Make a Difference
Make a Difference15 mins 148 15 mins 148
“Where the hell have you been, Hetal? Where the hell is your phone? I’ve been calling you like crazy!! Do you know how worried I’ve been since the last half an hour? I have been standing here waiting for you since the last fifteen minutes. The least you could do is reply to my texts and calls.” Kavya stopped talking the moment she saw Hetal’s blank face.
“I am sorry, Kavya.” Hetal spoke in a low voice.
“That’s all you have to say. You can’t do this every time. Making me wait and saying sorry doesn’t always work. You’re lucky I like you. I don’t even tolerate Nikhil turning up late for our dates.”
“You could’ve just gone in and sent me a text. You’re forgetting I’m a single mother who has to make sure her 6 year old daughter is well taken care of in her absence. The nanny had an emergency at home and turned up late. You know I can’t leave Pari alone at home.”
“I’m sorry for venting out on you. I agree I could’ve gone alone. But seriously, there’s no fun without you.” The ladies giggled as they made their way inside for the meeting.
Hetal and Kavya were friends who met at work. Despite the age difference and despite their contrastingly different personalities, the two got along pretty well from the start. Hetal was in her early 30’s while Kavya in her early 20’s. Kavya reminded Hetal of herself way back when she was younger. She loved her infectious energy and go-getter attitude. After Hetal’s divorce, she had confined herself to her home and office. She had limited friends and she never socialized.
The only two people who managed to make her smile and laugh were her daughter Pari and Kavya, whom she now considered her family. With Kavya along her side, everything felt normal. The world seemed bearable. She knew her like an open book without any secrets whatsoever. Hetal wanted to provide a good present and a good future to Pari. She worked hard for it but made sure that she never neglected her daughter in the process. Her weekends were always reserved for Pari. The mother-daughter duo sometimes played games, watched cartoon movies all day and even went for fun outdoor activities. At times, Kavya aunty too tagged along with them. If she wasn’t too busy with Nikhil uncle; as Pari always said.
Despite taking good care of her daughter singlehandedly without any help from her father, Hetal couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that day. Five years since her divorce, all the focus had been on Pari alone. This was the first time today that she had ventured out of her home to do something for herself. On Kavya’s insistence, both of them had agreed to volunteer for an NGO that worked towards the development of kids and youth suffering from depression. Though she was skeptical about it in the beginning, she agreed eventually because they only had to work on Sundays for 3 hours in the wee hours of the morning. She also felt like contributing her bit to the society since she too had been in that phase at one point in her life. Thoughts kept cropping Hetal’s mind as she and Kavya made their way towards their very first meeting, for which they were already late.
Around 25-30 people were already assembled as they walked in through the hall. All of a sudden, the focus of the already seated people shifted from the speaker to them. Hetal felt a bit embarrassed. But she had no one to blame but herself for it. She heaved a sigh of relief as they finally settled down and the focus shifted on the speaker again.
“That’s what happens when you turn up late for the first event.” Kavya whispered.
“I said I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” Hetal whispered back.
“As you say so.” Kavya shook her head in disapproval.
“Ladies and gentlemen, today is our first meeting and the first day that we give a part of ourselves for the sake of others. I appreciate all of you for giving up your precious Sunday sleep for this noble cause. Though I appreciate all your efforts, I would like to inform beforehand that latecomers won’t be tolerated in the future. Either you come on time or you don’t come at all.” Heads turned towards Hetal and Kavya as she finished her last sentence. For some weird reason, the focus was back on them.
“Where are we? I thought I left school ages ago.” Kavya spoke in a barely audible tone.
“Shut up and listen to what she has to say. I’ve had enough embarrassment for a day.”
Kavya listened to her friend this time. She ensured that she kept her mouth shut for the next hour and a half.
The speaker spoke about the different types of mental illnesses kids suffer with and how they planned to help them by conducting different types of workshops in the future. She also told them real life stories of kids and youth who had been through depression and had successfully bounced back from it. Hearing all these cases were nerve shattering and heartbreaking for Hetal. It brought back some memories of her past; a past she didn’t want to remember. Throughout the meeting which lasted for almost two hours, Hetal felt a bit disturbed and nervous at the same time. On one hand; she could feel her past unfolding in front of her eyes. On the other hand, she noticed a man’s gaze fixed on her at frequent intervals. There was something oddly peculiar and familiar about him. He must have been around her age or slightly older. His face was friendly but it seemed as if his eyes were trying to judge her. Or maybe he was trying to form a conclusion about her. She just didn’t know. On one of the occasions when their eyes met, he smiled warmly at her and she smiled back. But the frequency of it was disturbing for her. It was the first time in forever that she was actually noticing a man and it annoyed her.
Eventually, she decided that it was the best to ignore the man completely and she focused her attention towards the cause she had dedicated herself to. For which she had given up on the quality time she could have spent with Pari.
“That’s all I have to say to you all, my dear friends. Feel free to ask any questions and please enjoy the breakfast that we have organized for all of you. In the process, I request you to try to get to know each other and get along with each other as it might be helpful for the upcoming future events. We all have to work together and we need to start it now. I shall see you all next week. Hopefully, on time.” The speaker signed off and everyone got up from their seats.
“Finally!!! That took a while. Seriously, did she have to bring up the being on time thing again? It’s getting too much now.” Kavya spoke as she got up from her seat.
“As if you weren’t enough to get on my nerves already!!!!” Hetal let out a smile.
“Hey! I’m not that bad. Come, let’s go check out what they have for breakfast.” Kavya took her hand as they rushed towards the breakfast table.
They spoke with a few other volunteers who sat along with them at their table. It was refreshing for Hetal to meet new people and hear about their experiences. Some of them were retired folks while some were college students and some around her age as well. Each had a different story and experience to share. She chose to avoid the talking but focused herself on listening and learning. Luckily, for her, the man who made her nervous with his gaze was a few tables away. She didn’t want to think about him or about any man, for the matter. A few more minutes of eating and chit-chatting later, some of the volunteers started leaving the venue.
“Shall we leave?” Hetal got up from her seat and looked at Kavya.
“Do you mind if I go and talk to that cutie over there for a few minutes?” She pointed her eyes towards a young man standing across them, who was busy speaking to another girl.
Hetal shook her head disapprovingly. “What about Nikhil?”
“Oh! Please! I’m just going to talk to him. I’m not going to marry him.”Kavya’s eyes shot up to her forehead.
“You never know. I really don’t trust you around men.” She let out a sly smile.
“If I were you, I wouldn’t trust me either.”Kavya winked at her as she made a move. “Besides, I think someone over there wants to talk to you. He’s been looking in our direction for quite a while.”
Hetal turned her head to see who it was; half in horror and half in fear. It was someone who she had wanted to avoid since the time she had come for the meeting.
“Wait. Don’t leave me alone.” She tried to pull Kavya towards her but she was already gone. It was too late.
The man smiled at her as he approached nearer, making sure he kept his distance.
He waved his hand like a little school kid, his smile reaching up to his eyes.
“Hello.” Hetal replied back politely, having no idea what to say further.
“It’s really nice meeting you again after all these years, Hetal. You still look the same. How have you been?”
Hetal looked at him in surprise. “I’m sorry. Have we met before? I really don’t remember.” She looked at him with concentration, carefully observing his facial features and his radiant smile but nothing seemed to ring a bell.
“ Yes. Many times.Ok. I’ll give you a few hints.” He interrupted her thoughts. “Sagar Society……..terrace……..fat boy.” Just the name of the place where she once lived with her parents was enough to give Hetal the jitters.
“Come on. I agree the transformation from 120 kilos to 85 kilos has been phenomenal, even if I do say so myself. But you can’t take so much of time…..”
That’s when all the words together hit her. “Aatish!!!! Is that you? I can’t believe it. You’re like half of what I saw you the last time. What happened to you?”
“Finally. It’s all thanks to you. I owe you my life, Hetal. Thank you for those harsh words. If it weren’t for you that day, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you right now.”
Hetal smiled bleakly. “Come on. It was nothing. Anyone else would have done the same thing had they been in my place.”
“I really didn’t get a chance to thank you properly. I was annoyed at you for days on end. By the time I realized that you were actually talking sense, you were gone. I had no idea where to find you.” The smile on Hetal’s face vanished. “I’m sorry I didn’t want to bring this up………………..”
Hetal didn’t hear anything of what Aatish spoke further. She was now in the past, dreading every horrible mistake she had ever committed.
Those were the days when she had disobeyed and disappointed her parents the most. Hetal thought they were being unreasonable. How could they not understand that she had found her soulmate? All she wanted was for them to accept her choice and give them her blessings. But her parents were orthodox in their thinking. Yes, he had made mistakes in the past. Couldn’t they give him a chance, for her sake?
That evening, she had crossed all her limits. She kept on arguing and arguing. She thought she was fighting for the love of her life. Her father tried his best to convince her. When she didn’t lower her voice, he slapped her. Hetal couldn’t remember if it was once, twice or thrice. Maybe even more. In a fit of rage, without any further thinking, she went on her building terrace. She had no idea what she wanted to do. At that moment, she just wanted to be alone. That’s when she saw someone standing on the edge of the terrace. A shadowed figure was on the verge of jumping.
With great speed and great force, Hetal pulled the figure towards her. When she realized that it was Aatish, she vented all her anger onto him. He fought back in return. He told her all about his family problems- financial as well as personal. Nothing was going right in his life. His parents were facing serious problems in their marriage, his father’s spending habits had put their family into debt and the girl he was madly in love with had rejected him. But she too had problems in her life. Surely, suicide wasn’t the solution for it. Aatish and Hetal had a heated exchange of words; each claiming their life was more miserable than the other. Their argument ended with Hetal having a final say of words; somehow hitting the right nerve for Aatish.
“If you think suicide is going to solve it all, please go ahead. Be my guest. Whatever problems your parents may be facing together or individually, your suicide is just going to add more fuel to it. They’re going to be so happy on seeing your lifeless dead body lying in front of them. As far as the girl you love is concerned, she wouldn’t care a damn. Not even for a minute. If she has rejected you for your weight, it’s her loss. She is shallow to not see you for the real person you are. You want to stay fat. It’s your choice. You want to lose weight. Go ahead and do it. But do it because you want to do it. Not because you want to please somebody. Learn to accept yourself first before seeking approval from others. At this stage, your parents need you more than anything. You should help them work out their problems rather than crying over your own. Be the son they will be proud of tomorrow.”
Aatish left the terrace that day, his mind fighting with his heart. Hetal thought over her own words, wondering if she had been too harsh on him. Two days later, blinded by love, she eloped with her lover; never looking back.
“Hetal………..Hetal…….Are you even listening to me? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reminded you.” Aatish touched Hetal’s shoulder, shaking her and removing her from her trance.
“It’s okay. I am fine.” Hetal tried to smile but her lips refused to move. “Look who was trying to give you advice years back. The one who didn’t have the courage to wait and work it out with her own parents.”
“I don’t agree with what you did years ago. You should have tried harder to convince your parents rather than running away and making them face the world all on their own. You should have come back and begged them for their forgiveness. You don’t leave your own parents like that in a day’s time. But I have no right to judge you. I was about to take a drastic step myself if it were not for you. You did what you felt was right at that point of time. The only good thing that came out of all this is you got your happy ending. That’s what matters, right.”
Hetal sighed. “I wish it had. We aren’t together anymore.” Aatish’s face fell in shock. “ Turns out my Prince Charming wasn’t so charming after all. My parents had been right about him all along the way. Maybe, I deserve this. After everything I did, I deserve all of it.”
“You deserve nothing but the best, Hetal. You made a difference in my life. The reason we are here today in this foundation is to help broken souls like ours. We are here to make a difference. The life you have given to me has been nothing but a blessing. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work tremendously for it. The results are right in front of you.” Hetal burst into laughter as Aatish pointed towards his not-so-fat tummy. “But I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the fruits of it all if I hadn’t decided to hold on. What’s life without a few challenges? To this day, I still think what would have happened if you would have come five minutes late. There wouldn’t have been an option of coming back if I had jumped that day.”
“I guess I’m your guardian angel then.”
Aatish smiled. “Indeed, you are. As a friend, I think you need to know that your father isn’t keeping well these past few days. You should try meeting them some time. They really miss you. Even though they don’t speak about you anymore but I can feel it in their eyes.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to face them. It’s been a long time. But, I’ll think about it.” Aatish nodded in agreement. “Enough about me. What about you? Where is Mrs. Gupta? When are you introducing me to her?”
Aatish laughed hysterically. “I haven’t found her yet. I’ll gladly introduce you to her when I have found her myself. I was close to finding one, though. But it didn’t work out.”
“Are you even serious? You’re still unmarried.” Hetal mocked him.
“What can I say? I’m still fat in my head.” Both of them laughed.
“You should meet my daughter Pari some time. She is adorable. You’ll just love her.”
“Of Course. She has to be. She’s your daughter. I would love to meet her one day.”
“Aren’t we getting late, Hetal?” Kavya came in between her and Aatish. She raised her eyebrows and looked suspiciously at both of them, mostly at Aatish. Aatish smiled like a weak boy as her glances turned to downright staring.
“Aatish, this is my friend Kavya.” Hetal turned towards Kavya. “Kavya, this is ……….”
“Aatish. You said his name just now.” Kavya didn’t allow her to complete.
“So, I guess I should get going, Hetal. It was a pleasure meeting you.” Aatish turned towards Kavya. “It was a pleasure meeting you as well.” Kavya didn’t bother to smile or return his gesture, making things awkward between the three of them. He turned towards Hetal. “Hopefully, I’ll see you next Sunday.”
“Of Course, you will.” Hetal gave him a friendly hug before he left.
“So, how did your conversation with that cutie go?” Hetal asked Kavya on their way back home.
“Oh! He was a total bore. Please don’t ask me any further. I love Nikhil, nonetheless.”
Hetal giggled. “No wonder you forgot your manners. Poor Aatish. He probably won’t sleep all night if he remembers your sinister glares.”
“I am sorry. I’ll apologize the next time I meet him. So, I guess your conversation went better than mine. Who was he? Ex-boyfriend? You seemed pretty comfortable around him.” Kavya interrogated.
“A really good old friend of mine.”
“That’s what they all say, my dear. That’s what they all say.”
Hetal chose to avoid Kavya’s comments. A lot was going on in her mind. Her father was unwell. Even though she wasn’t in touch with him for years, he was still her father and she still loved him. After years, she felt like seeing her parents, even if it was from a distance.
After years, she had met her long lost friend. After years, she just felt happy that she had made a difference in Aatish’s life and helped him become a better person. After years, she was happy that she was about to make a difference in someone else’s life in her own small way. Whatever had happened in her life was all in the past. It was time to turn and write a new page in her life.