The car screeched in front of the house and Miraya got out of it. She ran towards the house and stood at the door before ringing the bell. She looked back to see if Abhay was coming. When he reached, she knocked on the door hastily. As soon as the door opened, they rushed into the house.
“Oho, I told you not to hurry. He is fine now,” said Rama Aunty, Miraya’s old neighbour.
“But I heard Uncle coughing so much that I could not stop from coming,” explained Miraya.
“- and dragging me along! I told her the same Aunty, but does she ever listen?” Abhay mocked complaint.
“Poor kid! Would you like some coffee?” Rama offered.
Abhay and Miraya were best friends. She met him the day after she shifted to her new apartment. He was doing under graduation when she took up the job in the MNC. Miraya was about to get late on the day one at the office when Abhay offered her to share his cab. And that day, they spoke for the first time and had never kept quiet since then. They didn’t only share the cab; they also shared choices, interest and some friends as well. The tuning between them was natural and the friendship was genuine; a trouble of one would be handled by the two. Over the time, the cab was replaced by a car which they bought on a sharing base. They called it their first-half car. And since their ownership was 50%, the chances of driving the car should also be divided, they believed.
Miraya was opening the door of her apartment when she got the call from Rama informing her that Subodh was feeling breathlessness. He was cold and sweating at the same time. Rama was scared to see her husband like that so the first person that came to her mind was Miraya. Miraya almost shouted when she heard Rama. Abhay ran out of his apartment on hearing Miraya’s voice. He saw her running downstairs, so he quickly followed her. When Abhay got into the car, Miraya asked, “What are you doing here?” It was too late and raining heavily. So there was no way he would want her to go anywhere alone.
“You can’t take my 50% of the car alone,” he replied instead.
Miraya was working at her desk when the door of her apartment opened. Abhay stormed in. She looked up from the laptop and saw him through her glasses. He said, “I am screwed.”
“What?” she asked.
“I don’t know where I am going,” he said and stood near the desk. “I am having my exam results tomorrow and going home the next day.”
She got up and pulled another chair and made him sit there. She went back to hers and said, “You are having your exam results tomorrow, going home the next day for your holiday which you are going to spend with your family and becoming an MBA in a few days. Is it that difficult to understand?”
He said, still puzzled, “No,” his eyes glued to the floor, “but… I don’t know. I feel like everything is rushing and I am unable to catch it.”
“Then lose the grip and try to see what is there in front of you.” Her voice was calm.
He looked at her peaceful face and sighed. She elevated her eyebrows and went back to the laptop. He took out the two cans of beer from the backpack and put one on her desk.
“What is it? One minute you were restless and now, the beer?” she said opening the can.
“I knew you would make it easy for me anyway,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
Miraya’s phone rang. It showed ‘Abhay’. She asked as soon as she picked up the phone, “Did you pass?”
“Wow, so much for the confidence,” he replied voicing the annoyance. “Yes, I did.”
“So why do you sound like a potato?” she asked. Here, potato meant fade in colour and tasteless; depressive.
“They are sending me on a project as soon as the holiday gets over,” he said.
“Okay. Which company?” she asked. She was well updated regarding his studies and university.
“And isn’t it one of your priorities?” she verified.
“So what’s the problem?” she asked, still trying to figure out the issue here.
“It is in Bangalore and the project is 6-month-long and if everything works out, they will offer me the job there.” He didn’t sound excited at all.
“Which you always wanted,” she reminded him.
“I know, okay. But this is too fast,” he protested.
“Abhay, what is wrong with you? Do you want this job or not? And even if they offer you, we are talking about the next year. It is not like you are going just tomorrow. You have time to think. So just relax,” she almost scolded.
“I am going tomorrow.” Just a sentence this time.
“Yeah, but for holiday. It is different,” she said cheerfully.
“Whatever. I’ll meet you at home.”
Even after finishing the call, Miraya was still trying to understand Abhay’s problem. He was going to have everything he had dreamt for his career. Then why he sounded different?
At 10 in the night, Abhay reached his apartment. He wanted to talk to Miraya but he saw the blackout in her apartment, and he didn’t want to disturb her at this time. So he went to his house directly. As soon as he switched the lights on, he heard the chaos: “Congratulations!” His friends had gathered with beers and some snacks. He was still trying to see all of the faces when he felt a punch on his shoulder. He turned back and found Miraya, grinning.
“Dumsy,” she spoke. It’s the nickname they shared, which was the metaphor for dumbness.
He smiled and replied, “I am not. You are dumsy.”
In no time, Abhay got faded among his friends. He was so indulged that the way he looked and the way he sounded a few hours earlier highly contradicted. It was the best time of his day, he believed. The music was electronic and the room was filled with energy.
Abhay was in the kitchen to fill the nachos bowl. He heard Miraya’s voice, “Are you there?”
“Yes,” he replied.
She came in the kitchen and handed him a wooden box with a tiny bow tied across the box. He put the bowl down and opened the bow while she stood behind him, trying to peek over his shoulder. He had always flaunted his 5 feet 9 inches in front of her average height. ‘I might be younger but way taller than you. So if we consider the number of heights instead of the number of ages, I am the big one here.’
“A compass?” he said, looking on his left.
“Was about to bring you a world map, but this looked more sophisticated,” she explained. He turned towards her. She elaborated, “You said you don’t know the directions.” He burst into laughter on seeing the sincerity on her face. “Really?” he said unbelievingly.
“And you better like it. It’s antique,” she said with a command in her voice. He was still laughing. “What?” she asked genuinely, “What is so funny?” She took the compass from his hand and took a glance at it and then at him.
He struggled to stop his laugh and started panting. He looked at her: a low ponytail with some lose layers on the front which showed her relaxed mood. But were her eyes this much brown? He just noticed them. And when she looked down, her face would make a perfect oval shape with her nose, eyes and lips on the perfect angles. Her thick eyebrows matched the shape with each other but didn’t look like recently trimmed. When she said ‘what’, while pronouncing an ‘o’, her cheeks would shrink near the chin. He could see the fading green veins on parts of her cheeks. Her smoother skin was glowing more today or it was just a distance which was nearer than ever? Her jawlines were sharp parting the neck with a straight line between. And the neck looked longer from this close- “Just kidding,” he spoke loudly to put a hold on his rushing thoughts. “I…uh love the compass. The North and the… the South and… they are in the right directions, I hope.”
It was just a few seconds but he felt that he just recognized the Miraya who he never knew.
She sighed and handed him the compass. She took the bowl and said, “Put it into your luggage or else you’ll forget it here.” She left the kitchen but he stood still, leaned on the platform behind. He looked at the compass again and then at the window to brush off her vision. But his eyes came back to the compass. His throat was dry and heartbeats speeding. He felt a burning sensation in his chest. He walked a couple of steps and pulled out a chair. He sat there and rested his arms on the table with his hand on his mouth. He said, “Crap!”
The next day, Abhay had already left for his home before Miraya would leave for the office. She tried to call him but could not reach him. It had been an entire day and she hadn’t heard from him. When she tried Abhay’s home number, she got to know that he was at home and was getting fresh. ‘At least he has reached home,’ she thought.
Miraya was out of town for three days for a conference. When she returned, she saw that the door of Abhay’s apartment was unlocked. She was expecting him there. She opened the door and saw some unknown people who had come to see the place which Abhay had just vacated.
She went home and the first thing she did was calling him. And once again, he didn’t answer. From his home, she got to know that Abhay was in Bangalore, already. That’s it.
After several more tries to reach her friend, Miraya gave up. She wanted to scream at him, scold him but all she could do was trying to ignore his absence. And no matter how much she tried, she came back to just one point; what made him change this much.
“Dad, I will go there but you know my answer,” said Miraya to her father on a phone call.
“You can at least try to like him. And yes, don’t do anything foolish. Rajiv is my old friend. He is a good man and I am sure his son is a good man too,” said Madhav Mehra.
“Okay, dad. I will try.”
Miraya’s father had arranged her meeting with Yash. He was aware of her priorities, but getting his daughter married was never opted out of his priorities.
Miraya sat in front of her computer in her cubicle. She took her phone and sighed; how much she wished she could to talk Abhay right now. After a couple of days, she was supposed to meet Yash and also was not allowed to do anything foolish. ‘What does dad think? I am not going to scare him away, anyway.’ She was amused.
“Can you please call Adi?” Miraya was at the Central Boarding School for Convents where her son, Adi was studying and living. He turned 8 today, so he was allowed to meet his family on a weekday. It had been 7 years since Miraya had adopted Adi. It had become her priority to give the best of the life to him. She was a young and aspiring woman when she took the decision of adoption. Of course, there were people who opposed. They called her unpredictable. And she had to choose between two things: caring about the society who hardly mattered or giving a decent life to a boy who soon would realize that there was no family for him. She chose the latter option. She had met Adi at the orphanage which she had visited on her dead mother’s birthday and the urge to give him the life which he deserved never got out of his sight since then. At least one life could be improved right now, she thought.
She was waiting in the lounge when an attendant came and said, “Ma’am, would you please come in as his relative is already here with him?” It shocked Miraya; who might it be? Her father was in Delhi and she had no relative in Mumbai who would meet her son. She hastily followed the attendant and reached the playroom where the students generally met their parents. Miraya stood at the door and sighed on seeing Adi, talking and laughing with Abhay. Abhay was one of the registered names who was allowed to meet Adi.
Suddenly Adi saw her and shouted, “Mom…” He ran to her. Abhay stood up. She walked to him holding Adi’s hand. Yes, he was changed. He looked different. Maybe it was his attire; casual shirt and a pair of cotton trousers. And what was with the beard: trimmed yet visible. There was calmness on his face which had replaced the restlessness.
“Mom, see. Abhay brought the cake for me. We were waiting for you. Let’s cut the cake first,” Adi pulled her hand. She looked at Abhay and smiled, “Thank you.”
He smiled back. It was the same smile, she noticed. Adi had been fond of him. Every weekend, Abhay would accompany Miraya to see Adi and by the second meeting, Adi introduced Abhay to his classmates as his friend.
After the mini celebration, Miraya and Abhay walked out of the school. Walking towards the parking, she spoke, “So are you still in Bangalore?”
“Yes,” he said in affirmative. “Miraya,” he was about to speak further when she interrupted. “What’s wrong with you?” Her voice elevated unexpectedly. He didn’t answer. He wanted her to speak her heart out. She continued without any further formality, “You were not answering my phones, not replying to my messages. What do you think you are?”
“Busy,” he said.
“Shut up. I am serious.” She dismissed the humour in this situation. “You were like, eloped. Who does that?”
“I needed some time to sort things out,” he said further.
“What things and with whom?” she quizzed.
“With me.” He kept the answer shot.
She stayed quiet, trying to understand his face.
“You are not changed, are you?” he asked, leaning against her car.
“No. But you are,” she complained. “I wanted to talk to you, you know that? I am stuck.”
“Okay, tell me,” he said, crossing his arms on his chest.
She sighed, shook her head and threw her hands in the air. After a few seconds, he said, “Use words.”
“I am supposed to meet a man for a lunch today and he happens to be the son of my father’s old friend. And this meeting includes words like alliance and matrimony. It is arranged by my father. I don’t want to get married but how can I say a direct no to his face? So there is one more option; what if he says no. But there is a problem; what if he doesn’t say no. Then there should be a backup option ready for me. And I don’t know what to do and I don’t want to talk about this to anyone else. So I wanted you to be here to listen to me but you were not. So I hated you so much. But now you are here, so you have to suggest me something.” She exhaled a heavy breath.
“He won’t say no,” he said.
“Why not?” she asked.
“I know. I am a man.” He nodded. “So you have to have a backup option. How about you don’t go at all?”
“No. My father has already warned me not to do anything like this.”
“One minute, why you don’t want to get married? Aren’t you 32 or something?” he asked sincerely.
“Seriously?” she frowned. “Do you really want to do this number thing?”
“Alright. Just tell him that you are in love,” he came up with a new suggestion.
“No.” She dismissed the idea.
“Okay, then say that someone loves you,” he said and shrugged his shoulders.
She didn’t look convinced.
“Miraya,” he put his hands on her shoulders and said, “Just go and have a nice lunch. That’s it. You will be fine.”
Abhay was still in Mumbai for their common friend, Isha’s wedding. He decided to meet Miraya directly at the venue. Dressed in a plain sari with contrast border, Miraya arrived half an hour later after Abhay reached.
After some cordial greetings and a few photographs with the couple, Abhay came to Miraya and tapped on her shoulder, “Do you want to sneak out? I’ve got a beer.”
She whispered, “Of course.”
They drove to the square which was their favourite break-from-the-routine spot. He opened a can and handed it to Miraya. They sat facing the lake at the dead end of the square.
“So how was your meeting?” Abhay brought the morning’s topic.
She shook her head and chuckled, “He said no.”
“What?” he said disbelievingly. “Was he blind?”
“He has a girlfriend.”
“Oh,” he said, “Idiot.”
“Why?” she asked, “For having a girlfriend?”
“No,” he jerked his head and said, “Anyway, what next?”
“Next? I am not on a mission: finding a groom,” she said.
“Yeah. I agree. I sometimes wonder how can you go out and look for a suitable person? How do you know if he is suitable? Is there a list of expectations?” he pointed the last question directly to her.
“Not really. Yeah but I would want him to be a little predictable, someone I could understand,” she looked at him from the corner of her eyes. She continued with a teasing smile, “Someone who doesn’t just disappear without a word.”
He smiled wryly. She nudged him, “Oh come on. You can relax. Just let it go, alright. You are here now and that matters more.”
“Do you ever want to ask me anything?” The lines of furrows appeared on his forehead.
She sighed, “Yes. I do. But I won’t.”
“That’s good,” he said and shifted his eyes to the lake. After a pause, she said, “I care.” She caught back his attention. She continued, “And I did care when you just walked away without any notification. I cared when you stopped answering my phones and I did care when you didn’t choose to tell me what’s going on in your life. And I still do care, because I can’t not care when it comes to you, you know.”
For the first time in a long time he was listening to Miraya who he knew thoroughly. She spoke emotions which touched him. He turned to her and said, “I am not predictable. I am glad about that. And I am also glad that you won’t ask anything.”
“Why? You have nothing to say now?” she also turned to him, looking straight into his eyes. “It’s been eating me. I wanted you to talk to me. You could have used a friend. I would have if I were in your place.”
“Of course you would. I am your friend and I would always want to be there. But you are not my friend anymore. I am in love with you. I-” He felt his heart racing. A force was holding back his words. But not anymore, he decided. He wanted to get over his insecurity of losing a friend, because he already did. He held her face in his palm. He touched her forehead with his lips and pressed them against her skin. It was longer than he had ever imagined. He pulled back and looked at her. She didn’t move. He spoke, “I had to walk away otherwise I would expect you to love me back and that would make me unreasonable. So I just-”
“You are right,” she interrupted him. “You did right.” She turned herself back to her place. The rest of the evening went in silence.
Miraya dropped Abhay at the airport later that evening. But before leaving, he turned back to see that Miraya hadn’t left yet. He came back to her car and leaned at the window. She looked at him and said, “Someday I would like to tell you that it wouldn’t have made you unreasonable.”
“Miraya,” he said. She came out of the car and walked to him. She said, “I have a son. He is my responsibility. I can’t ask any man to share that. And no man has ever wanted it either. You are natural with Adi. He loves you; may be as much as I do. But I have always stopped myself from believing in instincts. And by now, I have become an expert in constraining my emotions. But I am not unreasonable. Falling in love with a person who is younger to me does not make me unreasonable. I have all rights to feel that love. But asking to spend your life with me and my kid would make me one. So I never did and will never do that. So you know what? I am not unreasonable. We are not unreasonable. It’s just, at the end of the day we want to answer to ourselves. And failing to it would make us one. That’s it.” She had tears in her eyes and tremble in her voice. The first love, the first confrontation and at the same time, the first feeling of giving up that love were too much for her.
He came closer to her and offered a hand shake. She accepted it and shook his hand firmly. He loosened the grip and she pulled her hand back. “Someday I would like to tell you how much I want you and Adi in my life. I won’t take too long this time. I promise.”