This short story is selected as Story of the Month December’2015 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
It was only the third day of tuition. I had only seen her then, I didn’t know anything about her, not even her name!
That day the class ended about 10 minutes earlier. Her car hadn’t yet arrived to pick her up, and I used to go by bus. So I just took the opportunity to go up to her straight and I asked it: “Do you have any boyfriend?”
Obviously, she gave me a kind of why-suddenly-such-a-question look.
“No”, she replied.
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
“I don’t even know you”, was her reply.
“It doesn’t take much time to know each other”, I said, eagerly waiting for an assertive reply.
“Okay let a few days pass, then we’ll see”, was her smiling reply.
Like a fool, I just gave a thumbs up and walked off, that too in the opposite direction, only to run away from her, why I don’t know, but I wanted to get as far as possible from that awkward situation. Cursing myself for doing such an idiotic thing, I ran and ran and ran far away…
In the days that followed I came to know her name, she knew my name some days later, and we became good friends, or only friends rather. She never gave me her number, she was not on Facebook, so the tuition class was our only rendezvous for chatting. She was the study-first-then-others kind of girl, so we could not talk when sir talked, and when sir did not talk I tried to talk to her.
This was just the starting, where the boy dreams and the girl acts indifferently.
Then came the tough days of our lives, of my life rather, the Higher Secondary and Joint Entrance Examinations. I did rather badly in the Higher Secondary, but anyhow managed to get selected in one of the many engineering colleges of India. She had the opposite experience. She got 94% in her Higher Secondary (although she said she was not happy with the marks), but her entrance exams didn’t go that well.
Still she got herself admitted in a decent girls’ college in Kolkata. I had to stay away from home, and obviously from her, in Bengaluru. My life there took off grandly, I made few real and beautiful friends there, I, all of a sudden, grew brilliant in studies, and not to mention about my writing, yes, writing, I had a passion for writing from the very childhood. I started writing short stories, and they got published online as well, and the part that enthused me the most was the fact that I was being paid a quite good sum for publishing my stories, and moreover, whenever something special was needed to be written, be it online or offline, inside-college stuff or outside-college stuff, I was one of the many contacted, or to be precise, I was one of the few contacted.
But the scenario was quite different in her case, the scenario was quite the opposite rather. She grew bad – well, not really bad, but deteriorated – in her studies, she grew more suspicious in nature, i.e. she couldn’t trust anybody so easily, she grew more rude, she wasn’t the same soft-spoken and cute girl that I had known. Because of the combined effect of her trust problem and her rude behavior, she lost many friends, but couldn’t make new friends. She used to write very beautiful poems – no, I haven’t read any of them, but I’m pretty sure they are beautiful – but then, she was so disturbed that she stopped writing poems.
But I never lost contact of her. As soon as she came on Facebook, I became her friend, and we chatted, everyday. I gave her some time, the time to know me – well the process was tiring for me, but she was, and still is, in my opinion, beauty and virtue together, something rarely found nowadays. It took her three years to be able to trust me, that too partially, even this was a great achievement on my part, since I became one of her true friends, and the day she confessed that I was her close friend, I was over the moon!
Gradually I got her number, and then chatting was never ending. But I don’t know why, she could never like me more than a friend, and every time she said this, my heart would feel empty. My parents stopped talking normally with me after I flunked the IIT entrance examination. So, I was also kind of alone. But I never lost heart. I stayed with her and tried my best to cheer her up. She was of the opinion that she can’t love anybody because she was weird. Yes, I agree, she was really weird in some ways which I won’t be mentioning here, since she would feel awkward then!
I wrote stories, especially for her, to make her realize how beautiful and intelligent a person she is. My stories soon became a source of inspiration for her, and, I don’t know about others, but she waited eagerly for my next story to come. The way she praised me after each story, was really worth something, and also from a worthy person in my life.
Then came the campus interviews. I was one of the top students in the college, with my CGPA never less than 9.2. The interview went okay, the salary package was awesome, 75 thousand rupees a month for the first six months training in Kolkata, then if I succeed to get things right, my salary will increase manifold to 5 lakhs a month, with posting in the UK. All this will be granted in return for a ten hour job everyday, except Sundays, and total concentration on my work only. 5 lakhs a year – the engineer laughed in happiness, the writer bled to death.
And she, well the last I could know about her was that she was doing her MBA from some college in Kolkata. I don’t know how much me and my stories helped her, but she was a happy person again, writing poems, living happily with her parents and friends…and a boyfriend.
I started job and within five months only, I was called, and sent to London. My relationship with my parents remained unchanged, they didn’t even come to bid me farewell at the airport. Alone, I bid farewell to my hometown, where joy was rare for me.
In London, the engineer in me got the life he wanted, totally engrossed in his work, he earned the respect and trust of his colleagues, funny isn’t it? The writer in me couldn’t win the trust of the lady he loved in five years, but now, look how easily the engineer is being able to win everybody’s trust. I might have chosen the wrong avatar at that time, the engineer is the mighty one, the writer is just a depressed and sole soul. I was quite sure, that everything that mattered in this world was money and power. Love, trust, belief – all these are just mere emotional lagging, that one has to carry at one point in his life and dump at some other point in life.
I soon became the CEO of my company in a blink of seven years. I was both rich and powerful. All was okay, until yesterday.
It was in my routine, that everyday, after work, I would sit in the nearby park for some time, watching the young boys playing soccer there, I kind of tried to relive my childhood in the way I wanted it to be, but obviously couldn’t. That day, I was sitting in my usual place, with a glass hot chocolate in my hand, when a fairly known voice called from beside me, “Big man, eh?”
I looked up. A slightly bearded man, with two eyes shining brightly behind a pair of rimless spectacles. He was tall and slender, and his hair curly. Judging by his shoes, watch and the bag he carried, he wasn’t really rich, as me! His face was utterly similar to one of my old friends, long lost old friends. I stood up and shook his hand, “Hi”, I replied, still going through my list of friends whose faces I remember at the back of my head, “Sorry, but I cannot recognize you”, I gave up.
“Been here quite a long time, it seems, your accent totally British bro”, the smiling stranger said.
“Yeah”, I shrugged my shoulders, “Seven years at a stretch. Came here as just a project manager, I’m the CEO right now”, I advertised.
“Whatever, it’s a shame that you can’t still remember me”, he said in a taunting tone.
“Well, I’m very bad in these guessing games, you know”, I was then getting frustrated slowly.
“Okay, wait, do you remember…”, he told me her name, yes, she, whom I proposed twelve years back, after some damn tuition in an even more damned city, whom I cyber stalked for nearly five years, for whom I wrote stories, whom I…
“Looking startled brother?” the stranger continued, “Now I guess, you remember me.”
“Her boyfriend?” I made a guess.
“Was”, he replied, “Her fiance now.”
Now he shrugged his shoulders, and I, yes I, the CEO of my company, the rich me, the powerful me, the proud me, went blank for a moment, my mind went totally zero, everything around me got paused, got muted. I felt a sharp pinch in my heart. Still, seven years in the corporate world did teach me how to recover myself from unwanted situations. I forced a smile, and an even more forceful “Congratulations” was thrust up my throat.
“So what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Oh, my book has been in the top three of the best seller list here for the last three months, so they called me here to felicitate me, and she and I have decided to settle down here only after getting married.”
We sat down after that. We conversed for a long time, but surprisingly I can’t recollect what he said, or what I answered, all that I could remember, was a face, the cute face of a 18 year old girl, fair, oval, deep dark eyes, a wide forehead, her hair playing all over her face in the wind. I could even smell her perfume!
All I could remember, after straining my mind was of him telling me “Listen, tomorrow is her birthday, and I want to give her a surprise, you know a surprise that will really surprise her, and what could be a greater surprise than putting you up in front of her. I am sure she’s going to faint on seeing you, after all, you were her truest friend when you needed her the most.”
I came back home and wondered. Yes, I was there when she needed me the most, but was she there when I needed her the most? I felt sad, after a long long time, or to be even more precise, I felt how it felt to be sad. But I lifted myself up, I should be proud of myself, how I became successful, totally on my own accord, with no body by my side. Yet, after all these tries to lift my spirits up, I felt kind of defeated, of what, or by what, I had no idea, but surely I felt defeated.
That night I called my mom after a long gap, our relationship was just limited to my sending a handsome amount to my parents at the start of every month, but at that time, I wanted something more, I wanted to talk, informally.
The phone just rang away.
I didn’t go to office today. I woke up late, or rather I woke up early, as always, but I stayed late on bed. I never do that. But today I lied on bed till noon. I felt happy. After all, I would be meeting her today after so many days. I kept on thinking about what I would say to her, what to wear, what to do, how to establish myself in front of her, what to gift her, what to say and what not to, but honestly, the excitement of meeting her again was so strong that I could not even put my mind together to think.
I got my best suit, worth 700 pounds, bought an expensive gift, a showpiece, bought the best champagne available in London, I took my Porsche along, I decided to keep the keys in the front table of her house, so that she could realize my position now, so that she would feel guilty of choosing the wrong person as her life partner.
I reached their place at around 6 in the evening, driving a Porsche. Well, I must say, the place where they live, one can hardly call it an upper class area, it was all so shabby and cold, the roads were narrow, and the way the people dressed there, it was surely a very middle class region.
I kept my car in such a position so that she can see and admire it. I knocked on the door. She opened it. She couldn’t recognize me first, but I did.
This was my reaction on seeing her. I should mention here I fought really hard to hold back my tears. She went on a shock as well, she stood spellbound at the door with her hands capped on her mouth. She jumped on me and hugged me. I remembered how it feels to be hugged. I held her in my arms, for those few seconds I wasn’t a dweller of this planet, I was somewhere else, somewhere far away from all these din and tension and pollution, I went to somewhere pure. Humorously I recollect, I always wanted to hug her in childhood.
It was a small apartment, enough for two young lovers though.
“I told you, I have a surprise for you”, her fiance chuckled.
“Oh, I love you so much”, she said and collapsed in his arms. A rusted knife pierced my heart.
“We are getting married”, she said, smiling from his arms.
“Yeah, I know”, I said, fighting my tears back, “He told me.”
I sat on the only sofa in the room, they took chairs, but they sat side by side.
“Honestly, do you wear formals everywhere?” she asked me.
“Oh no” I tried to laugh, “I had office.”
“Office, office everyday. How do you manage it?” he asked me.
There were a lot of reasons, the most important being that I get paid there. But I don’t know why I couldn’t say anything in front of them. I just smiled back.
I remembered about my car keys, how I have practiced to keep them in front of them. I put my hand in my coat, felt the cold touch of the keys, but couldn’t take them out.
“You should take off your coat. It’s really warm here.”
I opened the coat and loosened my tie.
“Is that for me?” she asked looking at the wrapped box in my hand.
“Oh yeah”, I said, “I almost forgot about it.”
I gave it to her, she opened it. “Oh it’s so nice of you!” I smiled. “But where is my chocolate?” she asked, as she got up and placed it on the shelf, along with some other showpieces.
“Chocolate?” I asked, confused, noticing how odd my six thousand pound miniature statue of the Haghia Sofia looked beside the other cheap objects around.
“Yeah, how can you forget? Remember, you used to give me chocolates on my birthday, in childhood.”
“Oh I am sorry, I was too busy actually”, I lied, “Wait I’ll order some for you right away.”
“No need for that, he has already got loads of them for me”, she said smiling towards her fiancee. “Have you given him a book yet?”
“Ah, sorry, wait”, he went inside and came back within seconds with a rectangular packet in his hand. I opened it:
The Black and Red World
It had the picture of an eye, just an eye, on the front page.
“It’s really nice”, I said, “At least the front is quite appealing.”
“You’ll love reading it”, she said, as he blushed beside her, “This story of his made me realize how lucky I am, he literally helped me to come out of all my depressions and worries.”
“SO MY STORIES DIDN’T, RIGHT?” I screamed inside my broken self, but outside I disguised my emotions with a cool composure adorning a smiling face.
“What’s it about”, I asked him.
“It’s about a boy, Shehzad, who lost his eyes and his parents in an accident, but still goes on to live his dream, of traveling around the world, and meeting different people, and experiencing the different adventures of life. It basically revolves around his childlike innocence and indomitable spirit.
“And guess who suggested the title, my dear fiancee” he said as they kissed each other. The knife was twisting itself in my heart then.
“Well, not actually”, she said, “I just modified it a bit. He thought of the titling it The Unseen World. But then I thought of adding some colors to it, and black and red, those are the only two colors which you can actually see if you are blind.”
“You are still the same”, I said out of nowhere, “Remember how you used to help me title my stories in our college days.”
“I am much more intelligent and mature than both of you taken together”, she chuckled. “By the way, how are you doing?” she asked me.
My eyes went all wet in a flash, it had been ages since anyone asked me how I was doing.
“All very fine and good”, I tried to be normal, “Quite good actually, I am the CEO right now of my company, got a new apartment, very spacious, 4.1 million euros, got a new car”, I pointed to my Porsche outside, “Life’s been smiling at me”, I laughed.
“Oh ho!” she sounded dissatisfied, “Not these, you idiot, I am asking about your dreams, remember? Writer, globe-trotter and having a loving and beautiful girlfriend or wife?”
“Yes”, I didn’t know what to say, “I’ve been working on those, never left them aside.” Now, this was the biggest lie of my life, I had totally forgotten about them.
She gave me a you-can’t-lie-to-me look, and said “See, you’ve been here for the last five years…”
“Seven”, I interrupted her.
“Yeah, seven, whatever, and you’re rich so obviously you have been around Europe at least by now, why don’t you write about Europe then? I can even suggest you a title, Europe through an Indian eye. How’s it?”
“Oh please stop including this eye thing everywhere”, her fiance said.
“Shut up!” she stopped him, “In fact I have a better idea”, she turned to me, “You can have a total volume of books, books about the places you visited, and name it The World through an Indian Eye.”
“No, I think he should name it Saare Jahaan Hi Achha, you know, diverting from Saare Jahaan Se Achha.” her fiance suggested.
“No, it sounds very cliche”, she argued.
They went on suggesting names for my book, and updating them! I just sat there quietly, it made no damn sense at all, they were just wasting their time. All these days that I’ve stayed here, I’ve been to New York twice, and once to each of Washington DC and Singapore, but all for job purpose. It was all a very serious thing for them, and a comedy for me!
“And what about your short stories? You used to write short stories, right? Or you used to say, I write diaries”, she said imitating me.
“Diaries?” her fiance asked.
“Yes”, she said, smiling at me, I forced a smile back, “You see, he has this unique talent, of getting into someone else’ life, like, kind of, transforming himself into that person, and write about the feelings of that person, a few pages, or sometimes just a single page of that person’s diary. And believe me, he expresses feelings so well, I can’t tell you, you won’t know until you read it yourself. He is a very good writer.”
“I CAN’T WRITE ANYMORE”, my heart shouted out, and all I showed was just a shy smile.
“Won’t you show him your favorite birthday gift?” he told her.
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot”, she said, picking up a file from the table, “See this. He gave to me yesterday midnight.”
What? I thought, a file for a birthday gift? I suppressed my laughter, what can be inside it? A story? This man is obsessed, surely, I thought and laughed, while outside I wore a serious look.
I opened it. Yes, it was a story with the title The Girl Who Doubted.
“Another story”, I laughed.
“Yes, guess on whom?” she said, she was laughing too.
“On a particular girl, who doubts very much”, I laughed again.
“And do you know any such a girl?” she asked.
“Well, let me think”, most of my childhood friends were erased from my memory, the few that remained weren’t that doubting, and my colleagues, no, not at all, they are all quite cool, then who, I searched, straining my brain hard, my frowning eyes fell on her, sitting right in front of me, the girl who doubted, or rather, the girl who couldn’t trust, the girl who took three years to trust me, to accept me as one of her good friends. Slowly, my frowning face took a turn towards being an astonished face. She started smiling, this smile was much much more as compared to that smile, which she showed when she saw my gift, this smile was a lot more dear, a lot more cherished, this was from the inner self, this was a smile of satisfaction, a smile of love.
For a moment, I felt extremely happy for her. I smiled too, and returned her the file. She kept it back on the shelf, beside my miniature Haghia Sofia. Now, it looked really odd beside the loved and cherished things around it.
“Won’t you read it? You’ll find some of your childhood memories in here” her fiance said.
“Sure, I will”, I replied as I got up, “But I don’t want to interfere in something which is entirely yours, and yours”, I said looking at her.
“Are you leaving?” she asked me.
“Yes”, I said as I walked towards the dining table, where my champagne was kept. I took it and went to the door.
“What happened? Is anything wrong? Did I say anything?” her fiance looked worried, so did she.
“No, actually, I also never liked this champagne very much. I brought it, only to…”, I didn’t know, but I had started to cry, I wasn’t used to this, crying, all my efforts to act normal went in vain.
“Only to what?” she asked, there was that same old care and affection in her voice. I wasn’t used to this too, care and affection, no one has spoken to me with those two special feelings for ages. It got out of my control, I started literally started crying, she came and held me in her arms, I longed for this moment, from that very tuition day, it all went like a flash in front of me…
“Do you have any boyfriend?”
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
“I don’t even know you.”
“It doesn’t take much time to know each other.”
“Okay let a few days pass, then we’ll see.”
“Those few days have passed”, I told her in a choking voice, “But perhaps I don’t know myself as yet”, saying this, I ran, ran away from her, like I did that day, nothing changed, I wanted to run from her, from that awkward situation, run as far as possible, I ran, don’t know which way, my coat stayed along with my car keys at their place, my car stayed parked in front of them, I just ran…
I returned home late at night, I was all white due to the cold outside, I drank that disgusting champagne full. My wide spacious apartment looked so small and meager. I sat on my soft and cozy sofa, yet it didn’t do any good to comfort me.
I still felt defeated, no, not by her fiance, but by my own damn self, I have defeated myself, in the hunt for happiness, I had killed the things that could really give me the true happiness of life. Today as I saw her fiance as an established writer, with the love of his life, who also loved him back with full loyalty, and their chances of traveling around the world, I didn’t feel jealous, but I felt broken, blue, as at one point in life, I wished to be at that very position. Those days, which I considered to be the bad days of my life, were in true sense, the good days, and the way I am living nowadays, in the midst of only money and power, with no one to talk to, entirely alone, these are the bad. All these money and power and big empty houses and cars are just opium in my life.
I went to my balcony, the entire city glistening in the blackness of the night pounced on me. I realized I have become just another burden on this already populated and jammed world. But I know, I am not this. I am someone else, but obviously not the person I am right now. I have done a great mistake with myself, in order to attain praise and respect, I have put myself in a difficult knot. But in order to attain these fake praises and respects I have somewhere, in life, dumped my own talent, my own very self is lost in this crowd. I had become another Shehzad, like in her fiance’s book, only without that indomitable spirit. Mine is a black and white life only, devoid of any color.
All I wish is now to step forward and open myself up, speak out whatever is there in my heart.
I will live the life I want to. I will choose my own way of living, like I once wanted, full of adventure, my boulevard of life is not straight, it is curved, but it is mine, it is how I choose to make it. I will walk these roads till the end, there are no knots here, there is only freedom. Yes, I am someone else, I am not what I am right now, I have no limit, my imaginations are free, I am my own fun, I am my own sunshine. I am the one I choose to be.
I have lost many things so far in my life, I have lost my writing skills, I have lost my love, but now, I don’t have anything left to lose, I am a person with no care in the world, I can be fearless actually, I am fearless, in fact, and being fearless is the best way to be free.
My vice-president’s text broke my trance. It was a reminder about the presentation that I had to put up in office today, and he also added that, if this presentation went right the company would be gaining a huge sum, so will I, and he has full faith in me that I am going to pull it off superbly.
I opened my laptop, and sat to prepare the presentation. No sleep, excessive pressure, a whole bottle of a most disgusting champagne and all that went over me yesterday, made my head heavy. I stared at the screen for some time, then, almost automatically, a blank Word page opened in front of me. I sat, staring at the blank white screen, thinking of something to write. As usual I couldn’t think of any nice title. So, after thinking a lot, for nearly the past two hours, a mind blowing title popped up in my head. I typed it down in bold: