I had been thinking and I finally realized that this time it was me who was being immature. I was running from something that was right there in front of me, instead of facing it. I knew Neel was right, we should at least be cordial to each other if not be friends. But now since I know I was wrong I wanted to make amends but how? I didn’t know where Neel was putting up or have his contact number. But I didn’t have to look too hard, I met him the very next day at the departmental store. This time he stood and started, waited to see if I’d run away or come forward and talk. My palms were sweaty and I felt nervous. But I made my way to him, without faltering, thank god!
“i..umm.. had a change of heart”
“hmm and I was like hoping we’d start afresh?”
“does it still hurt that much to admit you were sorry?”
“huh?! No I mean, yeah I was about to admit, I’m sorry, I was sick and a little jittery having you there. And to make amends, I was hoping that you’ have dinner with me?”
“that’s quite a start!” he beamed. “And yes I’ll have dinner with you”
“Friday night at 8pm, my place cya..”
Damn! I dropped the salad bowl again! Thankfully it was empty. Boy! I’m nervous. 30 minutes more and he’ll be here, no he doing to be late as usual? Huh? Whatever! Putting the finishing touches I just ran to run me a shower and change into a plain blue jeans and a nice v- necked red tee. You don’t usually dress up for a friend do you? I added the kohl and the lip balm on an after thought and a hint of my favorite perfume. And there I was ready! Still around 5 more minutes to go. I went into the kitchen and set the table. I was just about to check on the food when the door bell rang. O my god! Is this the right thing to do? Suddenly I wasn’t sure. But I had to now open the door and let the man in who did things to her equilibrium. I let him in with a nervous smile.
“changed your mind?”
“no not really.” I blurted. “why don’t you make yourself comfortable?”
Soon he was settled in and I asked him if he would like something to drink. On his request I opened the bottle of expensive vodka that he had brought my very favorite. So he had remembered. As time passed we slowly eased out and the initial awkwardness of being together in a closed space ceased to remain. Maybe it was the vodka that got us talking.
“ so what brought to here to this sleepy town neel?”
“if you think your parents informed me of your whereabouts you are wrong. I just got myself transferred here. To stay back in kolkata with the memories haunting me in every step became too much for me to bear. So I choose this obscure place to begin again. But fate has something else planned. The person I was fleeing from, came right in front of me. Now I understand the suppressed smile your mother gave me when I last met her.”
“You met her? How is she?”
“Yes I did. But how come you don’t know how your mother is? Haven’t you been home?”
“no I haven’t. I couldn’t bring myself to go back, to answer questions about us. I wasn’t ready maybe im still not. Maybe im being selfish and im not being fair to them but needed the time to heal to build my life with shattered pieces”
“That explains it all. I still can’t believe how you left. At first I didn’t even realize your absence. I thought you were again angry over something but will start talking to me when your anger subsides. Then the last time we spoke, you were about to tell me something and I was too busy and impatient to hear you out and I hung up. It was only a week after when I went over to visit you that I was told by your mother that you had left but refused to say where you had gone, she just said that you were not going to come back in a long long time.”
“I tried telling you… I waited for you notice me in agony… I had hoped you would turn over a new leaf to make our relationship work but you never did. Then unble to bear it any longer I just gave up. I tried to make it work but it just didn’t. “
It was when I looked towards you that I saw tears in your eyes, I realized for the first time, maybe he had suffered as much as I had. Maybe this shouldn’t have happened the way it did. I wanted to comfort him, to tell them it’s alright, we’ll see it through, that we will put things right; but I couldn’t. I couldn’t forgive him for the agony I have been through. I couldn’t forget the disdain and disgrace. To be treated as a trophy girlfriend. No I just couldn’t forget but for the first time I forgave Neel for everything I had been through.
“It wasn’t easy, I looked for you everywhere. I waited for you to return but you never did. Anjali, your friend said that she hadn’t heard from you in ages and refused to divulge the details of your whereabouts to me. It was then I realized that you were gone and this relationship really is over.” I didn’t know what to tell him. I understood his agony but I couldn’t do anything to lighten his burden. He went on as if he had to get things off his chest, and I didn’t stop him.
“After the reality sank in, my whole life fell apart. It was as if I was in a trance. For days I wouldn’t return from office. It was Nandini who turned me around. She made me understand why you did what you did. She showed me where I went wrong. My anger towards you changed to that of repentance. I wanted to make things right but I knew you wouldn’t give me another chance for being the jerk I was. then I got myself transferred here. At first I thought I was just imagining you to be there in the store. But the next time I saw you again, during the morning walk; I couldn’t muster the courage to approach you. Moreover you looked content in your life, I didn’t want to disrupt your life in any which way.”
Then you say me again at the café? What made you call me?”
“Yes then I saw you again at the café. I saw how you stiffened when you heard my voice. I didn’t think you will recognize my voice but that small reaction reassured me that you are not indifferent to me. I just wanted to apologize for all the wrongs and was hoping that you would forgive me.”
“I have forgiven you Neel. I know you have gone through the same as I did. I don’t harbor grudges against you. We were both young, we did things that could have done differently. But now why reminisce the past? I think it is the time to heal.”
I said as I got up and went to him, ruffling his hair, affectionately, like I used to do; but this time he didn’t jerk my hand away. Instead he put his arm around me, and buried his face against me. I was taken aback. The gesture wasn’t intimate but the innocence with which it was done, touched me. I couldn’t retrain myself from hugging him close. Tremors rocked his body and then mine. I knew then, I may have tried to block Neel but I haven’t been successful. You can’t lock love away, it always crawls its way back to you heart. Yes, I was still in love with Neel. Once the tears subsided, I tried hesitantly to move away but Neel wouldn’t let me.
“I love you Noyona. Like I have always, loved you. I know I have been less than perfect to you. But give me just one chance to prove myself. Let me show you that I can be the guy you want to be with for the rest of your life. All I ask is to trust me, to have faith that this time I won’t the immature person i was. Life isn’t the same without you, if you say yes, I ll dedicate the rest of my life striving to make life a wonderful experience. And if you refuse, id die a bitter man. Wont you give me just one chance?”
I was silent, tears coursed its way down, leaving behind wet tracks. This time it was him, who came around and hugged me to him. I was enveloped in the arms of a man, who had learnt what it was to loose someone he loved, who had never lost faith in love, who now wanted another chance to put things right. I didn’t want to believe him, but I felt myself succumb to his words that held promises of a new tomorrow. I felt the walls I had so carefully built, crumbling. I dared, for one last time risking my emotions yet again, to let him in. I mumbled,
“ noyona? I promise this time never to let you don’t. you wont be disappointed. Trust me this last time.”
“Neel, I said YES. I said I will take a chance”
“I said YES.”
“really?” he looked at me incredulously.
Suddenly I felt like a steam roller engulfing me, I could hardly breathe. My life was almost being squeezed out of me and I struggled to free myself.
“Get off! You moron! You are strangulating me. Neel I can’t breathe. Get off!”
It was as if some miracle had happened, I hadn’t seen Neel so happy, he looked even younger, the naughty spark was back. It warmed my heart to see things finally fall into place. I couldn’t be happier. Sometimes you just need to take the plunge, for not often does life give you a second chance. Once the happiness had sunk in, and initial jubiliation was tamed, I asked Neel,
“Shall we call home?”
“You want to? Are you sure” Neel asked somewhat hesitantly.
“Yes I am sure. I think I’m ready” he just smiled
I picked up the phone gingerly, and dialed home. I wondered how ma would react, it has been awhile since I had called.The phone rang for sometime, and then a sleepy voice came on.
“Hello?? Who is this?”
“Ma it’s me Noyona.”
“What are you doing calling me at this hour? Its 3am”
“Ma I have something to tell you”
“We are coming home!”
“Huh? What? We?”
“Ma Neel and I are coming home. We are coming home together!”
This time ma was wide awake. I could hear her muted sobs. It was sometime when she spoke. “Finally! I never thought I would see the day! Wait till I tell everyone!”
As we sat in the veranda waiting for dawn to break, Neel hugged me close.
“Today we are going home Noyona! And now everything will fall into place, just trust me!” I didn't reply, but hugged him back, things were finally falling into place.