Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Talisman - Part 4

As the days of his stay at Coorg wore on, Ritvik settled into a comfortable routine. The Bopanna’s estate was sprawling and let him explore trails sometimes by walk and sometimes in their reconstructed Willys jeep. He found himself wanting to try running again and did go a couple of rounds now and then. The added advantage of the estate was that it was on top of a hill; perched perfectly facing the east and he could sit on the front steps and see the sun peeping shyly across the hills early in the morning. And of course, there was the bliss of the carrier signal not being there. No phone calls and no messages – at least until he went down the hill road to the place where it joined the market place. He did that occasionally and sent Kabir and Ananya a message in response to their calls and messages. He felt awful about lying to them and maintaining the pretence of his relative being unwell but he wasn’t yet ready to go back into real life.

As much as the days were peaceful and let his mind settle down, the nights were the worst. The campfire and its sparks only served to bring up hazy images which he would have much rather forgotten. Sleep was elusive and he felt caged with nowhere to go and nothing to do. The alcohol didn’t help much either. He tried reading and it seemed to help, looking at someone else’s life through the pages rather than turning back inwards towards his own. It was thus that he had spent over a week at Coorg. On the Sunday, he decided impulsively to extend his holiday and called his manager who was very supportive and asked him to take as long as he wanted.

He messaged Kabir and Ananya that he needed to stay on there for a few more days. And he got a simple response from Kabir asking if he needed anything and asking if his relative was getting better. After replying to the message, he went back to the estate. There had been no messages from Ananya. The fact bothered him a lot more than he cared to admit.  His normally complacent mind jumped to make a conclusion that she had Kabir and that she did not need him anymore. The thought burned in his mind like a red hot iron and he slipped into a depression for the next couple of days that made him antisocial and uncommunicative enough for the Bopannas and even their dog to leave him alone.

He woke up one morning with a strange thought in his head. A thought that for the first time in his life scared him and made him want to reach out to someone. The first person that he would have turned to would have been Ananya. But she was with Kabir and he had no right to burden her with his baseless fears. But the bats that had been roused from their deep darkness refused to go back and settle down in the recesses of his mind. Suddenly, he felt mortal and that something was going to go horribly wrong. The panic continued through breakfast and he hardly touched the rice Kadubus that had been prepared specially for him. He was flipping through the newspaper for the umpteenth time when a notification about an agency caught his eye.

On a sudden impulse he got into the Willys and drove down to Madikeri where he spotted a cybercaf√© off the main road near the petrol station. He pulled up the organisation’s site and then filled up his nomination and then coming to the bottom of the page where it asked him to fill the next of kin, he hesitated. Then to his own surprise, he filled in Ananya’s name and number and submitted the form. When he completed this process, the site asked him to print out and keep his details safely. He used the printer there and folded and kept the sheet of paper in his wallet. As he returned to the estate, he felt a curious sense of relief and completion, as if this was a task that had been pending for some time, when in fact he had never even thought it until that morning.

                 *                             *                             *                             *                             *

Ananya woke up that morning and found that Kabir was already up and had made her breakfast and coffee. The gesture made her smile as she thanked her lucky stars for having brought him into her life. Her phone buzzed and she checked it to find Ritvik’s message regarding his staying back for some more days. She saw Kabir’s response and then debated with herself on whether she should add anything to the conversation. But an adamant streak held her back. She hadn’t liked the way he had left that evening and the entire conversation the next day sounded even more false. For the first time since she had met Ritvik, she felt that he was lying to her. The replies to her messages in between were also noncommittal and semiformal, not like Ritvik at all. And all these things made her stop when all she wanted to do was grab him and shake some sense into his thick skull.

She left for office in a cab with Kabir that day. Sitting in the back seat with her, Kabir was concerned about her constant stroke of ill luck that wouldn’t let go. It was like a black cloud hanging over her and seemed to cloud over her smile and the sparkle in her eyes. It wasn’t as if he believed in luck and omens. But this continued streak had him doubting the science of it all. He held Ananya’s hand and sought to give her as much positive strength as he could muster. She had been a ray of sunshine, the spark in his life and all this while, she had brought him so much that he couldn’t bear to see her like this, withdrawn and almost afraid. They reached her office and she got off, strangely reluctant to let go of his hand. The cabbie was getting visibly impatient as Ananya sat there finding some pretext or another to talk to Kabir. Finally, she alighted from the cab and stepped away waving good bye. Kabir told the cabbie the next stop and settled back in the cab, his thoughts running away from him.

As the cab neared his destination, Kabir settled the taxi fare and then stepped out on the pavement. A lady in front of him was struggling to hold her purse open and also count the money in her hands and as she juggled all this, she let go of a few notes which flew away in the breeze towards Kabir. She ran towards the notes and Kabir stepped forward to try and catch one of them that flew towards him. As the note dodged him at the last instant and he ran after it, he didn’t see the fine metal wire that held up a banner a foot or so above head level. The blink reflex is supposed to be activated in milliseconds but that is only if the eye registers the image. In the same milliseconds, the wire had done the damage and Kabir sank to the ground holding his right eye which had suddenly gone dark. He managed to pull out his phone and call Ananya while a small crowd milled around him.

                 *                             *                             *                             *                             *

By afternoon, Ritvik’s sense of panic had gone hyper and he was unable to sit in one place. Lunch was at best forgettable a meal and he paced around in his room not sure what was happening or what he should do. He took out his phone for the umpteenth time and looked at the silent dead black screen that stared back unblinkingly. He got out of the room and asked for the jeep keys, thinking that driving around would help. He didn’t know where he was going and was surprised to find himself going down towards town, in range of a cell network. As soon as he got into range, his phone started going berserk with messages. He unlocked the phone as he manoeuvred the wheel and found that they were all from Ananya including at least a dozen missed calls. He called her number immediately and felt relieved to hear the ring going through to the other end. She picked the call almost when it rang through fully and sounded as if she was in tears. Ritvik couldn’t control himself and peppered her with questions and learnt in the broken bits that she was able to incoherently able to get out, he learnt of the accident and Kabir’s admission in the hospital and the fact that he could lose his vision in his right eye. He just told Ananya to hold on and that he was coming right back.

The Willys did not have a rear view and he glanced backward and saw a bulky truck approaching at what seemed to be a slower pace. A car was coming at him a little distance away and he decided to take a chance and turn the jeep around. He flashed the headlights and turned the jeep around. Almost through the turn, he realised that the oncoming car wasn’t slowing down. He tried braking at the last instant but it was too late. The car hit the jeep on the left front and pushed it back right into the path of the truck which had come up right behind. The twin blows buffeted Ritvik breaking his spine and neck instantly. As his world became black, his last thought was that he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise to Ananya.

                 *                             *                             *                             *                             *

Ananya sat beside Kabir holding his hand. Her heart believed that the large dressing that covered up almost the entire right side of Kabir’s face was some figment of her imagination and that it would all disappear the moment she woke up. Kabir lay down with his face half turned the other way and hoped that Ananya wouldn’t be able to see it. His parents were coming in that evening and were as worried about his eye as they were relieved that it wasn’t anything more serious. Ananya felt that the cloud that had been chasing her had now started casting its shadow on Kabir as well. She felt all alone there at that moment and wished that Ritvik was around, that he would come soon.

Her phone rang and she opened it to see a strange number and cut it off. She was surprised when the call came again from the same number. She stepped out of the room and took the call. Her world came crashing down as she heard the voice on the other end tell her that she had been listed as next of kin by Ritvik and that he had been involved in an accident and that he had authorised her to take the decision for his organs to be donated. The floor opened up and she felt like she was falling endlessly as the voice went on to tell her that Ritvik’s organs could not be saved due to the nature of the accident and that only his eyes could be preserved.

She ran back into the room and could only wordlessly hug Kabir, sobbing endlessly. Kabir sensed that something had gone awfully wrong and just hugged her, comforting her and letting her calm down. It took over half an hour before he could piece what had gone on and when he finally heard the news, he did nothing other than gather her closer than before, letting his strength seep into her.

                 *                             *                             *                             *                             *

It had been three years now since that fateful day. Ananya sat across the breakfast table and watched Kabir eat. He sensed her looking at him and looked up and smiled, that same heart stopping smile that had never stopped doing that to her. Somehow, now she felt that it was both Kabir and Ritvik looking at her and smiling. The eyes were still all Kabir but knowing that it was Ritvik’s eye that had brought Kabir’s vision back, it seemed as if he was still with them, watching her with the same intensity that she was so familiar with. She got up and walked across to Kabir and lovingly kissed him.

Hearing her name being called from the other room, she walked into find her mother in law cradling little Ritvik who was starting to make a face and kick a fuss. Taking the baby from her mother, she sat down to feed him and as the baby grew busy, looked down at him as if she were checking off a list to make sure he was all ok. Check list done, she patted the top of his head, the sparse hair that was making its presence felt and the baby blinked and looked up at her, seeming to smile.

And she relaxed back in the chair and looked out of the window at the bright cheerful day that was today and felt that her luck had turned after all ……….

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Talisman - Part 3

And so began Ritvik’s trial by fire. It was excruciating, nail-pulling agony. It was like walking on nails that he had individually sharpened painstakingly himself. Sitting across from Ananya and Kabir, watching them together was worse in some ways than the time he spent sitting in his sofa, staring at the television wondering what would have happened had he chosen to have that chat with Ananya that evening instead of taking her back to Kabir. The devil on his shoulder was working full time while the angel was off on an extended holiday. There was never a moment when he was not cursing his own good intentions.

And then there was the swamp of guilt. Ritvik was at the root of it, as good natured as they came. He had never found himself in a position like this where his good intentions seem to have deserted him and the voice in his head kept cursing what he had come to believe was his naivet√©. He looked at Ananya who had anyway taken his heart away and how she was with Kabir and wondered why his greater goodness couldn’t allow him to feel happy about their happiness and why did he have a barbed wire that was winding tighter around his heart each time he looked at them together.

That evening was no different. Actually it was different. It was exquisitely painful that evening. He was sitting across Ananya and Kabir at the pub that used to be his and Ananya’s favourite haunt and had now become a regular watering hole for all three of them. That evening Ananya had come in slightly high strung after an argument at her office and had downed her first two cocktails really fast. Ritvik had tried cautioning her and telling her that one was her limit and that she wouldn’t be able to handle it. But Kabir had put his arm around her and had said it was ok and that was that. Ritvik retreated deeper into his chair and watched them. Ananya was high enough to need Kabir to hold her down and was leaning her head on his shoulder and staring up at him with loving eyes.

Ritvik started out the evening with that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, convinced that the evening was not going to end well. Ananya had been looking exceptionally lovely that evening, her curl falling across her face and hiding her eyes in a way that made him want to reach out and brush it away, just to be able to see her beautiful eyes. Watching her lean on Kabir, their holding hands and her resting her head on his shoulder and his kissing the top of her head – all of this was burning a hole in his gut like a slow acid eating away at it. He was hardly able to keep up with the conversation and seemed to be in a world of his own, a hell of his own making. And Kabir, ever the gentleman, was covering up the absence of conversation admirably. He kept trying to draw Ritvik into the conversation, in fact at one time, provoking him with something that Ananya had said. Ritvik just laughed it off and stared harder at his drink.

He excused himself and went to the restroom where he spent most of the time staring back at his own self in the mirror and telling his reflection to calm down. After washing his face for what seemed to be the hundredth time, he breathed deeply and stepped back into his private hell where Ananya and Kabir were waiting for him. As he weaved across the floor, past couples dancing in sync and others who were jerking to the beat like marionettes, he could see the back of Kabir’s head and his hand protectively across Ananya’s shoulders. Suddenly he saw Ananya lift her head and stare into Kabir’s eyes and then kiss him softly on his lips. The gesture was completely natural and yet shockingly intimate. It stopped Ritvik in his tracks, his calm deserting him like a rag blown away in the face of a sandstorm. He stood rooted at the spot for god knows how long until he suddenly felt someone bump into him and drench the entire front of his shirt with something that was more than just water. That woke him up and before he could think, he had automatically started walking out of the place.

Hailing a taxi, he collapsed inside and sat with his head in his hands until the driver asked him where he wanted to go. As he told the cabbie the address, some amount of common sense prevailed and he took out his phone and messaged Ananya and Kabir that he had developed an upset stomach and therefore wanted to go home in a hurry and had left. Kabir called back immediately to enquire what happened and after an unconvincing explanation that sounded false even as he was making it, he lay back against the seat and wondered how he had ever gotten himself into this situation.

He woke up next morning and saw a series of messages and calls from Ananya which had stopped off at about 2 AM in the morning. He debated calling her back or at least answering her messages, knew that Kabir would have told her what had happened and then just left his phone by the bedside and went to make his coffee. A single coffee didn’t help and he had to make another in quick succession. The coffee cleared his head a bit and he started thinking more rationally about his current situation. There were only two options as he could see them – one to continue the way he was trying to make it work and hope to god that he succeeded and the other was to stop and exit Ananya and Kabir’s life. He had not even considered the second option because not being around Ananya was something that he could not even think about, so deeply was his mental balance linked to her. And yet it was being around her and naturally Kabir that was killing him slowly and painfully.

As these thoughts crystallized like a jig saw puzzle falling into place in his head, he could see more and more clearly what he should do. And with that clarity, came a certainty and also a quick call to action. His thoughts were rudely interrupted by the phone and he was certain that it was Ananya. He decided to not answer the phone and waited for it to die down. When the second call immediately came in on the heels of the first one, he knew that if he did not answer the call, she would soon be there at his doorstep. And he was as ready to face her as a trainee matador without his short sword in front of a raging bull. So he walked to his bedside and picked up the phone, pretending to have come in from the rest room. Ananya’s concern was evident in her questions and his vague answers seemed to make her more worried. She offered to come and help him, asking Kabir whether that was OK and Kabir immediately assuring her that it was fine. To Ritvik, that permission was the death that he had been waiting for.

His voice became just that little firmer and his conviction just that stronger for him to be able to convince Ananya that he was fine and that he didn’t need any help. When he finally got off the phone ten odd minutes later, he had not only managed to avoid her banging on his door but had also told her that he had to leave town for a few days as a relative was not well and he needed to go and help. What would have normally raised Ananya’s eyebrows well into her hairline and made them meet down the middle; went by unnoticed in her relief over his being okay. Kabir even asked him if he needed help to get to the airport to leave town. Every such gesture of Kabir’s made Ritvik’s guilt over his feelings double. He started empathising with Atlas. That god of Green mythology was an inspiration that was becoming real by the day, by the hour and by the minute.

He spent another half hour figuring out where he wanted to go and finally settled on Coorg. It was always his comfort place, a place which could soothe him like no other could. The hills and the winding roads, walking amongst the clouds and the sun playing hide and seek with them and the chess game of light and shade across hill and dale were parts of the place that made it almost like home. He had been there several times over the years and knew the place intimately. He booked a flight out to Bangalore and booked a taxi to get there and called up the home stay where he usually preferred to stay. An hour and a half later, he was at the airport, waiting to board his flight. His frenzy of activity had driven all thought of Ananya out of his head temporarily but the waiting at the airport brought it all back.

Landing at Bangalore sometime later, he got into the taxi that was waiting outside the airport and decided to go straight ahead to Coorg without stopping. Sitting in the passenger’s seat was discomforting and also let him have the head space to continue thinking about Ananya and what she would be doing at that very moment. He stopped the driver and asked him if he could drive instead. Taking the wheel and rolling down the window, he let the wind in his face blow his thoughts away as he sped towards the hills. He stopped at a couple of places for coffee en-route and reached the estate towards evening, just as the setting sun created a golden orange halo around the hills and the tall trees that lined the road on both sides seemed to create the familiar arch that welcomed him. His spirits lifted and he was happy for the moment.

As he settled down for the evening, Dr. Bopanna and his wife who owned the estate joined him at the camp fire outside. They were early sleepers and after the usual bits of conversation, they fell silent. He encouraged them to have dinner and retire for the night as he wasn’t sleepy. Finally alone, he looked around, the crickets settling in the dark and the sounds quietening over time, the strange shapes of shadows that the fire threw seemingly alive with every movement of the flames. He stared down at the glass in his hand and wondered what Ananya would be doing and then caught himself. He was here to try and figure out a solution to that very same problem that seemed to be plaguing him and he was succumbing to it without even realising. He drove all thought of her out of his mind and started pacing around the fire. Finally tiredness overcame him and he settled back into his chair and stared at the embers as they died down, every now and then a spark flying up in the air. The occasional bat that flew overhead seemed to sense his tension and flew away without a second glance as the night wore on.

                    *                             *                             *                             *                             *

At that very moment, Ananya was at dinner with Kabir. Something had gone wrong with her all day. After a nerve jangling accident of the taxi that she was in, she somehow managed to escape the blistering row between the two drivers. At office, she somehow went scatter brained and forgot her client meeting itself, landing up late and causing herself heartburn. She forgot that she was supposed to meet Kabir at 7 and ended up working till later, her silent phone not warning her of his calls or messages until it was too late. Finally she was here at dinner with him and it seemed to be OK. The mood wasn’t the usual cosy comfort that it was with him but that was alright. She couldn’t expect him to be okay after he had been kept waiting for over an hour now could she?

She discovered that she had been leaning forward all the while and had developed an ache in the small of her back and decided to scoot back in her chair. She did that and went right back into the waiter who had been standing just at her side and holding the salver on one hand while setting up her soup bowl with the other. Crash went everything and the soup landed half on her and half on the floor. The waiter was as profusely apologetic as she was but the damage was done. Cleaning herself up as best as she could in front of the mirror in the restroom, she decided that being outside home seemed to be an adventure that was best avoided for now. Grabbing her bag, she took Kabir by the hand and dragged him out of the restaurant. After reaching home, she ordered in dinner and settled down to watch her favourite soap on television only to hear a loud explosion and a blackout the next instant. They had to eat the food in darkness as the transformer that had tripped couldn’t be repaired until morning according to the manager and soon retired for the night in the face of undefeatable odds.

                   *                             *                             *                             *                             *

Morning found Ritvik sleeping in an extremely uncomfortable position in the chair as a thin wisp of smoke rose from the remnants of the fire. The Bopanna’s dog had made itself comfortable at his feet sometime along the night. He woke to the sound of the birds as dawn was just about starting to make its presence felt, that spray of gentle soft light that brushed the curtain of darkness aside in the moments before day breaks. Stiff from his posture in the chair, he stretched and was rewarded with an irritated growl from the dog who didn’t want to be disturbed. He chose to just sit there and stare at the sky, white puffs of clouds moving along in gentle winds that couldn’t be felt. With the brightening dawn, he realised that he was finally at peace, alone by himself, in a situation where his emotions were not linked to Ananya in any way. With the first piercing ray of light that lit up the top of the trees like they were on fire, his mind cleared up and he knew what he needed to do.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Talisman - Part 2

Ritvik stood outside on his balcony drinking in the grey black sky with streaks of yellow and orange as the traffic and the smoke lent an unnatural underbelly to the evening. He held the cup of coffee in his hand, long gone cold, the thick film on top equally covering the sides of the cup and the dregs of liquid inside. He abruptly felt like throwing the cup far far away into the gloom and had to turn away physically to hold himself back. Normally a happy and lively chap, he found himself sullen and irritable most of the time nowadays, sort of like he was perpetually sucking on a lemon. And he was beginning to realise that it was mostly because of Ananya.

He had developed feelings for her. Feelings that he was so sure he wouldn’t have, feelings that he was afraid to label. He was too young now for anything that serious wasn’t he. But that in itself was only part of the problem. Sort of like a twin bullet hole to the head. Because while he was busy analysing his feelings and what they meant, like interpreting a Rorschach ink blot, Ananya had gone and got a boyfriend. It was like adding insult to injury for him to realise that he was finally admitting that he had some kind of feelings for her only to have her flaunting her boyfriend like the new accessory that she had bought at the mall store.

Not that much had changed between them. They still met on the train, in the evenings at the market, went out for the odd coffee, dinner and talked like they had been waiting to tell each other something all their lives. In the middle of all that, Ritvik suddenly found himself noticing the quaintest things about her, like the way that her eyebrows almost met down the centre when she was concentrating on something simple like even her coffee, about the way she blew that persistent curl off her right cheek from the corner of her mouth, the dimple that stole into her cheek when she really smiled, the soft down on her neck when she bent down to eat. He suddenly discovered a million and one things about her, like a subtitle had suddenly come up on the screen to explain things clearly.

And then Ananya had met Kabir, a simple hulk of a guy who appeared to have a great sense of humour and was also intelligent up there to boot. Ritvik had suddenly found that he saw less and less of Ananya except for the meetings on the train and even that went down as she sometimes took a cab home. One evening, she called him from office and asked if he could meet for a coffee. Arriving early, Ritvik had seen her with a guy who made the whole table that they were sitting at, appear small in size. He looked huge but had an easy smile that lit up his face quite so often. More than that, it was the way that Ananya was looking up at him that made Ritvik squirm in his seat. He was getting angrier by the minute as they sat there and chose to remain silent through the conversation and simply shook hands with them and left.

But it wasn’t so easy. Kabir was a difficult person to not like. His easy familiarity and gentle geniality and a certain genuineness drew out Ritvik over a period of time. Even though he had no clue how to react to Ananya’s statement about wanting Ritvik’s feedback on Kabir before they got serious. What exactly did she mean by that - get serious? In the last 6 months or so, Ritvik felt that he had gone from the time when he mentally felt he was sharing Ananya with Kabir to the time when he now felt Kabir was sharing Ananya with him. And while he had grudged and gimped about it, Kabir was every bit the gentleman who never lifted an eyebrow when Ananya told him that she wanted to go home with Ritvik. How was it so easy for him to do that when Ritvik still felt like he was losing ground every time Ananya didn’t show up on the train? How was it that Kabir greeted him with a gentle bear hug when all Ritvik could bring himself to do was shake Kabir’s hand?

It was all Ananya’s fault was what Ritvik decided. She shouldn’t have behaved so openly and friendly with him, he thought. And then caught himself as he realised that she had just been friendly with him. They were close, quite close. But there was nothing more that she had indicated or even had led him to believe. If he had fallen in love with her, it was his own damn fault. And he had no one to blame for all this but himself. Even though he kept telling himself this, it never helped him feel any better. This constant reminder of his condition over the past month or so had gotten to the point where he had now started feeling like the angel and the devil were both riding on his shoulders and tormenting him by turn.  

And this evening, as he stood on the balcony, staring outside, he was particularly reminded of both of them dancing a merry tune on the balcony railing. A sudden drop on his cheek woke him from his thoughts. He looked upward and caught the flash of light on a few drops as a drizzle started. He stood there letting the drops wash down his face, hoping they would wash his mind clear of the confusion that reigned. After a long while of standing with eyes closed and face upturned to the rain, suddenly, it was like a bolt of lightning struck. The only solution was to tell Ananya how he felt. Then it would be OK. She would understand and then by some miracle, would find a way to make it alright and be back with him again. His eyes opened with a start and lit up. He went back indoors like a man possessed. He couldn’t wait to meet Ananya and talk to her, feeling somehow that the whole thing was sorted now. He had to reign in his enthusiasm and could hardly sleep through the night. He was up before dawn and was raring to go.

He was at the station waiting for it to be 7:30 so that she would come. He had first thought about messaging her and asking her to meet him. But then that would not be normal and so he had stopped and decided to just act normal. As the clock seemed to be moving in slow motion, each minute seemingly taking an hour, he realised he was holding his breath each time as he waited. Forcing himself to relax, he got a cup of coffee and checked the time. It was only 10 minutes past seven as yet. The coffee seemed lukewarm and tasteless as he soon finished the cup and paced up and down, attracting curious looks from bystanders. He decided to slow down and stop walking around and stood at a pillar in the hope that the solidity of the pillar would give his mind strength. As he stood there, his back to the pillar and one leg braced back against it, the events of the last few months rolled through his mind’s eye. The realisation that it all might finally fall into place brought a smile to his face and he felt himself relaxing like the tension had suddenly gone out of a coiled spring.

The sound of the train brought him back to earth and he looked around for Ananya. Not catching sight of her, his smile transitioned into a frown and he walked forward towards the train, all the while desperately searching. The train left the station and he was still standing there, a frown on his face and a feeling that something had gone wrong, a feeling like that piece of china was falling all the way to the floor. He decided against going into office and went to Ananya’s apartment to check on her. He waited outside her door ringing the bell twice and then gave up on debating ad called her phone. After three tries, he gave up and decided to go down and ask the Security about her. He found that she had left home the previous night with Kabir and hadn’t come back till then. He decided to message her asking her to call him as soon as she could. The day drew on; long and dreary as he found he could not concentrate on anything at all and was biting the head off anyone who even cared to talk to him. Taking the train back in the evening, he gave up on the day and decided to go and get drunk. While leaving for the bar, he checked his phone for the 7 millionth, 24 thousandth 3 hundred and 49th time and then just decided to leave his phone at home and put himself out of his anxiety misery.

Walking back woozily from the cab that he got off from about six hours later, he decided that drinking was hardly the cure for what he had - that deep sickness of the mind when his heart felt like a bottomless pit from which all kinds of nightmarish thoughts were creeping out. Turning the corridor to his apartment door, he fumbled for his keys and instantly dropped them as he saw someone sitting outside his door, head with hair just like Ananya’s buried in between hands just like hers and which were framing knees that ended in a pair of blue sneakers just like the ones that she wore. Falling to his knees before her, he suddenly regretted having drunk so much and needing to focus so badly. His “hey” got no response and he sat down on suddenly shaky knees and his legs shot out from underneath him and bumped into hers. The sudden move woke her up and she lifted what appeared to be a puffy face with bloodshot eyes to look at him. That did it.

He quickly hustled her into his apartment. A cup of tea and a toast later, she appeared to come back from the zombie zone into the world of the living. He decided not to push her and just waited it out. She asked to have something strong and he brought out the only bottle of untouched spirits in the house – a bottle of Glen Morangie that he had been saving up for an occasion. Well this occasion was as good as any other, he thought as he poured a healthy portion into a glass filled with ice. She drank her first one like she had travelled a desert for the past few weeks. Into her third one, he noticed that she slowed down and got that distant, far-away look in her eyes. A suspicious looking tear slid down her cheek and soon her sniffles gave her away. He waited with a patience that he had learnt being around her. And soon, it all spilled out in bits and pieces in between snorts and wails and hiccups. It appeared that Kabir had taken her out on a trip and she had assumed that he was going to propose to her and when it did not happen, she blew up and had a rip roaring fight with him and had run away.

Ritvik felt all of his plans to tell her what he wanted to, running away into the gutter like a patch of oil being carried away by a driving rain that it had no chance of outstaying. He turned away to the sink to hide the sudden flush of tears in his eyes and put away the glasses and busied himself with something to bide time. When he finally turned around, he had made up his mind on what he would do. He had to do it, for her sake, for the sake of what he felt for her. He went into his room and got her a flat knit to keep warm and then called a cab. Seating her in it, he got in next to her and asked her to tell the driver the way to the resort where she had been staying with Kabir. A startled look in her eyes was met by a calm reassuring one in his and she gave the cabbie the address and off they went. As the cab wound its way through the night time roads, he told her what she needed to do and when she finally gave up and rested her head on his shoulder, he just held her. It was all he could do to not bury his face in her hair and hug her as hard as his heart was telling him to.

He reached his apartment at dawn feeling at once like his life had ended and that he had done the right thing. They had spoken to Kabir who had been waiting, ashen faced and completely at a loss to understand. As Ananya and Kabir had hugged each other, words falling over each other in the eagerness to explain them; Ritvik had silently let himself out of the room. The cab that had been waiting had brought him back to the apartment. He changed and got into bed wishing he would never wake up. The loud and insistent ringing of his phone woke him up in what seemed to be like 5 minutes time. He glared out of half an open eye at his phone which told him that Kabir was calling and that it had been nearly 4 hours since he had gone to sleep.

He held the phone up to his ear only to hold it away, wincing in pain as he heard Ananya shrieking that Kabir had proposed and that she had accepted. He tried to bring up his best cheerful voice and keep even the slightest pain from showing in his voice as Ananya was obviously jumping around in joy. They were planning on going meeting his parents that evening. It was all decided. When they were hanging up around half an hour of details later, Ritvik knew he had done the right thing and healed the cracks in their lives. The devil on his shoulder though, was digging the pitchfork right in and he felt like he was cracking down the middle, most horribly painfully. As they were hanging up, Ananya’s final words nailed the coffin shut “All this would have never happened without you Ritvik. You made everything right. You know I love you, right?”