Lucid Dream I by Swati Singla - HTML preview

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Dearest Sara How are you? I hope that you are in the best of health and spirit. I talked to your mother yesterday. I don’t know how to say it but you have completed education, you are at good job, now I think is time to take another step forward. Don’t waste your adolescent
years in sorrow and in anger.
Move on. Even if she is not there with you to say but I know she wants you to not give up. Forgive her and try to forget her. It’s hard but I know you can. I am sending you an old diary of hers, which maybe I should have sent you a long ago. It helped
me understand her better; maybe it will help you too. It’s all in the stars, its destiny. There is no one to blame.
I also want something else from you; to me you are a daughter so consider it as a demand not a request. I and uncle want you to spend three months in the year
end with us like old times. We also want you to attend your school reunion which is in December this year.
Go back and face it Sara, exorcise the demons from the past. You have had enough. I’ll be waiting for you. Please find enclosed an air ticket. Uncle has requested a vegetarian meal for you. If you change the dates, do let us know.
With lots of love and heaps of blessings Sujata Aunty

As I read the letter the tears started rollingdownmycheeks. It brought up the painI trynot to remember everysecond ofmylife.
How canI forgive her? She left me aimless and hopeless. How canI not ache withsorrow? And how canauntyforgive her? Evenifshe is her daughter, she cheated onus.

And stillI miss her so much. How could she be ina better place thanme? She vanished fromsight and now evenfrommydreams. I don’t want to read her diary. She loves him more thanshe loves me.

I aggressivelythrew it inthe corner and layonthe floor. I had to press myheart withbothmyhands to stop it fromaching. I failed terribly. And I chocked before startinghowling, it’s impossible to cryout the pain. No matter how hard and for how longI cry, I don’t feelrelieved. It usuallyfades into sobs after few hours because mybodyretires not that the griefdiminishes.

It was midnight bythe time I was sobbing. I uncomprehendinglystared into the sinister. Beneaththe faint beamofa bulb mymedicaldegree captured myattention. I contemplated it for fairlysometime before gatheringmyself. It took a lot ofeffort to pullup myunresponsive corpse fromfloor and to walk to the bathroom.

I reluctantlylooked at myselfinthe mirror.
I saw a shadow ofher inthe mirror, and whispered ‘As a gift to myself, I’ll never forgive you.”

But thena part ofme believed that I was equallyresponsible for whatever happened. I amthere for some randomdrugaddict:Taylor Stewart but I wasn’t there for myfriend who was a sister, a mother, a family. No doubt she left without seeingme, she didn’t count onme.

 

Maybe it’s not just the sorrow but the guilt that’s killingme. I tried resolvingmythoughts.

 

I microwave mydinner and almost crawled to pick up the diarywithtremblinghands. I was so scared to look at it as ifit willsomehow look back at me. I went to the same place, mywindow bed, tugged myselfinquilt and vaguelyopened the diary. This time withmore hope thangrieve

 

2. PINEGROVE

 

00004.jpgSAMIYA

It was dark whenI heard a clack sound. It took me a minute to realize, I was inbed at home. Todaywas the daywhenI willbe headingto the place whichis actually‘my home’ inthe literalsense ofthe word.
Pinegrove, a purelyresidentialcoeducationalschool, as youngas I am.
Feels like it was yesterdaywhenI first saw that place hiddenamidst the greenShimla hills.
It was covered withthick and beautifulgrove ofpines, situated onthe banks ofa brook inthe exotic valleyofKothar, inthe state ofHimachalPradesh.

At the age ofsix and a halfI asked mum, “Can we stay here longer? They say there are snakes in this river, I want to see them”. Mumtold me to take my time. It’s been ten years now, seems like she reallymeant what she said.

 

I still try to find snakes in that brook which I once thought was a river. But later turned out to be very shallow, confined within a bed of rocks and seasonal; thus having the characteristic of being recurring and perennial which to some extent qualified it as a stream. Once, it stayed dry for months and I wondered maybe it has decided to change its

 

course, which really upset me. I justified to myself that it was illogical scrutinizing my very lack knowledge of environmental geography. Another time, the stream flooded,

 

overflowed its banks and covered the adjacent lands which were less of floodplain and more of football ground. There were rumors that the school was cursed and all would die fromflood inthe so called river whichI later started doubting.

For three months ofwinter break at the end ofeachacademic year I had to come and staywithmyparents. This year I was home for two weeks. Class 10 board exams finished in March. It was up to students ofschoolto decide iftheywanted to stayback and study. Almost everyone did.
Pinegrove is more than bed and board to me, it’s a place where I have spent allmy childhood and adolescence. It proffered me with my morals, beliefs, sight to see what’s best for me and also a very focused academic discipline taught me to give more than hundred percent in whatever I chose. It is where I belong. I could not exist in any other situation or place. Food, climate, people and there are so manyother commodities whichare concealed like emotionalattachment. I amvisceralto the place like a polar bear to Arctic Circle.

Stillgiving up the luxuries of parents’ home like staying up late, getting up late, eating in bed and watching television at any odd hour of the day bring a streak of disappointment the very morning of this day every year. I have to leave for school at the earliest possible hour before sunrise to avoid the heavy traffic in the city. The city where I think the number of vehicles almost equals the number ofpeople, not to mentionwhose count is more thanthe totalpopulationofAustralia, New Delhi.

The packingstarted few days ago and we were fortuitous enoughto accomplishit byquarter past tenlast night. Mumis a kind offreak whenit comes to organization. Everythingin the list goes in trunk in the same given order and had to bear torture ofverification quite a number oftimes. And everything is dualistic for her. She has to pack for two because my kid sister, myonlysiblingescorted me to schoolfour years ago. Thoughto Niya this is a muchmore devastatingexperience thanto me, she calls it the dayofexecution.

Suddenlyother thanthe irregular snoringsound I heard the clack sound again. Mummust have wokenup earlyto switchthe geyser on, that means I canstillafford sleepingfor next fifteenminutes, or probablyjust lyingdowncalculatingthe pros ofgoingback to schoolwhichmight lightenthe pullinmynerves.

 

I got dressed in a pair ofdark blue jeans and white hoodies which I bought this week and didn’t get much ofa chance to wear. Though there was no point buying it so close to the

 

school date yet I thought this will be the set of civils for me this year. The circular clearly stated, “Students are allowed to keep no more than one set of casual wear”. It must

 

have been difficult to pick one thing fromheaps of clothes for Sara, my closest friend but it was just a matter of choosing color for me. I had a very scarce wardrobe of different shades ofblue injeans, and different colors inhoodies.

 

Mumand Nanhe will be going to drop us to school today. Dad has an important meeting to attend otherwise He is not a kind of a person who will send mumwith driver and kids ona 12 hour journey. I have to give himcredit for beingverypossessive.

 

It was 5.30, everything was nicely fixed in the car boot and mumwas checking again, “… trunks, sleeping bag, donnas, pillows, badminton rackets, pithu bag … ”. My mind got side tracked onhearingthe last two words. This bagwhichonce I thought could fit ina babyelephant was now carryingmybooks.

I was inclass 11 now. Results for tenthboards were not out yet but students were givenadmissionto streams based onchoices and pre-board results. Myparents decided medical streamfor me, not after tenthexams but probablywhenI was tendays old. Theyhad a misconceptionthat myprettyaverage grades are the output oflack ofeffort I put in. It never occurred to them that maybe I am not smart enough, maybe a med school is not where I belong. Dad had to push headmaster a bit to give me admission in med on 80 percent marks. Not that they were not good enough, but for the fact that fromclass of 50 students, 20 scored above 85 and there were only 15 places for science streams. They had to adjust one more. The thought of being the worst in sixteen students was killing me, and now I had to prepare for medical entrance exam. The cons easily outnumbering the pros agitated me a bit.

We bid goodbyes to dad. He had a verystrange wayofshowingconcern. I think it was embarrassingfor himto show love bymeans ofanyphysicalcontact like a hugor kiss to a girlwho almost reached his shoulder, evenifshe was a daughter.

ThoughI liked it this way. He told me to always carryinhaler inmypocket and keep a spare one inlocker.
Asthma had been one of the many reasons for me going to boarding school. Pollution free environment prevented acute attacks so far but still I was bringing inhaler to use on

numerous occasions. Mumis always fussing about not using inhaler in front ofothers, as ifit is an illegaldrug. I don’t understand what’s so embarrassing about a medicalcondition.

 

Also it is waybeyond mymorals to hide things or to pretend somethingI amnot, especiallyinfront ofpeople I have grownup with, who know me inside out, myfriends. So I don’t actuallycare ofwhat mumsays.

After four hours drive, at the time ofdawnwe were openingour journeyinto Himalayas, whose beautyonce fascinated me.
It was a greenalienplanet then, but graduallyit lost its charmfor me.

It’s surrounded by green pastures and sometimes on lucky mornings one gets to see snow covered mountain peaks. Travelling into the valley of Kothar, I always get a strange feelingas ifI amgoingfor a pilgrimage, one’s finaldestination. I don’t know what to make out ofit, to feelblessed to inhabit a place fullofdense pine trees and deodar forests or to hate the idea oflivinginthe same. To some the place maybe serene, but to me its just home.

We left Dharampur road behind us enteringinto a lane whichI canbarelycallroad. To drive here one needs a lot offaith, selfbeliefand sheer old fashioned courage. Guess Nanhe was used to it.

 

We finallyreached. The board painted white on black background saying, “Pinegrove was clearly visible. Beyond that point, each and every thing was the property of Pinegrove. Once on the other side youare isolated fromthe outer world or for me youno longer need an outer world. Its like city of Ember, selfsustained just that this one is above the ground.

 

There was a car infront ofus and withinminutes a queue started formingbehind.

The wait was due to the single steep road leading to the school which was at the floor of a very deep valley. The road only accommodated one car at a time to pass across the reception and main building to the car park which was located opposite to the dormitories and on the bank of the Brooke. A watchman came running and asked for student particulars. Nanhe shouted at the peak ofhis voice, “Samiya Mittal, Niya Mittal”as ifhis shoutingwillaccelerate the process.

After few seconds we were goingdown. I had myfirst glimpse ofthat cityfor this semester.

It is difficult to conceive how the imagination ofour headmaster may have first perceived that this isolated valley miles away fromcivilization was to be the place for his new school. On a rural land at 5600 ft, forested with pine and evergreens, Pinegrove has developed over some 150 Acres. With its characteristics stone walls and blue roofs, the estate is a veritable wonderland oframblingpaths, trees, flowers and exotic birdlife. To the north, ona clear sparklingmorning, the snow clad peaks ofHimalayas canbe seen. Awayfromthe distractionofcitylife, here interests are concentrated withinthe idyllic environment.

Amongst the oldest buildings is the Chapel, the churchwhere I have lit more thana hundred candles over the years and the CentralDiningHallwhichis also the largest room, where Staff provides over 1700 meals a day. There is an indoor and outdoor sporting complex with solar heated swimming pool and squash courts. There is a separate building for learning resources centre other than the Academic and boarding buildings and this is the place where I have spent a quality time of my life surrounded by books. The Pinewood Hall, where plays, shows, films and lectures are regularly held is also called Rumpus room. The superb basketball court is the newest addition to the numerous playing fields and is used byme to assemble and admire the Brooke that scurried parallelto it.

Allthe students have their ownelectronic keycards withindividualdigitalsignature as allthe areas have electronic keyaccess entrance. This keyalso serves as anID Card. There are manyother buildings supportingacademic and non- academic activities.

Sitting in a valley as it does, physical activity is the daily bread of life for all pinegrovians. Though there are few magical spaces for repose and quiet, where students are free to sit and reflect, and those are myfavorite spots inthe whole valley.

 

Mumdecided to leave me at the receptionto take care offees payment and she went to unpack the stuffinrespective dorms.

The school reception had an appeal of the modern mountain house as it is unruffled and rustic, to make you relax and rejuvenated at the very first look. It doesn’t work for me though. Also the untreated timber beams and raw, rough rocky walls standing in contrast to the sleek, contemporary fixtures and modern and urban interiors look marvelous. Certainlythere is plentyofcharacter ineachand everypart ofPinegrove.

Headmaster was the first familiar face I raninto, his words, “All set? Tie your seat belt we have an entrance to crack Dr Mittal” metaphoricallymeant welcome back to hell. I could see allmyprejudices turningrealnow.
I had no idea ofmess I was entering.
He was ina chattymode whenMr. Mathur, our physicalinstructor joined the conversation. I made a narrow escape whenI saw Sara’s mumat the fee counter.

It was a bit crowded, and the recognizable faces were in uniforms already. Many students usually came a day before the start date and stayed in Kasauli. So most of themwere biddingfarewells to their parents bynow. Myeyes were desperatelylookingfor Sara whensomeone jumped onme, withthe force ofa fired bullet. I shouted inpanic.

There she was, a bit taller and skinnier thanI last saw her. Witha new weird hairdo, allsmiling, holdingmy hands so tightly that probably they were crushed by now. Sara, my wild funny mischievous friend, the only child of her single mother, citizen of Canada and owner of a very beautiful heart. We were together since grade 1, shared socks, slept in same bed, gave eachother head baths for past 10 years. But now was the time to part to different streams. She was inarts now. It was hard to imagine sevenhours everydaywithout her for next 2 years.

What’s wrong with your hair?”, I asked.
“Mumtrimmed them with her teeth, for a party”, she said giggling.
“Halloween party I wonder”, I said winkingand she chuckled. Her muminterrupted whenshe was givingdetails about the originofthis hairstyle, I conveyed greetings and moved to the fee counter citingmumwillbe waiting. I handed the cheques signed bydad and collected payment receipts.
Was about to leave whenMiss Renuasked ifI willbe takingextra coachingfor medicalentrance preparation? Oh, how could I forget that.
“Ofcourse yes”, I said huntingfor the envelope withcashinmybagsayingmiscellaneous.

It’s a good amount of money I thought to myselfcountingnotes. One has to be opulent besides beingexceptionalinstudies to be a doctor nowadays. “How many students are taking coaching?”I asked wonderinghow manycreatures willacknowledge diminutive workingofmybrain.
Let me check”, she said and went up and downonthe computer screen.
Three have paid by now, including you”, she smiled at me handingthe receipt. A veryapplaudingsmiles as ifsaying“congrats you are the lucky one”.

The figure washed another horror over me with this number of students I will be under constant surveillance of the teacher. Why was god doing this to me? What wrong have I done to deserve this fate? I was trying to overcome the despair when Sara banged into me again; it was hard for her to walk, because she had that amazing speed, requisite to be a bird I wonder. Probablyher soulchose aninaccurate torso.

“Levelthree. Dorm three, first bunk on left, bottom ones yours”, she rantowards the revolvingdoor at the entrance saying, “Mum’s in a hurry. She has a flight to catch”. “Give my regards to her” she was alreadyout ofthe door before I completed the sentence.

I started walking down the stairs towards the car park through the main building which is the academic building. We called it junior wing. Every floor had 3 classrooms. Teachers were in the respective classes meeting the parents. There was a queue outside music room, books were sold there. I had been in every classroomofthis building through years. An unfamiliar grieftranspired inme onthat thought. Maybe the most glorious years ofa humanlife, the adolescence would be soonbygone. I was lost inthoughts whenI saw few boys frommy tenth class. They hadn’t changed a bit in last few years. Probably fifteen sixteen was not the age for physical growth in boys. They saw me too and put their hands up for high fives. One of thempulled my hair and other patted my back. There was never enough of teasing for them. Though I didn’t mind. That was me – a people pleaser 24/7.You’ll

have to do something extremely terrible to get me angry. I haven’t ever laughed thoroughly or cried thoroughly though. Sara always called me a sufferer in silence types. But my

 

dad had a different theory. He calls me dumb, he says I don’t allow the sorrow or the painor the happiness to reachmyheart. I don’t know what that means but he is partiallyright, I amsurelydumb.

 

I amthe most ordinaryhumanbeingimaginable. I doubt ifallmyteachers know myname. I amthe one who sit onthe middle seat ofa corner row everydayofthe schoolfor entire schoollife and hide under desk whentheyare electingmonitor.

 

I was more or less like a shoulder for my girl friends to cry on. That was the only role I played in their lives. And with boys I shared a mutual understanding, neither of themwas interested inme nor was I interested inthemwhichreallykept things simple.

 

IfI was to tellthe truth, I didn’t relate wellto people ofmyage. Maybe the precisionwas that I didn’t relate wellto people, at all. I wonder ifthe world sees the same things whichI see throughmyeyes.

 

I was walking down the senior wing engrossed in thoughts. One could see the snow covered peaks from any of the classrooms on this floor, which were especially clear this morning. I was lookingtowards that intimidatingview, relishingthe serenity, the peace inthat silence that I first saw him comingout fromone ofthose rooms.

 

When everything went still. The leaves of trees, the bird ready to fly from their branches the noise of wind and the beat of my heart. As if he was the core point of the universe, holdingus where we were. The gravitationalpullchanged its course. And I discovered that I had a heart ofa younggirl.

He was nothing like what I have seen before. Avery pale skin with touch ofpink around cheeks, a very naturalshade ofan inordinate blush for which anyone can spend thousands of rupees. Ablasé red for lips, a color for the lips of the male models you see on magazine pages, which probably are digitally enhanced. The long dark black eyelids which were softly falling as if the hair of the paint brush made by squirrel hair. Avery cute hairstyle, tousled, textured being carried with an extravagant grace. As he walked past me bemused by something in the book in his hands, totally heedless that how he was affecting sanity ofpeople around himwith his physicalattractiveness left a sweet smellthat made me believe that he was for real, not an illusion. I couldn’t move for a very long time, because I couldn’t make sense of it. I was lost, just like Earth would be if Sun decides to walk out of the solar systemone day. After few seconds as anautomatic set command alarmed, I spellbound started walkingtowards dormitories.

I found muminNiya’s dormshe was arrangingher stuff. Niya wasn’t helping. Instead she was cryingensconced behind the quilt so that her matroncouldn’t see. Mumwas trying to tranquilize her with all the same things “Samiya di is there for you, we will come to see on next visiting weekend, you will have fun learning swimming, see all your friends are here”.

The words didn’t calmher and she was so little to put her feelings to words, to tellmumthat nothinginthis world makes up for her, that it was a hideous thingto leave a child onher ownat a tender age. But I have deserted those feelings waybehind and watchingher cry, was makingme somber. I left givingparticulars ofmydorm. I went down to car park greeting teachers and performing reuniting rituals of hugs and high fives with acquaintances on the way half unconscious. Almost 70 percent of the school area is sheltered with foliage, trees and dense vegetation. The path made its way through trees, which retain their old world charm. They have witnessed the British colonial rulers

back to the date of 1842 and are crucial to my fantasies of Victorian era. And the trees which unlike my parents have seen me growing. So all these outdoor trails scuttle like ones in the maze leading to one premises or another. One can experience the natural serenity in its accurate form on a field trip around this place. Pinegrove which has remained untouched by civilizations ifopened as a jungle safarican fetch heady more than the present dealing. Though right now lure ofthe place shrinked as my mind was stillconfound with

a jumbled feelingofgrieffor Niya and dazzled bythe allure ofthat divine boy.

 

Was he for real. Why haven’t I seen him before? Is he a student?

It didn’t take me longto track dad’s car whichwas standingnext to a black Mercedes as polished as ifhas come straight fromthe showroom. People were rich here. However they all appeared alike in uniforms.
Wellnow withone exception. Assuminghe is a student.
I moved back to work. Nanhe and two attendants followed me to the dormwhichwas two levels above Niya’s and opposite to buildingofboys dormitories. I was thrilled to see that my bunk was placed next to the window overseeing the playground and the brook. And swimming pool was clearly visible filled with green blue water

concealed within walls with stairs on three sides and confined on one trivial corner of the huge play ground. All one can see is nearly naked stinky boys at the other end of the dormitory. Sara must have killed people for this awesome spot. She is a genius. I started unpackingstuff. Two shelves ina three shelfwardrobe were now dedicated to the books. I tried to hangmost ofthe stuffonhangers; it looked a bit spacious and organized just in case mumcame to check. Allthe extras went into trunk and the trunk was sent to the locker

room.

 

I was makingmybed whenit occurred to me that it was takingSara long. I was wonderingwhat was she up to.

 

Sara was different fromany one of us. Her dad left her mumbefore her birth. Seeing the things that happened to her mother made her immune to boys however she was naive that she was one herself.

She played footballand never took painto waxher legs before a match. While other girls took dance lessons she played drums. She was always up to some mischiefand could get veryabusive duringfights. It was not a verygood thingto witness her fights, I begged her to keep her coolduringfirst few years. But eventuallyI got used to it and I think others did too.

So anyways immunityto boys was the principaltrait that kept us together.

 

I was lost inthoughts whenAmber came and reclined onmyfreshlymade bed whichhad lavender scent ofmum’s fabric softener. Most of the girls were back, perhaps because sun was up and girls that old are too petrified of bringing up the rear to their white complexions. They all congregated at my bed. Conversingabout holidays and other randomstuff, I secretlyhoped that someone would come up withsome news onthat book boy.

And Chaaya alleged as ifshe was hearingmythoughts, “ Oye!Have you guys seen the new admission, he is gorgeous. I almost fainted. He was like Ahhhhh!!!” And thenshe sighed withbothher hands onher chest.
I thanked God; he has this effect on other girls too. There’s nothingwrongifI appreciated himlike anyother youngwoman.
No one else had seenhimbut were verykeento get the details.

I didn’t feelnecessary to tellthemof my short acquaintance with him. Probably I would’ve lost track of words describing himand the last thing I wanted was to give an impression that I was intimidated by him. However, the confirmation that he would be studying in Pinegrove, among barely 350 students who convene with one another in thousands of ways eachday, filled myheart withbliss. At assemblyhall, mess, footballcourt, rumpus room, onstaircase, outside rest rooms, laboratories, dormitories,

I will get to see him every day.
“Mrs. Dikshit was talking to him about how he performed in board examinations. So I m kinda sure he has enrolled in class 11”
, Chaaya continued.

The affirmationofanyassumptions was now leadingto another set ofquestions inmybrain. Why one would start a new life, a new tussle in a new place altogether in the final years of high school

Maybe he didn’t do wellin exams to get the desired stream. There is a hypothesis which is based on the fact that beauties usually don’t have brains. But people like himand Moon are so profoundlyblessed inthe looks department that it compensated for anyother flaws.

 

Right at that moment Moonstrutted, “Hope he is in Arts then”, winkingat Chaaya.

 

I saw him first, so stay away from him”, Chaaya replied.

 

Theykept the war onwithsarcastic comments and everyone around snickered. I excused myselfsayingmumwould be waitingfor me.

I peeked throughthe window theywere not inNiya’s dormas I expected; mummust be seeingher teachers. It’s a nice experience for mumbecause theyare fullofpraises for her. Niya is a veryintelligent girl. Everyparent wanted their kids to be like her.
Her foremost strength is her keenness to learn, she is always eager to know how, where, why everything happens. Answer to her every question leads to another round of

questions. But it worked pretty well between us. She always asks questions and I amall ready to give her answers. I don’t remember when I last shouted at her or scolded her. One ofthe reasons is that she never gave me a chance to do so and another is that she loves me more thanI deserve. I have never done anythingspecialinacademics, sports or any other recreational activities but still she thinks I amextraordinary. Last year in one of her essays she wrote that I amher idol. It’s in human nature; people can easily start forgiving

mistakes ofothers whentheyknow how muchthe other personadores them.

I saw mummakingher wayout ofNiya’s class.
Niya was holdingher hand, was done cryingbut her eyes were stillred.
Mumstarted talkingto me and it was hard to see how she was holdingback herselffromfallingapart intears infront ofus, it was time to go. It’s safe to reachhome before sunset.

In that very moment I felt sorry for her it must have been hard for her to keep her children away all those years but God knows under what circumstances one has to think beyond their ownselfishneeds; maybe iftheir child’s healthand career are at stake.

We were makingour wayto car park whenmet Sara onway, she was sweating.
“I was helping Mr. Mathur move some benches”, she said lookingat mypuzzled expression.
OhI forgot to mentionhow biga socialworker she is.
She was talkingto mumallthe waywithout givingmummuchofa chance to speak. Thanks to Sara, the mood lightened a bit.
Niya was stillholdingonto mum’s hand, I took her another hand and hugged her close to mychest,
Let mum go Niya. She is getting late”.
She dropped her hand at once. Mumkissed her head and waved goodbye to me and Sara.
Nanhe appeared poignant too whenhe took a u-turnand waved fromthe car window.

Give her time. She will be fine”, Sara said whenwe reached our bunk, whichwas not inas good shape as this morning. Everyone was on their bed lying, chitchatting. An unceasing sound of TV played as a background score as always. Only two disgusting rarely watched channels played on Dorm TVs but stillit was hardlyturned off.

Sara sprawled onmybed while I went to change. The rest rooms were onthe right side ofthe corridor. I picked mybagoftoiletries, blue tunics and white shirt, myeveninguniformwhichtoo smelled oflavender fabric softener.

Changed, washed myface and applied some moisturizer, thoughit was not makingmycolor anyappealing. I was allpale without anyblood inmyskin. ProbablyI needed a healthy lunch, not that I was hungry. Days like this whenyouhave so muchonyour mind killyour appetite. I put myhoodies and jeans into laundrywhichhad myrollnumber tag.

Then Sat on foot of the bed cross legged and slowly brushed my hair. The tiny bump in my head due to the tangling of the stitches which I got few years back falling while rock climbing always irritated me disrupting the smooth running of hair brush through my hair. It wasn’t visible but it reminded me everyday that how my carelessness almost killed me. FinallyI tied themup ina ponytail.

This sheet smells nice, though the smell is a bit strong”, Sara said sniffinglike a dog. “Yeah I know. But its mum’s favorite, she thinks this smell stays for long”, I answered. “Do you think it will make till Christmas”, She asked veryseriously.
Christmas,
our next longbreak, whenmumwillget to washmylinenagain, a year away. She is capable ofmakingfunofmymum. Silence is the best answer I could think ofinsuchcircumstances.

I stayed at Nani’s place. Mum was there but trust me it’s a living hell. She has set of absurd rules. It’s like prison. I will fly to mum the very same day I finish class 12. I can’t take that old gal’s shit”.

 

I felt pityfor the old ladybut stillcan’t stop smilingat the wayshe was beingdescribed.

 

Hey got you something. Actually mom got it for you. She wanted to give it herself but was getting late”, she said while browsing her cupboard, which appeared to be a roomfullofcrap. Never looked it was made this morning. I didn’t want to spoilthe moment for her so kept mymouthshut instead started guessingwhat it could be.

“No!It’s not chocolates”, she said sittinginfront ofme witha huge polybagand more excited thanmyselfingame ofguesses.
“Not chocolates, not sweets, not perfume, is it a book?” I took a finalshot.

Reading novels is one of the things that really make me happy. There are times when I start reading at 9 in the evening when everyone is in bed and still reading at 5 in the morning wheneveryone is brushingtheir teeth. So there is no better gift for me thana book.

 

One ofmyfavorite books whichI read over and over againis “Twilight byStephanie Meyer. It was gifted to me by Sara’s mumlast year. I really love her for that. She promisedto buyme the sequelbut as far as I knew it was not out yet so that was a prettywild guess.

Nah...But something related to that”, Sara said.
I gave up and thenshe handed me the polybag, I could see how delighted she was.
Her love was wortha milliondollars, I wonder how I willreturna tiniest bit ofher affectioninthis smalltime left together.

I opened the bag carefully. There was a cardboard box in it containing a black shirt saying “I dream about being with you forever” and a wrist band engraved with“Do I dazzle you?”

I had a flashback ofthe beautifulface I saw this morningonapprehendingwhat the band said.
These were the quotes fromTwilight book.

Never in my wildest of imaginations I thought that someone can affect your sanity in a way that Edward affected Bella’s. I adored themlike any other book characters but not until this moment I realized how appealingEdward was to Bella.

Thank you so much.” I grabbed and hugged her.
Moonstood up at once to look at the shirt fromher bed whichis placed opposite to mine sharingthe window witha heavenlyview.
She must have beeneavesdropping.
Apparentlyshe liked the shirt a lot, I could see disappointment onher face as she said, “Nice” and handed it back to me.

I didn’t like it. Ifthat shirt didn’t mean that much to Sara I would have probably considered giving it to Moon as a present. And that would have looked prettier on her, I could bet onthat. I folded and kept it inmycupboard.

 

Turned back to Sara and whispered, “I will save this for a special occasion”. Though I thought to myself that I will never wear it in school because that will make Moon feel stumpy.

 

Hey I got you something too”, I said educingthe I pod shuffle dad bought me fromDubai.

 

I was not that much into music and had a CD player which was in a healthy working condition so asked mumif I could give it to Sara. She didn’t have any objections to it. She is veryfond ofSara I suppose. Who willnot be?

Are you kidding me? You got me an iPod”, she said. It was hard to figure out ifthat was a questionor a statement.
Yes I did.” “Actually Dad did”, I said after a pause.
She closed her eyes and said “Thank you uncleji”. The wayshe said made me laugh.

We were not done talkingwhenMiss Gladys, our matroncame to callus for lunch.

Girls, I want you in mess at 2 everyday, which is the lunch time. Just reminding in case you have forgotten. No dieting or any other reasons to escape lunch. Higher education means more energy and to get more energy you need proper nutrition. So I will appreciate your cooperation in this regard”, she said in a voice full of concern for eachone ofus.

Myheart crammed withrespect for her. We put our shoes onand started movingdownstairs.
The mess doors were not opened yet and junior girls were waitingina queue outside the door. I saw Niya standingtalkingto her friends, withher back facingus. “Oh shit I forgot her present”, Sara said. “I will be back in a sec”, she announced runningback towards the dorm.

I joined the bunch of girls from my class who were talking to senior girls. Took me a minute to figure out they were talking about cosmetic products. To me cosmetics were substances intended mainly for personal hygiene and sometimes to convey scent. Other than that I was blank on the topic. Though I wonder what would have lead to that kind of conversationat a reunionafter a longbreak and at time whenthere are so manyother issues onhand to think about.

Niya waved at me to joinher, onnoticingthat I was lost. She was smart for her age.

 

“Hi Di, reading any new book?” one ofher friend’s asked as I came to a stop. I get allexcited whenever I read a book and like narrating it to others. It’s very mollifying to have these younggirls who are allears and enjoyhearingas muchas I enjoyreciting.

 

Not really. No more reading. Will have to stick to science books for two years. Else mum will kill me.” Neither ofthemliked that idea verymuch. Sara came running with a basket in her hand and she huffed coming to a stop. “See how quick I am. Got something for you girls” and she handed a beautiful hand paintedwoodenbasket filled withpackets. I canonlyfigure out TimTams and ferrero rochers amongst allother stuff.

 

Try finishing ASAP. Inside news. Tuck rade coming Saturday.” She muttered softlywithallthose weird expressions as ifit was matter oflife and death.

So among all other troubles juniors had this tuck rade where the matron comes and take all the confectionary fromyour cupboards and pool up in the common room. This kind of activity is done to avoid discrimination amongst students who can not afford those items. Though, it was just a rule. Had anyone been destitute he/she would not have made to this place.

See ya girls”, she said and pulled me towards the mess whose doors opened as soonas we reached there.

We took two corner seats onone ofthe diningtables saying‘class 11’.
The huge hallfilled withnoises; oftalks, movement ofchairs and thenecho ofallthose sounds.
Myheart came to a stop whenI realized what everyone was lookingat
The new admission’.
He was sittingonthe opposite side, few seats away.
I forgot to breathe whenI had another glimpse ofhis face. It was not embarrassingto stare at himbecause everyone was doingthe same. It was indulgence inthe present situation. He looked like Jesus sittingonthe table withother less significant people for the last supper.
What was about him that made him so different from all others? I wondered.
I noticed he had blue eyes. The most beautifulshade ofblue, aquamarine blue. He had that recessive trait whicha veryfew number ofpeople have. What kind of genetic combination would have occurred to form that kind of trait? Oh hell they were beautiful.
He didn’t appear a bit nervous about allthe attentionhe was receiving.
After analyzingthe situationI realized he was not noticingwhat everyone was lookingat. He was engrossed intalk withMandy.

Which country is he from? He doesn’t look Indian. He is prettier than Kashmiri Pundits. Prettier than Moon. Is he even boy?” Sara murmured inmyear followed bylaugh at her ownjoke.

 

Is she normal? I thought to myself. Why his allure is not affecting her in a way it’s affecting me?

She is normal. It’s me who is acting nuts. I contradicted my own thought. If you are beautiful outside that doesn’t mean you are beautiful inside. Outside beauty doesn’t even count. I kept telling myself, developing any kind of feelings for a stranger who was so strange, who I have just met, though he hasn’t met me and especially at this time of my educationwas not sucha good idea. I tried pullingup myself.

Who knows? Maybe not.” I answered Sara.

 

Headmaster stood up for makingsmallwelcomingspeech. He said we’llhave another halfanhour after introductoryspeechfor the lunch. He congratulated students for being promoted to higher classes and said that he appreciated the hard work of both board classes’ students fromprevious year 10 and 12. Though year 12 students were no more present betweenus.

Thencame the part where he had to introduce new students, the part I was desperatelywaitingfor. The introductions began in the order starting from junior admissions and then moving up. After every level the pace of my heart accelerated, by the time they reached year ten I could hear it beatinginmyhead so loudlythat I was unable to hear anythingelse. I tried to minimize the sound bytakingdeep breaths supplyinggood amount ofoxygento myheart. It worked a little.

“Year 11. Aadil Rathore who has joined us from Mayo College for boys, Ajmer will be studying medical. We are proud to have you here and hope you will make yourself an asset to the school. All the best.”

 

He stood up to raise myheart beat again.

He was wearing white shirt and blue pants, the same uniformlike any other boys. But in a much more stylish way, a way it could have created a fashion statement. The fabric ofthe uniformwas very different fromothers. It was the best formofcotton I guess and the pants had the finest creases as ifdone by some designer tailor. His wrist was tugged in a very masculine watchwiththe optimumelegance.

Thank you” was allhe said and that too I figured out fromthe movement ofthe lips, the volume was verylow for humanears I suppose and thenhe sat. Everyone indulged ineatingfood after headywas done.

 

Sara kept babbling about some teamselection in my ear but right now I had so much on my mind to listen to her. I kept nodding absent mindedly playing what heady said of him againand againinmyhead.

Aadil Rathore’so he was Rajput. No doubt he was extraordinary. Has completed previous education in Mayo College Ajmer, one of the finest institutions of India with a very tough screening process for national students. If he is a non resident than maybe he would have made to Mayo in the fixed quota. If he was intelligent why won’t he complete higher education in Ajmer itself? Why would he come all the way to this place? He could have received better coaching there. I tried getting all of that out of myhead and eat inpeace; I was tryingnot to look at himnow and then. What’s the point? I thought to myself.

People started finishingand movingout, I tried veryhard makingsense ofwhat Sara was talking. “Just Half an hour for lunch, half of which is wasted in prayer and raising hand for a refill. Then they talk of giving us nutrition”.
It’s been10 years but she stillsounded veryupset withthe system.
You take your time. They are not throwing us out or anything”, I tried coolingher down.
“No it’s not about me. I am full. But what others?”, she said gettingup.

Some people want to invite troubles without any reason I thought following her making our way out of the mess and without looking at him. It was a very smallbut encouraging victory, I overcame urge to look at himprobablyI canget rid ofanyother alienfeelings as well.

 

The same logic applied to this situationwhy invite troubles without any reason.

We went to tennis court and perched onone ofthe stairs.
It was the last dayofmyfreedom. I would be trapped from5 next morning.

We had a bizarre schedule. Gymat 5.30, bath at six, brekkie at 7.00 and school at 7.30. Then, a 15 minute tea break at 11. School finished at 2.00 and then was lunch. Normal people were rendered free after that to sit in common room or for other recreational activities. They had to change in evening uniform for completing homework in respective common rooms; supper was served at 7 and finally they go to bed. But for me, I willhave to change in evening uniformat 3, then go for coaching which willfinish at 6, followed by finishinghome work incommonroomand thenafter dinner at 7 sit inlibraryor dormifothers are not bothered bythe light and studyfor competition.

Though there were several perks in this role of aspiring doctor which were not enjoyed by other students like using computer lab or library at any hour without permission. As if it was anygood to me. Myfavorite studyingspot were stairs around swimmingpooland stairs whichranparallelto the Brooke.

You must be wondering, what is it about the stairs, I mean stairs stairs everywhere. Yes, Pinegrove was covered with a network of stairs, one couldn’t reach from one place to another without their use. That was because everything was built on a slope. I had trouble breathing sometimes going up and down again and again, it’s hard for me to figure out if that’s normalor an asthmatic attack. Though I always use inhaler in these situations, I don’t give time to the respiratory systemto come back in normalshape. I think it’s easier and quicker that way.

We were talking about how we would catch up with each other after every period when I saw him walking with Mandy and Raag. Everything about him was very fascinating. There was a calmness onhis face, like a mask to keep awaystrangers fromlookinginside him.

 

It gave animpressionthat either he was too smart or else he had beenthroughthings that brought a kind ofmaturityto his attitude. I preferred stickingto the first assumption. Liking himinanywaywas not veryhealthyfor me.

 

Theywalked into library.

 

Probably I should start studying myself, I shouldn’t be wasting time. I was still thinking when Sara said pissed, “What are they thinking? They have already started studying. What a show off”.

So askingpermissionto leave right now won’t be sucha great idea. “Samiya do you mind if I go and play table tennis ?”, she asked hesitantly.
Good I cango studynow without upsettingher.
Yeah sure. Take your time. I will catch up with you in the dorm”, I said tryingnot to sound veryexcited about the new accord.

I thought ofcheckingtime table onthe wayso I went to myclass inthe senior wingtakinga longer route that bypass library. Time table was different fromprevious years withseveralsubjects gone. The names list for the class caught myattention. I positioned myfinger onit matchingnames to the intended subjects.

 

Commerce and Arts sections had higher number of students. This was very traditional. More students came here from business families so they aspired to have a degree in business.

Lost I moved my finger fromthe subjects towards the names, my sight blurred and the very new feeling overpowered me again, my finger got stuck under ‘ Aadil Rathore’. I used all my strength to move it and check the subjects again. He was the only one studying maths and biology at the same time. I wasn’t sure if out of eagerness to learn or under some kind ofpressure.

Its none of your business I reminded myself.

And checked for the number ofgirls, there were only four with three studying maths, so that left only me to study biology. That meant one hour everyday in a class with no girls and two hours on days ofpracticals. How would I stand being the only X chromosome in very smallproximity with himwhen I can barely controlmy senses in presence ofhundreds of other students.

I studied whole evening and prepared for next day; packed bag and polished shoes. The weight ofthe bag told me that I willneed a whole bench to myself. By the time I was done I was too tired to go for dinner.

 

It would have been a bad idea to ask permission to ditch supper the very first day but fortunately Miss Gladys was watching me go through all those troubles while everyone was out.

Okay. Fine. Meet me in the mess in ten minutes. I will get you a glass of milk. And I don’t want argument on that”, she said imposingthe decisiononme. I meanifI had that kind ofenergyto walk downto mess, whywould I sayno to dinner at the first place.
But anyways I changed into night suit and tied myhair inpigtails. I noticed the pink fromthe night suit was showinginmycheeks.

WhenI walked into the dinner room, everyone stared at me for once and thenmoved back to eating. It was like a suddenreflexwhensomeone walks innight suite ina roomfullof same color uniforms. I was searching for Miss Gladys when my eyes stopped at him. He was staring at me. There was a strange expression on his angel face. He looked like a polished statue, depicting some unknown feeling. After a second or two I lost track of if he was holding my attention or I was holding his. He was looking straight into my eyes I couldn’t move and stood there like a pillar staringback.

Milk!didi”, I heard someone say.
ThenI heard it again“Didiji milk!”.
He suddenlydropped his eyes, rescuingme. The kitchenattendant stood witha glass ofmilk.
I took the glass and walked out, usingallmyenergyand a partialfocus onbalancingit allthe wayback to the dorm.
What was all that reaction about? That wasn’t a verypleased expressionI cantell. Maybe I was absurd to him, maybe he thought I amanattentionseeker. That thought made me feelverydejected.

I finished milk and lied down in my bed turning offthe bed side lamp. I decided not to give himany reason to forman opinion about me. I willstay out ofhis way. I knew I was not that attractive to be liked bysomeone, but beinghated bythat someone was a verydishearteningconcept.

I was stillinturmoilofthoughts wheneveryone came back, I pretended to be asleep.
The first thingSara did was to check onme, she whispered ‘Good Night’ inmyear before goingto bed. Eventhis act oflove didn’t mend mypresent situation. I was unable to get rid ofthat face, the deep blue penetratingeyes, unsure ifit was anunconscious state ofmind or a dream.

It was a veryrestless night, I felt muchtired whenI woke up next day. I rushed things a bit, the idea behind it was to be ontime or before time for allthe dailyactivities, So that no one notices myentrance.

I tried takinga seat whichwas almost a blind spot for boys onthe other side ofthe table. The thought that maybe he disliked me made it a bit easier to not look at himnow and then.

 

I was the first one to the class. I took a corner seat inthe last row and unpacked. Roomstarted fillingup. ThenI saw himcome inand I dropped myeyes to the paper at once without meetinghis glare. He took second seat inthe middle row.

 

The first lecture was chemistry, whichwas a compulsorysubject and Mr. Pandeytook the charge. He was also designated withthe role ofour class teacher. We moved to curriculum, reference books, assignment dates etc. straightawayafter the rollcallwithout havingto worryabout anyintroductionspeeches.

 

I kept myconcentrationto books allthe time thoughcould see himwhenever I looked at Mr. Pandey. He was prettyengaged inchemistry. Pin drop silence was somethingI thought ofas a metaphor but I trulyexperienced it whenMr. Pandeypaused inbetweenthe lesson. Probablybecause there were no uninterested elements inthis class. Thenthe next lecture was English. It was good to have Mrs. Anjalias Englishteacher. She is extremelykind and friendly. She is married to Mr. Mathur, our physicalinstructor and their successfulmarriage is anenormous example ofthe theorythat opposites attract. She was takinga round while we were writinganessaywhenshe noticed him.

“So you are?” she asked smiling.
Aadil.” He said inaudibly. That was the first time I heard his voice whichwas as soft as meltinghoney.
Aadil. How are you finding it here?” Mrs. Anjaliasked inconcern.
He was quiet and thoughtfulfor a minute.
I don’t know?” He finallysaid mutely. What’s that supposed to mean.
He didn’t sayanythingelse. And Mrs. Anjalihesitantlymoved on, amazed.
We had two consecutive classes ofPhysics after that.

Physics, the word was enoughto scare me to death. It is classified as a sub divisionofsciences but trulyit is formofa verycomplexand cruelmathematics whichpossiblymade no sense to people witha veryaverage functioningofbrain, like me. A physics tutor mymumtook me to, who is also knownas physics guru, gave me a mantra

‘Do it daily, one hour of numericals every day for next two years.’
“Don’t let it beat you. Instead you beat the shit out of it.”
He told me.
That was a complete waste oftime; I don’t think I’llbe doingthat. I amhappyto let physics beat me.

It was 11.00 alreadyI could hear everyone leavingfor tea break while I didn’t bother to look up engrossed inbook. Someone stepped into the class I looked up as a reflexand noticed few things simultaneously, He was stillinhis seat and Sara was cominginto the class followed byMoonand few other girls.

What are you doing? Come on we are starving.”Sara babbled.
Sara came for me, she always does but others visit was not veryjustifying, except for the reasonsittinginthe next row.
I was windingup whenMoonstarted makingtalk withhim, I slowed downI was as eager to know more about himas anyofthe girls present inthat room. “Hi Aadil” “How’s your day been so far?” she was extremelypolite, it was easyto figure out that it was a fake tone.
He just nodded. Or that’s what I thought he did and said before walkingout ofthe room, not lookingat Moonfor more thana second.
What kind of a person does that?
Moonlooked more embarrassed thanshocked at this absurd behavior.
How rude. What a freak.” She babbled to the other witnesses inthe room.
He is like that. He behaved in a same way with Mrs. Anjali. Let it go.” I said without emphasizingmore onthe subject, I didn’t want Moonto feelmore embarrassed thanshealreadywas. And puttingaside the unworldlybeautyofhis, he was sort ofcreepy.

After break I started packingup for Biology.

 

Biology1 and 2 bothwere beingconducted inbiologylab. Rest ofthe students were supposed to studycomputers duringthose hours. I was the first one to walk into the lab. Few chairs were aligned side byside and thenthe hardwood laboratorytables and benches covered the roomwithmetalcupboards placed at the end. I assumed we willhave to sit onthe chairs as it was a theoryclass. I was settlingdownwhenRaag, Mandyand he entered the class.

Hey Samiya. You know it’s just four of us for biology.” Raagsaid surprised steeringhis pencilat four ofus. He just found out. To me the knowledge was ancient withallthe planningI was doingto go throughthese hours everyminute since yesterday.
Yeah I saw the list yesterday” I said noddinglookingat himfromcorner ofthe eye.
Aadil rested his books two seats awayfrommine.

Evensayinghis name inmymind was doingstrange things to myheart. Thoughlatelyallthe major functioningofmyorgans was beingconducted bymyheart. Ifthat kind ofthing continued probablyI won’t need a brainat all.

So clearlyhe was intended to stayawayfromme as I was fromhim. I had a reason; I liked him more than necessary and he probably had totally adverse feeling for me.”
“People want to go for engineering I suppose”
Raagsaid sittingnext to me.
“Good for them and good for us” Mandyanswered.
So it willbe just four ofus for competitionpreparationas well. There was not a word fromhimduringthe conversation. He didn’t look at me at all. But stillhis essence affected myheartbeat and I felt sort ofhypnotized.
Mr. Ahluwalia was takingbothbiology1 and 2. Biologyhas always beenmyfavorite subject; this was the onlyfavorable point ofme studyingmedicine.

We were doing Diversity in the living world today. I earnestlydedicated two days and two nights ofmytwo week vacationonthat unit. And prepared notes withmultifarious synopsis consistingofdrawings, flow charts and paragraphs. So I had a clear picture ofwhat we were doing. After almost anhour ofthat class Mr. Ahluwalia decided to issue few books fromlibraryto give us some more examples oftaxonomic categories ofsome commonorganisms. As soonas he left, Mandycame out withanunendinglist ofdoubts and I trulyunderstood his situationas I had beenthere few days ago, but myquest throughbooks resolved themlater. I shared mynewlydiscovered knowledge not givingchance to other two homo sapiens to saya single word.

I don’t understand the hierarchical arrangement of the taxonomic categories. Do you get it?” Mandywas pryinginto the other two movinghis head sideways. I could easilypick fromRaag’s expressionthat he was lost himself.
Despite the huge black board fright; I got up to draw it onthe board to help Mandy.
And now withhim there I was stammering, losingsight and havinga cardiac failure.

I was usingallmystrengthto be intact and to stop myhand fromtrembling. WhenI turned around I was astounded to see himlookingat me inthat same weird expressionas ifI had done somethingwrongto him, or as ifI was causinghimpain. I was unable to stop myselffromlookingback at himsurprised.

 

This face has become so familiar ina matter offew hours that I had a perceptionofknowinghimsince ages. I pleaded inmyheart to know what he was thinkingbut his face was as impassive as before. What does he think ofhimself? I got agitated and went back to myseat leavinghimdoingallthe gawking.

 

3. FIRSTTALK

 

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Days started flying by . The pressure started buildingup.
Byeverychapter we finished there was more to learnand sometimes the informationseemed unending.
I found myselfdoinghomework for physics and chemistryunder the table inclasses whichI thought were not imperative fromcompetitionpoint ofview; Englishand computers. Other people studied to converge withthe fastest brains inthe world; I studied to catchup withother people.
There was always somethingpendingfromschooland coaching. I would usuallysleep late; verylate after finishinghomework, revisions and preparingnotes perchingunder a 5

Watt bulb inthe dormitorystairs as amazinglythe same amount oflight at mybedside was actuallybotheringmydormmates. Thus I started missingmygymclasses because

 

sleepinglate means gettingup late. I reallycherished anhour ofsleep inthe change roomwhile everyone did gym. Mr. Mathur seemed to be totallyunaware ofmyabsence, which proved what aninconsequentialrole I played inmyschoolactivities. Ifit was Sara it would have beenimpossible to cover up.

And with him things remained monotonous. He stopped staringat me inthat awkward way; infact he stopped lookingat me at all, ignoringme as I ignored him. Infact he ignored majorityofpeople around. He was one damnofanarrogant person, I could bet he was as uglyinside as beautifulhe was outside.

He was one personwithwhomI spent majorityofmydayand surprisingfact was we have never spokento eachother. I knew myproblem, but I was totallyoblivious ofwhat wronghave I done to him.

 

But stillmyannoyance didn’t do anygood ingettingover him. Instead I got used to livingwiththose vicissitudes mybodywent throughinhis presence.

He turned out to be the onlysonofDr TanmayRathore, a leadingcardiovascular surgeon. Who received numerous awards like Padma Shree and Padma bhushanfor his outstandingcontributionto Indianmedicalsciences at a veryyoungage. And now he was workingas a senior doctor inCleveland clinic inthe state ofOhio inUnited States of America. He was constantlybeingcovered for his tremendous work insome ofthe leadingmagazines. And I spent anhour readingabout himinone ofthose despite the voice inmy mind whichkept askingwhy I was bothered to do that.

Dr Rathore withhis wife Dr Ethalia Aleko rananestablishment for researchand innovations.
Dr Ethalia was a gynecologist and Aadil’s mother. That was the reasonfor allhis distinguishingfeatures; a Greek ladycontributed to halfofhis genetic structure.

Rathores donated millions ofdollars incharities everyyear. So he belonged to two people who were opulent, intelligent and kind. God knows what went wrongwithhim. His parents terriblyfailed inbringinghimup to be a kind person, onthe contraryhe was not evennormal, he had this insane feelingthat he was superior to everyone around.

He was always indulged inbooks but not once did he answer anyquestions inanyofthe classes. Probablyinone thinghe was like me hard workingbut not withanexceptionalIQ level. Watchinghimwork so hard brought a strange kind ofpeace to mymind; I was not the onlyone forfeitingmylife here. Other thanthat there were no good reasons for himto be around.

But no matter how hard I tried repellingthe thought; the truth was that his absence made me fidgety and restless. Despite his rudeness and arrogance I prayed to see him every day.

It was ThursdaymorningI was sleepinginthe change roomas usual. I was so sleep deprived that could have possiblykilled anyone to get some. Everyone left for a jog. To me it was not more thanfew seconds whenRasna woke me up.

Get up Samiya. You are in big trouble. Mr Mathur is calling you. He was inquiring about how long you have been bunking classes. We lied. But he already knew. Everyone is getting punished. I don’t know what he will do to you.”

 

How could that happen? It was like a worst nightmare. It has never ever occurred to me that I canget caught. I got so scared that wanted to cower insome dark corner and to never come out.

What should I say?” I was stammeringfollowingher to the ground.
We were onthe last stair whenI realized I was stillinnight suit.
He is in no mood to listen to any excuses. So best thing will be to keep your mouth shut.” Rasna was ina verybad mood right now.
Entire girldormwas runningaround the rimofthe playground withtheir hands up, thanks to me.
Mr. Mathur was standingmidst the circle ofboys. 11 class boys. Everyone was inshorts and sweating. ThoughI was as cold as ice.
Sir. Samiya”Rasna announced and fled to jointhe other girls.
Mr. Mathur was not bothered to interrogate me inprivate. Embarrassingme infront ofeveryone appeared to be a part ofthe prospective punishment. “Where were you?” He demanded visuallyexaminingme witha dreaded look.
I should have changed.
I acted inaccordance withRasna’s advice and kept mytrap shut while lookingtowards myfeet.
Knuckles” he said after a longwait.
Untilthat word I didn’t realize there was a stick inhis hand.
Intenyears ofhistoryI have never beena victimofcorporalpunishment. The thought ofthe painwas petrifyingme.

I was indilemma whenMr. Mathur changed his mind “or play basketball with class 2 for next two weeks”. He knew how important myeveryminute was, why he was acting so cruel.
“I will play sir.”
I decided as was too coward to bear the pain.

 

An hour each day” he added, seemed like he was wonderinghow to make it evenmore dreadfulfor me.

Now I had more obligations, and it was muchworse thanthe prior arrangement. Mylife was a FUBAR(Fucked up beyond anyrecognition) inSid’s language.
After coachingI had to runtowards the ground where the second grade kids were allover.

It took me almost halfanhour before the start to make themlistenwhat I was saying. Theydidn’t give a damnabout me. Theywouldn’t have followed myinstructions ifI would have beenthe last persononthe Planet Earthto save themfromterminaldestruction.

 

I genuinelylacked leadership skills.

 

And had no idea how to give a false impressionofbeingangrywhenI trulyhad allthe patience inthe world withkids.

The other morningI got up I was havingcramps inmystomach. The painwas gettingdisgusting. I realized it was that time ofthe month. And the first dayis always terrible. I thought oftakinga dayoff.
Ms Gladys submitted mymedicalcertificate at the reception.

I took two painkillers and thus suffered the potentialdanger ofbeingdrowsyand nauseous. I slept almost the whole afternoonand thenwent for the shower before studying. When I came back fromshower a bowlofcereals sat onmybed. Aya must have left it.

I gulped it downinnot more thana minute, I was seriouslyhungry. God bless aunty.
That eveningSara told me that someone complained about me to Mr. Mathur. The first name that occurred to me was Aadil’s, inPinegrove he was the onlypersonwho was not family. But whywould he do that? I amnone ofhis business? So I didn’t give it a second thought.

Next daywas the second Saturdayofthe month; another no schoolday. The Biologytutor for competitionpreparationswapped the Mondayclass for Saturdaydue to some personalreasons. We were allowed to sleep late onSundays. Everyone was followingthe same routine today. I started mydayearly. Took head bathand wore track suit, gathered mystudymaterialand headed towards the classroom.

I thought ofgrabbingsomethingto eat onmyway. Theywere servingpacked food inthe mess.
Cutlets again. I picked two apples halfheartedlyand walked out.
It was one ofthose times whenyouwant to eat somethingamazingbut youhave no idea what your taste buds are cravingfor.

I took a longer wayto the class roomtryingto finishthe apple onthe way, whichalmost seemed impossible. The wind was boisterous makingmyhair cover myface. Theysmelled veryberryishdue to mystrawberryconditioner. And thanks to it now mymouthwas actuallywateringfor strawberries. I was unable to get themout ofmyhead whenI walked into the class room.

He was there.
Ina moment the whole cravingagenda shifted fromthe dullredness ofthe strawberries to the sumptuous redness ofhis lips.
I had no idea whyI was haggard for somethingthat was not edible.
He looked like a modelfromanEnglishcommercial. His wet hair was makinghimevenmore delicious.

And for the veryfirst time the books rested closed infront ofhim. His arms folded onhis chest and eyes were alreadyonthe entrance whenI walked in. Theydidn’t shyaway whenI looked into themneither did he pulled onanexpressionless face as he always does, instead analarmed smile occurred onhis lips, he looked pleased thoughstuck insome kind ofdilemma. Maybe actingnormalwas weird for him.

He appeared confused but ecstatic trying this for a change.
Hi” he said movingnervouslyinhis chair.
I tried hard but I couldn’t regainmylost voice or senses.
I gasped “Hi” or that’s what it would have sounded ifnot a blow ofair.

I hesitantlymoved to sit inthe next row. I was unsure onwhat’s valid distance betweenyouand a class mate who didn’t look at youfor like a monthand a halfand has recently discovered that youexisted.

 

I opened one ofmybooks and notebooks without anyidea ofwhichsubject theybelonged to.

 

After few seconds ofjust peekingI realized it was physics. I started withone ofthe numerical, findingsomethingto do. The questionbelonged to units and measurements. I read questionindefinite times tryingmakingsense out ofit. But everytime I reached the last word I realized I lost concentrationafter the first one.

 

“Do you want help with that?” He was talkingto me inhis mesmerizingdeep voice. I was more thansurprised; he has never talked to anyone inthat tone before. That was not him.

So he was watchingme goingthrougha questionover and over again. I felt like anidiot. I nodded and he came to sit onthe benchinfront ofme.
He had never beenthat close before.
He pulled the book upside downand moved awayto leave a decent amount ofspace betweenus.
He looked at it for not more thana second “which part are you not getting”.
I had no idea what the questionwas.
I swallowed hard to saturate mydried throat and answered “I can’t figure out what they are asking for?”
Perplexed he looked at the questionagainsuppressinga smile this time.
Ok”he started explaining“we are given length, breadth and thickness of a rectangular sheet. We have to find the area and the volume of the sheet to correct significant figures”.
“Ohhh”
I said thoughtfully, thoughagainI lost it after we are given and started turningthe book towards me.
He was laughing.
“What?” I asked confused, tryinghard to figure out what he said. Did he saysomethingfunny.
His eyes ceased onmyface, I could see the humor was fading.
“I just read out the question aloud”
he said scrutinizing.
I smiled inembarrassment.
You have beautiful eyes” he expatiated softly.
What?
As someone entered the roomhe jerked and got up to get back to his place. He moved to a place closest to mine inhis row. That counted inpermissible distance. There was somethingverysuspicious ofhis behavior today.
He was not completelyunobservant ofthe surroundings while studyingas always.
“What are your plans… for today?” He caught me bysurprise whenthe tutor left.
“Nothing” I answered relaxingmybrows “I am going down to the brooke. To study physics.” I said mutely.
“If you don’t mind can I come with you, I am also doing physics.” he asked uncertainly.
“Hun” I heard myselfsaying.

It was not a good thingto imagine that how hideous I looked walking next to him.
I started browsingthroughfamous couples inthe historywhenthe right phrase occurred to me Angel and demon.

He was tryingto walk at a distance fromme, and clearlyavoidinganykind ofphysicalcontact. Thoughhis face was inclined towards mine without anyconcentrationtowards the steps.

 

Myfeet were veryused to this trail; I could easilyramble inanypart ofthe schoolwithout takingthe trouble offocusingonthe way. But he was new he should be careful. I realized how the passer bys stared at him witha glint ofamazement. But there was another shade ofenvytodayas theywatched him withme. It was verydiscomfortingfor me while he looked heedless.

We walked insilence. I was thinkingofsomethingto talk to break the ice.
Board results will be out soon. Are you scared?” I asked.
He smiled; somethingwas amusingto him.
“Are you scared?” he asked without answeringmyquestion.
Yes I am. I will be declared loser officially if I score least in the class.” I gave anhonest answer. That was the onlyreasonI needed a decent score. “It’s not about score. I know you know more than anyone of us.”Never use the word loser for yourself again”.
I could feelblood swellinginmycheeks.
I was deprived ofbreathand words right now. I wanted to drop that topic but a part ofme coveted to tellhimthe truth.
We were goingpast the footballground meanderingonthe slope whichwas runningparallelto the brooke, whenI started explaininghimthe intricacyofmylife “I am doing all this to just cope up with the situation I am in. My parents have decided this for me.”

I don’t like studying” I felt relieved, takingoffthe burdenofthose words frommyheart. I longed to saythemout loud.
You don’t?” he asked.
“Un Hun”
I answered noddingsideways.
Then don’t” he said impulsivelyand subtly.

If I won’t study what will I do then?” I asked that questionmore to myself.

 

He smiled wondering.

He was like anopenbook right now anyone could read him. There was more to himthanhis good looks.
He was as human as I was.
We were quiet inanawkward waywhenwe raninto Niya.
“Hidi.”She said givingme a hug.
“Hey. Remember me?” Aadilwaived at her, smiling.
Of course. Aadil” she waved back ina hitchsecond.
Call me Adi.” He said mutely.
You guys know each other?” I asked shocked.
Yeah we practiced together in the music room” she answered surprised that I was surprised.

Niya played piano verywell. Her hands started playingthe keys at a verytender age. She could playanysonginfirst attempt. Sara was same withthe drums. And now apparently he played some device as well. Everyone around me had talents, why is it just me who is drained of these abilities, why I am not gifted?

 

Did you find her yesterday?” she was talkingto Adi.
“Yes. I did.”
He replied hesitantly.

Why were you looking for me?” I asked as soonas Niya left. He would have seenthat coming.
He was quite for a while, apparentlypickingup the right words to explainwhat was goingon.

I was worried. You have never missed school before. I knew Niya is your sister. So I pretended running into her accidentally and asked about you. She gave me directions to your dorm. I left you a bowl of cereals.”

He came inside mydorm, he left me cereals, he was worried for me. This has to be a dream.
We started movingdownthe slope; there was no sound other thanthe pleasant noise ofrunningwater and chirpingofbirds.
He was worried for me. He was worried for me. I kept repeatingthose words inmyheart; theywere bringingenormous joyto mysoul.
Samiya…there is something else I want to tell you”. Myheart missed a beat; this was the first time ever he called myname, holdingto it carefullyas ifit was delicate. I suddenly felt that my name was very lovely.
I looked at him, waiting.
I told Mr., Mathur that you were not coming for the gym classes”.
You what?”
He didn’t repeat.

“Do you have any idea how much trouble I am into? I am sleep deprived. It’s not easy for me to keep up with all this.” I paused to make sense ofit “Is it about competition? You don’t want me to study? I asked agitated.

He looked at me surprised
Please don’t say that. You are one person for who I want all the success in the world.”
Amazinglythe words calmed me down…but he continued

Its just that I didn’t like it…not seeing you. I told you your absence makes me anxious. I tried hard to get over with it but next moment I see myself talking to Mr. Mathur. I had no idea he will do that kind of thing to you. I would have never let him hit you.”

 

Myabsence has never mattered to anyone before, not evenmyparents. I don’t know whyit mattered to him.

So do you forgive me” he asked eagerly.
“Dare you ever do that again” I warned. He smiled.
We walked insilence.
He decided to talk again“so you don’t like studying” “what do you like then?”
I liked reading stories, that’s it.
I liked nothingthat was creative or takingme anywhere inmylife.
I don’t know” I answered.
I knew he wouldn’t let it go easilyso I tried side trackinghim“What do you like?”
It worked.
He smiled. WhyeverythingI sayis amusingto him?
I liked studying”

“But things have changed lately”. He paused “Lately I like playing guitar. I listen to Ronan Keating whole night long. I would rather be at this Brooke than any other place in the world and I want to act nicely with everyone around. I want to get even with you.”

I didn’t understand what evenness he was talkingabout and whydid it matter but anyways one thingI knew was that to me we can never be even.We can never be even. We are different” “I am like a virus and you are an antivirus” I explained givingananalogy, smilinghalfheartedly. “You are stealing my line…” he said insistently.” It’s the other way around.” He sighed

There was a strange deadness as he said that. Everysound inmybodystarted pressingagainst myears, the blood flowinginveins, the noise ofpumpinglungs, the heart beating loudlyand finallyI think I collapsed.

 

As I turned somethinghit myhead. I got up too quickly, to find myselfinbed. It was dark outside. I couldn’t make sense ofwhat time was it, what daywas it, how I reached my bed. I was desperatelyhuntingfor mywatchwhenSara leaned over fromher bed “Morning madam.” She said ironically.

 

“What time is it?” I asked, myheart thuddingfor some reason. “9 o clock.” She replied laughing“You slept for 24 hours in a row. You have missed your coaching class this morning. Mr. Pandey wanted to see you. You should thank Miss Gladys she lied that you are still sick.”

 

I looked back inamazement. What was she talkingabout? “No I didn’t miss the class” I replied too quickly. “I went for coaching this morning. Tutor marked my attendance.Raag, Mandy and Aadil were there and then I went to Brooke to study.” I said hurriedlyand there was so muchmore I wanted to add.

 

You must have been dreaming.” She said suppressinglaugh. “You were in bed when I woke up this afternoon and you have missed all three meals of the day. Miss Gladys is really worried for you. And seriously speaking now I am worried too. Are you taking overdose of your asthma medicines?”

 

Shut up.” I said gettingout ofbed, anxiouslyfleeingdownthe stairs without botheringto wear myslippers. I found Niya inthe rest room, brushingher teeth“Niya, remember you saw me with Adi this morning, going down the brooke.” I asked hurriedly.

Her face was serious, she spit into the sink before turningto me “ Who Adi?” she asked blankly. Myconscious faded, I had to hold onto the sink to keep myselffromcollapsingagain.
I was intrack suite, myhair stillsmelled berryish, I canstillsmellAdi, it wasn’t a dream. It can’t be. I swallowed too hard, that it ached.

I was not goingback without a confirmation. I went straight to boys’ dormfromthere, running. Mypace slowed involuntarilyrealizingAdi, Raagand Mandywere sittingonthe stairs inthe dark. Their laughechoed, makingme weak. I wanted to turnaround and leave but instead I kept walking.

FinallyI came to a stop few centimeters awayfromthem. “ Hi Samiya.” Raagsaid puzzled, but I couldn’t speak, myeyes contemplatingAdi. He wasn’t wearingwhat he was wearingthis morning. His lovelyblue eyes didn’t smolder at mysight as theydid this morning. He started fiddlingwiththe watchonhis wrist, as ifhe couldn’t stand to look at my uglyface. He didn’t want to know what I was doingthere at this hour, bare foot. He didn’t care. I bet he didn’t evenknow myname. I got myanswer. It was a dream.

Samiya?” Raagasked again, his tone lucid, tryingto wake me up.
I was wondering if you could give me notes from today’s class.” I said hurting.
Yeah sure. I will bring them to class tomorrow. How are you feeling now?” Raagasked, worried

Better.” I whispered turningaround. I managed to walk to the point where I became invisible to thembefore started crying. God, it isn’t fair. Why did I dream such dream, which gave me hope, which made me happy. It’s not right.

 

But thenI started realizingthings. Ifthat was a dream, how did I get changed, how could I have dreamed Adisayingthat he brought me cereals, he confessinghe made complaint to Mr. Mathur? I tripped walkingdownto Brooke this morning, myankle was stillhurting, how canI imagine pain. I was out ofmybed today. I was sure.

 

I couldn’t sleep that night. The lines inthe book whichI marked this morningwere stillmarked. But theneverythingwas like a dream, I couldn’t remember few parts ofit whenI tried puttingtheminsequence. Somethingwas not right.

Next daywas Sunday. Aadilwas no different. He was unobservant and selfoccupied as always, whichwas now hurtingto anextent that it was killingme. I after lunchwent to the medicalroom, to get some painkillers. I was stupid enoughto believe that a painkiller willcure that kind ofache. Mr. NivenSoman, the medicine teacher who is sort ofa shrink too made me sit downfor a quick check up; it’s not easygettingyour ways around him.

Do you want to tell me something?” he asked inanold fashionparent manner whenI told himthe truththat the painwas a little below mychest, somewhere near the heart. I sighed.
I had this dream Sir, which felt too real.” I groaned “I just couldn’t get it out of my head?”
“What dream?”
he asked politely.
I voluntarilychanged few details here and there before explaininghimwhat I saw.
That person you saw, he asked your likes, he praised you. Did he?” he asked, worrylines too clear onhis face.
I nodded stiffly.
He leaned back onhis chair and turned thoughtful.

Listen Samiya.” He finallysaid “I don’t think it was a dream. If you got out of bed but you didn’t reach your class. That means you went to the Brooke straightaway.” He paused “You have lived away from your parents all your life; apparently you don’t talk about yourself with your friends. In these cases. In your case people sometimes start imagining things.”

“You mean to say I am Schizophrenic?” I almost laughed at his diagnosis for a minute.

 

“No I don’t mean that. But there is a possibility that sometimes your mind starts imagining conversations that you want to have. Talk. Talk to your friends, talk to your teachers. Talking is the best prevention for this disease.” He explained puttinga disprinonmypalm“if that ever happens again, I want you to come to me straightaway.” I thanked before leaving.

I was unable to denythat possibility, mymind was weak enoughto become preyto suchmentaldisorders. But I wasn’t prepared for that kind ofcomplicationinlife. Dear lord wasn’t Asthma enough. I prayed that eveningto lord to keep me awayfromthat kind ofhallucinations. And onthe other hand I was prayingfor it to happenagain. I meanI was confused and I was confusingGod as well.

That dayat dinner I heard Raag, Mandyand Adi talking about spendingnight inlibrarydoingBiology. Everyone else was goingto rumpus roomfor a movie.
I was planningto go to librarytoo but quicklydropped the idea as right now I had zero tolerance to Aadil’s arrogant moods.
I went to computer roominstead. There was no one inthere. I made myselfcomfortable and started studying.
I clearlyremember the clock striking12 and me flitching, wakingup fromsleep whenI saw himleaningonthe table right infront ofme.
He was wearinga black sweat and was lookingextremelygorgeous inthat.
Remember me?” he said lookinginto myeyes. That was it. This here was the most beautifulhallucination, one canever have and this was the proofthat I was mad. “Did I disturb you?” he asked calmly. His beautywas mesmerizing. I couldn’t breathe, speakingwas impossible.
He smiled crookedly.

Do you want to come and study with me, Raag and Mandy?” he asked breakingdownat eachword, hesitantly. He was givingme a choice. Maybe he willjust disappear ifI would sayno. But that’s exactlywhat I never wanted. I walked out followinghim, partiallyto see the limit ofmypotentialto imagine things. I kept noticingthe smallest ofthings whichI rarelyever did like he usinghis keycard to enter the library. Raagand Mandywere there onthe round conference table, whose everyinchwas covered withbooks.

Hi Samiya.” Theysaid enthusiastically, movingtheir chairs makingplace for me to fit in.

 

Theydecided ongoingthroughone ofthe chapters inbiologyand thentest eachother onthat. As everyone was studyinga silence followed. Now I was at that point where I couldn’t differentiate what was realand what was imagination. I wanted to test it.

 

Which page is classification of kingdom animalia based on common features? I can’t find it?” I asked lookingat allthree oftheminturns. I didn’t know where it was, so ifI didn’t know how these characters ofmy imagination willknow.

Pass me your book I will mark it for you” Adisaid calmly. Whenhe returned there was somethingwritteninbeautifulcalligraphy“In lose hair you look like Virgin Mary”.
I flushed onreadingthose lines; he was equatingme witha faith, witha holymother, to whomcountless souls devote their life.
I read those words repeatedly; this was not a kind ofradicalcomplement I was used to.
I wondered cana boymyage use that kind ofwords ofrespect and sanctityfor anygirl. This was definitelymyimagination. But insanelyenough, I liked it.
I cautiouslylooked at himbut he was engrossed inbook. So I tried concentratingonmine.
I was stillstudyingwhenRaagand Mandystarted talking“Why didn’t you do your studies in States?” Raagwas askinghim.
Dad was an ex Mayo student so he wanted me to go to the same school.” He explained.
“Headmaster was my dad’s classmate” he announced wryly, lookingat me.
And I was actuallyverysurprised ina wayhe couldn’t know. Because he was myimaginationand he was givingme a piece ofinformationthat I didn’t know.
Oh so that’s the reason you came here?” I asked eagerly.
Yes. No” “Many reasons actually.”
I waited but he didn’t sayanythingbeyond that.

We talked a lot after that, about things, randomand silly. And I laughed to the point where mystomachstarted aching. Theyfinallydecided to pack up for night despite mylittle reluctance. Once out oflibraryI didn’t know ifI would be withthemlike that again.

Thanks for today.” I said withinvoluntarymoisture inmyeyes.
There was a suddenreticence inthe room
“What’s wrong?” Raagasked strokingmycheek.
“Nothing. I was sick, so was having some silly thoughts.” I lied.
“Nothing will ever happen to you. Ever. Do you get me?” Mandysaid and hugged me.
I was inturmoilofemotions whenI saw himdistressed. I had no idea what put himdownmycryingor Mandyhuggingme.
It was ridiculous but I hoped that it was later.
I would love to see how the most beautifulpersononEarthlooked like inanemotionwhichbrought feelings ofinsecurity, fear and anxiety, Jealousy. Inrealitythere was no reasonfor AadilRathore to be jealous but this was myimagination. Maybe he willbe.
I think I should walk her down to her dormitory” Adisuggested firmly.
“No please I will be fine.” I repelled; mydormwas just round the corner that was reallyunnecessary.
No he is right. It’s very late.” Raagwas withhiminit “good night guys, see you tomorrow.” He waved movingaway.
So it was us again.
I was as nauseous as it was for the first time, just me and him.
You have become very close to Raag and Mandy?” I decided to talk first breakingthe silence.
Yeah. They are nice” his voice deep and tense.

“Youare close to them yourself”. He added. I amnot sure ifthat was a questionor a statement. But I decided to put it straight anyways. Making him jealous, if that was it was not that good after all.

They are good friends and Mandy is more like a brother” I emphasized onthe word brother, just incase he was worried about the huggingdeal. I couldn’t believe I was explainingthis to someone that wasn’t real.
I was about to saysomethingwhenhe just disappeared and I felldownunconsciously.
4. INSANENESS

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Next morningI woke up witha splittinghead ache. I was the last to arrive at the gymclass. As we did aerobics mymind was stillwonderingover the things that happened last night. I didn’t know how I reachmydorm. Maybe black outs were also the part ofthis illness. But no matter how serious this conditionwas, I wasn’t goingto Mr. Niven. Whywould I need treatment for it, I amnot harminganyone. Ifmyimaginationpleases me, what’s wrongwithit?

As I would have guessed Aadildidn’t evennotice me inthe class as usual. But now for some reasonit was not verydisheartening. I didn’t like himeither, it was AdiI liked. Anyways it was allstudyexcept for times whenSid threw paper balls at me like a kindergartenkid.

Very mature Sid”I remember repeatingthroughout the dayat his sillypranks. I have latelystarted feelinguncomfortable withSid’s attitude towards me. To some extent I have always knownthat he likes me and maybe because I cannever returnhis feeling, I feelsorryfor him. Its like Sid is Samiya and I amAadilinour case, whichreallyputs me ina spot where I want to killmyselffor doingthis to someone.

After schooleveryone went to the music room, some event was comingup and Class 11 was preparinga musical.I despite the zero interest went to the music roomfor the purpose ofattendance.

 

WhenI walked inSara was sittingat drums and appeared veryrestless, Moonwas goingthrougha book, sandeep was playingrandomkeys at piano, Aadil was sittinginthe corner witha guitar, everyone else was crashed everywhere inthe room.

“Song selection” Chaaya whispered. Suddenlythe music started playing.
It was Aadil.
“Listen to this”
he said seekingattention.
He was playing guitar…RonanKeating. One ofmyfavorite numbers.
There was gratificationinhis voice as he sang

“It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart, without saying a word you can light up the dark. Try as I may, I could never explain, what I hear, when you don’t say a thing…The smile on your face lets me know that you need me, there’s a truth in your eyes, saying you’ll never leave me, the touch of your hand says you’ll catch me whenever I fall…You say it best when you say nothing at all”.

His voice was veryoriginalas ifhe could feelwhat he was playing.

 

“There’s a joy on your face whenever you see me, there’s a pain in your eyes whenever I am leaving, the voice of your thoughts reaches my heart, and I hear you best when you say nothing at all”.

 

I realized the last lines were not inthe song. He just made themup, He was a poet. Amazinga personas insensitive as himselfcould talk ofemotions. He blinked at me before playingthe last string, or that’s what I thought he did. I looked back puzzled, was this Adi?

 

I a little tense sneaked out to do myhomework. What was happeningto me these days didn’t make sense. It was just like God’s existence doesn’t make sense. Theysaythat maybe God doesn’t exist but I talk to himwitha verystrongsensitivityas ifhe is always listening.

 

I remember Niya asked me the same questiononGod’s existence once, she asked whypeople sayGod is enemyofreason. I told her it is not necessaryto see everything, to have evidences. There are things beyond reasoning. Science canonlysee what’s observable, it will never have evidences to few things like believe, faith, love and God. And whatever myimaginationwas; a beliefor a faithI wanted to stick to it.

Lost inintellectualthoughts somethingthat I rarelydo I raninto Kirti, one ofmyseniors who is also studyingscience withbiology. We became veryclose over time as we shared a number ofcommoninterests except for studying.
I asked Kirtiofhow she was goingwithher entrance preparationwhenshe took me bysurprise
I am not taking entrance?”
“Why?” I asked surprised. It was upsettingfact that people who deserved to be there are not keenand the ones who are useless like me will get inthere byhook or bycrook. “No I don’t want to be a doctor. I will be doing bachelors in sciences.” “I will be working as a scientist some day…hopefully” she said crossingher fingers. Is becoming a scientist a career goal.
Why a scientist in particular?” I asked amazed.
A remnant sorrow appeared betweenher brows. Her eyes flickered awayto the book.

I had an elder brother who died of muscular dystrophy at age of 12. He was paralyzed for as long as I remember and in terrible pain, pain of being helpless and pain to know that there was no cure to his situation. He knew everyday he came closer to death. My mother lost it….when he was gone…everything went away with him…”she sighed and her eyes flickered back to mine filled withwater.

It’s like I am all by myself now.” She said inpain“It doesn’t feel good at this place. I want to change it for others if I can.”

 

Anuntimelydeathis somethingI consider highlyunfair. And more unfair was that the ones who are left behind have to live despite theyare dead ina way. Whydoes this happento people? I caressed her hand hesitantly; I didn’t know how to soothe her pain.

 

I was tryingto get Kirtiout ofmymind, whenRasna and Mooncaught up withme “What’s going on between you and Aadil??” Rasna asked arrogantly. It took me a moment to interpret. I wasn’t imaginingthat, he blinked at me. But right now I was not ina mood for that discussion.

“Nothing” I answered walkingawaytryingto sound normal.
“Then why was he staring at you like you were some bikini model from a playboy magazine”
Moonsaid makinga face. Her words sliced throughmychest, I felt like crying. And I was sure she was imaginingthings herself.
You better go and ask him Moon” I said calmlyscared ofhurtingher withmywords, thoughshe had forgottenallher manners lately.

I felt completelyopposite ofwhat I was feelingthis evening. Somehow painwas also anenergywhich could neither be created nor be destroyed but could be transformed”. I wanted Adito show out ofthinair. I wanted to pass onmy sorrow to him; I tried hard but failed to imagine him.

 

Sara came hoppinglike a horse and crashed inmybed. She said a whole essayabout somethingthoughI just picked the last line. “Did you see how Aadil was staring at Chaaya. I mean with all that attitude and superiority of his. Chaaya?” Sara asked inamazed irritation.

 

Ohso he was lookingat Chaaya, who was standingnext to me. And I had to suffer allthe sarcasmwithout anyreason.

I dodged Moon’s gaze, tuned downthe volume ofgossip around me, restingmyconcentrationonSara’s confabulationallevening.
And later after supper immersed ina veryfascinatingbiologychapter.
Everyone was sleepingwhenI looked out ofthe window.
It was fullmoonnight.

Moonwas as exorbitantlybeautifulas it was faked inscene ofa romantic movie. The breeze smelled ofcarnations inthe morningdew. I knew the taste ofthat fragrance. This is the aroma ofmyhome, this valleyeverynight just before dawn, whenthe midnight sunshimmers.

 

The incense ofheavenonEarth.

 

I poised infront ofthe window withopenarms admiringthe orb ofnight and enchanted bythe knowledge that I was 5000 meters closer to that heavenlybodythanbillions ofother people.

I was somewhere ontop ofthe world. I let breeze runthroughme, so that it cantouchmysouland its innocence is captured inside me, mitigatingme ofanyevil. This was a formofreincarnation.

There was a pastoralsound ofrunningwater inthe background withthe millions ofother naturalnight sounds that included singingofinsects and trees onother side covered with twinklingfireflies and him leaningagainst a pillar next to footballground.

I was dreaming of him.
Now the view was cherubic and complete.

He was wavingat me, askingme to come down. He had books withhim. I picked mine and randownstairs, takingtwo at a time and came to anabrupt stop. He was mounted at bottomofthe stairs, appearingmore like a Greek god thananyone had a right to.

“Hi ”he said withglitteringeyes. “Remember me?”
As Will Smith once said life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.

That right there was the moment for me.
Hi” I said cheerfullynot hidinga tiniest bit ofhappiness his presence brought to me.
Library?” he asked, his voice was guarded, he was askingmyconsent.
The locationdoesn’t matter whenit’s him I amspendingtime with.
I nodded.

We perched inthe silent area upstairs whichhad few chairs and anancient computer confined onone corner. There were few seniors onthe lower level, and the females amongst those bore their sight into himas he leaded me upstairs, obviouslynot givinga damnthat I was watching. I had a sillymind.

 

So this was the most trivialand secluded corner ofthe library, he was lookingfor a place withmore privacy. We were here to talk, not for mere studying.

Adi, do you know that you are my imagination?” I couldn’t stop myselffromtellinghimthe truthofour relationship. He looked back amazed and petrified at the same time. “What?” he asked ina tense expression.
You are not real.” I sighed.
Who told you that?”

You don’t remember me or meeting me every morning. Nor does anyone else remember seeing us together. Mr. Niven told me that people like me sometimes start imagining things. You are not here in real.” I paused “I am schizophrenic.”

He looked back surprised. He couldn’t talk for few seconds.
I don’t know. Maybe.” He said fightingfor words “you remember me after I leave?”.” He interrupted.
Of course I do.” I said contemplatinghis expression.
I don’t’ know. Maybe I am your imagination. But can we just pretend that I am not.” He whispered. I felt a bit dizzylookinginto his eyes. He turned to write somethinginthe book infront ofhim. His face was impassive.
How are you coping up with so much?” I asked out ofcuriositystaringinhis maths book.
I am doing alright because of all the added benefits I have” He smiled. “Like my excellent memory.”
You seem to be very confident about yourself.” I stated startled bythe resilience inhis tone ofvoice.
I am.” He answered playfully, not offended.
He tilted his head and winked at me; gettingthe vibe that he was confusingme.

Can you learn this whole page by heart?” he asked flickeringone ofthe pages ofhis maths book. Of course not. No one could, It had silly formulas and thus and therefore so I nodded sideways innocently. He smiled a little.

 

I know this whole book word to word.” He explained wryly.

I was too shocked to saya word. That was impossible.
He was stillsmilingdistractedly, scribblingonthe notebook, whenI said undecidedly“Aadil was.” I paused to correct myself“You were singing a song in music room today.” “Hun”
“That’s my favorite song.”
“I know.”
He said indifferently“That song is always on replay mode on your CD Player.”
He was right.
“How do you know?” I asked ina low voice.
I can hear each and every sound of your world.”
“Oh”
was allI could say.
Why were you staring at Chaaya today?” I asked interrogativelywitha slight humor.

Why would I stare at Chaaya?” he asked intenselyturningback the questionat me. The questionitselfwas the answer, his beautifulscorchingeyes fromunder the dark eyelids were contemplatingme or that was what myheart wanted to believe.

Talking about that, why is Sid always staring at you?”
I cringed “I wish I could stop him from doing that, without hurting his feelings.”
“I know, it’s not easy, either way. To love or being loved.”
He said as ifhe was usingthose words inhis context.

We decided to accomplishthe task we were technicallyhere for….studying. I memorized biologylessonwhile he solved mathematicalproblems. He had a beautifulhandwriting, verycreative as ifhe was a professionalcalligrapher. This trait distinguished himfromcharacteristics oftwo species whichhe belonged to boys and doctor.

 

There was no morningsunshininginthe mountains whenmyalarmrang, it was time to start the day.

 

There are days wheneverypart ofyouresist just the idea ofgettingout ofbed, and there are days whenyouare nonchalant withpessimismand youthink oh god why another day, and thenthere are days whenyouwake up cheerfullyfullwithenthusiasmand excitement lookingforward to something.

 

Yes it was one ofthose days and I hoped the days ahead remainthe same.

Todaywas Yoga for the gymclass.
After brushingteeththe lengthiest morning task for me we went to the basement.

Boys and Mr. Nivenwere alreadythere. There were two cardboard boxes sayingeco friendly yoga mats at the entrance ofthe room. I and Sara waited for the crowd to desert so that we cancullmats for ourselves.

There was sound ofa familiar coughat myback.
It was Aadilannouncinghis presence.

I turned instantly, unbalanced for a moment staringinto his eyes whichwere oceanic blue this morning. The blue ofhis eyes changed shades, I amunsure ifits florescence, or moisture or just the moods that affected the earlier.

 

Morning” he said ina quite voice to Sara, whichgot better everytime, without botheringto look at me. That was impossible and insane that I was havingtime ofmylife withthis person, who barelyknows me.“We’ll be practicing an hour later this evening. Will that be fine with you?”

“Yeah. I’ll be there” she said pursingher lips.
“See you then” he said casuallywalkingaway.
Unlike himI always faildrasticallyinmakingstandard talks withother people inhis presence that was reallyunfair.

The serious business ofmeditationalclass turned hystericalwithVaibhavand Iqbalsnoring vociferously while we were tryingto listento the divine sound linkingdirectlywiththe soulpracticinglyingdownmeditation. This happens whenyoumake sleep deprived childrendo allthese weird moves to your body.

 

WhenI entered the class there was a lot ofchaos. One ofthe chemistrywhizzes saw a questionanswer page for chemistryonMr. Pandey’s desk. Yeaha paper withquestions and answers to those questions. The not so bright students objected that a surprise test is possible because we were inmiddle ofanother chapter but the clever ones pointed out that the test won’t be a surprise if it’s givenat the end ofthe same lesson.

So anyways everyone was jottingdownthe answers onpalms, erasers, ontables to some ofthe multiple choice questions that Mr. ChemistryWhizze remembered. He was star of the hour. And seriouslyspeakingI was no Angelso I pendownfew answers here and there myself. WhenI finished scribblingI subconsciouslyslipped the paper onthe next table, without seeingwho was sittingonit.

No Thanks.” Aadilreplied pushingthe paper back at mytable “Duffer” he added mutely.
That was it. I was done withmyquota ofpatence.
What did you just say?” that were myfirst words to the realAadil.
“Nothing” he said casually. I had never beenthat furious ina longtime.

“You called me a duffer. What do you think of yourself? Moron. What are you haan? Pig. You arse hole.hippy. Why did you come here? Why can’t you just go back to that fucking 18thcentury school of yours?” I was shoutingat the peak ofmyvoice, I had never done anythinglike that before. Truthwas I felt relieved. I should have done that a longtime ago.

I was preparinga solid grip onmyphysics reference book to pick it withone hand and throw it onhis face, because his blaséd indifferent expressionwas makingme angrier. I wanted to see himinpain, petrified, crying.

 

And apparentlythat wouldn’t be enougheither. But unfortunatelyMr. Pandeyintervened “Leave it, what do you want do with the book.” He asked worried bythe angle ofthe heavybook inmyhand.

 

Shove it up his arse.” I threw back onmyteacher’s face. And as soonas the words were out, I turned red, too embarrassed. Myanger faded. Mr. Pandeymoved myplace and allthe time people were snickeringaround me for some reason.

Next two periods were for chemistrypractical.
I couldn’t understand that whya piglike Aadilhad to look so enormouslybeautifulina white lab coat.
“Dr Derek Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy is zero on ten compared to suave Dr Aadil” Deep said ofhiminthe first practicalclass.
I evenwondered how excruciatingit willbe to nurses to give cent percent to the demandingprofessionwithhimaround.
But that was whenI didn’t know him. Myperspective has changed a lot since then.
Our practicalinstructor has divided the class ingroups offour withone girlineachgroup.
We formed groups ourselves the veryfirst daybut Sid and his mates almost set Lab onfire so instructor had to intervene and change the patternto save schoolfromdestruction.

We were doingpurificationofa sample bycrystallizationtoday. Everyone was done while myfellow members were stillstruggling. We got it wrongfor the second time. They assigned me a nugatorydutyofcollectingmaterialand apparentlymyjob was done. There were onlythree precautions inthe givenexperiment whichunfortunatelywere neither read nor takenbythese three stupids.

Everytime I opened mymouthto saysomething, theysaid “shhhh”. So I decided to stayquiet and let themfiddle while theywere doingit wrongfor the third time. Aadil was leaningonthe opposite table withhis arms across his chest witnessingthe episode of how easily I can be dominated. Strangelynow that I shouted at himthis morning and evenattempted to killhim, he was more interested inme, like never before.

 

Whenwe failed inthe third attempt the instructor came to help us. He was about to start whenAadilintruded “Why don’t you let Samiya try” ina disapprovingtone. “She didn’t get much of a chance to participate” he chided whenthe instructor didn’t answer immediately.

 

I realized everyone was staringat himperplexed but allegedlythat didn’t concernhim.

 

Go ahead. Give it a shot” the instructor said cynicallywithout lookingat me. I had seenothers doingthe experiment and read the manualthrice so I easilypulled it off, thoughI wasn’t fullyconcentratingonthe experiment.

You give her chance next time” the instructor rudelytold myfellow members examiningcolor ofthe purified crystals.
Why didn’t you say you knew it” Tushar whispered casuallyinmyear walkingback to our table.
How skeptical. My eyes wide opened in disbelief and rage. As if you were giving me a chance to say even a single word. But he moved onwithout waitingfor ananswer. “Relax or else your eyes will pop out” Raagsaid frolicallylaughingat me. I saw Aadilsmilingtoo, he looked so muchlike Adiwhenhe smiled. I got distracted for a minute. “Ha ha” I said sedatelyrollingmyeyes before movingonto mytable.
.
It was a fundayifI eliminate the prattle that was goingaround about me.
We did another test incoachingclass and thenI scuffed to the ground blithelyafter changinginto eveninguniform.
I was lookingforward to spend time withthe little sprites.
I divided theminto teams oftwo and watchthemplay.

Behind me Aadiland other boys frommyclass were practicingbasket ball. Aadilwas dribblinga ballnear to the net. His hair were movinginexact formulationwithhis walk, the sleeves ofthe jumper were folded tillelbows and he looked more ofa pro thananyone could imagine.

 

Boys fromjunior Basket ballteamwere practicingonthe other net. Theywere juniors inregard to their age; physicallytheylooked prettygrownup. And theyformed the best basket ballteamPinegrove ever had.

I couldn’t help overhearingthe conversation.
“I wonder how boys tolerate basketball”“We called it a girl’s game back home.” “I mean Mayo” Aadilwas tellingIan.
So what’s your game?” Ianasked.
I was wonderingifhe could evenswinga bat or kick a ball, I meanhe never gave anysport vibes.
I play football. I am a soccer boy” he said enthusiasticallydoingsome coolballpranks.

AllAadildoes is talk bigofhimself. I bet other thanhis beauty, he doesn’t have a single quality“Bludy Show off.” I whispered to myself. I swear his face turned a little as ifhe heard what I said. And I died right there ofembarrassment.

He suddenlystopped bouncingthe balland held it inhis armpit contemplatingthe junior boy’s team.
Karan, captainofthe team, was practicing, while everyone watched. I have seenKaranplayinghe is undefeatable.
Aadilwithhis friends walked to other side ofthe ground.
He had a verygracious wayofcommunicating, not that the boys were aware ofbut he easilygot his wayout withthem, I have noticed.
I was unable to hear the conversationbut apprehended the situationwas leadingto a matchwithKaranand Aadilshakinghands and other boys clearingthe court.

Aadiltook offhis jumper and threw it over the ramp. A sleeveless greyshirt tugged his masculine chest. He had descent biceps but he stilllooked prettyfragile as compared to all the boys insight. I had a pettytwinge ofregret; allthe girls’ spectators were now ravishinghiminthe present formwhere he looked like a runwaymodel. Anyways it was hard not to have hots for him, withor without the jumper on. I reckoned evenifhe lost the matchthere would be no adverse effect to his fame as he was anobject oftemptationinother ways.

Karanstarted the game withdribblingthe ball.
The object ofthe game is to merelyset the velocityand height ofthe ballso that it goes throughthe hoop according to books.
Things are complicated onfield.
Aadil was onthe defense and I guess unaware ofhow good Karanis at free throws.
He has a good arc in his throws and can shoot from far distance.”I have no bludyidea what that means but I have heard people sayingthat a lot about him. Karankept messingwiththe ballwhensuddenlyhe jumped highto take a shot; simultaneouslyAadiltook the same lap and blocked him. The hand coordination, the movement of

ballwas blurred but somehow now Aadilhad the ball. I was disarrayed withthe confusioninthe court. It was more like a mind game. I was unable to presume anyone’s move.

 

Out ofnowhere Aadiltook a sharp turnand a verticaljump a few inches awayfromthe hoop and slammed the ballthroughthe rimsingle handed. Nothingcompared to a fast break that finished withanemphatic thrust ofthe ballthroughhoop. Boys around himwere goingnuts wildlycheeringshouting

 

“He dunks the ball” “he dunks the ball” runningallover himinthe court.

 

The game was over because now the highlyimpressed competitor was askingfor lessons onballdunking. Theywere makinghimdo that over and over againand everytime he dunked theyshouted instate ofhighexcitement.

 

I too conscious suspended the class and was makingmywayout ofthe ground whenAadilblocked myway, I came to anabrupt stop.

Show off” he said harshly, repeatingwhat I have said. His face was appealingred and he was sweating, but stillhe smelled veryexotic. He was alreadymore seductive than anyone had right to, I wonder whyhe used intriguingperfumes ontop ofthat. We were there like that tillhis anger faded, and he cleared mywayhesitantly, walkingout ofthe ground.

Lost I could stillsmellhimwhenI saw that he forgot takinghis jumper. I tentativelypicked it up and despite returningit; I waddled to mydormundecided, ducked the jumper under mypillow and covered it withquilt.

I was onbed whensomethingcame flyingfromthe window and dropped onthe ground.
Waiting outside. Adi.” The paper tugged onthe stone said.
I excitedlyrushed downstairs; that was a pleasant surprise I wasn’t expectinghimso early.
Couldn’t wait to see you.” The angelsaid whenI reached the last step.
The wayAditells me his feelings, so manifestly, amused me. I hoped I had that kind ofcourage and honesty.
I started walkingalongwithhim, too distracted to ask where we were going.
You are good at basketball…the dunking thing” I said sarcasticallymakingit sound like the boys.
You pulling my leg?” he asked selfconsciouslyeyeingme.
I smiled ironically.
That was for you.” He announced.

I felt specialwithallthe courtesyhe treated me with, like everythinghe said or did was about me. No one ever gave me that importance. I have always beeninsignificant, just another one inthe crowd.

Whenhe said stufflike that I desperatelywanted to confess myintricacyto him, to clincheverythingand dissolve inmywants.
“You know we had a fight today. I was on the verge of killing you.” I smiled feelingguilty.
“But trust me I was trying to teach you some manners.” I added too quickly.
“And trust me I was trying to teach you to speak out for yourself.” He answered patiently“I wish you had done the same when Moon said things to you.” I was overwhelmed. I must like Aadilverymuch, that’s whyI was findingreasons for his attitude towards me inthese fantasies.
I noticed he was carryinga guitar case.
“Is this your guitar?” I asked, makingtalk to shut downthe thought ofreality. I liked this fantasyworld.

Yup” he said peekingat the guitar case and movinghis free hand alongthe lengthofit, like it was somethingthat had life, somethingthat had hiddenmeaningto his life. Usually people do that stuffto show emotions towards their dogs.

It’s a custom pick, designed by an Australian company. This is guaranteed to last pretty much… forever. It is made of a meteor” he continued. A meteor. I gave himthat I don’t understand looks.

It is fashioned from pieces of Gibeon meteorite which was discovered in 1836 somewhere in Africa. That makes it durable and unique. There are not many of its kind.” He said explaining.

You know every thing that is played on this guitar, will stay forever.”
“What does that mean?”
I asked confused.

“Sound is not a purely mechanical phenomenon of wave propagation, according to Para physics. There are means by which the sounds can be left in this medium, to be heard later.”

“Do we need a device to find it later?”
No. Every human has an ability to hear it, one just had to work to improve on it.”
“I don’t understand.”
I confessed.
“Have you ever heard noises when you are alone? Like opening of door, of wind, of someone talking when actually not a single thing is moving.” “Yes.” I said surprised “it actually happens a lot to me.”
“So those are just the sounds left by the people who lived here previously.”
He said wryly.
I groaned “You know you are scaring me.”
He smiled “They are sounds not ghosts. You don’t have to be scared.”
“So can I listen to whatever you have played, later.”
“Yup. Concentrate. The sounds are there, you just have to turn up the volume a little”
he explained.
“Nice.” I said consideringwhat he has said.
I was quiet for a while.
Raag and Mandy are coming too” he announced breakingthe awkward silence.
Are they?” I sounded verypleased, evento myownears.
We were goingtowards the music room.
The cacophonyofthe music roomfilled the whole corridor. It has always beenused as a place for socializingdiminishingthe actualpurpose ofthe so called music room. I shylywalked behind Adinot knowingwhat everyone sees whenI amseeinghim.

Adiwalked straight towards the other end ofthe room, the ramp onthat edge gives a stage like feeling. So usuallypeople practice there. Just standing on that ramp gives me stage fright.

 

I walked inlookingat that ramp, that’s what everyone was lookingat and suddenlyand swiftlysomeone jumped at me frombehind the door and I heard huge roar somethingthat sounded like “bhau”.

I shrieked at top ofmyvoice, falldownand trembled there for few seconds almost panickingto death.
It was Mandy.
Everyone was whoopingturningaround onfloor, holdingtheir stomachs. So the whole drama was just to scare me.
I gave some good ones to that Mandy after regainingconscious.
Adiwas scrupled and was smilingshylyunladinghis guitar as ifhe was beingteased.
In all that mess I was wondering why someone has to be so sweet!!
And the good part was Moon’s attitude was buttoned-downtoday, she was accompanyingeveryone inthe fun.
I noticed Sara was twittering, actingbenignantlytowards Adigivingexaggerated opinions onhis musicalskills.
What’s up with her? I wondered. She was not very sociable with him until this morning.
So you can dunk the ball?
She asked charminglytalkingto him.

Oh for Christ sake. What’s the big deal about it? Out of all the luring factors she founds the ball thing amazing. Also that’s startling, how quickly the word spread around. And they say ‘boys don’t gossip’.

Niya also joined the group ofgood for nothing audiences shortlyafter the practice began.
There were few others like Mandyand Sid who started whistlingwhenever the girls danced and threw awayfake paper notes onthem.
So finallyallthose sorts were kicked out.
Sara, Sandeep and Adi were successfulincreatingmagic.
The music was soothingand veryliberated. It was sweepingme offmyfeet.

It was tune ofardor for a babybird whenhe spreads his wings for the veryfirst time, it was a rayoflight for a prisoner indungeon, and it was the hymnoffaithofMeera inLord Krishna.

 

The music deserved dance offreedom, hope and passion, somethingthat was unguarded.

 

I wondered whyMoon and crew were workingso hard onthe steps.

Samiya would you like to assist with dressing and make up on the day” Rasna asked tentatively. I promptlyagreed as I knew it was just animagination.
The girls left as theyhad to meet Ms Anjalifor decidingdresses.
Sara, Sandeep, Niya and Adiwere doingtheir ownformofentertainment explaininghow their instruments work.
While I sat there engrossed, thinkinghow smallmyworld was. It was so modest that it fitted ina smallmusic room. These three people here possessed myeveryreasonto be alive. I read somewhere that ‘Some people are your family, no matter when you find them, and some people are not, even if you sleep with them in same bed for years’. This, right here was myfamily. I had no idea where fate willtake allfour ofus but I knew theywillbe cherished inthe safest part ofmyheart untilthe dayI amcremated. Whentheywere done I told themfew funnystories ofhow Niya played Casio for money, onallthe familyoccasions.

Uncles used to pushfew notes inher hand after everysongshe played, and she happilyaccepted cashfor her services. I think, makingmoneyout ofit was what kept her goingfor hours.

And surprisinglytillnow she doesn’t understand what’s wrongabout that. I also told themsome not so funny stories, like how mygrandfather passed awayinsleep while Niya sat onthe edge ofhis bed playingCasio. I have accused her manytimes ofkillinggrandpa withher terrible music, duringfights.
And that she believed.
Her brainscrews apparentlyneeded some fixing, she was mysister after all.

We spent whole eveninglaughingand as realitystuck inaninvisiblyquick second I found myselfsittingallalone inthe music room. I walked back to the dormheedlessly. I was gettingused to the suddendisappearance ofthe characters ofmyimagination. Also a part ofme knew that they’llshow up againsooner or later.

Sara was onmybed as usual. I wonder why she always chooses the upper bed in the bunk when she actually uses the lower one, that’s mine, approximately three hundred days a year.Tell your mum the fabric softener she uses is magical. It changes fragrance. Your bed smell’s of men’s cologne” she said firmly, as ifshe was serious. How’s that possible?
Holy crap!!!Adi’s jumper under her head.

I rushed to sit onthe edge ofthe bed onpillow.
Talked nonsense to distract her fromthe topic.
I sighed inreliefwhenshe decided to walk downfor dinner.

At dinner Rasna told me that Mrs. Anjaliwas rentingwhite frocks froma localretailer for the dance. “Sandeep, Sara and Adi can wear whatever they want” she said unbothered. “Hey do you want to help in dressing and makeup.” She asked. I looked back surprised. How could I have guessed that. “Yeah sure” I answered distracted swallowingthe hard potato fromthe currywithwater. Food inschoolwas not theyummiest, but theysayit’s the healthiest. ThoughI doubt it.

There was a fixed time table for the meals here. Technicallythat meant eatingyellow daalonMondays, potato curryonTuesday, capsicumonWednesdays, kidneybeans on Thursdayand chick peas onFriday, for one verylongyear. We cantellwhichdayofthe week it is fromlookingat the food. That could be funnyto some people, not to us.

I had to go to computer lab todaywithRaag, Mandyand Aadilas some online reference papers had to be done as part ofcoaching. As if the books weren’t enough. I was not veryhappywiththis accord because this usuallyis the time whenAdicomes to see me.

Mandy, Raagand Aadilwere fiddlingwithlab keywhenI reached onsecond levelofthe senior wing. Aadil’s physicalresemblance to Adialways intrigued inside me the feelings whichwere not meant for him. WishI could help.

 

Raag I need some more time to revise. I will be in library, you carry on.” I lied tryingnot to look at Aadil.

 

Instead ofgoingto libraryI ambled inthe tinyshaded lanes betweenthe trees lookingfor Adi. Lost I reached heady’s cottage like house downthe alleyonthe left side ofthe car

 

park. This has always fascinated me since childhood. Whenever I read ofthe witch’s cottage inHansel and Gretel, I related it to heady’s chalet. Not that Headywas a witchbut

the hut was a geographicaland structuralmirage. There was one felicityofthingwhichwas peculiar to this hut; I have always lived init indelusions and dreams, as a grownup. ThoughI have never crossed the no man’s land to get anycloser to it.
I wonder whymyparent’s three storeyhouse whichis subjected to renovationeverysixmonths; and is anenormous example ofstyle and lifestyle is not the house ofmyfantasies. Maybe because that modernstructure is not feasible withthe fairytales I have heard or maybe because that house is not at alla house to me inthe first place. I was amblingonthe line of control, lost inthoughts whenhe appeared.
What are you doing here?” he asked calmly, inthe gentle tone whichworked like magic onme.
I thought I’ll give you company” I said pleased.
He smiled hesitantly.
Come I’ll show you something” he took myhand walkingme downthe lane. We were goingin the wrong, very wrong direction, towards the witch’s cottage.What are you doing Adi? I am not supposed to go there” I alleged, repellingto go anyfurther. There can be serious consequences, for me as unfortunately my dad wasnot in Mayo in Class of 75.And also unlike him I was real.

“Shhhh” he whispered withhis finger onlips.
‘Whatever’ I thought. Naturally hypnotized, following him.
Myheart fluttered as we walked across the hut. It was a realbeauty; a verytraditionalmountaingem.

We were at the back ofthe house. A refined kitchengardenwas spread allover the backyard. Veggies and herbs were carefullyaligned and organized ina waythat theyintensified the attractiveness ofthe vicinity.

But anyways what’s so special about it? He risked my life to show me what heady does with his free time.
“Beautiful. Can we go now?”
I murmured tracingmywayback
“Look at that” he said pointingtowards the top ofthe mountain.

A stringoflights; dazzlingand flashywere movinghastilyina row. Theywere like celestialbodies dancinginanopenuniverse. I stood there speechless, puttingit together inmy head.

What’s that?” I asked finally
He smiled lookinginto myeyes.
Those are cars. I think that is Shimla road” he explained his eyes shininginthe weak moonlight.
Waow” was allI managed to gasp inthat astoundingmoment.
No part ofthe mountainwhichwas sectioned to make roads was visible fromPinegrove. I had no idea this angle existed. To me schoolwas confined withinfour walls. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked steppinginto the no man’s land.
“Out of the world”
I gasped.

“Samiya why did you come here?” he asked onthe wayback. “I told you to give you company.” I failed to sound amazed. I knew that wasn’t the onlyreasonor that wasn’t the complete truth.
He laughed.
No. I mean to Pinegrove.” His voice mused.
That was a sensitive subject for me.
There are thousands of reasons” I murmured.
Give me few” he interrupted.

Foremost Dad had to keep moving around due to business and mum had to stay at home because of me. My mum’s a house wife.” I explained. “But she wanted to be with dad. And I was sick. Every four months they had to rush me to the hospital in the middle of the night. Asthma was killing my parents more than it was killing me. Delhi was not the right place for someone as sick as I was”

“You know I feel my parents put up a serious fight with God to keep me. I would have been dead a long ago.” I added. I remember how mymumused to cryand mydadspent days and nights without blinkingsittingnext to me onthe hospitalbed, keepinganeye onmyeachand everybreath.

He remained quite and tense.
What?” I asked, I don’t remember sayinganythingthat could worryhim.
I can’t imagine you that sick. I guess I have always seen you like full of life.” He answered invelvet voice.
I have seen death so closely, that now I understand the meaning of life. And I am not always happy, most of the time I am just pretending.” I confessed. “You are very cheerful, when I am around. And you are not pretending then” he said, withanedge to his voice.
You wish” I answered sarcastically.

So why you think, you didn’t go then. Was it your parents prayers that kept you alive?” he reframed a simple question, why aren’t you dead. It was probablyhard for him to saythe D word.

Mostly it is.” I answered after a plausible second. “Do you believe in mysticism?” I asked before continuing.
I haven’t given it much of a thought” he answered.
Well I don’t know how to explain you this.” “Do you know anything about Bheeshma Pitahma of Mahabharata?” I asked.
He looked at me puzzled, failingto see anyconnection.

Yes. A little. He was the strongest character of Mahabharata and Grandfather of Kauravas and Pandavas. He lived for 350 years” he mumbled rememberinganythinghe knew about the character.

Do you know anything of his vows and his powers?” I asked interrogatively.
Nope” he whispered.

His vows are interesting but not of our concern right now. But his power or you could say a blessing was a very extraordinary gift that any person in the whole mankind can receive. His father and Gods gave him boon of swachhanda mrityu or Ischcha Mrityu.” I paused dramatically.

Ischcha Mrityu means control over your own death. He could choose the time of his death but he was not immortal.” I explained.
His face became curious as I talked.
He died at approximately 350 years of age at the battlefield when he wanted to give up his body.”

“You may think that’s funny but every time I was being taken to the hospital or the time when I fall down while rock climbing. I knew the game was over. The transition point when everything became still or numb from a shocking peak of pain or the hard breaths was the time when I knew someone was there to pick me up.” I stopped for a second relivingthat moment.

“But then I heard my mother crying, my dad shouting my name and I prayed to God to not take me for their sake.” “If that would have happened for once I wouldn’t have though about it but that instance repeated few times and then I knew”

“You knew what?” he interrupted his voice tempted withheavycuriosity.
“I knew that I had the same blessing. I have a boon of Ischcha Mrityu in a very strange way. God can’t take me until I allow him to”
He looked at me surprised.
So were your parents there when you fell while rock climbing?” he asked.
I remember everybit ofeachofthose experiences veryclearly.

No. Actually that part is quite unexplainable. I knew I was leaving and I wasn’t reluctant. I felt light and numb and in another second I was in terrible pain. I was back in my body. I don’t know why they didn’t take me back then” I answered.

Maybe it was for someone else’s sake” he suggested.
That didn’t go withmytheory.
Do you remember when that happened? I mean you falling down while rock climbing” he asked.
I couldn’t believe that he was goingwithmytheory.
That was mid of 2001” I answered. I remember the 9/11 attack happeninglater that year.
His eyes wide opened.
Was it May 10, 2001” he asked.
I don’t remember. But what’s about that?” I looked at himinamazement.
Nothing it just occurred to me that it must be the day. Something bad I remember took place on that date” he answered relaxinghis brows. There was a briefsilence before he changed the vibe.

“You know you have lost so much weight in last few days” he said worried climbingstairs. “You don’t eat properly. Is something wrong?” Well that explains why my tunics and skirts keep gliding down.

“Nah. Everything is fine health wise. Trust me I am hungry all the time. I haven’t lost appetite, if that’s what you mean.” “But” I sighed “the potato curry is excruciating” “and all the curries, as a matter of fact” I announced smiling.

He chuckled.
Well eat more of yoghurt and salads then” he recommended. “I like the colors on you. Keep them intact”
I dropped mygaze, duckingout.
Well I liked the colors on him too. Red lips, blue eyes, dense black eyelids, pink in cheeks.
I have no words for how much I wished in that moment that he wasn’t that beautiful, he wasn’t that incredible so that he could have belonged to me and with me.
You know Sid is going to propose you soon.” He said ina warningtone. I don’t know how that came up out ofnowhere.
How do you know?” I asked smiling.
I know” he answered wickedlyas usual.
We were quiet for a while.
You see future. Don’t you?” I asked undecidedly.
Sometimes.” He agreed.

For a moment I wanted to ask what myfuture was but I changed mymind instantly. Maybe I willend up ina mentalasylumfew years downthe lane, somehow since birththe final years ofthe schoolis the last place I see myselfinfuture. Maybe mypresent is myfuture.

I saw us goingback to dorm.
I reluctantlysaid “good night” and turned to leave. I knew he willjust disappear behind me.
Samiya” he called after me.
WhenI impulsivelyturned around to look at him, myworld paused at his expression.
I never see us together in future.” He murmured, his voice, serious and huskyreplenished withanemotion. Desperation and helplessness.

“I really want to.” he confessed. The flawless shape ofhis motionless body, the perfect white ofhis skinand the sphere ofvulnerabilityinhis voice urged me to get closer to him, to touchhim, to hold him.

But instead I stood there motionless scared ofpushingmyfate anyfurther.
I wanted you to have something of me. To remind you of me” His prismatic eyes glittered under the moon.
I wanted you to keep my jumper” He murmured ina gentle but tense voice.
Mycheeks flushed at the realizationthat he knew.
His velvetyvoice was compelling.

I hesitantlytook a step inhis direction, gettingcloser to himwas one thingthat I couldn’t resist under that pallid light ofthe stars withthis enticingpersonwhose charmpulled me like a magnet since the dayhe stepped into myworld.

Maybe his nearness would be anantidote to myanxiety.
He took a step back. His lips tightened. I knew that he knew what I was up to. Slowlyit sinked, that it wasn’t the virtuous thingfor himto do.
A horrible feelingofbeingrejected ranover me.

“You should sleep now. It’s late.” His breathblew inmyface, overpoweringme. The sweet, deep scent ofhis breathwas exquisite, a blend offragrance ofjasmine and ofone of those wines that sits indads cellar, but ina more concentrated form.

 

I blinked, thoroughly dazed and a bit humiliated “Samiya.” His voice was deep and compelling, his eyes changinga shade ofblue “You won’t remember me.” And suddenly allthe lights went offina dime.

 

5. ABSENCE

 

00005.jpgIt was hard inthe morningto believe last night was dream. The scent ofhis warmbodywas unwittingme, and a part ofme believed it was a real. I know it was irrationalbut I couldn’t make myselffeelless happyabout the fact that Adiwanted me as I wanted him.

Todayit was unusuallycloudy. I like rain. I have few good memories riveted withit. So I had a good feelingabout the day.
The gymwas cancelled that morning.

While everyone straggled inthe dorminpajamas and few struggled withface scrubs, I decided to write to mum. I used to write her everyweek untillast few years. I know it was more out oflove thancompulsion.

 

But I sort oflost a connectionthere, a letter a week turned to a letter a monthand thennone.

 

Mama kept writingme punctuallyand unconditionally. Everyletter was virtuallya copyofthe last one except for few details that changed so languidlythat I didn’t see the change coming.

First few said things like ‘ don’t cry, mama misses you too, eat properly’. Thenfor a longtime the letters said ‘does Niya cry? We miss both of you, does she eat properly’. And recentlytheysaid ‘I cry to sleep everyday, I miss you all the time, and I don’t want to eat thinking you must be hungry.’

So I took a penand paper and started writing. I told her not to cryeverydayand indulge insome socialactivities. I told her I missed her too. I thanked her for doingthe right thing for me, for keepingme awayfromher for mybenefit.

 

While endingthe letter I don’t know what came over me and I wrote

 

I don’t know why mama. I am happy all the time. You said my guardian angel is watching over me, she will reward me for good deeds. You were right.’
Always yours Samiya

 

Ifmymumis smart enoughshe willnotice a gradualchange inmyletter as well. The Always and only yours was now always yours.

 

What are you writing?” Sara asked brushingher teethlookingdubious inher pajamas whichhardlyreached her ankle. She fought withthe matronover laundryissues, it took a longargument to explainher that she was growingtaller not that the pajamas were shrinking.

 

Writing to mum” I answered foldingthe paper. I was tryingto keep it fromher; actuallylatelyI was tryingto keep a lot fromher. I wishI could explainher things whichare more complexthana teenage mind canunderstand.

 

Can you write to my mum as well” “I’ll owe you a big one” she pleaded, the frothofthe paste runningdownher chin.

Disgusting I thought.
“Well you have to promise that you will never brush your teeth publically again” I asked makinga face whichwas anunintentionalreactionto her hygiene issues. “I swear on Nani” she promised wipingher chinwithher sleeve.
There’s no way her nani will make until next year, I thought to myself.
So She was makingme write a letter to her mumwhichwillbe addressed byher. It isn’t new though, I have done that before.
I started

Dear Mum

Hope you are fine. Not that I am concerned, you know how I am J Well the news is that I am doing great despite of some of the issues with Mess food, laundry, bed bugs, bathroom ques and some of the students.

It may not come to you as a surprise that I am on football team and basket ball team. And you will feel proud to know that I have sent in a written complaint to Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission about discrimination against girls as they are not allowed to form an independent cricket team in this school. Samiya wrote the complaint letter for me, not that she wanted to. Well regardless of the fact that none of the girls want to be on the cricket team we will have an independent team by the end of this semester, Insha’Allah.

I spend all my pocket money on buying skittles due to which I have pimples as big as planets all over my face, but you should be proud that I am not spending that money on buying
drugs. Though I learned to grow opium and recipes of some home made drugs from a guy
I cannot name. You should not be upset about it and look at the positive side that I now have aknowledge which very few people have and it can be used as a potent business idea if I end up doing nothing in life.
You will be happy to know how I fight for my rights, in the literal sense of the word. I beated the shit out of Kunal when I found out that he has stolen my iPod. Though it later turned out that I had forgotten my iPod in TT Court and he had the same one.
I am so busy all the time that I don’t remember when I last made my bed. I am eating properly and have saved banana and mango peels in my cupboard to show you, they stink and can eventually become a cause of a global epidemic but I don’t care much.
I think it was 2001 when laden attacked WTC that I last waxed my legs; it’s not on my list of priorities right now.

But except that everything is being planned. Diwali is in November but I have already started preparing the fire crackers Last but not the least I do study occasionally. They failed me in an exam on psychology with incorrect and strict marking. I did whatever I can to sit a retest. I succeeded. But they have failed me on the retest again. They haven’t changed their marking pattern you see.

I really hope that you don’t do a surprise visit on visiting weekend because I have other plans.
But one thing I never say out loud or frequently is that I love you mama and Samiya told me I talk to you in sleep almost every night.
Always and only yours Sara

 

I handed over the page to Sara without worryingthat she might read it. I know her levelofpatience inreadingor writingletters. Wellshe returned it to me as soonas she took it askingme to post it for her.

 

Well that’s what friends are for. I thought sarcasticallykeepingthe letter at the back ofmybook.

 

I pinned up myhair nicelyand paid extra attentionto mylooks that morning.

I have always preferred using Fa deodorants rather thanperfumes. But that morningI opened a black cardboard boxsayingBritney Spears Curious and dabbed the scent onmy inner wrists and neck froma blue bottle withmulti-faceted glass silhouette and two pink hearts sprawlingagainst the rim. The fragrance was a white floralscent whichwas very feminine compared to the scents I was livinginlately. I preferred the later though.

There’s no harm adding more perfumes to my very limited collection. They smell nice. Maybe I can go perfume shopping with mum next visiting weekend. She would love that. I smiled onthe idea.

I smelled his jumper againbefore pushingit into mycupboard.
There was stillhalfanhour for breakfast. I couldn’t believe that time was goingbyso slowly.

I made mybed alreadyso didn’t want to sit onit. Unknowingly and unintentionally I inherited some freak obsessive compulsive disorder genomes frommymother. Inmycase the disorder was limited to certainthings like making up bed all the time, brushing teeth for hours and always removing shoes at their respective place and each shoe on its respective side.

Wellso I thought I’llgo and see Niya for a while. I used to be around her a lot more before. I hope she doesn’t notice.
There was a huge chaos intheir dorm. That was the part ofmorningroutine. Kids are more disorganized and lack experience onlivinginherds like sheep.

I found her twiddlingwiththe tie knot standingbare feet next to her bunk. She twinkled onmysurprise visit. I helped her and others withmiscellaneous tasks ofcombinghair, fixing skirts, tyinglaces etc. Theydefinitelyneeded some extra help there, one aya was not enough.

 

I promised thema swimonFridayeveningdespite the fact that I had no idea where I’llbe. I was not very good with keeping promises you see. I was fixingher books back inher cupboard whena black shinyobject lyingonthe bottomshelfcaught myattention. Ona close look I discovered it was a mouthorgan, very unique apparently. I don’t remember myparents buyingher that.

 

Where did you get this Niya” I asked assertively, showingher the mouthorgan. Myparentalinstinct awakened; scared she was stealingor indulginginsomethingthat was possiblyworse.

Male teachers using young girls sexually inveigling them with materialistic things was somethingI have heard ofquite often.
Myheart sank onthe thought. Oh god please no please no.
She panicked and her face terrorized. Her eyes dropped to the ground.
I pulled her into the corner aggressively. “Where did you get this?” I asked inthreateningvoice this time. I was onthe verge ofburstinginto tears and gettingviolent withher. “Aadil. The boy from your class gave it to me” she answered stammeringwithfear, tears rollingdownher cheeks.
I became numb, mymind refrained.

Why?” I asked politelybut ina tense voice. A part ofme didn’t want to listento the answer. I haven’t imagined that inmyworst fears. Whywould Aadilgive somethingto Niya, he didn’t know us.

Commonsense and logic, bothwere not onmyside.
He asked for your picture instead.” she answered weeping.

I started breathingonce I grasped the information. I felt so relieved as ifa close relative have returned fromdeathbed. But now I was surprised whyAadilwillneed mypicture, was he doingsome black magic onme?

 

You traded my picture for a mouth organ?” I asked sarcasticallypullingher close to mychest, clearingmymind.

 

“I told him he can keep the picture. I don’t need the mouth organ.” Ohso she was givingit for free. “But he said he bought it for his sister who he won’t see sooner. He said he wanted me to have it as a present.” She said stammeringand crying, her face onmychest and her hands around mywaist.

 

“I am sorry sweetheart. I thought you were stealing. I am sorry. I was just worried about you” I explained kissingher red cheek, wipingher face. Few moments ago I wanted her to be safe, more thananythinginthis world and right now I wished I would have not used that tone withher no matter what.

 

“I’ll return it didi. I don’t want it” she said lookinginto myeyes.

“No. You don’t have to. You can keep it. It’s a present. That’s nice of him. He thought of you as a sister.” I said puttingthe mouthorganback fromwhere I picked it. The picture that was clicked byNiya withher disposable camera onmy15thbday, last year was sticked inside her locker. It was no more there. I closed her cupboard and returned her the keys.

You know di whatever I’ll play on this mouth organ it will stay forever. This is special. Its made from a meteor”

 

Mymouthfellopenindisbelief. That’s what Aditold me ofhis guitar. How could I imagine somethingthat I didn’t know of? Somethingsomewhere was not right.

 

Hey there” I said pushingmywaybetweenRaagand Mandy, who supposinglywere dissipated indiscussingworld issues onthe breakfast table, with their handsome mate missing.

Think of Devil” Raagsaid movinghis chair aside, makingspace for me to fit inand Mandyagreeingflicked onmyhead. “Ouch.Mandy.You are such a pig” I said agitatedlyrubbingmyhead.
I’ll take it as a compliment” he said smiling.
Of course you will. Pigs are much more sensible. I thought

So whenthe greetings were over I maneuver timidlywhile mytwo suspicious audiences waited for me to prevailuponmysuddenfriendlybehavior at 7.30 inthe morningwhenI am usuallybusyevennoticingtheminour tenyears ofhistorytogether.

 

“So what’s up?” Raagasked tiltinghis head over his palm, takinga good look ofmyface, definitelyeyeingMandybecause there has to be some reasonfor the crooked smile. “Nothing much” I answered politelypouringmyselfa glass ofwater and started sipping, myhand tremblinglike anything, as theytwo stillcontinued eyingme, I don’t know where to start.

There was a briefsilence.
He is gone out of school. If that’s what you are after” Mandyrendered indifferently.
What?” I asked confused.
“Aadil is out of school” Mandysaid.
Girls must have beenaskingabout him, that’s whytheyare behavingso funny.
“That’s none of my business.” I answered withutter honesty“Actually I wanted to know.” I hesitated “is something weird happening to you? Like forgetting things andseeing things that don’t make sense.” I asked confused unable to bet myexperiences inwords.

Theylooked at me blankly.
Are you still sick?” Raagasked worried.
Forget about it.” I said and left a bit irritated.

I culled for the note Adiwrote inmybook and matched it to Aadil’s hand writingfromhis notebook, whichI stole fromstaffroom. It matched. I put inallmyeffort to write withthe same strokes, inthe same calligraphybut I couldn’t get evenclose. I was sure I couldn’t have writtenthat duringone ofthose imaginationattacks. It has to be someone else.

 

PossiblyAadilhas the answers to myquestions. But he was out ofschool. We weren’t allowed to leave schoolduringsemesters unless somethingveryimportant came up like a deathor a weddingofsomeone close. I don’t know whyI was worried for Aadil’s family, I was prayingfor their wellbeingconstantlyinmyheart allthe time. Myeyes kept flickeringto his emptyseat and to the door where I wished he would appear out ofthinair. And everytwo minutes I opened his notebook as it made me feelthat he was close. MissingAadilshould feellike ditchingAdibut somehow it didn’t. WithAadilgone, Adiwas gone too.

 

I used mylunchhour and allthe free time to prepare notes for Aadil so that he doesn’t miss out onanything. I wasn’t sure whenhe was comingback or evenifhe was comingback at all.

 

I went to libraryafter finishingcoachingand the basket ballgame. It was a verylongdayand thoughI was workingonsomethingor another the whole time, a strange kind of emptiness siege me. I realized I was alone before he came but I wasn’t lonely.

 

Thanks to himhe was a continuous fuelfor thought and I was lonelier thanI have ever been.

Distracted I scribbled his name onlast page ofone ofthe notebooks outliningit withsmallhearts sittinginthe silent corner ofthe library. I wrote myname beneathhis and started crossingthe commoncharacter; I realized I was playingflames. That was a sillylittle thingwe used to do whenwe were kids, it was a bit ofcalculationand crossingto get one letter as a result. F stood for friends, L for love, A for Adore, M for marriage, E for Enemies and S for sisters.

The result came out to be A. So we adored eachother. I don’t know what his feelings were for me but mine were definitelymore thanadorationso I crossed the whole thingin irritation.

 

I ate a lot ofsalad for lunchand dinner as was requested ofme and waited inlibraryuntilmidnight hopinghe’llshow up. But he didn’t. I went to bed halfheartedlyand spent a restless night waitingfor the morningallalong.

 

He wasn’t there the next day. I waited untilafternoonbut his absence was makingme worried now. I didn’t know whomto ask except for headmaster. I remember headmaster givingus sweets whenever beingsent to his cozylittle office for a punishment, whenI was little. He used to spoilus like a lenient father. But that wasn’t the case anymore. I was a grownup now and so was he.

 

I needed a good storyifI was goinganywhere near his office. And I knew I wasn’t good at that.

I knocked at a browntimber door witha goldenname plate saying“ S.P. Singh, headmaster”.
I went there after schooland before coaching, givinghimno reasonto think I was missinganyclass.
“Come in” a strongvoice answered. Now I wished I wouldn’t have come.
I opened the door gentlyand took a quick look, makingsure what I have heard and entered the roommoderatelymonitoringeachstep as the timber floor made noise as I walked. Headywas writingonsomethingthat appeared to be a register. He didn’t look up to see who it was.
His calmbut strict and businesslike attire was makingme fidgety.
Good evening sir” I forced the words out ofmymouth.
Good evening miss Mittal” he replied after a longpause figuringout it was me, ofcourse he wasn’t expectingme. He wasn’t writinganymore. “How can I help you?” he asked ina serious voice.

Sir I am doing an article on Muscular Dystrophy for Grapevine, the school magazine. It is one of those diseases which still doesn’t have a cure” I said abasely, I was gettinggood withlieingdaybyday.

 

Wellthat was not a complete lie, I’llhave to do anarticle now, unfortunatelyour principalhas a sharp memory.

 

That sounds interesting. You should talk to Kirti Suri of Class 12. Her brother suffered the same disease. She might be able to help you with understanding how family deals with this kind of sickness” Headyadded.

Yes definitely Sir. Thanks for letting me know” I answered nonchantly.
So what can I do for you?” he asked the same questionagainwhenI didn’t sayanythingexcept for that.

Sir I was working on it with Aadil Rathore of my class. He didn’t hand me his part of writing before leaving. The submission deadline is tomorrow morning. I was wondering if I could know when he’ll be back so that I complete it sooner” Myvoice disappeared onthe last words. I felt drops ofmoisture arisingonmyneck despite the fact that the roomwas air conditioned.

His casual expression changed to a rigorous one. His eyes a bit angry.
“You better complete it by yourself”
he managed to sayruefullybefore movingback to his writing.
“Thank you Sir” I murmured before turningtowards the door.

“Miss Mittal” I heard behind myback and turned to look at heady. He was gettingup fromhis chair openinga drawer onhis huge timber workingdesk. “Come here” he commanded.

I slowlyreached his table.
He took out a bunchofsheets, whichwere thick enoughlike certificates.
Look at these” he said throwingthose certificates infront ofme.

NTSE Exam top, Maths Olympiad Top, Procom quiz, every debate, each and every class since Montessori I he has been standing firm at his position of number one Miss Mittal” He was mad at me, almost shouting.

 

I trembled lookingonthose certificates whichsaid Aadil’s name repeatedly.

 

His father is one of the best surgeon’s in the world. Even if he doesn’t make into any Indian medical school his dad will make sure that he studies medicine in one of the top universities of united states of America” his voice highwithanger.

 

Have you thought about yourself? If you don’t do it, all these years of struggle will go in vain. You will end up nowhere. Do you ever think about your parents?” he stated calmingdown.

Myeyes rolled downashamed. But I don’t know why. I was seeingAdinot Aadiland I guess its onlyme who cansee Adi.
I very well see what’s happening” he sighed. “You are not very brilliant. But you are sincere. Don’t get distracted. This time will never come back” And I felt guiltyfor puttinghiminthis position.
Sorrywas not enougha word. And I should be sorryto myselfthanto him. “Youcan leave now” he commanded ina low voice sittingdownonhis chair. I walked out without lookingup.

Heady’s word echoed inmymind allthe time. He was right this time willnever come back.
He was right ifAdiwont benefit fromus, he wont be at loss either, I never gave a thought to how quick he was inunderstandinglessons. How he excelled instudies.

But wait. That’s Aadilhe is talkingabout. I was goingcrazy. I don’t know what was happening. And I definitelydidn’t know what was the difference betweenAdiand Aadil. Nothingseemed to be inmycontrol. And the truthwas I didn’t ask for anyofthis.

 

He againdidn’t turnup the next day. I submitted the thingI was supposed to do onMuscular dystrophy whichI finished late last night and kept myselfbusywithbooks. Heady’s confabulationmade it easyfor me to not look at Adi’s note everynow and then.

 

Now I doubted that Adi willneed anykind ofhelp fromme regardingstudies. But stillI couldn’t help and made anextra copyofwhatever was beingtaught. I redeemed mymind fromwonderingwhere he was and whenhe’llbe back.

I joined Niya and her friends for a swimthat evening, givingmyselfa chance to keep a promise for a change. As the coolsplashofwater touched myface under the eveningsuna chillranthroughmyspine.
Floatingonthe cold and stillwater ofmyschool’s shallow poolwitheyes closed, made me forget everythingfor a while.
Maybe afterlife willbe identicalto this moment. An inexplicable pleasure. A peace. Nothingto think ofor to worryabout.
I heard Niya and her friends beggingfor some more time inpoolwhile their teacher disagreed.

I let themargue and climbed out ofthe pool, took a quick shower indesperationto cover mynaked legs and wrapped the towelaround mywaist after founderingthe attempt of soakingmyself.

 

I walked up the stairs to pick mybagbefore gettingdressed distracted bythe extensive ruckus onthe pool. WhenI reached the finalstep I muddled as it was him sitting next to my bag. His eyes tinseled inthe blurred moment. They always do on sighting me. The straight line betweenhis lips turned into anexultingsmile. The breathtakingimmaculate face looked more admirable thanI remembered. The giddiness was similar to the dayI first saw him. Myconditionwas monotonous to anaddict who was tryingto quit and out ofnowhere was inveigled witha packet ofcocaine.

Inthat moment I had a blurred sight but a clear vision, I can’t quit him, I just can’t stop liking him. “Remember me?” he asked inhis soft tenderlyvoice. The pressure ofavoidingdisgrace always saved me fromfaintingand sprintingheadlong. “Adi” I confirmed.
Who else” he asked quietly.

While he waited I rushed to the change roomand got changed into a white shirt and blue tunics and put a hair band onmywet hair, threw mycostume into the laundrybucket and flew downthe stairs takingtwo at a time.

So” he asked smilingtuckinga lock ofmyhair behind myear makingsure his skindoesn’t touchmine. I doubt I would have felt it anyways; I was so numb right now. Still I shrugged.
“We need to talk”
I proclaimed himto come withme, without givinghima chance to ask questions or refuse.

We walked to the meadow near the brooke. The blue floxand the rhythmic sound ofthe water tempted me to think nothingexcept ofhis presence. He leaned against the tree I was sittingnext to. His lips pressed ina straight line. The gravelyfeatures onhis pale face sent a physicaljault throughmybody. He was tense. I tried to ignore and focus.
He raised his eye brow.

Where were you?” I asked “these three days”
He sighed relaxinghis brow. A briefsilence followed.
Samiya I have decided not to lie to you anymore. But there are things I can’t share.” “Don’t ask me where I was. Don’t make me lie” he flinched feelingguilty. I tried absorbinghis words.

“Just tell me is everything alright with you and your family. You left so unanticipated.” I said bitingmylip. I was trulyworried for himand surprisinglyfor Dr Rathore and Dr Ethalia and Olivia and Oliver, his adopted siblings allthe time. I don’t know whenI developed emotions for people I have never met. Maybe the reasonwas the connectionwe shared, Adi.

“Everything is uniform. Nothing has worsened” he answered lightly.
The answer wasn’t right. It didn’t cloymyurge. I wanted to hear that everythingwas perfectlyfine. But I let it go.
You are freaking intelligent. You won bludy thousands of competitions. You scored exceptionally well in each grade. Why didn’t you tell me?” I nearlygrowled at him. He looked at me more furious thanstunned.
I don’t know. You never asked. But I told you I have good memory.” he answered, makinganeffort to controlhis anger.
Yes Aditold me that. But who is Adiand who is Aadil.
Who are you? Adi or Aadil?”
He flinched. His expressionsoftened.
I am what, you believe I am” he said silently.
I was thoughtfulfor a second.
“Are you and Aadil the same person?” I asked mutely.
His expressiontensed.
I wish we were.” he paused “but there is no degree of permanence between you and either one of us. Don’t head the wrong way.” He maintained his composure. Now I resented touchingthat topic. Cant I just stop questioningand live inthe moment.
I missed you. Don’t ever leave again without warning me” I couldn’t believe that I was sayingthis to him.
He smiled hesitantlythoughhis painwasn’t soothed.
What happened with you and heady?” he asked confused.
You didn’t show up for two days I became worried. I didn’t know whom to ask except for heady.” I explained.
So you went to him and asked where I was?” he asked surprised, his eyes wide open.

Not straightaway of course. I said you and I were working on an article for grapevine and you didn’t submit your part, so will you be back by the submission deadline.” I explained.

Not too bad. Sounds genuine” he concluded smiling. I don’t know if that was disdain
“Not to him. He took out your certificates and started shouting”
I flinched onthe memory.
“What did he say?” he asked his voice curious.

“Stuff” I sighed. “Like you are intelligent besides your dad will make sure you go to best university in states and that I am complete opposite and I shouldn’t distract myself. He said I’ll end up nowhere in life” I said reservedly.

 

“His reasons and the way he spoke to you wasn’t right. But the intention behind it was just for your benefit. Not even mine. I hope you understand it.” He said ina deep voice.

I wondered ifhis wisdomwas aninborntalent or somethingthat he acquired throughtime.
I perceived more respect for himlisteningto his thoughts onthe matter.
“I wish I could explain heady that I can’t do any better than I am already doing. That you don’t distract me.” I said meetinghis gaze.
“I don’t?” he asked ina low and quiet voice.

Yes you do. But it doesn’t depend on whether I am with you or not, it remains unruffled.
I remained unspokenwhile he analyzed myface to sample mythoughts. His eyes calmbut anexpressionofunsurityclenched his face. He was no more upset. His moods changed quickly.
Are you a cancarian?” I asked barelyaware ofwhat his questionwas.

Yes 3rdJuly. I share my bday with Tom Cruise. Though I wish I was born six days later to share it with Tom Hanks. I prefer the later” he told me smugly. “How do youknow?” he demanded.

I guessed.” I said blinkingat himblithe bymyaccurate prediction.
He raised his eye brow.
I read too much about zodiac signs, astrology and stuff. You are feasible with all cancarian characteristics”
I clarified proudly.
Tell me about it. About my characteristics” he snapped.

Well let’s see. You have mood swings, you can become the coldest person drowning the other to a bottomless depression and another time you can be very charming pampering someone to the top of the world, giving that someone all the attention. You adjusted here in no time, which means you are adaptable just like a cancarian. There is tremendous love in your voice when you speak of your family that means you are very attached to them. You avoid limelight, I know because you never answer any questions in the class though you very well know the answer. During conversation your facial features change a number of times like a crab. You are exceptionally well than others in regards to numerous things but still you don’t seem pleased; you are not cheerful about the future that means you are prone to pessimism a weakness of a cancarian. Your own thoughts and secrets are strictly off limit for everyone. You really have to like someone immensely to discuss your personal life.

Sometimes I feel that you evaluate me if I am worthy of it. Wastage of things tick you off, especially food, there are no leftovers in your plate, ever. You are a typical cancarian Adi.” I laughed wretchedlypleased withmyownknowledge.

And yes there are things that I don’t know about you. But they are few major traits of cancarian, like they are loyal; in fact cancer males are the most loyal men on the face of Earth. They never give up on objects they cherish be it a gift from a lover or a worn jeans they love wearing. Too much is not enough for them. They need more, more love and care of their lover.” I pointed out gracefully.

He stared perplexed at me.
After a longmoment he sighed.
Waow” he gasped and thensucked ina deep breath. “You are good at it” he finallysaid.
Thanks” I said flushing“I like reading astrology books” I said exaggeratingoverwhelmed bythe praise. Truth was I didn’t have any love for astrology in particular, I readanything and everything. So have read one or two books on zodiacs.

“What’s you sign?” he asked withanedge ofcuriosityto his tone.
“I am Pisces. The last sign of the Zodiac born on 28 February 1990” I said givinginformationthat was not demanded.
“Belated happy bday and I am an year older” He retorted “Now tell me about you?” he snapped impatiently.

“Pisces is emotional and sensitive just like you. Pisces is inflexible and finds hard adjusting in new circumstances. They are not interested in material things, they are aware of money’s impermanence. Pisces feel truly happy and satisfied when they go against the flow, they like bringing change. They are easygoing and not bothered by restrictions. Very few things in the world compel them to lose their temper. They live in their own world. They think everyone is good and everything is beautiful.”.

“That’s all I know” I said ina soft voice rubbingmyhands to warmthemsmilingat him.
“That’s you. You are a typical Pisces yourself” he said quickly, no doubt inhis clear eyes.
“There is one basic Pisces trait I lack. So I doubt my entity as a Pisces.” I said ruefully.
“Pisces have sharp memory” I sounded anxious and resentfulat the same time.
“You have one too. Trust me.” he said dismissively“You just are using it on all the wrong things.”
“Okay tell me what you want to do with your life”
he asked enthusiastically.
I sighed “Right now. I want to be normal. Enough of twists and turns. I just want a normal life.”
He looked at me besieged.
That’s exactly what I keep asking God for. A normal life.” He said bemused.
I smiled.
“You do Mr. Cancarian. Here’s a tip. Stop scoring highest as first step to indulgence” I said laughing, shiftingmyweight onanother leg. Beneaththe transient humor I felt a strange impulse. I did not understand clearlywhythe word normal life sounded more convulsive whenhe used it inhis context.

“How I wish there was a good competition” he mumbled withhis eyes closed and hand onhis marble like chest followed byanenigmatic smile. I didn’t realize whenhe slipped ona blazer duringthe conversation.

It was dark alreadyand one rigorous look at his bodytook mybreathaway. I think I’llnever get over the shock how perfect he looks.
Iflooks were the onlycriteria thenwe were a perfect mismatch.
I flinched onthe directionofmythoughts. He misunderstood.
We should get going. Its getting dark and cold.” he suggested calmly.
I didn’t want to go. I hope the disappointment was not too apparent onmyface.
I don’t think that I fooled him. A smile was playingaround the edges ofhis lips as he gave me his hand to get up.
I took his help barelytouchinghis palm.
A jault ofpleasure ranthroughme as his too soft skintouched mine.
As I got up he carefullypulled me closer. His pale glorious face was just inches frommine.
I froze.
His breathtouched myface, so warmand exotic. I wished I could staythere like that forever.
Before I get a chance to clear mythoughts he took offhis blazer and wrapped it over me, I pulled myarms into the longsleeves withease.
He made sure that it was buttoned before steppingback.
Better now. Don’t want you to fell sick. Cant take your absence more than I already did” he blinked admiringhis blazer onme.
Breathe; I had to remind myselfwhile he leaded me throughthe bushes towards the Brooke.
Samiya” he asked ina different tone, calmbut pleading.
Yes?” I turned to himtoo eagerly.
Don’t come to this place alone especially at this time” he said staringpast me into the woods.
Why?” I stared at him.
There is some wild life left out there besides you are a young girl” he frowned.
I shuddered slightlyat the bleakness inhis voice and realityofhis words.

The sound ofthe trickle ofthe streamis rejuvenatingunder the shiningSunbut as the sunsets the murmuringand rustlingofwater becomes roaring. Ifit wasn’t for the dimlights on the muddypaththat randownthe slope alongthe Brooke and the moonthat shined weaklyunder the cloudyskywe would have beenlost inthe moodyand dark wood withscare offallinginto the runningwater.

But stillI loved the low lights and nights. That’s whyI dedicated a significant time ofsixteenyears ofmylife staringout ofthe dormwindow waitingto be out there under the stary skyone day.

It was last year whenthe whole schoolleft for winter break leavingthe board classes behind, that I first tasted freedomand discovered this little get away. “Will I see you at dinner?” I demanded.
No I am not back in school yet.” he smiled.
Those words sent flutters throughmystomach. It scared me.
I pulled his blazer offhesitantly, he took it back unwillingly.
I somewhat awkwardly, unscramblingmybrainwalked towards the dormitory.
Samiya” he called behind me.
Yes?” I turned impetuously.
You won’t remember me tomorrow” he said.
I smiled at himinblank confusionbefore turningaround.

I almost stumbled few stairs distracted. I realized it was cold as myteethclenched together and I shivered. Whydid he saythat you want remember me tomorrow. He has said that before. Last time he said that I fainted unable to remember anything after that.

 

6. TRUTH

 

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I reached for mykeycard mechanicallyunlockingthe dormitorydoor and steppinginside, confused.
The mixed fragrances ofladies perfumes and the foulsmells ofsome homemade skincare remedies like henna and eggs were repugnant to the aura ofmy night garden. Sara was watchingcricket matchonTV lyingat Amber’s bed while Amber was givingherselfa manicure
What’s the score?” I asked Sara, who was exceptionallyunobservant ofmyarrival.
That’s what people keep askingeachother duringthe cricket season. It’s kind ofa ritualI suppose.
Cut the crap. You don’t know a thing about cricket.” She said without anyhumor, glaringat me.
She was right. So I ignored it.
Where were you?” She added.
Her voice unusuallyarrogant, makingme uncomfortable.
At coaching in physics lab” I replied tentatively, shuddering.
I was around the corner. I didn’t see you there” she asked mystified.
I went for a swim after that with Niya” I nervouslymurmured staringat TV, avoidingher glare.
But your hair aren’t wet?” she demanded. Why in God’s name this has to be the night for all noticing and interrogating.
I touched my hair impulsively, prolonging the moment to think of a lie.
“I ended up studying on the pool stairs after the swim. It was warm out there.”
I said nonchantlyflickingmyhair.
“I think they usually close the pool at five, that’s an hour ago” she said lookingat the clock, a bit surprised, I think the idea ofopeningthe pooltilllate was buggingher. I know that she trusts me. But couldn’t she have asked that question along with the last one. I would have figured out something better.

“Yeah. Yeah they do. I went to the library after that to return the books. You know I kind of get stuck in there.” I doubt ifI’llremember the order ofthe events the next day I hardlyremember it now.

“Oh tell me about it!” she murmured under her breath, partiallyconvinced. It isn’t a hard job foolingher after all.
“I posted the letters today, to mums” I said ticklishlyenunciatingeverysyllable, makingup a tinybit for the immense guilt I felt.
“Well done” she said smilingbrieflybefore switchingher eyes back to TV.
I rolled myeyes at Amber while she snickered. The feelingofguilt was overpowered byanger whenI realized that was allI was goingto get.
You are welcome sweetie” myvoice filled withheavysarcasmas I strolled downto mybunk.
I removed myshoes and stretched myarms before lyingdownonmyback.
Do you mind if I?” Amber asked hoppingonmybed after few seconds, shapingher nails witha cute little nails filer.
Yes sure” I delightedlywelcomed her straighteningup. She was strugglinghard to give her ringfinger naila good shape.
Here I’ll do it for you” I offered. I didn’t excel on that but surely was better than her.
Bless you” She murmured handingit to me.
So where were you?” she asked witha wicked glint inher eyes.
I gulped. I just explained. What was that suppose to mean.
I quicklyscanned the order ofevents I just told Sara.
I was in the library” I said, but, ridiculouslymyvoice broke.
You are not a good liar” she laughed.
“What?” I asked inconfusion.

Amber was a sweet tinycreature just like her filer and veryadorable strictlymindingher ownbusiness at alltimes. This has to be the day when my dead grandfather can come alive to grill me.

I am seeing Raag these days” she whispered inmyear “if that explain things.”
I was stillconfused.
You two. Waow” I said myeyes wide open, pretendingto be upbeat and curious at the same time “when, how where tell me all about it.”

She hopped cheerfullyonmybouncingmattress, blushing, holdingmyhands “yes, yes, can you believe it? I mean Raag. You know what? I was dying to tell you. I can’t trust anyone except you with this you know. I can get expelled” she murmured leaningcloser to myear.

You can always count on me” I said smolderingmyeyes at her.
I carefullyslipped downthe filer and tugged mylegs close to chest warmingup for Amber’s love story or Amber’s fling; we might end up callingit that after few years.

It started last year during board exams” she said hypnotized just bythe thought ofit. “He helped me with maths and science, I mean it wasn’t his job” “he was so kind and soft spoken. He is that good guy one can only dream of”’ “You won’t believe I made the first move” she sounded proud ofherself.

You did?” I asked inamusement.
She nodded faintlybut a huge smile played onher smallbow like lips.

I asked him to write me on the day of last exam, before leaving for break. When I got home which is like five hours from here I went straight to my computer, there was this small offline message saying,Imissyoualready she blushed rememberingit.

 

You know I cursed yahoo messenger. That stupid thing couldn’t hold onto it. But anyways I replied “missyoutoo”straightaway and we two ended up chatting for two whole weeks. I don’t remember doing anything else in that vacation. Trust me I have never ever been so desperate to come back to school” she gasped. “Waow. I am so happy for you.” I murmured caressingher hand. Her storywas briefbut heartening. These two here were the people I have grownup with, whomI loved andcared for. I was overwhelmed withjoy.

Thanks” she said cheerfully.
So do you two see yourself going further with this after school?” I asked more out ofcuriositythancourtesy.
I was alreadyimaginingtwo ofthemas bride and groom.

Yeah of course. It depends where Raag gets medical seat and I’ll move to that city. I’ll be doing BCom and don’t have any preferences for any specific colleges .And yes hopefully will get married some day.” She expatiated delightlycrossingher fingers.

Amen” I whispered.
So how are you two hitting” she asked me suddenly.
I glanced over to see her studyingme withcurious eyes.
Who two?” I asked confused.
You and Aadil” she responded a little confused.
What? Are you nuts? Me and Aadil are not even friends.” I murmured under mybreath. The thingshe was gettingto was reallyhard for me to explain.

Oh please. Raag told me everything. And I told you everything about me. Don’t you trust me enough” she countered.
Mychinraised a fractionand I stared at her inobvious curiosity.
What did Raag tell you?” I asked repulsively.
“Aadil loves you since the first day at school” she paused dramatically.
“Raag found it pretty amazing, you know how these guys see us, as if we are still kids but gradually Aadil talked him and Mandy into it. He adores your simplicity and

thinks you have the sweetest nature that puts others first. I believe that too, just for the record.” she said laughing. “He played guitar in the band just for your sake,

trying to impress you and stuff. He spends time with Niya teaching her music, I think to love something that you love. To get connected, if you know what I mean?And yes Moon acted rude to you about something relating to him, he talked it through with her. I was there and I haven’t seen anyone in that bad mood in my whole life.” She took a deep breath.

“So concisely if he says he doesn’t want to be more than friends he is bull shiting. Truth is he is dying for your attention and love. And my dear friend everyone around knows except for that boneheaded blonde and you I guess” she said glancingat Sara and thenme.

 

“See I have to go. Will catch you at dinner. Ask me anything you want to know. A lot have been kept from you apparently” she left sayingthat earnestly.

I stared out into the dark night, not sure what myface was exposing. Myshutteringheart beats made it impossible to relaxand think. It felt like a dreamthoughI was aware insome corner ofmyconsciousness that it wasn’t. I was too uncomfortable inthat positionas I was havinggoose bumps and myfinger tips were hurtingbecause ofcold. But I lied onthe quilt lifeless unable to get underneathit. I subconsciouslydredged up allthe informationAmber gave me, goingthroughit word byword. The images started forminginmymind as I related themto practicality.

I was surmisingit. He saw me at dinner that night, the night when he stared at me awkwardly. It started then but he ignored me thereafter for a vey long time. Why? And Raag and Mandy knew it since then. He was nice to Niya for me. He fought with Moon. But he was not Adi or was he Adi.
Aadil loved me
, somethingthat I severelywanted. But now despite ofbringingjoythat was precariouslyworryingme. FinallyI decided. I had to find out the truth, I couldn’t put it offanylonger.

 

He won’t tell me. And I doubt if his friends knew anything about it. Maybe I cango oninternet to find informationabout him. Maybe I could find somethinginhis past.

 

I realized it was time for dinner. I sat up and myhead spunfor a minute as blood flowed downward. I got up cumbrouslyunlockingthe cupboard and pulled out a comfysweat. I touched his warmjumper sluggishlyand took a quick whiffbefore closingthe door.

 

Sara its time for dinner” I screeched to make myvoice reachthe other corner ofthe huge dorm, wearingmyshoes. She remained inert, and answered “Hun” distracted, so damnbusywithsome stupid match.

Here wear your shoes. And be quick else we’ll be late” I ordered throwingher shoes infront ofher.
She was about to argue but thendecided to chickenout.
I turned offthe TV while she was strivingwithher shoes.
I need your keycard tonight” she said, not meetingmygaze. Her voice a unificationofa demand and pleading.

Mykeyremained activated 24/7. I was allowed access to everythingallthe time as I was a senior science student and Sara’s keywas denied access to anyofthe schoolbuildings after 8 inthe evening.

I couldn’t denygivingher mykeyevenifshe was up to some mischiefbut I stillthought ofit as mydutyto ask where the keywas about to be used, just incase. “What’s the noble deed?” I asked subtly.
Match Rumpus room” she murmured.
Why are you having a match in rumpus room” I asked. Surelythat was a stupid thingto do.
No, we are not” she said irritated. “We are watching match live on projector.” She said ina voice that implied it should be obvious.
We means?” I couldn’t help asking, and it came out ina peculiar maternaltone.

Mr. Mathur and Sid planned the whole thing. It’s exclusively for few people. None of the staff knows. You have nothing to worry about mummyji” she said pushingme out ofthe dorm.

Okay. You can take the key. But I’ll need you to drop me and pick me up from library” I didn’t want to put mythingoffbyanother day.
I’ll be real late. It may finish after midnight” she announced lingeringbyme.

That’s fine” I murmured. I prettymuchneed severalhours ifI have to go thougheverysinge entrythat comes up onGoogle, myfavorite searchengine onfontingAadil Rathore’s name.

At dinner, Aadilwas not present. He was right; he was not inschoolyet. Duringmythought process, Sid slipped into the chair next to mine.

He was cravingfor myattentionallthat while bycoughingor askingto pass somethingbut allI could manage was a heartless smile for himbefore lookingback at Sara to reassemble mythoughts whichwere verytangled right now.

 

Samiya.” Sid said, ina tone too different fromhis normal, mischievous one. I turned around to look at himimpulsively. His expressionmade me shrug. Not now I thought asrepelled to no never. I alreadyhad enoughfor one day. “I want to ask you something.” He said hesitantly. “Not now Sid.” I said stungat his choice ofplace to propose a girl. A

schoolmess, witheachand everypersonofschoolpresent there. “ Later.” I added makingmywayout ofthe hall, I could hear a prattle goingaround withmine and Sid’s name. This was one explicit thingabout the life inlive-in- schools, no one was allowed to have a secret. I felt sorry for Sid. But what he didn’t knew was that he was lucky, that I was not the one for him.

I realized I was tiered as I was takingdouble the time inallthe chores thanI usuallytake. The backlogoflack ofsleep and the food inmystomachpushed me into a subconscious state ofmind where I was halfsleeping.

 

Sara impatientlyfiddled withthe keywhile I made myselfa cup ofcoffee before goingto the library. Without the keyI willbe stuck inthere for hours dyingfor some caffeine to keep me going.

I’ll be on the upper level” I shouted behind her stickingmyarminmiddle ofthe librarydoor.
Alright” she answered ina voice strongand clear before disappearinginto the dark.

I wasn’t the onlyone inthere. But stillthe place was seriouslydrained ofmen. I cautiouslymade mywayup the old woodenspiralstaircase balancinga cup ofcoffee inone and books inthe other hand.

 

I rested mybooks next to the old computer. This was the same corner whichAdi chose for the last night out. I remember noticingthis ancient computer then.

I switched onthe computer after hittingthe right buttononCPU a while after temperingzillions ofthe wrongones. Usuallythe librarycomputers hit youinthe face whenyouturn themonand thenyouhit it back and youend up ina longfight before gettingto anythingproductive. So I left the computer onits ownand moved to set the roomtemperature ona better level, to make the place warm. It took me a while to get it right. For some reasontechnologyhas always repelled me.

I logged inusingmystudent ID and beganclosingallthe little windows that pop up everytime youturnonschool’s computers. I hit Google as soonas the internet explorer showed up. And thenI hit inthe few easilytraceable words oninternet Dr Tanmay Rathore’s son.

 

The first page showed up Dr Rathore’s personalWebPages and thenthe Wikipedia. Wikipedia is always promisingwhenyouhave to start up withthe basic informationabout a thingor a person. I didn’t have to wait longfor it to load. Internet worked smoothlyat this hour ofthe day.

 

I clicked onfamily and the personal life inthe contents without botheringto look throughthings like his career, researches, education, earlylife etc. I quicklyread throughuntilit mentioned On July 3, 1989, Dr Aleko gave birth to a baby boy named Aadil at Bethesda North Hospital in Ohio. Dr Rathore stated that the name derives from the Arabic word for “just, someone who wants to see that justice is done”. He is the only biological child of Dr Rathore and Dr Aleko.

The rest ofthe paragraphsaid about the adoptionofOlivia and Oliver, a native Africantwins. The Controversycolumnbeneaththis paragraphcaught myattention. I read it carefullyto find anythingrelated to Aadil. It seemed most ofthe controversies centered onthe researchfunded byDr Rathore. It seemed the researches that were carried out inDr Rathore’s establishment were deemed irrelevant and impossible bysome ofthe critics. Thus it was countered as wastage ofmoney.

I wondered what the controversy was about. It was his money; he could burn it if he wants. Some people are born with the sole purpose of criticizing others. Anyways I didn’t find muchabout Adionthe site.
I went back to the searchengine.

First few pages showed up the links to the hospitals and other organization’s that have used Dr Rathore’s services. There were few YouTube pages sayinginterview with famous NRI’s.

I was disoriented and impatient so I rushed back to Google again. This time I typed in Aadil Rathore. I felt motivated to see 63,500 results. But the joydidn’t last longwhenI realized that I had everyAadilexcept for the one I was lookingfor. Anamazingamount ofpeople lived out there withAadil’s name and allhad access to internet ina wayor another except for mine. But I kept lookingand finallycame throughanentrysaying14 Students injured in School bus accident in Rajasthan. Dr Tanmay Rathore and Son highlighted inblack, transcendingthe other information.

Aadil had an accident, I could hardlymake myselfthink the words. Myheart thudded badlyand a chillthat had nothingto do withthe weather made me shiver as I clicked onthe link. It was a newspaper article

 

The Times of India

 

IANS, May 11, 2001, 10.14 am IST

 

Jaipur: At least 14 students, 2 teachers and a bus driver were injured, six of them critically, when their bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep gorge 50 Kms from Jaipur, police said on Thursday.

The accident took place Thursday morning when the bus carrying students of Mayo College, Ajmer fell into a deep gorge on its way back to Ajmer. The students were returning after winning a Junior Football Championship from Jaipur. Some of the students injured came from well known families. The injured students included Rajat Kapoor s/o of LM Kapoor of Kapoor Cotton and Daal mills, Aadil Rathore s/o Dr Tanmay Rathore, Karan Singh s/o Lt Gen Amrinder Pal Singh, Harman Mittal s/o Dheer Mittal of Mobile-Oil-India and Prateek Deewan s/o journalist Priya Deewan.

“All injured have been admitted to two different government hospitals in the nearby District. And would be later moved to the private hospitals. Of those injured, the condition of six is stated to be critical” Deputy Superintendant of Police R.K. Varma told reporters.

 

“Those injured are in age-group of 10-12 years.” He added.

Mymind went blank. It wouldn’t have takena minute to read it but those few seconds felt like a verylongtime. I had a sinkingfeelingas I pictured what would have happened. Would he have beenthe one amongst the criticallyinjured? I saw myselfimagininghiminblood lyingunconscious insome inhumanlyand unimaginable circumstances as a small tender kid. The onlyphysicalpainthat was impossiblyhard to bear was the one I had whenI falldownfrom20 feet height while rock climbing. But right now there was no precedent to the painmybodywas sufferingjust onthought ofthat miseryas ifI was beingthrownfromthat height over and over again.

I minimized that window and opened a new page inmyrushto find what happened after that. Mymind dismissed the thought that he was fine and alright now. I was livinga terrible fear inthe past date of11 May2001. I went throughhundreds ofentries but found nothing.

 

I kicked the CPU indisgust. Aggravated onnewspapers for not coveringwhat happened to those kids after that. ThroughmyirritationI felt overwhelmingpain. I was hurting. It was a strange déjà vuishkind offeelingas ifI have seenthe accident happening, as ifI was one ofthem. Mybodyached terribly.

 

I went to the librarycatalogand found onlyone propitious book related to accidents Aftermath of the road accidents. I memorized the aisle and it didn’t took me longto hunt one.

 

The book was a detailed versionofthe psychologicalinjuries and physicalinjuries caused inanaccident. Thoughtiered I couldn’t impediment reading, lookingfor anyinformation that could be helpful.

 

I kept reading, halfsleepingonthe book, mybodydefeatingmycuriosity, the last thingI remember consumingbefore sleep was the post-traumatic stress disorder.

I was ina place withmitigatingsilence. I felt mybodywas liberatingpain, whenI heard a suddenthud. It repeated after a plausible second. It was rhythmofa beatingheart. It was gettingcloser whenI wrenched upright ofthe desk. Mysuddenmovement caused the books to falloffthe table and theyclattered to the woodenfloor. It took me a minute to realize where I was. As I cleared myblurred eyes I almost fainted inpanic, to see Adi onthe finalstep ofthe staircase.

Did I wake you up? I am sorry” he said droopingover to pick mybooks.
I was inprettyawfulstate. One glimpse ofhis face was enoughto downgrade mysanityand the smellofhis breathwas makingme drunk.
What was he asking?

“Nah. You are alright. I was about to get up” I spoke ina heavyvoice and cleared mythroat thrice inthat briefconfabulation. Myspeechimpediment was embarrassingand on top ofthat I caught himchuckling.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, regainingmyvoice. “You said you were not back in school.”
“I came to check on you. You were acting weird at dinner.”
His voice was quite as usual- velvet and muted.
“I was just a bit tiered.” I murmured ina low cold voice and thensuddenlyturned at himshocked “You were not at dinner?” I stated.
“You know I know things.” he said gravely, as ifregrettingofsayingtoo much.
I looked at himinamazed irritation.
You are Aadil. Aren’t you?”
He ogled at me for a fractionofsecond before turningto the computer. “That’s me name.” he whispered inamazement maximizingthe window onthe computer screen. I reached forward, without thinkingto stop his hand fromclickingthe mouse, but it was too late.

A strange despair flashed inhis beryleyes. His lips pressed into a hard line, allsigns ofvivacitygone as he read throughthe page whose dark headline 14 Students injured… terrorized me.

He graduallywent throughthe other windows, leaningthere dispossessed, pretendingI wasn’t there.
He promptlyclosed allthe windows, before straighteningup. Maintainingthe usualdistance betweenus.
The sorrow betweenhis brows altered. I sat there figuringmy defense ignoringthe sound ofmyhastened breathing.
He appeared to be angry, he was scaringme.
Why are you digging my history. Which way are you heading?” he asked mused.
You know which way I am going” I swallowed “And I guess that you have known it for a while now.” I murmured, fightingtears.
I saw himreachtoward me hesitantlybut thenhe stopped and turned awayhis face towards the table. His right hand fiddled throughthe pages ofthe book. He closed it inmere few seconds. But continued peeringthe closed book, distracted.
Thenafter a deadlysilence his eyes shifted back to mypale face. A clear resentment capturinghis intimidatingface.
Myintuitionflickered; somethingbad was about to happen.
Its over” he amended witha pliable tone.
It didn’t sink at first. But as soonas I realized, myface became pleading. Myheart accelerated at the sharp aching.
Adi don’t” I begged ina brokenvoice.

Its over.” He repeated. “You are right I have known it for a while now. And I am sorry that I didn’t stop you back then. But now I have to.” He swallowed “I don’t exist for you anymore. Forget anything that happened or that I said. Play it like before, before I came into your world. You were right I am just your imagination.” he said.

I had so muchto argument for but I don’t know where I lost it . How wellI knew that I had a verybriefperiod left withhimbut what I didn’t knew was that it was almost over. The ache turned into a suddennumbness like the times whenI was almost dead.
“All the best” he whispered inthe same quiet, peacefulvoice.
And thenhe turned his back onme and walked downthe stairs.

He was gone.

 

I sat there crying. I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a wayout ofthis nightmare. I dropped myface inmypalms as his words echoed ‘it’s over’. This for Christ sake, has to be myimagination. But I guess it wasn’t.

I didn’t sleep the whole night and waited desperatelyfor the dawn. Myheart was tellingme that Aadilis Adi, and now he was gone. Sara thought I was upset because ofsome tragic novelI read inthe libraryso she didn’t give muchofa thought to mypuffyeyes and heavythroat.

I was one ofthe first ones to gym; myeyes didn’t move awayfromthe clock last night as I watched everysecond pass bybut standingthere waitingfor himto come was the longest wait I could remember I had gone throughinmywhole life.

 

He didn’t show up.

 

I didn’t wait for Sara, and left for the mess. I sat at myusualplace and looked up whenever a chair moved. It was no different thanthe morning. I witnessed eachand everyperson enteringthe mess, myheart beated hard everytime anyone entered. The roomfilled withnoises. FinallywhenI was about to give up, he came in. The former painsuddenlyaroused

 

as he passed bytotallyoblivious ofmypresence. His face was serious and his eyes a dark shade ofblue, crabbier, like he was tiered. I knew he couldn’t sleep either. He was

 

Adi. I stared at himfor a while to catchhis attention, but failed, he was good at ignoringme, I knew that out ofexperience. I took the courage to walk around the table to where he sat.

Aadil” I called his name inperfect indifference.
He turned around slightlyand looked at me halfheartedly, his voice particularlyreciprocalofmine “Yes?”
“I want to talk to you”
his unnaturaltone intimidated me into a sore aggravation.
“About what?” he asked confused.
I could hardlyspeak. I felt sick.
But stillmanaged to say“I’ll be waiting outside” before comingback to myseat, ignoringour audiences, selfrespect was the last thingI was worried about today. I did what was proper and ate breakfast despite no appetite.
I left before anyone did.
I saw himtrespassingwalkinginto the corridor withother class mates, without lookingat me.
Aadil” I shouted behind him. He came to anabrupt stop.
Oh yes. I am sorry I forgot you were waiting” He said ina firmindifferent voice, now I doubted ifhe knew what I was allabout.
So you were saying” he asked.
I almost shivered and words didn’t reachmylips as everyone around looked at us, allhis friends and allmyfriends.
I told myselfyou have to do it now.
Aadil I am sorry for yesterday.” I started ina selfdelusion.
But he interrupted.
He took a step towards me and ordered ina low, hard cynicalvoice, “Don’t embarrass yourself. Go back to class. Now.”

“No I won’t. I don’t care. I love you. That’s all I know. I didn’t do that on purpose. But it has happened and I can’t change it. And I know you love me too.” I declared quite differentlyand firmlythanI have imagined it happening.

WhenI looked againAadilhasn’t moved a bit fromhis place, he was stilltwo steps awayfromme he looked at me amazed, frustrated.
“No I don’t” Aadilmurmured “What are you talking about?”
“You are lying Aadil”
I replied, denyingwhat he was saying. “Amber told me everything.”
His face was puzzled “Who Amber?” he asked.
What did I tell you?” Amber stepped infromsomewhere, clearlyworried and unaware ofwhat I was talkingabout.

No” I whispered. Dr Niven’s words started swirlingaround inmybrain. You imagine things. You are Schizophrenic. No I amnot mad, I amnot sick. I was losingsight ofthings whenAadil’s voice reached me, wiped cleanofanyemotions.

 

“Have you ever seen yourself in mirror? Leave aside looks you are the dumbest person I have known. How could you even think that someone like me will fall for you? Get out of here” He said disgusted.

He wasn’t Adi... I took steps backward sobbing, grievingwhy I saved my heart for this person who hated me, who was embarrassing me in front of the whole school. Someone stepped betweenus.
Stop it Aadil. She is sick. Please stop it.” I heard that familiar voice but mymind failed to interpret the meaningofthe words.
I lost myselfindespair and humiliation.
If she is sick, why is she here? she can cause harm to others.” Aadilreplied inhis usualsoft voice whenhe wasn’t showinghis cruelside.
I ranaway, faster thanever. To escape that unbearablycruelepisode oflife.
I ranand ranuntilmybreaths broke.

I locked myselfinto one ofthe toilet’s ingirl’s bathroomand lifelesslysat onthe floor, crying. Myhead inmylap as I realized nothingever happened, everythingwas mere imagination.

I was sufficientlyhappyto be someone ofappreciable character. Inthat peculiar morningI lost mybloom, I knew what happened this morningcould not be erased, also the few my insaneness could not be erased. And that it would be regret rather thanattachment that would have a lastingeffect onmysoul.
I was stillcryingwhenSara slowlyknocked at the door, she didn’t sayanythingexcept myname. There was the same affectionand care that I once was highlyfond ofinAdi’s voice. I was too ashamed to step out intheir world again. But Sara was waitingonthe other side and I knew she won’t move untilI amwithher. I had to honor her feelings; it wasn’t her fault that mine were brutallyraped this morning.

She hugged me whenI opened the door. She didn’t ask anythingand neither did she advice. She picked mybagwhile I washed myface. The awkwardness was anticipated but what I wasn’t readywas for the painI saw onher face.

“Don’t be selfish” I told myself“Resolve yourself and do what’s proper”. I took mybagfromher shoulder and faked a smiled.
Let’s go” I murmured.
Will you be alright?” she asked delicately.
Yeah” I snapped. But didn’t saya word more, I knew I willstart sobbingagain.
I didn’t have the smallest knowledge ofhow to react after mass humiliation.

How I wished that Sara was inmyclass whenI had to enter alone inthe roomfullofpeople who surelyeyed me indisgust and veryfew inpity. The part ofme that urged to see himresidingsomewhere there was dead. For the first time I wasn’t lookingfor himat all. Mr. Pandeywas inmiddle ofthe class and raised a brow as I entered. I took anempty seat inthe corner row. I didn’t look up at all, almost the whole day. I kept scribblinglectures inthe notebook or practiced questions whennot beingtaught. Everyone was kind enoughto not disturb. Theyknew I felt humiliated and theywere givingme time onmyownto settle down.

Sara was deliberatelymakingsure to not leave me alone inbreak or at lunch. Despite the continuous painthere was a glint ofhappiness as the daywas comingto anend. I missed mycoachingclass because it was too soonto feelcomfortable inhis, Raag’s and Mandy’s presence.

 

At dinner Raagwas passingme a register.

 

What?” I asked insurprise, myheart ached unwillinglyas I saw Aadil fromthe corner ofmyeye sittingtwo seats awayfromRaag. His brows rose to glance at Raagbefore shiftingback to the dinner table.

Coaching” he murmured.
I took the register, thankinghim.

The daythat crawled slowlyand like a dream, left me withsore feelingofthe realityinto the dark night. I covered myface withpillow and mourned. I was angrythoughI didn’t have anyone to blame except for myself.

 

I got up inthe middle ofthe night and aggressivelypushed his jumper under the pile ofclothes onthe bottomshelf. I took out anythingthat belonged to him; his notes, his books and pushed into mybag. I cried and cried but the grievingdidn’t end, the paindidn’t weaken.

 

But everythingconsidered it was wise and also mydutyto live like nothinghas happened. He wanted me to act like he doesn’t exist; wellhe’llget what he wished.

It was a week past that morning. Life was somewhat back ontrack. I regularlywent to gym, attended the schooland coachingclasses punctuallyand withallmydedication. The imaginationceased. Everyone started actingnormallytowards me. No matter how bigthe news is stillit fades awaydownthe time lane. But what doesn’t fade awayis the pain. I was dependingontime to healme, but apparentlyit wasn’t aneffective aid. It was normalfor me to wake up to a wet pillow and a heart fullofsorrow. His face haunted myonce pleasant dreams. His voice stillchased awayallthe sanityinme.

ThoughI successfullypretended livinga normallife, somewhat similar to the one before his arrival. I put up a hard mask everymorningand ignored himcompletelyamidst the regular and frequent confrontations. For first few days I hoped that maybe he willat least realize that how rudelyhe behaved and willcome and apologize. I feelsorryfor myselffor stillwatchingthe world throughrose colored glasses.

Mygympunishment was over. I utilized that time to go to chapeland sit there for anhour everyday. It wasn’t a suddendevotioninGod but anescape. I begged himto help me move on. He used to hear me evenfor the tiniest ofwishes but I don’t know whyhe wasn’t listeningwhenI needed himthe most. IfI was stillleft withanytime after that I spent it withgrade 1 kids, the tiniest creatures inPinegrove, it was easyto let lose and cryaround themas theywere not veryhappyeither.

It was mid ofMay. Days started warmingup. Mr. Pandeycame inwitha bunchofgrapevines, our quarterlyschoolmagazines and requested to save themfor after school. I quickly flickered the pages lookingfor mysubmission, whichcentered onKirti’s brother. I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t selected maybe. I was countingonthat.

As Chemistrypassed and Mrs. Anjalicame she quicklysettled us downand opened her copyofgrapevine. “I have a very interesting poem for you” she announced enthusiastically.
Everyone sighed but she continued “I want you all to listen it carefully and understand the feelings behind the words.” There was pindrop silence whenshe began.

“A mother to her sick son” “Your silent howl, stalks me all the time
Whenever I think of future, I go blind.
I pray everyday, but there is no light.

‘One day less’ is the thought every morning, that makes me whine.

I am with you laughing, but the fear never leaves I keep trying to save you, but the thing worsens. Sometimes I am so tiered of being there Watching you go despite the love and care.

To take care of you is all I know to do by myself I keep watching you, your face is one heaven amidst this hell. And there are times when I have to see the same face gravely unwell The distress that torments me is hard to tell.

And the times when you strangely look at me
‘Goodbye’ is the word that I see
Well if you have to leave, then you must leave
But just so you know, your mother wouldn’t cry and grieve But once again like a childish game, ‘she’ll follow your lead’.”

Mrs. Anjalipaused and let the words sink inas ifshe was readingthemfor the first time. I trust myfather was drasticallywrongwhenhe said that I don’t allow sorrow and happiness to reachmyheart. Or else what is the explanationfor the overwhelmingsorrow and the water inmyeyes onhearingmyownwords.

The silence seemed incessant untilMrs. Anjalispoke inapprobation“this mother has opened her heart to her dying son. Look at the beauty of words that describe her helplessness. This poem is a mere pain penned down on a piece of paper. I wouldn’t have expected all of you to understand this mother’s heart, at your age if this wasn’t from someone not only of your age but of your class.” She paused and looked towards me, her eyes filled withanadmirationthat I have seenonlywhenshe reads Jane Austen, her favorite author. “A good clap for Ms Samiya Mittal.”

And the roomechoed withsound ofclaps. I murmured “Thanks” under mybreathand bowed downmyhead lookingat the book onthe table, a bit shy. That was totally unnecessary.

 

I know myclass mates were proud ofmyarticle selected for the magazine not because the poemmeant anythingto them. And I didn’t expect themto, theyweren’t unemotional, theywere kids and probablyI was too mature for that age.

 

But there was someone else who I think was mature enoughto not be ina highschool, Aadil.

It was impossible not to look at himas he glared at me for the hundredthtime before break. I was wellsatisfied that a personinsensitive as himselfwas impressed bya sensitive poemthat lead to awakeningofa suddeninterest inanunsightlythinglike me or maybe it was the pityhe was feelingfor a sick girl. I have to pullback myselfand battle to turn awayto board as he continued staringme. It was gross that how beautifula face canbe ofa personwho is so devil.

And it was pitythat I was still in love with that devil. I battled that thought, it wasn’t his fault ifI was sick, I don’t know whyI was not readyto forgive him. That night after dinner we went througheachcupboard inthe dormto find somethingdescent for Sara to wear for the event, the after results party. Board results were comingout dayafter tomorrow and the passed out batchofclass 12 was comingback to pick up the results later that week. It was a second farewellkind ofthing.

Sara didn’t want to playwithAdi after what happened. I had to put up a good fight before she agreed to continue practicing. “It’s quite a sight.” Rasna told me about the practice. “Sara always has those killer elite like she is wondering how to kill Adi. May be by beating him with her drum sticksor pushing them down his throat” she snapped and paused “But still he is putting in his best to keep up with her.”

As if that somehow made him a better human. So I was almost as worried for Sara to look presentable as I was worried for the board results. I know that’s strange.

We finallysettled for one ofMoon’s nicelyfit top and Sara’s faded jeans. I shined her converse sneakers witha wet clothand put themagainst the rimofthe cupboard to dry. It was quite late whenMoonthrew hesitantlysmiling“ladies can I try my dress again?”

Oh please no” everyone shouted inunity. Theyseemed tiered ofMoon’s dress rehearsals for almost three nights ina row now. She turned blue. “Try it for me. Let’s go to the change room.” I said politely.
Serious?” she babbled regainingher pink.
Hun” I nodded inperfect happiness.

I zipped her white ballet frock whichtugged her slender bodyina complete grace.

You look like a doll. Here let me do your hair” I murmured standingbesides her infront ofa bodylengthmirror onthe cold bathroomfloor. She stepped infront ofme willingly. Her black silkyhair looked nice inbraids but somethingcontemporarylike anup do would go withthe dress. As I was concentratingongettingit right, Moonspoke inutter mercy “Samiya I am sorry about that day.” Myheart thudded for once before gainingthe normalpace. I kept myeyes onmyfingers runningthroughher hair as she continued “I saw something in his eyes for you that day. Something stronger than love. I don’t believe you are sick”she murmured.

Onlymentioninghimbrought back the ache inmyheart. It was hard escapingit for longanyways. It usuallystarts whenI rest myhead onthe pillow, it was almost time. “I think we can accessories your prom hairstyle with Deep’s vintage hair combs. What do you think of it?” I said ignoringher little statement, tuggingher last strand ofhair in place. She got distracted.

 

Wow. We sure can. Oh my god this looks awesome. You are doing my hair on that day. In fact I make you in charge of everyone’s hair right now” she snapped honoring me witha promotion.

 

“Thanks mademoiselle” I bowed laughing.

As the clock stuck 2 inthe night or inthe morningI stilllayawake onmybed. Moon’s words repeated themselves.
You are wrong Moon. I am sick.” I whispered to myselfunder mybreath.

His dreams haunted myfew hours sleep as I wasn’t miserable enough. It’s strange that how youknow it’s over but stillthat episode repeats itselfeverynight ina dreamand yougo throughthe miserylike it’s for the first time.

 

The next daywas fullofdrama and tension. Other thanprestige issues results did matter to some extent, it could lead to reshufflingofclasses iffew scored exceptionallylow. That would be the worst case scenario.

 

It wasn’t botheringme muchas it used to inthe past. I knew I would score enoughto stayinscience section. Humiliationwas allI was worried about but thanks to someone, I have had worst.

A sectionofmainnotice board was alreadycleared for the future lists. Thoughheadmaster addressed eachsectionofclass 11 withanextremelyhilarious speechofhow not to turn suicidalincase ofscoringless thanexpectation, he himselfappeared muchmore terrible thananyone else. A school’s board performance surelyreflected its academic culture and affected the schoolranking.

“Lists will be up tomorrow morning at 6” Mr. Pandeyannounced as soonas headyleft. That afternoonI was surprised to receive two letters inmail. One belonged to mumbut the other one was more colorfuland gordyand apparentlylooked prettywornout as if

 

effected bya longjourney. I curiouslyopened to find a lovelygreetingsaying‘ Thank You’. I skipped to the from part straightaway. It said ‘Luv Aunty, Sara’s mommy’. It brought a smile to mylips. She knew the letter was fromme. ‘Keep Writing’ was highlighted withnice pink glitters. Mama’s letter was same as always, except for Good luck forresults baby, we are not coming for the visiting weekend and what are your plans for summer vacations.

Summer vacation, was yet another issue. ProbablyI wasn’t goinghome, and neither anyother student ofscience class 11 and 12. Coachingand all. It would be depressing without Sara and Niya and Amber, actuallyeveryone inshort. Anyways that tensioncanbe kept offfor a while.
I slept like anyother nights, not better not worse. But woke up to anundulationoftensionwithalmost everyone awake inthe dorm. It was 5.30 inthe morning. Girls were going downto be there, infront ofthe notice board whenthe results are put up. I tried to wake up Sara, failingofcourse and rumbled downstairs without redoingmybraid or freshening up.

Boys were alreadythere, clutteringaround the coffee machine. He was there too ina red jumper and black track pants leaningagainst the door, a shiver randownmyspine as he caught me glaring. I turned around instantly. He won’t be onour schoollist. Maybe theywillhave to check his results separatelyoninternet.

 

It was tenpast sixwhenMs Dhawanfinallycame out ofthe staffroomwithfew papers inher hand, followed byheady.

 

Where’s my boy? Where’s Raag?” headymumbled intotaljoy. He hugged himas soonas soonas Raagappeared out ofnowhere. “94% marks. Raag is the topper” he announced “we have a 100 percent result boys and girls.”

“Three cheers for school” He shouted inexcitement “Hip Hip”. “Hurray” everyone jumped inexcitement crowdingaround Ms Dhawanas she put up the list. “Come in everyone after seeing the results” Headyordered walkingback to his office.
I let everyone see their results and waited for the crowd to disperse. Everyone seemed more thancontent. I was the last one to walk downto the notice board. It took me a minute

to interpret the format and thenI easilyfound myname followed bymymarks ineachsubject and thenthe calculated percentage 87%. That was better thanI expected. Myeyes

 

rushed throughthe list again, I knew Adi’s name won’t be there but I stillwas lookingfor it. After a failingattempt I went to Sara’s, her marks were not bad either. Her calculated score was 76%.

I was goingthrougheveryone’s marks whenthe warmfragrance whichI lived infor a while confronted me. It was more exotic thanI remembered it to be. It was the sweetest poison, I knew of. He was standingbesides me, just a few inches away. His calmbreathplayed a strange melancholyto the beats ofmyheart. “Congrats” he whispered aguishly, too close to bear and as ifthat wasn’t meant to be heard. “Breathe” I had to tellmyself. “You are imagining Samiya” I added.

I stood there like a statue for a briefsecond before mymind started workingagainand I slowlysneaked out to headmaster’s office without lookingat who was standingbesides me, too scared.

So how about Renuka jheel?” Headyasked as everyone stood around his table. A trip or a picnic was his gift to us.
Make it overnight Sir” someone bargained fromthe clutter.
Yes Sir Camping sounds good” someone else suggested.

Okay. Deal Seal” Headyannounced smiling. Everyone cheered for headyand thanked before movingout. Adi was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t see his results, whichmade me anxious for some reasonI don’t know.

I was wearingsocks sittingonbed after a quick shower followed bya gymclass, whensomeone shouted “ Turn on the TV.”
“Why?”
another voice asked.
I don’t know. Boys are shouting from their dorm.” the previous personanswered.

Someone turned onthe TV. The morningnews was playing. Theywere givingdetailed versionofresults; board wise, state wise and gender wise. I moved back onputtingmy shoes after losingthe thrill.

I repeat again that 90.18 per cent girls have become eligible for qualifying certificates while 88.30 percent boys have cleared the test. As per region wise performance, Chennai is followed by Ajmer with 93.51per cent students becoming eligible for qualifying certificates. Also an Ajmer lad Aadil Rathore has topped the CBSE Class 10 examination with 98% marks breaking all previous records. Reports have just come in that Aadil Rathore is son of the famous Cardiovascular Surgeon Dr Tanmay Rathore.” The news reader kept talkingbut I was lost, a suddenthrillranthroughme again, a smile came to mylips before quicklyevaporatingas I noticed everyone was looking at me. I don’t know whytheyhave to do that whenever his name comes up inanything.

I was happy for him despite everything.

He was at his usualplace whenI walked into the mess. He looked at me impulsivelyas I entered, thoughI wanted to look back and give a smile, I rather not do that, ifI have any pride left. He seemed busywithfrequent wishers sittingthere pretendingto be obliged thoughhe was exceptionallyuncomfortable inthat lime light, I could feel that. Myeyes wide opened inamazement and I wanted to throw myselffromtop ofthe buildingwhenI saw Niya excitedlythrew her arms around Aadil, congratulatinghim. He hugged her back in contentment, this time not pretending.

How could she? That wasn’t fair after what he did to me. I’ll talk to her, she’ll have to pick a side, either his or mine. I thought for a minute before changingmymind. Well I better not do that, she is a kid. I shouldn’t involve her in my misery. Let it be.

 

Headyalso came and hugged Aadilbefore movingto his table. Aadil wasn’t happy. He looked at me withanuncomfortable pleadingglare quite often. I wanted to hughimbadly and to smooththe worrylines offhis forehead. But I had no right over him, I reminded myself.

The days that followed after the results gave me a new perspective to look at myself. I can do sufficiently well, if I work hard. Maybe I can make it to MBBS without dad’s help. That thought trulyinspired me. I almost planned everythingthat how I’llstaywithmumand dad at home, happily, contentlyand merrilyifI get admissioninDelhi. I saw myself sittingat diner table withmama and papa, helpingmuminkitchen, goingcyclingwithdad, playingcards withthemand makingmid night snacks, to live allthose little moments that I have missed and the things that meant so muchto me. I cango to Sara’s inCanada to spend vacations.

Allthose fantasies were anattempt to fillincolors to dreams whichwere black and white without Adi beinginpicture. I loved him but he lovingme back was never part ofthe deal. So whycryover somethingthat was not evenmine inthe first place. Move on I told myselffor the last time.

 

WhenI came out ofChapelonone ofthose pleasantlywarmevenings Raagwas waitingfor me to talk.

Samiya I want to talk about something” he said ina deep and worried voice.
What’s it Raag?” his pale face flickered tensioninmyhead.
It’s about Aadil?” he murmured.
I straightened mybrows.
What’s wrong with him?” I asked almost ina whisper.
He is not well. He has been acting strangely. I have a strong feeling that it’s something about you.” He said.
I truly appreciate your concern for him Raag. But I guess you have got it wrong. I have nothing to do with him.” I said calmlywalkingaway. He was indismay.
I don’t know ifI have spokento realRaagor was it just myimagination. But one thingI knew I didn’t have anythingto do withAadilRathore.

6. THEREALHIM

 

00004.jpgNext daywas Sunday. The ExClass twelfthwas comingto pick up their certificates today. It was finallythe dayeveryone was waitingfor. While the participants practiced, some of us helped the teachers set up for the party. Myshoulders started achingputtingup those radiumstars onthe walls ofthe auditoriumbut mypatience didn’t washoff. I set everythingI needed and could possiblyneed for hair and make ups for the band inthe dressingroom. I was least interested indoingit and was regrettingacceptingthat offer. But it wasn’t right to back offonthe last minute.

 

Finallythe eveningset in. I had a quick peek ofthe auditoriumand mystars do lit up gloriouslyinthe dimlight. Onone side the tables were set for the buffet and the stage looked

 

marvelous. Onthe plasma screenthe pictures ofthe exclass 12 played. Sid and his mates were alreadyintheir set ofcivils, wellpolished. I knew I wouldn’t have time to get

 

changed into civils so I just washed myface and tidied up myschoolskirt and blouse. I did mybraids againto look as presentable as possible. Onsmalltable near the stage were

 

the certificates and smallboxes withbrooches. The gold, silver and bronze brooches were awarded to students accordingto their percentages. This was seniors onlyevent so the

 

auditoriumseemed bigenoughto accumulate that biga gathering. The teachers were dressed nicelyand most ofthemtraditionallywiththeir name tags on. Kunalstruggled withhis tinyassistant to get his camera and video camera right.

 

Get ready. Its time guys” Ms Renushouted frombehind the curtains. Rasna, Moonand Jia were alreadythere. While theywent to change, I helped Kavya fixher sari; she was hostingalongwithIqbal. She did her ownmakeup. AllI had to do was put a clip onher halftied hair. She looked pretty.

That wasn’t onmyjob descriptionbut I helped Iqbalwithhis hair, whichwere previouslyspiky, cornyand too funnyto be onthe head ofananchor. There was enoughspace to breathe inthe time lapse betweenKavya and Iqballeft and Moonand crew entered. I got to work and saw fruitfulbenefits after what seemed like few hours. Everyone did their ownmake ups, I just had to do the hair and other randomstuff. Sara was readytoo. She suddenlylooked allgrownup. I took a minute to admire her.

Suddenlythere was a deadlysilence whenAadil entered followingSandeep. Halfofthe girls almost fainted. I love to pieces what he was wearing. The white shirt tugginghis chest and biceps, sleeves folded, black waist coat and the gorgeous jeans were somehow bringingout the blue inhis eyes. Hair looked undone but seriouslyhe turned out great just like

that. A dark Burberryskinnytie was hangingfromhis coat pocket. “ Being this hot would be a tiring job”I thought to myself. After the briefmoment ofunconsciousness and appreciationeveryone went to what theywere doing. Wheneveryone went backstage I started tidingup the dressingroom, takingmytime packingup the stuff, the wayit was supposed to be. No one needed me onthe other side ofthis door. I kneeled downbythe chair to collect the clattered safetypins, whichcontinued for few minutes whenI heard

some other personclosingthe door behind. I hoped, onturningmyhead to see one ofthe girls but it proved to be one muchless calculated for makingmatters easy Aadil was

standinginfront ofthe mirror. I quicklystraightened up and moved to the side, leavinghimplentyofspace. I hooked one safetypininto another thus keepingmyselfbusy. He glanced at me before movinghis blue eyes, whichcould make skylook pale, towards the mirror. He smelled delicious. That was a new fragrance.

It took me quite sometime to make a chainout ofallthose safetypins. I don’t know whyit was takinghimso long, as he was stillat the same spot. What is he doing I thought to myself. I glanced up inthe mirror slightly. His eyes were onhis silk tie that was slippingthroughhis palms, he was tryingveryhard to hold onto it, but it dropped onthe floor anyways. He bent to pick it up, but thoughhis hands were onthe tie, he wasn’t pickingit up. He looked tense. His hands trembled but he wasn’t gettinga grip ofit. It didn’t sink.

I took a step and turned around to kneeldowninfront ofhim. His prettyeyes meet mine for a moment. I didn’t know what I was doingor what was happeningto him. I wasn’t breathing, that I know. I gentlytouched the palmofhis hands to see not the slightest ofmoment. ThenI pressed it harder, stillthe same.

He was unable to feelmytouch.
His hands were numb.

That feelingor sensationofnumbness is called Parathesia. I have read about it. It could be transient or chronic. Usuallyit’s a temporaryeffect and occurs as a symptomto a disease. It’s not a disease initself.

 

I glared back at him. He was worried but he wasn’t surprised, so this wasn’t new for him.

I picked up his tie and straightened it. He was just inches awayfromme and taller thanI thought he was. He bowed and I tied the knot and fixed his collar. I was speechless for thousands ofreasons, the two most important; he was not welland he was lookingextremelygorgeous. The circumstances were not doinggood to mydisordered feelings. Mylittle fever ofadmirationended me up here, dyingoftensionfor him. I calmlypulled himinto the chair and brushed myhands throughhis hair. Applied some ofIqbal’s hair gelto get them inshape. I was touchinghimand I wasn’t panickingbut that wasn’t the moment ofjoyeither. He wasn’t welland he had a show to put up.

Can you feel it now” I asked tracingone ofthe lines inhis palmwithmyfinger tip. He bit his lip inpure disgust and sighed. I didn’t know the treatment for Parathesia but sub consciouslyI took his hand betweenmine and rubbed it. I wanted to tryanythingthat could possiblywork thansittingthere doingnothing. I rubbed it for quite some time and then suddenlyhis hand tightened onmine.

I am fine now” he claimed hesitantly.

 

I sighed inreliefbefore leavinghis hand slowlystilldoubtingits proper functioning. “Its okay” he whispered againinhis velvet voice to calmme downbefore walkingout inthe auditorium.

Aadilwas sick. For the veryfirst time it occurred to me that maybe it was Aadilwho was mad, not me.
Before sneakingout ofthe auditoriumI stole the dorm’s keyfromSid’s pocket rushed to the boy’s dorm.

Tenyears and I have never beeninside this place. The primaryset up oftheir dormwas same as ours, just that theirs was pulled together to provide consistencyand functionality while ours focused ondécor and colors. Not a single bed was made. The conditionofshoes told that it would be a challenge to find one’s pair everymorning. The memoryboard served the purpose ofa clothline as it was covered withsocks and handkerchiefs. I was like a personfroma developed nationdiscoveringthe slums ofthird world nationfor the first time inlife.

I didn’t know whichone was Aadil’s bed. I was roamingcontemplatingeachbed whenmyeyes stopped at the soft feather quilt draped ina dark blue cover, just like his eyes half tuggingthe pale bed sheet and a fluffypillow. The red jumper and the black tracks that he wore the other daylayfolded onthe foot ofthe quilt next to the brushed steeledge ofthe bunk. Next to pillow rested a book. Analarmclock and anI pod sat purposelyontop ofit. Aditold me he hears RonanKeatinginnight. I despite checkingthe ipod grabbed the book, a picture dropped fromit and fellonthe ground. It was mypicture, the snap fromNiya’s cupboard. I stood there wonderingfor a while.

ThenI found myselfa compass and pushed into the keyhole ofa cupboard withDavid Beckham’s poster onit next to his bed, his cupboard apparently. I didn’t like doingit but unfortunatelythere seemed no other wayaround it.

 

After few minutes offiddling, I heard a crackingnoise. The lock broke and so did the compass but the door opened.

 

It was a mirror image ofmywardrobe, more books, less clothes wellorganized. I started lookingonthe bottomshelves. One ofthe book shelves was divided witha shelforganizer to forma separate corner.

A paper withmine and his names and hearts drawnallover it, withflames and love percentages laid ontop ofthe lecture notes whichI wrote for Adi. I did that, it was myhand writing, onthe last page ofthe notebook. He saved it. It had a smallcollectionofminiatures a used pen, a hair pin, a tissue withpink lop gloss onit, a bookmark, mypoemfrom grapevine and a blazer folded and wrapped ina transparent plastic paper, the one I wore once. He was holdingonto myused tissue for Christ sake and thenhe called me sick.

I put back the things as theywere, inurgencyand got a plastic chair to check top shelves. The first thingI found was a plastic bagfullofmedication, myeyes wide opened in horror.

The bagofmygrandfather’s medicines that was anasthmatic, diabetic and had heart attack twice was smaller to the thinginfront ofme.
I hesitantlyrushed throughthe packet; theywere not the commonfever or flumedicines. I can’t recognize evena single thing.
I was numb ina state ofParathesia myself. I can’t sayifI was worried or praying, because I have no idea. “Samiya” a suddenvoice scared me.

I didn’t have to look to know who it was; this was a voice I would know anywhere- know and respond to, whether I was awake or asleep…or evendead, I’d bet. The voice I’d walk fire for- or, less slosheverydaythroughthe cold and endless rainfor. The voice whichhad anexceptionallymysterious talent ofkeepinglife alteringtruths fromme

I scared turned around to look at himstandingfew inches awayfromme, I was edgingback findinga wayout.
Don’t leave Samiya. Please” he begged.
He stood infront ofme, castingno reflection, excruciatinglylovelyand just seventeen. I couldn’t leave.

What are these medicines for? Are you mad?”
His face was pale.
No I am not and neither are you” he said ina whisper.
Then who was Adi. It was you, wasn’t it? Why were you trying to prove me mad?” I asked failingto forma coherent questionfromallthat I needed to know. “Yes I am Adi” he sighed. “I have never wanted to prove you mad, that was never my intention.”
“Then what was your intention? What are these medicines for?”
I groaned.
These are antiretroviral drugs. You are not sick. I am. I am HIV Positive”

The words numbed mysoul. I wasn’t expectingthat answer “ I fall in love with you much before you even noticed me. But I was sick; I knew we couldn’t be together. I tried to stay away from you but I couldn’t help. You pulled me towards you like gravity. I wanted to spend time with you.” “I know how to hypnotize people, whenever we got together I left a spell on you or hypnotized you, so that you wont remember seeing me. It worked with everyone. But you remembered things. Your memory was sharp than anyone I have ever met. Things got messed up. I didn’t want to get into your life, trust me it just happened.” as he spoke a sheafofdizzyingimages fluttered

throughmymind. The bits ofthe puzzle started fallinginplaces. That’s the reasonhe kept me away. That’s whyhe called himselfa virus whichI thoughwas just ananalogy. He was too youngto be a victimofa deadlyvirus, HIV Virus.

 

I couldn’t bringmyselfto saythose words eveninmyheart. I tugged myarms around mychest as mynumb bodysuddenlyfelt a shiver. The painreached the heart and the tears started escaping.

 

He collapsed, kneelingdowninfront ofme “Forgive me. Please” he begged.

 

A tear dropped fromhis beautifuleyes. Theygleamed dimlywiththe moisture and reflectingmoon’s light. I’d never seenanythingmore beautiful- evenas I cried and mourned, I could appreciate that. And once againit did not matter ifhe wanted me or not. I would never ever want anythingbut him, no matter how longI lived.

 

I hesitantlytouched his face, brushingsoftlyagainst his flawless skin. Mylungs filled deep withthe sweet scent that came offhis skin. I could feelmyheart racinginmychest, the blood pulsinghot and fast throughmyveins. I wrapped myarms around himand embraced himclose to mychest.

 

I just suffered the biggest shock ofmylife but stillinthat instant, I felt well. I could hear his heart poundingcalmlyagainst mine. It felt like I have longed for that moment whole my life.

Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked sobbing. He sighed and let me lose. I didn’t let go offhimcompletely.

What would I have said? We can’t be together because I have human immunodeficiency virus. The thought bothered me, what if you don’t want me once you know that I am not perfect. Now despite you were not talking to me, I knew you loved me; I wanted that to be enough for me. And I didn’t know any way by which we can exist together. That situation still remains unchanged just that I want to be with you, I can’t help it.” “Please forgive me for not doing what’s right for you because this feeling has taken control of me and I don’t know how to be fine without you anymore.” He said ina deep pleadingvoice.

You can’t leave me Adi not for yourself but for me. Not now, not ever. I lost myself when you left me” Myvoice broke as I confessed hesitantly. “I know. I am sorry. And I am sorry for shouting at you that were the longest two minutes of my life. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to say that to you. And I
couldn’t come to terms that you believed what I said. Your lament face left a scar on my heart, that memory discolored any other memory of you. ”
He said indisgust.

 

And you never looked at me again, as if I wasn’t there. You don’t know what’s it like getting up every morning feeling hopeless. Hoping that you find happiness even if that’s not with me.”

“I don’t know if you’ll believe me but the fact is that I was resolved to tell you the whole truth any time now. I tried but I can’t live without you. You have no idea how it hurts when you don’t look back or return my feelings. I wanted to protect you from my misery but I guess you were already a part of it, regardless of if we were together or not”

As he spoke I felt recovered, the love and desperationineachword assured me that this someone was further thanthe levelofaptness. He left me, to protect me. But there was no need to protect me from himself. I was a part of him. I was him.

 

Inthat debate oflove and feelings, the word silentlyached like a pulse ofblood behind a bruise. How did that happen was the next question that troubled my unsettled mind? Sexualtransmissionwas the most generalroot ofthe swellofthe virus or that was the norm. But it seemed irrelevant inhis case.

“How did that happen Adi?” I asked desolated.
“What. HIV?” He asked wondering. I felt uncomfortable ofthe ease withwhichhe said that word.
I nodded sadly.

I had that accident you were reading about. They took us to the nearby government hospital in the rural area before shifting to the private facility. Dad thinks I got infected there due to unscreened blood transfusion or an infected syringe. The condition of the hospital was beyond disgusting. It wasn’t until the year that followed that
I went to Ohio for vacations that we found out”
he spoke withdespair inhis distant thoughts. “I was with dad in the research centre. One of the lab technicians was
teaching me blood testing trying to keep me busy while dad was doing something important. We finger pricked me and mixed that with a solution, formed a slide to test

under microscope. She glanced into it casually but ended up carefully examining it and after a while she decided to take some more blood from my vein. Saliva test, standard blood test, western blot followed, all leading to one result, presence of HIV antibodies in my system. The day that started in fun ended up changing several lives irrevocably” “Mum didn’t go to work for over a month” “Dad’s aggravation leaded him into an unresolving legal battle with the hospital. They were planning on not sending me back again, to Mayo. But I wanted to get away. I couldn’t bear seeing them like that. They were blaming themselves. I knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It

was destiny” He dwelled onthe last word.

 

I lingered silently, payingattention. I had no outlook onthe matter. But I felt the whole thing; his mum’s grieve his dad’s frustrationand his stipulationoninformationthat his life was altered everlastingly.

I was in clinically asymptomatic stage so they began my antiretroviral drugs therapy.”
I gazed at himbefuddled. The most important questionafflicted me.
How much time do we have” I heard myselfasking.
There wasn’t anythingonhis face that showed he was surprised to hear that question.
I pretended to be composed but the fact scared me that he was agreeingthat we have a limited time.

There are four stages. I am on the second. Due to the improved treatment people can lead a healthy life for many years in this stage. But it depends from person to person. HIV Virus keeps damaging the system over these years and then in the third stage normal HIV symptoms develop, leading to aids that is the final stage. When HIV symptoms start showing people don’t usually live for long after that.” He explained makingthe concept as easyas possible for me to understand. I knew things are more detailed and complicated inreal.

Isn’t there any cure for this” I asked. I verywellknew the answer, but can’t help askinghopingto hear somethingbetter. A hope invainofcourse. “There is no cure, just a treatment” he sounded as composed.
They moved me here with the thought that this place is better than Ajmer in regards to pollution and also dad trusted heady with me.” He said quietly. I absorbed the informationbefore movingon.
What happened to you in the dressing room?” I shrugged just withthe thought ofit.
It happens sometimes. It’s one of the side effects of the antiretroviral drugs” he admitted.
Oh” I replied “Where did you go for three days?” I asked.
Delhi. I have to get tests done every six months to monitor my status.” he said soundingbored.
Did you tell heady what was going on between us?” I kept interrogatinganyways.
Nope. But he figured out. He asked me not to tell you about HIV because he thinks if the word goes around some parents can have trouble with that. You know...” “Yeah I know. Deep’s parents asked her to stay away from me because I have asthma” I interrupted jovialat the thought.
He laughed too.
You can hypnotize.” I circled back to where it started, lookingat himamazed.
Yeah” he nodded diffidently.
By the way. I saw you before you saw me” I babbled bailingout ofhis previous statement, that he started lovingme before I did.
No that’s not true” he flashed his gleamingsmile, dazingme momentarily.
Don’t hypnotize me.” I said coveringhis eyes withmyhand too quickly, smiling.

and yes it is true” I added “On the first day of the school, you passed by me with a book in your hands, totally oblivious of my presence and same thing happened at the lunch table. But I noticed you. ” I criticized.

You did”
“Yes I did and I was almost hyperventilating.” “You were nice to look at”
I answered dubiouslytakingoffmyhand.
He watched me withunnecessaryfixation.
I didn’t look at you then maybe but I saw you before that” his eyes stayed rigid onmyface.
When?” I asked surprised byhis intensity.
Now this is another complicated story. I don’t know if you’ll understand” he explained after a plausible second.
Try me” I murmured curiously.
He sighed.

Well there will never be an easy way to say this so just listen, you can choose not to believe it, it won’t matter” he said.
I waited impatientlyfor himto start.

It was a warm summer morning of 10 may 2001. We were going back to Ajmer from Jaipur after winning a football championship. Me and my friend Karan were playing wrestling cards. It was too quite for 14 young boys in the bus. Everyone was tiered. We practiced for that match day and night for almost a month. The success
tasted sweet but we were drained of energy. Everyone including two PT Teachers and the bus driver wanted to get back as soon as possible. I remember noticing that

we were going too fast for that single sheer road. We were about to pass over a bridge when a long trailer appeared upright on the road from nowhere. The driver fully stirred the steering wheel in panic. The bus was going down with an enormous speed, everyone was shouting. The last thing I remember was seeing Karan lose his grip of the handle and there was blood everywhere.” He said ina wistfulexpression.

I shivered.

Mom pushes me for details sometime but no matter how hard I try I remember nothing of the accident or how I reached the hospital. All I remember after that instance is that it was very quiet. I was somewhere where there was no light and it wasn’t dark. I could see nothing because there was nothing. I slowly kept walking finding a way or a direction to where I don’t know. I couldn’t see myself either. I started wondering if I was dead.

Life after death was something that never held my interest. In that moment I regretted not gaining enough knowledge on the subject to know what I was supposed to do now. I heard that one sees light or goes into a permanent sleep after death, depending on their Karma. I didn’t know if I have to wait for light or for the sleep. I was 11 I had no idea what kind of karma history I had. I kept walking. As each step I took I had flashbacks of few memories that I never knew existed within me.

I saw myself taking my first step toward mum as an infant, there was a happiness beyond recognition on her young face. I heard my mum’s heartbeat like I have heard
it for the first time, clear and loud, when dad put his stethoscope in my ears and its chest piece on her heart. I saw the joy on dad’s face when I kicked my first ball. I
saw us entering into our new home. I saw the wall where all my medals, certificates or any smallest of my achievements is framed and decorated and which my dad sees every morning with pride. Suddenly I saw a picture of me on the same wall with a flower garland around it, my mother howling, my father breaking down. As soon I decided to turn back I found myself in a garden at a foot of a bridge, crossing over a beautiful stream. The other side of the bridge was what I think is heaven.
The view on that side was spectacular; the place was floating in clouds. And I knew if I were to cross the bridge, I could not go back in my body. Not for the slightest of

moment I wanted to go on the other side, I wanted my mum, I didn’t want heaven. I stood there thinking what I should do when I saw my late grand father on the other corner of the bridge. He waved me to come to him but I didn’t move. He disappeared in few seconds and then Karan appeared at the same place. He did the same. It hurted to know that he was gone but I still didn’t move. I saw ranger my deceased dog with him. I felt depressed seeing them waiting but I wanted to live. They vanished too.

And then after a conceivable second I saw someone, I had never seen before. She was pretty and there was light, she looked so white. Her long black hair contrasted her delicate features. Her face was calm and her eyes were penetrating. She looked at me with intensity as if she had known me for ages. She was very young but older than I was. She didn’t ask me to come to her like my previous acquaintances. Her pink lips curved into a smile. I knew she was an angel. I couldn’t resist her; I could feel that there was an unspoken desperation in her eyes as if she has been waiting for me for a long time. I hastily took a step on the bridge when I heard the noise of the ventilator and a pump alarm. My body was stiff and my hand felt heavy with the weight of the syringes. My dad was standing next to my bed.

“You are fine son.” he murmured brushing his hand on my hair. I closed my eyes instantly to go back. I waited and waited she never showed herself again. I was not fine, not after that.
As the time passed I started believing that she was truly an angel. I secretly wished that whenever I die, may that angel come for me. I longed to see her again. The knowledge of my sickness was not that big a shock after all, the strong desire to see her dimmed the fear of death from my mind.” He paused takinga deep breath. I looked at himcuriouslywaitingto listenmore.

 

It was last year in June, in the summer vacations. I went to Dargah Sharif in Ajmer as a usual tradition to offer prayers with my parents. I was following mom and dad

doing the rituals in there. We were going around the mausoleum containing the tomb of Khwajaji when the face of the same angel caught my attention on the other side. Again there was light but she wasn’t looking at me. In a briefest moment she disappeared. I ran out of the exit looking everywhere for her. I felt frustrated and defeated to not find her. When a thought came like a spiritual awakening, how could I find her she is just a spirit? If Khwajaji who died hundreds of years ago is still

alive as a holy spirit in his tomb can’t an angel live here too? Ajmer unquestionably is a great spiritual and holy land. The place itself was a never failing faith.” “I started going to Dargah regularly to offer prayers. Every time the same one, asking him to send that angel to take me whenever I die.” He paused witha heavysighand smiled.

That was you.” he said mutely“I know there can be psychological explanations to this, I have read tones of those but I know what I saw and I saw you before you saw yourself” a peculiar tone entered his voice.

I looked at his face blanklyunable to think ofanappropriate reaction. It was touching. He meant that angelwas me. EvenifI tryto discard I know things like this are a psychologicalimbalance, youthink it’s ananomalous dream, supposedlya manifestationofextrasensoryperception, that informationis giventhat we could not have obtained otherwise but its our sub consciousness that piece together bits ofinformation. Maybe he saw someone else, he liked her and thenhe saw me and liked me and he conceived the notionthat it’s the same person. It could be unrealbut there was no harminbelieving. I don’t know ifAngels or God or life after deathexisted. But faithdefinitelydid. As I believed he was myAngel, he believed inme.

You know I didn’t want to leave Ajmer because of my belief that the angel lived there. Dad threatened me to Pinegrove. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you
here. I felt very angry with God because whom I thought was an angel, was an ordinary girl. She was no holy spirit. Remember I didn’t talk to you at first; I didn’t like
you very much. But then I saw you as someone who was sweet, caring, loving. Someone who was pure at heart, someone who can cry in other’s pain. I had never seen anyone like you. You were an angel, my angel”
He said ina murmur, a twitchofsadness crossed his eyes.

 

I felt warmand protected and happy. The feeling of being loved is trulythe most beautifulfeelinga soulcanbe blessed with. Withhimthere it was so easyto fantasize that everythingwas okay.

Tell me something?” he asked calmly.
Hun” I asked ina verylow voice.
Did you go to Ajmer last year?” he asked gentlybut intensely.

Yes. I went there with my parents. My dad goes there every year. Last year he took me too, to pray for the board examinations. And it wasn’t light; it was the white salwar kameez I was wearing.” I smiled “I wish I had seen you too. I would have never disappeared.”

He looked back intenselyto see a humanso passionatelyinlove. ThoughI think he has knownit allalong, myobsessionwithhim. “How do you hear me when I am not near.” I asked lookingat himinmystification.
He sighed meetingmyeyes and theywere surprisinglytender now.

I can. I can hear minutest of sounds from a distance. Especially the sounds which are near to you, to the beat of your heart. I can hear the pages turning of your book in midnight, the pen scribbling on the paper, you talking in dreams and your prayers in chapel.” He said gloriously.

I stared at himbesieged yet befuddled.
Are you sure it wont be more than enough for one day” he asked playfully“I don’t want to scare you.”
“Don’t worry. I will survive.”

He uncertainlycame to sit besides me onhis warmbed.
“I have more developed senses for humans. I see better, I hear better, I smell better”
Even your memory is better” I smiled perturbed, rememberinghe told me he canlearnthe whole book.
Yup. With memory comes the extra sensory perception because of which I sometimes see future.” He added critically.
I crossed myarms around myfolded legs.
He fellsilent for a minute and watched me intentlyas ifhe was thinkingit through.

They say that in 2000 the first human gene therapy success resulted. But that’s not true.” He sighed. His eyes were tight as he stared past me out ofthe window. “The first alteration of an individual’s genotype with the aim of choosing the phenotype of a newborn was used to change the physical appearance, metabolism, hearing aid, eyesight and mental faculties like memory and intelligence was carried out in 1988. With the method of germ line engineering the genes was changed in a very early embryo. That was classified under enhancement or positive genetic engineering. It was a work of some greatest minds in the field of human genetic engineering. But look at their fate due to the controversial ethical issues those doctors never got a chance to come and tell the world about one of the greatest achievements of a human brain.” “Me” He added almost ina whisper.

Adiwas a geneticallyengineered human.
I shuddered slightlyat the bleakness inhis voice and the truthofhis words. It took me a while to digest his story. I was a slow learner but I guess inthis case anyone willbe. What he was sayingdoes made sense. He was different, thananyone ofus.
But it felt so surreal. I was a science student I knew this kind ofthingis possible but so are aliens, I meanthere is a difference betweena possibilityand reality. We sat insilence. I glanced at the clock onthe front wall.
Adi” I murmured.
Hun?” He looked up abruptly.
Is the color of your eyes genetically engineered?” I asked dubiously.
No. Mum says I have my grandmother’s eyes in Me.” he answered nonchalantly.
I smiled hesitantly.
He seemed confused. He tilted his head to one side and his eyes were curious.
I love the blue of your eyes. I wanted them to be yours.” I whispered blushing.
He seemed unnecessarilyconfused thoughsmiling, one ofthose beautifulsmiles.
Aren’t you upset? Or heartbroken knowing that I am not very genuine. That I am an artificial Mr. Perfect” He asked his eyes fixed at myface.

No, why should I be. You are a biological wonder and besides you are so human. It’s the special you inside that body that I love and trust me that’s the most perfect thing in my world.” I replied, surprised he eventhought that.

We bothsmiled mesmerized.
It was late whenhe dropped me outside the dorm.
You sure you don’t want to eat anything?” he asked openingthe door for me, unwillingly.
I am not hungry” I assured himfor the hundredthtime. I was inno mood to go back to the party.

You eat something” I requested hesitantly. Sayingcaringthings was somethingthat came to me withexceptionalease. But I was not muchofa grownup inhis presence, mymind was somewhat scrambled whenhe was near.

He smiled.
Sleep well” he alleged clungingto his jacket.
I blinked thoroughlydazed. Myheart sank as I watched himleaving.

There was no one inthe dorm. I took shower and got dressed for bed, huntingthe book that I issued fromlibrary, and elatedlyrolled under the quilt. The book was just another love story. Thoughaninnate reader but I was not a huge fanofchoices these protagonists ofmybooks made. Few questions forever bugged me, drivingme insane and I used to

 

read the chapters over and over again, lookingfor some possible explanationofunexplainable behaviors ofwomeninlove. For instance whyAnne Elliot ditched Frederick in

persuasionand thenwhyshe waited for a miracle like Frederick to happenagain. And muchless complicated whySita suffered allthe atrocities ofRam, she always had a choice to go back to her father; she was a princess after all. Allthese people be it Meera or Heer or ElizabethBennett ofwesternworld were never perfect to me. There were so many questions left hungat everybook I finished.

But todaysomehow allthat was comingback to me, makingsense. Thoughindifferent eras, different worlds these people were allabout love. Theynever thought ofchoices, as if theydidn’t exist.

Very true. Be it destiny or be it love, you don’t drive it, it drives you and necessarily for early adolescence.
Just like themmyheart pondered and got eager whenAdi’s name reaches myears. I amsure myreflexes were more rapid to his name thanmine. I was beingdriventoo. Bylove.

I clogged myeyes, thinkingofthe evening. It ached to think how it started and the same painnumbed onthe thought ofits closure. Adiwas infected witha virus, he wasn’t sick; it was just like me sufferingfromasthma, I told myself. The risks were considerable inhis case but theysaythe treatment has enhanced the existence rate. And they’llfind a cure, everynow and thenit’s inthe news, researchers workingonone.

But what if they are unable to find a cure in time. As he said the virus is little by little terminating his immune system. He has had 5 years in the second stage already. How long would it possibly last” The thought was apprehensive.

 

I don’t know whenI fallasleep prayingto God. That night I had a dreamvivid but peaceful. Khwajajicame and shared a word ofwisdom. He said, I quote “Death is a necessary end; it will come when it will come. You cannot banish danger, but you can banish fear.” He said before vanishing.

I woke up incore ofthe dark and kept conjecturinghow come Khwajajiended up impressingthings whichwere infact quotes froma book I had. The dreamwas eccentric but the strangest tad was that his preaching’s did make sagacity. How evenlyAdinattered about his disease, he didn’t fear it. Likewise I have onno account felt a trepidationabout my death, I wont fear his, I resoluted. Or at least I cantrynot to fear it. He perceive me as a light, I’llbe one.

And thenthere was another fear, canthere ever be us. Myparents are modernenough, theywillrespect mychoices, and actuallythere never has beenaninstance where I have shownanypreference to somethingthat’s not their preference. This would be first. I think we’llfigure out something, theydon’t reallyhave a choice onthis matter. I am his, if anyone accepts it or not. To be withhimwas the decisionthat was ridiculouslyeasyto live with. So I vowed to be on his side in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death and beyond.

At sometime we allwake up, that was the point for me.

Are you awake?” I heard Sara’s voice fromabove as she shifted uncomfortably, stirringthe whole bunk.
Kind of. How was the party?” I asked movingto see her face.
Where were you Samiya?” she asked, interruptingmyquestion.

Myheart beganto race almost uncontrollably. Adrenalinkicked in. That allowed me to use allmystrengthat one time, but for a veryinsignificant amount oftime, to fight offthe threats. I took advantage and babbled instantly“With Aadil.” I regretted as soonas the words were out.

She sighed impatientlyand banged her hand onthe metalframe ofthe bed.
“That’s it Samiya. You are not talking to him again” her voice cutting, she glared me withanangryexpression.

“He embarrassed you in front of whole school. Jesus, have some self respect girl. He hurt you. You have been moping around for two weeks; he didn’t even come to apologize. Crying in bathroom in the middle of the night is something that sane and happy people don’t do. We both know what’s going on here and it’s not good for you.” She said furiously.

It was astoundinghow instantaneouslya sentiment ofsecuritywashed over me. Sara was always a backup plan. Sometimes whenI felt that I’llend up unaided and bymyselfin life, whenmumand dad willwalk awayand Niya’llbe wedded and I won’t stumble onwithanyone, I constantlycounted onSara. It was so unproblematic to be withher, safe and

 

not beinglonesome. But since last few years she turned out to be dissimilar to me. She has a life where closest ofpeople cango unnoticed for days. There is no precedent to how

 

stronglyshe makes youbelieve that she doesn’t care. But right now it didn’t feellike her love had weakened over time rather that it had matured. It now sees beyond the happiness ofa friend, to see the righteousness for her.

 

For the first time inlongtime, I clambered up to her bunk, just like walkingtowards the ground zero at the time ofbombardment and kissed her red cheek, whichwas smoldering withanger but turned pink withamazement at once.

 

She glanced at me perplexed.

 

Move I am sleeping with you” I said, totallyunconcerned about what she was thinking.

We laid insilence for a while.
You are so odd Samiya Mittal” she croaked softly.

I was prettysure that I won’t be able to elucidate Sara the whole storyhonestly. I was bounded ingood faithto keep some parts to myself. And there was no good enoughreason for Adi’s attitude inabsence ofthe whole truth. So I opted to come across like a psychopathfor a change.

 

But I am telling you. If you don’t stop now you’ll never be able to leave him. And I am hundred and one percent sure that boy is going to leave you sooner or later.” She said indesperation, to send her advice right throughmyhead for once, “I am warning you. End it”

I didn’t reply. It was too late for that. It was too late to end.
I suppose she understood the gist ofmystillness.
She didn’t sayanythingfurther thanthat.

We woke up to a bright day. I opened the window to suck up the relativelydryair. The dew shimmered oneverythingthat was green. It was warmand hardlywindyat all. The water inthe streamwas amazinglyand rarelyseengreenishblue this morning. There was a purple touchto the river whichsurprised me. I think theywere the flowers. Myframe of mind didn’t depend ongeographicalor environmentalamendments but it surelybrought anedge to mypreviouslycontent status.

Boys were preparingfor a jogwhenI came downfor gym. It was the brightest lights I have seeninmonths. I saw Adicasuallystrolling, his eyes onthe staircase. I grinned; he picked up onmymood immediately.

Nice day” he commented as I approached. “Yes” I agreed withanother grin.
Despite the rushand the morningfuzzeveryone managed to stare at us. It was just like the first day, whenwe walked downto the Brooke.
I disregarded themand reserved mythoughts customaryonhim.

He smiled back, his blue eyes glistened withthe delight, I was hopingto see onthe dayofthe results. Whenhe smiled it was easier to see, whyI amdepressed whenhe is not on talkingterms withme.

Where are you going?” I asked, halfheartedlyona morninglike this.
He anticipated and smiled crookedly.
Not far. Just around the BSNL quarters.” He replied, his tone too lucid.
Oh” I murmured.
He seemed to apprehend that I have no idea ofthe place he was talkingabout; beingdreadfulwithnames ofplaces and directions is the most commongirlie trait. “It’s located on the upper mall road within the Army premises.” He tried explaining.
“Oh yeah got ya” I said excitedly“I have been there thousand times”.
He laughed,
And I haven’t been there once” he said obliquely, ingood spirits.
I knew what he meant. He knew the place and directions without beingthere and I didn’t know whatever.
Did you take your passport?” I asked withassent. Kasauli being a cantonment town has a restricted entry. Foreign citizens have to carry their passports. “What’s the deal with that? First Mr. Mathur, then Raag, then Mandy and now you” He asked politely, but amused.
“Those are Indian Army premises” I said hardlyresidingoneachword.
“That I know. But why not others, I mean Ian, Iqbal and Sandeep. Why me? They are foreign citizens too” he asked wondering.
I sniggered at his confusion.
They don’t look like one. And you unquestionably don’t look Indian” I explained.

He looked at me inuncertainty.
Yeah I don’t look Indian. I look hippy. That’s what you called me when you were shouting at me” he failed miserablyinanattempt to sound nonchalant. “I don’t remember.” I answered chickeningout.
SuddenlySara walked amidst us fromnowhere.
She looked at me furiouslyfor a briefsecond and I bowed downmyeyes withguiltyand fear.
She must have set her prominent killer looks onAdibefore grippingmywrist preparingto dragme awaythat Adimumbled inirritation“I am sorry Sara, for what I have done. I

cant take my words back or the pain I have caused her but please give me a chance to make up for it..” he said inlow velvetyvoice, almost pleadingfor forgiveness. I can’t

 

bear how his expressionchanged just onthe thought ofthat memory. He could have just put a spellonher and she would have forgotteneverything, I don’t know whyhe didn’t do that.

 

This is not fair Sara. You don’t know the truth. I wanted to yellat her.

“What did you have to go through? Don’t even get me started on how miserable she was. You embarrassed her with your bull shit in front of everyone. And you apologize in person in front of two of us. Go and tell everyone that its you who is behind her not the other way” She was shoutingwithout anymercy, whenI had to intrude. “That doesn’t matter Sara. Please” I said ina low but hard voice, raisingmybrows.

“You shut up and come with me” she didn’t evenlistento what I was tryingto say, draggingme withher.

 

I managed to look back and give a smile but Adiwas still. Why he has to take Sara seriously, for crying out loud. Everyone here knows that Sara is a black haired blonde.

She let me lose ingymbut indubitablywas keepinganeye fromwherever she was.
Inthe face ofmyincessant effort to explainher that he wanted to stayawayfromme, for myowngood she pretended that she wasn’t listening.

And as a finalpoint sittingonthe breakfast table she alleged “Then why does he have to change his mind now. Can’t he just stick to that previous choice? Of protecting you from himself or whatever”

“I won’t let him Sara.” I whispered hesitantly.
She gave me that are you nuts looks.
I winked.
“That’s just a crush. You’ll get over it.” She pronounced heavingher glare fromme.
I was more thanirritated. But I carefullypicked onwords and tone, “Maybe you are right. But right now I am pretty crazy about him. So please try and understand.” I wasn’t done sayingthat whenhe materialized fromthe rear walkingtowards his standard diningplace.
I couldn’t help givinghima fleetinglook before turningback to Sara, who was alreadyoglingme.

You know what? You are going crazy. I don’t know why you like him. He is weird. Have you ever seen the way he looks at you? Looks like a maniac. You are just into his looks. You are not seeing anything other than that” she accused ina hard voice. I don’t think it was inaudible to the public around us.

You know me better than that?” I said sincerely, curbinga smile.
She didn’t reply. We allgot up perfunctorilyas headywalked in.
He was carryinga brownpacket and few sheets ofpaper. “Oh no. please not now” Sara sighed anticipatingit was lecture time.
She was right.

Dear students. I need a minute of your precious time to read to you a letter which has arrived from Mayo College, Ajmer with certificate of excellence, a CBSE Mark sheet which is worth a sight and a CBSE Merit certificate. Please bear with me”

Headycontinued keyed up as Adigave me a timid smile and I returned the same witha look ofproud inmyglare.
Dear Aadil Rathore

I am delighted to inform you that you have passed the Central Board of Secondary Examination with the highest position in the nation. I would like to mention that you have made the school proud and the teachers who nourished you, honored with the output that they thrive to bring in each student every day of their life. In my life in Mayo I have seen people with mediocre ability achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. But rarely did I come across someone who succeeded because he was determined to.

In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins not through strength but by perseverance. Mayo sees you as a stream. I remember telling you that it is by what you have done, not by what your father has done that you will be remembered in after ages. This will be remembered as the first milestone in the altitude of fame I am sure you will achieve one day and when you will indelibly etch your place in history.

Last but not the least Mayo College, Ajmer will always remember you as a notable alumni and someone who has set an exceptional example for the next generation of mayoites. I wish you all the very best for the bright life that lies ahead of you and will look forward to see you every year for old mayoites reunion.

Kind Regards Major General Amarjeet Singh

Principal, Mayo College, Ajmer” Headyfinished the letter withproud layingemphasis onthe last words. “A round of applause for Aadil” The words were inhis mouthwhen the hallechoed withthe resonance ofclaps.

Everyone gazed at himwithapprobation.
He blinked at me as he got up.
Congrats” I whispered under mybreathclapping, mycheeks and palms warmwitha suddenrush.

His lips moved to murmur “ Thanks” prior to walkingtowards Heady. Headypatted his back and handed himthe certificates, mymouthfellopenas he bowed downto touch Heady’s feet. He must have one hellofparents to teachhimstuffthat I didn’t know. As soonas headyseated, theystarted servingthe breakfast. But stillAdiwas the centre of attentionfor one and for all. Everytable he walked past urged to see his certificates and mark sheet and he illustrated themaround and showed gratitude withproper and gracious commitment. It was amazinghow patientlyhe explained his grades to year 1 students, while the toddlers were just curios to see what the bigmess is about. Allthe despair ifany, momentarilyvanished as I watched him, I couldn’t believe that I deserved this degree ofgood fortune.

As he stopped byat the fourthtable inthe row, I can’t help noticingthat he spent more thannecessarytime exchangingdiscussion. Niya and her friends listened to himattentively. The identicalpulse whichtingled as hope incontext to Adiand Sara quivered as happiness everytime I saw Adiand Niya collectively.

 

I think you can have breakfast now. They are done” Sara said ina low and severe voice.

I hesitantlyturned around to get myselfcereals. I contemplated Adiwont have time for one, so I set another plate and decided to make hima take awaysandwich. I used brown bread, 4 ounce ofcheese and anythingand everythingthat was there for salads. I was worryingtoo muchabout the nutritionalvalue ofeachingredient somethingthat I have never done before.

Is this for someone?” Sara babbled. She knew I preferred cereals for breakfast.

 

Adi” I murmured without hesitationand without anyeffort to keep myvoice low. I don’t think me and Adiwere object ofgossip anymore, we have beengoingonand offfor quite sometime now.

 

She contemplated the sandwich.

 

I want the same” she entreated witha grave expression. Sometimes I feelthat its jealousyor more or less competitiveness whichkept Sara fromslackeningthe tensionwithAdi. Perhaps she was petrified onsharingme withhim.

Here. You can have this. I’ll make another one for him” I said passingher the plate. I was doinganother one, whenhe finallyappeared. He stood at the edge ofthe table like a marble tribute to some forgottenpaganGod ofbeautywhile everyone onthe table hooted and clapped for him. He gave fives to his friends and posed his fingers for ‘V’ as an ‘Victory’. Everyone looked at us inamazement but the hootings and tootlings went for quite sometime. Kunalwas wavinghim, askingfor certificates whenhe said “Wait a minute” inhis mused voice walkingaround the table, towards me. His congenialattitude was somethingthat could not be achieved throughimitation.

I heard veryunmistakablywhenhe came to a stop besides me. Mymind was spinningwhile to breathe was somethingI had to continuouslyremind myselfwhenhe was inclose immediacyand theysayits one ofthe automaticallyregulated functions ofhumanbody.

 

“Samiya” he said ina quiet, musicalvoice.

 

I knew lookingat himwon’t do anygood to mypresent stipulationbut I had to permit myselfone glance. I looked up, at his stunningface and thenwas unable to take myeyes off. I had to speak he was waiting. But I couldn’t think ofanythingconventionalto say. There is a complexityoffeelings involved whenhe looks at me ignorant ofeveryone around.

Yes” I managed stammeringpronouncingthat minuscule word.
He laughed a soft enchantinglaugh.
Am I allowed to give you presents?” he asked flatlysmilinga crooked smile so beautifulthat I canonlystare at himlike anidiot.
That depends” I persisted stupidly.
He seemed confused.
I wont accept anything materialistic” I said awkwardly.

How about this? Does this count?” he held out the documents to me. The glow onhis face argued allthe three components ofTriangular theoryoflove; intimacy, commitment and passion.

I smiled shylyholdinghis certificates. I knew it was somethinglike that.
I didn’t know what love is and what task it serves but iflove does what it was doingto me and AdithenI ampositivelyrecommendingit to everyone. I carefullyassessed eachdocument before lookingup again“You get these only once. You might want to keep the originals.” I smirked. “I’ll survive” he muttered, pullinghimselfback immediately.
I smiled back as didn’t have a word to thank himenoughfor the most exclusive present.
He has myheart, ifthat makes up for it.
I can no other answer make, but, thanks and thanks” I mumbled out unthinkingly.
Shakespeare” He said impulsively.
I nodded as he moved back to his seat.
Now I noticed that everyone ontable was hootingfor us and it faded as I passed onthe certificates to Kunal.
Teachers must have noted too.
There were hardlyfive minutes left for the break. He was lookingonthe table searchingfor a quick snack, whenI hesitantlyheld out the plate to him. For a moment he looked at me wondering.
I thought there won’t be enough time for proper breakfast. You can carry it with you” I tried to sound informal.
Thank you” he said warmlytakingthe plate.
We were sharingsmiles whenSara intruded “I guess you should eat something too” she said mordantly.
We quicklyceased the exchange and spent last five minutes eatingina rush.

Sara walked me downto the class, utilizingeachsecond criticizing Adi, mostlytalkingto herself.
I can’t believe he is doing that kind of goofy stuff in front of teachers. Are they blind? They should throw him out of the school.” She said inirritation, clenchingher teeth.

That knowledge turned me blue. This was somethingthat was exceedinglypossible just there would be more to that idea, “I think they’ll have to kick me out too” I murmured unthinkingly“if that happens” I added.

 

She was hushed bythat thought.

I walked into the class goaded at Sara and impatient to see Adi. I was startled to see that everyone was alreadythere. I was scrutinizingthe roomfor anunoccupied seat, whenI saw himstaringat me. He was smilingcrookedlyfromacross the room; he moved his books to one side leavinghalfthe desk vacant and winked at me, motioningto joinhim. I automaticallyreached his table, standingthere unsure. Sara’s comment was stillworryingme.

Aren’t you going to sit down?” he asked, smiling.

I sat downcautiously, hyperaware that Adi was sittingless thaninches awayfromme. I was stunned bythe unexpected electricitythat flowed throughme, amazed that it was possible to be more aware ofhimthanI alreadywas. I was inhis arms yesterdayand now his modest closeness was sendingbutterflies inmystomach. I wonder ifI’llever get used to his imminence. He seemed as strikingand incredible as always. A crazyimpulse to reachover and touchhim, to stroke his perfect face just once, nearlyoverwhelmed me. After a fanaticalmoment, whenI almost lost it I realized things haven’t untied at his end either. He sat as far as the desk would allow, thoughhis face was angled towards mine.

Mr. Pandeybacked into the roomthen- savingus frommakinganytalk inthat awkward moment.

 

He started dictatingnotes. I clenched myfree hand onthe notepad while scribblingnotes and despite enormous efforts our arms were brushingagainst eachother most ofthe time.

Myeyes oftheir ownaccord flickered to him, whenMr. Pandeypaused. I smiled sheepishlywhenI realized his posture was a mirror image ofmine, a free hand clenched onthe notebook and other snuglyholdingthe pen. He smiled peeringsideways at me. I couldn’t concentrate onthe lecture for some reason- I didn’t evenknow what chapter we were on. I tried unsuccessfullyto relaxseveraltimes. OccasionallyI permit myselfa quick glance inhis direction, but he never seemed to relax, either. The overpoweringcravingto touchhim

also refused to fade, and I crushed myfingers against the penuntiltheywere achingwiththe effort.
I realized our arms were touchingbecause he was rightingwithhis left hand and me withright. Oh, so he was left handed.

Mr. Pandeydecided to give us time to do some readinginsilence. I didn’t bringmybook so Adioffered to share. After few moments ofgazing, I realized he wasn’t concentrating either. I was about to openmymouthto saysomethingwhenMr. Pandeyshammed a coughto another talkingduo. Adihanded me his penmotioningto write it downonbook. I wrote downcarefullymakingsure that myhandwritingis legible.

 

You are left handed?

Yes. Why? you don’t date lefties? He wrote inhis ownpersonalcalligraphy, suppressingsmile. Are we dating??. I fiddled, doubtfully. He winked, I blushed. As usualand thenI recessed and let myastroanalysis flow in. Left handed people are considered lucky I smiled

Trust me, I am he wrote peeking at me and then continued I got a free sandwich this morninghe wrote ironically.

He smiled, as I smiled.
As Mr. Pandeypassed us takinga round, he turned the page underneathmyhand, and turned it back whenMr. Pandeydisappeared. I took the penand started scribblingwhat was worryingme the most
Adi, do you think teachers won’t have problem with us. I mean heady gave me a verbal warning already

Adiwas shakinghis head before I finished. I started writingagain
How do you know?
He was quiet for a while before writingagainas ifthinkinghow to explicate this to me.

No they won’t. I am like an asset to them. It’s good for school’s name. They can’t expel me. And neither you. Me and you come in package.

 

I smiled timidlyat the last line; he stole a look before continuing

 

Also I can always hypnotize him.

 

He smiled a boyish, mischievous laugh.

 

Whatgotyouworriedanyways???

 

He knew it wasn’t myidea. I took the penhesitantly, thinkinghe should have guessed

 

SaraL

 

His face changed right away, as ifhe has remembered somethingout ofthe blue. He took the penand the words rushed out after that

Why is she so worried? I am just a crush. You are crazy for me right now but I am sure you’ll get over it soon. He put back the peninsolently, his lips pressed ina hard line waitingfor me to right. I can’t believe he heard that. I flushed withshame; he was not supposed to listenthat. I squiggled ina scurry

I don’t have to tell Sara or anyone for that matter, how I feel about you. People don’t understand. You should know, that’s what matters.

 

I paused and wrote againirritatedI can’t believe you sucked that

 

We didn’t talk after that. “Do you want to change places? That would be more comfortable. For you” He asked risingfluidly. He would be onleft then, and me onright and our arms won’t collide. I explained myself. As ifthat would help mymuddled thoughts.

Hun” was allI was able to respond. As I shifted to his warmplace where he usuallysat I noticed myname engraved onthe brownwoodendesk witha compass maybe. Severaltimes. I looked at himoverwhelmed. “What” he asked surprised whenhe caught me glaring.
Nothing” I whispered.
He smiled inuncertaintybefore whirlingback to Mandy.
Mrs Anjalistarted the class witha poem; the laburnumtop. Later inthe class she asked for names for the scholastic poemwritingcompetition.
You should give your name” I suggested fervently.
Hun” he murmured, his mind somewhere else.
Before I could ask him, he raised his penonlyto say“Samiya Mittal.”
I was horror stuck. Alltraces ofmysuddenexcitement vanished. It was aninter schoolcompetition. I can’t believe he just did what he did.
Do you want me to put in your name as well?” Ms Anjaliasked keenly.
No Thank you mam. I am not good at combining rhyming words.” He answered innocently.
I started as soonas he settled “You gave my name. You didn’t bother to ask me?” I asked bitterly.
You wouldn’t have allowed me to” That was true.
Because I don’t know shit about writing poems.” I growled. I bit mylip so hard, I think it was bleeding.
You turn abusive when you are upset.” He said suppressinga grin.
Myteethclamped together.

You know sometimes I feel you try to rhyme everything you speak. There are poems and quotes everywhere in your books. If you can’t write, nobody can. Trust me on this one.” He mumbled almost incoherently.

 

His attempt to trap me inhis words was not goingto work, but I was alreadytrapped to some extent. I don’t think I have guts to get myname eliminated, I can’t argue myside with him, it’s nearlyimpossible to get your ways out withMs Anjali.

 

I looked awayinthe generaldirectionofthe black board. The famous silence revisited. This time reciprocally, I wasn’t ontalkingterms, I was stillfurious. I knew he scrutinized my face for a longmoment before turningback to studies.

We were doinganessayon, a laburnum top, whenhe decided to give up. Actuallyhe wasn’t heated up inthe first place but his attempts to make up beganat that point. “Okay. I am sorry” he whispered, tryingto hold mygaze as I looked away.
He went back to writing, whichlasted not more thanfew minutes.
Are you still angry?” he asked carefullystudyingmyimpressions.
Definitely” I growled. He sighed. “Will you forgive me if I help you with one?” he asked rollingthe sleeves ofhis shirt.

I was about to counter myconditions to get myname eliminated whenthe blue contusiononhis armcaught myattention. He swiftlysmoothed downthe sleeve as ifhe has forgotten about it altogether.

 

Withdeliberate slowness, myhands slid downto his arm. I shivered, and I heard himcatchhis breath. But myhands didn’t pause as I softlycurled the shirt, and thenstopped. The blue capillaries were visible more thansufficiently, as ifthe skinonthemwas transparent or missingat some points. The bruises except for the capillaries contrasted withthe pale white ofhis glowingskin. I was about to touchit whenhe held myhand.

Myhand felt so feeble inhis ironstrengthyet it was he who was inpain. This was some serious damage.
And thentoo soonhe released me.
How did this happen?” myvoice almost inaudible.
They were having trouble finding my blood vein” he said mutelyreadingmyexpression.
Does this induce pain” I asked gravely.
No” he whispered.
I know that was a lie.

I carefullycaressed his arm; he didn’t stop me this time. I delicatelystroked the bruise; traced the shape ofthe visible capillaries. I could feelthe stingtravellingfromhis bodyto mine. I dropped myhand and uncurled the sleeve, tugged the buttonand leaned away. He was immobile as a stone. No one could be stilllike him.

I wish” he whispered, “You wouldn’t have seen this.”
He raised his hand to myhair, and thencarefullybrushed it across myface.
No. please.
Promise me you’ll tell me whenever you are in pain or not well.” Mywords came out like a warning.
He sighed.
You are not sole proprietor of taking care. I want to take care of you too” I said ina rush.
His lips twitched ina hard smile.
This is exactly what I didn’t want.” He said.
What? Now is it some prestige thing. Some male ego. We can do better than this Adi” I pleaded, caressinghis hand.
He seemed to relaxa bit.
Actually I haven’t come up to that part where I start getting sick. I am lagging behind” he smiled a surprisinglyimpishgrin.
I can’t believe he found humor inthat. I dropped his hand heated ininvisiblyquick moment.

We got back to our essays as were runningout oftime. I was onthe third line whenI indiscreetlyhold the benchwhile doodling. Somethingcold touched myhand slightly. He turned around myhand to fit his fingers inmine. I shivered.

I’ll never let go of you. I’ll do whatever you want me to” he murmured firmlywithglitzyeyes.
The muscles inthe pit ofmystomachtightened and send mypulse hammeringthroughmyveins again.
He didn’t let go ofmyhand for the next two periods.

Inbiologypractical, summer vacations were the headlines untilMr. Ahluwalia came.

 

Please don’t go in summer vacations” I said pleading. He was goingto stayinKasauliat his parents. He willcome to schooleverydayfor coachingclasses but that muchtime is not enoughfor me.

 

I wish I could hypnotize them on phone.” He said cutely“once they are here, they won’t leave me.”

It was marvelous how he talked keepinghis eyes onthe dissection. A third personcannever figure that he was sayingsomethingnot related to the practical. I smiled sluggishly.
Did Sid talk to you?” he asked firmly.
No. Not after that dinner.”
He smiled obliquely.
I made him forget that he likes you” he answered shrewdly.
You did?” I couldn’t help laughing. “Thank you.””
Pleasure is mine.” he replied smiling.
I have few questions, about that little thing you told me. The genes stuff” I asked hesitantly.
I was counting on that” he stated casually“shoot?”
“You said you have better genes but you got HIV”
I said not incomplete indifference.
He looked at me as ifI was missingsomethingobvious.

There is no immunity to HIV. Just that because of my immunity to other infections I’ll live a bit longer maybe.” He continued “But lately they have found that some people have natural immunity to HIV. Maybe there’ll be a vaccine to prevent HIV in near future.”
“Oh”
I groaned.

 

“And what are the ethical issues. Why didn’t they let world know about you?” I asked astonished. IfI would have done somethinglike that, I would be runningaround the townshoutingabout it.

 

“First of all genetic modification of embryos can pose an ethical question about the right of the babies. They believe that every fetus should be free to not be genetically modified. As you know in our body different cells have different tasks, changing one cell to do a different job will not only affect that one task, it can affect many others
too. If something goes wrong a child can be born with diseases or dystrophies. So what dad and his friends did was illegal. But dad trusted his friends. And secondly if
the world knows this can happen, wealthy families will opt to design their child with genetic advantages as everyone would want to provide best opportunities to their
babies in life. Now the problem is that, this therapy will obviously cost good money, and the less wealthy families will be left to procreate naturally, and have to
introduce their children into the world disadvantaged from their first breath. The impact on society will be a new alignment of classes, the new division will be between ‘the naturals’ and ‘the genrich’ or genetically enhanced. So this of course is not ethical.”
He peeked at me “Do you understand?”

I thought about it for a minute. So he disadvantaged us. This was a new point ofview.
No offence but why did your dad do it then?” I asked curiously.

They wanted to test their discovery. And they wanted people with genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, to benefit from it. They did that with a sole purpose of helping sick. But what happened, that along with me the same genes were altered in dad’s friends embryo. The baby was born with leukemia. I was lucky to be healthy at time of birth. So no matter what, things can go wrong. And dad and his friends decided to close everything. It’s history now.” He said settingthe microscope.

Your mum allowed that kind of thing?” Mytone was veryaccusing.

 

It’s a very difficult decision to make. But you know what my mum is just like you. She is very innocent. Dad can talk her into anything. She resists for a while but then she goes with the flow. But if something would have happened, she would have never forgiven dad” he murmured lost inpityfor his mum.

Weren’t you upset with your dad, when he told you?” I asked dubiously.
Nope. He is my dad. And someone has to make a sacrifice to bring change to billions of others.” His voice filled withrespect.
Yeahhe was right.
Adi and what is about the extrasensory perception?” I asked undecidedly.

Extrasensory perception is also called sixth sense. It was something that was not intended. That sense involves reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses but sensed with the mind. It may have happened as a side result of the mutation for memory. Some great authors have explained from time to time that this kind of thing is possible.” He explained.

What things do you see?”
“The future comes to me in dreams. All pleasant. I saw Olivia and Oliver before they were born. I told mum two black twins will become a part of our family someday. I knew the exact appearance of dad’s research centre before it was built. I was in class sixth when I dreamt that I’ll top CBSE exams for tenth.”

“You knew you were going to do it.” I asked surprise. “That’s why you were laughing when I asked you how you did on your board exams, the first day we talked.” He smiled.
Tell me what else did you see?” I asked curiously.

“A lot of random stuff. I knew what mum will be wearing what she’ll say when she’ll come to pick me up. I knew what I was going to get for my birthday. I have seen Niya and your parents more than once in dreams when I was in Mayo. And yes I have got a good one for you. You’ll be surprised.” He paused to stare at me “Mandy and Sara will get married one day.”

Mymouthfellopen, “ What? Are you kidding me?”
“No I am not. I saw Mandeep in turban and Sara in pink wedding dress circling around Guru Granth Sahib”

Myheart thudded withexcitement.
How was she looking Adi? Tell me everything. Does she have long hair, was she grown up?”
He smiled, contemplatingmyjoy.

She was the prettiest thing in the whole picture. An unusual peace on her face, similar to yours. Your parents and Niya were there too. Niya looked very young. Raag was there. And trust me those two looked as if they were paired together in heaven.”

Mybreaths were cominginsluggishly.
Was I happy Adi?” I asked ina whisper.
He stared at me for a longmoment; his expressiontold me that somethingwas wrong.
“You weren’t there.” he whispered.
It felt like someone has stabbed me inmychest. Why was I not there? What kept me from her wedding? Will she never forgive me about Adi? “But I don’t see the whole picture most of the times. And that dream was a long time ago. Maybe I didn’t notice you” he said firmly.
I knew he was lying, tryingto cheer me up. It didn’t work. I didn’t know what to say.
You told me you never saw us together” I asked hesitantly“is that right?”
He nodded stiffly.

GraduallyI ranout oflogicalquestions whenI beganwiththe ones that were insignificant. It was like I was testinghis patience. Result: He was the most patient person I have ever come across.

It was drizzlingwhenwe stepped out ofthe classroomthat day. The dayhad set into a beautifulevening. The water droplets were beadingup. Ground was moist and soft. The aroma, freshand sweet filled the air. The trees were like the wondrous naturalbeautyglorifyingthis alienplanet. Monkeys were chatteringnoisily, roamingfree without care. And the birds chirped rushingback to their nests. The colors ever-so-brilliant complimented. The pathwas covered withdryleaves, retainingthere beautifuldullyellow color and an angel walkingbesides me. How could all this be not a dream?

We walked insilence, before I came up withanother question.
Adi could it be that when you saw me after the accident in that dream; it was a pre sensory perception? You saw the future.” I asked doubtfully. He was instantlyserious, I cansaybecause his lips set into a hard line.
No that can’t be” his voice suddenlyantagonistic.

There has to be another explanation to that. I searched your medical records. You’ll be surprised that you had that rock climbing incident on 10 May 2001. The same day I had my accident. And your reports show that your injuries were not minor. You were mere lucky.” He explained repentantly.

 

That was a verystrange coincidence, ifit was one.

He said softly, as ifhe was listeningto mythoughts “ That cant be a coincidence. There has to be some explanation for everything.” He sighed. “Sometimes I feel that I am not just a specimen for human experiment but that God is also trying his hand on me. Someone up there is definitely playing with my life and you have to share my misery” he smiled without humor.

Why does he have to say that?
“There is no misery. And there is no experiment. Forget about everything. It doesn’t matter. I trust my God. He has something beautiful planned for us.”
I turned around to face him“Please trust me.” The words ached inmythroat.

 

His face was grave.

 

I don’t know why I am fooling myself. We can’t be together, we can’t get married. You are healthy and young and you have a bright future. And I have to wait for the day when I’ll start getting sick. When you’ll be somewhere in your midlife crises I’ll be dead” His voice had the sealofpainthat struck right onmyheart.

He shouldn’t have said that. He has no right to saythat to me.
This will never happen. We will live a long happy life together.” I replied aggravated.
I have been HIV Positive since five years now. Be realistic Samiya.” He was more thanfrustrated himself.
We glowered at eachother.

Aadil history is full of people who were sick but suddenly got better. That’s called miracle. And it can happen, trust me have faith in him.” I said pointingtowards the chapel.

 

You are very innocent Samiya. You don’t understand” he murmured inhis velvetyvoice.

Eveninanxietyhis pale face was beautiful. The tinyraindroplets shimmered onhis skin. Wind played inhis dark hair. His eyes gloriouslyagonized. His coolbreathe smelled sweet, delicious, the scent made mymouthwater. It was unlike anythingelse. Myblood was racing, and I wishI could slow it, sensingthat this must make everythingso muchmore difficult – the thuddingofmypulse inmyveins. Surelyhe could hear it. Instinctively, unthinkingly, I leaned closer, inhaling. His dark red lips were alluring. Mylips parted as I contemplated them. He instantlytook a step backward.

As I realized the identicalfeelingenveloped me. That was the second time. As it sank inI felt ashamed, I stood their still.

 

He hesitantlycame closer to me. I was too mortified to look into his eyes again. He gentlytook myhand and pulled me closer. Ina quick second I was inhis arms, myhead onhis chest. He fondled myhair tenderly.

His lips were close to myear and his warmbreathwas sendingshiver throughmyspine.
Listen to my heart.” He whispered “It beats your name.” His lips touched myear faintly“I have faith in God. He gave me you”

Inanother moment I did feelbetter, no more humiliated but mybreathingdidn’t sooth, the desire to feelhis cold lips was more thanever. I unscrambled mythoughts unwillinglyand slicklylooked up to see into his dazzlingeyes, “Chapel” I murmured.

 

Yes” he answered politelyscrutinizingmyface.

The churchwas as quiet as always. Mybeliefwas suchthat I could see the God watching. I have asked himto forgive mysins, for better marks, for seeingdad but that dayI asked himsomethingthat was mylast wish. I bowed myhead downand I joined myhands and prayed to be only Adi’s, forever. I told God he was myonlyhope. WhenI was a little girl mama used to saywhenyou cry, God cry with you. EvenifI tried not to I was makinghimcryeverydaysince last couple ofdays.

We silentlywalked out after sometime.
Let’s go down” he suggested glazingat his watch“we still have time for dinner.”
“Won’t rain bother you?”
I asked. I meant that he could catchcold or cough. Infectionofanykind is not good for him.
“It’s drizzling. Don’t call it rain” he said firmly, tryinghard not to make a face.
He started walking.
I followed himthroughthe trees, enjoyingthe peace. One glance at the greenishblue water ofthe curvybrook was enoughto do wonders onmypoignant disposition.

For the most part we walked insilence. Occasionallyhe would ask the same question if I wanted to go back. The pathwas muddyand slipperyat places and I was slightlymore imbalanced thanother humans. Everytime I replied “No I’ll be fine.” courteouslybut doubted that I’llmake it safelyto the meadow. It was dense yet beautiful. There could be more life here thanmine and Adi’s. Thoughthe fear ofwild animals has never bothered me and maybe it didn’t bother himeither, because ofhis good hearingabilities. He must be able to figure out danger froma distance.

Adi don’t you feel irritated with all those tiniest of noises bothering you all the time. Isn’t it hard to find quiet and peace?” I asked interrogatively. He peeked over myhead into the dense forest, and thenunthinkinglykicked a stone.
Nah. The noises don’t bother me. I was born like that.” He glared at myconfused expressionand thencontinued “For example if a kid is born blind, how can hedifferentiate between dark and light. Just like that I don’t know how it normally is. To me all of you are deaf” he smiled.

I smiled too.
“Don’t you have to hear things that you don’t want to sometimes. Like someone gossiping about you. Or anything else that’s unpleasant?” I murmured.

“Yes I do sometimes. But I get to hear equally good stuff. It balances that out and I am patient with bad comments. Everyone thinks differently. People have different opinions.” He answered intently.

I was impressed by his generous thoughts.
“You are a very kind person Adi”
I whispered under mybreath.
He smiled hugely.
Look who is talking” he said smiling.

We finallyreached our little getaway. The flowers were bloomingand were shiveringunder the water droplets. And everythinginthe meadow looked back as iftheywere waiting for us to come. He calmlywalked to rest against the immense rock whichdespite the recent water flow looked dry. It was no more raining. I touched the flowers and listened to the tune offlowingwater while he took out a book. His alreadystillexpressiondrasticallysoftened as soonas he opened the book. He was a keenlearner. He read chemistryas ifit was anAgatha ChristiNovel.
He looked shockinglybeautiful. I couldn’t get used to it, thoughI’ve beentryingveryhard.

He slowlyraised his eyes and caught me glaring. StillI couldn’t take myeyes offhim. He smiled warmly.
What are you thinking?” he asked playfullybut I canhear the realcuriosityinhis voice.
I shook myhead.
Tell me. Your heart beat is uneven. You are thinking something” His eyes watched me intently.
I have few questions?” I said gravely.
He smiled “You always have” “Ask whatever you want to?”
I wasn’t able to breathe. I hesitated – not ina normalway.

He came closer inhis extravagant grace. He lifted mychinexaminingmyface and bent his face slowlyto mine, layinghis coolcheek against myskin, mycollarbone. I held perfectly stillbut myheart thudded.

Mmmmmmm…” he breathed.
It was verydifficult while he was touchingme, to frame a coherent question. It took me a minute ofscattered concentrationto begin.
That’s my deodorant” I said, tryingto exhale.
It’s lovely” he breathed.
This afternoonhe was shoddilyaffected bythe delicate scent, look at himnow. He does build up immunityrapidly.
So I was wondering…”I beganagain, but his fingers were slowlytracingmycollarbone, and I lost mytrainofthought.
Yes?”
“No, forget it. I changed my mind.”
I said feelingthe suddenwarmthwhere he touched.
“Samiya, you can ask me anything.”
I didn’t answer, and he groaned.
You know it’s very frustrating, knowing that you are thinking something about me and then not knowing what it is”
I shook myhead.
Please?” his voice was so persuasive, so impossible to resist.
Please?” he pleaded againoverpoweringmyreluctance.
Well” I began, turningawayfromhis glare.
Yes?”
“I was wondering why you said that we can’t be together or we can’t get married.”

He laughed inearnest now, understanding. That surprised me. “Is that what you’re getting at?” he whispered softlyinmyear.
I fidgeted, unable to answer.
That was partially true. We can be together but we can’t get married.” He said.
I couldn’t sayanything.
Why are you asking?” he asked playfully
“Well I did wonder why you will not want to marry me. Just because you may get sick one day or is it something else?”
He was instantlyserious, I could tellbythe suddenstillness ofhis body. I froze, too, reactingautomatically.

Don’t you know how HIV can be transmitted? You may have different desires right now but you’ll want more once you’ll be married. Anyone will. And I don’t think that… that…. would be possible for us.”

“But I have read online. People who are tested positive are in relationship with negative tested people. There are ways.” I sighed.
“Those people are idiots. I am not. You don’t have any idea how unsafe and irresponsible behavior it is to have… I can never ever risk your life like that. You have no idea how I have to mind my actions every moment that we’re together so that I don’t do anything that could infect you.” His voice became just a soft murmur “You don’t realize how incredible your life is. I can never, never afford to lose any kind of control with you.”

I didn’t know what to say, what to argue for.
So can’t you have babies either?” I asked dubiously.
He laughed as soonas myquestionwas out.
No I don’t think so. Marriage and having babies is correlated. I thought you knew” he said laughing.
I felt pricklyand embarrassed.
I know I was just conforming” I waited for a minute to answer, but stillthe words weren’t true.
He seemed deliberate for a moment. “I’m curious now, though,” he said his voice light again. “Have you ever been kissed, had a crush or a boy friend?” “Of course not.” I flushed. “Everyone in school knows, I’ve never been close to being proposed.”
“I know. Mandy told me. It’s just that I know that you are good with keeping things to yourself. I thought you may have liked someone before me.” “Nope. You are the lucky one”
I answered playfully.
“I truly am madam” he answered smiling, rumplingmyhair. “So never being kissed. Haan” I could see the curiositybehind his words.
“Never” I replied makinga face. “I wanted to but someone declined the offer twice.” I couldn’t believe I just said what I said.
My eyes dropped with mortification.

I wasn’t expectinganyreplyto that weird remark, whenhe murmured “ You don’t know how hard it is to decline such tempting offers. Girl you make it so hard for me. I think I should start keeping distance from you for my own good.” He said softly.

Myheart was beatingunevenlymakingmyconscious fade.
Do you find me attractive Adi, in that way, at all?” I don’t think that was me who was talking.
“You have no idea.” He said almost ina whisper.
I felt dizzyand myeyes closed involuntarily.
You are tiered. Let’s get you back to the school” he insisted takingmybagfromme.

8. DIFFERENCEIN OPINIONS

 

00006.jpg“Morning Adi” I murmured unsure ifhe could hear me fromthis far, climbingdownthe bed.

 

I was the third one to the gym. Raag, Amber and Adiwere alreadythere. Mr. Mathur was highlyimpressed bythe transformationinmybehavior since the punishment. I amsure he

 

was more confident withhis systemand practices ofamelioratingstudents. We did aerobic exercises that morningand later Adisaved me a seat at breakfast table, whichI later

 

switched, because ofSara. Despite myexplanation, Adibelieved that I was scared ofher. I told himifI want to be invited at Sara’s weddingthanI have to keep a low profile with him, to whichhe laughed frantically.

 

I pleasinglyglared at Sara and Mandyafter everysecond. Picturingthemtogether I realized those two actuallylooked cute inone frame.

Duringmyconversationwithanyone I was always hyperaware, knowingthat he maybe eves dropping. He told me ingymthat he can’t help listening, it comes to himnaturallybut it stillfrustrated me that I was left withno bludyprivacyand so were myfriends. I swear his lips twitched to suppress a grin, whenAmber whispered inmyear that “Niya caught her and Raag kissing in the basement last night.” She started givingme details about her kiss and what followed, despite myrequests to talk about it later.

Mr. Pandeyinformed that we were leavingfor camps inRenuka reserve forests dayafter tomorrow.
The name fetched some zillionreminiscences affixed to that place.
I would saythat HimachalPradeshis one ofthe best-kept secrets onIndia. It was beautiful, ofcourse; I couldn’t denythat. Everythingwas greenjust like here:The trees, their

trunks covered withmoss, their branches hangingwitha canopyofit, the ground covered withferns. Eventhe air filtered downgreenlythroughthe leave. And there was some blue ofcourse:the openskyand the silent water ofthe lake; Renuka Lake. Tourismhas developed around it. It is surrounded bysmallhills and lushgreenvegetationand is anidealspot for spendinga quite vacation, but that’s exactlywhat we were not about to do. The camps are the reciprocalofa quiet retreat. Settingup tents, sleepinginsleepingbags, arousing before sun, climbingimpossible rocks, rappelling, rafting, river crossing, foxflyingin sky-scraping mountains are some ofthe things, whichare zero funand life threateningly dangerous that we do for our versionofsilent escape.

But fortunatelythere are things for me instore as well. We do get to see the temples dottingthe landscape. And the walk around the lake is beautiful. There are ducks and fishthat canbe observed bysittingat the banks. The reflectioninthe water is stunningunder the moon; it’s so beautifulthat at times I have desperatelywanted to drownmyselfinto it. There is so muchmore to that hiddenbeautybut I amno writer. It’s difficult for me to share ina meaningfulway, the splendid memories and image frommychildhood trips.

I jerked unerringlywiththe equivalent shove as I do whenI fallinto a pit inone ofthose stupid dreams, whensaw himpeekingat me.
He chuckled.
You are thinking about the camps. Are you?” he asked grinning.
I nodded stiffly.
Camping is fun, isn’t it” he asked mused.
That was the last thinghe should have asked. I have thousand genuine reasons to argue that it is not.

Not really.” I managed to bringallthose reasons downto two words. It’s honestlystupid to argue the campingcons witha guy. That knowledge is somethingI have earned over and over againinmylife at a coeducationalschool. Theyhave traded movie ina theatre and shoppinginChandigarhfor scalingmountains, like a pure idiot onseveraloccasions.

You don’t like camping” It wasn’t a question.
Or the adventures”
He looked fascinated bywhat I said, for the reasons I know. His face was sucha distractionthat I tried not to look at it anymore thancourtesyabsolutelydemanded. A busydayfollowed after that. Tests and revisions. It surprised me that everyone knew it was second last dayat school. Where was I?

After coachingwe congregated inpinewood hall. Class 11 bargained the theatre for whole evening. Latest movies back to back, awesome idea. We bought insome tuck to have a movie like feel; lays, soda and pop corns and banked it ina corner for the cominghours.

 

It was alreadymurkybefore turningoffthe lights. The dimlightningofthe hallwas similar to no lightning. I and Sara found ourselves a finickyspot, close to the tuck. Lols. The row behind was accumulated byboys, withAdiexactlybehind me. We shared a smile before I got comfortable.

 

Medicalpreparationwas surelya toughjob, else there is no explanationto the fact that someone like me hasn’t watched a single movie inthe year of2006 untilJune, I meanfor six months, unbelievable. I saw mypicture ona byproduct ofmyinsane imaginationA Wall of Shame.

 

IfI tellthemthat I haven’t watched Rang De Basanti, they’llprobablydrownme inthe Brooke. The whole schoolhas gone gaga about that movie; theyare suddenlypatriotic and are keenonIndianissues. And I amtalkingabout people who don’t know the name ofthe prime minister and the rulingparty.

I callit RDBSyndrome. Everytime some ofthe movie freaks pass me theytellme ‘Lose Control’.
IfI’lllose control, who the hellis goingto sit inthe entrance exam.
I wonder what’s about that movie whichhas lead to a mass awakeninginyouth, not onlyofmyschoolbut inthe whole nation.
After fiddlingbetweenRand de Basanti and United 93, we decided to go for the first one first. Theyare proficient ofwatchingit over and over again.

The storyofthe group offriends, their bonding, the care free lifestyle theylead and good jokes were treated differentlyand slylyinthe movie. I found myselflaughingand enjoying. The fact pleased me that a life similar to their lied ahead ofme, college and mauj masti. And Adias anadded benefit.

 

But as the movie entered its climaxI started cryingso hard and relativelyvociferouslybecause I think I was watchingit for the first time. I knew boys behind were mockingme and I was tryingequallyhard not to cry, but one has to see that movie and be me to understand what was happening.

 

I was lookingfor somethingto wipe mytears offwhenAdimutelypassed me his handkerchief. It was warmand smelled nice. I whiffed it before wastingits subtle fragrance. The warmthofthe hankymade me realize, that it was cold and mybare legs were almost freezing.

I couldn’t stop cryingevenafter the movie ended. Theyturned onthe lights for a quick intervalbefore headingto the next one; Sara disappeared for somethinggivingme a minute or two to get sober. The hankyweighed few kgs withthe added solvents and was wet enoughto be kept anywhere. I was foldingit whenAdicame to sit inSara’s place. He must have noticed the goose bumps as he covered mylegs withhis blazer tuggingit around the corners.

Are you okay?” he asked without a sound, slightlysmiling.
I was noddingas he said the words.
I would have appreciated a better finale.” I sighed “I don’t like sad endings.”
He tugged a lose strand ofhair behind myear, sendinga jolt ofelectricitythroughmybody.

You have to see beyond the ending. Something that succeeds to prick your conscious and alter your lifestyle is a happy ending.” He explained sincerely“Isn’t it?” I don’t know, I thought. “Maybe” I said doubtfully.
We had a silent minute. Next movie started playing.
He shook his head sideways, smilingreluctantly“I know you can’t help it. But please try not to cry.”
I looked at himpuzzled.

This movie will drain you of water, I can bet on that” his lips twitched ina straight line, as United 93 played “I am unable to hear anything, when you cry” he said ina whisper.

I didn’t cease lookingat him, amazed. I wasn’t cryingloudly, I was sobbing, strange it bothered him.
He got up, saying“Sara is here.”
Myheart sank evenifhe was goingless thanhalfa meter awayfromme.
I tried veryhard to not cry, lettingthe sorrow ache inside mychest to the next flick.
I felt relieved as the movie came to its end.
We cleaned up the mess, leavingthe hallinendurable form.

I paced slowlywalkingnext to Adi. I had myhead tilted to 60 degrees to talk to him. He was taller to me but I think the difference was quite suitable. That was one thingthat I didn’t have to worryabout.

Thanks for it. It was cold” I said handinghimhis blazer.
That wasn’t for your sake” he replied, I could hear he was strugglingto use a lighter tone. He turned around to face me.
His erotic breathblew onmyface, makingme unconscious.
No offence. But this skirt of yours is too small for your height.” He said ina hard tone.
I can’t believe he thinks that ofmyskirt, that’s the lengthiest skirt inthe whole senior dorm, it deserves some respect.
Get your mum to fix it in coming break” he snapped before givingme a chance to saysomething.
This isn’t small Adi.” I argued.
I saw a shade ofanger crossinghis beautifulface.
He bit his lip before answering“One can see your thighs in this thing when you sit.”
His situationwas humorous to me, for some reason.
“What if I want one to see my thighs?” I demanded playfully, thoughwithout a trace offuninmyvoice.
The joke didn’t help his situation.
He looked into myeyes. I cantellhe was upset withme.
Get this thing fixed” he warned me again“or I’ll have to kill Ian.” He turned around without waitingfor a replywalkingahead ofme.
It took me a minute to find the connectionbetweenIanand myskirt.
Why would Ian do that. He has seen me when I used to wear one piece swimming costume.” I said slightlylouder for mynormaltone, catchingup withhim. He looked at me inumbrage. I cantellbyhis expressionthat he cankillIanjust for doingthat.
This time I was scared.
Consider it done” I snapped before he could sayanything, walkingawayfromthe intensityofhis stare.

My hanky.” He asked raisinghis hand for one. I smiled hesitantly.

Can I return it after washing? I blew my nose on it.” I asked diffidently.
It wasn’t funnyto him.
Nope” he said impulsively“Youcan keep me but not my hanky.”
I looked at himconfused, what’s so important about the hanky.
I am superstitious about some stuff.” He paused before continuing“They say if you keep someone’s handkerchief you end up fighting.”
Oh-uh.
I rethought for a second.
Okay let me chuck it in your pocket and put it in laundry without touching it once you get back to dorm.” I instructed.
He stood there reluctantlyconfused and irritated.
Please. It’s embarrassing for me.” I almost pleaded.
He shifted his blazer inone armand slightlyraised another arm, gesturingme to put it inhis pocket.
I was disgusted to touchmyownused hanky, it was soaking.

As I stood centimeters awayfromhim, touchinghis beautifulbody, the scent comingoffbeneathhis face, fromsomewhere near his collar bone dazzled me. Ina quick second I rose onmytoes and placed mylips onhis bare skinaround his neck. There is no pretense to how electrified I felt. Somethingtightened inmystomachas I kissed it slightlybut desperately, tryingto make most ofthe time before he pushes me away.

I could hear his heart racingas fast as mine. His skinwas smoothyet soft against mylips. It smelled like alcohol, alcoholmust taste like it too. That’s the reasonpeople get addicted to it. It was anunbearable pleasure.

Instead ofpushingme awayhis armtightened around mywaist. As his hand traced myspine movingup towards myneck, mydesperationgrew. His hand brushed throughmyhair, finallyreachingmyhead, he pulled myface up. Myface was so close to his that I could feelour deep breaths blending. It was just a matter ofa second and mylips could be onhis. Somethingthat I have always dreamt of. I could see the same starvationinhis eyes, whichI could feelinmine.

I made a move to cover that tinydifference left betweenhimand me, whenhe pulled me awaygentlybut withirresistible force, bymyhair, makingcertainit doesn’t hurt. He looked at me insistent; his face stilltoo close to mine his hand inmytresses, mylower lip quivered for a succinct instant prior he started talking“Behave Samiya. Why are you doing this? Isn’t it hard enough for me already?”

 

I was stillbreathinganxiously.

 

His voice turned the commiserationswitchinside me despite the physicalannoyance he has put me into. I didn’t understand whyI wasn’t allowed to feelhis angellips against mine and ifit was erroneous whymybodywanted it so badly. But I didn’t know how to ask him.

I am sorry” I whispered tentatively, powerless to look awayfromhis marvelous marble lips.
You should be.” He said impulsively, looseninghis grip frommyhair, slightlymovingaway.
His beautystunned mymind – it was too much, anexcess I couldn’t grow accustomed to.
Aadil it causes me physical pain when you push me away from you.” I managed to respond, smittenbyhis allure.
You are sixteen. It’s perfectly natural. Its puberty and raging hormones” His voice was polite, controlled.
He sounded more like a 40 year old gynae doctor rather thanmy17 year old boyfriend.
No it’s not just that” I tried disengagingmyselffromdizziness “The feeling is intolerable. I can’t explain. It’s like I want to eat you. If not all then most of the time.” I saidas ifit was stillanunderstatement for mysituation.

He smiled a surprisingimpishgrin.
My very presence makes you intoxicated. I have to check on your heart every two seconds” he said grinningthat playfulsmirk “I am definitely not healthy for you to eat”. I was breathingheavily, that wasn’t humorous to me.
What about you? Aren’t you going through puberty? Don’t you have raging hormones?” I asked harshly.
He sighed.

Why do you think I keep saying that it’s hard for me? You don’t know what an emotional roller coaster it is. But still I have got my priorities in a right order. The part of me which wants to protect you is stronger than the part which is, what can I say, seventeen!” he groaned again.

What exactly do you mean when you say you want to protect me?” I asked confused. This concept was so foreignto me; I meanwhat harmit could possiblycause ifa girl wants to toucha boy. A boyofher dreams.
His relieved expressionturned anxious, he was thinkingsomething, whichgot me thinking.

It’s not exactly protecting you. It’s more like protecting both of us. We are seventeen.” He shook his head smilingwithout humor “Actually technically not seventeen yet. You are sixteen and I’ll be one too for about a month and a half. So anyways I think it’s too early for that. It isn’t virtuous.” “Don’t you want to be like a good kid for a bit longer?”

I amnot stupid, I know a part ofwhatever he is sayingis a lie or he is alteringthe legitimacy.
I want you more than I want to be a good kid.” I snapped arguingfor the sake ofit.

It seemed that I was annoyinghim. Thoughhe stood there perfectlystill, lookinglike his ownwaxfigure whichtotallydeserved a place inMadame Tussauds, for beingGalaxies preeminent lookingguy.

You are a silly girl, who lets her heart rule her body. Can’t you just think with brain and not with estrogen, progesterone or that little amount of testosterone in your body? Actually they have failed to find a connection between libido and these hormones in women. But I am sure there is some. There has to be an explanation for your wicked behavior.” He was thinkingabout the issue, wholeheartedly.

Oh so Amber and Raag are sinful and so is everyone out there in love.” I said aggressivelyinone breath.
Of all the things you want to follow Amber and Raag on this one.” He said ina disbelievingtone, agonized.
Yes I do.” I snapped unthinkingly.
I suddenlyrealized I didn’t have anyidea whyI was arguing. I shook myhead to clear mythoughts.
I can’t believe you are making me beg to touch you.” I almost said ina whisper, more to myself.
He looked back inamazed irritation.

Forget about the whole thing okay. And now even if you hang yourself upside down you’ll not get to have any kind of physical contact with me not a kiss, not a touch, nothing” I said dwellingonthe last word.

 

A bitter sorrow flickered throughhis eyes before he turned humorous. He hasn’t realized that I cansee more thanhe wants me to.

 

Samiya I want to give you anything you want. I really do. But just be a bit more realistic.” He continued the argument anyways. Come what mayhe always has anupper hand onme, he gets his ways effortlessly, allhe has to do is to trap me inwords.

 

Not this time Adi.

 

I don’t want anything else. But let’s just forget about it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” I crossed himwalkingtowards the dininghall. It was hard soundingrational.

He caught up withme. Fromcorner ofmyeye I could see himcontemplatingmyexpression.
You are scorching right now. You know that? Even your hanky in my pocket is dehydrated.” He was tryingstifflynot to smile.
Ha ha. Very funny.” I couldn’t speak normallyyet.

The dinner passed ina blur. It was difficult to believe that I could be so upset withhim. But that wasn’t for long. The wayhis eyes looked at me, was a veryconvincingpart ofthe dreamlike realityI was livingin. He loved me, inthat instance onlythat mattered. That was enoughfor me; I didn’t want himto want me like I wanted him. And I was happythat at least I appealed to himonsome level. I was his ladylove.

Most ofthe times it was so easyto forget that Adiwas sick. Not because he seemed normalthananyone ofus but because his angeltemperament and manners made it impossible to believe the idea oflosingsomeone so heavenlyto somethinglike death. But I knew the clock was ticking. The process was on. Somethinginside himwas incessantlysmoldering and that awareness to me was like inhalingflames.

That’s exactlywhat I was dreamingthat night, himburningand me inhalingflames. I opened myeyes and sighed inreliefto know that it was just a dream. I was curled up inmy bed, intertwined as muchas it was possible withhis thick warmjumper. I hated the newlydeveloped necessityofsmellinghim, feelinghimevenwhenI aminbed, as it was sort of ruiningthe different kind ofromance Adiwanted. But as it was, I can’t help beinghuman.

Myeyes flew open. I laygaspinginwarmbed for severalminutes, tryingto break free ofthe tangofhis jumper. The skyoutside mywindow turned grayand thenpale pink while I waited for Ms Gladys to show.

WhenI was fullyaware that I canno longer be inbed, I got up and got dressed, headingdownto the breakfast. There was no gym. What a blessingbefore routingto a three day longgymclass. That’s what youget for studyingina mountaincoeducationalboardingschool.
That morning, I deliberatelysat as far as possible fromAdi’s seat. I didn’t want himto think that I have forgivenhimso easily; he would be tempted to take mywords for granted if that happens. I was prepared to give hima silent treatment. But whenhe didn’t show up at the usualtime, I fumbled withthe spoonnervously, myeyes onthe door. I was frozenfor a second whenI realized he was standingnext to me, his lips sendinga wave ofpleasure throughmyear.

Looking for me?” he asked assertively.
You wish.” I said reassemblingmynow-tangled thoughts.
He slipped into the seat next to mine.
His eyes were wickedlyamused.
You aren’t? I thought you forgave Me.” he managed to ask severely.
What made you think that?” I asked inamazed irritation.
He was suppressinga smirk.
You saying my name in bed all night.” He said like listeningto someone’s sleep talks, miles awayis subsequentlyregular.
There goes myplanto act upset.
ThoughI was pissed, but I couldn’t help blushing.
Honestly Aadil.” I felt a thrillgo throughme as I said his name, and I hated it. “I can’t believe you don’t give me privacy even when I am sleeping.” His lips pressed into a hard line.

“Yeah that’s fun for me, listening to my name in the middle of the night which sounded as if was being called for help. And I get out of my bed and sit outside girl’s dorm whole night just to make sure that you are sleeping safely inside. It was entertaining; evading your privacy.” Heavysarcasm. Anger flashed inhis cobalt eyes.

“I am sorry that was rude.” I said too embarrassed to look into his eyes.
“You know sometimes you are utterly absurd.” He said ina low cold voice.
I shrugged as ifit was a compliment.
Why were you calling me anyways?” he glanced downat me, curiously.
I sighed. “I had a nightmare.”
So you were calling me for help?” his eyes still, he was enjoyingthe idea ofme askingsomethingfromhimmore thanhe should.
Not actually. You were there and I was worried for your safety.” I muttered, tryingto make it untailored.
His eyes danced to the spooninmyhand.
Oh I see.” He paused, to look at me “Just for the record, you do that a lot. Call my name in sleep. So are they always; nightmares?”
I hesitated. There has to be words to explainmypathetic situation.

You come as a sweet dream or a nightmare. But either way I don’t want to wake up. Because it’s you that I am seeing.” I whispered tryingto maintainwhat sanityI could as he leaned closer to me. I wasn’t verysuccessful.

 

I wish that you wake up in my arms each morning. That way you won’t be in a dilemma.” His tone was frantic, he reallywished that.

 

I wishthat too.

 

Why were you late for breakfast today?” I asked interrogatively, hopingit has nothingto do withhealthor medication. “I was on phone with dad.” He said holdingthe door for me. I walked out into the cold, fine mist that had just begunto fall. It felt nice- the constant moisture fallingout ofthe skyas it washed myface clean. He held his book over myhead as I gripped a fistfulofhis shirt staggeringalongsideways across the wet sidewalk walkingtowards the class.

“Is everything okay?” I stared at him, throughthe rain, he was alreadystudyingme.
Maybe he was wonderingwhat it is about me and rain.
Yup” he answered distracted “They were about to board their flight.”

Somethingtightened inmystomachonthat knowledge. His parents were ontheir wayto Kasauli. Adi’s parents. Theywere not the kind ofparents youencounter ondayto day basis. Theyand their sonwere almost celebrities and I was prettyaverage evenfor anaverage person. Headymust have told themabout me, I guess how they’llreact whenthey’ll finallyget to see me. Amazed or furious, I can’t think ofanythingbetter thanthat. Evena blind personcanpoint out substantialdifferences betweenme and Adi. I wishthat Adi somehow decides not to introduce me to themthat would be the most convenient setting.

Will they be staying for the whole month?” I failed soundingsubtle.
Pretty much. Dad has things to do at Central research institute in Kasauli” he responded, a little amused.
He smiled faintly“He finds stuff to do anywhere he goes. You just have to say the word ‘research’ to get mum started. She is the biggest criticizer of dad’s efforts.” “Isn’t that a good thing, I mean to be keen for knowledge?” Mytone was reproachful.
You don’t know dad. He gets very occupied and mum feels neglected. She always has a tough time with me and dad around. She thinks I am like him too.” “I don’t think so.”I insisted “You pay a lot of attention to me.”

His certainface said more thanhis words.

 

You are the only exception” he said generously“Anyways that’s good that she has Olivia and Oliver now.”

 

Does that make a difference? EvenwithAdiaround I crave for Sara’ attentionand time. No one personcanmake up for the other one. Your heart and time swells at every additionto your life, its strange how these things work.

 

The color ofmud, the little sunshower fromamongst the clouds and the damp trees and the gorgeous view ofthe mountains was lovely. I liked the wayhe looked up inthe raina

 

little, he wasn’t afraid ofgettingwet init, he was enjoyingit. His hair was burnishingwiththe wetness, he shook his head enteringthe class, the little moisture that came incontact

 

withmyface, tickled myskin. Mr. Pandeywas alreadythere so we got settled quietlyina seat bythe window. I didn’t miss a chance to glance out to watchthe rainstreamacross the window inlittle rivulets; the wayit trickled downwas somehow amazingto me.

Why do you like rain so much?” he finallyasked surrendering, failingto find one himself.
It was impossible to think ofa single reason, while staringback into his blue eyes, whenusuallythere is hundreds ofit. But naturally, he wouldn’t rest untilI’d give himone. “I love the smell and the taste of it.” I shrugged.
It doesn’t matter to you if you are inside or outside, you are into it.” He stated confused.

Rain is opposite to nothing, it’s something that makes me feel life. And rainy days are perfect for listening music. It also reminds me a lot of moments. And whether it’s sad or happy I like to relive the past.” I sighed, staringdownat myhands fiddlingwitha piece ofmyhair.

“Tell me of your rainy memories.” He fired off.
“You sure? There are heaps of them.” I felt embarrassed to share evenfew ofthem; he willprobablydie ofboredom.
“I have all the time in the world” he said, his face somber as ifhe has suddenlynothingelse to do thento listento me.

“Okay. First of all my mum told me when I first left the hospital as a baby in her lap it was raining. Though the data has never been historically verified still it makes me feel closer to my mum. Secondly the first day my parents left me here at school it was raining and it washed away my tears. And I was crying and pretending that it’s
raindrops. That rainy day changed my life forever.”
I swallowed. “And then there were days when me and Sara used to hold each other tightly, scared as it rained
heavily and the storm would be near.” “I have read hundreds of story books to Niya sitting in the dorm’s huge window in rainy evenings.”
I smiled, these were myhappy memories.

 

He was listeningto me, keepinghis eyes intact onmyface ina verynonfamiliar way. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked about stufflike this withanyone. It was a pleasure to see how he coveted to know everyinsignificant detailofmyexistence.

You know this day today is also added to my book of rainy memories.”
“Why?”
he raised a brow.
“Because you are sitting next to me.” I said flushing.
Myface revealed too clearlyhow fixated I was.
He started after a short pause “You will like Tutenendo in Columbia. It is the wettest place on Earth.”

“Have you been there?” I asked leaningforward ontable, myeyes curious. I was always keento hear more about places and travels; theyfascinated me. Maybe because I didn’t get myfair share onthem.

He nodded slightly, smiling, glaringdownat me “ You’ll love the constant rhythmic tapping on the roof” he said witha promise.
Myeyes danced as I wondered inmyownwonderland, it sounded nice.
Where else have you been?” I asked distracted and suddenlyremembered that primarilyhe is a resident ofAmerica, Ohio “Is America beautiful?” I furthered.

I have seen most of Europe, Asia and Australia.” He smiled “ And for parts of America I don’t have words. You’ll have to see it for yourself.” He murmured lookingat meobscured. His voice was thoughtfulas ifhis mind were somewhere far away.

Oh!” I answered tryingto hide the melancholy, I wasn’t sure ifI’llever get to see that part ofthe world.
He glanced at me for a briefsecond “Is there any particular place you want to visit on this planet?” he asked his mind alreadywondering.
I smirked crookedly“Yeah I have few on mind.”
Tell me?” he commanded incuriosity.
I smirked, what I was about to tellhimwas totallybarmy, but myinsaneness is not new to him.

Adi for me its my novels which connect me to the world outside these walls. I have always wanted to follow the footsteps of my favorite characters to discover the places that I have always known but obviously never visited. I want to see Forks, a small town in America which is Bella’s town in Twilight, I want to see Hampshire, town of Jane Austen and persuasion, I want to see the part of America which Nicholas Spark talks about, I want to see Jhang and Takht Hazara, the towns of Heer and Ranjha.” I sighed “You know I have felt the strangest of feelings, I have walked through the woods under those clouds, the secrets of those towns. It’s like a dream when I am aware that I am dreaming. Like a lucid dream.” “I want to see them for real.”

He sat insilence, waitingfor me to saymore, finallygivingup.
You know you have always lived in the place of my childhood fantasies.” He said disparagingly.
I looked at himconfused.
The dense forests, the wild life, hidden rivers” he smiled contentedly” Home of Rusty and blue umbrella.”
Ahh. I laughed. “Kasauli, home of Ruskin Bond, home of Samiya Mittal.” I leered, myeyes gleaming.
He smiled tracingthe rimofthe greengemstone placed inthe gold band onmypinkyfinger withhis finger.

Ms Anjaligave us the list ofthings to pack for the camps. We were supposed to leave at sixnext morningso the task had to accomplishbefore dinner today. ThoughI was never givena choice but I stillregret for not speakingup a word against the whole campingshit.

I hate the camp buzzand it was goingto be one ofthose days. IfI was allowed I’llprefer stayingback and sleepingin, I don’t mind everyone leavingme back here. But I have to admit I’llreallyappreciate iftheycanleave Adibehind.

 

After lunchwe went straight to dorms after that. Mrs. Gladys opened the store roomand we hunted for our sleepingbags, we pulled out our casuals fromtrunks for the campfire night whenwe are allowed to bringthemto use. I laid allmytoiletries, bathtowels, under garments, watch, blanket, track suites, shoes, raincoat, medicines, and sanitarynapkins on

the bed checkingand crossingeachone onthe list. I made a note to ask Mrs. Anjalito carrymycorticosteroid injectionincase I get a severe attack, whichis most unlikely. I looked at myhoodies and jeans halfheartedlypackingmynebulizer and salbutamolinjections. Theyare verytomboyish; I wishI had somethinggirlyto wear. I know that’s a new one but it’s for Adi’s sake not mine. I threw infew novels inthe bagas precautionarymeasures incase I get a sprained ankle or a muscle pull. These kinds ofthings happento me a

lot at campingtrips, especiallybefore rock climbingand foxflying. I don’t want to be a drama queen, but hellit saves me a lot ofsnag.

It took me no more thananhour to sort out everything. We moved allthe packed bags into the corner ofthe roomand hurdled ontwo consecutive beds. It was sort ofthe last day together before vacations. As everyone talked ofthe last three months some grievances, some happymoments, some confessions and some apologies came our way. Honestly, I don’t remember anythingexcept for Adifor this whole period. But not for a single second I wished to have noticed somethingelse except for him. He was the best thing that has ever happened to me. His memories are the ones I wish to cherish , his memories are the ones that can’t be tempered.

We slept in, the whole eveningafter our longtiringtalk session.

Myeyes opened to the pastylight ofthe moonflowinginthroughthe openwindow. That was the onlylight inthe dorm. The cottoncurtains borderingparallelsides ofthe pane danced to the coolbreeze blowingoutside. It wasn’t rainingbut it smelled ofdrizzle. Precipitationalways has that after effect. And I canhear the river, hiddeninthe obscurityofthe forest. I curled and watched the clouds travelinthe skyand the moonplayinghide and seek. This same moonwiththat tinyguidinglight was shiningover Adi’s window too.

I sank deep into the warmthofthe quilt and murmured “ Adi if you are listening, listen carefully. Open your heart, for my whispers in the night always. I’ll come to you through a cold breeze; feel me on your face. See the moon glow, up in the night sky and get the message I have sent through my soul. Listen to the water of the Brooke, it’s my voice. Feel the rain, pouring down it’s the memories I’ll leave you behind. I’ll come to you, in many different ways, even if I disappear one day.

I laythere thinking. Wishingthat allthis happens, wishingto staynear to himevenafter leavingsome day.

 

Finallyeveryone was awake, the night lights glowed and thus it was time for another meal. The time lapse betweenthe meetings withAdiwas nearlyappropriate; I don’t think it would be easyfor me to take more thanthat.

It was relaxingto sit withSara todayat dinner. She was onabout the campingwithboys, leavingme free to think undisturbed.
Myprince charmingslipped into the chair next to mine apathetically. His hair was muddled, his eyes sleepybut stillhe looked cuter thanI have remembered himto be. He glared at me for a longmoment and thensomethingoccurred to himbelatedly.
Thanks for the quotes but what made you think that you are leaving me?”
I was so confused, unprepared for this. I thought he wouldn’t be able to listenthat far.
I didn’t mean it. I just said them in sub consciousness.” I said whenI cancontrolmyvoice. ThoughI wanted to tellhimthat he must not have noticed but I ammortal.

“Well then congratulations. Cause you got yourself a poem there for the recital competition. That was lovely.” He said. His face softened and I swear I saw the blue changinginhis eyes. It was absolutelyridiculous but I was feelingdizzyjust like the first dayI saw him.

I couldn’t concentrate and he was waitingfor myresponse.
“I don’t remember it.” I sighed.

He raised his hand, hesitant, conflict raginginhis eyes, and thenswiftlybrushed the lengthofmycheekbone withhis fingertips. His skinwas icy, but the trailhis fingers left onmy skinwas alarminglywarm- like I’d beenburned, but didn’t feelthe painofit yet.

 

“I do.” He murmured.

 

It was quiet for a while but somethingstronger thanbutterflies battered recklesslyagainst the walls ofmystomach.

I couldn’t eat properlyfor some reason.
Finish your dinner.” He grasped without lookingat me whenI was leaving.

His grip was too tight, so mychances ofescapingwere next to zero. I sat back reluctantly. He pulled myplate closer and sprinkled some salt onthe curry, filled me a bowlof yoghurt.

 

Now dip the chapatti in curry and yoghurt and eat it with onion salad.” He suggested inhis usuallow calmvoice.

 

I sat there frozenfor two seconds. “Eat.” He repeated dwellingonthe word. I like a robot did exactlywhat was demanded ofme. I have no idea what it was like, allI cantaste was his concern.

 

As the densityofpopulationinthe mess was diminishingAdisat there makingsure I finishdinner and Sara sat onthe other side makingsure I don’t stop to talk to Adiafter dinner. There can’t be a more gauche situationthanthat. Thoughbeinga sluggisheater I tried to gulp downreallyquick.

See you tomorrow.” Adisaid politelyas we stood outside the mess. “See ya.” I murmured myvoice too low for Sara to hear. “Good Night Sara.” He wished Sara crookedly.
She scowled. That was her usualreplyto everythingthat Adisaid.

And yet we woke up to another cold dayinthe valleyit was stilldark. I took a super hot shower, to get me awake, the whole roomgot steamyand whenI walked out the steamrose offmybody. I lost track oftime inthe shower, but it was definitely time wellspent.

 

Dressed inwarmclothingwithour back packs onour backs we marched down.

 

Boys were alreadyinthe bus. Headyand Ms Dhawanwere there for a formalsee off. Kitchenattendants were handinginthe packed hot food. We were allowed to carrythemas it was too soonfor breakfast. I followed Sara into the bus whichsaid Ashok Leyland onthe side pallet. Three sides ofthe bus were covered withlarge transparent glasses and the

Saturncurtains bordered it graciously. The seats looked comfortable withsoft leather coverings and ample legspace. There was a colorfulLCD displayat the front door, which usuallyplays the movies depictingthe scenic beautyofHimalayas onmute for us at trips like this one. Inthe chaos ofsettlingdownmyeyes scanned the male huddle for Adi. My head automaticallyturned as someone set guitar’s strings inmotion. I heard a fundamentalvibrationand thenthe overtones. Adiwas playingwiththe strings to get myattention. He was leaningcasuallyagainst the side ofthe seat; his breathtakingface looked veryfresh. I waved at himina peculiar sense ofrelief. Since the dayhe disappeared without informing

I always have a moment ofdoubt everymorning, unsure ifI’llget to see himor not.

The bus was exceptionallylarge. Thoughpeople were clustered together but I amsure eachone ofus canstillhave a window seats to ourselves ifwe dispersed. Sara beingtaller fixed allthe girl’s backpacks inthe luggage rack and I grabbed out a noveland a blanket before handingher mine. I took one ofthe available seats and pushed mynovelinto the magazine holder. I fiddled withthe pamphlets inthe holder for a moment before restingback. I glazed out ofthe large glass pane and saw headywaving. I waved back shyly.

Ms Anjaliand Mr. Mathur climbed onthe bus and the tour coordinator closed the bus door. The bus started movingleisurely. Once everyone was intheir seats theyturned offthe lights. I amnot sure ifSara was sittingwithme or not because as her usualtendencyshe disappeared after everyfew seconds. I covered myselfwitha blanket and stared out ofthe window. We were chasingthe orange luminosityofthe head lights, the onlyilluminationoutside. It was dark but there was immense peace inthat serenity. I loved the waythe vehicles rolled, leavingbehind somethingstrikingand givinganoptimismto witness somethingmore incredible onthe way.

Ifyouask me, travellingis the onlypart I enjoyincampingtrips. Renuka Lake is 132 Kms fromKasauli, so unfortunatelyit won’t be a verylongtravel.

Everyone was awake and talking, I could hear Adifiddlingwithhis guitar strings. Someone suggested “Play it loud Adi. Let’s play.” And suddenlya wave ofenthusiasmtravelled alongthe lengthofthe bus and I noticed severalheads turningaround. “You play the guitar and we’ll figure out the song.”
“Can I start?”
Sara asked her voice impious. Rasna threw aninvisible mike to her. She caught hold ofit and started “I’ll do something original.” She publicized. I leaned downfromthe corner ofthe seat to look at the back. Adismiled at me before startingplaying. The tone was too loud and wild, it didn’t strike but I knew that tune from

somewhere. Sara caught it and she started “ We have an American Idiot. Thrown out of his nation for being a faggot.” She was referringto AdiI surmised mendingGreen Day’s songAmericanIdiot. He didn’t stop playingand laughinghis enchantinglaughs. Sara continued her nonsensicalbullshit. But I have to admit that sounded extremelyhilarious and I couldn’t stop laughingeither as everyone joined her inshoutingAmericanIdiot. Adibowed downinthe end to his audiences as ifhe felt muchhonored. I clapped inaudiblyto

his patience. He thenstarted withanother song, that was aneasypick too, one ofmyfavorites. Just the right songfor the trip like these ones; Bryan Adams, summer of 69.

 

Everyone sangalongas he played. Theydidn’t allow himto change the song, and for a longlongtime we were singingOhand whenI look back now, that seems to last forever, and ifI had the choice, Ya- I’d always wanna be there, those were the best days ofmylife, summer of69.

That singingseemed unendingso I rested back smiling, takingout the novel, I removed myshoes and crossed mylegs rearrangingmyblanket. I swiftlyturned to the chapter 8 of Twilight book. The pale morninglight ofa new daywas appropriate enoughfor reading. It didn’t took me longto travelfromthe realworld to the book world and I was suddenly oblivious ofthe surroundings. Ifit wasn’t for the smellofhis breaththat wakes up mysick obsessionand works like a drugI would have never noticed himsittingnext to me.

He smiled inamazement as I looked up at him.
His eyes flickered betweenmybook and myface “Not again.” He sighed.
Just two more pages?” I pleaded, Bella was inmiddle ofthe crisis, I desperatelywanted to know how it ends, doesn’t matter ifI have read it already. “Which page are you on?” he asked dubiously.
Page 73. There are hardly four pages left for the end of the chapter.” I insisted.
Before I could begmore he interrupted and started reciting“A group of four men turn around…”
I looked at himinbewilderment as he narrated the whole chapter. He finallycame to a stop.
Do you want to hear more?” he questioned, tryinghard not to make a face “please don’t say yes.” He added “It’s embarrassing, narrator is a girl.” “So what do you want me to do?” I smiled.
“Talk to me.” he suggested winking, takingthe book fromme.
“What do you want to talk about?” I said restingmychinonthe hand and myelbow onthe hand rest.
Your parents. They travel a lot.” That was a question.

Yes they have to.” I realized I have never told himwhat mydad does for living. Aninformationthat sets your primaryidentityamongst your friends and that somethingis considered important onmyside ofworld. “My dad owns a business of electric water geysers and washing machines by name of Kulwant enterprises. He travels sixmonths an year doing marketing and stuff.” I explained. I wished he doesn’t press for anyother informationbecause I didn’t have any.

 

So who else do you have in your family?” he asked.

 

It’s just my parents and Niya. I don’t have any uncles and aunts on dad’s side; I just have one uncle, mama’s brother.” I watched himlistencarefully“But we are not close to him and my maternal grandparents.” I smiled cautiously“or you can say I am not very close to them.”
“How about your dad’s parents?”
he asked warily.

“They died few years ago.” I said ina calmbut unpleasant tone “They lived two houses away from ours and I remember spending more time at their place than mine. My grandfather had been sick, he had two heart attacks and we were actually prepared for him to leave. But the painful thing was that my grandmother died the same day my grandpa died. I always noticed that she looked at grandpa with a strange feeling of love but I never realized, not until I was kid that her life was actually twisted into a single strand with grandpas. If he was gone so was she. That was the core rule of the game.” I said ina feelingofguilty, because I had to admit that it pleased me ina petulant waythat people were connected that way.

“How did she die?”

 

I don’t know what Post mortem revealed but everyone in my family believes that she willingly left her human form. She departed sitting in the prayer room of her
house.”
I told himthe same storythat I overheard at their funeral, me and myparents never talked about it. “She had psychic abilities” I explained “she was very close to God.
She had this religious keertan everyday at her place for as long as I remember. And people who weren’t even related to her came to touch her feet. They believed her blessings can do miracles.”

He listened to me contently. That was funnythat two people fromthis century, people ofscience, people ofreasonwere evenindulginginsuchtalk. “What do you think?” he asked quietly, readingmyface.
For the first time I was thinkingabout what I felt ofher mysterious abilities. “I think the power lies in the blessings itself not in the one who gives them.” As I spoke I felt more peaceful“people misunderstood.”
“I agree.”
He smiled.
We bothstared out ofthe window at the same time as driver pulled into anopenspace at a smalldhaba. He parked there and turned offthe bus. Ms Anjaliannounced that we can

use the rest rooms here ifwe want to. I turned around to meet his gaze “Tell me about your family.” I insisted. “Something except that your father is a famous surgeon andyour mum is a greek. And that they met in Singapore for a conference and got married soon.” I smiled winking“Tell me something that I don’t know of.”

He smiled vaguelytwitchinghis eyes; he knew that I had intentionallygained that knowledge fromdifferent sources.
Get ready for some history then.” He teased. “I hope you don’t feel asleep listening.”
I glared at himinconfusion.
Dad is a royal descendant. His great great grandfather Amar Pal Singh Rathore was the first Rathore Rajput to migrate to Rani, a small town in Rajasthan almost 150

years ago from Nadol village. He was descendant of Rathore Dynasty. The Gorwar region comprising of 102 villages was a part of their administration. My great

grandfathers used to export in those days to Japan and other countries, and were the only civilians to supply parachute ribs to the navy. After some time India became a free nation and all the administration system was replaced by the government of India. Dad says my grandfather was a magnetic personality and people of Gorwar region worshiped him as God. He donated all his palaces and forts to the community and kept only the palace, the home he lived in. Today the majority of the land called Rajput Mohalla proves history of Rathore Royal Family which is spread across nearly 8 Lakh square feet.” He rolled his eyes comingto a pause “Still awake haan?”

I looked at himastounded; this personalitynext to me was component ofroyalbloodline ofRajasthan. He is not a hypotheticalversionofmyprince charming, he actually is prince charming. I have beenso engaged, I hadn’t ever thought ofthat as a possibility. WithAdieverydayyoufound out somethingnew, everythingabout himwas so amazing. There was so muchto think through, so muchI stillwanted to ask.

 

Do you still have that palace, your grandfather’s home?” I asked fantasizingthe dazzlinghalls, the reflective marble floors; gems carved into the walls, the lovelygardens, in briefa set ofSanjayleela Bansali’s Devdas.

Yeah in Rani. When I was in Mayo we spent vacations there, I don’t think it would be possible anymore.”
“Who lives there?”
I asked dubiously.
“Caretakers.”
Caretakers. I wonder how many of them are there, how huge is that thing.
“Don’t you have any uncles?”

His eyes darted to myface fromunderneathhis longblack eyelids.
My dad had an elder brother. He died young.” He answered under his breath.
I am sorry.” I said apologizingto touchthat topic.

No don’t. I never saw him. I know nothing about him. They say that my family was cursed by some lady whose son died in prison for a crime which she think he didn’t commit during Amar Pal Singh’s rule. Some say that she cursed that the successor of the throne will die young and some say the curse was on the elder son of the family. But since our family has witnessed quite a number of untimely deaths.”

“What do you think?” I asked, myattentiondivided as I repeated his words inmybrain.

“Dad says that the legends came in after few deaths took place, so they are all worked up stories. But I believe that there could have been this woman who lost her only son, she was no witch she was a broken mother who had every reason to curse a ruler who didn’t do her justice. I believe a curse of a helpless person is a very powerful weapon of destruction.”

So he believed the mythwas true.
I agree.” I said mused.
That’s what mygrandmother used to say.
Does your family still have the titles the royal people have?” I asked momentarilyunconscious ofwhat I was asking
“No my dad gave up the title. It won’t travel in the family any more.”
“Oh”
I said unable to sayanythingelse.
“So is that palace of yours is a real palace?” I asked fascinated.
“Sort of.” He answered wonderinghimself.
I looked at himinbewilderment hopingto hear more.
It’s been renovated to provide modern facilities but it still has that royal charm.” His eyes glittered and his lips curved into the shape ofa sliced water melon. “Will you take me there someday?”
He didn’t reply. That made me feelembarrass.
What would you like to do, if you were to spend a day in that place?” he asked distractingme.
I didn’t think for a second before answering“I’ll take pictures all day of every corner of the palace.”

He smiled “That’s exactly what my mum did when she visited it for the first time.” He laughed again“Dad says it was very funny because to him that was his home, where he grew up and she was acting weird as if it was a tourist spot.”

 

We bothlaughed, it did sound funny.

 

You know I have a room there packed with my stuff from Mayo. But mostly it has the canvases on which I tried to paint you each day of my vacation. Few had your eyes and few your lips, never got it right completely” he smiled “I am no painter.” he shrugged.

 

Everythingfellsilent for a moment. I have realized allthe memories ofhis past are mostlythe memories ofthat angel, he thinks was me. I felt petite and terrible inthat position. All that waiting, that longingand allhe gets is me. That’s reallyunfair.

 

Adioblivious ofthe pityI felt for himshared more informationonhis royalfamilywhile I listened mutely.

Time passed more quicklythanI have realized. We were goingparallelto the actualRenuka Lake after few false alarms. I followed Adi’s glare to look out ofthe window, as it appeared the settingwas spectacular. Evenat this time ofthe year the whole place was deserted. The bus was goingdownona steep road and after few curves and turns we came to a stop. AllI cansee were the plains witha blue edge, the line where skyand the silent water ofthe lake meets bordered bylushgreenvegetation. While Adiand Sara helped everyone withtheir backpacks, I wore myshoes and got down. There was a significant difference betweenthe inside and outside temperatures. Evenifit was a bit cold the

ambience and the smellofdew, ofwater and ofJungles that bordered the plains and ofa lovelymorningwas ecstatic. The nationwas inmiddle ofthe summer seasonbut inthis part

ofthe world like everymorning, this morningwas covered withmistywinter haze. I saw a goldenEagle float gracefullyover the lake. Watchingthe motionofanEagle inthe mountains is perhaps one ofthe most peacefuland inspiringmoments ofmylife. There were two cemented huts built where the plains ended and the Jungles began. Few tents were alreadyplaced onthe opposite side ofthe plains. I realized we were not the sole visitors here. A middle aged man, someone who looked like a localcame rushingtowards our bus,

comingto anabrupt stop besides me, I directed himtowards Mr. Mathur. He worked for the teamwho organized camps and was there to help us. The wayhe walked, his back a little tilted and his head bowed was a permanent mannerismoftypicalhimachalihospitality. As everyone started comingout, I climbed back to get myrucksack.

Myhappymoment didn’t last longas inthe bus I found Adiand Sara ina terrible argument. I was stuck inbetweenfor a moment before I had to shout at bothofthemor youcan callit a request ina slightlylouder thanmynormaltone. I knew Sara must have begunthe argument but I have realized that Adiis not verygood to her either. I have caught him talkingto her obliquelyand inironyonmanyoccasions.

This was not one ofthe readymade campingsites. And we had to spend next two hours settingtents. Boys helped Mr. Mathur to unload the bags ofamenities and food and to

stock theminone ofthe tents, our temporarylunchroom. We unpacked our sleepingbags inside the tents and transferred hayfroma huge pile near the bus to the tents to add comfort and warmthto the sleepingbags for the night to come. The cemented huts were the rest rooms, as girls unpacked their toiletries I went for a loo break. As I entered, a sturdyodor ofphenylwedged me insnout. The floor ofthe bathroomwas damp, I carefullywalked in. Despite the cracks inplaces and lack ofrenovationthe restrooms were neat

and wellkept. I totallyunaware ofanyone’s presence inside the roomina suddenfright got a little imbalanced and slipped to hit myhead inthe wallwhenI notice a tinycreature sittingonthe corner ofthe lengthyshelfborderingthe mirror. The pain, the presence ofthat creature and the embarrassment, everythingsort ofoverlapped and I felt dizzy. The creature was a little girlshe came rushingto me ina quick second and rubbed her tinylittle hand onmyforehead to soothe the pain.

Thanks. I am okay.” I murmured blushing, her little hand was warmagainst myskinbut to mydismaythat was not enoughto soothe the pain. She didn’t cease the movement of her hand.

 

I repeated, embarrassed to use so muchenergyofone tinylittle person“I am okay.”

She slowed downand reluctantlypulled her hand back to shift the book she was holdinginother hand. Whenthe dizziness faded myeyes met witha cute little face, smalleyes, a snub nose and lips placed ona fair smoothskinlike a ribbonbow. Her features depicted that she was no foreigner; she belonged to these mountains originally. Her short black hair resembled Sara’s. I wondered ifshe was related to that middle aged man, the helper.

Her little bodywas leaningover mine and her eyes curious. “ I am okay” I repeated for the third time, hopingshe willgive me roomto get up.
I realized whenI spoke she stopped blinkingand concentrated onmylips.
She was deafmaybe.
I was stillwonderinghow to ask whenshe got up.

I straightened myself, myhead stillaching, and halfofmybodyfelt soggy, myback was wet now. As I turned around to check myback inthe mirror I caught her smiling. She looked evenprettier whenshe smiled. FlushingI picked her inmyhands and rested her onthe shelfshe was formerlysittingon. Stillher face reached myshoulders. I bowed down a little and said “thank you” , enunciatingmakingit easyfor her to read mylips incase she was deaf. She shied and moved her hand into somewhat semicircular motion, Iinterpreted she was tryingto sayyou’re welcome.

I felt sad and battled withthe urge to Hughher. I wanted to make a talk but the fact that I had no knowledge ofsignlanguage made it troublesome. I used the restroomand left wavingher goodbye, repeating“Thank you” over and over again. I walked back to the tents withmyhand pressed against myhead. It was stillaching.

Ms Anjalisaw me “ What happened?” she asked. As soonas she said that I thought ofplayingthat up and use it as anescape pass for at least a day. “I slipped in the bathroom. My head hit the wall.” I said sighingbogusly“I had a previous concussion. I feel like its bleeding.”
She checked myhead, to find nothingwrong. Ofcourse.
Does that hurt?” She asked makinga terrible face.
I nodded stiffly. “I feel dizzy.”
We are about to leave for trekking honey. What do you want me to do?” she looked confused.
I knew I’llhave to playit up a little before bringingup the realdeal.

A pain killer will do for the pain. But I don’t know why I feel woozy. Hope they have rest rooms on the way in case I want to throw up.” I verywellkept up the remorsefulmumbling.

 

Her eyes flew openand she staunchher nose a little. She was thoughtfulfor a second “I guess it will be better if you stay back and rest. I think you will be fine in few hours. We are supposed to take off for biking after trekking but we can come back for you, if that sounds okay.” She said talkingto herselfat the same time.

Biking, I do feelsick now.
“No please you don’t have to do that for me. I’ll be back in shape by tomorrow and I won’t miss on any fun.” I sighed.

“You sure honey?” Her head tilted a little as she held myhands inempathy; to her I was makinganenormous sacrifice. What kind of freaks these people are? Escaping Biking, Sacrifice? Are you kidding me?

I nodded faintly; actingdistressed, not less not more, just the accurate amount.
“I will ask Babu to give you your lunch. He is the care taker here. You rest, okay?”
I gave another nod, highlypleased withmyself.
Everything that happen happens for good, I smiled whenshe walked away.
Adiwas standingat foot ofmytent, smirking. Ofcourse he heard that. I glared at him. It wasn’t easy- I knew that he knew that I was lying.
I tried to walk past but he lifted a hand to stop me.
Concussion?” he said, flashinghis brilliant teeth. He had a quick peek onmyhead. He smirked again“Nautanki.” He said inhis appealingvoice. “That thing really hurts.” I said, throwinga scowlat him. EvenifI amlyingI don’t like beingcalled a liar and that does hurt, evenifa little.
His smile fainted “Really?” he said politely“You take care of yourself then.”
Now I felt guilty. I can’t make myselfhappyeither way.
Here have my I pod.” He said pullingout anapple I pod fromhis blazer’s pocket “It has few good songs to kill time” he smiled smugly.
I flinched and took it hesitantly.

Don’t go very close to the lake. And I can hear roars from the west side of the Jungle. Babu will lit the fire as the sun sets but still stay in the tent once it starts getting dark.” He stared at me incredulously; his face was tense depictinga shade ofmaturity.

Wild animals don’t scare me, biking does, I thought to myself. I wanted to assure himthat I feelverysafe right now.
“I don’t think I‘ll be able to hear you after a while.” His jaw hardened “Try to be safe, please.”
He knew that I have this strange attractionto jungles, but this wasn’t the safest zones, I get it.

Lookingat his incredible face I almost cursed myselffor beingsucha drama queen. Can’t I trek and ride a stupid bike to be withhim. I wanted to go too, I wanted to be with him.

But instead ofsayingsomethingI nodded grumpily. Well, not everything happens for good.
“Have fun.”
I sighed.

“I’ll try to.” He promised, smiling. He touched myface, lightlybrushingalongmycheekbone, thenturned and walked away. I stared after himuntilhe was gone, untilallofthem were gone.
Whenthe sore feelingofbeingleft alone finallyended, I walked into the tent sulky. I dropped onto the pile ofhayand stretched mylegs, restingthe I pod onmybelly“I miss you already” I whispered, wishinghe wasn’t listening.

I like anidiot waited for quite some time, for himto show out ofthinair. Whenit became impossibilityI gave up. I became a bit more comfortable, removingmyshoes and putting the earphones onmyears, fiddlingthroughthe songs. The music didn’t help. I couldn’t stop missinghimand I had a helllot ofsleep yesterday, so sleep wasn’t goingto come to me

 

naturally. A verysillythought occurred to me. I alreadyhad permissionfor a painkiller fromMrs. Anjali; two ofthemwould be enoughto knock me out for good eight hours. I

 

hastilypulled out the headphone and walked out ofthe tent to grab medicines. InmyrushI bumped into someone and almost staggered witha near heart attack for second time in one day.

The mancaught me too quickly. “ I am sorry” he said.
Despite sayingsomethingI looked at himconfused, steadyingmyself.

I am the teacher from Joseph’s School.” He said embarrassed “I am here with my boys.” He said pointingtowards the other end ofthe plains, to the previous tents. There was more life at that side thanthis morning, Josephschoolboys crawled allover the place and a bus similar to ours was parked onthat side as well.

I came to say in hi. If we knew that you guys were coming we might have cancelled our rafting trip this morning to help you set up” He yanked it allinone breath. “That’s really kind of you sir.” I said obliged “but we managed pretty well.”
“Good Good”
he said regaininghis confidence, stirringhis neck inalldirections.
“Everyone is out for trekking. They’ll be back at around six.” I informed.
He narrowed his eyes at me.
I was a little sick so I stayed back.” I hissed under mybreath. He wasn’t myteacher, I didn’t have anyreasonto be scared ofhim, but for some unknownreasonI was. “Oh” his expressionsoftened “I and my boys will be around for a while, and then we will be leaving for sight seeing. Don’t hesitate if you need anything.” He offered. I thanked himbefore he left.

Everyschoolhas a peculiar trait whichmakes it stand out fromothers. Some are knownfor academic achievements, a few are excellent insports, manyare just knownfor a homely environment, Joseph’s schoolis knownfor its too true stereotypes ofa campus fullofspoiled richkids. Drugs, alcohol, weapons, youname it, theyhave it. It has nothingexcept for oddities and drawbacks. I wonder what kind ofparents send their kids into environment like theirs.

Anyways I deliberatelyswallowed two brufens and didn’t have to wait longfor the drugs to kick in, I gladlysank into unconsciousness.

 

9. DEMON

 

00004.jpgI woke up to a faded light. And as I twisted and turned inmyhaybed mystomachgrowled, I have skipped ontwo meals together. I was hungry. I peeked out ofmytent to see the

 

orange set onthe dark blue water ofthe lake. A chillybreeze send shiver downmyspine. There was not a single personinsight. I changed into mynight suite and wrapped my

 

mum’s pashmina shawlaround me, grabbinga noveland a book light I stepped outside. Flickingonthe bulb that hungina hazardous conditionoutside the tent, I started huntingfor food inallthe boxes, finallysettlingfor a pack ofsandwiches.

 

I wanted to get out ofthe tents, but there was nowhere I was allowed to go. Mybodyonits ownangled towards the ever encroachingforests. It didn’t take longto find out where

exactlythe greenand the orange met. I stopped few yards awayfromthat line. The dark water ofthe lake was almost invisible but the sound ofsquishofducks onwater and the suddensounds suchas one fishrunninginto another marked its presence. I spread mypashmina ona stone and sat downonit, enjoyingthe sandwich. The valleywas secluded but enchantingshieldingthis lake whichwas once believed to be portrayinga sleepingwomaninRig- Vedic period. It is extremelygentle and feminine inspirit and form. Perhaps that is

whythousands offishstayinside her without anyfear ofbeingkilled bypeople. I opened mybook, clipped the book light onit and started readingwhile subconsciouslywitnessing the sounds ofwaves gentlylappingup its shore, listeningto the chirpingofbirds returningto their homes and feelingthe gentle breeze fromthe hills.

I didn’t realize how muchtime has passed whenI heard a movement inthe dense forest that stretched besides me. I froze there for a moment as the sound repeated. Someone was too close. I shivered at myplace ofconcealment. This was the wrongplace to have come, I should have known. Now that the sunhad set the silence turned piercing. The fishes went quiet and the birds have safelyreached their homes. I knew anyone who was watchingme fromthree feet awaywouldn’t have trouble catchingme incase I opt to run. So unable to think I sat there hardlybreathing, dwellingonnegative, waitingfor the deathto come, I was calculatingthe painit willcause whenI heard the sinister pass byme. The

noise was as ifsomeone was beingdragged ona bed ofdrycrunchyleaves. It was stillclose; the movement was onthe other side ofthe trees. The piercingsilence now smelled

 

evil. I heard humanvoices fromthe trees. No one would believe the absurditybut instead ofwalkingawayfromthe danger I found myselfwalkingtowards it. I was gripped ina

 

suddencuriosityto see who was there. I silentlywalked into the trees to see dark shadows ofthree men. As aninnate impulse to a perilous situationI stepped inthe rear ofa fernto

 

have a vigilant look. Three ofthemwere no men, theywere boys, two ofthemwere bowed over somethingand the one whose shirt hanged unbuttoned onhis shoulders was

smokinga cigarette watchingthem. As I was tryingto see what was happeningI noticed the skyhas darkened further, a suddenshiver made me cross myarms tightlyacross my chest. Theyhad somethingonthat pile ofdried leaves, maybe drugs I assumed. The one who was smokingstarted fillingstones ina plastic bag. I thought maybe the stones have somethingto do withthe drugconsumptionprocess whenmyheart ceased. A chillthat had nothingto do withthe weather made me shiver.

I saw two smallfeet at the corner ofthe leave sack, throughthe dark. That was a person there. As one ofthe guys moved the ominous view became patent. That tinylittle girllay onthe leaves. She wasn’t moving. What has happened to her? Is she dead? A small, frightened voice echoed inmyhead.

Please move. Move beta. I whispered tears rolled downmycheeks but I didn’t cease begging. I should have knownthat she is not Adi, she can’t hear mymurmurs but I cantell mymind wasn’t entirelyworking. I wanted to take her inmyarms, to wake her up but I don’t know whymyfeet were jammed to the damp ground. You are mean Samiya, a voice told me.

As I concentrated too hard onher face I didn’t realize that theyhave tied the bagofstones to her tinybabyfeet. My feet ached terribly as if the same load of stones were tied on mine

 

One ofthempicked her up callouslyand started walkingtowards the part ofthe lake that lies hiddeninthe forests. I didn’t understand what theywere doinguntila loud noise of splashofwater came and the devilstood there emptyhanded.

 

No.

As soonas I realized that theyhave thrownher into the lake. I was runningto plunge after her. AllI cansee was her cute little face, her lips twitched ina smile, her hand withwhich she tried to soothe mypain. It was a short sprint to the lake; I jumped inexactlyat the point where the surface ofthe water was stillcovered withsmallriffles. I knew the devilwas watching, but allI wanted was to save what that evilwas tryingto ruin.

The water was freezing, but that was not as bad a shocker. It did freeze everythingto the core ofmybody; the movement ofblood inmyveins was ceased. TraditionallyI would have givenmyselftime to come to the levelofwater’s temperature but todayI can’t afford to evenwait for hyperventilationto end. I used everyounce ofmyenergyto inhale a deep breathbefore goingdownthe water. The sound ofastonished murmur is the last thingI remember onthe edge ofthe water.

One thingthat did come as a revelationwas the darkness. I forgot the unalterable truthabout divingat night; I was not able to see anything. I kept slidingdown, inthe totaldarkness as ifmyeyes were closed. Withinseconds I realized this was goingto be dangerous. It was the worst transitionperiod to enter another world. I was roughlythroughwiththe prior quota ofoxygen; and thus found myselfcuttingthroughthe water hurriedly. There was no possibilitythat I was departingwithout her, somethingsneaked up onme and before I

know it was pullingme inside. I wasn’t alone here, maybe inanother few seconds me and her willbe just another drowningthat happened inthe moonlight, without anyone knowing the reality. Evenwithallthat trying, I knew I’llstillend up dyeing, but the manifestationofher fatalitywas enoughto yield a disagreeable sensitivity. Mylips were about to part, I was about to give up whenmyhand caught hers.

She was warm, evenwithinthe treacherous icycold. A suddengushofvigor arose somewhere inmychest. I just can’t give up, I owe her that much. And I have to save myself, I owe Adithat much. What seemed like a decade maynot be more thana few seconds. The struggle to swimup was equivalent to the struggle to swimagainst the current. FinallyI made it. I held her close to me as mybreathingcame faster and deeper thannecessary. The hyperventilationwas causingme chest pain, ifI haven’t had that same painbefore during one ofthe Asthma attacks, I would have misunderstood it for heart attack. Because right now that was a highpossibility. The girlwas lifeless inmyhands, she wasn’t breathingand as I pressed her she didn’t respond.

Please don’t die.” I pleaded swimmingher towards the bank. Inmypanic I forgot about the fiends who stood waitingto murder this innocent girl. I hold her hand securely, as I used the dreadfullypetite energyleft inmybodyto force downthe water out ofher stomach. Inmydizziness I realized her clothes were torn, withscars onher face. I didn’t even want to think what theymight have done to her, but for one thingI was sure, these people were not human.

Theyencircled me. The one who threw her into the water started pullingher hand frommine; I was inclined over her defying, not lettingit go. He pulled out a rock, to perhaps smack myhand, I squeezed the grasp at once but thenhe tainted his wits. Myaccelerated inhalationwas now almost aching. I felt nauseas as I struggled for eachbreath, mylips parted to get as muchair as possible to myachinglungs. I could spot the skinonmyneck movingprofoundlyinto the collarbone and mychest movingina scuttle for everybreath. I

was inmiddle ofthe most brutalattack ofmylife; anybreathfromnow could be the last one. The one who was smokingpushed me onthe ground. Withallwhat was goingthat

 

was prettyeasyto accomplish. I dropped onto the ground, hittingmyhead exactlyat the same place I had hit this morning. I didn’t let go ofher hand but I knew I won’t be able to

protect her for long. Mytunnelvisionforgot to deemwhat else these people cando. As he started takingoffhis pants, I wished that I would die. I was breathingheavily; I knew I couldn’t fight himoff. I left the girl’s hand apologizing, tears rollingdownmycheek as I started crawlingtowards the lake. He caught me withone hand and despite the little wasted effort he ripped offmydamp shirt. I wrapped myarms around mychest. Theywere teasingand findinggloryinit as I kept crawlingto anescape. Mytorned shirt allowed mybody

to come incontact withthe cold breeze and mysoakingwet bra was doingadditionalbenefit to the attack. “Adi” I whispered sobbing“Adi please save her. They will kill her.”As one ofthemstood at myback I was unable to find a waybut throwingmyselfinlake wasn’t necessary, I knew I was about to die.

 

I was reluctantlypushingone ofthe guys who were tryingto put his hands onme, whenAdilike wind flew fromwithinthe trees, directingtowards the one who was leaningonme, catchinghold ofhis neck and dragginghimpast the other two, forcinghimagainst the tree. I could barelysee Adi’s face but a glimpse ofhis eyes revealed that he was murderously

 

angry. He was scorchingwithanger; his lose hand gripped into a fist and other pressinghis neck against the tree. To the noises at a distance the other two rushed into the woods.

 

And for Adijust killinghimwasn’t enough, he wanted to make himsuffer, to slowlyslaughter himto death. Slippinginto unconsciousness, I was seeingAdifor the last time and as

 

someone that I never knew existed. A fury, a rage was plainonhis face as he punched and kicked himinhis intestines. I wanted to stop himto request himto take that little girlto

the hospitalbut words weren’t reachingmythroat. As I laycurled withmyhands stillcoveringmychest, I felt someone’s hands onme. I forced myeyelids to move up a little to see Sara wrappingme witha shawl, her face red withpanic; she was sayingsomethingI can’t make sense of. I tried to point towards the little girl, but I couldn’t get to move myhand. Mr. Mathur was tryingto stop Adiwhile other few boys frommyclass were holdingthat demon, his whole bodycovered withblood. Adiwasn’t impeding. “Adi” I whispered. I saw his face turntoward me impetuously; the transitionofhis blue scorchingeyes to tense was the last thingI saw before losingsight.

Keep breathing baby. You are my air. Do it for me” Adi’s voice like meltinghoneystillheld that charmfor me. His words stilltingled inmynumb bellyas he carried me with tremendous ease. I was soakingwet but the shawlwas a lifesaver. Except for warmingme it saved me myvirtue. And yes I was tryingto survive. I knew they’lldo everythingthey could but untilthat point allhe is askingme is to keep breathing. And God knows that I did everythingthat was inmycontrolto keep myweak lungs budging. Livingseemed to be so difficult and I could feelAditormentingas I endured hell.

Inmyfadingcognizant, I felt Adishiftingmyweight ona bed. Someone was tryingto take offmywet night suite trousers, whenI instantlychanged the positionofmyhand, residing it ontop ofmytrousers.

 

They are wet.” Sara said strained. Inthe commotionI could hear Mrs. Anjalisearchingthroughmyinjections while Adidisappeared. “We’ll have to wait for a nurse to come.” Mrs. Anjalifrowned. She doesn’t know how to use injections.

But ifthere is no medicalassistance who is takingcare ofthe girl?
I almost lost controlofmyforced breathingat that notion.
Adishowed up inno more thanfew seconds. He was clutchinga blanket and myclothes inone hand and a nebulizer inanother. Whendespite myreluctance Mrs. Anjaliand Sara

started changingmyclothes, Aditurned around hesitantly, his back facingtowards me fillingthe druginthe nebulizer. He waited for Mrs. Anjalito informhimthat theywere done

 

before he set the supple cord ofthe mask behind myears and turned onthe machine. His acutelybeautifulface was throbbing; the blue ofhis eyes and the red ofhis lips were now verygloomyindisparitywiththe exceptionallypale white skin. It was like seeinganangelshattering.

Keep breathing Jaan.” He whispered inmyear brushinghis warmhand onmyhead bowingdownonme. “Nebulizer will eventually calm down the attack but we need to inject some corticosteroid in you. This will hurt a little.” He sighed “forgive me.” he murmured inintense pain. I wanted to touchhimwithmynumb hand to tellhimthat a pain ofa syringe is nothingcompared to the painI amgoingthroughright now witnessinghis nearlydead face, but it had beena longevening, I was done fighting. Throughthe verylittle that was visible frommyvaguelyopened eyes I saw Adipluganinjectionand thenthere was a feelingofinfinitesimalstinglike a mosquito bite onmyarm, followed bya blackout. I slipped into unconsciousness.

Myeyes opened to a weak light enteringthroughthe chink betweenthe tent walls. Myhand was twisted ina drip, a bottle ofglucose hungontop ofmyhead. Evenas sick as I was the onlysense that never left me was mysense to smell. I cansmelldew and morningcarnations, it was earlymorning. And thenthe smellthat intoxicatingscent ofmymost pleasant dream, Adi. I turned myhead slightlyto find himsittingona chair next to mybed, his head restingnear myhand, he was sleeping. His exquisite face was so beautifulyet stillpale.

After the near deathexperience I was appreciatingwhat I had more thanever. It brought back the unclear memories oflast night and as I recalled it, I became reallyuncomfortable. The girl.
As I tried to get out ofbed, he suddenlylifted his head and his warmfingers caught myhand.
No.” he murmured inhis velvet voice gettingup, makingmyhead relaxagainst the pillows “I am here. Tell me what you want.”
“Adi.”
I whispered “the little girl?” I looked at himwiththousand questions inmyeyes.
His face changed a shade.
Pihu” he whispered “her name is Pihu.” His lips brushed onmyhand as he talked “She is in hospital.”
I sighed intemporaryrelief. That was better thanbeingdead. And trulythe wayI remembered her last, cold lifeless inmyhands that did come as a surprise. “How is she doing? Is she conscious now?” I asked, myeyes worried.
He sighed. I could tellit wasn’t good news. I had to wait longbefore he decided to answer.
She is not conscious yet. But she’ll be fine.” He answered quietly.
What happened to her?” I asked impatiently.

He moved awayfromme sluggishly, restinghis head against the chair, not meetingmyeyes. He watched his hands as the grave expressiononhis face told me, it could be something worse thanthe worst. And he couldn’t find the words to tellme how terrible the world outside mybubble is.

Did they rape her?” I asked makinghima little more uncomfortable withthe overwhelmingpaininmyvoice.
He didn’t meet mygaze and kept himselfawayfromme.
They tried to. But they couldn’t. She fainted.” He explained briefly, embarrassed to touchthe details.
Who told this?” I asked unable to process it.
They confessed after police arrested them.” He whispered lookingup a little.
Are all three arrested?” I asked, makingsure. I remembered two ofthemrunninginto the woods.
Two are in prison.” He groaned “and one is in the hospital.”
The memoryofAdibeingso furious, did churnmystomacha little.
He realized that as he gazed at me apologizing“I am sorry you had to see me like that. I couldn’t control my temper.” He whispered caressingmyhand. He didn’t have to feelsorry. I amthe one who should be sorry. I shouldn’t have called him; I shouldn’t have put himinto trouble. I had to pullmyselfawayfromthat memory. “Adi why is Pihu unconscious?” I asked desperately.
They were trying to force…” he sighed onthought ofit, his hand covered his eyes as he rested back again“it caused her internal bleeding.” “Ssssss” I cried inpain, turningmyhead onother side onthe pillow, where I couldn’t see him.
There was anawkward silence whenhe finallybroke “why did you do that?”
I impulsivelyturned to look at his angelface, inconfusion.
I told you not to go out in dark.” His voice a little more thantense “And even if you did, couldn’t you wait for me to come?”
The moisture inhis blue eyes numbed mysoul. I didn’t have anydefense that was worthit.
Do you have any idea what they would have done to you?” he asked indeep pain“I nearly lost you last night. You were slipping through my hands...” he said sobbingand that was not bearable. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t.”

Adi” I whispered sheddingtears for the near end we had yesterday“I am sorry.”
He didn’t consider myapologies.
You asked me to save the girl? Why didn’t you call for me when he ripped…” he broke at the last words.
No Adi..” I said feelingvulnerable “I wouldn’t have let him do anything to me. I was about to jump in lake..” I yanked it inmydefense.
He looked back inamazed irritationgettingcloser to me “You what?”
And thenI couldn’t get myselfto cease the runningwater frommyeyes.
If he would have done anything to me, how would I have faced you again?” I said crying“I preferred dyeing.”

He reached for me indesperation; restinghis head onmychest he laid onmynumb bodywhichstrikinglyawake at his verytouches. His bodywas warmand I had this suddenurge to protect himas he cuddled his face onmychest. A tear fromhis eye sieved right throughmyshirt reachingmyheart as he spoke softly“you can never do that to me. Never.” He sighed “There could be no reason whatsoever to take you from me.”

I caressed his head withmyhand, tryingto soothe the unintentionalache I have caused him.

 

It was the drugs inmysystem, I think because inno more thantwo seconds I drifted back to sleep.

 

WhenI woke up againI had this impulsive feelingofworthlessness as myhand couldn’t find Adi. But a warmhand did reachmine. As I managed to openmyeyes sluggishly, a hesitated smile occurred onmylips to see Sara sittingnext to me.

Time for some real spanking.
“Hi”
I whispered, rising.
I realized there were quite a number ofpeople surroundingmybed. Mandy, Raag, Amber and Adi. The atmosphere was tense and myaudiences waited for me to tellthe story. “Hi everyone.” I said smirking, tryingto raise myhand a little “ouch” it did hurt withthat syringe for the drip duginto myskin.

Adicame to relieve me ofthat. As everyone smirked and grinned, I looked at Adiinsurprise. I forgot to ask how come he knew how to use injections and now, how he knows how to remove syringe fromsomeone’s blood vein.

This year the gallantry award goes to Samiya Mittal.” Someone said distractingme, givingallthe militarybackground score. I could tellit was Mandywithout lookingat him. Mycheeks flushed.
Superwoman” Raagadded laughing.
Khatron ki khiladi.” Amber suggested, gettingcarried awayinthe fun.
I hated beingput onthe spot especiallywiththese people who are capable ofmakingfunofme inanypossible circumstances.
ha ha” I said shyly, unable to find a derisive replyto that.
Adifinallyremoved the syringe frommyhand tapingcottononit and ofcourse sneering.
This is not fair yaar.” Sara intervened. I was surprised she was standingup for me.

She had this big bleeding concussion in her head. She couldn’t ride a bike but she took the courage to run all over the jungles offering her life guard services to drowning people. She really is brave. Don’t make fun of her.”

There yougo. Heavysarcasm.
I was not in jungle.” I frowned “and what would you have done if you were at my place?”
I am not asthmatic” she said insevere irritation“and I would have called someone for help if I were you.”
“There was no time for that.”
I smashed.
She sighed lookingstraight into myeyes.
Then its better let one person die than go and die with her.”
I knew she didn’t meanthat, she was just upset. I tried not to argue beyond that.
Okay baba.” I smiled apologizing“I am sorry.”
“You better be!”
she smacked.

FinallyI was onmyfoot witha healthybreakfast and some steroids inmysystem. Walkingpast our tents I saw boys fromJosephschoolleaving. I turned myhead instantaneously

 

towards the restroomas their eyes bore into me. Those three were from Joseph School, I realized rememberingthe uniforms theywere wearing. As I entered the bathroom, that

 

suddenremembrance ofthat little lovelyface I encountered here ached inmyheart. “Adi” I whispered, knowingthat withmyillness he willnow be listeningto myeveryheart beat “I really want to see Pihu before leaving.”

 

I gave myselfa sponge bathgallingly, I longed to stand under shower and have a proper bath, but Sara stood there monitoringmyeachand everymove. It was reallyfrustratingto see Adiand Sara teamup against me for allthe wrongreasons.

Mrs. Anjalididn’t take the risk ofleavingme behind again, but instead she allowed me to sit and watchwhile everyone indulged inriver crossingand rafting. Adidid look welltrained as he crossed the river intelligently. The grace and power took mybreathawayas he came runningto me for a quick break. “Hey there.” He smiled pullingthe end ofmypigtailkneelingdowninfront ofme.
I smiled back timidly.
Mr. Mathur will take us to the hospital before leaving.” He said turningsomber “The girl’s father wants to meet you too.”
“Who? Babu?”
I asked confused.
“Yes. He wants to thank you.”
A thought flickered “Adi aren’t they going to need my witness or testimony for the police case?”
His eyes narrowed.

One of them is from a known political family. Babu doesn’t have enough money to pay the hospital bills.” He paused “Mr. Mathur went to police station this morning. Police is not registering an FIR” his voice was sorrowful“no one cares about our witness.”

 

Yes, he is right. No one cares ifa poor little girlgets molested inthis part ofthe world. Inthat instance I wondered did I do the right thingbysavingher, wouldn’t it have beenbetter to let her go, to free her ofthis appallinglife where her unfortunate father doesn’t evenhave the finances to buyher the verynecessaryjustice.

 

I have to admit, that thought did hurt.

 

Later that day, me and Adiaccompanied Mr. Mathur to the hospital. I could literallyhear myheart beatingagainst mychest as we walked into the generalward. The sorrystate of the hospital, people sick and dyinglyingonthe floor withfamilies mourning, did scare the hellout ofme.

I swallowed hard holdingAdi’s arm.
These people can’t afford medical expenses.” He explained gravely.
I realized evenifme and Adiwere sick we were not the weakest. People out there had troubles muchbigger thanours. God was not unfair to us. Herbert Spencer’s phrase “Survival of the fittest” has slightlychanged its meaningthroughyears. It is now “survival of the richest.”
IfGod was to come right now and grant me myone last choice I would ask himto never let me go out ofthe highschool. The world outside was not worthliving. Inallthose faces, myeyes desperatelysearched for Pihu.
She has a bed for now.” Adiwhispered registeringmypricklycondition.
Mr. Mathur stopped onthe edge ofa bed. She laywithher eyes closed, her hand twisted up withseveraltubes lookingfragile.
As I looked back to mychildhood I remembered Barbies, dollhouses, fairytales. What will she remember?
I wished that memorywillnot distort her allother childhood memories.

Babu, who was sittingonthe floor inthe corner came rushing, his hands folded as he bowed downinfront ofme crying. Adicaught himtoo quickly. “That’s okay.” He said onmy behalf. While Mr. Mathur, Babuand Adiwere havinga conversationI hesitated walked closer to Pihu. I stroked her cheek withmyfinger, she didn’t respond. She was still

 

unconscious. It willtake her time to recover, I figured out. “She has a bed for now.” Adi’s words recurred inmymind. I removed myringand myearrings, withmyback facingtowards thempromptlyand kept it bythe side ofher pillow. I hoped Babucould get right price for them.

We didn’t staythere long. Everythingkind offast forwarded after that. We had our dinner bythe fire at the campsite before goingto sleep. I as usualsuffered that eccentric feeling ofsorrow whichhaunted me allnight, the sorrow ofleavingthis place behind and also ofthe overwhelmingattractiontowards Pihu. I could never be a traveler. I had troubles movingon.

Inthe morningas I watched the lake for the last time fromthe window ofthe bus I had a recap ofthat night. StillI did not fear it, but for some reasonI can’t explainI knew that night someone called myname, God maybe, I knew somethingwas pullingme inside and I yet refused to leave, again. It was a short trip back to school. Time runs at anextraordinarypace whenyouwant it to slow down.

Myheart sank as we crossed the gates ofPinegrove. It was goingto be a packingdayand everyone willleave tomorrow. Everyone, includingNiya, Sara and Adi. I managed prettywellto put up a show and be a part ofthe excitement. I couldn’t do a major contributionto allthe work around but I was definitelyonmytoes for 8 hours ina row. At dinner as everyone discussed the plans for vacations I ended up beingveryquiet and so did Adi.

Why were you not talking?” Adiasked softlyafter the supper.
I was listening to everyone.” I answered sluggishly. “Why were you quiet?” I added.
He gazed at me intensely.
I was listening to you.”
I stared back at himinconfusion.

“That night it was your sobbing that reached me before your voice. When I say that I can not hear anything when you cry, I am not exaggerating.” He paused “I am almost deaf since last three hours.”

As he said that the unshed tears started rollingdownmycheeks.
What’s it baby?” he pulled me close to his chest strokingmycheek, brushinghis lips onmyhead.
Nothing. I don’t know.” I sobbed.
I am going nowhere. I am here. I won’t leave tomorrow.” He announced politelyhopingthat willcease the crying.
It did.
No it’s not that. Please I swear I’ll be fine. I am just tiered.” I lied.
He didn’t buythat.
Samiya” he sighed.
Hun”
“What did you ask God before I came into your life?”
“A lot of things.”
I answered shyly.

“I asked for death. My death was an endless dream I dreamt, to go to the other side to that smiling angel.” He pulled myface up to look into myeyes “I don’t like this, angels shouldn’t cry.”
“Shhhh.”
I frowned puttingmyfinger onhis lips “That chapter’s done. The story goes on.” “I won’t cry and you can’t die.”

 

He smiled and whispered “I’ll try.” before takingoffhis arms fromaround mywaist. “We rhyme” he joked.

Leavinghimbehind as I walked into the dormit hurted. To part after gettingso close it always does but todayit was different. I knew I won’t get to see himunder the pallid light of stars for a while. And thenthere would be no beautyto the nights inhis absence. The thought that he is somewhere near listeningmade me feelcloser to him. I couldn’t imagine how lonelyI would be fromtomorrow onwards.

13. THEVACATION

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WhenI woke up next morning, bed sheets fromallthe mattresses were gone. A mattress unwrapped insheet canbe verydepressing, I cantellyounow. I because ofmedicines slept longer and as I got offmybed I realized that packed luggage has shrunk. Some people have left already. I brushed myteethand did mybraid flyingdownthe plight ofstairs to check onNiya. The place was chaotic withparents and students allover the place, and withnoises ofcars inthe parkinglot.

Niya’s luggage sat onfoot ofher bed. Sara was there too sittingonthe edge, not inschooluniform. “Ready girls?” I said leaningagainst a cupboard.
Yup!Mum is here. I am leaving.”
Already?”
Yeah. We are leaving for Canada tomorrow morning. She is in a hurry.”
Your luggage?” I asked obnoxious.
It’s in car.” She said gettingup. “You have nice holidays.” She said pattingNiya’s cheek.
You too didi.” Niya answered childishly, squeezingher face onshoulder.
Where’s aunty?” I asked tryingto sound normal.
She is in parking lot.” She said lookinginto myeyes; I could see a glint ofsadness inthemjust like mine.
I will walk you down.” I whispered leadingher.

The parkinglot was overflowingwithcars. Most ofthe car boots were openas parents were fixingluggage inthem. Auntywas alreadyinthe car, driver inhis place, waitingfor Sara. I bowed downat the car’s window to greet aunty. She kissed myforehead and we talked a little, but I don’t have a single clue about what. I finallyturned to Sara and as we hugged eachother I whispered inher ear “I will miss you.” She pressed me closer to her and whispered back “Don’t go out of school with Adi.”

I meanthis is her last farewellwords. She is impossible.
I pulled myselfback, suppressingsmirk “Happy holidays Sara and take care.”
You too.” She said winking.
And she was gone.

As I turned around I saw Adistandingthere intentlynext to a car withopenboot, withluggage inside. He was leavingtoo. He was lookingmore thangorgeous ina black tee and his faded denim. His handsomeness ached as I once againregretted mylooks compared to his. I hesitantlywalked closer.

Hi” I said not lookingstraight into his blue eyes. Theymake me feeldizzy.
I don’t like Sara.” He said inpolite irritation.
He heard that. I smiled unable to sayanything.
So?” I said after a briefpause.
So, you are looking very beautiful this morning.” He said staringat me awkwardly.
Ifsomeone willhear that, they’llthink he is makingfunofme.
I couldn’t help blushingbut managed to change the topic instantly“I mean are your parents here?”
Yeah. They are at reception.” He said turningaround to close the boot ofthe car.
Oooo. Nice car.” I said inamazement, it was a black Mercedes, the same car I saw that daywhenI came to school.
He smiled timidly“its dad’s.”
He distracted placed a strand ofmylose hair behind myear and said contently“Mum wants to meet you”
Nope. Not sucha good idea.
Not now Adi. I am not ready. I mean I just woke up, I am in night suite.” I said reluctantly.
You look lovely. There is nothing as beautiful as you are.”
“To you.”
I smacked. His lips pressed into a straight line. “Okay just give me fifteen minutes to get ready.” I bargained.
He was not happyabout it as he nodded just once, stiffly.
I‘ll be waiting.” He said behind me.
Please don’t. I knew I wasn’t going to come back. I don’t care if he gets angry at this one. There is no way I am going to meet his parents.

I was onthe top stair whenI saw mydad pullinginto the parkinglot. I rushed back downstairs and suddenlyNiya appeared too out ofnowhere. Mymumjumped out ofthe car before it was parked and took Niya into her arms. Lookingat mumand dad, no one would believe that theyhave a daughter myage. Theystilllook like a newlymarried couple in their earlytwenties. The intensityofmum’s one hugand dad’s one look was enoughto make me feelguiltyofwhatever I was keepingfromthem. I had to stop myselfonseveral occasions fromtellingthe whole truthofme stayingback. They won’t understand that was the onlythingI had inmydefense.

Dad took the permissionfromheadmaster to bailme out for a day. Theybooked a cottage near Kasauli, just to give me a break.
I was goingto mydormto get a shower leavinga note onAdi’s car whenI bumped into him. “You are going out?” he asked.
With my parents for a day.”
“Oh.”
“Adi I have to pack and take shower. It will take sometime. You don’t have to wait.”
I suggested.
“That’s your reason.” He asked smilingironically. I loved his wicked smile.
“Apologize to your parents on my behalf.”
He smiled “Okay. So I guess I will see you on tomorrow then.”
I forgot. That was it. Ifhis parents leave, he has to leave too.
Get permission slip signed from your dad. I have no troubles doing illegitimate stuff, so it’s for your own good.”
I scowled at him. But his anger was muchmore impressive thanmine.
His lips suddenlytwitched into anunexpected smile.
What?” I asked.
Mum and dad are having a laugh on the note you left on the car.”
“Oh No.”
I said throwingmyface into mypalms.
“Don’t be embarrassed. They are family.” He said pullingmyface up.
His eyes lingered onmyface as he turned severe.
Do you know that I am leaving me with you?” He said inaudibly.
Do you know that you are taking me with you?” I said burningat the touchofhis fingers onmycheek and couldn’t leave longafter he was out ofsight, stillburning.

I was alreadycountingonhours left to see himagainbreakingthemfurther into minutes and thenseconds inshower. I abstracted wrote his name onthe steamyshower screenand kissed it before gettingdressed. I wore jeans and the twilight shirt, whichSara bought me saying“I dream of being with you, forever.”

 

We left our luggage at the cottage before leavingfor Shimla.

 

Samiya make a list of things you need.” Mama instructed passingme a piece ofpaper. Car was bumpinglike a caterpillar, it was impossible to write besides there was not a longlist.

Mama I need school skirts. That’s it.”
“Don’t you have enough of them.”
She said amazed, for the fact that she kept two new skirts inthe trunk.
“They are very short.”
“How come they are short? You haven’t gained height after class five. You have been wearing the same length for all these years.”
She asked confused. Mydad interrupted irritated “If she is saying they are short. They are short.” He gave muma hard look.
Ofcourse. Dad is veryold fashioned just like Adi. So honestlymumis scared ofme endingup ina skirt that reaches myankles.
Mumsurprised me bynot arguingwithdad.
I bought some shorts for you. Maybe we can browse for some cotton t-shirts in Shimla. This place will turn scorching in few days.” Mumsuggested. “Mama I asked you not to buy anything. What about my old clothes?” I demanded.
Shhhh” she said irritated not likingthe thought ofit “What old clothes? You should see girls your age. I wish you were allowed more casuals.” I and dad exchanged a wickedglance inrear view mirror while mumcontinued “You remember maheem, Rekha auntie’s daughter, the one who is very tall?” she asked.

No” I said noddingsideways. “The one who won North Delhi Beauty pageant.”
I don’t know who mumis talkingabout.
Arre who” mumwas tryingveryhard whendad interrupted “One who failed class tenth exams and now is doing Jewellery designing from a C Grade college.” “Oh that Maheem.” I suddenlyremembered. Mumraised her brows as Niya grinned. “What about her?” I added.

“She helped me shop around for you and Niya. She is very smart. She said she would love to give you personality development classes next summer.” She announced pleased.

“Waow.” I said nonchalantly.
There is whole life to think about that irrelevant stuff. The focus is studies right now.” Dad argued.
World is changing Akshay. Personality sets one’s primary identity, education has become secondary.” Mumwas stickingto her point ofview. “And where do you put innocence. She is sixteen. She is a recluse person by choice. That’s her personality. She is right for her age.” Dad debated politely. Finallythere was one thingthat theybothagreed to.
Innocence, what is its definition? I aminlove witha boyand inaccordingto humandictionaryina muchunderestimated waywe are havinga so called affair, so amI innocent? “Samiya” mumasked surprised suddenlyrememberingsomething“the boy who stood first in CBSE Examination this year, he is in your school.” Myheart missed a beat; I couldn’t picture myselftalkingto myparents about Adiinanyways.
Yeah” I said worried lookingawayfromher stare.
Do you know him?” she asked mystified.
At that questionNiya pulled her head behind the seat to laughinaudibly. She willdefinitelyget me murdered.
Yeah. He is in my class.” I answered kickingNiya onher ankle.
Do you know he is son of Dr Tanmay Rathore?” Whydoes she have to interrogate me onallthese questions?
Really? I didn’t know.” I said infake amazement, and inhope that the discussionwillcease.
Do you know who Dr Tanmay Rathore is?” OhJesus. Mama, what’s wrongwithyou?
To that questiondad answered impatientlyand witha sound ofanalmost religious devotion“He did heart by pass surgery for Bade Papa. He saved his life.” Bade papa, mygrandfather got that surgerydone after his second hear attack. I didn’t know how muchI owed to Adiinhow manydifferent ways.

He was asthmatic and the Angioplasty failed as well. They told us that Dr Tanmay Rathore was the last option. He gave bade papa 10 extra years to live.” He said distracted “Samiya that man is the reason that I want you to become a doctor. Despite the excellence there was greatness in him, which was inspiring”

Oh, so that trait is somethingthat Adihas acquired fromhis dad.
Which year was it?” I asked unable to figure whenthat would have happened.
It was 1988 the year your mom and I got married. Bade papa’s operation was the last operation Dr Rathore did before leaving for States.” He said againwithdevotion.

After mumfallasleep, as usual, onthe rear seat leavingdad to drive and while Niya was bombardingdad withallkind ofsillyquestions, I was thinkingofthe newlyacquired information.

 

Adi’s father saved myGrandpa’s life, he is the reasonthat I amstudyingmedical, I meanhow tangled or intervened mylife was withsomeone who I barelyknew few months ago. I faced the urge to ask more about Adi’s dad, but I couldn’t. Myparents canread me like anopenbook. I cannot afford to take chances.

 

Dad pulled the car into the closest parkinglot to Mallroad. For locals Mallroad is a shopper’s paradise but I doubt it willplease mymum. The road has a number ofshowrooms, departmentalstores and cafes. And there are three book shops including one that sells very very old books. So this is definitelymyparadise. We just had the sandwiches mumbrought fromhome and I and Niya were alreadyarguingonwhere to eat.

Mc Donald’s papa. I want to eat burger.” Niya requested.
Liar. Papa she doesn’t like burger at all. She wants the stupid freebies.” I insisted.
They are not stupid di. They are very cute toys.”
Shame on you Niya. Your height is increasing but brain is still undersized.” I teased.
She was onthe verge ofcrying, it felt good to have won.
Samiya.” Mama scolded “She will eat Mc Donald’s.” she emphasized “You don’t have to, if you don’t want.”
WhenNiya was not lookingmumwinked at me.
Akshay we will shop around a bit before eating. I am not hungry yet.” Mumannounced.
Me neither.” I added.
We bought myschoolskirts first. “Samiya what beta? This looks like a Ghaghara” mumsaid ridiculed apprehendingme inthe change room. “I like it this way.” I replied.
Momscared ofdad, didn’t argue.
Dad and Niya got bored too quicklywhile I and mumwere browsingclothes for me, theywent to playtime entertainment to killtime.
We settled for two t-shirts after evadingeveryshop onthe street.
Mama I want to buy books.” I said hesitantly, walkingdownthe street.
What books? Novels?” her eyes wide opened inamazement.
Mama I don’t read novels now. I just need one or two for the holidays.” I insisted.
Samiya we are letting you stay here so that you can study.”
I remained quiet.
Okay just one.” She murmured.

I jumped to hugher “Thank you.” I said smiling, pullingawayina quick moment. Since AdiI aminthis strange habit ofgettingneurotic withanyone’s closeness, it’s just that I absent mindedlywant to pullmyselfback before gettingpushed away.

Lets eat first. Aren’t you hungry?” She asked.
Not for burger.” I sighed.
“What do you want then?”
“Gol gappe, papdi chaat.”
I said, mymouthwatering.
“For lunch?” she asked amazed.
I nodded.
She laughed and leaned to kiss me oncheek “My baby.” She murmured holdingmyhand.

Playtime entertainment was crowded withkids ofallshapes and sizes. There was a fullrange ofgames for Video game enthusiasts. Niya was inqueue waitingfor her turnto DDR, Dance dance revolution, while dad was onphone.

 

DDR, it is anawesome game. Player has to stand onthe dance platformand hit colored arrows laid out onthe screen. I just love that game. I sneaked into the line withNiya while

 

mumbought me the ticket. Finallythe moment came; I and Niya took the positions onthe platformand limbered up. Some euro trashmusic started playing. And we bothdanced

 

insanelyand as the frequencyofthe music and the arrows increased so does our speed. God, we were good at it. I could hardlybreathe at the end ofit. After finishingfew rounds we were kicked out ofthe game due to the number ofpeople waiting. Besides mumsomeone caught myattention. Adi.

As we moved closer, mumshouted “ You were great.”
I felt panicked and was sweating, myeyes were onhimas he stood there smiling.
Adi.” Niya ranto himexcitedly, catchinghis sight.
Hey.” He waved back cheerfully.
Mydad was done talking; we bothstopped few inches awayfrommum, Niya and Adi.
Mama this is Adi.” Niya said introducingthem. “And Adi this is mama.”
“Namaste aunty”
he bowed a little infront ofmum, while mumperplexed looked back at himinamazement.
This is everyone’s initialreactiononseeingAdi.
I had to cougha little to bringmama back to senses “Namaste.” She replied mutely.
He greeted dad too.
Niya was givingmama a detailed account onthe legend ofAdi, whentwo kids came running, almost banginginto Adi.
Tinyround faces. Broad features and not more than18 inches inheight. Intheir dangris and floaters theylooked like some coolAfricanAmericantourists. Olivia and Oliver.
I fellinlove withbothoftheminstantly. I couldn’t stop myselffromstaringat them, tryingto understand what theywere talkingto eachother.
Mama this is Samiya, my class mate.” I heard Adispeakingmutely, ina hesitant way.

I looked up quicklyto see a verybeautifulwhite lady, who could not be more than25 years old glazingat me intently. Thoughthe features were different but stillthere was some sort ofresemblance betweenAdiand her. It was the calmness, I think. She didn’t sayanythingbut looked at me miffed as ifshe has seenanangel. Exactlylike mymumwas staring at Adia few minutes ago.

My mum.” Adiwhispered gesturingtalkingto me.
Namaste Aunty.” I said inaudibly.
She bowed a little, at loss ofwords. But anappreciatingsmile occurred onher lips as she came back to reality.
Adibrieflyintroduced his familyto mine.

Where is papa?” the words were stillinhis mouthwhena clone ofGeorge Clooneyappeared. He was a veryhandsome manwitha good physique and witha sense ofmaturity onhis face.

I am here.” He smiled, lookingat allofus.
He didn’t behave inanunnaturalwaybut took more thana second to apprehend me whenI was beingintroduced.
I was shyto core.
Mr. Mittal I have seen you somewhere.” He said to dad raisinga brow, while myeyes ontheir ownaccord shifted to Olivia and Oliver.
You treated my dad in Apollo few years ago.” Dad replied politely.
Mr. Amrit Mittal, that was your last operation before leaving for States.” He added inanattempt to help himremember.
Oh yes.” He said nodding“Mr. Amrit Mittal, by pass surgery. How is he doing?” he asked curiously.
He passed away few years ago.” Dad replied mutely.
Oh” he sighed “I am sorry.”
“And your mother?”
Adi’s mumasked tensed, lookingat dad.
She was askingabout mygrand mother. She knew her?
They both passed away the same day.” Dad replied intensely“Did you know her.”
A sorrow appeared onher pale face.
I got to know her in the hospital. She was a great lady.” She whispered talkingmore to herself.
After a plausible second ofquietness, mumtalked undecidedlyto Dr Aleko “were you shopping?”
Actually we are staying in Kasauli. We came here for lunch, kids wanted to eat Mc Donald’s.” she said ina verycalmmotherlytone.
Adi’s parents were elder to mine, but accordingto looks theyallwere similar, allintheir earlytwenties.
We are going to Mc Donald’s too.” Mumreplied gladly.
Mr. Mittal where can we buy wine around here?” Dr Rathore asked dad
Dad laughed as ifhe shouldn’t have asked that. Dad is a directoryto allthe wine cellars inthe area. “I know some really good cellars around.” He said delightfully.
And theybothwere gone.

I went to help Adigrab the meals, while mumand Dr Aleko took a table near to the playland.
I too.” He said smilinganenchanted smile.
What?” I asked confound.
Dream of being with you forever.” He replied repeatingthe quote frommyshirt.
I blushed,
Olivia and Oliver are very cute. Very very cute.” I said shrugging.
Ha!Spend a day with them and then tell me.”
I giggled, followinghimto the table.
Adi maybe we can get our babies engineered to give them African looks. I like black babies.” I said wondering.
“Great plan, but just for the record we can’t have babies.” He said makinga face.
“Oho. Why are you so pessimist all the time? Technology is developing, who knows. Maybe we can.” I said blinking.
He couldn’t help laughingat that.
It wasn’t a minute since we settled down, that mumstarted her interrogation.
How did you study for Exams Aadil?” She asked, witha respect inwhichshe hardlyever speaks.
I had few sleepless nights. I worked really hard. I didn’t do anything except for study the whole year.” He said exaggerating, smilingcrookedly. Mymumwas readyto start comparingand lecturing. And he knew that.
Oh really. And I thought it was because of the freak memory genes in your body.” I whispered irritatingly.
He couldn’t help smilingat that.
Of course you did.” Mymumreplied “hard work pays.” She said givingme a hard look.
How did you do on exams?” Dr Aleko asked me inanover polite tone, her eyes stillfilled withthat suddenadmirationfor me.

I was tryingto remember how I did, whenmymumspoke for me “Whole year me and her dad were behind her. With all the effort she still barely got 87%.” “We have failed to develop her interest in studies.”

But she works really hard aunty.” Adistated, talkingto mum, ofcourse tryingto get more out ofher.
That was funto him.
Work hard?” She asked cynically“Her hard work is to sit all day long with a book in hand. And every time you go to check she will be on the same page.” “Mama.” I said surprised tryingto quiet her.
“What mama. That’s the truth.” She said firmly.
“What does she like to do?” Dr Aleko said smiling“Maybe she can do that.”
Mymumhas ananswer to everyquestion.
She likes to read novels. That’s it. I don’t know what possible career you can make out of it.”
There yougo.
Myprayer paid and the talk finallydeviated fromme.
Niya, Oliver and Olivia went to playinthat giant foamystructure withballs init.
Dr Aleko hesitated for some reasonbefore she started talking“Mrs. Mittal I really wanted to meet your mother in law. I did not know that she passed away.” Mymumlooked at her confused and so did Adiand me.
I owe her my biggest happiness.” She paused “I owe her Adi.”
What?

I used to work in Gangaram hospital at that time. Every day I delivered babies and sight of each baby pushed me further into an unending depression.” “Baby was the only thing I wanted and baby was one thing that I could never have. I had a T- shaped uterus, a rare disorder. My chances of conceiving a baby were one in million and even if conceived there was a high possibility of miscarriage.”

“That one evening I went to see Tanmay; he was with a patient in intensive care. While I was waiting outside your mother in law came over to me. Tanmay operated her husband. As she thanked me I could feel the energy her body was liberating. I could feel she was someone holy. She asked me if I needed anything. I couldn’t resist crying and I asked her, can I have a baby.” Dr Aleko’s expressions were grave and her voice thoughtful.

“She disappeared. I remember as she turned her back on me it was like God has turned his back on me. I cried my heart out that night. I didn’t go to work. As soon as
Tanmay left, there was a knock at the door.”
She sighed “It was your mother in law. She asked me few questions. And while leaving she took out a tiny box and emptied

half in a bowl, that was vibhuti, she asked me to eat it for 30 days and pray to God. She was more than sure that it will work.”
Her eyes filled withwater onthe memory“I did as I was told and waited for the miracle to happen. It happened. I got Adi soon after.” She sighed. “Mama” Adiwas about to argue, whenshe said firmly“Don’t Adi. Don’t argue with me on that. I am a gynecologist. Believe it or not it’s a miracle.” “I believe you.” Mymumswallowed, thoughtfully.
A briefsilence followed “She gave me the other half of the vibhuti.” She whispered.
Everythingbefuddled. I couldn’t make sense ofwhat theywere talking. Are these people here our mums? Whyare theynot actinglike grownups? “I have the same disorder. I couldn’t conceive either. After 30 days of ritual, I got pregnant. I had Samiya.”
Dr Aleko slightlypatted mymum’s hand.
Did she ask you questions before giving vibhuti?” She asked mum.

Yes. She asked me if I was ready to take the pain that will follow after the happiness of the motherhood.” Mumsaid clearlyrememberingeachword ofit “She asked me if I understood the meaning of leaving the body at one’s own wish. And the last thing was if my baby could do that, will I be okay with that.” her eyes flickered to the lines onher palms. “I said yes to all of them. To me it sounded like a blessing.”

“I did too.” Adi’s mumadded, embarrassed for some reason.

 

“I didn’t try to understand the meaning of her question. I was very desperate for baby. But now I think of it all the time. Maybe they have something to do with Samiya’s sickness.” She said quietly“Samiya has asthma.” She explained to Dr Aleko.

“Yeah I believe the same. Maybe that’s the reason Adi has…” Adi’s momgot carried awayand the word HIV was inher mouthwhenI started coughing, badly. This was not the right time to tellmama about Adi.
As theymade me drink water Dr Aleko turned to mum“Mrs. Mittal you got Niya. Was it Vibhuti again?”
A shade I have never seen, passed mymum’s face.
Niya is not my biological child.” She said.
That was it. I frustrated got up to leave the table, whenshe caught myhand. “Listen Samiya” she pleaded, the paininher voice too transparent. I couldn’t walk away.
Niya is Soni’s daughter.” She explained.
Who Soni?” I asked frustrated.

Soni was your aya, Nanhe’s sister. Her husband died when Niya was in her stomach and she died giving birth to Niya. Nanhe doesn’t have any family. I offered to take care of her and then we just couldn’t give her back.”

I was stillangry, I couldn’t look at her. Niya is mine. She is mysister.
If she is not born to me that don’t mean that you are not her sister. Both of you are our daughters, both of you are equal.” She explained not lettinggo ofmyhand. “Mum you should have never told me this.” I said irritatingly, gettingrid ofher hand, walkingout onthe street.
I knew Adiwas followingme.
What?” I asked irritatinglyturningaround to look at him.
We have same birth mother, Ms vibhuti.” He said ina serious expression.
I can’t believe he was makingfunofour mum’s storyand mygrand mother. I started walkingand he caught up withme withanexceptionalease. The girls and the ladies, who stared at Adilike hungrydogs walkingpast us, were like oilto the fire. Oilto myfrustration.
What does that make us? Brother and sister?” I asked without thinking.
Idiot.” He said harshly.
I was. Shouldn’t have said that. And now he was angrytoo.
Well that explains the connection between us. You didn’t just got lucky overnight. It was the vibhuti.” He said cynically.
How funny? But that was the truth. Maybe he is right. Maybe that’s the reasonI got lucky.
Yes. You are right.” I answered thoughtfully.
What?” he was amazed “No fight?”
I shrugged.

“Silly. It’s me who got lucky. We were wrong to think that your grand mum can’t do miracles.” He whispered “She brought this cartoon to earth.” He said raisinghis hands towards me.

I can’t stayangrywithhimfor long.
Forget the Niya episode and go and apologize to your mum.” He suggested “If you won’t you’ll regret it whole summer. Trust me.” He added. He was right.
I apologized and mumforgave me quicker thanI realized.
Mumwas talkingto Olivia and Oliver, whenI saw Adiwhisperingsomethingto his mum.
Mrs Mittal.” Adi’s mumsaid politely“We are staying in Kasauli for a month. I would love to have Samiya at my place sometimes.”
Oh, so he is usinghis mumnow to hangaround withhis girlfriend.
Mymumblushed, a bit embarrassed “That will be troublesome for you. That’s totally unnecessary.”
“No please. I insist”
Dr Aleko requested.
“Okay.” mumsaid obliged “I will let heady know. That’s really kind of you.”
And before the conversationwas over our dads came back. Apparentlytheyhave had a successfultrip.
So what is your plan, for the evening?” Dad asked.
We are going to Chandigarh, I think.” Dr Rathore said eyeingAdi.
He is supposed to buy me a present for Tenth results.” He said as a courtesyto explain.
Mumlaughed “he deserves that.”
“What are your plans?”
Dr Aleko asked mum.

“Samiya has to buy some books. Then we are going back to Kasauli. We will be leaving early tomorrow.” She sighed “its season so Akshay can’t stay away from work for long.”

“Oh!” Dr Aleko sighed.
So that was it. No one was verykeenonthe idea to part especiallyme and Adi. But life isn’t fair.
Be ready in the afternoon tomorrow.” Adiswayed before disappearing.
Mumlet me buythree books. To her there were fairlylimited means bywhichshe canshow her love to me, buyingme things was one ofthem. We went to monkeypoint for a stroll, inthe evening. Onthe wayback mum’s expressionsuddenlyaltered while talkingto me. “Samiya where are your ear rings?” she asked petrified. And ina quick glance she saw myemptyfinger “Where is your ring?”

I took a deep breathbefore tellingher the story. Ofcourse I altered few details like, time ofthe day, number ofboys, and mysavior and asthma attack. And yes I became Sara in story.

 

Mama Sara and I were allowed to go to see the girl in the hospital. She was not in a good condition. She needed a good treatment. So we thought of helping her father financially.” I ended the storyina whisper.

Mumlooked at me blankly, her face balanced bythe hand onher chin, lookingback at me fromthe rear seat “ I am very proud of Sara. She did the right thing.” She finallysaid. She was not upset withme. Thank God.
Samiya that gemstone is for your well being.” She said and turned to dad “Akshay pundit ji said it’s a must for her.”
“I will call shri ram jewelers.”
He looked at me inthe rear view mirror “I’ll courier it as soon as possible. Make sure you wear it on the right finger.” I nodded obediently.
Incottage that night after dinner, dad caught me bysurprise “Samiya you are asthmatic, you should take care of yourself.”
I nodded without knowingwhat he was talking.
And don’t lie to your mother again.” He added as I was leavingfor the bedroom.
Now I know.
I embarrassed couldn’t look at himagain.
I think I canbut actuallyI can’t bluffwithhim. He is mydad, not the other wayaround. I wonder ifhe knew about Aditoo.

I layback against mypillow, strokingNiya’s face. It was completelysilent, just for the faded sound ofNiya’s breathing. I stared at her lettingmymind wander idly, expectingsleep to take me.

Awake?” a voice freaked me out, and I sat up too quicklythat myhead started spinning. It was mum. “You scared the hell out of me mama.” I said tangled. “I am sorry. I can’t sleep.” She murmured gettingcozyunder myquilt.
Me neither.” I shrugged.
Do you want some coffee?” she asked cringing. I amthe heftiest critic ofmum’s drinkinghabits, her obsessionwithtea and coffee is creepy.
I don’t think it will help in sleeping.” I suggested incase she can’t see the obvious, but her dropped features made me change mymind “we can talk. It usually helps.” She smiled inconsent, clutchingmyhand, wantingto saysomethingbut as ifthe words weren’t reachingher throat.
What is it mum?” Her behavior was worryingme.
Nothing.” She said carelessly. Thoughnot inusualcarelessness tone, she was goingoverboard; mumwas a bigtime over actor. That was second thingI acquired fromhergenetically.

okay.” I exhaled “Mama you can tell me anything, ask me anything, I am your daughter.” I reminded her incase she has forgottenthat there is nothingformalbetweenus. “Samiya about badi maa.” She broke offmid thought, her fingers movingonmyhand nervously“You are the only person I can talk to. Akshay gets irritated when I talkabout this. We are not on the same page when it comes to beliefs.”

 

I slightlynodded. I had never seenmumthat abstemious.

 

As I told this morning I got you because of badi maa.” She smiled “You know you were her favorite child. She gave people blessings but she gave herself to you. Your faith, your calmness, that’s her reflection in you. She used to say that what happens is supposed to happen. Though she knew future but she never tried to change it. All
she used to do was to give courage to people to live through it.”
She swallowed and paused “She told Akshay not to send you to boarding school; she said if you’ll once
cross that line, you’ll never come back again. Akshay does things his way, he didn’t listen to me. But once again two days before her death badi maa asked me to bring you back home. She told me to cherish every second of your presence as you were not mine to keep for long.”

I had to resist myurge to tellher that mygrandmother was roughly accurate. Myphysicalpresence has not yet diminished but mysoul, yes. It was not mymum’s anymore. Mumwas stillquiet fightingfor words. I don’t know whichwaythis conversationwas heading.
So?” I asked slowly.
It took her a minute. “So are you planning to do your college in India or America?” I was captivated bya suddenshock but mumcontinued “I can convince Akshay. We willbe happy to arrange everything if you clear your MCAT Exam.”

I couldn’t bringmyselfto senses; a part ofme knew what she was talkingabout.

 

“Oh Samiya.” She sighed “You think I don’t know about you and Adi.” “I knew that something was going on after that letter I received from you. Don’t fight with Niya but I forced the truth out of her.”

 

I couldn’t speak.

 

I won’t lie; I was very upset with you and was finally planning to take you back. I was worried that some guy is just trying to use you. And I know you are stupid enough…But seeing Adi.” She hesitated “He is something. He is the sort of person who deserves my girl.” she said strokingmyblood red cheek.

I finallyspoke, words flowingout ina rush“ Its nothing serious mom. We like each other. Its not that we are getting married or something.” I was about to saythat its twenty first centurymumbut she interrupted too assertively“I don’t know him but I know you Samiya. You are way beyond the word ‘serious’. I hope he turns out what he seems.” She sighed and thenher voice was serious “Why did you grow up so quickly?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question. “ She kissed mycheek and left.
I fallback onbed, twistinginto comfortable position, lettingthe anxietycrawlout ofme. It was a longday.

Before I could know it was morning. We checked out ofthe cottage resort and went back to school. Dad signed the permissionslip and despite myreluctance left twentythousand rupees withMs Renufor mypocket moneyinthe vacations.

It’s good to have some money in your pocket when you are going out.” He emphasized. Some moneyand twentythousand rupees is not the same concept to me. Mumhugged me tightlyfor a minute, thenshe got onthe car and theywere gone.

I mopped around inanalmost emptyschoolbefore goingto dorm. I was to stayhere alone everynight for next thirtynights. It was okaynow withthe sunlight flowingthroughthe window, but I wondered how scarythe nights would be?

I studied for anhour or so and thenwas goingto the library. Adiwas comingdownthe stairs “ Ready?” he asked cautiously, sensingthat I wasn’t. “Hi.” I said leaningtowards him, humorously.
Hi.” He replied smilingcarefullypushingme away, withhis hands onmyshoulders “Are you ready?” he repeated carefullyagain, steadyingme. “Where are you taking me?”
“We will have lunch at my place and then I am taking you to show dad’s lab.”
He said fixingthe lose strands ofmyhair.
Adi’s place. Not sucha good idea.
Can we jump on to the second part? I am not very hungry.”
“Oh trust me you’ll be. At the smell of the Indian food dad is cooking.”
He announced derisively.
I found myselflaughing.
Are you sure?”
Not really.” He said and took a step forward, withanexceptionalease he put me onhis shoulder.
Despite the reluctance he carried me to the dormand placed me onthe floor circumspectly.
Be quick.” He ordered.
His blue polo shirt was complementingthe blue ofhis eyes. He looked strikingas always.
You can come in, there is no one inside.” I said ina low voice.
He has the talent to sense mymoods. And right now I was actinga bit flirtatiously.
No I am fine here.” He said witha slight mischievous smile.
I took mytime gettingdressed. I wore a Capriand one ofthe shirts I bought yesterday.
Let’s go.” I said walkingout ofthe dorm.
And we walked to the parkinglot. I was not concentratingonthe steps because apparentlyit was hard to take eyes offthe personwalkingnext to me. Mysub consciousness was unexpectedlydisturbed bya double chirp sound, Adipressed the buttononthe car key. Myeyes ontheir ownmoved to track the directionofhis stare. Inmiddle ofa few acres ofbarrenland, our so called parkinglot a car stood that left me as breathless as Adileft me the first time I saw him.
WhenI found mybreath, I looked back at him, this time speechless.
Dad’s present.” He said mutely, smilingshyly.
I nodded slightly.
Swallowed. Stillcouldn’t speak.
It’s a BMW M6 Convertible.” He answered as a courtesyto myunasked question.
It took few seconds to find myvoice.
Blue?” I asked blankly. Blue is the color whichyousee next to never, insuchluxurious cars.
He looked at me confused.
You said it was your favorite color.”
Oh. Whenhe asked me I was unable to forma coherent answer lookinginto his blue eyes, and yes blue was my favorite color inthat moment. Whenthe pleasant shock settled, I asked puzzled “Who is driving?”
Driver can’t fit inthat car withme and himat the same time and as a matter offact I couldn’t see anypersonother thanAditillmyeyes reach.
He looked back at me expressionlessly, and raised his hands towards himself. He meant he was driving.
“Oh please. You are not. What made you think I will sit in the car driven by you?”
I asked mordantly.
“I drive all the time.” He said inamazed irritation.
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t sit with people who don’t have a driver’s license.” I announced, pleased to get a reasonnot to go to his place.
“Really?” he said, huntingfor his wallet inhis back pocket “Why don’t you provide me your instruction manual. That way I’ll know your operating system better.” I had to tryhard not to laughat that.
“Here.” He said puttingsomethinglike anID card onmyhand.
It was his driver’s license.
You are 17?” I asked like a pure idiot dazzled byhis picture onthe card.
I have links.” He said. And the card disappeared frommypalm.
Are you getting on the car on your own or you want some help?” he asked conceited.
I walked around and got inthe car obediently, scared.
I don’t know how he was driving, because to me the street was invisible, I was halfsunkeninto the soft leather seat.

As we passed the schoolgates, I found a convenient angle to look at his beautifulface and the greeneryaround at the same time. I had never beeninanopencar. It felt so nice and airy, like I was ona bicycle.

I tried to suppress a grin. He willprobablythrow me out ifhe knows that I amcomparinghis Crore Rupees car to a cycle.
You are being spoiled.” I murmured acerbiclywhenhe caught me staring.
He smiled.
Being spoiled for a good cause doesn’t count.” He replied indiscreetly. “Give me the honor of spoiling you this summer.”
“Don’t you think I have spoiled myself enough already?”
I asked more to himselfthanto him. Since AdiI was a changed person.
You are opposite of spoiled.” He said engrossed “Actually hold on to that thought, and open the toolbox.” He said.
This” I asked leaningforward to openthe box.
Yes” he said mutely. As I opened, he said “take out this bag.” I grabbed the paper bagand closed the toolbox.
Look inside.” He instructed.
I leaned back gettingcomfortable inmyprevious positionremovingmythongs, crossingthe legs onthe seat.
There were two smallcardboard boxes inside, I didn’t touchthemand moved mystare back to Adi.
He took a quick glance “It’s not a gift. Trust me. Open it.” He requested, readingmymind.
I hesitantlytook out the boxand opened it sluggishlyto see a greengemengraved ina gold band sittinggloriouslyinit. It was myring.
Adi.” I looked at himconfused. “I bought it from Babu.” He confessed.
When? Did you go to see him?”
“Yes.”
He said quietly“I took mum with me. She did a quick check up on Pihu. She is better now and conscious.”
I was overwhelmed, the ringdidn’t matter but his goingback to check onPihudid. “Thanks.” I whispered.
You are welcome Jaan.” He said and I blushed, momentarilyunder a spell.
Feel the ring.” He requested.
Despite the confusion, I took out the ringfeelingit withmyfinger tips.
There were tinycavities onthe other side ofthe band, whichweren’t there initially.
It’s engraved.” I said mystified turningaround to see what it said.
To destiny” it said.
Myeyes got stuck onthe two tinywords.
Napoleon presented a gold medallion to Josephine with these words inscribed on it.” He said.
I know.” I alleged stillabsorbingthe meaningofthe engraving.

I don’t know what those words meant to Josephine to me theywere more meaningfulthananythingelse. I was destiny ofthis beautifulangelsittingnext to me. What good did I do inlast life to be fate ofa personlike himself.

I wore it vigilantlyonthe fourthfinger ofmyleft hand, whose veinis believed to be directlyconnected to heart.
It’s a part of my heart now.” I spoke withutter honesty.
I told you.” He affirmed, misunderstandingmylove as generosity“You are opposite of spoiled.” He was thoughtful“You are the cleanest thing in creation.” His unusualremarks make me uncomfortable and worthyat the same time. Inmyworld onlyAdihas the abilityto do that to me.

Inmyownmaze ofthoughts, I didn’t realize that we have come to a stop. WhenI looked at hima gentle angel’s smile lit his expression“Home” he said pleased muchmore than expected.

Ina quick second he was onthe other side holdingthe door openfor me. I got down, myattentioncaught bythe house that was sittingonmaybe the highest peaks inKasauli. The exteriors ofthe house focused onthe naturalelements ofits surroundings. I could see the jungles restingspectacularlyinthe valleydownthere. I could smellwater, there was a river flowingsomewhere innear proximity. It was a double storeyhouse, withanelegant mountainhouse touchwithbranches oflushgreentrees holdingit gracefully. I followed Adi nervously.

You met them yesterday. They won’t kill you.” He whispered inmyear “You can breathe.”
I wishI could.

I was not good withpeople, I wasn’t taught how to behave inpresence ofadults, how to behave whenyougo to someone’s place. LivinginPinegrove allmylife I was more ofan uncivilized aboriginal. Just one clumsymistake whichI was trulytryingto avoid witheverystep and that would be it. I would rather be happywithhis familynot knowingme at all thanbeingdisliked. I meanI looked at those sixyear olds yesterday, the twins. Theyare muchmore civilized thanI am.

A glass bridge welcomed us over a water feature and into the home; we were inthe livingarea. It was huge, it was spacious. I don’t know what style was it, because it was sort of

 

unique and incomparable. Colombianstone floors and the decks onthe other end ofthe house visible througha glass wallwhichwas so transparent that I willcategorize it as

 

invisible. Onthe perpendicular side ofthat wallthe livingarea offered animpressive view overlookingthe patio and anedge poolto the expansive valleybelow. Two pillars stood betweenthe livingarea forminga separate socialarea accented bystout wood beams, stone floors and a customfireplace. The detailed stone walls gave it a verycozylook.

You like it?” Adiasked dwellingoneachword warily.
This is your holiday home.” I stated, and thenveryquicklyaltered the informationmakingit sound more unbelievable “This is not even your real home?” He stared back confused “Yeah. I guess so.”
I looked at his face waitingfor more to come.

“What? Does your mother produce gold babies? Or is it your dad fixing gems in people’s hearts.” I asked momentarilybelievingthat it could be a possibility. People get gold teethallthe time.

 

The color ofhis face evaporated.

He fretfullyleaned closer and said cautiously“ My parents have hearing abilities similar to mine.”
Shock held me so sturdilythat I was literallycaptivated byit. That kind ofmistake, I wasn’t expecting. And that kind ofmistake onlyI was capable ofmaking.

I was readyto turnaround and runout whenhis hand caught mine, losingthat grave mask onhis face, laughing. “I am kidding” he said. I agitated punched himtwice inhis chest withpure intentions ofnot hittinghimhardly.

He was stilllaughingwhena male voice came fromthe other end ofthe narrow cave like passage “ Adi” the voice confirmed.
Yes dad” Adianswered snickering.
Come.” He walked me throughthe cave holdingmyhand.

Onthe other end ofthe cave was one hellofa kitchen. Whywould doctors need a professionalcookingplace? I was really scared to think anything, and was singing some silly Britney spear song in my brains to cover up any thinking processes, who knows, Rathores can possibly turn out to be mind readers. The adjacent diningarea also opened up onto the deck creatinga unique indoor/outdoor atmosphere. Onthe TV screenofthe fridge a familiar Indiancook was teachinghow muchliters ofwater is needed to make doughfromhalfkgflour. Gross. I thought that was commonsense.

Hi kids.” Dr Rathore ina huge chef’s apronhalfcovered inflour became visible fromthe pantry.
Hello Uncle.” I said timidly.
I was making Indian for you” He announced pleased. “And me.” he added whenAdigave a sardonic cough.

We live on pasta 300 days an year.” He said leaningcloser “Ethalia can’t cook Indian.” He explained withhis hand onhis lips, as ifthat was somethingthat theyweren’t allowed to talk about.

Talking about me?” the familiar polite maternalvoice, came closer to us.
Dr Aleko.

She hugged me before I had a chance to greet her and pulled back, but her eyes didn’t leave myface “Its so nice to have you.” She said. I could tellit wasn’t just a courtesy, she meant what she said.

Thanks for having me over.” I said doubtfully, unaware ifwe saythat sentence at beginningor end ofthe meeting.
Our pleasure.” She replied slightlysmiling. Thank God, I got that right.
Make yourself comfortable.” She said offeringme a kitchenstool, makingher waytowards the refrigerator.

As she fiddled withthe bottle oflemonade Adipicked me up slightlyand put me inthe chair. I pushed himback hesitantly. “That’s new.” He smiled. Thank god his parents weren’t watching.

Ethalia can you tell me if salt is okay.” Dr Rathore said holdinga spoonofcurryto Adi’s mum.
She looked amazed “What made you think I’ll eat that?” she said poringlemonade into glasses.

Dr Rathore put the spooninto his mouth, and there was this serene happiness a peace onhis face oneatingthat “You are turning your back on the best kadahi paneer, ever cooked.” His eyes partiallyclosed.

That’s what he said last time and I was sick for a week because of the spices he used.” She said offeringme the glass oflemonade.
I took it tentatively.

I will prefer slashing my wrist than eat that.” she said lookingat Dr Rathore, her hand onher waist and another one onthe shelf. That’s mymum’s favorite posture, I suddenly realized.

Hope you enjoy your sandwiches.” He said ina firmdiscontented tone.
Adiwas smilingselfconsciously.
Mum I will show Samiya around.” He announced helpingme out ofthe chair.
Sure. Go ahead.” She said over politely.
I was wonderingwhat to do withthe glass oflemonade inmyhand whenhis mumadded “You can carry that with you if you want to.”
Thanks.” I said inaudiblyfollowingAdi.

Across the livingarea, there was a wellstocked library. He gave me time to browse the collection. Mostlytheywere medicaljournals, witha smallpile ofcontemporaryauthors stacked ina trivialcorner.

 

He stood behind me, his arms across mywaist, his lips brushingmyhair whenhe whispered as ifreadingmythoughts “We can redo the library according to your taste.” That was muchmore thanI canask for. I was reticent inanunlike manner. Myfinger onits ownwas tracingthe rimofa frame. It was some sort ofcertificate. WithAadil’s name onit.

What’s this?” I asked distracted overwhelmed byhis previous statement.
He let me lose, cleared his throat and expatiated softly“What does it say?” facingme.
United States Medical License.” I read throughit huntingfor heavywords.
And thenI let it sink in. “Please don’t tell me that you have a degree in medicine.” I said too baffled.
He exhaled. “I didn’t go to medical school. But” Ohplease. No buts. I don’t like buts. Theymake Adimore impossible for me. “But” he repeated timidly“I have cleared theUnited States Medical License Examination. I am equivalent to a surgeon.”

I was gettingquick inabsorbingshocks.
That explains your knowledge of injections.” I said mutelytalkingto myself.
Why are you here then?” I asked confused.
Dad wants me to do it the traditional way.” He said quietly.
Ohgreat.
I struggled to readjust mymind walkingbesides him. He was chucklingquietly.
So you just pretend studying, when you actually know everything?” I asked tryingto make sense ofthe confusingcontext.
I don’t pretend. I study.” He said as ifit was obvious.
Over and over again?” I asked anxiously. That was creepy.
There is so much to study. I can read one book each day of my life, and I won’t be done when I die.” He explained walkingme out ofthe library.

A huge painting, well not actually painting, a huge white canvas withthree strokes ofblue and red paints occupied the entire wallofthe subwayleadingto second halfofthe house.

No matter how hard I tried to runmyimaginationwild, makingsense ofthe art init, I found it totalcrap.
Is it from a famous artist?” I asked clearingmythroat and tryingto keep the humor out ofit.
Yeah” He spoke ina lower voice “It’s a masterpiece. One of its own. Do you know why it is unique?”

I looked back blankly“ It’s the same blue and red paint which Leonardo Da Vinci used in one of his greatest paintings, The Madonna Litta. Leonardo’s pupil Boltraffio used the remaining paints to sketch this. This has been passed from Alexander 2 of Russia to Hermitage Museum from where dad bought it in auction and we got it transferred from wood to canvas.”

I looked back surprised, suddenlymywhole view shifted. The work looked marvelous and timeless and the strokes magnificent.
It’s beautiful.” I sighed, contemplating, whenhe broke laughing.
What?” I asked confused.

With all that history crap, now you like it. What’s there to like in it? I cleaned my brushes on it and threw it into storeroom. Mum thought plain white canvas looked good on this wall, so she hung it here.” He was stilllaughing“I can’t believe you bought that.”

I kicked him, too embarrassed.
Olivia and Oliver’s room.” He said walkingme inside the door crafted like a tree withbranches runningallover the wall, stillsnickering.
I ignored him.
A pop ofpink and a tint ofblue were marvelouslyblended to give the kid’s rooma boy-girllook.
The low beds the tinyindoor escapes laymuddled but I guess it was their exquisiteness that despite ofmakingthemlook uglymade themcute. “Where are the kids?” I asked ponderingthe room.
On roof, playing.”
“Oh”

The pictures inanimalframes ona dolltable caught myattention.
I picked one ofthe frames for a closer analysis. The twins were infants inthat picture, tugged inseparate cots inhospitalbed maybe.

This was taken in the orphanage from where they were adopted.” He said not payingattentionto the pic.
Mum was brought up in the same orphanage.”
I looked back expressionlesslybut he obviouslycandissect myanymood.
Mum lost her parents in an accident when she was 10” he answered, clearingmydoubtfulthoughts “She had no relatives so was sent to orphanage.”

Oh” I sighed, lost.

 

WhenOlivia flew fromthe openend ofthe door, rubbingthroughmylegs chased byOliver and disappearing, I got imbalanced and despite the immense effort the glass oflemonade dropped onto the floor followed bythe picture frame. Bothofthemtouched the ground and scattered to pieces witha horrible sound.

It got me too worried and before I could get onmyknees to cleanit up Adicaught me.
Leave it.” He said, his eyes towards the door, lookingfor someone to cleanup maybe.

But I used allmyeffort to bow downas far as I could to start collectingthe glass pieces. “ Leave it. The housekeeper will clean it up.” He ordered takingthe pieces that I managed to pick. Inmylittle reluctance a glass piece cut throughhis finger and blood started simmeringout ofthe cut. I almost fainted at sight ofit, the glass pieces dropped to the floor as myhands moved towards him. He aggressivelytook a step backward “Get out of here.” he said ina firmtone. I couldn’t impede myselffrommovingnearer to him, he was bleeding, he was inpain, because ofme.

Stay away from me Samiya.” This time he said harshlydwellingangrilyoneachword. I looked back confused.

 

His mumcame to anabrupt stop, near the mess that I have created. She was analyzingthe situation, whenAdiordered “Mama take Samiya out of here.” holdinghis bleeding hand, protectingthe blood fromdroppingonthe floor.

You are bleeding.” She stated worriedly.
I’ll take care of it. Can you please take Samiya away?” He said for the hundredthtime, reallypissed.
As she turned to look at me, I hesitantlywalked out ofthe room.
She called for the house maid to cleanup and left Adia first aid box, to walk me up to the end roomofthe corridor.
I too embarrassed couldn’t speak anything. AllI wanted was to leave right now.
I am sorry aunty.” I said mutely.

She smiled before I could complete myapology, caressingmyhand “Please don’t be. It’s not your fault. Olivia and Oliver are very naughty. With them around we always keep our first aid kit ready.”

I smiled back hesitantly.
This is Adi’s room.” She informed me openingthe pale white door hiddeninone corner ofthe semisphericalcorridor.

The roomwas lit withthe naturallight flowingsomewhere throughallthe greenonthe other side ofthe walls made ofglass. A plane white bed was restingonthe corner touchingthe glass overlookingthe forest. Books were scattered onthe soft cottonthrow inthe middle ofthe room. A smallcubicle onthe other end had a sleek table and a transparent ergonomic chair withImac onthe top. The cubicle had few shelves occupied bysome more books. Other thanthat the roomwas clear ina sophisticated way. And this sophisticationwas veryinviting, to me.

Dr Aleko pulled out a bed like couchfromunder the bed, offeringme seat. I sat diffidently, contemplatinga hand drawnpicture ofsomeone similar to me ina pale white frame on the wall. It was undersigned byAdi. “That’s you.” Dr Aleko interrupted mythoughts, pickingup the remote pullingout another couch.

I looked awaytimidlybut she kept lookingat the frame. “ The very first time I came to know that Adi can see future, I was totally freaked out.” She said turningto me. “How did you find out?” I asked curiously.
He just started walking and he was all over the place calling out ‘ranger’. I couldn’t understand what he was asking for. He was so obsessed with it that he kept crying

all day and I didn’t know what to do. Next day Tanmay’s friend gave us his pet dog’s puppy as a present. They named him ‘ranger’” She sighed “Obviously Aadil was

very young to differentiate between a dream and reality but Tanmay figured out, that he was seeing future in his dreams. With Adi, there were many little instances that used to make me worried. For first few years after his birth almost every day I found out something about him.” Her face was grave “It’s a horrible feeling when you realize that your baby is not normal in any way.”

“Weren’t you prepared for the changes beforehand?” I asked dubiously.

 

“No not at all. I was told that he will have better senses not that he will recite chapters from my gynecology books in spite of the nursery rhymes.” She smiled half heartedly“Aadil was a self persistent child, he never needed me around. He deprived me of all the things a mother does for child.”

 

A strange feelingofpityoverwhelmed me.

 

She read the peculiar expressioninmyeyes and altered the subject instantly“Since you he is a changed person. For the first time I feel his presence around, he is not locked in his room with books all the time now. He smiles and talks.” She smiled wryly“I wonder if you have hypnotized him?”

 

I beamed shyly“That’s his department.”

Did he do that to you?” she guessed, astonished.
I have lost count of how many people have become victims to his hypnotizing ability.” I revealed “He almost proved me mad.”
Did he?” she asked obviouslyamused.
His innate gifts are very harmful for people living around him.”

“That’s not in genes” she interrupted too quickly“His natural insaneness is not enough for him so he reads all these books to learn this weird stuff. And amazingly it works.”
“It didn’t work on me.”
I smiled back proudly.

 

“Really?”
“I forget my words when I look into her eyes. It’s not that she has some special immunity.”
Adiappeared leaningagainst the door, his finger wrapped ina bandage, eatinga brownnut bar, talkingto his mum.

“These are all reasons. She is special.” Her momsmiled prudently, eyeingAdi.
He looked back obliquely“If you say so.”
Their little conversationwas makingme veryuncomfortable withallthe blood inmyveins now poolingup inmycheeks.
This is yummy mom.” Adisaid wavingthe chocolate bar inhis hand “make more of these.”
“Did you pick it up from the refrigerator?”
her mumasked panicked for some reason.
Yeah.” He said confused, his eyes scanningthe bar.
Adi that is the last one. I saved it for Samiya.” She said disgusted.
Okay. I am sorry.” He said nervously.
No. Give it to Samiya. I will make you more, later.” She ordered, genuinely.
She will have it next time.” He said plainly. I couldn’t believe myears, he was not readyto share his chocolate, and Adiactinglike a kid was verynew to me. His mother was quiet for a second.
Give it to her Adi.” She ordered ina muchharshtone, whichoddlyenoughdidn’t suit her verywell.
He didn’t move.
I can’t deemthat theywere takingsomethingso stupid to this level.
That’s fine aunty. I will have it next time.” I alleged ina requestingmode. I couldn’t handle lettingthese two extremelycalmpeople lose temper for me. “Adi are you giving her it to her or not?” she didn’t evenflincha little at mywords.
Mum please.” Adisighed.

She was onher feet too quickly; I mechanicallystood up behind her. Her face was burningred “ This is not going to work Aadil.” She paused to groan“What were you saying to your dad yesterday?” she asked harshly, louder for her usualtone “You want to go to same college with her” “I strongly suggest that you change your attitude if you want to see yourself with her in future.” She exhaled “What do you think? Touching you, your blood or either your saliva will kill her. Educate yourself. If you will keep protecting her from yourself for all these wrong reasons, you will lose her. And seeing you lately I doubt if you’ll be able to take it” Her voice turned into a painfulwhisper as she walked out ofthe room, closingthe door behind her.

I sat onthe bed blankly, staringat Adi. As his mother’s words sank everythingstarted makingsense. His not lettingme touchhim, the blood onhis finger, not sharingsomethingthat is eatenbyhim.

 

His mother was right; we can’t staytogether ifallhe has onhis mind is to keep me awayfromhim. Adi’s behavior was so resentfulthat it was hurtingme. Where could I possibly start resolvingthings whenhe is sucha huge illiterate?

 

He stood there stilllike a pillar oglingback.

 

Mygaze dropped to the floor, as mymind went blank. He ambled towards me hesitantlyand kneeled downinfront ofme. Pulled up mychina little “Are you angry with me?” his soft voice imbalanced myirate mood.

What do you expect?” I asked maintaininganysanityleft.
I am sorry.” He whispered crawlingcloser. He was right there, his face so close to mine. ThoughI wanted to shout but his beautyas usualstunned mymind. The exotic fragrance that came fromsomewhere inside his throat as he breathed turned muchstronger whenhe started speaking“Please forgive me.”

I pulled a little closer as he spoke, ina wild second I tasted his bottomlip dizzilyand flinched back onthe suddenrealizationofmyact, too embarrassed. And I let myhair falland cover myface so that he can’t see me. As mysluggishbreathingtook a new pace, he stopped breathingat all. After few seconds I looked up timidlyto check onhim, he was still too close. His lips deep red, his eyes eager. He raised his hand and confused tugged myhair behind myear. There was a hesitationinhis act but I could feelthat eagerness has defeated him.

And thentoo slowlyhis cold crimsonlips pressed verysoftlyagainst mine.
His lips gentlylingered onmine. Theyweren’t prepared for myreactionand I guess neither was I.

Blood boiled under myskin, burned inmylips. Mybreathcame ina wild gasp. Myfingers knotted inhis hair, clutchinghimto me. As I fallback onthe bed, his bodybalanced on me. Comfort or no comfort mylips weren’t readyto leave his. I was fightingfor breaths whenhe finallypulled back, leavingme wantingmore.

Are you okay?” he said readjustingme onthe soft mattress, havinga closer look ofmyneck. Checkingonmyinhalation.
No.” I answered playfully.
He smiled cutely, readingmythoughts “Didn’t it satisfy your appetite?” he asked inreference to the statement that I want to eat him.
Nope. It made me even hungrier.” I muttered honestly.
His marvelous bodywas partiallyover mine, his hand fiddlingwiththe lose end ofmyhair. “Not more than me.” He said softlynot concentratingonmywords. “You can’t tell how much I want you.” I objected.

But I can tell how much I want you.” He sniffed myhair “When I touch you, I want to touch your soul. I want ‘us’ to be one. I want you in ways more than a man can want any woman.” His armcreated aninescapable snare around mywaist “and then I know that’s impossible which make me want you even more.”

“You don’t have to think about all these possibilities and impossibilities. I am here. I am yours. You can do whatever you want to.” I said innocently“You can’t hurt me.” “I wish I couldn’t” he said his cold finger tracingmycollar bone.
“If I get HIV will we be equal then?” I asked artlessly.
He obviouslyscowled and pulled back quicklymovingawayonthe pillow, leavingmywaist “Don’t ever say that word again” he ordered firmly.

I hesitantlymoved closer and pressed myhead onhis chest, scared ofhim. And he couldn’t resist forgivingme for long, his arms wrapped onmybodyprotectingly. As we laythere unspokenI was countingonthe ways bywhichI canget HIV. I desperatelywanted that virus inmybodynow that I knew that Adiwanted me but it was just that little difference betweenhimand me whichwas pullinghimback frombecoming‘us’.

What was your mum saying about the college thing?” that occurred to me belatedly.

 

Dad was asking which medical school I am planning to go.” He said watchingme, as I turned to rest mychinonhis chest and contemplate his attractive features. “I said it depends on where Samiya gets admission.”

I was quiet thinkingit over “What if I don’t make it anywhere?” I spoke out mydoubts.
Good question.” That got himthinking. He finallyspoke seriouslyconsideringallthe aspects “Dad knows people. He can get you a place in India and in America, whereveryou want.” “But” he added “that’s the last card, I think you will make it on your own.”
“Good”
I sighed distracted, restingmyhead onhis chest again.
He sensed myswiftlyapprehensive frame ofmind.
Samiya, I always think of this other life we would have had, if things were not wrong.”
“What do you think?”
I asked inaudibly.

“Of me not doing the studies in a traditional way. Asking you from your parents, so I have every right on your life. And then letting you chose your own way. Living in these mountains, in this house maybe. Me working at clinic and you cooking at home.” “If you want to.” He added smirking.

 

“What else?” I asked, tempted to know more.

 

“Having babies. Genetically engineered babies to give them black skin.” He said laughing, I pushed myface inhis chest too embarrassed, he was throwingback myfantasies onme.

What life we will have now?” I couldn’t resist asking.
He sighed.
I will go to college with you.”
“And then.”
I had to ask whenhe paused.

“And then I will work where you work. I will be around until you want me to.”
“Do you think my parents will let me live on my own. You have seen how conservative they are. What if they want me to get married.”
I pushed over for argument sake. But he got serious about it.
I will get out of way, if you will want to get married.” He said remorse too clear inhis calmvoice.
How will you get out of way? Move place? This is what you call getting out of way?”
“I will figure something out.”
He said mutely.
“So you will just disappear? You won’t be worried what happens to me after you leave?”
“I didn’t say that. I will always be watching you without you knowing.”
He said too sincerely.

“Oh so you will see me getting married to someone else. To Ian or to Sid.” I paused, too upset, findingways to hurt him“Actually you know what I have decided; I will get married to Sid.”

He growled.
I know of another way” his lips pressed severely“I will make your parents forget that they have a young unmarried daughter.”
Hypnotize them. Great. That answer reallyticked me off.
Why don’t you hypnotize me and make me forget you. Things would be much simpler.” I said harshly.
I thought over mywords and got scared onrealizingwhat he would have heard inthem.
I tried, that didn’t work. When I look into your eyes, it’s me who loses mind.” He expatiated cautiously.
We were quiet for a while.

Mystomachgrowled involuntarily, whenhe got up swiftlyto get downonhis feet “Lunch time.” He said offeringme his hand to get up. I got up leisurelyand grabbed the chocolate bar sittingonthe couch. “Say sorry to your mum” I ordered fixingmyhair lookinginthe mirror.

He besieged wrapped his arms around mywaist and kissed myear slightly“ Sorry mama.” He said cutely.
Thoughdazzled I turned too quicklyonone toe and brushed mylips onhis lips slightly“Its okay beta.” I murmured before pullingmyselfawaywalkingout ofthe door. Now I knew how to astound him.
He caught up withme “That was not fair.” He said mutelyinhis honeysoft voice.
Everything is fair in love and war, honey.” I muttered crookedlymimickingMs Anjali.

His parents were alreadysettingup the diningtable. Dr Aleko gave a hesitant smile whenshe saw me eatingthe chocolate. I smiled back.
I incessantlyprovided anypossible help as a generalcourtesy, despite no need ofmyhelp.
I have made Chaat for you in the starters.” Her mumannounced energized “Adi told me you like it.”
“I love it.”
I answered diffidently.
Thougha little embarrassed I couldn’t resist gettingmyselfa second refill, it was the second best thingI have ever tasted inlife. First were Adi’s lips. “When I die feed pundits chaat on my barsi and shradh. That will make my soul content.” I whispered inAdi’s ear, without givingmuchofa thought about what I was saying. He couldn’t resist laughing, “Cartoon.” He said to himself.
And thenadded reflectingonmyprevious statement, spectatingmyinvolvement withthe dish“Make sure you eat chaat on my shradh. That will make my soul content.” I scowled. I didn’t like the talk ofhim leaving me inanyway.
And thenhis face was abruptlyserious.
The mainmealwas a funnycombination. We had Indianfood served withPizzas.
I took a bit ofeverythingfor courtesysake.
So where are you kids going?” Dr Tanmayasked Adioffhandedly.
To the research lab.” He chided withanartificialcough.

His mumgroaned “ Aren’t there any other better places to hang around.”
That statement confused himfor a second, he ogled me endearingly“Do you want to do something else?”

No. Research lab sounds fun.” I lied, not meetinghis gaze for more thana second. I genuinelywanted to show enthusiasmabout whatever he likes to do withhis free time and mine.

Good.” He turned around smiling“So mum we will be downstairs.”
I looked at himconfused.
The lab is in the basement.” He said consciously. Wow. He tricked me into that one.
After lunchhe walked me wrylyto the basement throughthe stairs, whichno outsider canever know exist, as their entrance layhiddensomewhere inthe kitchengarden.

The motionsensor lights lit ahead ofus as we walked, as ifwe were chasingthem. The corridor ended to semitransparent glass doors. Adiput his palmonthe LCD screenonthe wall, a greenilluminationscanned his hand and the doors slide to let us in.

Secret doorsss” I said crookedlysingingmywords.
He laughed aloud, rollinghis eyes “We have it secure because of Olivia and Oliver. Its not that we are making Hulk here.” he said laughing. “They made ‘you’ in one of these labs.” I joked.
“Very true.” He agreed smiling.

I was captivated bysurprise whena whole cityfellinto lights infront ofme. The lab was massive, it was separated into compartments and eachofthemhad their names hangingat their doors.

 

We started the tour withDr Rathore’s clinic. The devices were marvelous and muchmore advanced thanI could have imagined. There was a huge range ofverycontemporary laboratoryequipment. I heard Adi’s heart beat patent and loud bymeans other thanstethoscope as he generallyhears mine.

This is mum’s clinic.” He informed openingdoor to the last cubicle.
What is this?” I asked touchingdelicatelyagainst huge complicated equipment withscreenand allsorts ofwires hanging.
It’s an ultrasonography machine” he announced without muchattentiontowards me, pullingaside the curtains hanginginmiddle ofthe room.
What’s this?” I asked contemplatingthe boxlike storage device put inone ofthe shelves. “It’s a nitrogen cylinder.” He answered distracted fixinga slide under the microscope. “What’s it used for?”
“It’s used in the process of Oocytes cryopreservation.”
“What’s that?”
I asked impulsively.
He finallylooked up fromthe eye piece “Question mark.” He said smiling.
I thought we were here for my tour not for your entertainment.” I insisted.

Yeah. Thanks for reminding me.” he murmured suppressinga grin“So where were we.” “Yes. Oocytes cryopreservation is the process of extracting and freezing women’s eggs.”

I looked back amazed “ can that happen in real?”
“Anything you can think of.. can happen in real.”

Our gazes locked for a moment; his deep blue eyes looked suddenlymischievous. Despite his brilliant mind or his incomparable face or his glorious bodyI guess we were working onthe same frequencyinthat moment. He was havingthe same thoughts as mine.

What are you thinking?” he gave me anopportunityto speak first.
I started undecidedly“I was wondering can we freeze my eggs? Just for fun?”
It’s a long process. Its not like freezing hen’s eggs” he said sarcastically“and it will be painful, we will have to give you few hormone injections.”Do you think taking injections is painful for me?” I asked manifestly.
He nodded as if‘yes’.
“Oh please. I have gained perfection in that ‘one’ area.”
I revealed confidently.
Thoughnot onthe same page but he finallychose to went alongwiththat.

“It’s a two week process. We will have to give you ten days worth of hormone injections to stimulate your egg production. And then after ten days we will have to take
the measurement, do the blood tests and count the number of eggs.”
He sighed “And then a medication trigger ovulation is given and the eggs will be removed from the

body using an ultrasound guided needle through the vagina, under sedation. And then we will have to freeze the eggs immediately which will be my job.” I looked back amazed yet pleased “Do you know how to do all that?”
Yeah I do” he said raisinghis brows as ifthat is somethingobvious.
So let’s do it doc.” I said readinghis sundryexpression“I am not scared.”

“Well I am” he replied too quickly, leaningawayfromme. He gave me allthe crap onhurtingme withsyringe, sedatingme and this and that. But Allinalldespite argument and stuff, I won.

 

I won’t lie, it didn’t hurt evena little whenhe pressed the syringe throughmyskin, maybe because ofthe measures he took withchoosingsyringe and strappingmyarmor because ofthe distractionofsugar he shoved inmymouth.

 

What does eggs look like? Are they white in color with babies inside them?” I asked as he washed his hands at the sink.

 

He glared back blanklyand after a longpause spoke relenting“No human chicks need male sperm to hatch and no they are not white and they are invisible to human eye.” He explained.

Oh” I sighed.
I can’t believe they have been teaching you reproductive system for almost a decade.” he said wondering.
I looked back confused, unable to figure whyhe said that.
And too swiftlyhe added smiling“Promise me you will ‘never’ ‘ever’ go near to a hospital for the purposes of health services.”
He was confusingme “Not that I’ll want to.” I said shrugging.
He couldn’t stop smilingdoing his doctor stuff.
The wayhe was actinginthere, like a grownup or a doctor maybe reallyturned me on, ifthat’s what theysayit.
What?” he asked oblivious ofthe amount oftime I have beenstaringat him.
All of a sudden you are too hot to me. I think it’s the hormone injection you gave me.” I said pressingmylips, makinga vaguelystaid face. He laughed aloud.

First of all, these hormones have nothing to do with sex drive and secondly even if they do they won’t start working instantly.” He turned allmordant “So girl you better keep your eyes off me.” “Okay?” he asked smirking.

I couldn’t answer; as I was too busylaughing.
The phone onthe side wallrang.
Yes mum!” Adisaid smirking.
And thenhe paused “Won’t be long.”

Mum is calling us upstairs.” He smiled “Babu is here. I forgot to tell you this morning mum has employed him as a caretaker to this house. He will move in with Pihu once she is discharged.”

I amnot sure how exactlyto thank himenoughfor doingthat, I was incrediblyhappy. “ Thank you so very much.” I murmured.
Save it” he twittered “because I have something else. I am taking you for a drive tomorrow and was planning that we will stop by to see Pihu.”I love you.” I said excitedlythrowingmyarms around his neck. He withsheer ease picked me up inhis arms and said smiling“Say it again.” Walkingtowards the door. “I love you” I whispered shyly.
Again.”
“I love you.”

I’d allbut forgottenthat it was Dr Aleko’s home. It was Adi’s home and I was comfortable init, myfears seemed unnecessary.
He finallyput me downand straightened me as we reached the kitchengarden. I followed Adito the sitting, where allthe sounds ofthe house were concentrated.

Babuexcited rose to his feet as he saw us. His back as ofits naturalcurve bent a bit and he greeted us, excessivelyobliged. I too shywas tryingto hide behind Adi, to let himdo all the talking. After a while the meetingsuspended and Adiwent to show Babuout ofthe house, leavingme alone withhis parents.

 

And thus myfamous fear revisited. “He speaks for Samiya.” Dr Tanmaysaid smiling“Isn’t it strange I have never seen him speaking for himself before. I thought we have failed on teaching him socializing etiquettes.”

Dr Aleko smiled back “ I told you he is a different person altogether.” “I like him this way.” Dr Tanmaywondered out aloud, he turned to look at me “Thank you beta.” He said hesitantly.
I should have said somethinglike I didn’t change himor that I didn’t ask himto do that but I just couldn’t, like always.
Can I ask you something?” his dad said uncertain.
Of course uncle.” I used allmyvigor but stillthe volume was prettylow.
Aren’t you scared of getting infected from him?” he asked too barely.
Tanmay” Dr Aleko interrupted indisgust.

No uncle. Not at all.” This time I wasn’t fightingfor words, theywere comingto me naturally“In fact I wish that I get infected. I want to be treated normally unrestrictedly around him.”

 

His parents were quiet for a longminute, absorbingmythoughts, whichmaybe were insane to them.

 

Samiya what are your plans after school?” Dr Aleko asked breakingthe awkward silence, smiling“I mean now that you know that your plans are his plans, so I am just interested.”

I smiled back.
I am not like him, I won’t have choices.” I shrugged “I will go wherever I get seat. He must have told you.” I added reticently.
“Actually.” Bothofhis parents started talkingat the same time. I couldn’t help myselfincontrollingthe laughter, injoiningthem.
“You go.” Dr Aleko said offeringDr Tanmayto sayit.

“Actually Adi was pushing for doing his MD before he came here, before meeting you. Now he has changed his mind and apparently we have changed ours.” He sighed “What we are thinking is you can do your medicine degree in Ohio and Adi can do his specialization in the same college. And” he laid too muchpressure onthe last word frighteningme “And you can live at our place. We want to do it official, with your parent’s permission of course.”

As I sat there waitingfor someone to wake me up, whichnaturallydidn’t happen, I realized Rathores were proposingme to be intheir house, intheir lives… officially as inlike a daughter inlaw or a wife to their son. Is that a possibilityinanyways? Canhe be mine to keep for always?

I haven’t yet realized the whole pleasure ofthis new agenda whensuddenlyAdi’s fierce voice woke me, ina piercingway“ Samiya get up. I will drop you to school.” I couldn’t understand what wrongI did. His mumgot up to takinga step towards him, he moved back inaninvisiblyquick second.
Adi we were just suggesting. It’s yours and her choice in the end.” She said pleading.
Mum” his voice was hard and fierce, thoughI would never admit to himbut it was scaringme “How many times have I told you, that there is no future between me and her.” “Why do you think that way?” his muminterrupted.
“Oh please mum.” He said loathing“Why are you being so mean. You want to kill her to fit me into a comfort zone.”
His dad got up, too aggravated himself.
“That’s totally disgusting. Your being with her won’t make her sick. There are rules which have to be followed.” He said impulsively.

“Dad we are talking of a lifetime here. You know one petite mistake will be enough to…” he left the words hanging, unable to sayit again. And thenother thingoccurred to himbelatedly“And what are you going to tell her parents? Do you think they will marry their daughter to someone who is HIV positive.” He exhaled “I ask you mum if I would have been at Samiya’s place and she at mine, would you have married me to someone with HIV?”

She was quiet but inpainI could see as she dropped onto the chair, lifelessly“Probably not.” She whispered “You are right. I am acting mean.” He talked his parents into it; theywere withhimonthat. Inthe whole scenario I was the one who felt defeated. I was the one against everyone Adi, his parents, myparents and probablythe whole world.

 

“I don’t care of what everyone thinks. Of what you think. I will make sure now that we are even, just for the sake of it.” I said too harshly, as mybreathingstarted to accelerate.

It made himangrier “ Say good bye to mum. You are not coming back here again.”
I knew I wasn’t readyfor that yet.
As usualmyanger faded after showingjust a glimpse ofit and I got up a little too embarrassed.

His mumhugged me, clutchingme close to her, thoughit was a newlyformed bond yet it was strong, maybe that’s the possible reasonofthe painit was causingme to pullaway and his dad waved bye ina grave face as iftryingto say“wish I could help.”

He unlike this morningdidn’t openthe door ofthe car for me. The engine roared and withinfew seconds the whole view diminished behind me. The pace withwhichthe car was movingwas frightening. His hand was too tight over the steeringwheeland the free hand pulled up infist. He was smoldering, his face burningred. He didn’t look into mydirection at all; it was like he didn’t want to see me.

I was too biga coward to touchhim, or to sayevena word inmydefense. It was more thanintricate for me to get used to his mood swings. But now I knew the cause for their

 

occurrence. It was just one. It was just that I dreamt of being with him forever. And to mydespair, he wanted the same too but just withrippingawaythe forever part. Whywashe doingthis to me. He said he wants to give me whatever I want, can’t I have that little almost insignificant thing.

 

I don’t need marriage. It’s just a piece ofpaper, believe me. But I need a confirmationto hold onto, a toughaffirmationthat no he willnever change his mind, he willnever leave me for anyofthe crap he throws onmyface allthe time.

We entered the gates of‘Pinegrove’ too quicklythanI have realized.
Now that the sunwas setting, the schoollooked lethallydrained oflife; the view was beautifuland scaryjust at the same time.
Similar to Aadil.
He drove allthe wayto the stairs ofmydormand double clutched or raced or did somethingthat the engine ofhis car kept roaringas he waited for me to leave. I hoped that he will

at least look at me but he didn’t evenflinch. I aggressivelyreleased the door ofthe car, laydowna foot but thenchanged mymind as ifhad anadrenaline rush. I turned back too

quicklywithout givinghimor myselftime to think, I leaned closer to himinhalingdeep breathofhis too exotic and warmscent and clutched myarms around his neck, I locked my mouthfeverishlyto his. Pressingagainst themas hard as I possiblycould. It wasn’t desire at all- it was need, acute to the point ofpain. He struggled withme gentlyas he could in his surprise, tryingto move me away. But he gave up perhaps because he was unable to do that without hurtingme or either his need was unbearable inthat moment as myown.

But whatever the reasonhe surrendered lettingme enjoyhim. He wanted to saysomethingbut againmylips silenced his and thentheystarted movinginperfect synchronizationas

 

mine. His hand twisted elegantlyinmyhair, while mine were holdingonto his. Thoughmylips shaped around his but it was me who was forceful. Mybodyas muchas possible

pressed against his onits own. I couldn’t live without that, without him, for evena second. And thenI wanted more, to press against his marble like chest, to caress everypart of his, to love himto core. As he finallysucceeded inunbalancingmytoo comfortable position, mylips lost their hold, but instead ofpushingme awayhe adjusted myhead onhis chest. The taste ofhimunlike that daywas muchstronger. I liked its dryand sun- flavored scent, light yet strongoverpoweringme and yet that would be anunderstatement.

“This was what I was talking about.” He sighed his voice soft as silk, without anytrace ofanger “we can’t be together in a safe way. Just like fire and water.” “I guess I am the fire. It’s me who burns any which way.” I said gentlycaressingthe skinonhis collar bones, pullingthe collar ofhis shirt to a side. “Whatever but we cut each other. I cause you physical pain and you cause me psychological, which might seem petite to you but trust me, its freaking me out.” “Don’t you think that it’s not a conflict, it’s a balance between us? You need me and I need you.”

“So that’s why you need me. I shouldn’t have envied Sara. She has been right all along. It’s just about my looks, your physical desires.” his voice sounded like he was smiling.

“Or maybe I love you and it’s just a part of it.” I suggested severely“You are making me feel like a vamp, full of lust and all.”
He chuckled “I am just kidding. I want your love any which way. Be it my looks or be it my fate.”
I sat motionless protected inhis arms, onhis chest, the safest place to be, inmyworld.
I won’t mind us being here, but probably heady will have concerns.” He said wryly.

Good. Hope that happens. He will throw me out of the school and my parents won’t take me in too embarrassed of my deed. And I won’t have money to go to school and to feed myself, so you’ll have to do all that and provide a roof over my head. And maybe we will share the same roof.” I said buildingmychainofthoughts.

He suppressed a grin“ or maybe you go upstairs now and I’ll see you later.”
I clutched himevencloser for one second and thenreleased him.
I don’t want you to go.” I said innocentlytearingapart.
I don’t want to go either.” He sighed
Do you have Ms Renu’s office number?” I asked mischievously.
Yeah maybe.”
“Call me after 9.00. I will have the ringer on the phone turned down.”

He smiled back desolately. I had a feelingthat myobsessionwithhim, worried himconstantly, and it showed up onhis face and inhis acts ocassionaly.

Isn’t the male chauvinist ego about it, makinga girlfallmadlyinlove tillthe point that she chooses love over everything. What was incorrect withAdi, whywas he poles apart from menofmen are from mars and women are from Venus. Maybe allmenare not fromMars; maybe some are fromJupiter or evenmore theatrical, frommoon.

Whatever.
He waited for me to leave and I waited for him, so allinallwe bothwere there for muchmore thanfew minutes. He too worried for mysafetyand allfinallygave up, and his eyes didn’t leave me untilhe dropped out ofthe view entirely.

I didn’t want to go up to a bare dormwithmore than50 beds lyingallbythemselves, watchingmyeverymove, me the centre ofattentioninthis ghost city. Where Sara says souls roaminsummers and Adisays people leave their voices to be heard later. Ofcourse now that I should least think about it, allthat horror stuffwas comingback to me, as ifI wanted to scare myselftoo. A jolt offright stuck me and I found myselfrunningto where I mayfind life.

Library ofcourse. I didn’t have mykey, I banged the door as hard as I possiblycould, someone swore inthe close vicinityat the idiot at the door who came to library without a keycard.It’s me Sid.” I answered uncomfortably.
He appeared, now smiling, holdingopenthe door for me. “Here have some water.” He said offeringhis gymbottle.
I too hesitantlystraightened up, grabbingit crawlingawayfromwhere he sat, ina waythat he won’t realize.
What are you studying?” I asked flickeringmyeyes frombook to book inthe mess created onthe table.
Now that he was hypnotized, I was just a class mate to him, I guess Adigave me a chance to start allover again, without havingto worryabout givinghimwrongindications. “Physics.” He smiled.

God I hate that word. I mean for you its okay, with your engineering and all. But why would doctors need physics. I have a long list of questions for whoever created the whole education system.”

“It’s not them, it’s you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You just don’t want to study...anything”

Sid?” I said it as a question, amazed.
He spoke witha surety“Hanging around with boy friend won’t help. Trust me I have been there. ”
I gave a suspicious stare.
Not with a boy.” He altered the statement swiftly.
You are right.” I murmured suddenlytoo worried about mystudies. “What should I do?”
“I am not going to tell you anything.”
He said ironically“What’s the point you are not going to follow.”
“I will Sid. I will. Just tell me.”
“Okay”
He swallowed as he said that “Go and grab your physics books, I promise you, and I’ll help you clear any entrance if you cooperate with me this summer.” Wow. I was almost hopping, too excited.
“I’ll be right back.”
I said gettingup too hastily.
“I’ll be waiting” he shouted behind me.
For a minute I was just a kid- a kid who had lived allofher life preparingfor this one exam. Nothingbut just one exam. Inthat moment allI knew was that I willhave to make it,

this willbe what I have to earnnext to Adi. I fearlesslyranallthe wayback to the dorm, ina damnhurryto get started, before I change mymind. I was onthe last stair to dorm

 

whenI realized I didn’t have mykeyonme. OhChrist. What was I supposed to do now? The keywas lyingsafelyinside mytracks hanginginthe restroom. I inmyaccelerated breathingreached the dormdoor. He was there. He was back, leaning against my dorm door.

“Is it you or am I dreaming?”
He was allserious.
I had to come back.” He spoke politelyshowinga student ID “there was this problem, that you forgot your key in my car and.” He paused hesitantly“then there was abigger problem. You spending night with Sid.”

“You are lying. About the first part. My key is in inside pocket of my track lowers, which are in the rest room.” I said impulsively.
“Is that a duplicate copy of my key?” I asked deliberately.
His blank expressionaltered into a smile fullofguilt, as he handed me myfake ID “Well you broke my locker..so.” he had that inhis defense. I went a little closer to caress the crimsonred inhis facialcavity“I love the way you lie.” I whispered.

And without givinghimchance to replyI took his hand and pulled himinside. His hand slid to the switchboard but I stopped it “Don’t. Ms Gladys will come to check if she notices someone is inside.”

“I was planning” he hesitated “On staying here overnight. Do you think she will come for round?”
I was umm and aaaas for a while
captivated bya pleasant shock as ifI have hit a bumper lotterywhose ticket I never bought inthe first place. “No. No.” I gasped “Not if I go and see her, before she comes.”
“Well then.”

“Yeah.” I hesitated “That’s my bed.” I said pointing. “Of course you have access to my dorm, so you must know where my bed is but just in case.” I babbled too confused bythe pleasant near future.

I went over board onthe issue ofmypsychologicalsafety, whenI went to see Ms Gladys.
I’ll be fine mam. I am just going to bed now. I have locked the windows and all, it’s safe. And trust me ghost crap doesn’t scare me.”

She was sensingmynervousness I guess her lips onthe tip ofher specs swinginginher hand and her eyes contemplatingthe sweat onmyneck. “You can come to my room, if you feel scared. I have a spare bed.”
“Thank you mam.”“Good night.”
I said as I turned around bitingmylower lip twitchingmyeyes.

I heard myselfprayingaloud enoughinmyheart. I quicklylocked the door, once inside ofthe dorm. As I stood there inhalingthe fragrance ofcologne alreadymixed withthe odor ofthe room, the lamp onmybedside flicked on. “All done.” I sighed walkingtowards him.
He was onmybed, mypillow tugged verticallybehind his back, His feet bare, and his eyes glittering.
You should have told me about your visit.” I smiled stupidly“I would have put up fresh linen.”

“That’s good I came uninvited then.” He was stern“I more than like it, this way. It smells like lavender and berryish, of jasmines actually.” He said confused “It smells of you.”

That was this strange divine love inhis eyes again.
You make yourself at home.” I rushed towards mycupboard, tryingto be quick “And I will have a quick shower.”
I could feelhis eyes onme contemplatingmyeverymove “Talking to Ms Gladys was tough. I sweat my ass off.”
He smiled back “I know I was listening.” “Take your time.” He added politely.

I fledged to shower bare foot, tried to get rid ofthe anxiousness I was feelingunder the runningwater, it did help a little. I brushed myteethand used everythinginsight for a fragranced breath, pastes, mouthwashes and anelaichidyinginside the pocket ofmylowers.

I rushed onmytoes inmyshorts and tee allthe wayback to mybed and climbed init too quickly, without doinganythinkingfurther thanI alreadydid. He tugged me close “You look nice.”
“Ha.”
I baffled.
“I swear upon everything that’s holy.”
“Okay. I trust you.”
I lied playfully.
“You better do.” He said winking.
“What did you tell your parents?” I asked while he was busyunfoldingthe blanket over mybare legs.
“I called them saying I am staying at heady’s.” he smiled crookedly“I am in a way. This is heady’s””
I was absorbed inthe previous statement.“Do you stay there a lot?”
“Not a lot. Remember when I was absent for a while and showed up in the evening, I told you I wasn’t back in the school yet.”
“Yeah.”
I whispered too softly.
“I wasn’t lying. I was at heady’s”
“That explains.”
I sighed.
“So why do you have my fake ID?”
He cringed. “For times like these.”
I gave himanawfulstare.
Well I have used it sometimes.”
“Give me number.”
I said tryingto sound harsh.

“In the very beginning, when you did not know me, I didn’t get to see you as much as I wanted to, so I crashed here at nights.” He was wonderingaloud “and then when we fought, you used to cry sitting on the bathroom floor after midnight when everyone used to sleep” he was hurtinghimself, recallingthose memories “I used to sit outside the bathroom and cry with you.”

He couldn’t speak after that.
“That’s okay Adi.” I said overwhelmed “You can keep the key.”
He was quiet and I was quiet. It was almost time; I had to talk about the evening.
Adi what was that anger all about...at your home?”
He exhaled.
Samiya please understand. I can’t give you what you are asking for.” He said caressingmyface; his hands were dead cold, theywere so soothinginthat warmweatherPromise of a lifetime. When I don’t have any idea if I’ll be alive tomorrow.”

I opened mylips to saysomethingbut he pressed his finger against them. “I want to give you things that make you happy; I don’t want to give you hope, or a fear or a lifetime of mourning as a widow.” “I told you, I like colors on you. Do you think I’ll ever give you white for the rest of your life.”

Adi who knows what will happen.” I argued irritated but he was noddinghis head before I could finish.
No Samiya. No.”
I swallowed back the words whichwere simmeringinmythroat, makinghimangrywas the last thingonmyagenda right now.
But I couldn’t resist confessinghimsomething.

Adi you know when you take seven rounds around the fire, you give seven promises to each other, that’s what is labeled as marriage in our religion.” I exhaled slowly “The whole point of the ritual is to make those promises in the name of God.” “To me the last part is marriage. And I married myself to you a while ago. So you accept it or not, misery or happiness, you are my future, I am not leaving you, ever.”

His calmbreathblew over myhead, he was thoughtful.
What promises did you make?” he asked intriguingme.
I don’t think you’ll want to listen them.”
Trust me I don’t like a word that comes out of your mouth. But I guess I bear that too so I’ll survive.”
He was upset withme, already.
It was hard for me to put themto words, but I guess he had the right to know. I started as ifdreaming
For every promise they say, there is a price to pay
They aren’t made easily; they are a debt unpaid
They are my very first decisions, I have thought them through
I know they are meant to be kept, that’s why I have made so few.
Our love is not at all normal, though delicate yet it is a bond
So I promise to bind it always and will try to make it strong.
I promise I’ll be there when you’ll need a hand to hold,
I’ll be waiting by the window even if you leave me in nights long and cold.
Between breathing and loving, I promise I’ll chose the later
And I promise I will let you go, if you think you were meant to do better
I promise I’ll try to be a light, you said that illuminates your soul
And I promise to be only yours forever; you are the only person who makes me whole.
I have made these promises to you, only if in my mind
And I’ll stand by them, till the end of time.”

I sighed, myeyes closed, tryingto hold onto those unshed tears, layingonhis too smoothchest. He was so still, not movingto breathe even.
Adi.” I whispered quietly.
Hun.” He said ina voice heavywithpain.
Am I hurting you?” I said readjustingmyweight onhis chest.
Not physically.” He replied gentlypullingme back inmyprevious position, I won’t denyI was too comfortable inthat.
What do you want from me Samiya?”
“You already know Adi.”
“Put it in words for me.”
he begged.
I was mystified bythe poisonous fragrance comingoffhis skindraggingme awayfromreality.
Give me HIV. Then there will be nothing to worry about.” I said halfsleeping.

I was waitingfor his anger whichdidn’t show up. His arms were stillwrapped around me so that was a good sign. I too tiered ofcarryingthe argument further drifted to sleep. It was a soothingcomfort inhis closeness, the little circulationofair because ofthe movingwings ofceilingfan, the moonwinkingat me frombetweenthe clouds, the silent noise ofthe curtains ofthe window playingwithbreeze and Adi’s below normalbodytemperature. I willsaythat was the best night ofmyexistence. I put allthe bags ofanxieties and tensions I was carryingsince age of6 onhis shoulder and slept like I used to sleep tenyears ago, like a daddy’s little girlallprotected and safe.

Weird, but evenwithhimnext to me mydreaminghabitualdidn’t alter. I dreamt ofhimas usual.

 

I was withAdi, he was walkingme throughthe woods, it was so real…so vivid…so sensorywhenhe turned to kiss me, unprotected, withmuchmore passionwhenI woke inthe

 

dark, witha suddenshock. It was Adi, he just winced under me. I got up too quicklyand turned onthe bedside light “Adi?” I said, myhands shakinghimgently, but he was

awake. His face panicked, utterlyastonished at the same time. Ananxious angel’s face, diminthe darkness. His breathingnot so calm. He was oglingme as ifhe has seena ghost. I don’t wear makeup duringdayso it had to be somethingelse. “Are you alright Jaan?” I asked too worried caressinghis head, gentlykissingonhis forehead. He didn’t reply instantly.

I had a dream.” He finallygasped.
Was it a bad dream?” I asked, now sighinginrelief. He had a nightmare, I thoughit was somethingelse.
Yeah.” He said silently, too tense.
That’s okay. It was just a dream.” I said cuddlinghis face withmyfingers, whichwas like anantidote to myburningskin.

He pulled me closer, touchingmylips withhis. His perfect face was almost severe withthe depthofemotion. The kiss wasn’t verytender but it was adoring. It made me forget everything. He beganthe kiss, and he had to end it; I clungto himlike spider to his cobweb. Onthe surface he was pretendingto be okay, but underneathsomethingwas bugging him. And thena suddenvoice echoed inmybrain, a fact that I was capable offorgetting.

Was it one of those dream’s Adi?” I asked, mywords rangtoo clear, withsuspicions.
His stillness was myanswer.
What did you see?” I asked forcinghimto look into myeyes.
Nothing.” He sighed and pulled me back inhis embrace.

The faded greylight ofthe skywoke me up inthe morning. Earlymorning. Everythingwas verybeautifulinthat dimlight. I slightlyopened myeyes, myheart poundingwithdoubts, I couldn’t feelhimagainst me, maybe he left. But I was more thandelighted to be proved wrong. He was there, watchingme witha strange intensityinhis eyes, as ifseeingme for the first time.

You are here?” I rejoiced, and thoughtlesslysat there unmoved too happyto show it offproperlyinanappropriate way. I watched himcautiously, breathinginthe smellofhis skin.

 

You think I could leave you sleeping, without hearing ‘bye’ from you.” He said his voice tender withlove.

 

I blushed.

So will I see you for the coaching class today?” I was confirming.
Nope.” He said too quickly. And I was like as ifI have falleninto a pit.
Get ready. I will pick you up in an hour. We are bunking the class.” He said authoritatively.
Bunking. It’s just two of us for the class. I didn’t evenhave the guts to ask him, why?

Againhe embraced me too closely, withdeep angst as he walked out ofthe door. I got dressed languidly, mymind stillwonderingover the last night. I don’t know what went wrongwithAdi; the night was more thanperfect to me.

Sid didn’t talk to me at the breakfast table. And I as usualfailed inapologizingenough. People didn’t like me; I was hurtingthemallthe time. Thoughunintentionallyyet I had a feelingmytime was up, somethingbad was about to happen. And it would be myKarma for sure. TheysayKarma is a bitch; it slaps you right in the face. I was goingto get slapped prettysoon.

Aditook allthe permissions and stuff, before he showed up infront ofthe libraryto pick me. He wasn’t talking, at all, as he walked me to the car. “Adi are you alright?” I said pleading, his moods were killingme. “Did I do something wrong?”
I am sorry.” He sighed, guilty“Its not you. I am just...” he cut that thought midway.
Okay. Where do you want to go?” he asked calmer thanbefore.
I smiled back.
Actually I was wondering can we go shopping.” I said excited “I want to buy something for Pihu.”
“Of course. Yes.”
I could feelhe was goingover the top now.

We drove allthe wayto Shimla. The situationwas reversed for once inthe car today. Adiwas playing the question mark. He asked me allthose sillyquestions. Sillybecause they were not intellectual, he was testingmyphysics, chemistryand biology. I meanit was like myworse fears turningreal. How I wished there was a muchstronger word to describe humiliation.

Stop Adi. Please” I literallybegged, joiningmyhands.
He smiled mischievously, “Well you were supposed to this with Sid. I was just helping.”
“It’s okay with Sid.”
I smiled cringing“But you have already called me duffer once.”
“That was for other reasons.”
“What reasons?”

There are so many.” “For a start you spent last night with me.” he smiled wickedly.
I scowled. Now that he was puttingit into words, it was sort ofembarrassing.
“Okay I have got another one for you.” He said lumberingup for another ofhis question, whichsounded like piglatinto me.
“Adiiii” I shouted, cuttingdownhis volume bycoveringmyears withmyhands.
His laughter clear and loud ranginmyears. It was funto him.
We hunted books for Pihuand few clothes. “Can we check out a toy shop? I am not going to buy anything, just like that.”

He got allserious “I am not your mum Samiya. Do anything you want to. If buying things for Pihu makes you happy, I am more than pleased to do that with you.” He said raisinghis hands, makinganagreeable face.

Cool.” I answered, leadinghiminside.
What do you want to buy?” he asked courteously, amblingbehind me.
A doll.”
“They have heaps that side.”
He said tryingredirectingme, pointingtowards another rack.
With a house.” I added sturdilywithout lookinginto his eyes.
He smiled, lookingdownat his feet “Of course.” He added, nodding.
I didn’t have manyoptions, to pick from.
What’s wrong with this one?” He asked tryingto keep his cool, whenI wasn’t too readyto buyit despite his marvelous presentationonthe features ofthe dollhouse. “It is missing quite a number of rooms. Study room, prayer room, gym..”

He glared back inamazed irritation“This is a house for people with mediocre income. You know how hard it is…” He broke out midway, laughing. “Let’s buy this one. I promise I’ll build her few extra rooms on top of it.”

I agreed, didn’t have anychoice. It was tremendous hard work to fit that thinginto car “Don’t you want to buy something for yourself?” He asked fixingthe car boot.
The things I need are not sold in shops.” I sighed.
He didn’t sayanythingto that, untilwe were back onroad.
So where are they sold?” He never drops things promptly.
If I had known, I’ll probably have had them.”

The velocityofthe car was moderate, we were inno hurry. I opened the pack ofbread and broke it downinto crumbs languidly. I was inmyhappyplace right now. And I bet the greentrees and the clear blue skies and evenAdiwere not the onlyreasons.

 

Adi I feel very strongly about Pihu.” I whispered “She doesn’t feel like a passerby to me. It feels as if she has some sort of connection. As if I owe her something that I don’t yet know of.”

He was quiet, listening.
Is it because she is handicapped?” I asked mutely.
“Quite possible.”
We were silent; the tonaladjustment ofthe surround systemofthe cars audio set up was bringingout the peculiar qualityofthe playingsong, whichwas soothing. “Which song is it?”
“How to save a life...”
he looked a little into mydirection“by Fray. It’s a new band.”
“I don’t understand the words of the song. But I like it.”
I whispered talkingto myself.
“Get ready” he interrupted excitedly“here comes the monkeys.”

He slowed the car a little and I threw bread onthe sides, theywere like players ofa footballteamfightingover crumbs, theyranalongwiththe car. One carryinga tinylittle baby around her neck, I couldn’t help beingpartialto her. And theneventuallyI ranout, but I didn’t look back, coward as I am, trust me I was gettingsome awfulstares fromhungry people out there.

We hit the road back informonce I cleared the after bread mess.

 

We were drivingalongwiththe fine line ofthe Renuka reserve forests, whenAditurned downthe volume a little. He heard some roar ofwater droppingfromheight. His eyes

glittered as he said that” there’s a waterfall nearby.” A mere kmawaya little lane hiddenbetweenthe mountains, divergingfrommainroad took us to the cascade. It was a backdrop for a localtemple. ‘Badholia temple’ it said. It laid hiddenbetweenthe lusts greendrenched forests, withanold priest mopingaround, doinghis rituals. As soonas we rungthe temple bell, withinfew seconds anarmyofmonkeys clamber out ofthe rocks, scaringhellout ofme. I was hidingbehind Adi, whenpriest gave us ‘Prasad’ to feed them.

Adibought the whole lot frompunditjibut we failed to please them. Monkeys are so human, nothingis ever enoughfor them.
I sighed “Have you ever tried hypnotizing monkeys?” I was consideringbringingAdi’s abilityto use now.
I tried. It didn’t work.”
“Really?”
I asked amazed. He gave a laughoglingme. “Adiiii” I shouted as he ranfor his life, withme huntinghimdown.

11. PIHU

 

00007.jpgI was feelingtoo soggywhenwe reached the hospital. But I couldn’t resent it, because I myselfwas to be blamed. I started the water fight. “I think I wont mind a bed here myself.” I said witha shiver. He stopped what he was doingbecomingstilllike a statue, onlyhis lips moving“Are you cold?”

 

Ha..I was just saying for the sake of saying something. In this temperature, I won’t mind taking my shirt off.” I insisted regrettingto have said that. He drivingme back to change was the last thingI wanted right now.

I will mind…. you taking your shirt off...” He debated wryly, before movingback to work. The hospitalwas inthe same positionas we have left it last week. But I was different today, now that I knew Pihuwas alright, everythingwas fine byme. She was there, allpink, fromclothes to cheeks, scribblingona notebook. She didn’t look up as we entered, too lost inher ownworld. But Babuwas onhis feet, obliged as always.

He was sayingsomething, whenshe looked up. Her eyes little moist, lips curved into smile, cheeks tender withtinypink dimples. She was shy. Babuloffered the chairs but I

 

hesitantlywent around sittingnext to her onher bed. I desperatelywanted to pullher up inmyarms and hugher close to myself, but I guess that’s not a normalprotocolyoufollow

witha stranger, so I had to hold myselfback. I smiled lookinginto her prettyblack eyes, “ What are you writing?” I asked glancingover to look at her paper. It was a sketchof Babu, reallyawesome I would sayfor someone that age. “You drew that?” I asked surprised. She just smiled pullingher face into her pillow, I was makingher shy. She was such a doll. I passed the paper over to Adi, feelingtoo proud boastingher abilities. I was tellingBabuthat I have got her few books, whenshe got up hesitantlymovingcloser, her eyes

onmyhands; she touched the gemofmyringslightlyand looked back at me. Without her sayingI actuallyknew what she meant. “Yeah. Thanks. I got it back.” I said politely,

 

caressingher face. She took myhand inbothher hands, and closed her eyes. I smiled confused, lookingat Babu. He was cautious, “She is reading your mind. She has a sixth sense. She will see what you are seeing in your mind right now.”

“Really?” I asked amazed “Did she tell you that?”
“Yeah she draws pictures of things she sees in other’s minds. They say you need to have five senses. She is deaf and dumb so that’s her active sense.”

He was stilltalking, whenshe blinked at me, openingher tinyarms, offeringme to hold her. I wanted to hugher. She saw that inmybrain. I overwhelmed, went closer and took her into myarms too quicklyas I was scared that the moment willpass. I don’t know what feelingwas that, I have never had that before, maybe mother daughter, as it was peace, an immense peace. Adiwent bythe chemist to buyPihu’s medicines. I didn’t know how to be ofassistance to Babuwithout humiliatinghim, but Adiheaved it verywell. I and Pihu

gossiped, not inthe literalsense ofthe word, but yet that was the best conversationI have had witha girlfriend ina longtime. Adi’s trip was short; he was arrangingmedicines at the table sittingnext to her, whenshe blinked askingAdito come closer to her. Her communicationetiquettes brought a vivid smile to his lips, whenhe was close enough; his head bowed downa little to come to her level, she took his hand and closed her eyes. It took animperceptiblysuddensecond to take awaythe beamfromhis lips. A plainexpressionof painshowed up onhis face. And thentoo promptlyshe opened her eyes, this time shock sucked anytrace ofshyness or happiness fromher babyface. She dropped his hand at once, pullingher face into pillow, her breathinghard, she was sobbing. Baburushed towards her, she didn’t stop crying. We walked out ofthere.

What was that Adi, What did she see.” I asked puzzled.
“I don’t know.” He replied gravely. Somethingwas terriblyerroneous, that was clear onhis face.

I kept budginghimto tellme. But I failed. His face somber, eyes onthe road and the lips pressed together. His facialexpressionweren’t changingas ifhe wasn’t listening. I couldn’t believe his stubbornness. The light ofhis cellphone was goingonagain. The phone was onsilent but he verywellknew it was ringingfor the hundredthtime. Swallowingmydisgust I reached out and took the call, before he could stop me. “Hello. Samiya?” the troubled voice onthe other end said.

It was his mum.
Namaste aunty.” I got hold ofmytemper.
Are you both alright? Why is he not taking my call? He hasn’t done any packing his dad is getting mad at me. Tell him to come home right away.” It felt like ice water has beeninjected into myveins.
Samiya are you there?”
“Yes aunty. He is coming home.”
“Samiya aren’t you coming with him? We want you to have dinner with us. We’ll be leaving at 5.00 in the morning and I want to talk to...”
Aditook the phone fromme “Mum we are on our way home. See you in an hour.”
He waited for her to saysomethingand thenhe kept the celldown, his face angled towards me, his eyes awayfromroad.
Are you fine?”
Where are you going?” I asked without answeringhis question.
He sighed “Ohio”
“Is something wrong?”

Adi’s blank expressiontold me how bad somethingwas. He took a second to steadyhis words.
Just wait for an hour. Dad will explain it to you in a much better way.”
“Are you kidding me?”
myvoice aggregated, myeyes stuck onhis face without botheringto blink even“you are leaving for states tomorrow. And you want me to wait hourand a half to know ‘why’?”

“I can’t explain it to you Samiya. You’ll have to wait.” He said insolemnvoice as ifhe was expectingme to understand what he was saying. “Pull the car on side.” I requested firmly.

“Samiya..” He was about to negotiate.
“Now.” I commanded.
He reluctantlydid what was requested ofhim.
What? Are you going to walk all the way to school?” He said gettingout ofthe car after me.
We are switching places.” I announced takingthe driver’s seat. “There is no way we’ll make it home in an hour with your driving speed.” He was unmistakablyonthe edge ofpanic, standingbeside the car, watchingme ignite the car engine.

Now, what made you think that I’ll sit in the car driven by ‘you’ and just to make sure I wouldn’t have done that even if you had a airplane license or maybe Apollo 11’s license.” He said too confused.

 

You are more than welcome to catch a bus home.” I said pushingrace, I amunsure how he managed to climb onthe speedingcar. Because it caught more speed thanI would have expected.

 

All those mysteries and this is how we are going to die.” He said, his hand sittingonhis right legreadyto take charge ofthe steeringwheelincase I lose it, whichwould be onlypossible under two circumstances one is ifI die indriver’s seat ofcardiac failure instantlyor else ifthe car door break’s openand I felloffthe car.

His eyes were firmlyonthe road. Now that I got a little idea ofthe speeds and breaks, I put the car into fourthgear and I was surelyup onthe road a little as ifdrivingchopper, everythingrushingbehind me. Dad had to see this; he would probablygo nuts, because I have failed eachone ofdad’s home made drivingtests for under speeding. He finallygave up announcing, he can’t tolerate his car beingtreated as rickshaw.

Scared buddy?” I asked ironically, I was usingmyinsaneness inexaggeration, not that he knew ofthat I couldn’t feelanythingdownmywaist. Inthat moment I was paraplegic and braindead.

He couldn’t help laughingaloud. “ For me. No.” he said fixingmyhair band onmyhaystack “For you. Yes”
Now to that, I automaticallyslowed downa little. He was with me in the car.
“When will you come back from Ohio?”
I asked thoughI doubted that I’lllet himgo inthe first place.

“Hold on to that question. I don’t think it will be a good idea to answer it now.” His eyes stillonthe road, without flinchingevena little, as ifseeingthroughthe mountains at the wider picture “Slow down a little. A bus is coming followed by another one at the next turn.”

I did as he said. He was right.
He navigated me allthe wayback to the home as ifwalkinga blind person.

I heard the tires turnoffonto the quiet, damp earthofRathore’s drive, whenmyheart started hammering. I stillcouldn’t feelmylegs. Last time I had beenhere I was told that I was never goingto come back here again, and this time I willbe told that Adi, Dr Ethalia, Dr Tanmay, Oliver and Olivia willbe leaving, and I wasn’t sure iftheywere comingback again.

I sat their concentratingonsteadyingmyheart beat and thinkingpositive. While he was there readingallmyvitalsigns, his eyes zeroed onme.

 

Are you ever coming back?” I asked, realizingsoonthat he is not goingto answer that question.

 

12. OPERATION

 

00004.jpgNow that I was inthe house, withbags lined up ina corner, Dr Tanmayonphone withthe travelagent and Dr Ethalia instructingthe house maid and gardener, I realized that they were actuallyleaving. I was made to sit onthe couchinthe lounge while Adiexcused walkingout onthe deck withhis dad. His mumwent to make coffee.

I sat there staringblanklyat nothing. ThenAdiappeared followinghis dad. His face white and hard.
Samiya.”
Myhead snapped towards Dr Tanmay, fightingmyheart that couldn’t get enoughofseeingAdi. “Yes?” I said turningdownthe ringinmyvoice.
Dr Tanmaywas sittingonthe couchopposite to me, Adileaningbehind him.

Adi wants me to explain you about the surgery and the bone marrow transplant we are going to conduct on him.” He said his medicaldoctorishtone kickingin. Myhand flew to mystomach- that’s where myheart was right now- holdingtightly. Tryingto stop it hammeringagainst myskin. I looked at Adiwithfew millionquestions inmy eyes.

We are leaving because I have an operation in two days.” He interjected cowardly.
Dr Tanmaytook fromthere.

You know how they say HIV can’t be cured.” he paused dramatically“Well that won’t be true anymore. We can cure it by bone marrow transplant. In this transplant HSC are removed from bone of the donor who is naturally resistant to HIV and is transplanted into the patient. Bone marrow produces the cells that HIV attacks. So by inserting the marrow that produces HIV resistant cells might endow the patient with a means to repel the infection. Along with which we will give him an advanced combination therapy, it’s a very new surgery which will try to eliminate the virus. If we get successful Adi will be back to normal.” He assured me.

I don’t know about mymind but myeyes lingered onthe sculpture infront ofme. The beautifulheavenlyface ofallthat was holyto me. Operatinghimwas like a thought ofrunning scissors and knives over the bodyofanangel. Somethingwas not right about it.

Have you found a donor?” I asked, predictingmaybe that was the reasonfor urgency.
His dad sighed “Yes. A while ago” “We have found the best near perfect HLA matched bone marrow.”
“Near perfect?”
I swallowed.
His dad hesitated “We will never have a perfect match in Adi’s case because of his different human genes.”
“Why do we have to do it then?”
his mumasked settlingthe traywithcoffee mugs onthe table.
“Ethalia..”

“No Tanmay. You listen to me. Why Adi has to be the first one? You know how critical this operation is. He is doing fine. Why both of you want to go that way?” His mother responded reflexivelyagitated.

 

“I don’t know” his dad said after alongpause, gravely“This will eventually turn into Aids. We have an option to stop it, now, I don’t know if this would be effective at later stages.”

His mumdidn’t deny, sittinglifelesslyonthe couch.
Why now? What happened suddenly?” I demanded staringat Adi.
He turned into a sculpture, his face impassive, and his glare glassy, as ifhe couldn’t see anymore.

He didn’t want to do that earlier. He came this morning and suddenly he wants it ASAP. I thought it has something to do with you.” Dr Ethalia looked blanklyat me and thenturned to him“What’s going on Adi?”

 

He didn’t respond at once. Frozen, withno signofever movingagain. But thenhis eyes turned tender as he looked at me inhelplessness.

 

I had a dream yesterday.” He said instrained voice. Thenhe was quite for what seemed like a longtime “I saw myself being operated. It’s time to do it now. I don’t want towait for other consequences.”

 

That was the dreamhe had last night. He should have told me, not that I would have understood but still. Ifhe had seenit, ifit’s his future, ifit’s our future thenprobablyI won’t be able to change it, no matter how hard I try.

Dr Tanmay’s phone started ringing. He took the calland excused himself. There was stilla reticence inthe roomwithweakensound ofDr Tanmay’s conversation. “Are you going to pack, Adi?” His mumfinallyspoke out, her voice numb, without anyexpression.
He took a longglance ofme and thendisappeared.
She and I were ina strange state ofmind, we bothunsure ifit was happeningfor good or for bad.
When is the operation?” I asked mutely.
Within three days. He wants it done quickly.”
“You were saying its critical?”
Mybreathingwas accelerating, myhand stillholdingmyheart; I couldn’t ask what I wanted to.
She chose not to answer that.
And thenwe bothwere quiet for a while. Don’t ask why. For some moments inlife there are no words.

She was inanawfulstate as she walked me up to the kid’s roomleavingme to find mywayto Adi. How quicklythings change especiallywhenyouleast expect themto. Whydoes this happen? Is God testingour faith? But whydoes he test inways whichare bigger thanour life?

 

I entered without knocking. It was dark inside his room. Myeyes took more thana second to adjust to the discrepancyinluminosity. Few clothes were piled up next to anopen

 

bagand Adiwas nowhere to be seen. “I am in here.” his voice came fromthe bathroom. I took two heavysteps and opened the bathroomdoor sluggishly. He was standingin

 

front ofthe basinmirror, his shirt onthe floor, his too perfect bodywas halfnaked and there was a captivatingsmellofaftershave blended withhis usualfragrance. A quick glance in

 

the mirror told me his face was wet. He just shaved. I have barelyever registered the fact that he had facialhair. The things that are discrepancies inothers case usuallyend up

 

addingto his too commendable looks. Before he could turnI hugged himindesperation. I wanted to gather myworld inmyhands. I buried myhead inhis back, he was as cold as ice, his hands moved to take controlofmine and he turned around to fit me into his arms.

 

Its difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, but looking back in this memory will comfort you in future.” He murmured to me “I have thought it through; it’s the right thing for me to do.”

 

I let it sink in, hopinghe is right.

 

Your clothes are still wet.” He said stirringhis hand onmyback. And thendespite myreluctance he let me lose, disappearing. It didn’t feelgood; I didn’t want to part withhim

 

evenfor a second at least untiltomorrow. He came back witha shirt. “ Here change your shirt.” He requested placingthe shirt next to me, makinghis wayout. I quicklytook his

 

hand “Don’t go. Please don’t leave me for even a second.” I used everybit ofmyenergyto find words. He was too speechless at myvulnerabilityas ifhe wasn’t expectingme

like that. “ I’ll be in the room.” He tried to mold me, uncomfortably. “Don’t go. Stay.” I enunciated again, makinghimsit onthe rimofthe spa. I took offmyshirt, myeyes not leavinghis. There was no glitter inthemtoday; theywere revealinga sufferingsimilar to mine. His eyes didn’t move to mybodyevenfor a wild second. But he dropped his glare to floor whenI didn’t put anythingon. I took a step inhis direction, and touched his cold face withmyfingertips carefully; I pulled his face up, to regainthe lost contact. His eyes were

little moistened, thoughhe wanted to but he couldn’t get himselfto shout at me, not whenhe was leavingme tomorrow morning. I ranmyfinger tip indolentlyalongthe smooth edges ofhis angelface, finallytracingthe sumptuous lips; theywere red and wet and were makingmyentire bodydesiccated. “Promise me you’ll stay in touch each moment you’ll be away. Promise me you’ll come back to me As soon as it is over.” Ipromise. You are my final destination. No matter where I go I’ll come back to you in the end.” I sighed, the words were like a mourn. Mydesperationmade himsusceptible, he pulled me closer “

13. GOODBYES

 

00008.jpg

‘Gone- Flitted away,
Taken the stars from the night and Sun From the day!
Gone, and a cloud in my heart
.’
- Alfred Tennyson

As I stand there behind heady’s cottage watchingthe road, whichhe possiblywould have crossed onhis wayto Delhiwasn’t readyto give a thought ofhow muchtime has passed. I couldn’t remember how longit has beensince I saw him leaving. It was as ifdays have passed, but also onlyseconds.

 

Dip. Dip. Dip.

 

The sound ofveryfirst raindrops brought back a vivid image, the onlyimage I remembered ofrain, me and himsittinginclass window. What is it about rain, he asked me. I don’t remember what I said but the minutest ofexpressions that passed his face are stillclear inmymind.

 

One more car, and that would be it. I willleave after that, I promised myselfyet again.

 

I knew there was no point watchingthe emptyroad, where once intwo hours hardlya car passed. Not that it was too muchofwait but he wasn’t coming. At all. Not todayat least. He would informme whenthat time willcome. But it’s not today.

 

He is inoperationright at this veryminute. I don’t want to think about it. The weight ofthat thought is more thantoo muchto handle.

He emailed me whenhe reached Ohio. I was least expectingthat. I had Ms Renu’s phones ringer turned downand was almost spyingonheady, amblingoutside his office whenever his phone rang. But guess what he chose to communicate via email. Allthe conversationhave beenlike that for past few days. I replyto everymail, but never once mentioned whyis he not callingme? Whyis he not listeningto myvoice and not givingme a chance to listento his. I have too muchpride to saythat.

He did finallycall. This morning. Whenheady’s peoncame to callme I rushed throughalmost 200 stairs, indesperationand nervousness. As soonI took the receiver withtrembling hands and said ‘hello’, the calldisconnected. I waited too long. But he never called back. Theymust have takenhiminto the operationtheatre. He wasn’t doingthat onpurpose. Or else there was this other reason“you make me weak” he told me inone ofour verylast verbalconversations. Love and relationships make people stronger but I made him weak.

 

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