more on academics and career goals instead. He found her cute alright but her enthusiasm for irrelevant things, her boundless mental energy tired him out at times, making him guiltily wish she grew up speedier, matured faster. That she still managed to get straight As was an unsolvable mystery, which, considering he came from a family of dedicated high achievers, made him painfully aware of all the potential that was being wasted away carelessly.
Sighting his father and and Yvette deep in conversation in a corner, he snapped out of his reverie and made his way across to them. They looked up when he joined them with his father only half jokingly pointing he was late with everyone else already present and waiting in the private room booked for the occasion.
Somebody had thought to put together a slide show – complete with a sentimental song playing in the background – and as everyone gathered around memories with food from a buffet some teary eyes and discreet sniffles resulted. Aman looked sideways at his father and smiled a little. With just the two of them representing their gender in the decent sized room, they were vastly outnumbered and many a times in the past, his father had cracked jokes – not all of them funny – about being swamped by estrogen at work.
As the slide show blinked to an end, little speeches followed with everyone taking turns to look up from their plates and add their own words and wishes to the collective sentiment. Mira, who seemed to have grown a friendship of sorts with the older woman in recent months, choked a little as she spoke, subsequently reddening with the embarrassment of someone who generally believed in keeping her emotions tightly contained.
“You’re one of the kindest persons I’ve ever know”, she said in her firm confident voice that wavered a little at the edges at the moment, “And I can’t express what you’ve come to mean to me in these last few months. I know how happy you are to be moving back to South Carolina where you family is…but I’ll miss you and I hope that we stay in touch”.
Yvette got up to hug her and even as a quintessentially girly aww filled the room, Aman, who sat at the head of the table with his dad, frowned a little. Dressed in jeans and a soft floral top, Mira seemed different – and not just appearance wise – accustomed as he was seeing her wear scrubs and aloof professionalism to work each day.
He didn’t realize he was still looking when Mira lowered herself in her chair again, pushing back hair which was left loose like he’d never seen before. Bringing her chair closer to the table, she looked up unexpectedly, meeting his eyes across the table for a split second. Embarrassed, he allowed his eyes to move past her to Yvette, addressing her with the first thought that entered his mind. It was after a while, when the group was leaving the room in little clusters, a few leaving for home but most heading to the arcade that Aman found his eyes veering toward her receding back.. Just for a second before an uncharacteristic impatience – mostly directed at his own self – clamped down on him, making him rise to his feet with a suddenness that made his father look up at him in surprise.
“You’re leaving already?”, he asked.
“No”, he said abruptly and because he felt compelled to add something to the monosyllable, he asked him if he wanted to go get a beer or something with him.
They got their beers and lounged in front of a flat screen where they were soon joined by few other people from their group and Aman wandered over to the video arcade after sometime. He played a game or two by himself and a couple with his assistants and just as he was about to return to the lounge that he caught sight of her back. Having somehow assumed that she’d already left for home, he was surprised. That it was a surprise tinged with warmth was mostly left unacknowledged and unaccounted for. He was a firm believer of his own subconscious conviction that some questions were best left unanswered, some paths untraveled, and some impulses not acted upon.
And yet, perverse as humans sometimes are, believing in one thing and acting upon it’s opposite, he found his clay feet crossing the hall, reaching for her.
She was in the relatively quieter juvenile section of the gaming premise, playing Whac A Mole in all earnestness. She didn’t seem to notice when he reached her, not even when he came to a halt a small distance to her side, shifting weight from one leg to the other. Her profile was all narrowed eye intensity as she brought down the hammer again and again. A viciousness of purpose when added to an average speed reflex served her well in vanquishing the pesky moles. There was smug satisfaction when she reached a perfect score and her features relaxed. Oddly enough, despite his almost involuntary smile, it felt more touching than amusing to Aman. It was like life seldom gave her opportunities to vent, choices to get back at it a little.
“Does that feel good?, he asked and instantly felt bad for startling her. Startling visibly, she ran a palm through her damp forehead and looked up at him.
“You startled me”, she stated unnecessarily.
“I’m sorry”, Aman smiled a little, “I didn’t mean to”.
A small smile fluttered in her eyes and died before it could reach the lips. Her smiles seldom did. He remembered only a handful of smiles – maybe, not even that many – that lasted or were allowed to last – until their final destination.
She looked at her watch, murmuring something about time, about neglecting to check it earlier like she should have. She excused herself and turned to leave but after taking a few steps, she turned around to look at him. He was still there. His clay feet had turned to cement. Something shifted in her eyes and a ghost of a smile – at once wry and sweet – lifted her mouth slightly, “Yes, it did feel better”, she said.
And it was in the beginning of that same May when Arnav and Khushi sat down at a table weighed down with documents and closed on a house. It was the one they’d seen before the one with the pool, where they’d both agreed in a moment of silence to let it go in favor of the one before it. Later in the day, with the key in their possession, they drove over to the house with Vivek and Isha. Dusk was falling as they walked through empty but friendly looking rooms that seemed to be waiting to be filled with life. They strolled through the back garden and climbed down the small boardwalk to the beach beyond, where they spread out a mat across the springy sand. They picnicked on pizza and coke while the sun continued to inch closer to the darkening waves. Little Isha, cooing in her carrier for most parts, seemed to enjoy the breeze on her face although she kept fluttering her eyes against it. Then she saw the sea gulls. Flapping her arms excitedly, she laughed again and again, unable to stop, her infectious happiness, her enjoyment of simple pleasures of life bringing indulgent smiles to her grown companions.
Arnav scooped her out of her carrier, his hands below the armpits in a firm grip. her plump little body suspended in mid air. He looked at her and sobering, Ria looked right back at him. Even as Khushi chuckled at their eye-lock, Arnav, his eyes glowing in the waning light, said, “You like sea gulls a lot, don’t you?
In response, Ria flashed him a toothless smile which her mother laughingly translated as signifying the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It was a supposed to be a farewell performance of sort, a last show together before they disbanded and went their separate ways and despite all pretense to the contrary, the rancor and disappointment of failure, the unresolved issues hovered around like dust motes suspended in columns of light and air. Perhaps they needed this closure. Perhaps it would help salvage their friendship from the wreckage of their dreams. Regardless, they couldn’t wait for it to be over.
They were in Dan’s garage, lounging on discarded sofas and chairs, the air thickening with weed clouds every passing minute.
“You bailed out on us”, Regina repeated, her voice raw with sarcasm but devoid of any real malice.
“News Flash. Poor rich bastard returns to his fucking preppie – country club roots”, Dan said, increasingly stoned – agitated with every drag, “Tell me Arian, is Daddy happy now?
“Shut up, Dan”, Regina defended him, “He’s doing this for himself”.
“Exactly”, Dan sneered, “It’s a big fuck you to all of us”. His eyes – blood shot and wasted – met Arian’s and after a pause, he offered him his smoldering reefer grudgingly as a peace offering.
“It’s just weed”, he said with a slew of profanity directed at his hesitation, “If I had laced it with something else, I would tell you first”.
“Just making sure”, Arian smirked, accepting the half cigarette from him. He knew it were impossible to explain his intention, justify his decision to them. He didn’t even bother trying anymore. His anxieties and driving forces, his demons and shadows were his and his alone to handle. He had never wanted to share what was intensely private to him with anyone else and he had no expectations or hopes whatsoever for anyone else to understand them or even try to. He wouldn’t want to, he’d long decided, burden another soul – most likely already weighed down with troubles of it’s own – greater than his – with the scum tarnishing his. He took a drag and rested his head against the sofa. And when they took out a bag of white powder and a crisp dollar bill, rolling the latter and tapping the powder on back of wrists, he jumped to his feet and left, struggling – unsuccessfully – to clamp down on rage directed at Regina and her gradual destruction of self. Her complete blindness in recognizing it for what it was.
May neared it’s end and one stormy Saturday night found Arian at Green Martini again. It was quite a drive from Gainesville but a number of factors helped convince him of the practicality of his decision. One, they paid a sum of money that was decent compared to most other places he’d performed at in the past; two, he’d begun to spot familiar faces among the audience there and just for the sake of his bruised self esteem, he allowed himself to believe he was the reason. And three, it gave him a reason to be with his grandmother every week.
It was an acoustic night and even as he lowered himself on the stool and tugged the microphone closer, he could hear the faint sound of rain rising above the crowd’s murmur.
A ripple of appreciation slithered across as he greeted his audience and even in the dimmed light, he could make out a sprinkling of familiar faces. His spotted Arnav and Khushi, returning her wave with a smiling half wave- half salute. If he was not mistaken, they sat in the same booth as on that one night last summer…
His lips curved in secret amusement as he bowed his head and adjusted his guitar, molding it to his body in the most comfortable way possible. As his fingers made their way to the strings and the frets, his blood thrummed with a high that no substance on earth could ever rival.
You love this town
Even if that doesn’t ring true
You’ve been all over
And it’s been all over you
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
A/N : Thanks for still being here 🙂 Next update Thursday, Feb 15th, Noon, USEST, Thursday Evening, IST.