Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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The story she lived!
The girl at the adjacent table stopped typing and looked up.
It had been six years.
“Aashay!” she said and gestured him to come and sit with her. She took a sip of water and tried to calm her excitement down. ‘He looks so good with the beard’ she thought
“What are you reading?” he asked pointing at the book
She was thankful for that generic question.
“Borderlands” she said and handed him the book
He read the last paragraph of the synopsis twice, wondering what to talk about now.
“How have you been?” she finally asked closing her laptop.
“Good and how about you?”
“I am great”
The awkward silence was filled by the waiter’s “Anything else ma’am?”
“No thank you. Do you need anything?”
“No I am good thanks” Aashay noticed her sitting cross legged as always, her ripped jeans and slippers.
“Bill please” she said unfolding her legs
“So are you in contact with anyone from the camp?”
“Not really. Shreya of course but no one else actually” he said
“Yeah, how’s Shreya?”
“She is doing great. We meet during Diwali, her mom wanted dad and me to come over for dinner. It was a good time”
“Nilema aunty makes world best Kadhae Paneer” Kavi said
“It was Kadhae Paneer that day”
Kavi noticed his lingering smile. He was really happy she knew.
There had been some problems between his dad and Shreya’s mom. But Nilema aunty loved him more than a step son.
The waiter with his impeccable timing had arrived with the bill.
“I needed to post a letter. Do you want you come?” she asked
“You still write to your grandmother?”
“I would love to” Aashay heard himself say
“I just need to use the toilet first” she said getting up.
She couldn’t help but smile when even he got up. Chivalrous!
Mumbai Central had witnessed both their first and last meet. He had never seen anyone pull off a combination of blue track pants and maroon color t shirt so well. She was playing with her bag traps and was least bothered about the dog that kept sniffing around.
The camp leader pulled out a sheet and started reading out the names.
“Kavi Bose, is she here?”
All of them started looking at each other. The leader shouted the name again.
“That’s me” she said putting her had up
“You are the one from Chembur, right?” he asked
‘She is a bong!’ said his Punjabi mind.
It was 16 May 2013 but the memory is as fresh as yesterday.
“Let’s go” she said packing her laptop and book in her bag.
“Yeah” he said coming out of his nostalgia
He held the door and smiled.
‘God he is still the same. He is too good for me’ she thought. There is something about men holding the door that gets the women every time.
“So what are you doing in Delhi?” she asked
“Delhi College of Arts and Commerce has offered me a job to teach Spanish”
“Eso es increíble” (That’s amazing)
”Tú hablas español” (You speak Spanish)
“Si muy poco” (Yes, very little)
“But I don’t know if I will take it”
“Why you love the language, you love teaching, then why not?” Kavi said persisting
“Yeah, I don’t know, maybe I will” she still gets pushy when she talks about something she likes and he loved that about her. She cared that means she cared for him, he knew.
“Anyway tell me about you. I saw you typing rigorously at the café. Does that mean…”
“I don’t know, I think so” she said cutting him
He remembered how she had narrated the story of a girl and the tree she loved while in the train to Manali Camp. Everyone liked it. Aashay loved it. He loved the way she spoke, her expressions were transparent and she was all engrossed in it.
“It was a really nice story. You were amazing!”
“Thanks. I also write poetry but not so much. Mostly all my poems don’t rhythm”
“I kind of like it better when they don’t”
“Me too” she said
This was their first conversation ever.
“But I have to complete my dissertation first or else I had it” Kavi was firm on it
“What’s your topic?”
“Diplomacy and culture”
“You know many interesting cultural rituals in Spain and Latin America that have shaped the way they think” he said
“Yes. Culture is the unconscious filter that we most likely to ignore in a diplomacy”
“Wow that sounds big”
“It is actually”
It was pleasantly cold and it had been long since she had walk the talk with someone. She remembered the time he had cried on her lap. He had been rude to his father, step mom and step sister, Shreya who was also there at the camp. He had realized his mistake.
“Go and apologize, go” she had persisted
He had taken her advice and Shreya had come and hugged her tightly for that.
There was silence as they walked. So much going through their minds.
“I’ll just come” she said going into the post office.
It was the third day of camp and first day of skiing. He and Kavi were last in the line and along the way had missed the others.
“I am pretty sure we are lost”
“That’s not encouraging” panicked Aashay said
“Why are you tensed?” carefree Kavi said
“I doubt you realize the gravity of the situation”
“What is hmm supposed to mean?”
“You are so uncool” she said
“I am not”
“Let’s see a cool Aashay then”
The next one and half hour was the best time of his life. He had never been crazy like this before. They rolled in the snow made snow angels. He loved the way she was unapologetically herself in every moment. After a while they just laid on the snow holding hands not saying a word. Neither of them uttered a word for a while but the silence wasn’t hurting, it was more like reassuring. That was really a special moment!
“I am hungry” Kavi said coming out of the post office
“You are always hungry” he teased
She liked when he did that, be a little annoying. It took her back to the camp days. It took her to the time he did that for the first time.
“Can I have some more coffee?” Kavi asked
Camp leader, David had smiled pouring some coffee in her mug. She pretended to be irritated but actually she had liked it.
Their admiration for each other was visible to everyone. They loved each other’s company and most of the time they completely forgot about all others at the camp.
“So what do you want to eat?” he asked bringing her back to reality
“Okay let’s go then”
They walked quietly for a while.
“Should we play quick answers?” Kavi asked
“I suck at it”
“No you don’t”
“Okay” Aashay agreed
“Mountain or Beach”
“Ice cream cone or cup?”
“Stairs or elevator”
“Cat or dog”
“Book or Movie”
“It went well I think”
“Okay my turn” Aashay said
“Shoot” she said with a readiness in her voice
“Men with beard or clean shave”
“Delhi or Mumbai”
“Spicy or sweet”
“Kindle or book”
“Amazon or Flipkart”
“Told you it’s fun” she said grinning
“David sir introduced this at the camp right?”
“No Kunal sir. He was super fun” she said
“Are you in contact with them?”
On the second last night of the camp they had a bonfire. They sang and danced around it. The curfew time was extended and everyone decided to play ‘One thing you love and one thing you hate about each one’
”Hold my hand” Aashay said putting his hand on her lap
He was warm and it felt nice. Aashay had never felt like this for anyone before. He loved everything about her.
‘I love the way she smiles, the way she makes me feel. She smart, funny and beautiful’ was what Aashay had said.
She had pressed his hand and he let her.
‘It is one of the best days of my life’ she had written in her diary that night. Her diary knew how she felt, even if she denied a bit herself. This was more than just friends’ certainly.
“God it had been long since I had Pani puri” he said
“It’s my staple food” Kavi said with a laugh
“So tell me what are you writing about?”
“I told you I first have to complete my dissertation”
“I know but what is it about”
“The story is about three people who meet at the railway station everyday”
“Railway station is a nice place. Happening yet still routine”
“Yes exactly. So they somehow start talking and slowly get to know each other. They have each other’s back”
“I want to read it”
“Can I please read it?”
“No not yet”
“I am your first critic come on”
She looked at him. He had that same lingering smile. She loved the way he smiled.
“You know maybe I will take that job” he said
“I think you should” she said with a grin.
“You know Spanish is not a language it’s a feeling. I hate when someone asks me to translate. I mean I can translate but I hate to” he said
“You know there is this saying that ‘translating poems is like taking a shower with a raincoat on’”
“That’s beautiful” he said
On the last day of the camp they were given time for shopping. Aashay was with Kavi when they started but girls take so much time in everything they buy. They decided to meet at the schedule time at the restaurant.
“What did you get?” he asked
“Some small souvenirs and a few cross bags”
“What about you?”
Aashay took out a chain with a clover locket.
Kavi nodded and let him put the necklace.
“It’s so sweet”
“It looks nice on you” he said
“Sorry I didn’t get you anything” she said
“Don’t worry about it”
He took out his cell phone and took a picture of her.
“Oh wait” she said and held the locket and smiled
“I look stupid” she said
“I love it” he said
They sat on the park bench in the faintly December Delhi sun. Kids played and birds chirped. Sitting next to him made her more than happy. He made her feel special as if he she was the only one. His undivided attention was dangerous and she felt a pang in her stomach.
“It’s so nice here” he said breaking the silence.
“All I get is an hmm” he laughed and so did she.
“You still have this habit” he said
“Hmm” she said and laughed again
“God I had miss this. I had missed you” he said, his voice cracking
“Aashay please don’t start”
“Why did you do that?” he asked
“Please do you really want to do this now, after such a wonderful time we had”
“God Aashay we were young and naïve. We met in a camp for God sake”
“So what is wrong in that? I loved you then, I love you now and will always do. Just wanted to get that out in the open. It wasn’t young love as you say it”
Kavi didn’t say a word. Tears rolled down her eyes.
“Kavi please don’t cry or else I’ll start crying too”
“Let me take your picture I will send it to Shreya”
“Come on Kavi smile”
She rubbed off her tears and smiled. She remembered the time he had said that for the first time.
“Shreya says hi”
“Hi Shreya, what is doing now-a-days”
“Oh she is studying Psychology and absolutely loves it”
“She has always been the matured one in the two of you” she said
“Yeah I know” he agreed
“Look at this emoji she sent” he said holding his phone for her to see
Kavi could not believe what she was seeing. Tears rolled down her eyes again.
“What happened now?”
“You still have that picture as you’re WhatApp wallpaper”
It was the picture on her holding the clover locket he had given her during the camp.
“It’s my favorite picture. I never thought of removing it. It never came to me”
Kavi was crying hard now.
“I am sorry. I am so sorry”
“It’s okay” he said holding her hand
“I was scared and felt vulnerable. I am scared even now. I don’t know I tend to push people away. The people I love the most”
“It’s okay. You can never get rid of me though. I will always love you no matter what”
”Oh God I am so bad. You are too good for me”
“That’s not true”
“I love you” she said softly under her breath
“What? What did you just say?” he could not believe his ears
“I love you, I always have” she said this time looking straight into his eyes.
Aashay started jumping in happiness and could not stop smiling for hours!
“The End” Kiera read and the audience applauded.
It was her first reading of her first book at a bookstore. People had loved it she could see. The story she read was the story she had lived.
“I am happy you didn’t change my name in the book” Kavi heard and turned
“Shreya! I am so happy you are here”
“Where else would I be” she said and held the book, “Signature please” she said
“He loved it I know he did. He loved everything about you” Shreya said with watery eyes
“Thank you Shreya it means a lot”
“You know it was because of you that he became my brother from a step brother. I never actually thanked you for that”
“Come on Shreya you don’t have to”
“No I do. Thank you Kiera, thanks a lot”
“You’re most welcome. I have some special edition books and I want you to have one”
“It has an afterword and writer’s note”
“Why not put that in all the books?” Shreya asked
“I did not feel it was necessary”
The Afterword read- Kavi aka Kiera married the love of her life Aashay Joshi. He was diagnosed with lung cancer 8 weeks after their weeding. Kiera refuse to remarry. Aashay is always with her no matter what. She is currently teaching Spanish in Delhi’s Art and Commerce College. She goes to the park bench every Sunday in late afternoon. She says she still feels his presence every time she is there. She still loves Pani Puri and cannot get over men with beard ‘Borderlands ‘is one of her absolute favorite books and she loves to take quiet walk on her own. She likes keeping in contact with people and troubling them with WhatsApp messages. She never finished the book about the three people who met on the railway station. She never wants to somehow.
The book is dedicated to my first critic, Aashay aka my love!