For Maithili, it was a different day at the office. Looking at the most important task of the day in her ‘to-do’ list, she felt a pang of both nervousness and excitement in her. She had worked hard for her presentation that she was to give that day in the meeting. It was a good opportunity for her to get promoted, as well as get noticed by the officials from the headquarters, who were going to be present in the meeting.
As she entered the conference room with her boss and few other associates, her heart started to beat faster. But this much nervousness was normal for her. Her boss introduced her to the senior officials who were present in the room that day. She was greeting everyone in the room with smile until one name made her uncomfortable.
“Maithili, that is Aviral Das, the co-executive of our organisation. He’ll be the one to judge your presentation today.”, boss whispered.
The name was familiar. And so was the face. But Maithili had her doubts. She chose not to meet him personally as it would create a wrong impression on him, if he doesn’t turns out to be the one she thought he was.
The presentation was perfect. She got her share of appreciation in the after meeting party. She had forgotten about Aviral, until she found herself standing in front of him.
“That was one helluva presentation, Mili.”, said Aviral.
It had been a long time since someone called Maithili that.
” Hi, Aviral.”
That face took Maithili into the past, she had long forgotten. Back in college, the duo was inseparable. They knew each other since school days, but became best of friends in college. Life drifted Maithili from everyone she knew, including her best friend, Aviral.
“So, wanna hang out sometime?”, Aviral asked, bringing Maithili back from her thoughts.
” Yeah. Whenever you say.”, said Maithili.
There wasn’t much for her to say, though she wanted to. The life she wanted to go back to stood in front of her having Aviral’s face. That was not possible, she knew. However, the idea of catching up with an old friend didn’t seem bad to her.
Aviral recognised Maithili as soon she entered in the room. But he wasn’t sure if Maithili, or her Mili, would want to meet him, or anyone from college. Mili had snapped ties from everyone after college. Rumours had it that it was due to Sushant, her then-boyfriend turned into husband, that she was made to cut everyone loose from her life. And that was the last thing Aviral knew about his best friend. It had been 5 years since then, and he did everything to contact Maithili in the mean time, but failed.
Aviral had feelings for Maithili, which he decided to confess before the end of their college, but with Sushant in the picture, Aviral decided to keep his feelings a secret. Her withdrawal broke his heart, but he still wished her well, and hoped for their paths to cross someday. That day was today.
It was 8 at night and Aviral was standing at Maithili’s door, with a bouquet in one hand & a box of chocolate in other. He had already made his mind to meet everyone in Maithili’s family. Maithili invited him for dinner, as meeting somewhere outside would’ve led people gossip at work. Also, it was Aviral, or “A-viral” as she called him in college, with whom she wanted to talk just as she used to back then.
Aviral didn’t had to wait much. Maithili opened the door. Dressed simply in peach coloured salwar-kurti, she looked dazzling to Aviral.
“Hey. You look lovely. These are for you.”, he said, handing Maithili the bouquet & chocolates.
“Thankyou.”, Maithili smiled. “It feels nice to have you here. Come. Sit.”
“I can smell the dinner, Madam.”
“And I heard your stomach growling even before you entered. Don’t worry, the dinner is ready. Let’s have it first.”
“Hahaha. Yay! Food.”
Aviral watched Maithili as she served him the food. Since he expected other family members to be around, he was surprised not finding anyone else at the dinner table. For some strange reason, he felt not asking anything to Maithili unless she tells herself. Maybe because it was her turn to tell things. The turn that was due since last 5 years. Maithili knew she had a lot of explaining to do, and of all the people, Aviral deserved it the most. But she didn’t want to spoil their dinner. There was an awkward silence between the two. Except for passing on food, & exchanging quick glances, the duo didn’t talk while having food.
“God! I am full. One of the best dinner I’ve had in recent times. Thankyou for inviting me, Mili.”, Aviral said after he was done.
Maithili smiled. “That’s fine.” She cleaned the table & went into the kitchen to do the dishes.
“Need help with anything?”, Aviral asked.
“No. Just wait. I’ll be with you in a while.”
Aviral looked around in the meantime. There were photos of Maithili with her parents, whom he recognised, & a kid, whom he didn’t recognise but guessed him to be her son. She looked happy in all those pictures. What he couldn’t help but notice was absence of Sushant’s picture in the house. Even in other frames, he was nowhere to be seen.
Maithili came from the kitchen with two beer bottles in her hand. She wanted to live like her old days, no matter how short. Or she just wanted to live for a while.
“Join me once you are done investigating.”, she joked, opening the caps of the chilled bottles.
“I am done.”, Aviral replied as he came towards the table. They both sat in front of each other.
“So how are you, Viral?”
“I am fine. Spreading the virus of my charm everywhere. You say? How are you? How have you been all these years?”
”I am fine.”
“Are you seeing someone? Or got settled?”
“I am a happy bachelor, you see.”
“What about that girl from college you were into? There was a gossip. I wanted to confirm, but I guess I left too early.”
Aviral smirked at her question. She was asking about herself. “Yeah. I am still into her. But there was already someone else. So… Anyway. Tell me about you.”
He found it hard to wait further. He knew Maithili had a lot to say. He held her hand.
“You know what I am asking, Mili. You know what you need to tell.”
Maithili took another sip of the beer. Her eyes welled up.
“I don’t know where to start. You’ll have to ask me.”, she said.
“Okay. Why did you leave us all?”
“It was a stupid mistake. I was blind in love. Everything I did was to make Sushant happy. He didn’t like me gelling-up with other people, especially you. I thought it was love but it was not. It took me a lot of time to realise how alone I had become.”
“And you didn’t even try to get back to us, not even once?”
“Initially I didn’t. I felt guilty for cutting everyone loose and didn’t had the courage to face you all. But once I started to feel scared, I tried to reach for help. Just that it didn’t work out. I am sorry.”
Maithili started to cry. Aviral pacified her.
“Scared? Of what? Mili, tell me everything.”, he asked.
“Scared of Sushant. Everything was fine between us initially, until I caught him cheating on me. I confronted him but he refused to say anything. He came home drunk one night. I was shocked & angry, but he was too drunk to notice. When I expressed my displeasure the next morning, he slapped me. That was the first time I realised that I have made a wrong choice. I should have left him that day itself, but he apologised & I melted. The next day was worse. I don’t remember how many times he slapped me before I fainted. But by the time I regained my senses, I found myself tied to the bed, naked. He had raped me. I felt the pain. I saw him drinking. I tried to get up, but he didn’t let me. He raped me again.”
Aviral froze. Maithili was in his arms, crying like a child, still narrating her side of story.
“It was like he wasn’t the man I married. He was someone else, who forced himself upon me. I was unable to walk the next morning, but when I did, I made sure it was out of his life. I came back to my parents & soon filed for a divorce. By the time it got finalised, I was pregnant. I took up this job after Ishan was born. He is the reason I live for.” Maithili was looking at Ishan’s photo on the wall.
Aviral was in tears. He couldn’t take his eyes off Maithili. It was hard for him to imagine what she went through. Maithili calmed herself. A burden was lifted off her chest, and she felt free. Wiping away her tears, she tried to change the topic of their conversation. “So why didn’t you marry, Aviral? And who is that girl?”
Aviral couldn’t think of any lie. Or maybe he didn’t want to. He decided to tell Maithili everything, no matter the outcome. Afterall what she has suffered until now, she has the right to decide what is best for her and her son. If after hearing him, she decides to cut him loose again, then so be it. “That girl was you, Maithili. I was in love with you since our first year in college, and I had made up mind to tell you so on the day of our farewell party. but you were already with Sushant, so I decided not to tell you anything. I wish I had, but that doesn’t matter anymore. You were happy with him. I am shocked after hearing what you just told me. I tried to find someone like you but couldn’t, or maybe I didn’t try enough. I still love you, Mili. I don’t know why I am telling you this, but some truths aren’t meant to be hidden. I don’t know how you’ll react to this, but I still want to spend my life with you, as much as I wanted it since I started to love you.”
Maithili stared at him wide-eyed. Aviral decided not to face her anymore. He stood up & left. Maithili was unable to believe what she just heard. By the time, she realised that it was all real, Aviral had left. She tried to call him but he didn’t pick. She was unable to sleep the whole night. She expected him at the office, but her boss told her that all the seniors were leaving the same morning. Maithili knew what she had to do.
Aviral was ready to catch his flight. As soon as he picked up his luggage after the announcements were made for his flight, he heard his name in familiar voice.
“Don’t leave me, Aviral.”, said Maithili from behind.