The Ride.

“MESSAGE FROM RAUNAK.”

The display read, as soon as Soumit turned on his phone. “Are you sure about this?”, the message read. Soumit would’ve replied, but the phone turned off as batteries ran out. Disappointed, he took out power bank from his bag & put his phone on charging. The next moment he saw outside. The traffic jam was as it is. The look on the cab driver’s face indicated that the jam won’t clear any soon. Tired, Soumit rested his head against the seat & dozed off.

He saw Manjari in his sleep. Her face wet in tears, and eyes speaking everything that her lips sealed. Just like the last time he saw her. She looked beautiful. “Please”, he heard her say. Soumit woke up with a jerk. He dropped the idea of napping. The traffic hadn’t moved an inch. the cab driver noticed his uneasiness. “It’s gonna take time, Saahib. The traffic here is always this bad, sometimes even worse, but there is no other route to the place you wish to go. Have patience, Saahib.”

“Hmmm. Okay.”, Soumit said. He didn’t feel like saying much. The noise in his head was way more loud than the noise outside, and that was what tiring him more. The cab driver tried to strike conversation with Shoumit.

“Can I ask you something, Saahib?” asked the driver. The question distracted Shoumit from his thoughts. At that moment, he would’ve used everything to stay distracted. He didn’t mind the talk.

“Yeah. Go on.”, said Soumit.

“This place I am taking you to, is this your home?”

“No. Why?”

“Just curious, Saahib. I saw your desperation to reach this place, outside the airport. Its far & always full of traffic. Other cab drivers don’t usually prefer coming on this route. People either meet up at some place else which is easier to reach. they go this far only if they live there or have some important work. You said you don’t have your home there, so it must be something really important you are going this far for!”

“It is important. It’s not home or family. I don’t live in this city. but I am here to see someone. I used to come here regularly. This problem of traffic jam isn’t new to me. But I still wish if I could reach there earlier. Just for today.”, said Soumit.

“If you don’t mind, Saahib, the person you are here to see, is this a girl?”, asked the driver, noticing Soumit’s expression in the back mirror, doubting if he has struck a wrong chord.

Soumit, on the other hand, didn’t mind. He perceived the driver to be talkative, but since he was polite, he didn’t mind opening up to him. “Its okay. I don’t mind. You are right. It’s a girl. The girl I love. Its been a long time since I last saw her, so that is why I am being a bit uneasy.”

The cab driver smiled. “Let’s hope the traffic clears out soon then. She must be waiting for you too.”

“No. She doesn’t know that I am here. Its been quite a while since we talked. But I hope she gets happy when she sees me.”

The cab driver was startled at first. He looked at Soumit & sighed.He didn’t mean to probe Soumit’s personal space or make him uncomfortable. Soumit noticed his smile fading away.

“It was my fault. She asked me to stay. She was willing to be with me, even when the difficulties of my life would’ve complicated her life too. But I was unsure and scared. All she ever asked for was our togetherness, and I failed her. I have broken her trust, I’ve realised. But I hope it’s not too late to make things right.”

“You have come this far, Saahib. It won’t go in vain.”

There was no holding back for Soumit. He wanted to tell someone how he was feeling about everything right now, but without being judged. The cab driver’s words made him express more freely.

“We met during my difficult times. She held my hand even when I was lost, and she was willing to be lost with me. Maybe she saw the strength in me to find my way. All she wanted me was to keep holding her hand. But I chose isolation over her. She would’ve waited for me, had i asked her to. But I was scared. And we drifted apart. It took me a lot of time to realise her worth. I hope I get her back.”

“Fearing is justified, Saahib. Life is funny & unpredictable. It changes us with it. But Saahib, very few people stay with us, no matter how bad life gets, and they do so only because they want to. Your decision doesn’t makes you a bad person, Saahib. You were right. But sometimes, you should let those stay who want to, & let those go who wish to. That is how love is.”

Soumit sighed. The traffic cleared, so the cab driver started the engine. “We’ll reach there soon.”, he said. Wind started playing with Soumit’s hair and made him miss Manjari more. His phone was back to life. He turned it on. There were a few messages from Raunak. He replied to his first message only. He scrolled his contact list & stopped at Manjari’s name.

The cab stopped. “You have reached, Saahib.”, said the cab driver. “Let me help you with unloading your luggage.”

“Its fine. I’ll manage. Here, take your fare. Keep the change. And thankyou for everything.”, said Soumit. It wasn’t just the ride he thanked him for.

The cab driver smiled. “She is your soulmate, Saahib. Don’t let her go this time. Become her soulmate.” Soumit smiled and the cab driver speeded off.

Soumit turned & entered inside the gates. He rang the doorbell.

The nameplate behind read, ‘Manjari Sharma’.

 

 

 

 

It was a long ago.

As I sit here grieving & you lying in my arms, all silent & still, the pleasant memories of our togetherness has started to haunt me.

Seven years ago, when we met through our mutual friend, it was love at first sight. Teenage love is crazy. Sparks flew & soon we were that couple anybody would get jealous of. Our romance was short-lived but intense. I remember how I used to drool over your curves. Like aroma of an incense-stick, the passion in our romance spread in the air, during our meetings in that lonely corner of your room. I can’t forget that newborn-like smoothness of your skin that intoxicated me every time I touched you. You made one of the most melodious symphonies when my fingers tickled & played with your beautiful body colored in an amazing proportion of black & white. The world around us both envied & enjoyed our shameless love-making.

My parents were never against our relationship, but they were concerned about my studies. They disapproved our meetings that were longer than the usual. Like every other parent, they wanted me to devote my time in increasing my grades rather than spending it with you. I cried, I protested but it was all in vain. I finally had to break-up with you. I tried to convince you & my heart. You remained silent, away from my reach for the first time, silently accepting our fate.

Time flew away & I grew up, now a pro at living without you. Grades hardly changed, but I surely did. And my love too. You remained same all this while. Trapped in those walls & waiting to be freed. Maybe it was your true love that made me look for you after seven years of separation. I knew where you were. But the state I found you in made me realize my cold-heartedness & ignorance towards you. I don’t know whether it was my guilt or the rekindled flame of our love, that made me try to fix you, but all I wanted was to hear you again.

One by one, I desperately tried to blow away those thick layers of dust that covered you, & clogged my memories. You tried to create the melody on my touch but choked. You sounded harsh, but it was like you were collecting all the strength only for this moment.
That repairman tried everything, but little did he know that my piano was waiting for me, her long-lost lover, to come back so that it may die happily her embrace.

The last message.

It was just another morning for Karthik. Tying shoelaces was something he hated since childhood. Maybe that’s why his footwear collection was all  about everything lace-less. Wearing formal shoes to work was mandatory, & that it was a gift from Neha, made it harder for him to ditch the pair. No matter how early he woke, he always found himself late and blamed his shoelaces for it. “They suit you more. Stop being a kid”, Neha replied every time Karthik asked her why she didn’t gift him with ‘easier’ ones.

In order to reach office on time, Karthik usually skipped breakfast & sometimes shower too. But no matter what, time flew for him while tying his shoelaces, and hence all the rush. That day was no different. Karthik got ready for work & was heading towards the ultimate struggle with his shoes while his phone rang. He chose to ignore it first, but the constant ringing annoyed him. Giving the wall clock a troubled look, he shifted his glance on the screen of his phone.                                                “5 missed calls from Karuna”, it read. Before he could call her back, his phone buzzed again. Annoyed & in hurry, he was about to yell on the phone until he heard Karuna sobbing.

“What happened?”, he asked.
“Bhaiyya, Mom is no more.”, she said, crying.

Time stopped for Karthik.
“What do you mean she is no more?”
“She didn’t wake up in the morning. She was not breathing and got all cold when we checked on her. We called Doctor Sinha home & he declared her dead.”

“But how is that possible? I talked to her last night and…”
Karuna didn’t let him complete. “I know nothing. Just come home, Bhaiyya, as soon as you can.”
“Hmmm.”, Karthik replied.

He felt tired and weak on his knees. The conversation he had with his mother the other night flashed in his mind. His mother was asking him about when she’ll get to meet Neha, scolding him in the middle of the topic for skipping his breakfast and coming home late, while he, being in a jovial mood, was busy blaming his shoelaces for every problem in his life. Karthik collected his senses & with whatever he could manage to pack, he rushed for the airport. His phone suddenly started flooding with messages & calls from relatives, which he chose to ignore. Absent-minded, he dropped a text to Neha, & finally turned his phone off.

More than being sad, Karthik was shocked. Even at the doors of his home, he prayed to wake up from the nightmare. While Karuna cried profusely in his arms as soon she saw him, Karthik just kept looking at his mother’s face. The chilling expression he held was no different than that of his mother, except that she was not breathing anymore. With her funeral, the ceremonies followed by it, the arrival & departure of relatives, the hustle & bustle stayed for 20 days until it was just Karthik & Karuna alone in their home.

Disbelief took a strong hold of Karthik’s sorrow. He was not his expressive self. Either he comforted Karuna whenever she broke down or stayed in his room for most part of the day. He subjected himself to the isolation where he could remember his mother & the things she said the last time they talked over the phone. He refused to share anything with his sister for a while but with whatever little conversation the duo had, it was decided that Karuna will live with Karthik at his place for sometime.

Karuna found Karthik’s phone while emptying the pockets of his dirty jeans, before loading it all in the washing machine. Without turning it on, she handed it over to him. “Call Neha. It’s been days. She must be worried.”, she said, while leaving his room. Karthik felt a little bad about forgetting Neha amidst everything. He turned his phone on & waited for it to load.
“25 missed calls and 15 new messages”, the notification tab read. The missed calls were from the day he turned off his phone, all of them from his relatives & last one being from Neha. Before hitting the call option listed below her name, Karthik checked his message inbox first. The sender of the last unread message caught his eye.

It was his mother. She texted him the same day she died, early in the morning while everyone was asleep. Karthik finally broke down after reading her message. Nauseated, he threw his phone on bed, & went out for a walk.

“Take care of your sister, and stop skipping your breakfast. Also, I approve of Neha.”, the message read before the display of the phone turned off.

Unfinished

Mrunal was sitting alone in the coffee shop. Stirring sugar in her cup, she stirred thoughts in her head too. Despite being people around & music being played in one corner, the place always cleared her head. Whether it was the ambiance or the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, she escaped to a much calmer world while being there.

It was raining that day. She stared blankly at the board outside that read the name of the coffee shop in fancy fonts. The voice in her head was louder than the sound the stirring spoon made every time it struck the cup. “Why Shishir wasn’t here?”, she thought to herself. The urge to find the answer to this question made her forget to take even the first sip of her coffee.
Mrunal loved Shishir. Amidst the most ugliest turmoil of his life, Shishir reciprocated. The duo had seen their share of ups & down in just a matter of one year. Mrunal believed that troubled times don’t last long & never gave up. The problems & challenges that life threw at Shishir, one after the other, drained both of them. Mrunal knew his hardships and never bothered him with her problems. Shishir liked Mrunal’s childish side, and that was how she always remained with him, just to see him happy.

For Shishir, Mrunal was a blessing. A few good things he found while losing everything in his life and she was one of them. But his problems always consumed him. He expressed less of his feelings. Mrunal knew he wasn’t doing this on purpose, but his emotional unavailability left her alone every time. She wondered if Shishir knew about this. Things improved as per her hopes, just that they didn’t stayed that way for long.

The cold breeze from outside flipped the pages of the novel Mrunal picked before but forgot to read. The fluttering did little to distract her. “We are not on the same page”, she thought to herself. That one crippling thought finally stopped her from stirring the cup. The thought that their story might end soon, atleast for one of them.

By the time she decided to leave, it had stopped raining. The moist in her eye, however, didn’t let her notice it much. The attendant at the coffee shop saw her leaving but didn’t say a word. He just stared at her in amazement. Afterall, what sort of a person leaves without drinking the coffee after paying for it!