Floating In The Wind
Floating In The Wind9 mins 263 9 mins 263
It was a lazy afternoon. The trees outside my classroom seemed to be taking a siesta. My physics professor was elaborating on superstring theory, and Arjun and I were playing a game of Hangman. In an attempt to shake off the general slumber, my mobile phone vibrated. It was a WhatsApp message from Aditi.
Arjun was so engrossed in finding out the name of the blanked-out Hollywood film that he did not pay heed to the notification. As I unlocked my mobile phone, Arjun correctly guessed a letter – K. It was the last letter of the four-letter word.
Aditi's message read, "I need to talk to you. The spot behind our canteen at 5.” I was confused. I wondered why she had taken the pain to send me a WhatsApp message instead of passing it on through Arjun. Like a telepathic reply, my phone vibrated again with another message from Aditi. “Don’t tell Arjun.” This confused me more. Why would she want to keep Arjun in the dark?
"Hmmm...I think I should come...," Arjun announced, dragging his sentence in doubt. I quickly turned my attention from the phone screen to him. "...here," Arjun finished, pointing to the second blank. I let out a sigh and nodded. He wrote down the letter 'I' in the second blank and let out a victorious smile. The smile meant that he had guessed the film's name. "It's 'Milk', isn't it?"
I nodded again and smiled. Arjun's smile grew wider and he filled in the remaining two blanks. Letting Arjun's happiness seep into me, I typed, "Ok" and sent out a reply to Aditi.
I looked at my watch again. 5:15.
After the classes had ended at 4:30, Arjun had set off for his guitar practice with the college band. Aditi had dropped me a message stating that she would freshen up at her hostel and would reach the canteen by 5. I had not wanted to freshen up and so, I had come to the canteen right after classes.
I had ordered a cup of coffee at the college canteen hoping that joy would outweigh curiosity. But my brain took immense pleasure in proving me wrong. Every minute that passed presented a new reason for Aditi wanting to meet me without Arjun. I hurriedly finished my coffee and walked out of the back door of the canteen.
The backyard opened out to scattered sacks of fresh vegetables followed by a vast expanse of farmland. At a corner of this farmland was standing a gulmohar tree, with a battered stone-bench resting in its shade. I walked to the stone-bench and sat on it, taking out my notepad from my bag. A gulmohar flower slowly danced in the wind and dropped on the bench.
As I turned the pages of my notepad to arrive at a blank sheet, my mind started filling up with images from the past. My first year of college had progressed like a soulful Sufi song on the stone-bench. Arjun had been the musician and I had been the lyricist. But I had cherished the silent moments we had shared more than all the songs we had composed together. In the second year of college, Aditi – the singer – from the first year had joined us. The singer and the musician had fallen in love. I had wanted to step away, granting them the stone-bench and their space to compose their own music but Arjun had not let me go. He always saw us a trio, wanting us to do things together. But as we did more things together, the window of silence grew bigger between Aditi and me. With the beginning of the third year, the window had become a wall.
As if she had been signaled that my thought-train had reached its station, Aditi entered the backyard. She was wearing a black kurta and navy-blue jeans pant. I experienced a strange feeling since I was wearing a similar outfit – black shirt and navy-blue jeans. “Hi,” she said as she reached the bench. “Hi,” I replied with a smile and moved to a corner of the bench. She picked the gulmohar flower in her hand and sat down, leaving the distance of a small poem between us.
A minute passed in silence. For some reason, the discomfort that prevailed in Arjun’s presence seemed to slowly disappear with every second. I finally started the conversation. “So…did you want to talk about something?”
Aditi rotated the flower in her hand a few times. She then placed the flower between us and looked at me. As I looked into her eyes, I grasped her question even before she could say it out loud. “Are you in love with me?”
I was surprised. But the surprise in me prompted curiosity instead of denial. “What made you think so?”
“You are not denying it,” she said in a mixed tone of a question and a fact.
I couldn’t help smiling. “Sorry…and no, I am not in love with you,” I replied.
She looked at me intensely as if she was scanning through my head to check that the ‘lying’ region of my brain wasn’t active. I let her scan me with a gentle confidence that she would not find any lies. I was safe till she did not start searching for any hidden truth.
“What made you think so?” I repeated my question.
Aditi let out a sigh and picked the gulmohar flower again. “The reasons would sound silly now…after the accusation itself has turned silly.”
“I would still like to know,” I said, trying to sound more playful than prying.
She turned to look at me but quickly turned towards the flower as she started explaining. “Do you remember my birthday party that Arjun organized this year? Even Arjun’s birthday party, for that matter…I could clearly notice that you weren’t your usual self in both the parties. One of my friends even told me that your face had turned pale when Arjun and I had applied cake and cream on each other.”
She paused and looked at me, as if she was checking if I wanted to defend myself. But I wanted to hear the full story. So I let her continue.
“During our trek, when each of us was shouting out the name of a favorite person from the ‘echo point’, I caught you trying to hold back your tears when Arjun repeatedly shouted out my name.”
She paused again. I turned away from her and focused on an invisible point at a distance. “Have you ever spoken to Arjun about this? Or vice versa?”
“No,” she replied. I acknowledged gratefully and asked her to continue.
“But…aren’t you going to give any answers?”
I took a deep breath. Guilt choked me as I began. “When I was in the eleventh grade, I was in love with a classmate of mine. The classmate had also loved me. But we couldn’t continue the relationship after school ended because the classmate’s father found out about us and… well, it just ended.” I turned to look at Aditi. “Whenever I see you two together, I am reminded of my lost love.” A teardrop rolled down my cheek.
Aditi slowly placed her hand over my hand. “I’m sorry,” she said as her fingers clutched mine. We remained silent for a few minutes as our confusions and confessions settled down.
“Is your classmate’s name Aditi?”
I was puzzled by Aditi’s question. She let go of my hand and explained. “I have read a few short stories on your blog. You always have a female character named Aditi. So… I asked.”
“Oh! I get it now,” I replied. “But my classmate’s name is not Aditi. My classmate has a sister by the name of Aditi whom my classmate loves and adores. Hence, there would be a constant request to have a character named Aditi in each of my stories. I simply follow that tradition.”
Aditi nodded with a smile. A gentle breeze blew in our direction and the air around us felt lighter.
“Does Arjun know about your classmate… and your love story?”
“No,” I replied.
“I understand,” she said. “Arjun would not be satisfied with just the basic details. He would ask you to go on with the story even if you didn’t want to.”
I let out a chuckle. “And the worst part is, he would make a few jokes out of the story and keep repeating them with the staunch belief that the jokes would help me overcome the pain.”
“Oh yeah! Arjun and his jokes! Please never tell him about this… if you want it to remain a serious memory,” Aditi said in a jovial tone. She then held my hand and clutching it firmly, she said, “Don’t you worry! You will find your love soon enough.” I simply smiled.
As she let go of my hand, her phone started ringing. It was Arjun. “I’ll leave now,” she said and rose from the bench. She then looked at me and mouthed the word, “Sorry”. I mouthed “Thanks” in response and bid her goodbye.
As I watched Aditi walk away, the gulmohar flower placed on the bench rolled in my direction and reached me. I picked it up and rotated the flower in my hand a few times.
I felt bad for the web of lies I had spun. Lies about the birthday party. Lies about the trek. Lies about my classmate at school. But then, I had not lied about my love story. I had told her the truth. I had simply refused to correct her assumption that I had been in love with a girl.
I had wanted to correct her but I had been afraid if she would be able to see it the right way. It was a fear similar to the fear that had birthed in me when I had started developing a liking for Arjun. Would Arjun understand? Would Arjun accept?
I did not want the answers. But as I sat on that stone-bench – that bench where I had spent my happiest seconds and minutes beside the body and mind of Arjun – and as I held the gulmohar flower in my hand, I couldn’t resist myself from telling it out loud. I looked above at the gulmohar tree with warmth in my heart, and I said it out loud for the first and last time.
I love you, Arjun.