He checked the box for the bracelet the umpteenth time. Another twelve hours and she would be back, by what his mother knew. Some urgent work had cropped up and they had gone over to her mother’s hometown. Again what his mother knew.
As he cleared his bed, to retire for the night, he coaxed himself aloud for not having apologised to her earlier. It had been a week since they had last spoken. He knew she wanted him to take the first step. After all he was the one who insulted her, disappointed her. He hadn’t meant to do it, obviously, but nevertheless he did do it.
“Ego. That is what your problem is, Hiten. You knew you were wrong. Yet, you couldn’t be bothered enough to say a simple sorry! You took it all out on her instead. Moron! Of course, she wouldn’t talk to you,” he chided himself, rolling up his clothes in a ball and dumping them on the chair. Removing his laptop and its charger tangled with the endless earphones, “Make sure you don’t hurt her again. It’s her birthday the day after. Make it her best. You know you love her. She needs to know it too. Enough with your… Ahh! Finally!” he exhaled jubilantly on untangling the wiry mess.
He fell off to sleep thinking about her.
Having snoozed his alarm twice, Hiten woke up only when his mother came to remind him he would be late for office. He told her he was taking the Saturday off. Only when he finally got out of bed, did he realize he had only an hour left before Deepti’s train arrived.
Barely had he awoken, when his mother came in blabbering excitedly, “I just spoke to Gauri bhabhi (referring to Deepti’s mother and their neighbour)
. Their train arrived early. Somehow.”
“What? How? What’s wrong with the Railways?” he asked, hurrying to the washroom!
“That’s not the point, though I wondered that too. Deepti got engaged,” she finished.
Hands still on the handle of the washroom door, holding his breath, stopping in his tracks, pulsating heart, he just about managed to blurt, “What are you saying, Ma?”
“I don’t know the details yet but looks like that is why they had gone to Raipur in such a hurry. They are on their way already. Go, get ready. I am preparing breakfast for them.”
“Okay,” is all he said, before shutting himself in the bath.
Hiten felt his body slide down to the floor. He could taste the tears coming out of his eyes, rolling down his cheeks and pooling by his lips. His hands trembled as he ran them through his hair. He had to meet her. He had to get up. Yet, he couldn’t find the strength to even move. He felt broken. He kept sitting there till he finally found himself capable of getting to the shower at least. Turning it on, he felt the water seeping through his night clothes, he still had on. He didn’t care. He just wanted to wash away all the memories of the week before. He wanted his friend back. Single. Clutching at his hair, he waited for the water to work its magic. Tired of holding his breath and sobbing into the water, he turned the shower off to go and wash his face at the basin, not realizing how pointless the whole exercise was. He felt numb, senseless, insignificant, dejected, and incapable all at once.
“Hiten, Deepti’s here. She’s asking for you. Are you done?” his sister asked, knocking on the door.
Regaining composure, he blurted, “Yes, almost. Could you hand me a towel and a set of clothes, please?”
When he emerged presentable, he found Deepti working on his laptop. She looked up at him, and clarified, “Just checking the office mail.”
He didn’t bother to reply.
“Deepti, I have something for you,” he called out to her.
“Okay,” she said, her voice betraying her curiosity. She walked up to him and asked, “What?”
He turned around and looked into her eyes. “This,” handing over the box to her. “And congratulations.”
“Thank you. Nothing was final. So I didn’t tell you anything. Plus, we weren’t talking. So…” she trailed off, as she opened the box. “This is so beautiful. I love it. Thank you!” she said softly, looking up at him.
“I am sorry, Deepti,” Hiten said, embracing her.
Surprised and slightly taken aback, she hugged her friend back.
“I love you, Deepti,” he said.
“Yes, I know that, Hiten. I love you too,” she said smiling. “Missed me a little too much, huh?” she asked, mocking him, just as tears welled up in his eyes.
“Are you okay?” she asked him, rubbing his back.
“Yes,” he said.
“I will be. Eventually,” he thought.
And he let her go of the embrace.