She opened the door to the class and went straight to the first bench to sit at her usual position with her room-mate. Her manner of walking was neither too rushed nor too slow, unlike most other girls. It was as if she took calculated steps along a pathway she had drawn in her mind, careful not to stray even a single step from it. Her leather bag was perhaps a little big for her body, yet it never seemed so. She looks much mature than her age, which is why she never seems out of place when she sometimes carries a file folder with her to the class for some assignment or comes in dressed in the traditional salwar kurta attire. But it was not that I needed these different avatars of hers to deduce her maturity, for her eyes had given away that fact the first time I saw them.
I remember how she struggled to keep her eyes fixed at some point in front of her as she walked around the college campus, conscious of making any prolonged eye contact with anyone. Mostly, though, it is people of the other sex who are conscious of making a prolonged eye contact with her, for her features surely are captivating. But I never dwelt overly on her beauty. I did not find her as attractive as other people in my class or college did. Sure, her piercing looks, coupled with her slim and shapely body made people talk about her and ogle at her as she walked past them. But to me, her eyes had always been the most captivating feature, for in them I saw a resignation. It was not born out of disappointment, but reluctance.
She did not have any friends in the class, and even outside the class I had hardly ever seen her with more than a select two or three people. I had started sharing the class with her after my first year in college, for that is when we are put into the class of our particular branch of engineering. For the year and a half I have spent watching her from my seat in the back, she has not even made an attempt to befriend a single classmate of mine. All this made me want to reach out and talk to her, to know her better.
I felt attracted to her only as much as I felt towards any of the pretty faced ladies I come across walking by the road every now and then. But during class, my eyes always shift to the back of her head without my wanting them to. She sits there in the absolute front row, as if challenging the boys around her to make a move. Even when there would be no one sitting on the three rows of chairs behind hers, she would stay perched on her seat, never once turning back. She is like some highly valued prize that is put up on the display to the general masses to stare in awe at its beauty, and then make them kick themselves for it to be so out of their reach.
After the lectures for the day were done, I put my things in my bag as usual and went out the door. My two friends with whom I usually sit had decided to skip classes, so I had spent the four hours of college trying hard to focus on the professor. Despite their best efforts to lure me into thinking about the parallel architecture principles of a computer, or the different kinds of deposits that can be made in a bank, my eyes had drifted to Vaishali every now and then. Walking through the campus to my hostel, I was busy looking at the trees around me. Only four of them on the way from the academic building to my hostel had flowers on them. The one right in front of one of the girls’ hostel was the only one without any leaves on it, and was way more crooked than any other tree on campus. It was arched backwards, as if there was a heavy weight put on its torso. It had a silver texture to its bark and branches.
As I continued to walk while looking at the crooked tree to my right, I felt something get caught under the sole of my sandals, and the next instant, my foot collided with the heel of the person walking in front of me. The flat soled floater of the girl in front of me came back with my foot as my leg retracted it in my walking motion.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you standing there,” I managed to say while going back a couple of steps to fetch the footwear I had thrown using my foot. As I placed it near the foot of the girl my eyes fell on her feet. Her toes were extraordinarily well shaped and delicate. The thin long fingers dyed in a very light shade of pink seemed to glow over the black footpath she was standing on. However, the thing that pricked my nerves about those delightfully beautiful pair of feet was that I had recognized them as soon as I had cast my eyes on them. Realizing that I had been crouching for a few seconds looking at her feet, I slowly stood up straight to expect Vaishali staring at me silently.
She shifted her eyes to the ground, lowering her head a little as well, but the next instant she lifted her eyes suddenly to look at me. Her head was still bent towards the ground. It reminded me of the time when I had to ask her something in a lab. She was seated at the computer in front of mine, with the computers placed back to back. I had got up to ask her whether the internet was working on her machine, and she had given her head a small nod without making any sound. She had looked at me the same way as she was doing now. It was from during those times seated in front of her that I had got a view of her feet as I was always cautious not to put mine on them while resting my feet on the wooden bar in between our legs.
“I’m sorry, Vaishali. I didn’t mean to tear the strap of your floater.”
She turned as swiftly as her eyes had moved to me, and walked as effortlessly as she always did. Her heel still glistened as she walked away from me. The one previous time when a girl’s foot had come in contact with mine was when I was with my girlfriend back at home. She was talking to someone over the phone and I went up to her and held her from behind. She lost her footing and ended up standing on my feet. Her feet were not as tender and slim as Vaishali’s, but they had felt much warmer and cozier.
As I made my way to my hostel room, I wondered if my lack of interest in Vaishali, or any other girl for that matter, had spawned as a result of Kavya entering my life, or going from it. Perhaps it had been a reason, but I did not feel I would have felt any different had I not met her.
With Kavya, it had never been a question of not being attracted to her. She had drawn me to herself from the very beginning. My first indication of having strong feelings for her was when she started popping into my head in everything I did. So much was her practice of invading my privacy growing that she even made it to my mind when I would be wanking off. When, despite the best efforts of the models over the internet, the image of Kavya would pop into my head while I came, I realized that I was in love. That was my way of understanding that I was totally vulnerable to her, and helplessly in love with her.
My hostel gave the outlook of a hotel more than a hostel, with its long narrow corridors and always functional elevators taking away the meaning of hostel from our lives. I had spent the whole of the previous semester without knowing who lived in the rooms next to mine, and had no intention of breaking the habit. Despite living in a double shared room, I mostly felt like I was living in a single room. Given my roommate’s obsession with drama, he spent most of the time after college hours with the drama club rehearsing on a street play, helping direct a short play, or perhaps practicing somewhere in solitude for a mono-act he would be performing at some other college. This sense of freedom was the reason I shared rooms with him. His general mess around the room bothered me greatly. His watching movies with the volume turned up to full on the speakers of his laptop often got me on nerves, and the way he would make disgusting sounds with his mouth when munching down on food always made me restless with anger. But the fact that he was away most of the time meant I had the room to myself, and could practice my violin in peace.
I had first started taking violin lessons at school when I was 14. Ours was a school where a student was to choose an instrument he would learn for that particular year during the instrumental music class. After trying my hand at the synthesizer, I had moved on to drums. I had grown quite fond of it and had planned to choose it again for the next year as well, but the teacher quit his job, and the school failed to find a replacement. That got me into choosing flute, which had been introduced in the same year. The teacher who had been brought in to teach us the flute looked like a classical musician, wearing a long, shiny kurta over white lowers. Interestingly enough, he had once been a member of a famous Indian band which had made some good music over the years. However, the band had vanished almost as soon as it had made its name, and with that I imagined our flute teacher ended up in our school teaching sixth graders like myself to play the flute.
But flute had turned out to be a difficult instrument for me to play. It required immense control over the breathing, which could only be achieved by assiduous training on the learner’s behalf. That was something I was not overly keen to do. As the year dragged itself to its close, the new session began, and aiming to find new pastures, I picked up a violin.
The feel of the strings on my fingertips and the soft rustle that the bow would make with the strings drove me into being overwhelmed instantaneously by the instrument. As soon as my jaw rested on the chin rest and the body made its perch on my shoulder, I felt like the violin took control of my body and made me play it almost on its own accord. From that moment on, I always found nourishment in the soft bosom of the melodies of violin. Before long, I became quite a skillful violinist, and had soon begun competing with other students from other schools in contests.
Prior to learning the violin, I had often heard about the great composers in history. Many books that I had read contained references to a specific symphony by a composer and how it was something that the protagonist of the story would form a deep bond with. I had often wondered why such composers were so great in their art, and what made them so good that their names would continue to find their way in texts even centuries after their having passed away.
The answer came to me in the form of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. I was seventeen when I first listened to the piece, and for the ten minutes I spend listening to the recording, I had no sense of where I was, or what I was doing. It was like having an outer body experience, as if I was in levitation. Mozart had effortlessly turned all the bones of my body pneumatic, lifting my body up in the air. I had often experienced frissons throughout my body when listening to music that touched me deeply, but the state I was in for those ten minutes was unlike any other. It was like the state of tukdam, when the individual has transcended the living, yet not merged with the dead, but found absolute peace in the perfect balance somewhere in the middle.
It was the violin that had got me acquainted with Kavya. She had joined my school during the penultimate year of our school life, and was rather skilled with the mouth organ. Her skill had got her a position in the school’s orchestra, which was renowned for its performance at the school’s annual festival. It was the first time that the mouth organ was added to the list of instruments to be played, and it brought a challenge along with it. Our instructor and I tried hard to get to grips with it. He knew the instrument well enough, but just could not find a place for it in the orchestra performance. I, on the other hand, was finding it rather difficult to understand how the instrument worked, with my rudimentary skill in flute doing me no good. The one thing my instructor and I concorded on was that Kavya had exceptional skill in it, and the high pitched yet melodious sound just had to be included in the performance.
We stayed up after school, the two of us, almost every day as she tried to teach me the basics of playing the mouth organ and how it produced the sound on performing specific combinations of lip and hand movement with the proper control of breath.
“I cannot understand this for the life of me,” I said, exasperated.
“It’s because you are trying so hard that you are not taking a moment to look at it in a simplistic manner, Aryan” said Kavya, laughing at my expression. Her manner was always reserved, but when she put the mouth organ to her lips, she turned into this entirely different person who played it as if she were possessed.
“Here, give it a try. Maybe you will understand it better when you give it a go,” she said, handing me the mouth organ. I looked at it for a few seconds to decipher its meaning from its body, as though there was a piece of text hidden somewhere in that shiny metal body. I decided to give it a try after some consideration.
“It feels wet!” I exclaimed, ushering it into her lap.
“That’s because I used my tongue the last time,” said Kavya amidst her burst of laughter. I had found it difficult to decide whether to feel disgusted or excited about this disclosure, but an innocent smile had crept up to my lips in the meantime.
Our friendship grew by leaps and bounds almost daily, which was more than I could say about my understanding of the mouth organ. Before I knew it, I was seeing her face during my “alone time”, and hence got pinched by cupid’s arrow. Our practice sessions grew longer and longer, and our intimacy blossomed more and more. The time duration for which we stayed together after school increased day by day. When I would walk her home, she would hold my hand firmly in her grip, sometimes snuggling close to my body if she felt cold. I could always feel her delicate waist rub against my side when she walked close to me, and it always sent a tingling sensation all over my body. We never spoke on the way home, almost by a mutual agreement.
After over a month’s hard work, we had managed to find a composition which I felt at the time was the best that our orchestra would ever perform. There was just one week left for the day of our performance, and we were going over the second run of our composition. It was a mid-December evening, and the sun was on the verge of calling it a day. The dim yellow light from the sun filled the room as it cast oblong shadows behind us. Outside the window, I could see students who had come for their evening games session go about their business. The thing I liked most about the room we practiced in was that it was on the third floor of the building, and there would not be much noise reaching us. The corridors of the school would be isolated and dead silent, save for the sound from the nearby ground where students played hockey. The muffled sound of the hockey stick connecting with the ball, and a faint echo of the noise of the players on the field, made up for all the sound that reached us when we were quiet.
The dim, yellow sunlight gave Kavya’s hair a hazel texture. Her hands, with her long, thin fingers, held the mouth organ to her lips as she closed her eyes and played it, with her face showing no expression. She would always play without an expression and immediately smile when she was done, as if she had been holding it back the entire time. The nose pin she had on her nose shined even in the dim sunlight that poured in through the window. The sunlight seemed to be giving a new meaning to everything in the room. But my attention was fixed at Kavya. Enveloped meticulously in the light, her hands seemed fairer too, and her brown eyes got darker in their texture as she looked into mine, blinking every two seconds.
I smiled at her and turned my head to look out the window at the sun, when suddenly she came forward and kissed my lips in a hurried fashion. The hurried nature of the kiss made me jerk my head away. I had been caught off guard, and my brain had lost a moment. As it whirred back into action and began taking into account the turn of events, the realization started coming to me, but not quite. I had often imagined how wonderful it would be to kiss a girl, and now that it had actually happened to me, I did not even know it had happened, let alone rejoice in the wonderful feeling my lips were supposed to be drenched in. Her eyes were fixated on her feet, where I could see her fingers twisting over each other inside her shoes. She did not have a look of confusion or embarrassment in her eyes, but there was a subtlety about them, like when one is looking at the sun rays strike the city for the first time in the morning from atop a mountain as the fog begins to glide away.
Somehow, though, I did not feel right. I decided to act on the spur of the moment, and, touching her soft chin gently, brought her face up to mine to feel her lips properly. Her lips were as thin and tender as her slender fingers, and her hands on my face felt as light as feathers. As I shifted her from the chair onto my lap, our breathing paced. Her hands slid to fall on my neck, clasping it gently yet firmly. Through the maroon sweater she was wearing, I could feel her breasts press firmly against my chest as we investigated each other’s lips with genuine intent. I can still remember feeling the warmth of her skin on my body as her thighs rubbed against mine.
After about five minutes, we took a break from our kissing session to catch our breath, and when her forehead rested on mine, I had not only realized what kissing a girl means, but what kissing the love of your life means. But two years later, I also understood the realization of finding one day that that person is no longer in the world, that a bike hitting someone from behind could stop someone breathing before she could even reach the hospital.
At 8 pm, I had a light dinner before going over to a friend’s apartment outside the campus. He shared the two bedroom apartment with two other people, both of whom were our seniors, but we had been friends since they had ragged us in our first year.
“Hey Aryan, how about a drink? I could surely use one right now,” said Roshan.
“What about Dev and Gaurav?”
“They’re both waiting for me at the place. Your timing is just right, you can join us.” I did not mind having a drink with those guys. Surely they would be looking out to get down with some girls. I had tried the same with them once, but the girl I got talking to had nothing in common with me and had a very shrill voice. So in the end, it had felt like too much effort for something that did not mean anything for me.
The thought of Kavya had come across my mind that night, but I had just gone out with those people to see how they went about their business, and whether finding a girl to be within such places was really as simple as they said it was. It was not like I had a high sex drive that I would go looking for girls to spend the night with. I had never had sexual relations with Kavya as well, and although the charm of losing my virginity to her meant nothing to me, I just never felt like doing it with someone else, for I knew too well it would be totally meaningless for me and would hold no value. The two of us had given each other oral pleasure on a few occasions, but we had never got to finishing the job.
The bar that I entered in with Roshan was more secluded than other bars in the area. The music was being played loud, but not so loud as to make someone shout just to speak to someone. There was no sign of people crowding up or dancing to the music. I saw Dev and Gaurav sitting at the bar table on stools.
“Hey, so you decided to join us on our escapades once again, Aryan.”
“No, I’m just here to have a drink. I’m not overly interested in this game you guys play.”
The two of them ordered a Chivas drink a piece. “Now the mood is setting in,” said Roshan, looking around the bar to find someone to pique his interest. It felt remarkable to me that they could do this over and over without ever feeling bored of it all or getting tired of not feeling anything for the person the next morning.
“Well, if you don’t want to hunt in the pack with the three of us, you can at least have a go with one of the singles sitting around. Quite a few of them are around today. In the meantime, we shall go over to the pretty ladies over at the other end,” said Gaurav as the three of them left their stools finishing their drinks. I sat there drinking two more glasses of the whiskey, looking at the three of them chat with the three girls. Looking around the bar, I found that there indeed were quite a few women sitting and drinking alone. Soon, most of them would either be approached by a guy or go home after having a dull night. As I ordered another glass of my drink, I saw a familiar face on a seat four tables away from the bar. I looked at her carefully to confirm that she was actually the person I had thought her to be. Sitting on the stool at the bar, I saw Vaishali looking at her glass, turning it slowly in both directions turn by turn. She continued doing so for the next fifteen minutes, and fuelled by Chivas, I decided to go up to her.
“Mind if I join you?”
She looked up at me in the same way she always did, and then turned back to finding whatever she hoped to find in the blend of vodka and cranberry juice in her glass. I sat on the chair in front of her and looked at her fidget with her glass for about ten minutes.
“Would you like to go somewhere else?” I asked, finishing my drink.
She looked up from eyeing the vodka in her glass to look at me. “Just a drink would do. What did you just have?”
“Chivas with soda,” I said, my eyes fixed on her half-filled glass. Noticing me look at it, she put it to her lips and drained it of its contents in a single go, then picked up my empty glass and motioned to the bartender for a refill. He instructed the waiter to oblige her with the drink. No sooner than he had done so, she took the glass and poured its contents down her throat in a single go. She slowly blinked her eyes to feel the effect of the whiskey. I continued sitting there, looking at her, and then looked at the place we were in. As I looked at her face and then at my surroundings, something did not feel right.
“Come on, let’s go somewhere else,” I said. She brushed her eyebrow with the thumb of her hand. She got up from her chair, paid her bill at the counter, and nodded at me to accompany her out of the door.
I went out to find her waiting in front of the entrance. I felt like she looked at me with some purpose in her mind, as if she was studying me. Coming out of the bar, I noticed there was a change in her face. It was like her lost and indifferent expression had been replaced the calm and relaxed one she now had merely by shrugging it off. Standing under the light of a lamp post, I noticed her clothing for the first time. She had a white top with a glittering design on it, and blue denims to go with them. Her hair was tied in a neat bun, which looked more like a ball of wool to me. I had never seen her wear her hair in a bun. She usually kept them free, hanging on her breasts around one side of her neck. As we started walking together silently, I could see her hair shine as they always did, even in the dark.
I had always walked behind her before, always observing the thin necklace on her neck glisten whenever sunlight would strike it. But today, I was stealing glances at her face. With her hair not in front of her shoulders, I could see her face fully. She seemed totally immersed in watching her path as she walked on it.
“Do you come here often?”
She looked at me with a smile, like one that people bring on their face when thinking about something and then continue wearing it when someone starts speaking to them.
“No, not very often. I go out to such places when I feel like having a drink.”
“You always come alone?”
She smiled brightly. Hers was an ear to ear smile. I had seen it sometime before, and for some reason, it had always made me feel glad. It did not make my heart skip a beat, but always brought a soothing sensation to my eyes.
“Well, you could say I come here to get away from people.”
“How do you get away from people by going to a bar with loud music?” I asked, with a confused smile.
“The music helps to cut out their voices. Very few things have the power to do that.”
I tried understanding the meaning of her bar ventures as we walked silently, side by side. I could hear someone or the other in the distance every now and then, and her words started making sense to me. It is difficult to find a place devoid of any human sound. Even the roads with their traffic carry with them the odd sound of someone talking loud on a phone in their car or a couple of youngsters talking while on their bikes. I looked at her again. She only added a shrug to her continued smile, as if she knew I had managed to understand her words, corroborating her viewpoint.
Walking with her then, my mind wandered to the times when I used to walk with Kavya. It was our mutual silence which brought the memory out. On its own accord, my mind began comparing Kavya’s features with Vaishali’s. Kavya’s facial features were not as striking as Vaishali’s, but they had a beauty in them that was unparalleled. She also stood taller than Vaishali, although not a lot taller, maybe an inch or two. Vaishali’s physique, on the other hand, was quite slimmer than Kavya’s. But even then, no one could ever think that Kavya was on the healthier side. It rather added to her beauty, although she was pretty miffed about it at times. The amount of flesh that Vaishali lacked in contrast to Kavya was also reflected on her bosom, as her breasts looked like that of an adolescent who was on the verge of attaining puberty. Kavya, on the other hand, had fully rounded breasts, which was something I liked quite a lot. The whiskey flowed through my body and played tricks on my mind as I tried stopping this comparison.
I knew I could never love somebody like I had loved Kavya. She had always had a part of me residing in her, a part of me that I could always see in her eyes when she would look into mine, a part of me which would cry out to me in ecstasy when she held me close to her and when she would bring her lips to mine. With her gone, that part of me had ceased to exist. It was lost in a world unreachable to me. In a way, I felt comforted by the fact that it would stay with her for eternity. But at the same time, I knew that I had lost the capacity to look for even a fragment of it in another person.
“Would you like to grab something to eat?” asked Vaishali. Lost in contemplation, I had not realized that we had stopped walking, and were standing outside a small café that served fast food. I checked my watch for the time. It was quarter to eleven.
“I can’t. There are only fifteen minutes left for the curfew time in my hostel.”
“Oh, I thought you lived in an apartment,” she said. I noticed that her smile had left the screen of her face now. She smiled slightly after saying her words.
“No, I don’t. I didn’t know you lived outside the campus, though.”
She started walking in the direction of my college campus. “Hey, don’t you want to eat anything? I thought you were hungry,” I said.
I caught up to her and stood in front of her looking at her, trying to decipher her thoughts by reading her face. She did not take her eyes away from mine, as if challenging me to break the code of her mind. But I realized it was not an act of challenging me, but laying herself out in the open, waiting patiently for me to come to the correct conclusion.
“You don’t want to be alone, do you?”
A smile of satisfaction leaped onto her lips, and I could see a relief as well as concern pop up in her eyes. She tilted her head in the direction of the road as she had done for the bar exit, and I picked my cue to follow her. There was the silence again, but it now had a comfort in it, a comfort which cloaked us as we walked through the streets. Oddly enough, I did not hear the sound of a single person on the way.
“I guess there are more places where you can come to get away from people then,” I said breaking the silence. Vaishali continued looking down on the road as she walked, smiling at my remark. As we reached the campus gate, we looked at each other and nodded almost at the same time which made us share a short innocent laugh.
“See you tomorrow in class then,” she said, waving to me as she turned to leave.
“Sorry you had to miss out on having food. I would have bought you dinner myself if there were time.”
“It’s alright, maybe some other time.”
I watched her go back the way we had come. I had watched her walk away from me on numerous occasions, yet it always caught my attention how she would plant each foot firmly and cautiously on the ground as she walked. On reaching my room, I found my room-mate fast asleep. I tried doing the same, but sleep evaded me for some time. I felt tired, and my body appreciated my lying on the bed, but my brain would not let go of its workaholic character and embrace the arms of sleep. I had a bottle of Signature whiskey in my room, and it had almost become a practice for me to drink a couple of glasses before going to bed. It helped me sleep better, and I did not want to lose its effect soon, so I refrained from drinking more than my usual amount every day.
My mind drifted back to Kavya yet again. All the events of the day had brought her image to my mind time and again. Walking with Vaishali and comparing the two females’ attributes had brought her up again, and now she sat there silently, watching me, caressing me. She would always play with my face whenever I lay my head in her lap. Rocking her body back and forth and pulling and twisting my cheeks in crooked angles, she would bend down to kiss me every now and then. Her hair would always tickle me as she would drop her head to unite our lips, and often, they caused an itch if she continued to remain in that posture for a few seconds. On two occasions, she had fallen asleep with her body still bent in that awkward angle, and when I nudged her to wake up and straighten herself, she just opened up her legs and threw them behind to lie on her face on my stomach. It both pleased and suffocated me, but I just held her in my arms. The sensation came to my body again, as it had often done, and soon, it put me to sleep.
Vaishali did not attend college the next day, or the entire week after that. I found myself spacing out and thinking about her in class every day, hoping to find my place of resting my eyes soon. On the evening of the eight day, I received a call from her.
“Do you like Italian or Chinese?”
“Hi, uh, Italian I guess. What happened?”
“Fine. Come over at my place. I was cooking dinner and, uh, could you please join me?”
I was taken aback by her calling me and then opening the conversation with her question. How had she got my number? Well, she could have got it from our class group. But her voice seemed more casual and unrestricted than it usually did.
“I can come.”
“Okay. Come to Regal Apartments, flat 304-C, in an hour. I’ll have it prepared by then.”
I reached her room fifteen minutes before our scheduled time.
“You’re early. Come on in. I’ll only be a minute,” she said as she showed me into her place. She walked in her house the same way as she walked on the road. I took a chair at the table outside the kitchen she was in. It was only a one bedroom apartment, with a hall that was half occupied by the kitchen and had a table and a wall decorated with photographs.
“Did you take these photographs?” I asked, observing them from my seat.
“Uh-huh,” came her reply from the kitchen.
“Wow, I never knew you were such a good photographer.”
“Is that so?”
At first glance, it had looked like a haphazard work of pinning photographs on paper sheets, but on looking closer, I saw there was a paper sheet attached to eat photograph that had something written on it. The entire wall was filled with photographs of views from a hill top, or of a café, or a busy street, or of students in the college.
“Lucky for you I like Italian, otherwise I couldn’t have even learned to boil pasta.” She came out of the kitchen ten minutes later with two large bowls. One had spaghetti with meatballs and the other a preparation of pasta which I could not recognize. She only had a black tank top on her, which also had something written on it in glitters, and white track pants with black design work done on them. It looked like tribal drawings, but I could not understand what it really was. Her track pants ended just above her ankle, failing to conceal the thin golden anklet she always wore. Her thin fingers on her hand and toes were dyed in the same light pink as eight days ago, and she wore her hair now in a small ponytail.
“What if I had said I liked Chinese better?”
“Then I would have taken you up on that offer of yours to buy me dinner.”
“Would you like some wine to go with it?”
“Yeah I’d like that.”
As she poured out two glasses and set the bottle on the table, we dug in and started eating the food. I had not expected it to taste as delicious as it did, despite there not being too many ingredients or toppings on either preparation.
Vaishali did not seem interested in conversation at all. She did not even look at me as we sat there busy with our dinner. She seemed indifferent to my presence, but at the same time, her manner had a casualness about it that made me feel relaxed as well.
“This is delicious,” I said with a big mouthful of spaghetti tumbling with my tongue.
“I know. My cooking is good as long as I cook stuff that I like,” she returned with a mouthful of similar magnitude.
“Otherwise there is always the guy to take along for dinner somewhere.”
She pointed her fork at me and winked at me, rummaging through the meatball in her mouth. “This wine, it tastes so sweet. What is this?” I asked.
“Unfortified wine, the way it is meant to be. I never understood the reason why they need to fortify wine, thereby degrading its quality.”
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
The table we were sitting on was a small round table with the capacity of seating only three people. I was continuously on the lookout for her feet, like I always was when we sat in front of each other in our lab, careful not to come in contact with them. If I pulled my chair a little away from it, I had trouble managing to bring the spoonful of the food to my mouth without dropping a bit. If I pulled in closer, I could almost reach out and tap her on her face if I outstretched my hand, and perhaps place my foot on hers. It was a tricky situation all right.
“I never saw you in class the next day,” I said as we concluded our silent eating session but still clung on to our wine glasses.
“I went down with a fever. Have been cramped up in my apartment for the past week and have been living on takeaway food and fruits. I finally got better yesterday and felt like cooking something real nice today. But it’s too much work to cook something nice by putting in some effort just for yourself, so I called you over.”
“Don’t your friends cook anything for you?”
“I only have three of them, and they’ve all gone out of town for a swimming competition.”
“Why didn’t you call me when you were sick then?”
“Why would you nurse me back to health?” she said, chuckling.
“No, I didn’t mean that exactly. But being by yourself in your apartment for a week when you are ill surely can’t be that fun.”
“I don’t mind. If anything, having people over when I’m sick only bothers me. They keep bothering every now and then to ask if I’m fine or need anything.”
I laughed at her remark. “You’re weird in that sense.”
“As weird as they come.”
I could not remember the last time I was completely comfortable and calm with someone. I could not even approve of my friends all the time, and often found it too much trouble to be around them for long. Talking to Vaishali was like a mystery, a puzzle of which she would throw a piece in my direction with her words every now and then, only to increase my curiosity.
“Have you always talked and spoken this way?” I asked.
“The way you speak, without making any effort. Your mouth moves ever so little when you utter any word.”
She sipped on her wine as she thought about it. “Well, I haven’t ever thought about it before. No one has ever told me this before.”
“I like it, though. It feels a little strange, but it feels beautiful nevertheless.”
She smiled at my compliment. “That’s a first.” I simply smiled back at her.
We sat outside in the balcony after I helped her with the dishes. It was a lovely October evening. The air rustled the leaves of the trees softly and carried a chill in it, as if trying out its composition for the months to come. There wasn’t any chair to sit on, just two slabs of stone placed side by side, connecting the building exterior to the balcony edge. We were facing each other, with her sitting next to the wall. She had untied her ponytail and tilted her head a little over the low wall. The air swayed her hair with its flow. I could see that natural glow in her hair under the mellow moonlight. It was like they had a glow of their own which flowed through some source in her head that replenished itself whenever exposed to light.
“Hey Aryan, thanks for coming here tonight. I just—”
“Didn’t want to be alone, I know. I don’t know the reason you don’t mingle much with people Vaishali, but it doesn’t bother me. I like you just the way you are. To tell you the truth, I have always wanted to know you better for some reason unknown to me. I don’t mean to flatter you, but that’s just how it is, and it really made me happy to see you relaxed and unconcerned today.”
“Walking with you that day…. I felt completely relaxed after a long time. I don’t know why it was so, because we hardly talked. Maybe that was the reason, the way I could choose freely what to do when you left the bar with me and just started walking with me without asking me where we were going. I felt a calmness I had never felt with anyone before.”
I smiled in agreement and raised my wine glass to her. The contentment in her eyes told me she knew that in that moment, I had felt the same way. I felt something welling up inside my body, and my heart started pounding louder in my chest as my eyes rested on hers. She looked so serene in the moonlight, with the air teasing her hair playfully. Her slim hand rested on the low boundary wall, and in the moonlight, it radiated a certain glow. I had seen something similar on the day I had had my first kiss with Kavya, but strangely, all I could think of at this moment was how graceful her face looked as it stripped off all traces of tension and eased into a smile of satisfaction. She gently pressed my leg with her hand to lift her body up and extend her head further out into the open and let the wind do its thing. Her hand had felt so soft but cold on my leg. I could feel the sensation of her slim, beautiful fingers travel up my leg and disperse throughout my body. I wanted to make it stop, but could not resist the pleasure it brought to each nerve as it spread across. Desperate to control myself, I thought of initiating a different conversation.
“I couldn’t help but notice those scribbles you have put up next to those photographs on your wall. I really loved the idea.”
“What idea?” she said, resting her head on her palm which rested on the boundary wall.
“The way you put your thoughts and feelings about the places where you click those photographs as notes next to them to live through those moments as and when you like. Quite ingenious, the way you disguised it as being notes on your photography method.”
She remained half sitting half lying down in that way for a minute or two, looking into my eyes carefully so as to not miss a single detail. She got up from her place and motioned me to move next to the wall. When I moved, she came over to my side to sit beside me, and then gently placed her head on my shoulder. Our allied silence blended all too well with that of the night around us. We continued sitting in that position for some time. As I turned my head to look at her face, I could see a single tear drop escape from her closed eyelid and travel down her cheek. Her face was expressionless, but it twitched as the lone tear managed to break free from the clutches of her eyelids. I gently rubbed her arm and held her closer to me. She snuggled without hesitation and put her arms around my neck as she wept softly.
A distant sound began ringing in my ears, and it grew louder with each passing second. As Vaishali buried her face deeper into my neck and strengthened her grip round my neck, the sound grew in bursts. It was a very familiar call which made the hair on my body shoot up in unison. I had not expected to feel this way any time soon, not on this evening with Vaishali, but there it was, greeting me eagerly, as a close friend who greets another on seeing them after over two years. The frissons surging through my body were too bold for my comfort.
“Hey, it’s cold out here. Let’s go inside. It’s getting rather late as well,” I said in hopes to end the violent upheaval in my body. She clung on to me for a few more seconds in order to absorb the sensation for the last few moments, and then got up with a nod, wiping her eyes and smiling at me. It hurt me that I would be leaving her in this state, but I was not sure if I could leave if I stayed any longer, and I felt I was not ready.
When we moved inside, I picked my bag up and started making for the door. I realized I had left my watch on her dining table and turned back to fetch it. Vaishali had remained standing next to the table. I picked up my watch and nodded at her to go. She continued smiling at me with a comfort that seemed too surreal to be present on a human’s face.
“Take care,” she said, standing up on her toes to kiss my cheek. She regained her position beside the table, and as if noticing it suddenly, gently rubbed my neck to wipe the remains of her tears on them. Her eyes that always bore a look of callousness in them were half closed now but still looked into mine. I could see her struggle to keep more tears from rolling out of them as long as I stood there. I wanted to turn away and walk out of her apartment to try and not add more to her misery, but my body wouldn’t budge. I felt as if I was being sucked into her big, black eyes, and my body arched forward to kiss her thin, shaking lips.
I could taste the coolness of the wind and the sweetness of the wine on her lips as we kissed sensuously. My body kept going forward in her direction, making her lift herself and sit on top of the table. After a few seconds, I felt her arms aiding my body in its motion as she resumed her hands’ grip around my neck while she sat on the table, leaning me closer into herself.
Five minutes later, I lay beside her on her bed, still working my way through her lips and running my hand over the entire length of her body. Her tender outline felt so delicate under my fingers that I thought it would snap instantly if I pressed on it hard. As our breathing soared higher, my hand slid inside her tank top and slowly acquainted itself with her under-developed breasts. She uttered a soft moan as my hand slid further down her body and felt her vulva. Her body moved restlessly as my hand continued its activity.
As we undressed each other and carried on with the proceedings, I could feel her body respond to mine in a way so natural, it just felt right. The faintest of sounds of the night died away as I entered her. Her moans and breathing were the only sounds that reached my ears, her fingers digging deeper into my back the only sense I had of my body. I found myself in a void, where nothing but the two of us existed.
After making love to her four times that night, I sat on the chair beside her bed, and watched her fragile body rise and fall with her noiseless breathing. I was pleased to see her sleep peacefully, even though I felt too worked up to sleep. I wanted to make myself believe that something was not right, but the faint sound of Vaishali’s breathing transformed into that call I always heard from Kavya’s body as it reached my ears. My mind was still busy contemplating the dichotomy of right and wrong when the first ray of sunlight entered the room. I could not watch the ember in her body grow to its entire length as the sunlight continued to shine brighter. But she opened her eyes the minute I rose to leave.
She simply sat up dreamily in her bed, rubbing her eyes. She waited for me to say something as she sat there looking at me. She did not have anything to say, but used her eyes to tell me that she had nothing to ask of me, and would accept anything I had to say. Her eyes looked through my soul and laid it out naked in the open. She had done so as she had managed to detach the part of me from my body that had been calling out for the entire night; by the indifferent and casual look in her eyes.
My body felt too heavy for me to keep standing anymore, and giving in to its request, I went up to the bed and lay down on it with my face down. I did not resist my body in climbing up the bed and putting my head in her lap. I could not resist my heart deafening my ears with its incessant beating as she gently patted my head with her slim hands, and it was completely beyond my control to resist the overflow of emotions in the form of sobbing as she bent down and kissed my neck. All I could do was kiss the long narrow fingers of her feet as my tears soaked them wet.
“Hey, I’ve got you. You can let go now,” she whispered into my ear as the tears flowed uncontrollably now. Her words rang in my ears, but my body and mind had let go before she had said those words. As she threw her legs back to lie face down on my body, I was resurrected by the morning sun.