here it is, three days of hard work...it's bloody long but i'm putting it up anyway. i wrote it for a contest n submitted it today.
yeah it's VERY long....but it's decent....i was actually satisfied with it.
thanks to Anki and Rushi for instant feedback.
“A true romantic would say that great love stories can start anywhere. In a doctor’s waiting room. In a college canteen. Even in, say, a swimming pool.
Even…the first class compartment of a train.” mused Aditi, with a spark in her eyes.
“Yeah, I like it. Okay, maybe not train…letsee…everyday they stand on opposite platforms waiting for the train. He sees the beautiful girl with the flyaway dupatta…she glances at him and he’s mesmerized…” Aditi looked pretty mesmerized herself, her eyes glazed, the idea playing out in her head. “But just as he decides to cross over and talk to her, a train pulls in, blocking his view, and when it’s gone, so is she.”
“My god…” moaned her friend Reshma. “That sounds fit for a Hindi movie…so what’s the end like?”
“Hmm, I’m still thinking na? But it’s a definite start. Good, great. I’m gonna start writing this as soon as I get home.”
They left the cafeteria and walked out of the gates of St Xavier’s college, heading towards Churchgate station.
“So, what’s this for anyway, this story thing?” Reshma enquired.
“This short story competition yaar...you have to write a quirky little love story. And of course, it’s me doing the writing, so it has to be something…something different. Something un-clichéd. Okay, do we absolutely have to go to McDonald’s today? I’m running late, you know that...” Aditi moaned plaintively.
“Just a quick snack won’t hurt. You stay out here if you want.” With that, Reshma stepped into McDonald’s, leaving Aditi alone in the outdoor seating area.
So many couples out here today, she thought. She leaned back onto a wall, and started to people-watch. She’d been doing it since her first day at Xavier’s, when she knew no one and no one knew her. She’d sat down on a parapet to watch some boys playing an impromptu football match, and she’d realized that from her vantage point, she had a pretty good view of the campus.
“You’re in my spot.” A voice had said. She looked up into the speaker’s eyes and moved over to make space, and that’s how she and Reshma had become friends.
Today, Aditi watched the mother at the table in front of her feed her daughter, while listening to her son’s pleas for a Happy Meal so he could get another toy. She watched the couple she vaguely knew from her psychology class have a little lovers’ tiff and then make up as he sweet-talked her into feeding him a French-fry. No wait, they were called Freedom fries in the US now, weren’t they? Her thoughts, as always, settled into a little internal babble, the friendly voices in her head were at work…
Mental monologue: This story had better be different…I don’t want to do my usual boring clichéd drama stuff…hmm…I wonder what he’s saying to her…hey, is love all that it’s cracked up to be? Okay, fine, the thing with Uday, we both knew it was just a bit of fun, not LOVE, really…
“Chalo, let’s go! You were gonna be late na?” Reshma snapped Aditi out of her reverie with a tug on the elbow.
At churchgate station, they parted ways, Reshma ran off towards a nearby bus-stop with a wave, and Aditi walked into the beautiful old train station.
What kind of student am I, traveling by first class, she wondered as she bypassed the ticket counter. She jogged over to platform 4 to catch a fast train to Andheri, and stood with the small crowd where the first class compartment stopped. When they’d discovered she’d be traveling from Churchgate to Andheri everyday during rush hour, her parents had insisted on issuing Aditi a first-class pass to ensure that she was never caught in the crowd. And as the train pulled into the station, she watched the heaving sea of humanity shove its way through the doors, and she was glad, deep within. She calmly stepped into the first-class compartment, found her usual seat and removed the train-book for the day. She’d finished about half a page when the train jerked and began snail-crawling out. She didn’t bother looking up, she knew the routine.
Her reading was interrupted by a substantial thunking noise. She glanced up to see a boy in a black T-shirt weave his way through the aisle to sit at the window across from hers. He was cute, in a disheveled kind of way. Obviously traveling without a ticket….She watched him unfold a magazine and returned to her reading.
“Hey, is that book any good? A Terry Pratchett, right?”
Hmm…nice voice…not sexy really, not in a conventional way, but it had something, a tinge of, hmm, maturity?
She looked up, showed him the cover. Soul Music, the title proclaimed. As he reached for the book to study the synopsis, she studied his face. Brown eyes flecked with gold, sitting in a pointed face, framed by longish hair. An ear stud glinted from between his silky locks. Large hands turned her book over and over. Why do guys have such huge hands, Aditi wondered, as the boy broke out into a wide grin.
“Death has a grand-daughter? Wow. Though I’d have thought if anyone takes after the reaper’s business it’d be Mort”
The boy read Pratchett? Wow. This was definitely a plus-point. Most of Aditi’s friends couldn’t see what she enjoyed about the Discworld series and Pratchett’s subtle satires on almost everything.
“You’ve read Mort?” Aditi asked.
“Well, yeah, I normally lean towards the Rincewind books, but then someone lent me Mort, and I liked it, I really like the way Death’s been characterized...it’s true, Death must really be very lonely.”
“Yeah, I know!” Aditi enthused. “I really love Death, it’s so sad the way he tries to get things right…and Terry Pratchett books are brilliant, it’s like he’s built up a whole alternate world, and it’s so close to ours we could just reach out and touch it…hey, have you read Good Omen?”
“No,” said the boy, “But I’ve heard of it, I’ll borrow it now, on your recommendation.” He gave her a dazzling smile. “So, you read much fantasy?”
“Yeah, I kinda like it. I’m done with the usual lot, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Bartimaeus trilogy…”
“Oh my God, you’re one of the first people I’ve come across who’s actually heard of that, let alone read it!”
“No way!! Everyone’s read those!”
“No, no,” said the boy, “My friends, well, they’re more into music, and gaming, and girl-chasing and suchlike…”
“Well…I’m single, but not exactly ‘ready to mingle’ as the saying goes…”
A short silence as they pondered over this. The train seemed to have slowed and stopped, much like their conversation
“Whoaa,” exclaimed Aditi, “Which station is this?”
“Andheri, I think”
“Damn!!” she yelled, and jumped out of her seat.
“We must do this again!” the boy’s words floated past her as she stepped onto the platform.
Sitting in the rickshaw on the way home, an involuntary mental loop of the conversation she’d had played in her head. She hadn’t had a decent conversation with a guy in a while…the boys at Xavier’s were supposed to be all intellectual and stuff, but somehow, she always got the jerks. Her closest guy friend had moved to Delhi and she was having trouble keeping in touch. She sighed. It was a chance in a million that she’d ever see the Train-guy again…
“Let’s go to Oxfords today after McDees,” said Reshma as they exited campus a few days later. “We’ve been missing our ritual, and I haven’t been to Oxford in a while.”
The weekend ritual stemmed from the girls’ shared book obsession, though not the same kind. Every week they’d trawl the bookstores in the Churchgate and the Fort area, hunting for second-hand treasures at the booksellers’ stalls at Flora Fountain, and occasionally settling down in a sofa in Oxford bookstore for a little bookstore-reading, as they called it.
Once in the bookstore, Aditi left Reshma to her graphic novels and headed off in search of Freud’s lectures, as a bit of research for her psychology class. Newspapers and books piled high in her arms, she found her favourite sofa, kicked off her shoes and settled down. Immersed deep in psychoanalytical techniques and dream interpretations, it took her a while to notice that there was someone trying to attract her attention. She looked around to find the source of the “tchtch” noise, and her eyes fell on a familiar face. It took her a few minutes to realize that it was the guy from the train. She watched as he gathered up his books and approached her.
“Hey, is this a great coincidence or what! Can I join you?” he asked, already pulling a chair to face opposite her sofa.
“I suppose so, I kinda need a break from this anyway…so, what are you reading?”
He showed her his choices, a book by Emmanuel Kant, one by Richard Feynman.
“Wow, physics and philosophy! Nice cocktail man! So what, you study any of these?” Aditi asked him
“Yeah, philosophy’s one of my subjects, the physics is a bit of extra reading. It’s a pity I can’t take both the subjects together…silly messed up education system I tell ya…Oh, hey, look what I picked up!” He proudly pulled Good Omens out of his bag. “It’s really good, you know!” Aditi turned a bit red. Wow, this guy’d actually been listening to her that day! Hmm...this was new to her. She mused over this as they slipped into an easy conversation about everything from religion to politics to Bombay rains.
“Hey!!” Reshma bounced into view. “Am I disturbing you? Anyway, I have to go soon,” she said, laughing at Aditi’s shamefaced look. “You coming or do you want to stay here?” The boy watched as Aditi abandoned her books and rose from her seat.
“Hey, don’t go…you want to get a coffee or something? We take the same train anyway, I can drop you off at the station when we’re done…”
Hey! Is this guy asking me out? Wow, it’s been a while since that’s been done…okay, okay, what should I do, should I go, should I not go…But what about Uday…hey Uday’s over and done with, why am I even thinking about him…my god, what if this is one of those total creepy types…no man, he seems pretty nice, and smart…chalo, let’s take a chance..
“That would be great. Let’s go then?” she smiled at the boy, and with an apologetic look at Reshma, she walked out of the store.
They walked along the road, past Eros cinema and various art galleries, past old buildings and schools. Conversation flowed like wine, and was just as piquant. This guy was articulate, witty, and they had a lot in common. They picked up ice-creams from a nearby Baskin Robbins and walked along Marine Drive and back, time seemed to have stopped. Aditi only remembered her train and home when she realized it was twilight.
“Oh my god, doesn’t time fly? I really have to go!” she exclaimed. “I’ll take a taxi to the station, I’m really that late.”
The boy looked a bit disappointed, but he good-naturedly stopped a cab and opened the door with a flourish.
“This has definitely been fun…I’ll call you!” he quipped, even though he didn’t have he number, nor she his. She laughed, and as she ducked into the taxi, the boy leaned down to plant a little kiss on her cheek. As the taxi pulled away, she rubbed the spot on her cheek, it seemed to burn…and she realized with a little shock that they didn’t know each other’s names yet.
Late that night she sat down at her computer. This short story thing had to be worked on, and fast. Deadlines were approaching. She was short of ideas. Maybe something about a divorced couple who realize they’re still in love? Hmm…
Hey, she thought, the thing with the guy in the train…perhaps could use that as a beginning for a story? Yeah, that’d be really cool…she flexed her fingers and began to type.
It began in a train…
...she realized, at the end of their fleeting encounter, that she had no idea who she was.
Aditi yawned. So far, she’d stylized her little incident into a story, but that obviously wasn’t enough, it couldn’t end like that…she thought for a while, and began to type again.
The next day at 4, she found him waiting at the station with a packet of doughnuts. ‘These are for you, he said, ‘I hope you like jelly doughnuts’
She stood there speechless, amazed that this boy could make so nice a gesture for a stranger. ‘You don’t even know me…that’s so sweet…’
‘My name’s Rishabh.’, he said. ‘What’s yours?’
‘Aditi. I’m Aditi.’
True, it was a bit strange using her own name in the story, but hell, it was her story after all, Aditi reasoned. She saved the file and went to bed.
“Aditi, isn’t that the guy from the bookstore?” Reshma said as they waited for a train at the station. Aditi looked around, and sure enough, there he was, in a navy hoodie, holding…was that a packet of…doughnuts??
They walked over to him, he offered her the packet. “Hey, I got you these”, he said. “I hope you like jelly doughnuts!”
Jelly doughnuts? WHOA. This was reeking just a bit of her story. Wow.
“I love them,” she replied. “But…that’s so sweet, I mean, you hardly know me!”
“Well,” he said “We can remedy that, can’t we? My name’s Rishabh. What’s you’re name?”
Aditi was dumbstruck. She stood there speechless with her mouth open in a most unattractive manner until Reshma elbowed her and she regained her composure.
“A-Aditi.” She stammered. “I’m Aditi.”
They shared caramel popcorn while paying no attention to the ‘Silence in cinema hall’ rule. They browsed through stacks of musty books. And they learnt about each other. She was studying psychology at Xavier’s. He was doing a BMM in KC college. He hated the rain, she lived for it. And they shared a passion for bhelpuri on the beach.
They sat on the parapet at Marine Drive, facing each other, sharing bhelpuri and counting couples. As the sun sank down into the sea, the taxi containing a budding friendship (or was it more?) sped off towards the station, and her head sank onto his shoulder.
She loved chocolate ice-cream, he preferred gola from a street cart. And they both loved travel and beaches.
They had each other’s names now, and phone numbers too. They messaged late into the night, silly little conversations about random quirky things. And everyday they’d meet in a different place, he’d take her to the beach, she’d get tickets to a play.
Hmm, that iRock concert’s coming up isn’t it, thought Aditi. Damn, she wanted to go for that but all her friends were busy. Ah well, at least iRock could make it to her story…iWish, Aditi gave herself a metal hi-five at the pun and resumed typing.
He was waiting for her at the café with a wide grin on his face.
“Look what I’ve got you,” he said, and presented her with tickets for iRock. She squealed in delight, hugged him tight. “Let’s rock babe!”
The concert was everything she’d hoped for. Aditi was on a total high from the music, twirling, headbanging and dancing around like never before. The song switched to a slow ballad and somehow she ended up in Rishabh’s arms, swaying to the beat.
He put his head on her shoulder, even with the loud music his words were crystal clear.
“Hey, Diti, I love you…”
She looked up at him, their lips met as the song reached its climax.
A few days later, she rushed into the café five minutes late to see Rishabh sitting there with a smug grin on his face.
“I have a surprise for you…close your eyes, put out your hands like a little kid…”
She did as she was told, but she opened her eyes as her prize landed into her palm…
No way. No waaaaaay. This is just too much of a coincidence…
“Yeah, you said your friends were busy, I hope you’ll settle for me…”
Of course she would.
The music and three shots of vodka procured from God-knows-where had Aditi in a very good mood. The crowd resonated to the beat, the beat that infused even her heart. The song switched to a slow rock ballad, one of her favorites. She twirled around straight into Rishabh’s waiting arms. She could feel every touch of his fingers on the small of her back…every puff of breath on her face. Every thought, every movement, it all seemed magnified.
As they swayed to the music, he put his head on her shoulder. Brought his lips close to her ear, and she could feel the words pour into her mind…
“Hey, Aditi…I gotta tell you…I think I’m in love with you.”
She looked up at him, startled. He smiled at her and drew closer…
It was the best kiss she’d ever had.
“Reshma, it’s happening exactly like I wrote it! I mean, I just picked the name Rishabh out of thin sit, but it’s like…like I knew.”
“So….your story, you based it on the two of you?
“Yeah, I made the meeting at the bookstore my starting point, but now it’s happening almost exactly like I wrote it, and yesterday he took me to iRock, and he kissed me…just like I wrote it…Reshma, this is really spooky…”
“Aditi, you know this is a crazy idea…but did it ever occur to you that maybe there’s something real in this? Some kind of power your words have here? Maybe…by putting your own name to the character…you’re writing your own story…”
“You think so??”
“Hey, I don’t know, it’s just a crazy idea…who knows how the world works.It’s probably just a coincidence. Anyway just enjoy it now, will you?”
A week later Aditi and Rishabh were still going strong, and so was Aditi’s story. It seemed like magic almost, she’d write about him surprising her with flowers, and the next day Rishabh would give her roses. Little things led up to the big things. But it was almost always just like her story. By the end of the week, she was almost certain that Reshma was right, she was writing her own story. The story, which still didn’t have a title, turned into a prolonged ramble, a manipulation of fate maybe? She couldn’t submit it now…and she couldn’t stop…if she stopped, so would their relationship, she firmly believed this. And Rishabh was the best thing that’d ever happened to her. She had to keep writing. And she wrote. She wrote about walks on the beach, long conversations, and kisses under lampposts in the dark. Sometimes life would surprise her, but mostly it followed her plotlines. Aditi didn’t know what was happening…didn’t know what to do…probably if she just stopped writing and deleted the file, life would be normal, she’d be happier because she wouldn’t expect anything. But if she deleted the file or finished her story…would she delete Rishabh from her life?
She just couldn’t take the chance.
And then, one fine day, the bombshell dropped.
It was a near perfect night, the stars shone over the heads of lovers and friends and lonely people all over the city.
They were at Marine Drive, sitting on the wall, she fit into his arms so perfectly, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
“Hey Adi, I have something to tell you…”
He turned her around to face him, he smiled at her, and in that moment she realized how much she really loved him.
Aditi laughed. ”Stop kidding me Rishabh, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
He didn’t smile.
“Adi, my dad got transferred to Delhi. I can’t stay here alone. I’m leaving in a week. I just found out today, myself. Believe me girl, I just wish I was joking…but I’m not…and it’s killing me too.”
“So you’re really going.” A tear trickled down her face. “No, you can’t go. You have to stay here, stay with me. This can’t be happening…”
My story…if I write for him to stay...he’ll stay…this has to work…it has to.
“Rish, I have to go.” She ran away, wiping the tears from her eyes, leaving him staring.
She sat at the computer, flexed her fingers and began to type. She updated the story to what had already happened. This had to work, had to. She re-read it. Took a deep breath. Lowered her fingers to the keyboard, and started to type.
He met her the next day at their usual place. She looked at him, wildly optimistic. And she got her answers in his lopsided smile.
“I talked to my parents,” he said. “Told them how much I loved Mumbai, and the college, and my friends…and…Aditi, don’t freak out, but I told them about you.”
She gave him a tentative smile, not knowing what to say. “And?”
“My parents believe in love…and they know it’ll be hard for me to shift now. They said they’ll try and arrange for me to live with my grandparents. It’s not definite, but it’s a 90% chance that I’ll stay.”
She jumped into his arms, sobbing and laughing, still shaking from the tragedy that had nearly happened.
There. Aditi read her last passage nervously. She’d left it with an open ending. It had to work. She’d read all her fantasy books frantically, searching for something like this, something she could draw instruction from. This should work, she wasn’t confining her wishes, she was just directing them. For the first time since she was a little girl, she sat on her bed, closed her eyes, and said the prayer her mother had taught her. Over and over again, the same words, till she finally drifted into a deep sleep.
Rishabh met Aditi the next day at their usual place. She wasn’t taking any chances here. She looked at him with a hopeful smile.
“I talked to my parents,” he said. “Told them how much I loved Mumbai, and the college, and my friends…and…Aditi, don’t freak out, but I told them about you.”
She gave him a tentative smile, not knowing what to say. “And?”
This had to work…he was even saying the same words…please please, if there is a God, let this work…
“My parents do believe in love…but they looked at all the possibilities and it’s going to be very hard for me to stay here now. My grandparents are quite elderly, and my parents don’t want them to be responsible for me, they tend to worry so much…and there aren’t even any hostels safe enough for me to live in, say my parents…”
What?? Those weren’t the right words!! Aditi’s face distorted with despair.
“That’s not what I wrote…it’s always been like I wrote…” A confused whisper left Aditi’s lips.
“What? Wrote what? Adi, what’re you saying?”
She broke down, sobbing in his arms. Her last shot had misfired. It was over.
“There was this story…” she began.
“…and I thought it would work, but now you’re going, and I didn’t write for that!” Aditi looked at Rishabh desperately.
He stared at her for a long moment. Then he put a hand to her face, gingerly, wiped away her tears and held her close to him. He sighed deeply.
“Look Adi…I don’t quite know what happened with your story. Maybe it was a series of amazing coincidences. Maybe it was something at work. Who knows how the world works…these little unsolved mysteries that make the world so beautiful. Whatever it was, Aditi…I guess we have to remember…life’s not a story. And even if it is…it’s not yours to write. See, I can’t give you your answers. And I can’t make things right. But I can tell you this…the time I spent with you…was the best I’ve ever had. And no matter what happens, wherever we end up…I’ll always remember our time together. And we’ll always be friends. Okay love? Now it’s hard enough for me, leaving this place, so lets make our last week together the best we’ve ever had, shall we?”
He turned her around to look at her face. Damn, she had the most beautiful eyes.
“You okay, Adi?”
“Yeah,” she sniffed and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. She stood up and reached for his hand. “Let’s go.”
Aditi looked on as Rishabh carried his bags on to the train at CST. She’d already hugged his parents goodbye and was waiting for a moment with him.
The last week had been a riot. They’d lived every moment, every day, like it was their last. She’d helped him pack, he’d finally come over to read her mutated story and they’d both laughed at what it’d turned into. There were happy moments, sad moments. Laughs and tears. Minutes, seconds, hours, all blurring into a sweep of the clock hands, a rustle of calendar pages…so this is how time passes…
“Hey.” It was Rishabh, interrupting her reverie. “What’s on your mind?”
“Just remembering all the fun we’ve had…I’m really going to miss you, you know?”
This wasn’t really the right time for jokes, for sarcastic answers.
He swept her up into an all-encompassing hug, and it was like time had stopped, and they were spinning.....so, so filmy. She giggled through her tears.
And then a whistle blew and it was time for him to leave. He stepped into the compartment and stood at the door. The train jerked, started moving.
“I love you” he mouthed.
“Call me!” she yelled as the train picked up speed. “We really must do this again!”
And then he was just a waving hand sticking out of the sinuous outline of the train, and Aditi was left standing alone, in the dark.
Come on Adi…let’s go home.
Back home, she looked at her dormant computer. Her story contest deadline was the next day…maybe, if she worked through the night…
She switched on her computer and opened the file, scrolled down to the end. She pressed the backspace key and held it, watched letters, words, sentences, disappear into oblivion. Just like her time with Rishabh.
She released the backspace key. We have a lot of work here, don’t we? Damage control, she thought, and her fingers flew over the keyboard.
“…And it ended with a train. They’d made promises to keep in touch, but she knew the circle had closed, and it would all fade away. But then again, that was life.”
A decent closing line, she thought. Could have been better, I suppose. But I’m done for now. She printed out her story. And it was truly her story. And the ending was the way it was meant to be. Aditi went over to the open door of her room, and closed it, along with the little box of memories in her mind. She locked both tightly and cuddled up into her bed with a little smile.
Things would be okay.