Unrequited (Part 3)
“Nopes! You know I don’t carry fags. But, let’s go downstairs and get a packet,” said Aniket after some time.
Slowly the two men walked downstairs – one who has seen a lot in life and the other who assumed to have seen a lot.
Once they settled down in the coffee shop on the ground floor, Aniket asked, “shoot kiddo… I can see a question mark in your eyes.”
Hemanta had been awaiting this moment so badly that without waiting, he asked, “Who is she? She is not one of those smarty lady companions of yours I know of. Who is she?”
Looking away from him, Aniket called for the waiter, “2 Americanos, please.”
“So, you were asking who she was…Where you there when she was on the podium?” probed Aniket with his eyes lying on the roads.
The latter nodded in acknowledgment and said, “I was standing right near the podium, listening to her melodious voice moving up and down with each note. But where were you?”
“Where was I that’s unimportant, Hemanta.” A voice spoke from a distance from the man who seemed to be entangled between the past and the present, yet he managed to continue, “Did you listen to every word that she spoke?”
Not waiting for any response from the listener, he continued, “The friend that she spoke of was me, Hemanta.”
“It was you? So, do you know her for the last 12 years?” Hemanta questioned in a spell.
Aniket closed his eyes, took a sip from his cup which had arrived by then, and after soaking in the smell of coffee for few seconds, he enquired, “My dear, are you in the mood for a story?”
On any other day, Hemanta would have denied, but today was another day; he nodded in acknowledgment.
Being aware of his partner’s response, Aniket relaxed on the comfortable chair, before starting with half-closed eyes, “No, not 12 years. I know her since she and I were in school. I know her since she was in Class III, and I was in Class IX. Did you see those well-combed hairs? I know her when those locks were as untamed as her shyness. Did you see that perfectly done make-up? I know her since she had thick-rimmed glasses, and she smelled of sweat and butter.”
Taking another sip from his cup, he continued, “Did you see that perfectly plated blue saree; I know her since she used to go to school in a navy-blue skirt. I started knowing her even before she knew herself.”
With each word that Aniket spoke, Hemanta’s eyes seemed to widen with surprise, and his jaws dropped.
“Don’t look so surprised, chap. Take a sip from your cup. It’s getting cold.” Aniket reminded.
Mechanically, Hemanta took a sip from his Iveco Fame glass coffee mug, and asked, “So.. What happened afterwards?”
“After my +2 exam, we shifted to Bangalore. Ankita was in her 6th standard when I last saw her. Yes, I remember going to Kolkata a few years back, but she didn’t turn up.” Drawing a long pause, he called for the waiter again, “Can I please have another cup of Americano?”
Looking at Hemanta, he asked, “Do you want anything?”
An enraptured Hemanta retorted, “Nothing, except what happened next.”
“You kids of today’s generation are always in a hurry.” Aniket thanked the waiter and looked back at him and asked, “What happened when?”
With unhidden curiosity, he asked, “What happened after Class XII?”
Reclining back on his chair, he restarted, “Yes! We had been in constant contact throughout those years of our adolescence. Yes! We didn’t have emails, but we obviously had letters. And then I used to visit my grandparents during every vacation. Will you trust me if I say…?” Again, he took a pause and looked straight into the eyes of his listener, and continued, “With every passing year, she bloomed like those beautiful nayantara flowers of mine.”
The waiter came back with the cup of coffee, Aniket tore open a sachet of brown sugar, minutely mixed it with his coffee, and continued, “Let’s fast forward the story. She was pursuing her graduation from Delhi and I had joined my first job when we got mobile phones. We used to chat often, and you need to know here – during those days, I fell in love.”
Reading his expressions, he said, “Control your emotions, kid. She wasn’t the lady whom you offered a drag this evening. She was someone I met through a common friend; she was my age, intelligent, beautiful and perfect creation of God. She changed my perspective towards life, and I was madly in love with her, I forgot everything else and everyone else, including Ankita.”
For the first time, Aniket uttered her name. The sun was in the mid of the sky, and from the glass panes, they could see that the guests had started dispersing; they both knew the call-of-duty, but none could move.
After a few seconds, Aniket resumed, “It was 2005, and I was in Kolkata when I got a random call from a lady, she inquired about my well-being and asked if I could recognize her voice. Ten years later, I heard Ankita’s voice, and it still seemed as fresh as yesterday. We spoke about hundreds of things under the sun and bade goodbye to each other. But, deep in my heart, I knew it wasn’t a goodbye, in fact, a new dawn.”