They weren’t lovers. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Those who knew Sushant and Aarushi, were amused by the sheer theatrical build-up of scenes that would end up bursting like water bubbles leaving the scent of enigma stronger than before.
Aarushi had always been a tom boy of sorts all her life, scolding boys her age and playing hopscotch with the older ones. The opposite gender was not much in contrast to her own, she thought. Boys were just odd looking people from what she saw and not too bothered about having a clear opinion about them. As a result, the adolescence and her school years had passed before her eyes fighting teachers for extra marks and in beyond curriculum activities. The only time boys talked to her was to ask what a certain friend of hers thought of them, which she would report honestly.
The college-era was more or less the same, except for one scrawny fella who would keep looking at her in the class. Her friends tried to tease her about him, but she hardly understood what was going around her.
Class mein baatein mat karo. Ma’m naraaz ho jaayengi.
She would lightly admonish them.
Later, they found out the scrawny fella was cockeyed and was actually eyeing the teacher, so they eventually stopped.
Aarushi’s dramatic sense of morals mixed with confused adolescence seemed to vex her friends but it was exactly that what pulled Sushant to her like bees are pulled to flower scent. She was peculiar and cute. That and her beautiful almond-shaped eyes, which he thought would speak stories to him for the rest of his life.
He had seen at his brother’s wedding, dancing like a belle who didn’t seem to care who was watching her. While the whole marriage ensemble was dressed in finest silks and weighty jewellery, this modestly dressed girl in a pink salwar kameez with thin gold border caught his heart. He just couldn’t get enough of looking at her. Every few minutes she would close her eyes and twitch the side of nose, which he later learnt, was to adjust her new nose stud. The world seemed to black out, the wedding music stopped and only the violins in his heart played a soft tune and somewhere, the snow was falling on the dried yellow leaves.
It was funny because every time he looked away the place seemed to spin fast, but as soon as he moved his gaze back on her, she seemed to dance in slow motion. He tried looking away and back a few times to make sure he wasn’t just dreaming. He nudged his brother, the groom, and found out that she was the bride’s cousin.
The news travelled fast. Although Aarushi honestly thought Sushant had lost his way to the washrooms, a pesky teenager seemed to read that look on Sushant’s face. Through the cacophony coming from the Aunties table, his and her names could be made out. This made Sushant smile.
The light flirting at the phere got everyone talking. It was even encouraged by their families.
What a lovely Jodi.
The mothers had quipped to each other as they got the garlands ready. The fathers had clicked glasses and talked about local politics. The siblings took out their nintendos and talked about latest video games.
Unbeknownst to Aarushi, everyone was sure this was meant to be. This was a match made in heaven, someone said.
The wedding fare ended with great pomp. The new bride of the older brother had barely entered the house and the gathering of relatives were already talking about the younger brother’s marriage. Everyone seemed adored Aarushi and was taken in by her simple charm.
Chat mangni pat vyaah.
One of Sushant’s aunt teased him. But Sushant had read too much Rumi and Keats to be persuaded to marry without love. He was greedy for her love. There would first be love, if at all. And then there would be marriage, if at all.
And so, to get her attention, he would wait for her on bus stands, outside library, and coffee house in her neighbourhood hoping for glance even if just a sidelined one. She did notice him, as would anyone who wasn’t blind, but was too shy to admit that she did.
She supposed he was okay and she was aware he liked her but love was too strong a word for her to be used casually. Our Jane Eyre had crossed her checklist. No heart palpitations when she saw him. No pressing need to be held in his arms. No increasing interest in admiring herself in her mirror. It wasn’t love, she was sure, because it did not feel what they said love feels like in books that she had read.
One day Sushant after noticing two good-looking boys riding motorbikes in her neighbourhood, he realized his approach wasn’t leading him anywhere, but he decided to take a giant leap in the story. The same evening, when the moon was at its full glow and crickets were lyrical, he showed up at her house with flowers and a velvet blue box. The parents hushed inside to let them talk in the living room.
I have great admiration and fondness for your virtues. Would you consider a proposal of marriage?
He declared his love as unromantically as he could. That’s how gentlemen do. He did not want to sound desperate and cheesy to her dislike.
She heard him. She considered the proposal but something wasn’t right. Or maybe it felt too good to be true. Or maybe she had never learnt how to deal with this kind of attention. Or maybe boys were just odd looking people.
She did not want to be rude, but she did not want to make a decision. Do I say I don’t know or do I stay quiet. What was the norm?
He said a few more lines about how he started a new job, where he went for schooling, how one of his friends is now settled in America and how he used to bunk school.. he had stopped at this, suddenly apologetic for his verbosity. She nodded.
The air was stuck between the unsaid. He looked at the wall clock behind her and noticed the hands weren’t moving. The flower vase on the table seemed stand offish. An undefined sense of loss was piling upon him. He had anticipated her inhibition but was not ready for a blatant rejection. He wasn’t feeling good.
An hour had passed so he stood up, thanked her for listening to him and then left leaving a few words for her to contemplate on.
I will always wait for you. Always.
An uneasy current moved in Aarushi’s heart. But it was too insignificant to cause an effect.
The next day, week and month passed in strange quiet. Everybody got busy with their daily chores and except for her mother, no one asked her what they had talked about.
But Ma, I want to complete graduation first.
She had retorted.
Sushant moved to another city. She completed her post-graduation and then the parents found a match for her. The years started to pass with speed of light. Life was kind to her. Occasionally, she felt blessed to have moments where the cup of happiness had brimmed full.
Moving to another country was challenging at first but later worked for her. Family life and a humble career kept her busy. The days were beautifully sinking into nights and her husband, her daughter; the in-laws all seemed to working in perfect alignment. She was lucky. Apart from the sporadic couple fights about daily chores, there was peace.
A little over twenty five years lapsed with nothing major to write home about.
It was Sonia’s eldest daughter’s wedding. Aarushi wasn’t planning to attend, and but Sonia refused to take no for an answer. She even emotionally black-mailed Aarushi to stay with her.
Tujhe aana hi hai, bas keh diya.
It was going to be uncomfortable to be staying in her house and having to face Sushant every day.
Sushant apni life mein busy hai yaar, zyada soch mat, bas aaja!
Sonia ordered. She relented but it was going to be short visit. She could only manage a week’s leave. She secretly relieved to be reminded that Sushant hadn’t actually ‘waited’ for her as he had said.
When she saw him at Sonia’s house, Sushant was helping his mother carry up big boxes. He looked the same except he now wore glasses that seemed to age his eyes. He saw her too but continued to carry the boxes after a cursory hello. For the five days she was there, they occasionally crossed each other’s paths but never spoke more than a brief courtesy greeting.
She had found out the woman he was married to had an affair with one of her office colleague and had left Sushant after five years of their childless marriage. After their divorce, he moved from one city to another, moving up the corporate ladder. Other than this, there was nothing to tell and nothing to ask.
Nobody threw them in a dance together at the wedding. Nobody asked them uncomfortable questions. Twenty Five years was a long time. Everyone either had forgotten about the story or perhaps didn’t want to create unnecessary ripples in still water.
After the wedding ceremony was over, the extended family had started to leave one by one. When Sushant was saying his farewell to the family, Aarushi made an excuse and stayed back in the guest room. She was packing her suitcase for her flight back home next day.
A knock on the door surprised her. She opened the door and saw Sushant standing there. He looked tired.
Uhm .. I thought you had left.
Ya .. just waiting for the cab.
So you are leaving in the morning.
Yeah! Just finishing up last minute packing.
Yeah.. well. I just wanted to.. Hmm.. This is for you.
For Me? What is it?
She asked taking the little blue velvet box from her.
Nothing special, just take it. If you can.
Aarushi remembered a similar blue velvet box on the table of her living room twenty five years ago. She opened the box and found a pair of gold earrings, big, old fashioned and slightly dull.
I can’t take these, please!
She held out her arm to return the box back to him.
Listen. I cannot keep them with me. Nor can I throw them away. Just take it, Aarushi. Give it to your daughter! Get rid of it. Sorry, I have to go now.
He said, turned back and quickly left. She stood there feeling thunderstruck. Her name in his voice had a strange echo to it. She had never heard him say her name before.
Aa ruu shii ..
It triggered something in her like a hypnotist’s single click of finger. She was in a trance or perhaps removed from one. Her name in his voice kept reverberating in her.
Aa ruu shii ..
Like his voice made love to her name and the stars played on the flutes. Like she was kissed on the forehead and the wetness of the kiss remained there. Like her name and his voice were made for each other. Meant to be.
Aa ruu shii ..
She felt like a thousand sunsets and sunrises were happening inside her simultaneously.
The heart was beating faster and she was overwhelmed with a strange urge to see his face one more time. She ran after him but before she could reach the gate, the cab had left. She watched the cab disappear, and then walked back to her room, when the velvet box in her hand started to feel a little wet.
Inside the room, she locked herself and looked in the mirror, aghast to realize how old and dishevelled she must have looked to him. She was a 45-year old woman. A little silver was peeping from her hairline. The brows were thinning and one of her eyes was smaller than the other. She touched her face and the pores of her skin were slightly hot.
The cell phone beeped. The screen flashed a text from her husband. A sense of guilt creeped up on her. She was married and she dare not be in love, she told herself. What was she going to tell her husband? What was there to tell him? That she was touched today like no man had ever touched her before? That her name was in complete surrender today? She was taken by a man who never once lay a hand on her.
The night had no answers for her. She would have to keep this night hidden in her soul for the rest of life. She would have clip the wings of this night for it had no business in her family life. But every night, night after night, she would have release the soft fragrance of this velvet box and relive every moment of their unsaid togetherness. She would let her name sleep in his voice.
She clutched the velvet box to her bosom and slowly drifted into sleep.
Outside her window, the moon had completed another circle.
Tomorrow, it would start to wane.