“Tell me na!”, he demanded.
“What should I tell you”, she asked.
“Your secret! The word that you always say but never tell me what it is”, he frowned.
“It is not supposed to be told and that’s why it’s a secret”, she laughed away.
“Fine, I too will not share any of my secret with you. Everyone has a past and that’s completely fine. I told you about my girlfriend, my affairs but you can’t tell me.”
Yours is not a deep secret, she thought.
They were very close friends, work colleagues. Often hanging out together and travelling back to home. She liked him and had a crush on him, but he was different. The way he talked about girls made her feel insecure. He had already set high standards for himself and that itself proved what exactly he looks for in a girl.
She desperately wanted to tell him about her secret. And as much as she wanted to tell him, she was scared of his reaction. She was scared of being judged or rejected. Post her breakup with her 5 year long boyfriend, she was longing for a friend. Someone who would be with her, listen to her and accept her the way she was. She found the friend in him, but was scared of seeing beyond that and trusting him.
“Chotu! I won’t talk with you now”, he left.
“Ok Panda.” She laughed and got back to work. For she knew, he will start talking with her in a minute.
Days just passed by and it never came out of her. While travelling back to home, he always dropped her. Sometimes a short drive to the nearest metro and at times a long drive near to her home.
She loved long drives, specially with people who share the same music taste. They often shared the latest hits and listened to them together.
During many such rides, she would get lost in her thoughts, sometimes in the middle of singing the song. Her past haunted her and at times shattered her. She tried hard not to break down in front of anyone, but at times it just didn’t work.
The best way to escape was change the song. “What happened to you now?”, he asked.
“Nothing, it’s a sad song so I changed it.”
“I’m not asking about the song. What’s going on in your mind? You seem lost.”
She smiled looking at him, the same smile that she had managed to keep since past few months.
“I know, I know! You were out of the country, came back to India and then a secret happened “, he repeated.
“Correct, see how well you know me! By the way you should focus on driving ”
He made that similar face again, which made her laugh. Someday I will definitely tell you Panda, she thought.
She soon started feeling close to him, the more they spent time together. Going for movies, ordering food, eating pizzas, she loved every bit of it.
Meanwhile during the Ganesh festival, they decided to visit The King of Lord Ganpati in Mumbai and pray together. She had already decided that given an opportunity and if he asks again she will share what’s in her heart. After all, what could be a better place and time to talk about.
Three of them decided to go and spend that next 10-15 hours together till they get to see the Lord. Starting at night in the queue, time passed, by talking, teasing and making fun of each other.
It was already dawn when all three finally got to sit and rest for while. They both decided to stay awake while the third one went for a nap.
The fun and casual talks had paused, in sink with the atmosphere out there.
“Tell me now”, he looked at her.
She looked at him giving the surprise look.
“What-is-your-secret?”, he asked emphasizing each word.
“Oh God! You started that again!”
“Yes, what could be a better place and time to talk about it.”
“It’s not a happy secret”, she replied sadly.
“Secrets are not always supposed to be happy. Such secrets are shared with people. Since you have kept it to yourself, I know it’s a sad one. Now tell me, I want to hear it. And you can trust me on this.”
“I don’t know why you are desperate to know about me. And I don’t know what would be your reaction after knowing it. But, fine, this is my secret.”
He looked at her as if he had waited for this moment since long. She looked away, eyes on the ground, for she knew it would be difficult to tell him.
“You know that I was not in India before this and I came back to Mumbai in the end of 2015. Everything was perfect at that time in life. I came back, only to be with my loved ones, my family, friends and Him. I couldn’t ask for anything more until one day when my life shattered in to pieces. I was supposed to get my tonsillectomy done coz I was badly suffering. Doctor suggested for the surgery so as to get rid of it permanently. I too was happy with the decision, a bit nervous though. I would finally get rid of them, I thought. My pre-medical tests were supposed to be done along with a CT scan, as suggested by the doctor.
I got my blood test done and for the first time I was a bit scared. I don’t know why I started getting such feeling, I knew something was not right.
Since the doctor was my maternal uncle I trusted him and, the way he would suggest forward.
He had already received the reports and I had to meet him to finalise on the dates of my surgery. Upon seeing him, my nervousness left me and I smiled warmly.
He started reading my reports and I was excited to hear him say everything is normal. I noticed his face turning a bit pale. It’s not hard to overlook such expression. He said everything is normal, blood counts, hemoglobin, etc. But…”
She looked at him and saw him silently listening to her story. His eyes had not moved a bit even though she had looked here and there while talking. He gave that look of finishing and not leaving it incomplete further.
She repeated, “Everything is normal but your Australia Antigen shows positive. I gave him the look of I don’t know what Australia Antigen is. And he said, it’s Hepatitis B. Your Hepatitis B is positive. The word positive in the end never sounded so negative!”
One short look at her friend and then she immediately looked away. She couldn’t stop her tears further and broke down immediately. He placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to make her feel better.
“Why do you feel that you will be judged? What is the status right now?”, he asked curiously.
“I don’t know how would people react, when they come to know. Some might distance themselves from me, I have been through this. Some might feel it’s a contagious disease and I might have to face..”
“But it is not contagious!”, he cut her short.
“That is what I, you and very few know. Anyway, I have to consult the specialist further.”
“So you mean you haven’t started your treatment yet?”, he questioned
“Not really. My parents don’t know yet! I don’t want to burden them with this. It will be very difficult for them to face this and even harder for me to face them then..”, she blurted out
“Are you mad!? How can you do this to yourself? You know right, that you’re risking your life? You should not keep such things to yourself, sharing them with your parents will make you feel less burdened. They will understand you for sure, it’s not your fault. ”
She didn’t say anything further. Of course she knew, she knew the risk, she knew the pain, if only she knew a way forward. She had lost the desire to live..
“You are taking an appointment very soon and I’ll accompany you”, he ordered.
She laughed at his reaction and knew that, that would never happen.
“Don’t worry, I’ll figure out some way”, she tried to convince him.
“You know right, that you’re too adamant?”, he frowned again.
“Well yes!”, she made fun of him.
And soon the other friend woke up only to realize, they were at the same place and that these two were still awake.
She only hoped that he doesn’t mention about her secret. But she knew now, she trusted him and he won’t do that.
As the queue started moving, they started walking, very close to the Lord now.
He let her be ahead of him and as crowd gathered he placed his hands on her shoulder again.
She looked from the corner of her eye, smiled to herself and thought he is not the one as he portrays himself. She already felt less burdened, she felt cared… what could be a better place, time and moment than this. She couldn’t thank God enough that day!