LATE JULY, 2008. NEW DELHI
“That was the most special thing you’ve ever said to me,” I said.
“What was so special about it? I just said that I trust you blindly. How could that be counted as special? Are you so elated because you’re being trusted for the first time?” she was unforgiving, as usual.
“It is you who is telling me this. You have no idea how much it means to me.”
“See, I am not that bad. I am rather good at flattery!”
“You’re much better at being mean.”
“Heard that before. Jokes aside, let me ask you something. Do you trust me?”
“Of course! I trust your flattery, one hundred percent. That is what makes me feel special.”
“Oh poor baby! Such a sympathy seeker, you are. You’re kind of cute, you know? The kind that makes one want to love them,” she said. The ease with which she said the last sentence made my knees shaky. I wanted to fly and land right on top of her PG.
We were phone-friends, having met just once briefly during my college fest. She was in DU, I, at IIT, freshly out of my geeky childhood. We both had just come back from home after our summer vacations, about to enter the second year. She was the first female friend I had who removed the wall of awkwardness that usually surfaced whenever I tried to talk to women. My nerdiness made my eyes flit like carrom coins within the sockets, evading possible eye contact. My feet would shiver if the conversation went beyond 15 seconds, and I’d sweat like a runner if it crossed the 30 second mark.
She had caught me off guard the first time she visited my college campus with our mutual friend. I was supposed to show them the campus, be their tour guide. A minute after our introduction, which I gave perpetually looking at her feet, she lifted her right foot near my face and remarked, “Pranam kar lo. Don’t hesitate, touch my feet and take my blessing.” The three of us had burst out laughing, mine was more of a nervous laughter. She had asked me why I was so weird and shy. “It is the first time I am speaking to a woman after my middle school. I was too busy preparing for the IITs. I’m just not used to it,” I had shrugged, looking helplessly at her. It was the first time I looked a woman in the eye. She’d smiled and said, “Give me your phone. I am saving my number. Call me. I will help you get used to me.” She followed it up with a wink. Her directness pierced through my shyness like a bullet. Three months of conversation later, I had not only learnt how to speak words beyond ‘hmm’ without fainting but also, I felt ready to ask her out.
“What? What did you say just now? Did you mean it or was it just flattery?”
“What? I meant whatever I said,” she said.
“You mean … you mean you want to love me?”
“Yeah! I don’t just want to. I do, I guess. I love you … as a very good friend of mine.”
Now what was that? Another flattery? Or another gimmick? I hated her for sure!
“I joked earlier that you are mean, but now I mean it. You’re the meanest person I know.”
“What is this, silly? You’ll get angry if things don’t go according to your wishes. I told you that I love you like a friend. Isn’t that sufficient? Why trouble me with your tantrums? By the way, you sound adorable when you’re irritated.”
“Stop kidding! Not everything is a joke. Now things have gone down this road, let me tell you something. I was waiting to meet you this Sunday and tell you in person, but I think now is the right time. I think of you more than just a friend. Actually, I cannot stop thinking about you. I want to spend all my time talking to you, being there, making you laugh.”
“Oh hello! I am the funny one here. Your jokes are as boring as your face.”
“You take everything as a joke. Why can’t you see my sincerity? I want to be more than a friend to you.”
“Uff, so filmy. I have an offer. You want to be more than a friend. Be a friend and a cook! I need to save some money.”
“Stop fooling around. Answer me or I’ll cut the phone.” I rebuked.
“I know you would not cut the phone, silly. If you do, how will you hear my answer?”
I was agitated. This girl was going to fry my brain!
“Don’t irritate me more. Just tell me what do you want.” I asked.
“I want to leave it upon God.”
Oh God! From where the hell did God come up? If I had a gun, I would have searched and shot dead each and every God present on this Earth.
“Wow, what a sick choice! Leave it upon God. We’re damned. The day you are old enough to die, God will come to meet you and tell you that you should say a ‘yes’ to my proposal. And then, come with all the band-baaja of your ghost-friends to marry my ashes!”
“Oh my god, you’re so cute. Even in imagination, you want to die before me. Okay, here’s a deal. Let’s wait for tomorrow. If it rains tomorrow, I’m going to say a yes.”
What the hell was that?
“What the hell is that? It’s July and haven’t you seen the Delhi sun? There is no probability that it will rain. You’re being unfair to me.”
“If we’re destined to happen, it will rain.”
I was not sure whether God had a positive answer for her or not but I was totally sure that whatever be the case, God would have a negative answer for me. It had always been like that. Nothing had ever come to me just by chance. Moreover, my love for the sciences had made me an atheist since grade 6. God, my foot!
“You’re impossible,” I said and hung up the phone. She didn’t call me back. Nor did I. We both waited silently for the next day. The next day tested too much of my patience by taking more than the usual time to come.
I slept late being lost in thoughts, my bed right next to the window to face the cold breeze at night. My skepticism about the next day had overburdened my mind and it wanted rest. Sleep took over. I didn’t know when I slank into a deep sleep.
Drops of water lashed against my eyelids. The tired and glued eyelids experienced a magical curtain raising. My deep sleep had been evil-eyed, evil-eyed for bliss of a lifetime. The morning sun forgot to show the early-risers its everyday face. Clouds danced in the rain (yes, rain!) It was the best morning of my life.
I picked up my phone and straightaway called her. She was sleeping, unaware of the summer rain.
“Hey, your God answered and answered for me too! First tell me, where is my ‘yes’?” I charged.
“Your ‘yes’ is still with me and I am too selfish to give it to you.” Her voice seemed drunk.
“God can’t be so direct. It is just by chance that it rained, my belief has not yet been assured. If it rains again tomorrow, I’ll say a yes. Promise!”
“What? What the …? What is this? How could you be so unreasonable?”
“Practice makes a woman more perfect.” She must have winked after her statement. I could almost see it through the phone.
“You know what, your jokes don’t seem funny at all. You are confused and I’ll say it again: you’re the meanest, THE MEANEST in caps, person I know. I hate you,” I said and disconnected the call.
I was feeling a bit guilty for being rude to her. A minute later, her SMS dissolved all my guilt. She wrote, “Smile. That’s the second best thing you can do with your lips. And stop fantasizing about the first thing, silly!”
I did smile and messaged her back a smiley simultaneously. We shared no words that day.
At night she did call. I hung up saying, “Let us talk tomorrow itself, only if anything happens.”
“Not anything, silly, something,” she managed to squeeze in her sentence before I cut the phone.
I slept at 12, my usual. This time, I wasn’t tired but blank. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I tried reading, but couldn’t concentrate. I played Snake on my phone but couldn’t go beyond the first few bricks. I turned off the lights and stared at the starry sky through the window. No clouds in sight, I wondered as I drifted to sleep. For a change, I didn’t eagerly wait for the next day to arrive. It arrived quite early though.
The next morning, the sun was back to tease. Its blinding aura seemed to be telling me, “I am not your friend.”
I just watched the sky until I couldn’t see anything else, and then looked at my watch. It was college time. Busy Saturday it was. I had some laboratory work pending from the previous semester, where I got so engrossed that I lost track of time. I could not notice how the noon made way for dusk and brought an end to the supposed day of my glory. It was already dark when I came out. The night shadowed the campus with its funny darkness. I don’t know why it seemed funny to me, but it did. A hint of nature’s sarcasm, maybe. I looked at my phone for a missed call, or a text from her. None, nada. We had not shared a word that day. Until then.
Free from work, a bit anxious to ask her to reconsider the last morning rain as her dearest God’s answer, I decided to call her. Before I could speed-dial 1, ‘She calling!’ flashed intermittently on the screen.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! A million times. That’s what God’s answer is.” She cried with happiness.
“Did it rain today?” I asked. A rare calm descended upon. I didn’t feel any anxiety for a change.
“Yes, yes, yes. It has been raining here for the last two minutes. Elephants and hippos here.” Her voice danced.
Why wasn’t I as elated as she was? Even her witty description of rain could not bring more than a stingy smile on my face. I looked up at the dark night sky. A fat rain-drop struck my spectacles and scattered into a million pieces. As if a heart breaking. Soon more drops followed, some of which emerged from my eyes, but the dark sky had enough to fill back the well. It rained. Cats and dogs, elephants and hippos, dragons and fireflies. The clouds were barely two minutes late. I was angry at them that they pleased the lady first, while I was waiting for them since morning.
“Some hippos have come here too,” I said, still struggling to gather myself together.
“They have found their lost brother in you.”
“Come on, my face is not like a hippo. It’s ugly like you rather.” No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t outwit her.
“Yeah, so I should say I’ve found my lost brother in you!”
“You always make me lose when I am winning.”
“You never are.”
“Listen to me. I’ve to tell you something,” I said. I was not feeling the way I thought I would feel.
“What more? My stomach is full — with happiness and joy!”
“Give it a break. Now, it’s not a yes from me.”
“Oh my God, yet another tantrum! Listen silly, you don’t act smart, okay? Leave that bit to me.”
“I am serious. If it rains tomorrow, then I’ll say a yes. I need to convince myself if it really works or not.” I was serious. Quite surprised with myself, too. For an atheist to leave it upon God needed trust. Not on God but on love, maybe.
“We’ll talk tomorrow then. Tomorrow never ‘lies’!” she said. Her tone was a bit serious. I could still imagine her winking at least once. She loved being the one-eyed queen. I found her cute, too, though I never told her. She knew, perhaps. And I was in love with her. As she was with me. I knew, now.
The tomorrow came, not too sudden, not too slow either. At its natural pace, as if the wait was over. I called her.
“Hey, It’s a Sunday. The Sunday that we waited to meet for so long.”
“Thanks for making me realize that today you’re going to stink,” she said, poking me about my habit of not taking baths on Sundays if I was lazing in the hostel.
“I want to meet you and I’ve already taken a bath.”
“Well, that’s a surprise.”
“What? Wanting to meet you or taking a bath?” I asked.
“First tell me whether this ‘taking a bath’ means bathing in perfumes or a proper bath.”
“Oh, so the ‘I want to meet you’ thing is not a surprise for you?”
“Of course not. It’s our day after all.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“In the same way you always remain unsure, silly.”
I already had a proper bath and I bathed in perfumes too. Cool Water, the costly perfume that my uncle had got for me from Dubai seemed to be apt for the occasion. Having two baths a day does make you feel confident.
I took the auto till Central Secretariat and then the metro all the way to Vishwavidyalaya. I was going to meet her at last! The clouds flew out of my mind. I was thinking about her. Our first meeting. Those past conversations that lasted beyond nights and days. The summer vacations spent at home, where we’d talk in whispers from our respective toilets, being eaten to the bones by mosquitoes. How we both arrived a week in advance for college before our second year commenced for this day. The first date of my life.
I reached her place: a five-storeyed PG outside the Vishwavidyalaya metro station sharp at noon. She lived on the third floor, her window facing the road. When I looked up, the bright sun made it impossible for me to see anything. I called her but she didn’t pick up the phone. Her SMS came. It said, “Silly, you look sillier when you look up with your monkey face trying to fight the sunlight!”
I looked up again, and flashed a wide toothy grin. She was there at the window, a smug smile on her face. All of a sudden, her hand came out of the window and flipped a bottle full of water over my monkey face. Another SMS came, “Silly, here is your rain. Are you now fully convinced that it really works?”
I replied with a smile, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! A million times.”
She smiled back upon reading my message. She asked for five minutes which I happily gave her and I went to the other side of the road, standing there to wait for her, to watch her arrive. Finally.
She came running and jumped on me, giving me the tightest hug ever. I lifted her, an inch above the ground and whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you two, three, four, five, six ….”
“I love you a zillion times!” I said. I didn’t want competition.
“I win!” She said and winked in the same way as I always used to imagine her on the phone.
I was lost in her when something kissed my cheek. It was a wet kiss. That of the rain. The rain indeed arrived!