This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
‘Darling, are you busy?’ Nayani’s voice would’ve sounded normal to anyone who heard her, but Aadhi knew better. Even over the phone, he could easily identify the emotions that she thought she concealed.
She was terrified.
‘You’re down the seventh alley again, love?’ It wasn’t a question. He framed it in such a way not to embarrass her.
He knew that she was terrified of dark abandoned places, and as fate would have it, she had to cross one on the way back to her apartment. He had noticed how she tightly held his hands and never spoke while they had to cross it together. He had noticed how she called him every time she had to cross it when he wasn’t with her, and how she brought up the strangest of subjects to pretend like it was casual talk.
Nayani did not like being ridiculed for her irrational fears. Aadhi knew that and he always played along. The only problem was that she had far too many irrational fears, and it made his acting a little complicated sometimes.
‘Umm…yea….’ She mumbled, and even through the phone, he could see the way eyes would’ve nervously shifted away from the dark sides of the road.
‘It’s okay, darling. I’m here with you, you’ll be fine.’ He said.
‘Oh no, I’m scared or anything,’ this was her pride talking. ‘I just wanted to ask you what time we’ll be meeting tomorrow. I’ve got my afternoon off.’
There it was. The deliberate and yet very obvious changing of subject. He was so used to her by then that she was starting to get easy to predict. He suppressed a laugh and told her to wait by the library where he would meet her.
He found himself smiling as he put the phone down and walked his way to the Library. The streets were damp from the rain, and there was hardly anyone around, making him only think about her a lot more than he wanted to. When he was Twenty three, he was looking for a girl who would be a star in his life. But when he saw Nayani – he realised that he found an entire galaxy.
She was beautiful – not in the literal sense of the word. She was beautiful for the way she thought, the way she removed herself from the chaotic crowds and slipped away into her imagination. She was beautiful in the way she patiently spoke about her deepest and truest of feelings in such carefully chosen words. She was beautiful for the way she let him fall in love with her, and for the way she held her soul and her body at a distance – completely aware of the distance between the two.
She had that day dream look in her eyes. Her full lips shone with the mild tint of colour that her vanilla scented lip balm. He was dazzled every time he looked at her, and accidentally bolted his eyes into hers, creating a connection that she quickly sensed and let it be.
When he first saw her, he wanted to lift her off her feet and just take her home.
He looked at her like she was the most precious thing that life had ever given him, and she looked up at him, like he was the world.
The night that Nayani told Aadhi she was struggling with happiness, was the most incomprehensible part of his life.
‘You’re worried, love?’ He said, his hands naturally intertwining into hers.
‘Yes.’ She mumbled.
‘But why?’ His fingers traced up her hands as he looked into her eyes.
‘Because I’m happy. I’ve never been this happy, and that is starting to freak me out.’ She refused to look into his eyes.
‘Darling, are you listening to yourself?’ He placed his hands over hers in tight assurance.
‘This is just another one of my irrational fears, I guess.’ She said rolling her eyes and turning her face away.
He removed his hands from her, releasing the tight grasp. This was heading out to somewhere serious, and he knew it.
‘What are you afraid of, exactly? Aren’t things more than fine, Nayani? Do you get yourself depressed on purpose so that you can write a lot of stories?’ He vented.
‘You think I’m doing this on purpose, Aadhi?’ She snapped. ‘How can you even say that? It’s not like I can control the way I feel, alright? I wish I could, but I can’t! You’re one of the best things that’s ever been mine, and look at you! You’re so kind, flawless and perfect. What if I lose you? What if you slip away from me? And what if destiny decides to play a cruel joke on us.’
Aadhi could not take it anymore. He rose, and started venting out his feelings.
‘You know what your problem is? You are constantly worrying about everything that could go wrong and you keep drifting away from reality, from the present, and it’s starting to get tough for me to handle!’ He burst out.
‘Please, stop.’ Nayani’s eyes were welled up with tears.
She looked at him – half fear and half anguish. Aadhi’s heart melted again. He couldn’t bring himself into being mad at her for more than a minute.
‘Okay. I’m sorry. Let’s give it one more try.’ He breathed in, and replaced his hands over hers again. Sometimes, she was like a child. He needed a lot of patience in handling her.
‘What’s troubling you, love? What is it that you’re so afraid of?’ He enquired softly, careful not to scare her.
‘My biggest fear isn’t that you’ll lie to me or cheat on me. No. It’s not the usual threats to a relationship that come to mind when I think of us. It’s the fact that someday, all the magic will be gone and what’ll be left of us is the painfully boring ordinariness I was filled with before I met you. I’m afraid – no –scared to death that your currently deceiving eyes will lose the filters and look at my bare mediocre self, and I’m afraid you won’t be enchanted by me anymore.’ She said.
She broke down again. He was everything she had dreamed a guy to be like, and much more. The feelings she had for him, she had previously only encountered only between the pages of books. Or perhaps, that was what he actually was. A book written especially and only for her – a book she could not stop reading and the book she did not want to end. She wanted to read and read again with so many painful emotions and marveling thoughts – hoping she’d never hit the end.
‘You do know that all of this is too darn philosophical and deep for my simple intellect, don’t you?’ He asked her seriously.
She nodded amidst all the sobbing. He laughed and sat beside her, making her head rest on his shoulders and letting her cry while he enveloped her cold thin hands tightly inside the warmth of his.
‘Listen, Nayani’ He said, taking her face in his hands and looking into her deep eyes with love and concern. ‘I want you. All of you. I’m not here only for your shiny sparkling self. I’m here for the whole package. I want your flaws, your mistakes and your imperfections. I want you, and only you.’
‘How did I get so lucky?’ Was all that she could manage to say.
‘See, I don’t believe in luck.’ He returned.
‘You don’t?’ She looked up, surprised.
‘Yeah.’ He said as he planted a kiss on her hands. ‘This isn’t luck. This is just exactly how it’s supposed to be.’
She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and buried her face into his chest, listening to the rhythmic beat of his heart and letting it heal her soul. He held her, and held her – knowing that they could never have a hug long enough to suit them.
They were different. Probably the two most unlikely of people to have fallen in love.
She was a strange girl who said strange things. He was strange guy who did strange things. Only, their individual definition of strangeness varied greatly.
He was a simpleton. She was an eager thinker.
He was athletic and couldn’t be contained in a room for more than ten minutes, while she was a very indoor girl. He spoke four languages – all of them learnt in bits and pieces. She knew only two, but had mastered both.
He laughed hard at all the adult jokes and made several of them when with his friends, while she giggled and chuckled over Timon and Pumba.
She wrote vigorously – it was almost a compulsive obsession for her. Everything in her life had been written through. She had ten novels and over a hundred short stories all sitting idle on her desk.
Her life revolved around books. On the other hand, he was a guy who hadn’t bothered to even touch a work of fiction his life.
The differences that initially sounded classically romantic, soon turned out to be conflicts and intellectual mismatch.
He found her complex, impractical and tough to handle. She said, thought and did things he could not perceive.
She found him aloof, detached and not deep enough to fall for. But she did fall and she was still figuring out a way to make it the way she had dreamed it would be. Life with him was a cocktail of emotions. There were moments of peculiar delight, unchecked happiness and fearless affection. They held hands almost all the time, and when his warm hands weren’t over hers, she felt like something was missing.
But nothing worked. She was used to being single for the best part of her life.
She felt tied down by the suffocating shackles of commitment.
Farewell party was when they both knew that it ended. It was a grey evening, and the good byes overlapped with the pain of ending what they had. Anyone who saw them could only say that they were ruining something beautiful on purpose. Although that shallow perception of their feelings was partly precise, there was a lot more to it than that.
Neither of them spoke about it, or addressed it, but it was strongly communicated nevertheless.
He knew that it would be the last time he’d see her in her pink dress that pressed tightly against her skin, accentuating her beauty a million times more and making him fall for her again.
When they sat next to each other for dinner, she knew it would be the last time the warm hands would accidentally touch hers.
They both knew that it would be the last tight hug they’d have when he held her in his arms and whispered goodbye.
They parted ways, both secretly hoping that they never get to see each other again, because despite their differences, they both acknowledged the fact that they couldn’t bear to see the other with someone else.
They secretly swore not to bump into each other again, because they could always be another someone in their lives. Another boyfriend, another wife.
Neither of them could even pretend to be that cool.
They tell us how easy and magical it is to fall in love with someone. But they never tell us how hard it is to fall out of love with someone.
The universe stopped making plans for Nayani and Aadhi over the next 23 months.
They constantly searched for that another someone to fill the void that they had left in each other’s hearts, but nothing worked.
Her mother tried setting her up on a blind date with an NRI groom, but Nayani refused to reciprocate any interest. She told them that she needed some time to finish writing the books she had begun, but it was quite obvious, even to her mother, that she was battling the residual feelings she held for Aadhi.
His mother, on the other hand, went one step forward and asked him straight out.
‘Why aren’t you over Nayani yet?’ She enquired him one day over dinner. ‘Why is it that I cannot get even the prettiest of girls in the Matrimonial site, to change your heart?’
‘Ma, Have you ever just looked at someone, and thought, ‘Gosh, I really love you.’ They aren’t down on one knee or doing something romantic and deep. They’re just sitting there, sipping a mug of coffee, or watching TV, or telling you about a movie they think you should see, and you’re sitting there, mesmerized like ‘Wow. I really just love you.’ And they’re completely unaware of how much you keep falling for them over and over again, with even the slightest and most irrelevant of things that they do?’ He asked his mother. ‘That was Nayani for me, Ma. She wasn’t just any girl. She was an enchantment.’
‘Well, then why did you end it?’ She asked.
Aadhi remained quite. To that he had no answer.
Thus they were both wonder struck, when they actually did bump into each other, in an alumni meet. He was mesmerised. He had almost forgotten how stunning she looked, and as always completely unaware of her aura. The distant gaze that kept searching for something more, looked a lot more appreciable now that he’d been away from her.
They didn’t talk, they didn’t smile. They didn’t dare to even look at each other, fearing they’d fall in love all over again.
Later then night, when Aadhi saw Nayani standing reluctantly over the edge of a dark alley, he couldn’t bring himself to walk away. He wasn’t that strong yet. He knew exactly what she was thinking and feeling.
‘Hey.’ He said with hesitation. She had matured over the years. And so had he.
‘You going down that alley? I have someone to meet there, can I join you?’
He beamed at her. She smiled back, completely aware of what he was doing. Waves of relief washed her over as she walked down the dark narrow street with him. He knew her better than anyone else, herself included.
They started walking, with a thin string of gap cautiously placed in-between them, and it took him every ounce of his self-control, not to grab her hands, twirl her around and kiss her.
It wasn’t any less different with her either. She constantly kept checking him out with the corner of her eyes. He looked just as flawless as ever.
When he left, she thought she had lost a star. But now that he was back, she saw an entire galaxy contained within him.
This time, in the words of her most favourite author, she was ready to be fallen in love with as much as she was to fall for him.
Her mind wandered, thinking about the time she used the word magic, when she first saw him.
Could it still be the same?
She searched and searched, exploring all the deep depths of his eyes that had darkened over the few years she wasn’t in them, and then finally discovered the missing element.
Between the seconds that passed between the moments she first saw it flash in his eyes again and the moment she reflected it in her own, Aadhi slinked his arms around her waist and lifted her off her feet.
‘I don’t know what all of this means, Nayani, but once, just once, let’s not make any plans. Let me fall in love with you for all your flaws, just like you’d fall by looking beyond all of mine.’ He kissed her.
It wasn’t the same as it was a few years ago. It was a million times better.
Nayani sighed with relief as the emotions came drifting back into her soul and lifting her spirits, the same way his arms had lifted her. The lost magic had finally found its way back to her.
It was broken – but it was still there.