A story I wrote for the TOI Write India competition. A story about love, moving on and second chances.
She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his 'last seen at' status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn't stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn't know if he was joking or not. What was this?
"Ashima, I'm sorry I couldn't receive your calls or reply to your messages. I'm in Mumbai. Do you remember, I once told you about my uncle who is a cinematographer? He has recently decided to direct a film and guess what! I am his new lead. Can you believe it? The shooting will start from the coming week. I'll meet you once I come back. Bye, with lots of love, Rishab!"
Ashima stood up and began pacing the room. She couldn't believe that he went without telling her. He was supposed to meet her parents last Tuesday. But he never turned up. He didn't even have the decency to mention that, let alone apologise.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she sprinted out of her room and went straight to her mother's room. Her mother was sitting on the bed reading Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore, her favourite. Ashima ran and hugged her tightly as tears began to roll down her cheeks.
"Ashima, what happened love?" Her mother asked.
Ashima narrated the incident in between her sobs. Her voice was shaky and broken, but she did not care for she was in her mother's arm. Nothing could ever go wrong now. Her mother kissed her forehead and wiped away her tears. The pain was unbearable.
"He was wrong for you Ashima. He never deserved you. Do not waste your tears on someone who doesn't care about you." She said in her usual calm voice.
"I am sorry Maa. I should've listened to you. I can't believe he just left me." Ashima said.
"I have raised you to be an independent young woman, not some silly girl who will cry when she doesn't get her prince charming. You are just twenty three. You have your whole life ahead you. I love you baby, more that anyone else. Always remember that." She kissed her forehead.
"I know Maa, but it hurts. I was in love. We were going to get married."
"I know, honey! But it's okay, it shall pass. You'll find the right man who loves you back. But you have time for that. Just be patient."
Ashima nodded silently as she laid her head on her mother's lap. She, in turn, recited one of Tagore's poems for Ashima till she fell asleep.
Ashima woke up late but remained in bed when she realised that it was a Saturday. She didn't have to go to office. So, she went into a deep slumber once more. She got up an hour later to find her mother gone. She made her way towards her room and sat on the chair.
Her phone beeped loudly. A whatsapp message! She opened it to find that it was from her 'Best Friends Forever' group. Apparently, the news that Rishab left her and went to Mumbai, went viral. There were several messages from Simmi, her best friend, asking her if she was alright.
The most recent one was from Abhimanyu. He was coming to her house to meet her. The phone beeped one more time and Simmi was coming too. She didn't want to meet anybody now but she knew they wouldn't listen. At least they cared about her. With that thought in mind, she went to take a shower.
Abhi and Simmi barged into her room. She was surprised at first but composed herself quickly. She almost laughed, watching the grave expression on their faces. Simmi hugged her tightly.
"I am so sorry Ashima. I can't believe he did that to you." Simmi said.
"I told you not to trust him. How are you feeling Ashima?" Abhi asked.
"I am fine, guys. Don't worry. I'll get over him." She tried to sound as normal as possible.
Simmi nodded and sat down on the bed beside her while Abhi sat on the chair across the pair of girls. Simmi went on and on about how wrong Rishab was for her while she listened. Abhi had an amused expression on his face as he wondered how Simmi could talk so much.
"I am fine Simmi. I was wrong in my judgement. He chose his ambitions over me, especially on the day when he was coming to meet my parents to fix the date of our marriage." She said.
"And to think that you were going to quit your job to settle down with him." Abhi chuckled.
" I loved him and that was a temporary arrangement till we settled down in Mumbai." She found herself quite angry.
"Interesting! You would give up on your career to build his and he flew off to Mumbai without even thinking about you. What irony!" Abhi jabbed.
"I know that I didn't listen to you and that does not mean you can mock me." Ashima almost shouted.
"Oh, I am so sorry Ashima! I should sit here and pity you." He said sarcastically. "But I'm sorry, I can't. You always knew that he wasn't serious. But you had to continue this hopeless relationship. You decided not to listen to anyone, not even your parents. Now that he is gone, you decided to blame it on love. Bravo! What a way to take your hands off things!"
"What do you know about love Abhimanyu? You really are the most insensitive person I have ever met. Just get lost!" Ashita shouted and began to cry.
Simmi hugged her and Abhi walked away. Abhi was the friend she could always rely on. He never sugarcoated things for her, never told her things would be alright. Instead, he would always burst her bubble and get her in touch with reality. He was honest. Not only that, he always helped her no matter what. But today, she didn't want him to be this honest. She knew what he said was true but didn't want to hear it just yet!
Ashima wanted everyone to sympathise with her and comfort her. But Abhi did just the opposite. She always knew Rishab didn't care about her but she was in denial. She didn't want to give up. God knows why!
"Ashima, please get me the newspaper." Ashima's father called out.
Ashima ran up to her parent's room with the newspaper in her hands. Any other day, she would have grumbled away but today, she was extremely happy. It was her birthday and her gift awaited her. It was like a tradition, handing the newspaper to her father and he, handing the gift to her. She was twenty four now but excited like a six year old when it came to her birthday.
"Here it is baba!" She said as she bent down to touch his feet. He placed his hand on her head to bless her.
Ashima closed her eyes and extended her hand towards him. Soon, she felt something small and cold against her skin. She opened her eyes to find a key. A car key! She shrieked in joy and hugged her father.
"Thank you baba! I love you. You're the best." She laughed.
"You didn't see the car yet." He chuckled. He held her hand. " Ashima, promise me that you would never think you're alone. We're always with you and we will always love you, no matter what!"
Ashima hugged her father. It was really rare for both of them to get so emotional. But this relationship which she shared with her father was the best amongst all. With her parents and friends finally by her side, she didn't need to cry for any man.
"Ashima, Simmi's here to meet you." Ashima's mother called out.
Ashima walked into the living room where Simmi was sitting on the sofa. On seeing Ashima, she got up and straight went to hug Ashima. They sat down.
"Happy birthday, girl!" Simmi said and hands out a box.
"Thank you." She said as she opened the box to find a handbag in it. "Wow! It's really beautiful."
"You know I have a good taste. Before I forget, this is for you." She hands a small packet to Ashima. "It is from Abhi."
"Abhi? But why didn't he come? He is always the first one to wish me."
"It's about the fight last week." She said as she took a sip from the coffee.
It had been a week, they had barely spoken a word to each other. Ashima was sorry but expected to call him first. He always did except this time. She was missing him a lot. She was thinking of Abhi more than she was thinking of Rishab. She took out a note from the packet.
"Happy Birthday Ashima! Hope you aren't angry on me now. I'm really sorry, I shouldn't have said all those things. It was my fault. But I cannot see you like that, hopeless and broken. You were my first friend when I moved in Kolkata. I fell in love with you that instant. This may seem strange coming out all in sudden but I love you Ashima. You mean everything to me.
She took out a small box from the packet. She opened it to find a necklace.
"Wow! It's beautiful. Did he propose?" Simmi asked
"What? You knew?" She asked.
"Everybody knew except you. You were always so blind to his advances." She said.
She could've fainted on the floor right there. She couldn't have imagined in her wildest dreams that Abhi was in love with her. He was quite good looking and popular and girls swooned over him. She was way out of his league and always thought she was best off as his friend. Actually she had a crush on him but didn't want to break their friendship. It was too precious.
She opens her mouth to say something when her phone vibrates in her pocket. She opens it to find a message from Rishab. She was shocked.
"Hey Ashima! I'm coming back to Kolkata. The film got delayed. The producer backed off at the last moment. So I was wondering maybe we could go somewhere for a small holiday till the filming starts again, what say?"
He forgot her birthday. By now she had made up her mind and heart. Her heart belonged to the person who actually loved her and would never leave her.
"I am sorry Rishab. But we're over. I'm in love with someone else. This time it's forever and guess what! He will never leave me and go. So goodbye!"
"Simmi, I have one last thing to do." She said.
"What is that?" Simmi asked, surprised.
"I have to go and hit Abhimanyu really hard on his head for not telling me for such a long time. Then, I have to say "I love you too" and kiss him. Let's take my new car."