The crepuscular sky was tinged with shades of pink, purple, and orange. The sun was slowly setting yet again, bidding adieu to the world, making a solemn promise to appear the next day. The mighty ocean basked under the hues of eventide, shimmering and dancing merrily. Birds chirped in unison before returning to their nests in succession. The waves ebbed and flowed as they reached for the shore lovingly. Nature has the capability of conjuring breathtaking stories. And such stories have never been erased by the sands of time. I wondered if my bond with Priya was also such- eternal.
I sat digging my feet deep into the soft beach sand, admiring the sights and sounds. I was waiting for Priya. As I closed my eyes for a few moments the past came chasing after me.
It had been the darkest day of my life. I was just eight years old. I tried waking up my mother who was lying on the hospital bed, but she was gone- gone forever. My father said she wouldn’t speak anymore and took me home. I cried a lot but there was no one to console me.
Priya had been my neighbor. Though she was only sixteen during that time, she came – to comfort me. And after that day, she came to visit me more frequently. She would tell me stories, sing songs, play with me. As for my father- he was never at home. He appointed a housekeeper to keep things running. And without any remorse, he began dating women within six months. The only person who cared for me throughout was Priya. She played several roles in my life. Though her family moved after a few years, she always kept in touch with me. Despite her busy schedule, she made time for me, to find out how I was doing. She was the only person to whom I could express all my feelings. Luckily, she moved back to our city after being recruited by an IT company.
“Hey, Bittu! I got these fritters for us to munch. You love them don’t you?” said Priya as she sat next to me. I was jolted to the present after hearing her voice.
The long tresses that framed her perfectly round face bounced playfully with the sea breeze. I loved the sparkle in her doe-shaped eyes. They were the kindest pair of eyes that I had ever known. The pink Kurti that she was wearing complemented her fair skin tone. She seemed like an angel to me.
“What took you so long to come?” I asked her.
“Uff! Don’t even ask me. The project has to go live tomorrow and two of my teammates are on vacation. I’m burdened with all the work.”
“Priya! Don’t let them exploit you. You deserve to be treated like a queen.”
“Haha! Noted. Now tell me how is your college life? Have your grades improved?”
“Yes, Priya! Ever since you started tutoring me, my grades have improved a great deal. I cleared the exams.”
“Awesome! I’m happy for you, my darling brother,” she said, pinching my cheeks.
She saw the expression on my face change.
“Aww! Sorry, I know you don’t like being called brother. How about ‘boyfriend’? Haha,” she chuckled and teased me.
I gave her a quick smile and turned my head quickly to hide the tears that trickled down my cheeks.
Thankfully her phone rang and she became busy answering it. I was lost in my thoughts;
I was younger than her but did that mean I was her brother? Wasn’t our connection much more than that? She showered her love for me in many ways. Never had I missed having a mother in my life. As for my father, he hardly stayed home. I was practically invisible to him. Priya filled all the voids in my life through her love. She talked to me, listened to me, scolded me, advised me, and comforted me. She was truly my sunshine. But I was not a brother. It was much more, much more than that.
“Deepak was on the phone. He has booked a few movie tickets for Saturday’s matinee show. Would you be interested?” she asked.
“I need to attend college on Saturday. We have lab work,” I said.
Deepak was just a colleague. Was Priya attracted to him? But he seemed to be getting too close of late. Something had to be done to stop him from getting closer.
“Aaw! Too bad Bittu. Never mind, we can try to meet up for dinner at my place. I will order Pizza. I guess your classes will be over by then.”
“Sure! Will Deepak stay for dinner too?” I asked feeling perturbed.
“No! He will leave after the movie,” said Priya.
I heaved a sigh of relief.
My black hooded jacket had become a part of me since my adolescent years. My college mates often wondered why I wore it even when the weather was hot. Well! My mind had strange ways of wrapping itself in a cocoon. To me, wearing the jacket was a source of comfort. I felt safe and shielded from everything toxic. Though I never admitted it, I had a lot of insecurities. I was just five feet tall and a little stout. I hid my face behind an oversized pair of glasses. I was often teased for my appearance during my school days. This had a deep impact on me so I stayed away from befriending anyone. But I seldom worried about it- I had my Priya. Whenever I cribbed to her about my appearance, she asked me not to worry. She told me that I looked handsome in a unique way- and more importantly, I had a pure soul. My spirits felt uplifted every time I was with her. That sufficed.
One day while in college…
I was sitting on my seat after having lunch. My classmates were busy talking. I was flipping the pages of my diary searching for Priya’s recent picture. Suddenly Tarun, the bully, snatched the diary from me.
“Tarun, give it back. Don’t you dare open it.” I was fuming with anger.
But Tarun started running around with it.
“What is so secretive about your diary, Bitesh? I’m going to open it and show it to everyone,” he yelled at the top of his voice.
“No, please don’t,” I pleaded.
But he was not ready to listen.
Priya’s pictures fell off one after the other.
“Whoa! Is that your girlfriend? Wonder how she fell for you, you Dumbo! Hee hee!” He continued harassing me.
“STOP, Tarun! She’s not my girlfriend. GIVE IT NOW.” My voice bellowed.
“Ok, cool! You freak me dude,” he said and returned them.
After that day nobody dared to touch my diary.
But that incident led me to introspect deeply.
I had said Priya was not my girlfriend. Nor did I like being called her brother or just a friend. Then what was the bond that we had developed over these years? It was love- but not the mushy kind of love. I couldn’t imagine it that way either. It was the platonic kind of love- Philia as the world calls it. Yes, love in its purest form.
You are my life, my love, I want you to know this,
Without you, I will cease to exist.
It had been a while since I had met Priya. But it seemed like years. I was once again at the beach waiting for her. I often wondered if I lived because of the air I breathed or because of the moments with Priya that always lingered, breathing life into me.
I checked my watch frequently and was getting restless when Priya did not turn up. I wondered what was causing the delay. Then I checked my phone for any messages from her.
And there it was;
Bittu, I can’t make it today. Deepak has come home. See you later, alligator.
Damn! How could she sound casual about it? Was I not more important than Deepak? I despised Deepak even more after reading the message. It had to be his fault.
Without thinking twice I drove my bike at full speed and reached Priya’s house. I decided to meet Priya on the pretext of getting my doubts clarified. As I rang the bell, Deepak opened the door.
“Hey, Bittu! What a surprise!” said Deepak.
I didn’t even smile at him. He had that perfect masculine body- tall, dark and handsome, not that it mattered to me.
“Where is Priya?” I asked.
By then Priya came. She had just showered. I could tell from the heady scent of the shampoo.
I hoped she had locked the bathroom, especially with Deepak around.
“Bittu, why did you come here? Didn’t you read my message?” she asked.
“Oh! I just had some doubts to clear in Data Science. You won’t mind, will you?” I had to lie.
Priya and Deepak looked at each other.
“Maybe some other time dear. We could meet up online too. Deepak said there is something important to discuss- an official project that requires immediate attention. Hope you don’t mind. See you later,” said Priya apologetically.
I felt choked for words. My eyes welled up with tears but I didn’t want her to notice.
Official Project that required immediate attention? Was Deepak just making all this up?
“Dude, are you ok? You may stay and get your doubts clarified if it’s important. I can wait. I shall tell Priya,” said Deepak, sensing that I was a little upset.
“It’s fine. You go ahead with your work,” I said and left the place.
That night I just couldn’t sleep. I was curious to know what Priya was doing. I did not want Deepak to get close with Priya. What if, what if? A thousand questions bogged my mind.
After a lot of pondering I decided that I had to divulge my feelings to her soon. There was no necessity to hide it anymore. That would clear the air. I was sure she would understand. She needed me just the way I needed her.
I shall love you to the moon and back always,
‘cause you are my sunshine who brightens my days.
“Bittu, you don’t look your usual self today. Is something bothering you?” asked Priya. We met at the beach after a week.
“I have something to tell you. I have…”
“Go ahead, tell me Bittu. I’m all ears. Don’t be hesitant, come on,” she nudged me.
My forehead was drenched with the trickling sweat, my hands were shaky. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her but was finding it difficult to mouth my words. I had rehearsed a couple of times at home. I had even written down what I wished to say lest I forget my lines, but I was stuttering.
As I mustered up the courage to finally speak, someone crash-landed on the ground behind us.
“Boo,” said Deepak. His perfectly sculpted arms hugged us both. The heady cologne from him made me nauseous.
“Deepak! You said you would be gone to Bangalore for a week. Then how come?” asked Priya.
“My trip got postponed,” he said.
Though I tried to hide my feelings, I was fuming with anger. My plan had been foiled.
“Bittu, you wanted to tell me something. What is it darling?” Priya asked me.
“Nevermind. Maybe later,” I said.
“Priya, I have something to tell you. And I don’t want to wait. I’m glad Bittu is here too- he can click a picture,” said Deepak falling on his knees.
“Deepak, what’s gone wrong with you?” Priya seemed perplexed.
“I know it may seem a little too soon but still good things need not wait. I love you very much. Will you accept this ring?” said Deepak stretching his hand.
Priya was shell-shocked and so was I. I knew Priya wouldn’t appreciate the gesture. She never wanted to get tangled into all this mess. I had heard her telling many times that she enjoyed her freedom and didn’t want to get married and all that.
After a few moments of silence, Priya replied, “Yes, yes, my love! I did not expect this now… here.”
Tears of joy trickled from her eyes.
I was completely shattered.
What? Why did she say yes? This was not what she wanted. This was not what I had expected. Deepak did not deserve her. He did not love her the way I did. My love was very pure. I needed to protect her-protect her from Deepak.
Pain seethed through the crevices of my heart. The whole world felt enveloped in a blanket of darkness.
“Bittu, Deepak is so sweet, isn’t he?” asked Priya to make matters worse.
I feigned a smile but did not utter a word.
The neurons in my mind were actively figuring out a way to stop the course of events. And then, an idea struck me. Well! That was the only option that I could think of.
“Why don’t we go to my house? My dad is not in town. Your romantic story calls for a celebration, doesn’t it?” I said sounding very excited.
“Great idea. Let’s celebrate,” declared Priya.
“Bittu, why should we go to your house? We can go to a good restaurant,” said Deepak.
“Come on! Let me be your host. It’s a great moment for me too. Now that Priya is yours,” I said. Deepak had an unsettling expression on his face.
“Deepak, let’s go to Bittu’s house. They have a pool too. It would be fun,” said Priya. Deepak nodded though he didn’t feel very convinced.
“This mojito looks terrific. I hope it tastes good too, Bittu,” said Priya as she picked it up from the tray that I held.
“Deepak, here’s one for you,” said Priya as she saw Deepak coming out from the kitchen hurriedly.
I waited with bated breath for Priya and Deepak to pick up the mojito. Once they fell unconscious after consuming the drink, I intended to eliminate Deepak from the equation. I presumed I could handle Priya somehow. She always understood the reasons for my actions. I hoped to escape to a far-away land and lead a happy life with her. I could not think of a better alternative. Besides, I parked the consequences for later.
“Priya, Stop! Don’t drink it. It is drugged, I saw it myself when I went to check where the restroom was,” yelled Deepak.
“What nonsense,” exclaimed Priya.
I was stumped.
“Priya! Bittu is not what you think. I saw him drugging our drinks. I had a gut feeling that he was a shady character,” said Deepak flashing the bottle that I had just used.
“Why did you do that Bittu? What was your intention? Speak up,” he yelled at me.
“Bittu, you?” Priya was taken aback.
“I should be calling the police now,” said Deepak as he picked up his phone to make the call.
I did not respond. Damn! My plan had been foiled.
Now it was time for plan B. Thankfully, as soon as we entered the house, on the pretext of freshening up, I had sneaked the revolver that my father usually hid in his closet into my pocket.
I took out the revolver and pointed it at Deepak.
“Don’t you dare call the police. STOP! You don’t love Priya. You don’t love her as I do. She is my only love. You are a cheat. I intended to take her far-away, far from you.”
“Bittu, You? What on earth do you mean? I considered you my brother and loved you very much… When did you develop such cheap thoughts?” screamed Priya, in between her sobs.
“No Priya! Not cheap thoughts. Don’t misunderstand me. My love for you is very pure unlike Deepak’s. You are my philia. I always wish the best for you. Trust me. I need you beside me always. Deepak does not deserve an angel like you. Nobody does- except me. Please don’t hate me. I can do anything…” as I was talking Deepak interrupted.
“Bittu, stop. You are acting out of impulse. We can talk and straighten things out.”
I did not pay attention to Deepak.
“Priya. Think. You love me more than Deepak. You just don’t want to admit it. Think about all the good times we’ve had together. We can have a world of our own and live happily,” I pleaded Priya.
“BITTU! Your love is toxic- it’s deliria,” yelled Priya.
For the first time, I could see her eyes filled with hatred for me. Her words seemed like bullets piercing through my heart.
A deluge of tears trickled down my cheeks but I held on to the revolver.
How could Priya hate me? I always thought she understood me. If she hated me then I didn’t have anybody in this world. What would I do? Yes, I could be obsessed with her but she was my philia. I wanted her all for myself. Was that my only fault?
“Bittu, even if you fire the bullet at me, your purpose would not be served. Your relationship with Priya is ruined and blame yourself for that,” said Deepak. Those words shoved me into an abysmal well.
I was overwhelmed with emotions. I didn’t realize love could hurt.
Who said love was soft?
It can be hard -brutal hard
It can cause a deluge of tears to roll down your cheek and freeze them into scars,
Squeeze your heart,
Shatter it into pieces,
Make your mind explode with pulsating memories,
Cause your stomach to wrench with pain,
Empty your soul,
Until your echoing voice goes unheard under layers deep.
“Bittu, No, please, we can sort this,” yelled Priya as I pointed the gun at myself.
“Priya, please don’t hate me.” Those were the last words I uttered.
My wobbly knees sunk, unable to bear the weight of the body. My vision slowly blurred into nothingness and a vacuum of silence sucked me in before Priya’s image flashed across my shut eyelids.
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