Even as she looked at the SMS for probably the tenth time that morning, she couldn’t help but grin. She was finally going to meet him.
She looked slyly at her mother from the corner of her eye, hoping she hadn’t noticed. But the slightly creased forehead and the puzzled look said otherwise. Her mother had caught that special smile as it waned. “It’s so hot here isn’t it? No wonder they say that you have to experience it to believe it!” she quickly offered, by way of distraction. “This is nothing, madam. Chennai heat is much worse in summer.” The taxi driver had found his opening. As had her father. He could chat with anybody, anytime. And despite his lack of understanding of Tamil, the two of them seemed to manage just fine. More so because of the broken Malayalam the driver knew and spoke, rather than the Tamil her father struggled to comprehend.
She relaxed, leaned back in her seat and sighed. That one comment had started it all.
Apart from a few of her friends who knew about it, she didn’t think anyone else read her blog. She rambled more for herself, than anyone. No wonder then that she was pleasantly surprised to see a comment from someone she didn’t know.
“Like the way you think. Should write more often. - V.”
“What was that address again madam?”
The driver broke her reverie.
She checked the SMS yet again, “TVH Park Villa Road, Thoraipakkam”.
“Okay madam, we should be there in another half an hour”.
She didn’t know what it was. All she knew was that it was… effortless. Almost like it was meant to be. That they were picking up from where they had left off. That somehow it was certain that their paths had to cross.
E-mails were exchanged regularly. Chats were fewer. And she cherished those. They had exchanged cell phone numbers as well. Not that calls happened, at all. It was like their world online was separate from that offline. If that was the beauty of it all - so be it.
She always looked forward to their conversations. It was largely about books, movies and music - interests they shared. And interspersed among it all - thoughts, experiences and life.
And then, this opportunity had presented itself. Her friend was getting married. In the same city as Varun’s. She was thrilled. And terrified at the same time. How would it be like to meet him in person? Weird? Awkward? Natural? Find out, she would.
“Who did you say we’re going to meet now?” her dad asked, again.
“Varun. He’s one of Ashwin’s friends. I’d told Ashwin about this Chennai visit. He asked this friend of his to help us arrange for our stay. It’s only appropriate that we thanked him, right? Besides, Ashwin asked me if I could give this parcel to him.” She showed them something wrapped in brown paper. Books she had got as a ‘surprise gift’ for Varun. She marvelled at herself for being able to construct such an elaborate lie.
As the taxi pulled into the parking lot of the white and brick-red apartment complex, there were knots in her stomach. This is it, she told herself.
Flat A320. She took a deep breath, and pressed the doorbell.
After what seemed like two minutes, the door opened.
Wait, did I get the apartment right? There must have been some mistake. What should I do now? She panicked.
“Yes? May I help you?” the lady who answered the door asked.
“Va…run…” she managed to stutter.
“Oh! You must be Megha, right? And your parents are here too. Great! He told me you’d be coming at around this time. He’s gone out to get some groceries. He’ll be here soon. Come on in.”
They stepped into the quaint but tastefully done apartment.
“I was just making us some lunch.” she carried on cheerfully. “You see, it’s been over an hour or so since I put Diya to sleep. She’ll wake up any moment now. I wanted to finish off most of the cooking before that.”
And soon enough sounds of a child crying were heard.
“Oh. She must’ve woken up after her catnap. I’ll freshen her up and bring her here.”
Megha was still in a state of intense disbelief. “You didn’t tell us that he’s living with his family”, her mother unwittingly chipped into her misery. Like I knew! She screamed in her mind. “I’ll go check on them”, and with that her mother left in what seemed to be the direction to the bedroom.
“It’s such a nice locality. And the apartment too, isn’t it?” her father said. That was the first time she looked around.
This is where he lives. With his wife. AND one kid. Photographs of the couple and the child were arranged on the corner stand. There were a pile of toys in a sort-of play-area in the other corner. I must be hallucinating, she thought.
She got up like a zombie and walked towards the bedroom. She could hear her mother doing baby-talk. She did have a way with children.
And then she saw li’l Diya’s face. She must’ve been three years old. Little curly locks framing a fair, chubby face. Eyes groggy from sleep. Cherubic. Diya looked as disoriented as herself. The kid is cute, even though the mother isn’t, she sniggered to herself. Her mother was making conversation with Varun’s wife. What is her name? This is seriously lame. - she thought to herself. … “So Vidya, you’ve been here for over two years, is it?” Okay. Mom found out her name sooner than I did.
The doorbell rang. “That must be Varun. Why don’t you get the door?”
That would be just perfect.
She went ahead and opened the door. And there he was. Mr. Varun Vasudev. He smiled nervously at her, feeling quite like the stranger in his own place. She had finally met him.
He looked a little taller than she thought. And different. Who could tell? After all, she’d just seen that lone snap of his on that social networking site, on which he wasn’t active at all.
She was upset beyond words. But had to rein in her emotions, so that she could be civil and appear normal.
She went through the motions. The chit-chat in the living room, as Diya played around. The delicious lunch, which seemed drab due to a sudden loss of appetite. She tried hard to seem interested, though she was actually listless.
When her mom and Vidya went into the kitchen to get dessert, she saw an opportunity to speak to Varun…alone. “Hey, I totally forgot. Ashwin has sent you a package. It’s in the living room. I’ll give it to you before I forget again. Also, we need to settle the advance for the hotel, no?” Varun looked confused. Nevertheless, he played along and went with her.
As soon as they were out of earshot, he spoke quickly. “Package? What package? And this really isn’t about the advance, is it?”
“You think!” she was literally gritting her teeth.
“Relax Megha. Don’t get so worked up”. That’s when she realized how tense her body was. That she was breathing heavier and quicker. That she was seething.
“Why are you so upset?”
“Why?! I’m surprised you’re even asking me this question, mister!” she grumbled. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that you’re married? And you have a child? Ha! Heights!”
“What does it matter, M?”
She looked at him, surprised. “Because I…because I thought you…” she let that sentence trail.
“Because you thought what, M? Tell me.”
“Why are all relationships conditional? Why does it always have to come with a ‘conditions apply’? Why can’t two people be in a state where every ‘give’ does not have to have a ‘take’ or vice versa? Ever noticed why all of us are so upset and unhappy with the people in our lives? We impose ‘expectations’. Sometimes tacit, sometimes explicit. No matter what the relation, we all eventually end up setting some standards, then measuring and comparing. We expect, no, want others to behave or act the way we deem fit. Others have to fit into our mould, so to speak. And eventually they become answerable to us. To all our ‘whos, whats, wheres, whens, hows’ and most importantly, the ‘whys’. Why can’t two people choose to know each other, without imposing any conditions? Simply accepting each other for who they are - no restrictions, no chains, no ifs and buts. No strings attached?”
This was one of those discussions with him that she had particularly enjoyed. He was mature, well-read, and someone who thought through things well. She admired him for that. Also, he had views very different to those of hers and often made her think in ways she hadn’t before.
She was beginning to get attracted to him. She knew she’d be lying to herself if she denied that. But then, she let these thoughts remain just that - thoughts. He’d never told her too much about himself, and she didn’t want to pry. Or seem prying, rather. She was happy just knowing that he even considered having such conversations with her. And after this particular one, she realized that she possibly shouldn’t be expecting anything more out of this….friendship, for lack of a better word.
“Tell me, M”.
She looked at him. And she realized that he had never lead her on into imagining all those stupid things she had started believing. And for all the agreement and acceptance she’d shown to this ‘unconditionality theory’ back then, she realized that she was no different.
“Nothing. It’s nothing Varun. I’m sorry for reacting this way. I know it was uncalled for. Here. Take these. A couple of books I thought you might like. And about the hotel room…how much do I owe you?”
She was disappointed. And sad. And hurt. Very. There was no denying that. But she knew there was nothing to be done. Or said. It is just a phase, she told herself. You’ll get over it. She hoped that was true. She wanted to get past all this. Get it out of her system. But she didn’t know how.
‘Varun Vasudev is online’, the IM said.
She signed out. She had to work on a story. For her blog.
Note: Thanks P for your suggestions in editing this. :-)