Unless you follow me on Twitter, you may not know that I had a little accident last week and fractured my foot. This is my first fracture and yes, it sounded like a bit of an adventure to me. 🙂 Initially, that is. The sitting still is as depressing as I thought it would be, but mercifully the medication has kept me sedated to the point of deep sleep through the past five days. This is my admittedly flimsy excuse for falling so terribly behind on my exercise.
Also, given the grumps, today’s love story is a tad more melancholic than the others. Please read and give it your love (err…feedback) and me your good wishes, please.
Avinash saw her the minute he entered the room. Her hair was cropped short and she was wearing a red saree. A far cry from the last time he had seen her, in her then trademark white shirt and jeans, her silky hair, a waterfall over her shoulders. But it was her. He’d know the pronounced jut of that chin anywhere. Not to mention the insistent voice that was delivering a mincing diatribe. Rahia was always one of the opinions in the room. The Opinion, most of the time.
He slipped over, hoping to surprise her, but the little group she was with turned to acknowledge him, and she, sensing the distraction in her audience followed their gaze. Mohan moved over to him to welcome him, Saina by his side. Avinash stopped to speak to his newly betrothed friend and his fiancé.
“She’s Saina’s colleague. That’s why…umm. I didn’t even know she was going to be here till I saw her walk in.”
Mohan shifted uncomfortably. Avinash shot a quick look at Saina who looked uncomfortable too but with a touch of defiance. No sense making things difficult for poor old Mohan with his bride-to-be, even before the wedding, he decided.
“Chill, dude. That was a long time ago. I’ve changed. I’m sure she’s grown up too.”
He was sure Mohan would have rolled his eyes at that if Saina hadn’t been watching him like a hawk. So he gave him a little nod and backed away to the bar. He’d realised he was going to need a drink before going through with this.
Nearly half an hour later, he had done the circuit around the room. Rahia had disappeared briefly and he saw her enter the room, putting her mobilephone away. Time to do this, Avinash told himself. So he squared his shoulders and walked across the room. She didn’t look in his direction but moved into a group even before he got there.
The drinks shrunk the years between their last time and this one. He stepped up to her, thinking to grab her into a bearhug from the back. But two steps short of her, he stopped. He must be getting old, he decided if even three drinks couldn’t push him to that place. He settled for a light arm around her shoulder with a gentle pat on her arm.
She turned her head, staying in his embrace naturally. She stared that dramatic Rahia look and he knew she was counting to five mentally. She smiled. But to his surprise, she didn’t reply immediately. She turned back to the group and finished the sentence. Then smoothly, she cocked a glance at him, raised her chin and pronounced,
That threw him a bit but he didn’t flinch. He never backed down from a challenge thrown down by Rahia.
“Why? Will your boyfriend be angry?”
“Really? Three years since you last saw me and that’s your first question to me?”
Avinash grinned and after a moment, Rahia laughed too. From the corner of his eye, he could see Mohan look over in his direction. He shot him a glance and turned his back to him.
“My mistake, lady. I should have known no man would ever dare be angry with you.”
Again, to his slight surprise, she didn’t answer. Perhaps they had both grown up, like he had said. He let go of her shoulder and shifted away a little. She turned to look at him before moving away. Great. So she chose to react now, when the conversation hit a dead-end. Rahia would always be contrary. He moved into the group and their conversation.
It was another two hours before the party wound down. A few years ago, he would have said this is when the party was beginning – the polite handshakers and gift-givers having fulfilled their purpose and left, leaving behind only those close enough to arrive late and stay till they didn’t need to look and sound good anymore.
He walked over to the fridge and picked up the last beer can. Rahia appeared and watched him return to the hall. She moved towards the balcony and lowered herself onto the beanbag placed there, drawing up her feet under her legs. She looked at him pointedly and he followed her, sitting down on the floor beside her.
“I didn’t know you were close friends with Sania.”
“It’s Saina. And no, I’m not.”
“And yet, you chose to hang around till you could take your shoes off. Since when do you wear high heels? Aren’t they anti-you or something? Gender subjugation or one of those things you’re so fond of protesting?”
She laughed, the first he’d heard from her all evening. It sounded sharply and made the silent intimacy of the balcony seem easier.
And on that mysterious word, she stopped as if it answered everything. Undeterred, Avinash fixed his gaze on her, unblinking. She stared back but gave up and blinked. That was one game where she never got the better of him.
“I stayed to talk to you.”
“And why is that?”
“Stop that. What have you been upto?”
Avinash gritted his teeth at her tone. She always sounded so businesslike even in personal conversations. But he reminded himself that she didn’t matter anymore. So he relaxed.
“This and that. I took a special photography course last year. I’m thinking of shutting down web designing and taking up something altogether new.”
“How are you?”
The question made him pause and when he looked at her, he found he couldn’t brush it away or lie.
“Not good. I broke up last week.”
He took a deep breath and then a swig of his beer can. There was no going back now. It was time to spill. So he poured out his story to her. When he was finished, staring at the ground, choking back the feelings that rose in his throat, she spoke.
“I’m so sorry, Avinash. So sorry.”
She put her arm on his shoulder. If he had trusted his voice to stay steady, he would have parodied her “Don’t. Touch.” As it was, he sank into her hug and they stayed that way for a few minutes.
“For god’s sake Avinash, stop messing around with these women.”
“What? I was just having fun! It’s just…it’s just fucking around, you know.”
“It would be okay if that’s all you were doing. But you tend to go giving your heart to women like these. Don’t do that, don’t be a fool, Avinash.”
“Of course, you’d rather I give my heart to a woman like you.”
“Certainly not. That would be suicide. You’d never get over it.”
“Oh? And why’s that?”
“Because I wouldn’t permit it.”
“Ah, yes, of course. Because the queen decreed it.”
“Yes. Avinash? Just don’t do it anymore. I’m serious. Don’t do it anymore.”
“It hurts too much to see you this way. Next time I’m not going to care.”
“You can do that, can you?”
“Damn you. Just don’t do it, dammit. Please.”
She picked herself up and stretched. Then she began putting her sandals on. The conversation was evidently over. Avinash stood up, his full height. He was faintly pleased to see that he was still taller than her (her heels weren’t that high, after all). He took her hand to say goodbye, then held it up between them.
“Rahia? Why didn’t we work out?”
“We did, Avinash. We did.”
She put her other hand to his face, cupping his cheek in a gesture that was more affectionate than anything she had ever done in the years past. She pulled away and then put her arms around him in a close embrace. The she turned and walked away.