It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend's wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batch-mates. But what I didn't know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell. We had just broken up a few days before the farewell. She had got a job in Delhi. I, on the other hand, was never searching for a job. We had a huge fight over our opposite career choices. She was the kind of person who would settle down with a job and marry. I was never interested in a job. I always wanted something to start something new. I also wanted to travel and trek the mountains. Go around the world. I loved the Himalayas. I always went trekking. I never liked to be bound doing a 9 to 5 job. It was so boring. But then suddenly my chain of thoughts stopped short.
When I saw her face, I was shocked. The right side of her face was completely scarred. The scarring continued to her neck. It was a scar of a burnt face. I looked at her softly. I was about to call her name but stopped midway in shock. It was more of an agony. I thought I cried a little inside. No person deserved to be in such a state.
She looked at me and she smiled a let out a small shriek.
“Avilash! Oh my God! How are you? I wasn’t expecting you here. I thought you left Delhi long time ago. This is such a surprise.” She broke the line and came right beside me and hugged me lightly.
“You have gained some weight I see, Avilash” She said, poking my belly.
I smiled. “I am fine Ronnie! How are you? It’s been a long time. No contact with you.” I tried to tuck my belly in.
“Well all is your fault Avi. You don’t use Facebook. It’s easy to be in touch with your friends you know.” She was still smiling. She was obviously very happy to see me again. Her eyes sparkled with the same intensity as it did four years ago.
“I didn’t have your number too Ronnie. I guess I have been keeping busy. I was looking for a break, when I received a call from Varun. He said he was getting married and asked me whether I could come. So here I am.”
Varun was our batchmate and a very good friend. I had been in touch with him or rather he was with me. He called me often. He was the kind of person who was very socially active. He loved to be in touch with everyone. And hence this plan of his for a re-union combined with his marriage.
“Well, let’s get the boarding pass and have a cup of coffee.” She said.
We took our boarding passes and got seats next to each other. We went to have coffee, where I noticed her right arm. It was heavily scared. Her right arm looked distinctly smaller than her left arm. I was starting to feel quite awkward. But I didn’t ask her about it. Maybe I could hurt her asking on a sensitive issue.
After about an hour we were on the plane sitting next to each other. The plane had just taken off. Her enthusiasm was as always like before. She could just talk and talk. I adored the way she explained things. And the way her hands moved seemed as if they were doing talking too. I remembered why I loved her during my college days. Her hair constantly came in front of her face and the way she tossed them back, all these little things about her brought back long lost memories of her.
“So when are going to ask me Avilash?” She asked me suddenly.
“Ask you what Ronnie?” I replied. I tried to look surprised. Although I knew what she meant.
“About my scars. I know you want to ask me about them. So why haven’t you? Everyone asks me about them when they see me.” She said looking at me. She was still smiling. But it was a strange melancholic smile.
I looked down. “Listen Ronnie,” I began awkwardly. “I thought maybe asking you might hurt your sentiments. And I guess I didn’t have to courage.” I admitted. It was true. How do you ask something like this to a person whom you loved and just met after four years?
“What had happened Ronnie?” I asked her reluctantly as I looked at her. Even with her scars she looked so beautiful. I looked at her eyes. They were welled up. For a moment I thought maybe she would cry. But then her facial expressions changed. She took control of herself.
She looked at me and smiled. “You haven’t changed much have you Avi? You are still afraid to ask questions.”
“What happened Ronnie?” I asked again. This time it was with a lot more conviction in my voice.
She let out a deep breath.
“There was this guy in my office, Siddarth. He and I joined the company at the same day. Since in the beginning we didn’t know anyone in the company, we used to have lunch together and soon became good friends. I thought he was a nice guy. We talked even after our office hours and hanged out in coffee shops and visited malls. He quickly became infatuated with me. Within a month or so, he indirectly tried to show me that he liked me and was intending to propose to me. After about four months, he approached me directly and proposed. I said no, because I had no interest in him. He was tall, handsome and was a very good friend. But there was something that I didn’t like about him. I just couldn’t point out what. But the day I said no, I realised later that I took the right decision. He reacted so violently. He had a phone in his hand. He threw the phone onto the ground and started shouting in the public. It was a crowded place and everybody started staring at us. It was a horrible moment. Little did I know then that this was only a trailer of what was to come. I started avoiding him from that day. You know it is difficult to ignore someone when that person is in your office and you have to see him every day. But I did my best. He used to message me and call me. But I never replied or answered back. I knew he was getting angry at me. As time went on I met new people and made new friends. I heard from others that he was getting jealous, frustrated and desperate. He started assuming that I was getting close to some other guy. That drove him mad with anger.” She paused.
I looked at her intently.
She started again, “After about four to five months, one day suddenly he showed up at my house. As I opened the door, he was there standing. He was looking at me with such hatred. He looked as if he was going to kill me. His clothes looked torn and he had not shaved for a week at least. ‘Why don’t you love me?’ He shouted. Believe me Avi, I was never more scared in my whole life. I tried closing the door but he put his foot down and held the door open. ‘Why don’t you love me? What do I lack Ronnie?’ he asked me sarcastically. ‘If I can’t be yours then no one can be yours. Nobody will ever love you’ and then…”
“Acid. He threw acid at you!” I almost jumped out of my seat and completed her sentence.
She nodded silently. She sighed.
“It was in the newspaper, wasn’t it? The girl fought bravely with the man who threw acid at her and even though she was burning, she fought back. The neighbours heard the commotion and apprehended him. The girl was burnt on the right side. She escaped serious injury because she moved quickly to avoid the acid and immediately attacked him. That girl was you!” I exclaimed. I was amazed. “They never mentioned the girl’s name for security reasons.”
She looked at me. “You remember.” She looked pleasantly surprised. “It was almost three years ago.” I nodded.
I looked at her eyes. They were moist. In that diffused light in the plane she looked so amazing. Why did ever leave her, I thought.
She slowly turned her face away from me. She was not crying but I could feel her pain. “I look ugly now don’t I?” she asked.
I smiled back at her. “You look perfect.” I said.
She laughed mildly. I kept looking at her. She looked so graceful.
“You are still the same Avilash.” She was smiling now. “You always know how make me smile.” I smiled back.
We talked for the entire flight. It was one of the best flights of my life. I realised how much I had missed her.
Afterwards, when our flight landed, we walked towards the luggage area section.
“So where are you staying Avi?” She asked me.
“I am staying at a hotel, Ronnie. What about you?” I said.
“I am staying at my cousin’s place. Avi, I noticed that you are limping a little. Is there anything wrong?” She asked me.
I laughed. “No Ronnie, Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine.”
She looked down at my shoe. And then she looked up to me.
“Avilash.” She said in a very serious tone.
I nodded. “I lost my leg Ronnie. That left leg is prosthetic.”
“How, Avilash? How did this happen?”
“You know how I loved to trek. It happened in one of the trekz. I lost my footing and fell down almost 50 feet. It was a very steep drop. My leg was caught between two rocks. I was stuck there for almost 12 hours before any help came. By the time I was admitted to hospital, I had lost quite an amount of blood. They had to amputate my leg to save me. It happened three years ago. I quit trekking after that.”
She looked stunned. We both kept quiet. No one said a word for a minute or two.
As the luggage started coming out on conveyor, we stood by each other. She held my hand firmly and whispered in my ear “I missed you”.
I took her scared hand close to my chest and said, “Welcome back!”