Revathi sat at the airport café looking intently at the steaming hot cup of her favourite beverage coffee. The filter coffee was her first love but, in its absence, she could make do with the cappuccino. “You get used to alternatives so easily?” her friend Disha would ask her often. “You don’t always get what you need, makes sense to make peace with what it has to offer” Revathi would tell her. Over the years she had come to believe in this strongly and practised it actively, but making peace with the available option still left longing for the desired choice in the corner of her mind. Right now, she was soaking in the aroma emanating from her cappuccino, but the aroma of the freshly brewed decoction of the filter coffee would keep peeping up in a corner of her mind. As she took the first sip of coffee and was relishing the warmth of the beverage in her mouth, she was shocked to see him standing before the billing counter of the café.
Those eyes had what caught her attention all those years ago. Seventeen-year-old Revathi was feeling lost among the crowd of new faces on the first day of college when she saw those luminous brown eyes and felt a sense of calm or rather unexplained happiness emanating within her. She had looked up to see the owner of those captivating eyes smile at her and the first time in her life she experienced how it felt like to go weak in the knees. She had returned his smile, quickly turned around and walked in the opposite direction, though her heart longed otherwise. For a week following that she kept avoiding him, she did not want to make a fool of herself in front of him. She felt like a jittery ball of nerves every time she saw him. Then one fateful day he was the one who had started the conversation.
“You are still the same Reva, lost in your own world.” Revathi was snapped out of her reverie at the sound of that voice and looked up with a smile “What a pleasant surprise Arif, you have changed quite a bit though.” Revathi responded.
“It’s been 15 long years, I have grown old” Arif smiled before adding “Ms Celebrity, mind if I sit here?”
“Even though you have grown old, you still enjoy pulling my leg. Old habits die hard” Revathi responded laughing.
“I see all your posts and interviews, you and your team at the NGO are doing such commendable work towards ensuring the rights and fighting for equal opportunities for the marginalised communities and genders. You are an inspiration. Who knew the reserved Reva would transform into such a krantikari?” Arif spoke to Revathi as he took a bite off his sandwich.
“Krantikari, I always was but I never liked making a noise needlessly. But I was naïve not to realise that you won’t be heard in this crowded world unless you are noisy.” There was a tinge of bitterness in Reva’s voice as she took a sip of her coffee.
“Profound! The poet within you still seems quite active.” Arif asked in an enquiring tone.
“We do require our stress relievers and poetry is mine. But the poet in me gets active very sporadically now. I make myself happy listening to the poetic lyrics of those old movie songs. You say, what have you been doing? I heard you started a travel portal?” Riddhi seized the opportunity to quiz him.
“You are quite well informed. Yes, I was scared I was getting sucked into the mundane routine of everyday life and feared I was losing control of my own life. That’s when I thought of making my travel blog more popular and make money out of making people travel. But it’s far more difficult than I envisioned. We have recently launched a travel merchandise range for the smart traveller. There is a range of travel bags with titles of popular Bollywood songs displayed on them, you should get them.” Arif was all pepped up explaining his work.
“You have become a true-blue businessman, you managed to turn this conversation into a sales pitch as well” laughed Revathi. “How is Sonia, you guys are still in touch?” she added after a moment’s thought.
“I hope she is happy. It’s been almost a decade since we spoke.” Revathi could sense the uneasiness in his tone.
“Sorry, for reminding you of your sad memories.” Revathi apologised to Arif, but it opened up her own dark memories.
“You think Arif and Sonia are dating? Disha had asked her as she looked down from the canteen window at the couple having an animated conversation below. “Why should it concern us?” Revathi responded rather coldly taking another bite of her paratha. “What happened to you? You can’t keep things to yourself and expect others to read your mind. You could have told him, rather than being upset now.” Disha chided her.
“I am fine. Why should I be worried about anybody’s personal life? Anyways, it’s better to keep it to myself than make a fool of myself.” Revathi had gobbled her remaining paratha and dashed away.
Thinking of that memory, instantly made her feel stupid. Had she confessed her feelings to him, there would have been closure to that chapter years ago. The what-if still hung in her heart, a decade and a half later. She was not the starry-eyed 17-year-old any longer but the “what if” was a discomfort she loathed.
“Again, lost in your thoughts. You shouldn’t think so much.” Arif’s words brought her back to the present. “You don’t get tired of giving the same advice, do you?” Revathi responded with a laugh.
“You have an adorable family.” Revathi was startled at this sudden comment. “It’s those photos on social media, I haven’t been stalking you, don’t worry,” Arif added instantly.
“You look at profiles of us normal mortals on social media, quite surprising. Yours’s is solely for your business’s marketing campaign.” Revathi responded with an amused smile.
“There isn’t anything otherwise interesting in my life,” Arif answered half lost in thought.
It had been the second year of college and he had made some very good friends. Reva was one of the first friends he had made. Her reserved nature and penchant for spending time with herself was something he could identify with and that’s what connected them. Their love for old Hindi songs strengthened the bonding. But this friend of his who was always around when he needed suddenly became increasingly distant six months into their second year in college. But he was too busy to realise it. He was starting to get close with Sonia and was on cloud 9 to receive all this attention from the prettiest girl in college. Looking back now, he could see it was him who had become distant from Reva, why in his happiness of getting to know Sonia, he had managed to distance himself from all his friends. How he wished he could put some sense into his younger self.
“So, you are heading back home or travelling out of town?” Arif looked confused at the sudden question. “You are here at the departure area of the airport, so it’s obvious you are travelling. So, you live in this city or came here visiting.” Reva simplified the question.
“I came here for a meeting, heading home. What about you?”
“I am off to a meeting. You come here often? Never feel like reaching out to your old friends? You know many of us reside in his city.”
“Testing your interrogation skills on me?” Arif was amused at the tirade of questions directed at him.
“Sorry, didn’t realise I had become so inquisitive.”
“Chill, next time I am in town will reach out to all of you. Though, I don’t think a lot many of them would remember me.”
“Not their fault. You went off the radar.”
“Reva, sometimes it’s essential to come out of your past to keep moving on in life. Didn’t all of us get busy with our lives?” Revathi couldn’t counter him, he had a point.
“So, tell me about your family. How is it leading the happily married life?” Revathi smiled at the question.
“After all these years, it’s as happy as it can be. The bickering and squabbles are a part of that happiness, but yes the feeling of going back home to the two most cherished people in your life is unparalleled.” Arif could see from Revathi’s smile that she meant those words.
“So, what’s up with you? Is marriage a part of the plans or are you happily married to your Company?”
“I and the Company can’t have a 24-hour partnership, we need our break from each other” Arif laughed before adding “maybe in a year or two you will receive my wedding invite.”
“Who is the lucky girl?” Revathi was all prepped up to know more.
“It’s a little too early, but if it all materialises well, I will flood your inbox with photos” Revathi smiled at him. “You still haven’t learnt to say a straight no. That false enthusiasm and assurance were not required. I am happy for you, hope she is the prettiest girl, the out of the world beauty that you always desired for.”
There are foolish things you say and do in life which come back to haunt you all your life. Who would know that better than Arif? He had had some strange or rather embarrassing notions and demands from life as an 18-year-old. But had he ever spoken to Reva about this stupid desire? He didn’t remember telling her about it, probably he had let it slip in the course of conversation some time. But how insensitive he would have sounded, for her to remember it after all these years.
“She must be drop-dead gorgeous. At the mention of her, you seem to be lost in her thoughts.” Arif smiled on hearing Revathi’s words “She is a beautiful person, no doubt about that. But you know Reva, I am not the immature 18-year old I was.”
“You never were immature. Why you read all those deep philosophical books and talked about world cinema, while the rest of us struggled to keep pace with the trends in pop culture. At least I did, but I wasn’t ashamed of my tastes then nor am I now. I did appear foolishly immature to some people though.” Arif caught the bitterness that tinged the words Revathi had spoken.
The memories of that evening years ago were fresh in Revathi’s memory like it had happened just yesterday. She was walking down the staircase when she heard two familiar voices from the landing below and then she heard her name. She peeped down to see Arif and his friend Subodh conversing. “Trust me, Revathi has a serious crush on you” she heard Subodh tell. “Reva, hmmm” Arif had responded. “What sort of a response was that?” Subodh demanded “Subodh. Don’t you think she is a bit childish, actually a little immature? I think, maybe she finds me resembling that silly pop star she keeps talking about. Tomorrow if she starts finding someone else cute, she will lose all interest in me.” She could hear Arif laughing and she felt she hadn’t heard a laugh crueller than that.
Arif remembered the same evening in a different light. That was the first time he had come to face with truth, that he wasn’t sure how to acknowledge. Reva was a smart girl, one who didn’t mince words. Her retorts to his vanity and showing off, actually kept him in check. But he was used to people fawning over his superior taste and knowledge of literature, but Revathi was different. She would point out exactly when he was showing off and that hurt him, rather angered him. She did not bother changing her tastes, even when he chided her and spoke condescendingly of it. She held her own and that had been difficult for him to accept. Until then most of his peers especially girls had instantly heeded his suggestions, so Revathi holding on to her choices seemed like unacceptable behaviour to him. But that day his friend Subodh had commented “You think too highly of yourself. Get a grip on yourself before you get a rude reality check.” Little did he know that the life outside the college campus that waited for him was going to be a harsh reality check.
“Reva, we all act foolish, don’t we? Sometimes we resent our foolishness all our life. But I am happy for you, you are in a happy space and spending your life with a man worthy of you. A streak of immaturity is needed in all us mature people, to enjoy the smaller things in life uninhibited.” Arif smiled at her. This was not an uninhibited smile, it seemed like he wanted to say a lot more but chose to cover it up with the smile.
“That’s the announcement for my flight. It was lovely meeting you after all these years. Stay in touch, don’t go missing again.” Revathi said as she gathered her things. She picked her bag and walked towards the boarding gate as she waved him bye.
Arif kept looking at her walk away. He remembered how much he missed Revathi after college, especially on days when he wanted a friend whom he could trust to be honest with him. After nearly 5 years, he had tracked her down on a social media platform and was ecstatic with the discovery, but the very first photograph on her page with her looking like a million bucks standing beside an equally good-looking man announced her engagement. For a moment all he could think was that line about karma he had read somewhere. But he had sent her the friend request nevertheless. Though he had intended to connect back with his long-lost friend, she eventually became another name among the long list of friends on his social media profile.
Arif and Revathi reflected on their meeting as they went about their day and realised how much this meeting out of the blue had been a relieving experience. The negativities and unsaid confessions that had kept clouding a corner of their minds had ultimately been released. The saga of first love which both of them had desired had never materialised beyond that, for they chose to keep it unsaid.
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