The Single Rose
The Single Rose
Eshan pressed the lift button again, somehow balancing all the snack boxes and covers in his hands. As soon as he did, he regretted it, as a box fell out on the floor. As he was figuring out how to pick it up, a tall guy walked up and picked up the box.
“Seems you have too much in your hands to handle” he said with a genuine smile. “New in the building?” he asked as he managed to find a place for the box on Eshan’s arms.
“Yes, moved in just yesterday. Flat 1303 on 13th floor” Eshan replied and then added “Thank you. My Name is Eshan.”
“Nice to meet you Eshan. I am Sreenath but people call me Nathan. I live on the 11th floor with my family. I am just waiting for my wife to go somewhere otherwise would have surely taken off some of your load and helped.”
As if on cue, the lift sounded its arrival. All covers and boxes fell down from Eshan’s hands as he saw Kriti walking out.
Kriti looked at Eshan, then at Nathan and back to Eshan.
Nathan, without realizing the tension in the air, introduced them. “Kriti this is Eshan. He moved in a flat on the 13th floor.” He looked at Kriti’s stunned face and turned to Eshan who had exactly the same look.
“Why do I get this feeling you two know each other?” asked Nathan.
“Hi Kriti” Eshan finally broke his silence “So nice to see you”.
“Hi Eshan” Kriti replied still not knowing how to react at Eshan and Nathan standing next to each other.
“Would anyone care to explain to me?” Nathan asked with wonderment.
“Nathan, we used to be in college together and were part of the same gang” Kriti finally blurted out. Eshan immediately regretted the gang reference.
“Oh cool. I finally get to meet someone from your famed college gang” Nathan said laughingly. “Why don’t you wait near the car, darling? Give me a few minutes to help Eshan carry these boxes to his flat.”
Eshan finally came to his senses as Nathan started kicking up the boxes without waiting for him. “It's ok Nathan, you guys carry on, I am used to doing it all by myself.”
“No no. This is the least I can do for my wife’s college friend” he looked at Kriti while carrying some of Eshan’s load. “I will be right back.”
“See you Kriti” Eshan managed to say as he trailed behind Nathan in the lift and doors shut with Kriti still standing there.
“You know you are the first friend of Kriti from College that I have met. She has never talked about her college life. All I heard were snippets from her cousins on Kriti and Shruti being in this gang in college which was all about fun and adventure and how things changed when Shruti passed away. I have neither seen that side of Kriti in the last four years of marriage nor have even heard her utter a single word about college life. I too never asked her anything as I thought it reminded her of Shruti” Nathan carried on the monologue without realizing the impact on Eshan.
They reached the floor and somehow Eshan was able to unlock the door. Nathan entered the flat and saw heaps of boxes scattered all around. “It seems you still have a lot of unpacking left.”
“Yes but decided to do it slowly over the week instead of rushing through it in the weekend itself. I have lot of time to spare over the next week before joining office here” Eshan replied.
“I have got to go buddy. Would have loved to talk to you and hear more about your college days” said Nathan after keeping down the boxes and covers in his hand on the center table.
“No worries at all. You already helped with this. I have my gang coming over in the evening to help out if anything is required and to celebrate my return to the city after five years. It’s like a small housewarming party” Eshan replied politely.
“How many gangs were you a part of?” Nathan laughed.
“No, it’s the same old gang from college” Eshan replied. “Why don’t you and Kriti join us too in the evening? She has not been in touch with any of us so everyone will be happy to see her again and of course, glad to meet you too.”
“Don’t be surprised if we do join! I am already glad I met you and would love to meet the whole gang now. See you at 7 then.” Nathan said as he left the apartment.
Eshan collapsed on the sofa. With nothing else to do, for now, all the college memories flooded back to him. It had been an emotional week for him, coming back to this city after the way he had left. Now to meet Kriti like this and that too along with her husband was like a hammer on his heart.
Nathan wasn’t familiar with the fame the gang had achieved in college. A group of eight friends, each a champion in their respective domains. Eshan had been the head of the theatre group, Vikram, the football team captain, Shahira, the Girls volleyball team captain, Aditya, the College union president and leader, Shekhar, the University Champion in Quiz and debate competitions, Deepti, an outstanding painter and future graphic designer and then the twin sisters; Shruti and Kriti. The shy and reserved Shruti was the college topper and Kriti was a gorgeous singer, who was also Miss Fresher in the first year of college. They had all excelled in their chosen fields and were much appreciated and acknowledged in college.
Everyone was shattered after Shruti passed away. Things became worse when Kriti refused to meet any of them and her family packed and left for their hometown within a couple of weeks, without giving them a chance to meet Kriti again. She never tried to contact them during all these years. To come to know that she had come back to this city and never reached out to the rest of the gang even, made Eshan angry. He could accept and understand not wanting to meet him but why not anyone else in the gang?
With anger welling up and not letting him rest, Eshan set about readying the house for the evening. He worked non-stop for two hours before collapsing on the sofa again. And being in the same position brought him back to the same memories.
Kriti!! How much he had loved her ever since he saw her on the first day of college. It took a lot of convincing to make Kriti also a part of their original gang of Eshan, Vikram, Shekhar, and Deepti. All four of them finally agreed to nominate one person each to the group, to make it a gang of eight. Eshan had nominated Shruti and in turn bribed Shekhar to nominate Kriti to ensure no one suspects his real intent. He knew being twins they wouldn’t be part of different groups and he was desperate for Kriti to join them. Soon “The Gang “had become famous not only in their college but the whole of the University. They were never apart during those college years.
Eshan’s feelings became quite obvious to everyone by second year except Kriti and maybe Shruti. Eshan used to make excuses to ensure he would spend most of his time around those two. He even convinced Shruti to join their theatre group knowing that she will always ensure Kriti stayed back too in the evening to go home together with Shruti. As a writer, once he handed over the lines to the actors and director, he would always sit back with Kriti while everyone rehearsed. He would offer to drop them back home too. While explaining things to Shruti, who would be sitting next to him in his old car, he would ensure to keep his eyes on Kriti through the rear view mirror, averting his eyes only when they made eye contact. Spending so much time together made him treat Shruti as a sister or as a sister-in-law to be more accurate. He had become very protective about Shruti, catering to her every need in college and would go out of his way to nominate her for roles for which he wrote special lines. He still couldn’t forget how happy Shruti was when in the final year he proposed to Kriti and she accepted the proposal. She was so happy that she ended up crying, hugging both of them. Shekhar had made fun of Shruti that since Eshan is officially her brother-in-law now and with Kriti being few minutes elder to her, Shruti should start treating Eshan also as an elder family member by extension. The whole gang had laughed and hugged together in the middle of the ground.
To suddenly hear the news of Shruti passing away a week later was something no one was prepared for, especially him. He missed Shruti as much as he did Kriti. He wanted to hug Kriti and share their grief and help each other through the difficult time. But Kriti had left them for forever. Drained by all the memories, Eshan decided to have a shower and a nap thereafter.
Around six that evening, when the doorbell rang, Eshan was busy getting things ready for the evening's party. Wondering who had turned up so early, he grumpily went to the door. It was Nathan. "I'm here to help you," he said with a smile. "How much can you possibly do all by yourself." Holding forward a single rose that had a long, slender stalk, he bowed dramatically. "Congratulations. For now, you could stop being jealous," he sneered. Eshan knew that the emphatic 'all by yourself' was hardly intentional, but it bothered him.
“Thanks Nathan” Eshan replied and accepted the rose with mixed emotions. “Congratulations for what?” he asked even though he wanted to ask more about the word ‘Jealous’.
“It’s for the new apartment, meeting an old friend and a house warming gift for you!” Nathan replied with a broad smile. “Like I said I am so glad to meet you and will hopefully be meeting the entire gang”
Eshan was at loss of words and busied himself looking for vase to put the lone rose.
“And Kriti? It seemed she was quite shocked to see me here” Eshan asked as he found a glass and filled it with water to place the rose.
“Well Kriti is a mystery yet to be solved. She has rarely shown her emotional side to anyone ever since we got married. I have just heard of the old happy go lucky Kriti from others, never witnessed it myself. I was hoping she would be happy seeing you today but she didn’t speak much on our drive and seemed all lost in her own thoughts. The only change was instead of the usual single rose she always asked me to buy, today she asked to buy two and told me to give one to you“ Nathan said with a wistful look on his face before adding “Is it the meeting with you which has spoiled her mood today?”
Eshan was stunned at the straight forward question. At a loss of words, he just placed the glass with the single rose at the counter.
“Just kidding dude! I think you all need to loosen up a bit.” Nathan started laughing at the awkward expression on Eshan’s face. “Do you mind if I take a smoke in your balcony. Kriti has always hated it and won’t allow me to smoke within 100 feet of our apartment”
“Yeah sure. Can I get you a drink or something? I was about to make some coffee for myself.” Eshan asked politely.
“Yeah coffee will do for now but I expect at least a beer if not champagne to celebrate when the party starts” Nathan replied as he stepped out into balcony.
Eshan quickly took 2 cups from the shelf. He filled it up with coffee at the counter avoiding looking at the single rose. The rose reminded him of last two weeks he was with Kriti and Shruti, when he gifted a single rose to each of them starting one week before proposing and promising to do everyday going forward after the proposal. The rose for Shruti was an afterthought mostly as it would have become too obvious, before the proposal, if he gifted only to Kriti.
He joined Nathan on the balcony with the two mugs hoping they will now stick to some neutral topics.
“So where do you work Nathan?” Eshan asked.
“I am in an investment banker. I have been at it for the last eight years and doing pretty decently for myself. It pays the bills as Kriti says.” Nathan replied.
“Oh wow that’s nice” Eshan tried to sound impressed.
“Yes I know...Kriti you know would have never married a boring banker like me. I was told by the whole family they always expected her to choose some artistic person like a singer, painter or writer for herself” Nathan laughed at his own joke making Eshan look at his face carefully. Did he hear a hint of sarcasm in the word ‘writer’ or should he?
“We all change. There are dreams we all have but we eventually grow out of them. I am sure she will also be surprised to know that I also quit my theatre dreams and started working in an IT firm. It’s a project of my company which has brought me back to this town” Eshan replied matter of factly.
“Yeah we all had such crazy dreams. I wanted to be a basketball player throughout my school and college days. But everyone knows what happens to an Indian who doesn’t play cricket. After college the dream fizzled out and reality kicked in.” Nathan continued puffing on his cigarette.
“We all grow up eventually. The childhood dreams are replaced by more practical goals” Eshan sounded more confident on this topic as he had practiced these lines so many times through the years.
“Yes. We did. But I always felt Kriti never moved on to new dreams. Maybe it was because her old dreams were taken away from her by force. She was never able to dream again. The sad part is she gave up on her old dreams too. It was like life had stopped for her. You won’t believe I have never seen or heard her singing in the last four years. Not even hum a song in the bathroom. It always felt like she was punishing herself for something that had happened because of her fault. My life is being spent trying to bring her back from the gloom but I still see her sitting or standing lost in thoughts and sometimes crying in bed. Everyone thought all the counseling she had attended before marriage had helped her. Even now when we attend as a couple, our therapist feels she is hanging on to some pain in her past which she can’t let go. Shruti was a big part of her life and she was never able to overcome that loss” Nathan’s voice was filled with disappointment for not being able to help Kriti out of her despair.
“Yes Shruti’s loss was a shock for all of us too. And we never even got to know what happened. Was she ill or was it an accident?” Eshan asked without realizing they had switched back to the same topic he wanted to avoid.
“You know she never talks about it. Even when we first met, she told me honestly and very practically that her sister had passed away and the psychiatric help she got to get over the pain. She confessed that I needed to be patient with her if I agreed to marry her, and she would understand if I say no. I understood all she said and never asked her how it happened since then. Tried to be the best husband I can be, hoping some day she will come out of her shell on her own” Nathan stubbed out the cigarette and finished the coffee reminding Eshan he hadn’t even taken a sip from his.
“I should go now, will see you later. I will let myself out don’t worry” Nathan started to exit the balcony but stopped. “You know two years back her father, after sharing few drinks, told me what had happened. Shruti had committed suicide. The family had managed to hush it all up. She did it because she was in love with a guy. This guy had tagged along her for a few years making her feel special, driving her to all her classes, spending hours helping her with her acting dreams and even made her more outgoing. Ultimately, this guy proposed to someone else. Shruti couldn’t bear that and decided to end her life. Imagine such a talented young girl ending her life over a guy.” Nathan expressions changed. “For years, I thought if I ever get to meet the guy who did this, I would kill him.
Not only did he cost Shruti her life but also cost me a happy wife. I now have a wife who is just alive without any emotions, sense of jubilation; and not at all responsive to my love for her. How I wish I could get back the Kriti I have heard stories about. One with an unmatched zest for life. Now my only goal is to make her happy again. I have never told anyone about this but you deserved to know” He turned and walked away slowly.
Eshan was left alone in the balcony, staring at the single rose on the table and coffee in his hands.. Wondering...