I see him coming from the other end of the courtyard. Say it today! Say it! No I can’t . I run away. Hey! Stop . Where are you going? Voices disappear behind me but I keep running..never looking back…
As I struggle to get me, my bag, my purse onto the bus, I am pushed from behind by two very assertive women. I find a seat and by the time I load on my stuff, there is just enough room for me, and not much for anyone else. And then the bus fills up and I find myself crammed in with two children, an older sister and younger brother, sitting virtually on my lap. We leave on schedule as people settle into their seats. The two pushy women in front of me and their young daughter, who don’t seem to have a seat at all, opt instead into standing as close as she could to me, shoulder to shoulder. The women keeps smiling and talking to me in a language I don’t understand, the girl keeps trying to get as close as possible and the bus keeps getting hotter under the noonday sun and it is all very interesting for about the first hour. Eventually, I am starting to feel suffocated, and wondering if the last hour of the trip is going to be an endurance test.
I flip through the book he once gave me. Can I see him again? Can I bear it? Do I want to see him? I close my eyes and tilt my head back as grief and longing lance through me. Of course I do. Torturous memories flash through my mind— his gentleness, his humor. I miss him. It’s been two months since our school ended and he being a boarder returned to his city , two months of agony that have felt like an eternity.
The bus stand is bustling with people of all hues and colours . I take out the city map ( GPS is not for Real Explorers). I have just one lead – he lives somewhere near a cinema hall- Devki Talkies. I feel like James Bond- Ray Bans on eyes which are constantly scrutinizing the streets ,map in one and weapon( in my case a pepper spray) in other hand- only I am on a rickshaw while he travels in swanky cars.
The cinema hall is amidst a market. But finally – हम तो हम हैं- I locate his house and ring the bell. A lovely lady comes out. Plan A is ready.
“Hello ma’am . I am from National Sample Survey Organisation. I have a few questions to ask about your family for the National Population Register.” She looks convinced.
” Its too hot.Can I come inside?” I ask with the most innocent face I could make.
“Hmm. My daal would be burning in the kitchen. I ‘ll send my son.” The arrow hit its aim.
He comes into the drawing room .
“What. How.Why?” If I say he looked shocked, it would have been the understatement of the year. I had never heard silence this loud. “You are mad as always”. He says finally gaining the stock of the situation.
” I have to rush before your mother discovers fake officials at home. Meet me at the Kalki Mandir at 4 pm. ”
Constructed in stone, the Kalki temple conformed to the typical style of the North Indian Temple Architecture.Although the access to the temple was through a ceremonial archway that opened at the street level, the temple itself sat atop a twenty foot high plinth. It was interesting to note that instead of steps leading up to the temple, there was a ramp in two easy gradients. Facing the temple in one corner was a canopied kiosk which contained a fine white marble stature of a horse. The connection was clear: when Kalki arrives, he will find his mount ready! That is why the ramps were perhaps there – to facilitate the horse to come down or climb easily.
But the temple itself was closed. In fact it had been closed ever since it was built. Today, a caretaker priest appointed by the state government kept it clean and tidy by periodically opening it. Otherwise, the Kalki temple bore a deserted look. No devotees. No prayers. No temple bells. Clearly, Kalki’s time had not yet come! But who knows, in the timeless turning of the heavens and the earth, Kalki may not be very far away …
” What are you thinking?It would have been a long journey. Why didn’t you tell me? ” I turn my head right and there stands Siddharth. I look into his glowing eyes ,silent , words refusing to come out. I feel the familiar pull—I am drawn, Icarus to his sun. I have been burnt already, and yet here I am again.
A cool breeze hits my face making my curls dance to its tune. I tuck them behind my ear.
“Old habits” he says with a smile . ” Never change” I reply with a smile.
“How are you? You ran away on farewell! You are not even replying to my texts?” he asks, his voice soft.
” I couldn’t say goodbye properly. Just wanted to see you once before beginning my new life at college.” My voice is small, contrite.
“What?You travelled 85 kms for this! You know how dangerous it is , travelling alone? You could have been kidnapped, looted or god forbid what! You are not a child anymore Saumya!”
” I-DID-IT-FOR-YOU. For five freaking years it has been you who has stood by me. We have shared our lunch boxes, bunked classes in name of our fake debate rehearsals , played footsie in library, got locked up in the greenhouse together . We even caught cold eating the roadside kulfi together.”
“So?” Why do you boys want full-detailed-logical explanations all the time?Some things are understood without saying , idiot. Go watch some bollywood movies !
“I love you dammit! It isn’t easy letting go “I say , my voice unexpectedly louder this time .The words keep echoing in the temple premises striking the marble tiles and reflecting back. I notice even the idol of Kalki eyeing ,accusing me of disturbing its sleep . Sorry God , its important.
No reaction from his side. Oh no 😦
He starts walking towards me, his face revealing nothing. He grabs my arm and abruptly pushes me against a pillar. “Then don’t” , he says grabbing my face between his hands, forcing me to look up into his ardent determined eyes.Suddenly the atmosphere between us changes, charging with an electric, exhilarating anticipation. We kiss.
My inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba. Whitney Houstan plays in the background
You, darling, I love you
Oh, I’ll always, I’ll always love you
Phew, destination reached.