“Hello? You still there?”
“We need to talk…somewhere, in private. How about the beach? It’s a weekday and it’d probably be less crowded.”
“Ok then. See you there. At 6:00, then?”
The call got disconnected even before he could muster anything.
This was inevitable. He saw it coming from a mile away. There were the tell-tale signs and a few outbursts. Yet it did not make its arrival any more acceptable than when he’d initially anticipated it.
The beach was almost an hour’s drive from his office. 40 minutes, if the traffic was merciful. He did not want to take any chances, even today. She is a stickler for time. He decided to leave office a little early. Maybe he could stop for a cappuccino on the way. A bottle of Kingfisher, more like. He decided against it…both.
As he swerved his car along the kerb, he began wondering about her, about them…
He locked the door and looked ahead. The sun was beginning to cast its crimson hue on the waves and the sand. It was beginning to get dark earlier, he realized. Winter, or so called. He checked his watch. 10 minutes to 6:00. He was comfortably early.
He looked around. Amolika was right. It was less crowded. He started walking towards the right. They always did. As he walked along the shore he saw a boat at the distance. At other times he would have been perfecting shots of its silhouette against the sun and its reflection in the waves. Not today. He spotted a few elderly couples, a bunch of guys, a couple of hawkers selling peanuts, a few foreigners…
There she was. He could make her out from a distance. She was already there, seated at their usual spot – a stony ledge not very close to the waves. Her hair was fluttering in the wind. She was trying hard to keep it together. She looked beautiful today, in her white cotton kurti and full length blue bandini skirt, with a stole around her neck. Amol was just an average-looking simple girl. Not really beautiful. Not even pretty. She dressed simply, smartly. But whenever she stepped into a room, people took notice. It was not her looks, it was her personality, for the person she was… is… What went wrong?
At the moment she was looking in the other direction. A child playing with his mother and being duly photographed by the father had obviously caught her fancy.
He stood still at that spot. He just wanted to soak in this moment. Several moments here, like this, before. A testimony to all the wonderful evenings spent there. The conversations they had. The times they felt they were one. To the moon and the stars that were witness to their love.
She suddenly turned in his direction. He’d always believed that she could feel his gaze upon her. She smiled, albeit weakly. “Come over…” she gestured with her hand. He moved slowly towards her. He could’ve sworn that his feet were made of lead.
“How was your day?”
“Not bad. You?”
“Well…Pretty much ok, I guess. Did I mess with your work? By asking you to come at this time?”
“Nah. It’s ok. I was planning to leave early in any case.” He knew he’d lie.
Then there was silence. Not the awkward kind. Not the uneasy kind. Not the dreadful kind. But the kind between people who were comfortable in each others’ company. They just sat there and looked at the horizon, at the setting sun.
“What happened?” She broke the silence first.
“Nothing, really. Must be the late hours I’ve been putting at office. Also the drive too…perhaps. Feeling a lil’ tired.”
“No Palash. I meant us. What happened to us?”
The silence that followed was indeed the awkward, uneasy and dreadful kind. Somebody had to ask it aloud.
Opposites attract, indeed. Then, as time goes by those precise things that attracted you initially begin to irritate you later. He could see it now. If I can see it all too well, why am I unable to do anything about it?
“I dunno Amol. I wish I knew.”
“Palash…I know we’ve both tried to make things work. But somehow…I don’t see this going anywhere. Maybe we’re just way too different to be compatible. Like our sun signs say too…”
He was reminded of those days back in college.
In the initial months they hardly knew each other. Different subjects, different classes. But once the cultural activities began, their paths had to cross. She was unlike any other girl he had seen - fiery, gutsy. There was an air of quiet strength about her; tamed passion ready to unleash itself when the need arose. Not only did she carry herself well, but he slowly realized that she was well-read and intelligent as well. They were deemed as favourites for the events they participated in. It was always a close call.
Rivalry of sorts ensued. She thought he was way too arrogant, loud-mouthed and brash. He thought she was too shrewd, cold and calculative. But an inter-college competition mid-course changed things around. They realized that their opposite natures kind of complemented each other. And a friendship grew… slowly yet steadily.
A relationship that then crossed the boundaries of friendship. It was difficult for both of them to accept that there was something more to it. They did not want to spoil what they had. But they went ahead when they realized it was mutual. She always joked about how zodiac-wise they were meant to be incompatible. He had always shrugged it off.
“We don’t seem to be on the same page anymore, Palash. We argue often. I do enjoy your company and our conversations. But when it comes down to things that matter, our views are poles apart. We end up explaining ourselves, always. There’s too much of an effort. It shouldn’t be this way, isn’t it?”
He knew that she was right.
He knew that only she’d admit as much.
He knew that there was nothing he could do to change that.
He also did not know what to say next.
Should he give her false hopes, yet again, and say that they could try to work things out?
Should he say that it’s normal for people who’ve been in a relationship for a while to argue?
Should he tell her that things would pan out fine in the long run, that all they needed was more time?
“I think we should stop seeing each other…as a couple.”
Her words shattered his train of thoughts.
He took a deep breath. It finally came down to this.
She was looking at him now. But he was still looking at the sea. The sun had set in the horizon.
“Palash, look at me. Please…” She tried to sound normal.
But he knew her better than that. She always tried to ‘hold herself together’, under all circumstances. She never liked to display her emotions. One of the reasons why people perceived her as ‘cold’.
He was still not looking at her. She realized that he wouldn’t contradict what she said. He avoided meeting someone’s gaze when he found it difficult to admit that he agreed. She knew that all his bravado and brashness was actually a façade. He was reserved and found it difficult to open himself to people. This ensured he’d have enough acquaintances, but very few who really understood him.
“Would you please say something?” Amol was literally beginning to plead now.
He didn’t see why he should prolong this anymore.
“Well… I guess I agree with you… Maybe we should stop seeing each other… as a couple.” He lied again. He didn’t think he could see her again…ever.
“Friends?” she had put forth her hand for a handshake.
“Yea…” he shook it limply.
“You know you could call me whenever you feel you need someone to talk to, don’t you?”
“Mm-hmm.” He muttered. How could she say such things…NOW?
“So…I guess I should get going now. Maa will be expecting me.” She arose.
He got up too. For a brief moment they hugged. Probably the last time, he thought.
“Should I drop you?” He didn’t know why he asked that.
“Actually, I came on my scooter. Thanks for asking. Are you not leaving now?”
“No. I think I’ll spend some more time here.” Because I don’t think this beach will be the same for me anymore, he added in his mind.
“Hmmmm. I’m sorry Palash, I really am. But… I couldn’t go on like this forever, you know. I can’t thank you enough for handling it in the right manner, really.”
“Yea, it’s ok. I understand. You go along now.”
“Yea. Ok. Hmmm…Don’t stop mailing or messaging me. Ok?”
“Yea sure.” He lied yet again.
“Till we meet…”
“… miss me.” He blurted… and regretted it instantly. Those were their usual parting lines. Why did I say it? Or rather, why did she have to bring it up, in the first place?!
She walked off quickly, before things got weirder.
He watched her as she walked away… with his heart.
That bottle of Kingfisher would’ve been fine, just about now.