Suhana waited for her childhood friend in the coffee shop. Youths, college students, young couples swarmed the place and created a naïve ambience. Suhana hadn’t seen Madhvi for almost two years now. Madhvi was forced into a marriage by her parents a month ago. She wanted to marry her college boyfriend Nikhil but her orthodox parents denied her that luxury and made her tie the knot with some suburban software programmer. The absence of Nikhil only exacerbated her predicament. Nikhil had gone abroad on a trip sponsored by his company’s.
Suhana knew that much from their telephonic conversation and was eager to listen how it all happened. She was earnestly waiting to hear the story of her friend’s journey from forced marriage to coming together with the love of her life.
Madhvi arrived, in gray jeans and a skin-tight, purple, silk top which revealed her chubby figure and outlined her round bosoms. Suhana felt that her friend had put on a little weight over the last couple of years, nonetheless she looked appealing. She noticed that Madhvi had improved her dressing sense immensely, except for one thing. She was looking such an adorable darling this evening, but one important thing in her attire was missing; she had no footwear. She arrived barefoot in Barista, which was more than just a coffee shop.
As Madhvi came near to embrace her, Suhana enquired intuitively, “Where in world are your shoes?” “Oh it’s a long story, lets order some coffee first” said Madhvi rolling her eyes. Broad grin on Madhvi’s face exuded an ecstatic delight she felt after the ride on emotional roller coaster was over.
“Where is he?” Suhana asked while looking over at the door if her friend’s lover was coming after her, probably after parking his vehicle.
“We were coming together to see you when we got the news that his boss had a minor attack this morning. He went to see him while I took a cab to reach here. He’ll be with us in a couple of hours” Madhvi said transmogrifying expression on her face as if blaming her misfortune.
“So tell me how it all happened” Suhana was earnest now. Both sipped cappuccino while Madhvi began narrating the events of the month that passed:
On the night of our marriage a month ago, I told Jay that I didn’t love him.
“You did, right on the first night? Poor guy must’ve been drowned into sorrow. What did he say?
He rubbed his forehead with his hand and gave out a forlorn cry “Madhvi, what have you done! You should’ve told this to me before marriage.”
“I wanted to” I said “but I never got a chance. You know everything happened so quickly and it was this archaic tradition of disbarring the couple from any kind of conversation before wedding. I am really sorry Jay, I should have told you before.” I started sobbing before him. “I don’t know what to do” I lamented.
“Anyways, better late than never, who is he?” Jay asked blatantly, he made out that my only reason of not loving him was probably that I was in love with someone else.
I said “We did our MBAs from the same college. It was only at the end of our two year term that he gathered enough courage to propose to me. We were together for some eight months during which we decided to tie the knot as soon as he returns from his three month company trip to Singapore. And you know what happened thereafter.” He was listening intently to whatever I said. I got scared of the way he was staring at me.
“I am sorry Jay I should’ve told you” I started wailing and wheezing. “I don’t know what to do!” I cried.
“Where is he right now?” Jay asked. I was afraid as I had no idea whatsoever what his intentions were.
“He hasn’t returned from Singapore yet.”
“When will he come back?”
“In one month or so” I was petrified.
“You must understand Madhvi that you have no other option left…” my heart sank after hearing this. May be I should accept my fate I thought, he gave a small pause and finally informed me of his intent “…except to wait for him.”
As soon as I heard this from Jay tears began falling from my eyes. I just couldn’t believe my luck. It was surreal, is it happening to me! I thought I was dreaming.
Suhana interrupted her “Ohhh! Poor Jay, he was such a darling.” She empathized with him.
But my happiness was short lived. I realized Jay could not have pulled it off on his own. What would he say to his parents, to my parents, to everyone? This was no child’s play, we were talking business here. Jay seemed to have read my mind “Don’t worry about tomorrow Madhvi, sleep well, we’ll work something out”. He tried to soothe my anxieties. I went to sleep with mixed feelings of delight and apprehensions.
We spent next few days under the pretense of a married couple. I made friends with his younger sister-Mitali. And his five year old niece Kapila was such a sweet heart. I had fun spending those days with them.
One evening Mitali found an old album of their family pictures. Mitali, Kapila, and I spent that evening watching those pictures. Kapila showed me snaps of her and her brother getting their clothes dirty in the garden when they were five year olds, their family trip to an amusement park. In one picture Jay was sitting on a heap of raw cotton; he must’ve been a couple of years old then, in another he stood with his right hand on that part of his body where it hurts the most.
As we were enjoying ourselves in the drawing room Jay came back from office. I showed him his childhood pics. “You were cute” I remarked.
“Yes, I was” he put too much stress on ‘was’ while looking intently at one of the pictures. I was grinning as I noticed where it was going.
“You still are” I said such that he could barely hear it, looking at him with an awry head.
“You think so?” He asked me wearily. We both laughed.
“Jay was a passive guy wasn’t he?” asked Suhana.
“He was shy. And introverted,” Madhvi replied.
Jay and I became friends. I started sharing a lot of things with him. I told him about the incidence when Nikhil and I fell off the bike as he was trying to make an impression on me by displaying how well he skidded. He laughed out loud when he heard that Nikhil had to get his broken hand plastered after the incident and flunk mid-sems due to that. I got a little too carried away when I talked about Nikhil. I began to weep silently, or as less noisily as I could. He tried to commiserate with me.
“its okay its okay! It’s just a matter of few days” he said while striking my hairs.
“He was kind of…” Suhana was looking for the word. Madhvi found it for her
“…Selfless. But he tried to flirt with me on one occasion.”
“Tell me about it.” Suhana was surprised to learn the other side of her friend’s ex-husband.
On Easter holiday Jay’s father asked us to visit his uncle’s farms for the weekend. Jay didn’t want to go. We had developed a deep friendship and he didn’t want to give the false impression that we were happily married. “What will I tell them, ‘what happened’ after you leave” he would tell me. But his father insisted and finally Jay gave in. When we were coming back from Uncle’s farm on Sunday, Jay had grown very tired of travelling in the bus. It seemed like his head was suspended and was oscillating under gravity. I would admit that I am guilty of enjoying him banging his head twice on the windowpanes but I suggested him- although laughingly as I couldn’t contain myself- that he can rest his head on my shoulder if he wants to sleep.
An impish chortle appeared on his face, he said “If I keep my head on your shoulders, I won’t be able to sleep.”
“Wo-Ho! He wasn’t a cow” said Suhana admiring her Madhvi’s ex-husband’s sense of humor.
“Don’t you think he was” Madhvi said playfully.
In fact several such incidences occurred after that day. Many a times when we watched cricket with his family our hands would touch and we will smile at each other. He was so shy that once Mitali asked to take picture of just two of us. Mitali repeatedly asked him to come near me. He would move just an inch. And finally when Mitali thought we were close enough, she commanded him- rather obtrusively- to put his hand on my waist, and he lifted his hand, put it around my waist, but kept it away ever so slightly so as not to make a contact and still make it appear that he had me in his arm.
“You gave a lot of pain to that poor chap.”
“Yeah sometimes I feel guilty about that. May be he would remember those days for a long time. But eventually he will forgive me or maybe he already has, I can tell that much as far as I know him.”
“Okay enough of Jay now! Tell me how did you came to meet Nikhil” said Suhana finishing her final sip of the coffee.
To be continued...