The alarm went off at 6:30 AM. But, Rajiv was already up. The bed still bore the evidence of a disturbed night’s sleep. The pillow seemed to be tossed around and the sheet was dishevelled. That was unusual. But, today was no usual day. He was sitting, still in his shorts and shirtless, at the study wearing a blank expression. The alarm was blaring on the bedside table. Yet, he neither moved nor seemed to hear it. After almost a minute, he slowly walked to the bedside and silenced it. On the study was lying a greeting card. A part of him wanted to read it. The other part, the sensible one, told him to shut things out and sleep. After a lot of thought, he decided to go ahead and read it.
The card was in a good shape, baby pink in colour with floral designs on the four corners with a big bright red heart sitting at the centre of the front page. On the bottom, was a scribbling in a blue glitter pen, which seemed hardly legible, though the effort to write it as neat as possible was evident.
Before you read, I have to give you some instructions.
- Slightly longer letter. Do not doze off midway.
- Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now open and read it. Oh, yeah, open your eyes. Duh!
Inside the card was a letter, folded. The card was otherwise blank. It was a home-made card, clumsy and dull.
It was not drizzling. Nor was there a pleasant breeze. No romantic music played. The scorching Chennai sun was doing its best to make things as sweaty as possible. It was not the best day to meet the love of your life. Yet, it happened. I was not a believer of love at first sight. Until then! So much was happening around me, yet nothing registered in my mind. It is the image of a girl, tongue sticking out and hands moving animatedly across her face, eyes so wide that they looked over sized for her face, the kohl in her eyes, so dark, accentuated the smooth curve, trying to cheer the whining kid at the bill counter, that is etched in my mind. I doubt if I would ever be able to erase that image off. I am thankful to the mom who refused to buy the kid that second chocolate. I’m thankful to the kid, for crying at the top of her lungs, without which I would have missed the moment. Thinking of it now, I should have looked like a complete idiot, staring long enough to absorb every single detail of you, when the entire crowd was looking at the kid.
There had been days when I had sat idle in my room, staring at your Facebook photos, thinking of you, smiling to myself and longing to be near you, to become friends with you. I started following tennis because you played it. I started watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S so that I could say something interesting when you discussed about it (Blank stares didn’t seem to impress you at all!). I remember the first conversation we had. I bet you wouldn’t remember. I don’t expect you to remember either. I was sitting in the last row in the Math 101 class. You came 15 minutes late, slid through the back door and sat next to me, nudging me to make some space. I still remember your fragrance filling my nostrils, making me high. The sweat beads forming on my forehead, the air conditioner not helping. And then you spoke in my ears.
“Did he take attendance already?”
“Oh. Yeah. He just did”, I managed to say.
“Shit”, you said and then sneaked out as silently as you came in.
Then, we slowly started talking and became friends. It just happened and I wanted to believe that it was destiny that was driving my life. You won’t believe me, but I used to keep count of our meetings, trying to write every aspect of those lovely moments into my head. But, we started hanging out often and I eventually lost count. Our lives became entangled. We spent more time together than the time we were away from each other. Wonderful days, they were. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, Anu.
Over the years, you made a lot of friends. Broke a few, too. I’ve seen you go from being strangers to becoming very close friends and then back to strangers with many. But, you kept me close. I am blessed for that. I was there around to listen to your endless rambling of the conversations you had with the “cute” guys you met at the sport fest. You have no idea how much it hurt to know that there were guys who can make you laugh more than I can. I wanted you to be happy but I also wanted to be the reason for your happiness. How mean that was. I was there around when all you wanted was to cry, cry and cry more without even telling me the reason. It broke my heart to know that something had made you so sad. But, a part of me was pleased that you had chosen me. That you had chosen my shoulders to lean onto and not the stronger shoulders of the “cute” tennis guys (Okay! I am mean, I know).
My friends said that it was just an infatuation. I wanted to call it love. But, does the name really matter? What matters is the excitement that surges through me when I see your name, the longing for the beep from my phone to be a text from you every time I hear it, however improbable it may be. I think of you all the time, Anu. I think of what to talk when we meet. I think of the replies that you will give. I construct the conversations, all the time. I am so obsessed with you.
I would have told you this in the very first week of our meeting. My fear of coming off as a weird despo stopped me. I had my doubts, too. Whether my heart was tricking my mind to convince myself that it was love. Whether it was the pheromones in me, working overtime. Whether it was the effect of the all-boys school I attended. Whether I was unable to interpret and handle the slightest affection I got from the girl who was the closest to someone I can call a friend. I was trying to read between lines, I scrounged for hints. But, I kept my feelings under check for I didn’t want to lose you.
Now, four years and quite a few “female” friends after, I still feel the same about you. Maybe, it is not infatuation. Maybe, my heart was right, after all. Maybe, it is love. Our four years of friendship is at stake. I don’t want to lose a friend, in the process of looking for my love.
You are the first person I think of every morning and you are the last morsel of thought to linger in my head before sleep gets the better of me. I dream of the day when I can roll over in the middle of the night to find you, instead of your text message. You have given me so much. You have made me happy more than I ever thought I would be. My heart skipped a beat the first time I saw you. It still does. Every single time I see you.
I love you, Anu.
“Love letter? Dude, this is 2015! Chuck the letter, ask her out for a coffee and propose! Just do it”, were his friends’ advice. But, he knew better. He exactly knew what Anu would love. He knew that she was a girl who is outgoing and fun, bold and modern but likes certain things to have that old world touch – simple, slow yet abundant.
The day which he thought would be the most beautiful day of their lives didn’t quite go as he expected. It was indeed a beautiful day. For her. She told him that she was in love. She said she had met the love of her life. How much he wanted her to be wrong! But she was not. She never had been wrong. And, the letter stayed with him. Everything had a purpose to exist. The card was doomed to disintegrate without achieving its purpose of existence. Like an unpublished book, a composition which was not lucky enough to become a song.
It all happened so fast. She proposed. He agreed. Parents met. Dates were fixed for the Prince to tie the knot. The perfect fairy tale every girl dreams of. And he did tie the knot. Exactly four months, twenty seven days after the eventful day.
Now, sitting at his study, he felt numbness wash over his body. The piece of paper in his hand never fails to give him goose bumps every time he reads it. He was not sure if it was sadness that he felt. It definitely didn’t seem like joy, though. He carefully folded the paper along the same fold lines, put it in the folder and buried it under the seemingly unimportant sheets of paper in the drawer. He, then, removed his phone from the charger.
“Happy anniversary, Anu! Keep smiling. :)”, he texted.
His phone beeped almost immediately.
“Thanks da!!! 😀 Looking forward to meeting you, buddy!”, he read and tossed the phone on the table, smiling.
Yet another day of meeting people, crunching pointless numbers and making mundane presentations was awaiting him, before the soothing night could embrace him and lull him to a dreamless sleep. The void left behind by her absence was too big to be filled. He bid adieu to Chennai, earning his bread in a land which speaks in a tongue foreign to him. He had tried enrolling himself in an NGO to spend time with the destitute kids. He even renews his gym membership regularly, hoping that the distractions can steal him away from the reality.
Can love happen twice? Maybe. One can fall in love any number of times as long as the heart is able to recover from the blow it just had. But almost always the heart succumbs to pain and decides to shield itself from any potential pain inducers.
First love is not easy to forget. And, he wasn’t even trying.