“She had an overwhelming desire to tell him, like the most banal of women. Don’t let me go, hold me tight, make me your plaything, your slave, be strong! But they were words she could not say.
The only thing she said when he released her from his embrace was, “You don’t know how happy I am to be with you.” That was the most her reserved nature allowed her to express.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
My mobile phone which I had kept in silent mode kept on vibrating away, signalling the non-stop incoming calls which I have been receiving from Raghav for the past one hour. There were many reasons for which I have been avoiding his calls for the past three months, but the very fact that I’m attending the strategic meeting conducted by the resource manager, regarding the job drives scheduled for the next two months, alleviated my guilty feeling that I’m avoiding him on purpose. It could be also seen as I used meeting as a perfect weapon to kill my yearning to pick up his call and talk. The manager kept on ranting his mantra of recruiting an average of 90 brilliant candidates from each job drive, which is to be preceded by the immense resume sourcing from job portals, n number of calls and emails to achieve that. And as the lecturing went on, I found my concentration shifting to Raghav.
I met Raghav through Facebook; we had a lot of mutual friends who happen to be our close friends. So extending the hands of friendship to him was the normal act of expanding one’s social circles. But he evolved to be totally different from those random friends I got through Facebook who happened to be my friends’ friends and remained just like that. Having same city as our hometown, or just because we liked the boutique coffee shop as our favourite hangout place, we bumped into each other often, met more and more frequently and became thick friends in less time. Our friends used to ask me those days, whether me and Raghav were seeing each other or feigning the just friends tag or is it the deadly it’s complicated status. I smiled and answered them – none of these, on which they rolled their eyes in disbelief and I shrugged my shoulders, in a nonchalant manner. I didn’t bother to name the relationship we had in between, for we were together and only the together part mattered most and I was happy with that.
Raghav was there for me, always stayed back there for me as a hand to hold on, a shoulder to cry on, an eye to watch me over, as my best man to cover for me, in organizing pranks, for all mischief and fun. Even after when our jobs took us apart, we managed to spare at least an hour every day for our chatting and blabbering. Even I couldn’t realize when he became a part of my life.
I didn’t know or it can be better termed as I never cared to know what I have for Raghav, is it love or simply friendship. Whenever this question tried to corner me, I tried my level best to avoid answering it and, to an extent I hid myself from facing the question. I was afraid – afraid of, I had no clue how will I react if the answer is love. So I chose to believe that we are good friends and nothing else, till…… Till Ragini and Haneesh’s wedding.
Ragini and Haneesh were our mutual friends. We introduced them to each other and in their quest to find out what is between me and Raghav, things really started happening between them and after 3 years of courting, they tied their knots last month. There, during the reception, the bride and groom talked about how nice it is to get married to friends and that they really wish me and Raghav to end this game of denial and settle down. I dismissed away that thought with a wave of my hand. Later as I stood near the open bar, sipping my orange juice, and gawking at the happy couple for more than the allowable time period of polite gawking, it just crept up in my mind – what is that I’m feeling for Raghav? Is it just friendship or something more than it? All these years I had never felt the need for someone, a companion other than Raghav. I had received attention from many, but I rejected all of them without taking a second look. Why? Is it because I didn’t want to admit that what I had for Raghav is more than friendship. May be, I was unaware of the fact that I’m in love with Raghav. I don’t know what to do. I should talk this out to someone who knows me, who is my best friend and that someone is Raghav. I gulped down the orange juice and settled down to ask his opinion about this, as the bartender started giving me sign that I could pass water for liquor and couldn’t even manage a glass of juice.
On my way back home, I thought about the numerous ways of introducing the topic I wanted to convey to Raghav. I mentally jotted down all the points I should say. Well, it’s more apt to say that honestly I had no idea how to tell him that, all of a sudden I love him and want to talk about the prospects of extending our friendship to a relationship. I tried hard to come up with a good speech for the introduction, but anything close to romantic and sweet hadn’t come to my mind. I realized then and there, why I took this much time in finding out that I love Raghav – I suck in a relationship and that too big time. So I decided to keep it short and simple – starting with narrating how perfect Ragini and Haneesh’s wedding was, how happy the couple were, and does he think we could be like them. It seemed perfect, at least for me; and I waited for Raghav’s call. He called me around the usual time. I picked the phone with shivering hands and said hello. My voice was ragged with joy and excitement, and I was nearly panting from exhaustion. He said hi in his perfect tuneful voice.
“I got something to tell you” – we said this together and realized that both has got something big to share. What followed next was our usual fight for the first chance.
“I will say first, it’s my turn”, said I.
“No you always enjoy the first turn, today I will be the first to say”, growled Raghav.
After a series of “I – will tell – first – no – I – will”, I let out a scream of irritation at my top voice – signalling that Raghav could go on telling his big secret.
His tuneful voice turned to an intense one reflecting his seriousness and started saying – “Oyye, cross your heart first, I haven’t told this to anyone, you are the first one to whom I’m telling this, for you are my best-est friend and my best man and…….”
Raghav kept on talking and talking excited, but a strange buzzing filled my both ears, as soon as I heard the words ‘best-est friend’ and ‘best man’. A big light bulb popped inside my head carrying the words, the golden rule of friendship. Avantika, my childhood friend used to say that the cardinal rule of friendship is to never ever fall in love with your best friend, as it will ruin relationship forever. Like the haunting railway station announcement, those words boomed inside my head. A sense of guilt feeling washed over me, leaving me worried like hell, as I had violated the golden rule of friendship – never date your best friend. I shivered, with my teeth chattering away, as I had gone cold due to fear. It’s true that I have developed feelings for him, but I’m not sure of his response. What if Raghav has always seen me as a friend and nothing else, what if this kind of advance from my side will act as a turn off, thus resulting in the end of friendship I always wanted to keep intact. A lots of what if-s flooded my brain and I never wanted to lose him at any cost. Moreover, the knowledge that I have lodged romantic feelings for him has produced self-disgust.
I could hear him ranting away, but I was feeling so embarrassed and ashamed of my own thoughts, that I felt like hiding myself from those thoughts. Out of my paranoia, I blurted out – “Raghav I’m getting a call waiting from office initiating a conference call, I will call you later.” I didn’t wait for him to reply back or even to say ok. I ended the call and switched the phone off with a single press and dropped it on the couch, as if it’s a deadly virus.
The following days, I saw myself avoiding Raghav’s messages and calls by claiming the reason to be “new project and hence busy with work”. Even I made myself busy with work in order to divert my attention from him. I knew that if I pick his call or think about him too much, I would end up professing my love to him. And what I dreaded most is that what if he never thought of me more than being a friend. That would kill me. In order to save myself from facing the rejection and to avoid losing his friendship, I continued the hide and seek with him for the next 2 months.
The phone vibrated again waking me from the reverie. The meeting is about to finish. I stifled my yawn with great effort and answered the typical “what do you think of this” moment at the end of the every meeting in two words – really brilliant. Within the next 5 minutes, I found myself outside the conference hall, wondering what I will do if Raghav calls me again, as the temptation to pick his call and answer was reaching its heights. I walked, lost in thoughts, in a trance, without caring for the directions and reached the reception, where near to the waiting lounge stood Raghav fiddling with his phone, as if expecting me, at any time.
He stood right there in front of me, a few feet distance apart and I couldn’t believe it. I seriously doubted whether I’m hallucinating. But the bear hug he gave, which lasted for a good 2 minutes and nearly choking me out of breath had proved that it’s really him. It’s been more than 2 months I stopped talking to him and it was more than I could bear. I broke down and wailed like a child. Raghav was dumbfound by seeing me crying. He clutched me by the shoulder, made me sit on the couch next to him and asked for the reason behind the melodrama. I poked at his ribs with my elbows, half annoyed and half playfully at his usage of pun and mouthed a vague happy to see you. He answered me with another bear hug and ruffled my hair playfully.
Raghav insisted on taking leave for the rest of the day and I agreed to it after much coaxing, bullying, explaining and pleading. We held our hands, like small kids while making our way to the parking lot. It was already 5 in the evening and his plan was to take me to the heritage hotel at the other end of the city. He said that he has got a surprise waiting for me there. I couldn’t help from asking him how he is planning to get to the other end of the city, at this time of day when the traffic is at its peak. He gave me his naughty smile, showcasing his adorable dimples and with the gestures of a magician, he introduced me to his machine – a brand new Yamaha.
“Bike! You are taking me on a bike. Wow!!!”, said I, unable to hide my various shades of excitement. “I know your love for bike rides than anyone else”, said he patting my cheeks affectionately. We took off on his bike, like we used to do – chasing cars, waving bye to the truck drivers, spreading my arms out and playing with the wind. It was like we time traveled 2-3 years back.
On the way, while waiting for the signal, I spotted a relative aunty in a sedan, among the vehicles waiting for the signal and I quickly hid my face behind Raghav, tucking my face with the hands. He instantaneously understood that I’m hiding from the familiar face which I had spotted nearby. And as I sat there frozen, with my head tucked perfectly behind his back, my nose’s olfactory receptors immersed into his sensuous cologne. He smelled good and his white linen shirt was so smooth that it felt like satin. I couldn’t help, but took a deep breath and filled my both lungs with his fragrance.
We got past the signal, without being spotted by that relative aunty. But I continued leaning on to him, resting my head over his shoulder, sensing what he is for me and what I really feel for him. He murmured something about the sun and the glare and I mmm-ed to whatever he said. Yes,I’m in love with Raghav. I took my hands from covering my face and hugged him around his ribs and held him in a tight clasp, with a determination that I won’t let him go away from my side. I could feel the way, the rhythm in which he took his breath and I tried to match mine with his, in an attempt to synchronize my every single activity with his. I continued holding him and my heart kept on beating away with happiness. Gently, he started singing my favorite lullaby and patted my hand affectionately and for a few seconds, I was damn sure that my heart missed a few beats. Oh God, I can’t take this anymore and decided that I will tell him about my feeling this evening itself. It was like my heart was saturated with happiness. I tightened my hug a little more in an attempt to prolong the moment. But 25 km journey passed away like a 5 km journey, even with heavy traffic.
We left the bike at the valet and he took me straight to the restaurant which faced the backwaters. He had already made the reservation and seated me at the table which was reserved for him. He then blindfolded my eyes and asked me to wait for the surprise. For the next 5 minutes, I waited anxiously for the surprise he has planned for me, counting away the seconds impatiently. Finally he asked me to remove my blindfold and there in front of me, facing me, was seated a lady dressed elegantly. She looked graceful like a princess and was damn beautiful. I studied her face and features for any familiarity and looked at Raghav, seeking an explanation. He was casually leaning onto the nearby pillar, while studying my face for reaction. On catching my bewildered eyes, he smiled his breath-taking smile, encouraging me to make a guess. Seeing that I’m at loss for words, he deliberated for a moment as if trying to choose the right words. Then he went behind the lady, bent around, holding her shoulder and said – “meet my love, Shriya”.