I dreaded facing Naveen. We hadn’t seen each other for four months, and normally the prospect of meeting him after so long would have had me excited, but this time it was different.
An awkwardness hung between us.
Threatening to widen the crack that was already starting to appear in the veneer of affection that hid our so-called relationship.
The rain splattered the window panes of the moving bus, beating at the glass as if seeking vengeance for some long-forgotten crime. Thunder growled outside, but the sounds were drowned out by the roar of the engine. The tempestuous world was sealed without, and it was as if I belonged to a different, more peaceful place — a different era. Then a sudden flash of lightning split the hard iron sky in two — illuminating my world within, and blurring the thin line that seemed to separate my reality from the dark, stormy night outside.
I let out a soft sigh of sadness. My breath misted on the cold glass pane, and formed a pale white circle I could draw shapes on. Had it been the earlier, happier days, I would have made a heart with an ’N’ in it, but things were not so simple now. My heart wanted to belong to Naveen, to give him all the love he deserved, but my mind was in a whirl, ablaze with a storm even wilder and more ominous than the one raging on outside.
The bus gave a sudden jolt, and Ajay’s head lolled to my side. I looked at him — his sleepy eyes belied his emotions. I knew he was awake too, but pretending otherwise, to avoid the awkwardness that might creep up between us. I sighed once again, and resumed looking out the window.
What a mess I had landed myself in!
I had fallen in love with Naveen a long time ago, and we had shared some really special moments. But over the years, our relationship had soured. Withered like a flower left unattended in the sun — its pale pink petals turning white and slowly curling up at the edges, ultimately falling off — too old and weak to hold on. A chasm had emerged in our love — an abyss so dark and deep that it threatened to pull us down if we pondered too long and hard over it. I did not know who was to blame, or maybe both of us had played our part in our falling apart, in equal measure. The arguments that we had almost every day pierced my heart and made me cry, his not caring about me hurt me even more. And in those depressing days of my life, Ajay had been like a ray of hope. He had always been there for me whenever I needed a shoulder to cry on, and pour my heart out to, when I felt I was so full of emotions that I was close to bursting.
And in my loneliness, in my need for love and care, in my childish desire to be understood, I had found myself being inexplicably drawn to my best friend — Ajay. I never knew how it happened, or when, but suddenly I found myself sharing all my feelings with him, and in the magic of our newly forged camaraderie, my feelings for Naveen started taking the backseat. Now it no longer mattered if he never called me, or shouted at me, because I knew Ajay would always be there to wipe my tears afterwards. Our incessant bickering did not bother me anymore, because I knew there was more to life than just tears and pain.
And that some memories can be expunged, no matter how painful they seem to be.
Ajay had confessed to loving me on more than one occasion, but I had never taken him seriously. Why then, did I suddenly feel all nervous and confused when he was by my side on this bus? I dared not look at him — the very thought of catching his eye was terrifying, I did not know what kind of electricity might pass between us in that one glance. I was scared, afraid that Ajay might come to know that I cared for him too, and worse still, what if Naveen found out what deep dark secrets I had concealed within myself?
What if my facade of love for him was not enough to hide that burning flame my heart had just kindled for Ajay?
My train of thought was derailed when the bus screeched to a sudden halt. Ajay woke up and hugged himself, shivering slightly. “Its quite cold”, he remarked, trying his best to lighten the tension.
The tension between us that hovered in the air — unseen, unheard, but lurking in the darkness like a stranger.
I offered to share my shawl with him — a simple friendly gesture, what friends do all the time. He was feeling cold, I had offered my shawl. Period. But that sudden brush of our shoulders, the feel of his cold skin against my burning forearm made me shiver. I tried to ignore the totally uncalled for feeling, but small talk did not come easy to me. And his attempts at conversation were half-hearted — as if he knew how poignant the silence was, and did not want to shatter it by reminiscing unnecessary things. He moved closer to me, and our arms touched once again. I gulped in all the air I could, but I could not make my fluttering heart stable.
I looked out the window, and remarked — “It’s going to be colder as the night progresses.”
He looked at me. And made no attempt to reply.
The silence hung in the air like a predator, waiting to pounce.
I reminded myself to comb my hair before getting down from the bus.
I tried to think of something to say.
And just like that, his lips were on mine — soft, tender and nervous. And to my shock, my own lips were responding — dancing to the music of my heartbeat. Ajay’s hair, so soft to touch. His breath, sweet smelling and ragged in my ears. His cologne, musky and masculine. His collar bones, so well defined, and protruding from his body at just the perfect angle. His feel… oh, holding him tight against my body — pure magic!
Is there anything right or wrong in this world? Should we even care if we know what happiness is? Is there a difference between love and lust? Aren’t they merely synonyms? Just two words to be used in exchange of the other, when people are at a loss for what to say!
* * *
My eyes were heavy with sleep and guilt when dawn broke.
Ajay grimaced as the first rays of light came in through the window and fell on his face, gentle and caressing like a lover’s touch. We held hands beneath the shawl, our tired fingers clasped together, scared that if we let go, we might never get a chance to hold each other again. Our college had closed for the summer break, and we were on our way home — at least Ajay was. I had planned to take a detour through Patiala, where Naveen stayed.
Now that it was light, I found it too difficult to look at Ajay, let alone talk to him. The silence between us was saturated with unsaid things, unexpressed feelings. We hadn’t slept a wink the entire night, but neither of us was sleepy. There were only a few minutes left before the bus would drop me off at Patiala.
Before I would have to break Ajay’s heart. Before I would have to break Naveen’s heart.
The rain had rejuvenated the world, and it sparkled as the light played with it. The new green of summer was shimmering in the valleys, and on the tips of the blades of grass. A weak morning sun shone on the world outside, painting the roofs of the houses a vivid red. But beneath the soffits — and in my heart, the night still huddled.
I disengaged my hand from Ajay’s and arranged my bag. The bus came to a stop, just as he had made a move to grab hold of me once again.
I mustered the courage to look at Ajay one last time before I left.
His face was impassive, but his eyes were pleading me to stay, to choose him over my boyfriend of four years. Those deep brown pools were filled with love — a love that I knew I could not requite, at least not now, when I had come so close to Naveen. And without a word, I got up. My body brushed against his as I moved out from the seat, and with a twinge of regret, I thought that whatever had transpired between us the previous night had to be considered a mistake.
I got down from the bus — bags in both hands. The cold morning air was chilly on my bare arms. Naveen saw me and rushed to help me out. The man to whom my heart really belonged…
Or did it?
I looked at him and smiled. He smiled back at me. “You look beautiful”, he said. My lips curved into a smile, but I could think of no words to say just then.
I come from a country where Medium hasn’t introduced the Partner Program yet. So if you liked my work, you might consider buying me a beer.
Also, don’t hesitate to hit that clap button so that this story can reach more people. Please do follow me for more.