Sheila was busy getting dressed to work when her mobile phone rang. She picked up the phone and snapped, “Hello.” There was nothing but heavy breathing at the other end before she realised it was Rishi, her long lost first love. This could not be true. She had lost touch with him for over three years and here he was asking her if they could meet.
How did he get my number? Her hands and feet turned numb, beads of perspiration trickled down her back. She gathered all her inner strength to say a meek ‘yes.’ After making plans on when and where they would meet, she cut the call and slumped into the chair near the dresser.
After years of courting Rishi and finally losing him over family differences, Sheila had lost her faith in love. She never believed she could love a man again like she had loved Rishi. Rishi could not stand up to his parents and this had completely shattered her. She did marry a few years later. Arranged by her parents, Sheila married a friend who had turned out to be a decent guy who respected her for what she was. But he didn’t set her heart racing. Not the way Rishi did when they first met in the mall.
Well, that was ages ago. Surely, the fire couldn’t still be raging. But strangely his voice did make her go weak. Weak with anticipation and nervousness. Had she made a mistake by refusing to elope with Rishi. At that time, she thought it was an outlandish suggestion. She could never let her parents down. But she did spend several months after her marriage to Bhaskar thinking if eloping would have been better.
Sheila made a hurried call to office to say she would not be coming in that day. After all, this meeting with Rishi would take up all her focus and energy. After rummaging through her wardrobe for a good fifteen minutes, she picked out her favourite black sleeveless kurta and black pearls to go with it. She could never go wrong in black, Sheila told herself as she took one good look at herself in the mirror.
As she drove to the restaurant they had decided on, Sheila was tense with anticipation. She would be meeting Rishi after four years. She had no idea of how he had changed. Suddenly she half wished she hadn’t agreed to meet him. But it was too late now. The restaurant was already in sight. She had picked an Italian place – she still remembered Rishi loved lasagna.
Sheila was ten minutes early. But that gave her enough time to pick a cosy spot and wait with bated breath. And ten minutes later, there he was. Rishi, with the same disarming smile and drop-dead sultry looks…
“You look great, Sheila,” said Rishi as he sat down across the table. “But I notice you aren’t wearing your mangalsutra. You modern women! Rathi wouldn’t dare step out without that, though she personally hates gold.” Rathi was his wife he had married just six months after their break-up.
Surely, this is not the firebrand journalist she had fallen in love with? What’s his obsession with a mere piece of chain? Her thoughts involuntarily went to her husband, who was now at US on tour. A few days into her marriage to Bhaskar, she had asked him if he minded her not wearing the mangalsutra, he had just shrugged and said, “Frankly, I am surprised an independent woman like you should even seek my opinion on something like this. You don’t have to sport anything that you are not comfortable in.”
“So, did you know my wife has just written this new book – a political thriller, which is turning out to be a huge success. You should try your hand at writing a book too,” Rishi interrupted her brief reverie.
“Hmmm. I will give it a shot someday maybe,” Sheila replied.
“I cannot believe you don’t have any kids. We have a lovely daughter. She just turned one. You must not postpone these things, Sheila.”
“Hmmm… Yeah, maybe when the time is right,” Sheila responded, again her thoughts went back to Bhaskar who loved children but never once forced her into having them.
“Too bad there’s no winter in Chennai. In Delhi, it’s freezing now. You should come to Delhi. It’s beautiful in winter…
For a good long hour, Rishi went on and on about his fabulous life, his successful wife and doting daughter. Not once did he enquire about her life, career or even Bhaskar. She was disappointed.
He was jabbering away non-stop that she was tired of listening. She longed for some peace and quiet.
Was Rishi really the man she had loved? Had he changed a lot or had her expectations and tolerance of people changed? Had he always been this way? Did her love for him simply blind her? She couldn’t quite tell.
Sheila couldn’t help thinking about her dinner outings with Bhaskar. Bhaskar was a quiet man who spoke very little. She often complained that their conversations were so one-sided with her doing most of the talking. He would remark, “Sheila, I love listening to your animated voice and looking at your sharp eyes as you speak. I don’t want to ruin that by speaking myself.” Sheila would get exasperated by this, but now she actually blushed recounting this.
This was her favourite restaurant. Bhaskar often brought her here and the food had always been wonderful. Today, even that couldn’t salvage the horror this lunch meeting was turning out to be.
The food came and went. And Rishi was griping about every single dish. Sheila wanted to scream. She knew Rishi had always been a cynic, commenting on everything that ailed society and how things ought to be different. Back then, she had actually found that sexy in an aspiring journalist. Now, it was just too much to take.
Sheila was glad when lunch came to an end. She couldn’t wait to get back home and crash in her soft, cosy bed. Thank god for such small mercies, she thought even as she absent-mindedly promised Rishi to be in touch.
When she got home, her cellphone rang. It was Bhaskar.
“Hi honey, did you miss me,” said Bhaskar, expecting a stiff response from Sheila as usual.
“Yes, I did. Of course,” Sheila said excitedly. Bhaskar was stunned at the overwhelming response.
Bhaskar had called her to inform that his project in the US was getting extended by another two weeks and he would be back in India only by the month end. Strangely, Sheila’s heart sank hearing this. Little did she realise she was actually missing him.
Suddenly, she couldn’t wait anymore to see Bhaskar, the man ‘arranged marriage’ had brought into her life. She had always been skeptical about arranged marriage and hadn’t been willing to give it a chance. Though Bhaskar tried his best to make her happy, Sheila could not fully appreciate his love and warmth. But now she felt she had wronged him for all these years, not understanding the person he was and not allowing him to get closer to her.
It was almost as if this lunch meeting with Rishi had liberated her from the clutches of the past. Rishi’s memories were holding her back from embracing the present and realising her feelings for Bhaskar.
Sheila dropped down crying and Bhaskar was taken aback. He didn’t think she would mind at all. After all, he had been gone for over a month and she had taken it quite well. Until today. He felt helpless even as he tried to console her that two weeks would pass in no time.
After the call with Bhaskar, Sheila wiped her wet eyes and decided to make some tea for herself. She was not going to mope around in the past anymore. She had her whole life ahead of her and she wasn’t going to waste it anymore. With a hot cup of tea in her hand, she made her way into her bedroom and opened her wardrobe.
There, lying buried beneath all her clothes was an unopened gift from Bhaskar. He had given it to her on Valentine’s Day. But she hadn’t opened it as it reminded her too much of her carefree days with Rishi. Instead she had rebuked Bhaskar saying, “Who says we are in love? Why should you give me a gift on Valentine’s?”
Ouch. That must have really hurt Bhaskar, Sheila thought with remorse. She quickly tore open the packet which revealed a beautifully framed poem in Bhaskar’s own handwriting.
She is a child I can’t speak to,
I don’t want to hurt her shadow,
Her ego is like a bee,
Her tears she won’t let you see
My heart she has in a grip,
I don’t know if I am the traveler
I am the luckiest
If I can grow up to be her hero,
She will curse me now,
But for sure she can create the thaw
Every time she runs away from me,
I know she is going to come back.
In dark or in light,
Because she is in love and free
Tears came streaming down her cheeks again. ‘I must be the luckiest woman on earth,’ Sheila thought. ‘I surely don’t deserve this….’
The next two weeks passed slowly. Sheila grew restless with each passing day. But on the designated day, Sheila was at the airport, hours before Bhaskar’s arrival.
A good two hours later, he was there. Rugged and tired from all the travelling and work, his hair unkempt and stubble chin threatening to grow an ugly beard, Sheila couldn’t help smiling. ‘Here is my hero. My true love,’ she thought to herself as she made her way towards Bhaskar.
As Bhaskar gave her a big bear hug, Sheila found herself blushing like a coy bride. She pretended to be angry with Bhaskar for being late. Bhaskar laughed and said, “I get a girlfriend after so many years and all she does is scold me.”
“Well, not any more…”
“Are you sure, dear?”
“Actually…. It depends on what’s inside your bags for me,” Sheila said and broke into peals of laughter.