The following is an extract from I Am Ahmedabad, a collection of short stories
And I am not even allowed to talk. What the hell, I don’t agree to any conditions. I want to talk.
She looks at Akhil, who’s walking ahead, and then suddenly kicks him behind his right knee. An unsuspecting Akhil is completely thrown off-balance. His effort of holding on goes in vain and he falls down with a splash in the little stream that they were crossing. When he recoups enough to turn back to Rashi, he sees Rashi in complete ruptures. He shakes his head in mock anger as he realizes that it was only a prank by Rashi.
There were many more of those as they walked ahead. Rashi was particularly excited by the realization that the rains were so heavy that at times she just couldn’t raise her leg enough to be able to kick Akhil from behind!
If she can be this excited in my company here, why do I struggle to be even in her inner ring of friends back there? But then, even that can’t be true. Otherwise why would she share her most inner thoughts with only me? Or is it because I’m so far from her world that she thinks I’m absolutely safe?
Is she taking me as the Mr. Right-Now till she too finds someone who can give more? Am I on the same trip again?
Oh come on; don’t spoil it by getting bitter again. No one has ever managed to understand women anyway. This time, just enjoy till it lasts.
They might’ve got used to the rains, but they still had to look out for a shelter to spend the night. And after a further walk of about half an hour, their hopes seemed to be answered in the form of a dilapidated structure. It was difficult to tell if it was a temple that never got built or had something to do with hunting. But whatever it was, it looked a good place to spend the evening.
Under the shade, they take out their dry pair of clothes out of the million-layered polythene covers. And amidst incessant grins and accidental brushes, they help each other change into dry clothes.
There was only a little dry square on the ground. Akhil spreads a bed sheet on the ground. And then starts searching the rucksacks for their dinner. They still had 3 days to go and the remaining munchies resembled a serious miscalculation. Akhil gets a little concerned. But not for long. There’s always a way out for everything.
As he takes out satchels of soft-drink concentrate, he smiles at Rashi’s unusually lost look towards the continuing rains. And for once, Rashi only wanted to talk with her own self.
Whatever I might say, I have cheated mummy. It’s just that she might not ever find this out. I hope she doesn’t notice any change in me.
Hope Niki does not forget to send the e-mails to papa using my account. But what if papa and mummy have already found out that I’ve not been to the marriage of Niki’s cousin? Will they take me back?
What the hell, they don’t approve of anything that I do anyway. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it and I’m not going to be sorry for it. Who knows if I’ll get to be just as carefree with the guy they ask me to get married to!
Suddenly, she feels Akhil come from behind her and kiss her on the cheek. He then brings forward the food plate with his right hand. It was the usual two-minute noodles, a little namkeen and apple. And then the other hand carrying a glass of the usual orange juice. As she turns her face a little to thank him, she could not miss his loving smile. He looked very strange in that ever-growing beard. But then, on the only two occasions when he could have shaved, she was the one who had stopped him. He looked in a good mood as he winked and kept smiling. She had never seen him like this.
Why can’t Akhil and I get married?
She shivers at the thought. She’d thought about him earlier too. But this was different. It was no longer an idea; it seemed a realization!
She smiles, not wanting the thought to slip out from her face. But the sudden surge in love slowly starts getting better of her. And as her heart starts palpitating, she turns around and hugs Akhil hard. It was one of those mood swings that Akhil understood too well. He bends down a little to kiss Rashi on her head. He rests his chin on Rashi’s head and looks away at the magnificent rains.
In the light of a solitary torch, the severely rainy evening made even moments look like years. As, with the glass in one hand and the food plate in the other, Akhil’s shoulders start feeling the burden of his stretched out arms. But he does nothing. The solitude is finally broken when Akhil hears Rashi sobbing. Before he could react, Rashi suddenly breaks down. Initially nervous, Akhil just rubs his chin on Rashi’s head a couple of time before resting his cheek there; and allows her to cry her heart out.
Rashi kept crying for the whole evening. And kept raising her hands to apologise. Every time she would do that, Akhil would take her hands in his, kiss them and give her a smile. But she would find herself crying even more.
As Akhil fed her the dinner, she kept her hands locked behind Akhil. Almost like a little girl who worried that her father would vanish the moment she freed her hands around him. Finally, with her head on Akhil’s stretched-out right arm, she goes to sleep, hugging Akhil ever so tight.
Just a few feet away from them, it was pouring heavens on all sides. The thunderstorm was loud and the gushing wind very vocal, but nothing could shake either Rashi’s sleep or Akhil’s thoughts.
I don’t know what it is, what it will be,
But this once I’ll let it be what it will be.
What have I got that I ever prayed for?
So this once I’ll let it be what it will be.
When Akhil opens his eyes in the morning, he could see trees till some distance through the continuing rains. Must be 9. As he turns on his side to go back to sleep again, his eyes are arrested by the glimpse of Rashi’s right bosom through the undone buttons of her shirt. He pauses and admires the amazing infiniteness of a woman’s beauty. Especially, the infiniteness of its meanings! Soon, he shifts his eyes to his angel’s face. And for a moment, he struggles to find the woman he liked in the child with short hair that was sleeping by his side! He pushes back Rashi’s disheveled hair, bends down to kiss her forehead and then retires back to sleep.
As usual, he wakes Rashi up in the morning. I’ll just come; he tells her as he keeps a knife by her side before disappearing in the rains. She understood the lingo; she’d herself made use of the same words every morning.
With ruffled hair over her happy face, Rashi curls within her bed-sheet. All she could see and hear was rains.
This is so beautiful. And I thought the best thing would be to wake up in a big, round, cushioned bed with lots of pillows and silken sheets, and being served everything I wanted right there in the bed. Or is it because I’m still excited about my first time?
Come on, money is important, I can’t deny it. But then, there are so many filthy rich women who are so bored in life that they have to go for younger male keeps. Wow! That gives all the more reason for it. Now I’ll definitely marry a very rich man and have many cute and dark men as my keeps!
With a child-like grin on her face she brings the bed-sheet over her head and curls playfully on the bare floor. And soon takes her head out with a smile. Life is beautiful.
She looks towards their rucksacks. Akhil wanted to carry as little as possible. Hence they’d taken along only 2 extra pairs of clothes and an equal number of underclothing, for an eight-day long trip. But who needs them now anyway, she blushes. The rest was filled up by a million varieties of food and beverage concentrate items, medicines and navigational tools like torches and ropes. Not that she was counting the stuff while she stared the rucksack.
Is Akhil the one? How would I know? I mean what does one look for in a life partner? He’s a nice guy and he’s now proved to be a great lover too. But what about all that talk of that special vibe? Oh come one, it’s all trash. I mean so many guys give out that special vibe. What about them?
But if Akhil’s not the one, then what the hell was I thinking when I did with him? What about all those thoughts of saving it all for that special someone? Was it all bullshit?
Suddenly she could sense that last night’s edginess was returning. To compound the misery, as she looks over her shoulder towards the lashing rains, she knew that from then on, it was going to be the walk back home. Walk back to the world from where she wanted to run away. And the more she thought about it, the sicker she felt.
They walk hand in hand in the rains, with Rashi looking at the ground and Akhil far away. Soon, Rashi stops Akhil by pulling his hand. And as Akhil turns towards her, she takes a step ahead, wraps her arms around him and rests herself against him. Akhil was now getting used to that.
After a few minutes of togetherness in the splashing rains, Akhil takes hold of Rashi’s face in his hands. And as he looks straight into her eyes, he breaks their promise.
“Why are you so sure that once we reach back home, life would not be like this ever again?”
Rashi could not believe her ears. How could the man read her so well? Tears roll down her cheeks in a hurry as she too breaks her promise of a silent sojourn.
“I don’t know. I think I love you but I’m still not completely sure of you. I’m not sure if I would be taking this ahead when we return. I don’t know why. I think there’s something wrong with me. I can’t take it anymore.”
Akhil tries to say something but Rashi forces her face into his chest with great vigour and breaks down completely. Akhil doesn’t say anything. He just gives her a tight hug to reassure her.