She sipped her cup of decaffeinated coffee as her eyes stayed glued to the book, the last few pages are always the most enticing. A few minutes later she put down the book and looked around her. The cafe was full of people. February is the month of love, as amply displayed by the heart shaped balloons, red velvet cake and coffee mugs that filled the cafe. She could see young lovers, friends, an elderly couple sharing a cuppa as they looked into each others eyes. A girl shrieked with joy as the boy with her presented her with a gift, she tore open the wrapper excitedly, it was a book with a red velvet cover.
Sia looked at it, the book looked so familiar and she found herself back in time, in school as a 14 year old, with pigtails and a skirt, that awkward walk, when life was about cramming your head into books to get good grades but it was also about gossip with your girlfriends, rushing after school to get some kulfi from the ice cream seller and it was about “love” and Varun.
He was a year older, the school head boy, super intelligent, smart, funny, they argued at the school debate one day and later shared kulfi after school, discussing how the event went and he complimented her on coming up with a really good argument.
She looked at him as he stood tall and proud in the school assembly , right behind the Principal and her heart started fluttering. She felt a surge of excitement, she thought of Shahrukh with a violin playing the most romantic tune as leaves rustled in the background. At that instant , her eyes met his, those brown eyes that were intently looking at her, just for a moment and then he looked away. Her heart skipped a beat and the music played again in her head.
It was the school Annual Day, the gala event everyone looked forward to and she was participating in a play. Her heart did a somersault when she got to know he was in the play too. They would meet more often.
As they were in different classes they did not have much interaction. He stayed back for after school classes and she lingered around but not too long as her strict parents always kept a tab. Those were the days of no mobile phones and kids were not as gutsy as today, so they let their little love story brew ever so slowly and took joy in these sweet moments that were few and far between.
But now with the school play they had a chance to be together for the first time. Though they would be teachers around, other classmates but it dint matter. This was a ray of hope and they were loving every part of it.
She loved dancing and acting and was enjoying every bit of this play. She was determined to do her best, after all he was watching too. They played arch rivals in the play, they were constantly arguing, fighting and they even had a fistfight in one scene. As his hands held hers firmly, she felt her body pulsate. She could feel the tension in him as well, his eyes gave away but with so many people standing around, she knew she had to regain her composure and focus on the play. It is after all, just playing a part.
They fought fiercely as their characters loathed each other in the play but in real life, quite a contrasting scene was playing on. They spent more time together after the play, often with their classmates but that gave them a chance to be with each other. They had their fleeting moments- like when her hand accidentally brushed his and she said “sorry” with a twinkle in her eyes and he squeezed her hand for a second with “its ok”.
It was a usual practise day on Saturday and she got her favourite novel, a collection of romantic tales from around the world that her cousin had gifted her 3 years ago. She treasured this book, it was full of love stories, of people from faraway places- from Paris and London, and Iraq and Pakistan. Love blossomed between 2 strangers under the Sakura tree- this was her favourite, 2 people falling in love in Japan. She had brought that book to lend it to Varun.
They shared a common love for reading though he did not share the same taste in books as her. She wanted to lend him her favourite book as they had decided they will exchange books with each other and he was keen to read her treasured book. It was a book with a red velvet cover. She handed it over to him after practise asking him to take care of it, it was her most prized possession. One that she had never lent to anyone. He smiled and assured her he would keep it under his pillow and guard it like a treasure.
She waited for his thoughts on the stories and was keen to know which was his favourite, she was also restless to get her book back but it never happened.
A sudden turn of events and he left school. The teacher announced that he had to leave the country due to some personal emergency and would skip the rest of the year. Her heart sank, this was too sudden to digest. Why did he leave with no explanations, surely he owed her one. And her book- oh her favourite book, would she never see it again?
It had been 12 years since that day and she never heard from him. Today seeing a similar book in the cafe brought back memories. She wondered where he was, what was he doing? Was he married? Was he happy? Did he ever think of her?
Too many questions and no answers, she was being silly. She chided herself. We all move on, we learn to take heartbreaks in our stride. She had a few relationships but it never felt she had met “The one”. Her parents efforts in getting her “settled down with a good guy” were all in vain. I cannot marry one I do not love. They had finally relented and let her take her time in choosing “the one”.
Her phone beeped. It was a mail from the school alumni. A reunion had been planned next week. She wasn’t too keen as she hardly related to anyone from school. It would be the usual stuff of people gloating about their big fat paycheque, their villas and cars, vacations and each trying to show off , she had been to the last one and was totally put off. She scrolled through the list of people who had sent in their acceptance and stopped all of a sudden. There it was- No 26) Varun Shastri. She blinked and it took but a moment to decide. She typed in her reply to the mail.
To be continued…