She willed herself not to check her phone to see if he had replied or not. It had been three days already. She hated to constantly check his ‘last seen at…’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet, she could not stop herself. This sinking feeling of hearing absolutely nothing from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.

And then, just as she sat down on her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.

But she nearly missed a heartbeat when she did open and read it. She wasn’t sure if he was joking or what… just what was he trying to suggest?  

“Look Neera, I don’t think I can do this. I think its best if we just stay away from each other.”

Neera was dumbstruck with this message. She just could not fathom why, after that wonderful night, Kartik would not like her. It had been such a perfect night after all! They had met in the afternoon, in the café across her apartment. As usual, Neera was enjoying her Saturday afternoon coffee with a mandatory book in her hand. Karthik had quoted a line from the book she was reading, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. It had been a favorite of hers since her blossoming teen years.

We accept the love we think we deserve.

He had said it in a soothing, storytelling voice. His tone seemed to draw Neera out of the pool of words she had been immersed in. Its frequency had stifled all the other noises, both around her and in her head. She could not help but look up. He sat down in front of her, without as much as even asking her. Even though his voice had her spellbound, Neera gave him a hard look. She lived alone in a metro; she just had to be careful. Before she could get any word out of her mouth, he started talking uninhibitedly.

“Before you shoo me away, let me just ask if you really do enjoy that book.”

He had asked the question with a skeptical look on his perfectly chiseled face. But it hadn’t gone down too well with Neera. That book had been a great help to her during her unstable and depressing teenage years. It had, in fact, made her realize her calling to be a writer. So, she instinctively stared at him while making an array of remarks and arguments defending the beauty of the book. However, he had kept pace with her. By the end of the hour, Neera had convinced him that the book will change his life as well.

A sudden thought popped into her head right then. She liked this guy. She had felt something like that after such a long time. It had been five years since she had been with someone. After so many failed attempts, she had altogether given up and taken a break from her exhausting search for a soulmate. But this man had ignited a spark in the deepest caverns of her heart, of whose existence she had been blissfully ignorant. When he had suggested looking for another life-changing book with him, she had been unable to say no.

Granted, she could not say no to anything that involved books. But, at that moment, this person had some hand in it too – a lot of it, in fact. And then, it dawned on her that she did not even know his name. Yeah, it was Karthik. She liked it. They had spent the whole day together. And, at night, he had taken her to the planetarium. She hadn’t been there before. It was a part of her never-ending to-do list. They looked at the stars together late into the night. For all her best efforts, Neera could not remember the last time she had been that happy. And, since that near-perfect day, she had been on cloud nine.

However, after the prolonged and torturous wait, Karthik’s message had all but shattered any hope she might have harbored about being with him.

“WHY, WHY did he do this to me?”

Her notorious temper flared up again. She pushed it back down, into the volcanic recesses of her mind. Her fury usually deserted her after she had broken a thing or two. Maybe it had just been a one-time thing for him. However, she did not feel particularly convinced of that explanation for his aloofness and sheer disinterest in taking things forward with her. Her intuition had been a pretty reliable ally in such matters so far. She had to know why he had dumped her like that without even officially dating her.

While walking back home from her office – the magazine she worked for – her mind was full of tempestuous thoughts about Karthik. But she refrained from showing any outward emotion. She had, after all, skillfully adapted to the harsh life around her with an emotionless mask on her face. She never let anybody see beyond the wall she put up around herself – around her true self – at least not so easily. However, she had let him in. Of that, she was sure. In fact, that was the one thing she had ever been so sure of.

She was walking along the Marine Drive when she saw him. He was sitting at the beach, gazing listlessly at the sunset with a forlorn frown on his face. A wave of warmth surged inside Neera. All she wanted to do at that moment was to dissolve herself in him, conscious of his every move, every thought and every change that had come about in him and his heart. She needed him.

Controlling all of that, she walked right up to him and sat beside him. None of the two uttered a word. Both were gaily locked inside a bubble of serenity, which brought them the satisfaction of existing next to each other under the crimson sky that overlooked the tranquil blue sea consume the fiery red sun. Then, he said something that Neera could not have anticipated in a million years.

“I have cancer”.

A romantic couple - eternity

Those three little words made her realize how mortal and ephemeral human life was. They made the hitherto warm sunset seem dreary, the crimson-soaked sky, colorless. A small drop of tear escaped the confines of her light brown eyes. Why had she harbored such strong emotions for a man she had met just a few days ago? It was as if her soul was bound to his on an entirely different plane. She just could not seem to grapple her way out of it. No, she did not want to grapple with it. It was a phenomenon she had not been very familiar with. And now, all of a sudden, he was dying.

The thought of him ceasing to exist in her arms seemed incomprehensible. She remembered the first night she had spent with him at the planetarium. His sunlight-illuminated face made her realize what real beauty was. It wasn’t perfection; it was rather the subtle imperfections summing up the truth behind the veil of pretensions.

They talked for a long time. His warm voice blanketed her from the cold breeze. It lifted her spirits up, made her rise up to and float among the tiny stars glimmering in the sky that had, by now, turned dark. She was high on his voice. Reality – the cruel and unfeeling reality – told her that his voice was soon going to fade into oblivion. That beauty will be lost in the hideousness of the world, forever. How would she be able to endure that? How would she ever come to terms with it? When she had eventually found her alter ego in a sea of the unknown, fate had played a cruel joke on her; she had shown her what real love was, before bringing it tantalizingly close to her and then taking it away from her sight; it had left her longing for more.. for more of him.

His lyrical voice jolted her out of her melancholic train of thought. He was going on and on about how he had not meant to hurt her, that he had had absolutely no intentions of lying to her, but it was as if all those words were falling on deaf ears. She just concentrated on his sublime voice, focusing on nothing but the melody of it. She felt high, again.

And then, three words involuntarily slipped out of her mouth.

“I love you.”

Her voice sounded bizarrely unknown but yet so perfect. Karthik just looked at her, drinking her in, wondering if he had heard it right. She did not need to wait for a reply; fate had already taken care of that. Her arms enveloped his body, stroking the nape of his neck. He pressed his palms against her back and she could feel his heat merging with hers. At that moment, they were one. Death would not have been able separate them, neither then nor ever. For she knew that however little time she had, however short the days were, she would love this man till eternity. 

…now that you’re here

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Ria and her love affair with reading

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