Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Crazy in Love [Part II]

Two floors below, the entire family had gathered to welcome Swati home. She had spent two days in a hospital while she had laser surgery performed on her right eye. The left eye had been operated a week before. Although she felt a little conscious about losing her nickname “double soda”, she was really happy, but most of all because of the appreciative looks she imagined she would see on Rohit’s face when he saw her without her glasses.

Ambiguously fielding off everyone’s questions about why she had finally taken this decision, it was only a day before the surgery that she had accepted the truth: she was doing it for Rohit, because she loved him and because she believed that he deserved a girl better-looking than the plain Jane she was. She was dying to meet him. However, on second thoughts, she decided that now that she had begun the journey towards grooming herself, she might as well go all the way. It would be a reward for Rohit for waiting for her, she mused.

Rohit, of course, had heard the pompoms at Swati’s place. He knew what they were about, his parents knew too. They thought it strange that Rohit hadn’t checked Swati out yet. They even thought it odd that the two of them were not on talking terms, but they passed it off as just another childish whim. So they didn’t say anything when Rohit rushed into the house and got busy without saying a word. He had made a hasty departure from Mrs. Malik’s flat but only after promising to go back in two days.

Two days later Rohit went back to Mrs. Malik’s place to help her with her Christmas party arrangements. Two days later Swati stepped into a beauty parlor for the first of many times in her life.

As the countdown to Christmas continued, Rohit carried on helping Mrs. Malik out over increasingly lingering periods of time; he had even started lying about it to his parents who were getting just a little concerned about his prolonged periods of absence.

In the meantime, Swati had a Cinderella makeover. Sometimes, she herself could not believe that she was looking at her own reflection in the mirror. And her face flushed about fifty shades of red when she considered the effect this would have on Rohit. Now, she was really eager to show herself off to Rohit, forgetting all about the lecture she had given him only a few months before.

Mrs. Malik’s Christmas party was only two days away and as a goodwill gesture, everyone in the building had been invited. That would be the day, vowed Swati.

The grand day finally arrived and announced itself by the blare of Christmas carols from the terrace of the building, where the party was actually arranged. Everyone was delighted by the antics of the tiny tots as they performed their carefully rehearsed cultural events. Mrs. Malik and Rohit were praised for their excellent teamwork.

The two of them, however, had their hands full and were probably the only two people who didn’t inquire who the mysterious damsel was, or who goggled with surprise on being told that she was “our Swati only”.

More than once, Swati and Rohit passed each other that evening without him recognizing her or even noticing her. It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to. His eyes were thirsting for a glimpse of Swati but it seemed that she hadn’t turned up, maybe to avoid him.

He looked anxiously at Mrs. Malik instead, knowing well the sequence of events that would kick into action after the party was over.

Swati was a little hurt that Rohit still hadn’t recognized her. But she consoled herself with the thought that at first even she couldn’t recognize herself in the mirror. She would catch up with him after the party was over and he was less busy, she told herself.

And so, after the children and their parents had left and most of the neighbors too, Rohit couldn’t help noticing the beautiful girl sitting all alone and watching him attentively. When he walked passed her again, she even smiled at him and it was only then that like the first sunrays cautiously entering through a window, it dawned on him, that the girl was Swati. He stopped dead in his tracks and like a flashback sequence in a movie, all the times that he had passed her that evening rolled through his mind. He made another addition to his mental album!

A flood of emotions swelled up to his head but his feet stayed rooted to the ground. Swati moved towards him first and giggled as she drew near. His heart stopped beating for a moment but slowly his lopsided grin parted his jaws. “Hi. How’s life?” was all he could muster. “Good. And you?” was all she could reply. Then he added, “You look nice.” But she said nothing, only blushed.

The world around them melted into a haze as they locked eyes and started walking down the steps. To all appearances, they were not talking, but the silence between them was full of emotion, once suppressed and now running like a wild stallion. Their hands were slowly inching towards each other’s.

Then a voice interrupted, “Are you going to leave me all alone with this mess, Rohit?” It was Mrs. Malik who had followed him from the terrace.

“Err…” said Rohit turning his head from Mrs. Malik to Swati and back again. “You promised!” Mrs. Malik said reproachfully but with the hint of a tease in her voice. Swati’s brow broke out into a puzzled frown as she caught Mrs. Malik unabashedly displaying her cleavage and subtly noted how Rohit had suddenly turned cold. Swati looked at him pleadingly.

Rohit briefly shuffled on his feet and shortly told Swati that he had to go. “I’ll catch you later. Bye.”

He followed the older woman to the terrace while Swati walked down the stairs disappointed.

She walked all the way down to the compound and looked up at the sky and sighed. What was a beautiful girl like her doing all by herself on this chilly night, she asked herself. Her eyes traveled to the lighted fourth floor window of Mrs. Malik’s flat where she could dimly pick out the silhouettes of two people seemingly entwined around each other. Then the light went out.

Swati closed her eyes and felt a pain sear through every thought that she was experiencing. She had forgotten how long she had been sitting there. She hadn’t realized that streams of tears were rolling down her closed eyes. But when she felt warmth around her hands her opened her eyes and looked into the eyes of Rohit.

She was unable to speak.

Rohit started. “You haven’t changed since you were a kid, you know.”

Swati’s voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “What do you mean?”

“You’re too impatient. I told you I’ll catch you later.”

Swati’s eyes widened and the frown on her brow deepened. “But I thought –”

“What? That I wouldn’t come?”

Swati shifted. “No, I thought that you and Mrs. Malik …”

But Rohit placed a finger on her lips. “Mrs. Malik is a nice woman with a large heart. Sometimes she’s annoyingly demanding. But I like her a lot and especially because she made me realize that I could love no one the way I love you. And she made me understand that even if there’s a little love, it’s worth holding onto because you never know when destiny will take your sweetheart away.”

As soon as he had finished Rohit wondered if he had said something wrong again because once again the tears started flowing freely from Swati’s eyes. He held her hands higher and closer to his chest and began to explain earnestly.

“Listen, I don’t think you got it right. There’s nothing and there never was anything –”

This time is was Swati who stopped him talking. “I love you Rohit. I’ve always loved you. And I’m really sorry I made both of us go through all those months without talking. They were horrible.”

“Yes, they were.”

“And foolish.”

“No. Not foolish.” Swati looked at him questioningly. “They helped me realize how much I love you.”

And once again, the tears welled up in her eyes.

“Just one thing,” interrupted Rohit beginning to grin. “Do I still get to call you ‘double soda’?”

But she didn’t answer him. She threw her arms around him and kissed him.

At that moment the edge of a curtain dropped at the window of the ground-floor flat. The eleven-year old girl who was eavesdropping sank into her bed and cried bitterly until she fell asleep.

That eleven-year old girl was me.

It didn’t matter that he was eighteen and I was eleven; but my heart was broken and I was still crazy in love.


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