The glass bottles clinked in raised hands and the sound of cheer rose above the sound of the rushing waves. Goa was even more beautiful in the rains with the sight of the rising tide and the coconut trees swaying in the breeze, accompanied by the pitter-patter of the rain drops on the thatched roof of the shack. A light spray of droplets occasionally reaching their faces.
The sea-side restaurant was teeming with people - chattering boys and girls at the neighbouring tables, happy families, foreign tourists, all waiting for their brunch to arrive. The legs of their plastic chairs sunk softly in the sand at their feet and the tables for once did not wobble. The romance in vacationing at the beach with friends was as heady as the effect of ten beer pints on their table.
Abhimanyu did not fight the carefree feeling that took over him. The urge to break-free and throw all his cares to the air got the best of him. He picked up his smart phone and without a second thought, triggered a verbal duel. What ensued was an one sided argument on WhatsApp which he didn't care to read.
"You sly wimp," she swore.
"Fine!" came the last message which meant she'd finally ended the torrent of brickbats.
"Sorry!" No, he typed that but hit backspace on the type pad, immediately.
"Hmmm!" was all that he sent across.
The chat conversation was the most cold interaction they had ever had. He was running but not with his feet. The timing of making an exit from a relationship was also completely wrong. More than an exit he was making an escape. Without a single brave word of explanation or even a conscientious apology.
That wasn't the first incident though - there'd been so many that he'd stopped sharing with his groupies, the status of his relationships. His parents had begun to openly criticise him for it while some made him the butt of their jokes too. And some others called it the classic case of the cat and the mouse chase.
If I had plenty of love in my heart or money in my pockets, I'd be yearning to see my prized possession go into the right hands; I'd be the mouse running away from the needy cat. If I was the one yearning for true love or well-earned money, I'd be the hapless soul, the hungry one craving just a mouthful; probably said to be the evil cat chasing its prey. Then it didn't matter if the chase was for love or for money. Is it more pitiable to have a lots and not trust anybody enough to give it to? Or is there no worse thing than to be an utter pauper?
It's, no doubt, pathetic to see the cat going after its prey escaping on all fours, but I could cry for the running mouse who does not know the joy in giving all of what one has. As they close in, the mouse hastily decides that the pursuant is a threat to its life. Whereas that very friend could have proven to be the one true keeper of its soul, who might have treasured their love like no other. However, the mouse cannot learn the truth without running the risk of falling prey. That is the irony of life. So it just runs away, instead.
Running is almost always good for health. With or without music, just run! Put on your running shoes and run but don't run like a coward. Do not run aimlessly. Run like you own the road and do it with passion. Abhimanyu had broken too many rules, sadly!
Abhimanyu was a tall and smashing young adult. A loose, front-print T-shirt thrown casually over a readily available pair of baggy denim was his favourite choice of clothes to grunge in. He didn't care to iron his clothes. He didn't care whether the rubber print was peeling off or that the edges of his clothes were frayed. He was just too comfortable living with the same old. He put all his spare time into pumping iron and that gave him his only asset, a to-die-for physique. He generously sprayed himself with the best perfume he could lay his hands on and sported a crew cut too. That led many girls into mistakenly rating him high on chivalry - something he'd never actually bothered to pick up on the way to manhood. His looks could really deceive!
"Do you know what my shirt is made of?" he countered Rhea's criticism, "Boyfriend material!"
"Tried and tested, eh? Nice," she'd given an equally cheeky, back-handed compliment, "but it stinks!"
His gang of friends cracked up at the repartee but Abhimanyu cared less!
His eyes had settled on a platter of assorted sea-food starters that was making its way through the maze of tables, over the other hungry heads that were turned up, also peering at it expectantly.
"Patrão, get us another round of chilled beer, please!" Rahul had ordered while the waiter was laying out their plates, and the message went ahead to the chief, promptly.
"That's cool! You got his attention over the din," Rhea patted her beau's back, "or it's difficult to get them moving at this speed."
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do!" Rahul winked.
''What? You're calling him your boss?" Abhimanyu jeered, "Susegad! That's all the real Goan is actually."
"Shush! Abhi," Rhea interrupted, sharply,"Give respect, get respect!"
"Are we here for a class on moral values, now?" Abhimanyu retorted, draining a second pint, "Gimme some ear plugs, peeps!"
He'd already forgotten his freshly jilted lover and was focusing on the next most tempting thing on his lust-list - a mouthful of butter-garlic fried kalamari.
"Well, I really want this particular dude to steer clear off my cousin," Rhea demanded, clearly piqued by Abhimanyu's lack of manners and insensitivity, "What's gotten into him?"
"When was he any different?" Mahesh mocked, throwing a punch in the air, stopping short of hitting Abhimanyu's nose.
"Hey! What cousin? Anybody new joining us?" Abhimanyu enquired while also faking a retaliation at Mahesh but only received an "Hrrmph!" as a response, from Rhea.
Half-exasperated, half in jest, Rhea came swiftly around the table and stuffed some fried prawns into Abhimanyu's mouth. He almost gagged on them and while he tried to chomp and swallow them down. Just then a big black hobo bag was dumped in the empty chair right next to his - Rhea's cousin, Ananya had arrived on the scene. Abhimanyu quickly took a swig from Rahul's pint and washed the mouthful of food down. A whole lot of '"Hi!" and "Hello!" interspersed with pulling of chairs, hugs and handshakes went around the table. Abhimanyu introduced himself but Rhea immediately fished her away to the other end of their table.
Ananya' s loose wavy hair blew around her waist in the strong sea-breeze. The yellow and white sundress she wore ended above her knees, revealing a shapely pair of legs. She generously flashed a pretty smile at all seated around the table. Abhimanyu had never expected such a lovely, buxom teenager on Rhea's friend's list on Facebook or he would have hit the 'Add Friend' option long ago. The girls had met Ananya before and they had gotten about discussing the lovely lipstick shade she wore and exchanging notes on the best place to go shopping later. Between conversation Ananya had caught him staring at her twice and then the third time she rose to shift into the chair beside Abhimanyu, where she'd previously deposited her handbag. She picked it up into her lap, brought out a hairbrush and combed her long locks, then rolled it up into a large bun on the top of her head. Abhimanyu watched her every move, mouth agape.
"It has stopped raining. Are we going to just sit around this table?" The glint in Ananya's eyes said she had a plan.
Soon, they were cruising through the Goan countryside on scooters and motorbikes, hired from the rental service around the corner. Ananya was a native who knew the land like the back of her hand. Leading the gang to the best Bebinca, home-brewed wine and thrift markets around town, she became the soul of their troop's sojourn. And Abhimanyu merrily took it upon himself to drive her to wherever she pleased. Ananya happily went pillion riding, clinging to him without any qualms. Hand in hand, fingers intertwined, their eyes holding a conversation on their own, Abhimanyu spent the remaining days of their vacation in Goa, enveloped in Ananya's company. Abhimanyu had taken to Ananya like a bee to honey. Much to Rhea's disgust, Ananya was not resisting him either, despite her repeated warnings.
"Abhi is a Casanova!"
"No, he's not!" Ananya argued.
"What do you know?"
"You shall see!" She stood her ground, head-over-heels in love with Abhimanyu.
Unbelievably, within no time, she made herself a permanent feature by his side. Ananya moved to Mumbai and joined him in a seat right besides his at college. They had enrolled for a part-time course in Mass-communications, together! She featured in most of his selfies uploaded onto his Facebook timeline. Their relationship status went from 'Single' to 'In a relationship'. Every weekday, even on a Monday, everything was hunky-dory in their world and every weekend they painted the town red, together. Time flew by but she remained.
"True to her name, she's like no other!" Abhimanyu admitted one day, with a sigh!
"You're finally in love, dude!" Rahul congratulated him.
Abhimanyu turned his head up and saw the skies had turned an insipid blue, like the life had been sucked out of the morning in that instant. Like in a knee-jerk reaction he got up from the seat and took-off down the jogger's track at an unusually fast pace. Rahul's last comment echoed in his ears and the more he was convinced about Rahul's observation, the more he began to panic. Everything suddenly began to annoy him - the sudden outburst of laughter from the senior's laughter club, the rustle of the leaves and the cawing of the crows from the boughs above, even the exceptionally slow joggers on the track. Sweat began to pour down the back of his neck in streams and a vein in his temple began to throb.
Abhimanyu stopped in his shoes when he thought he saw something appear between the branches of the ample and shady Peepal tree. The Cheshire Cat with its wide, jeering grin had taken form and its face was slowly transforming into Ananya's face with flashing, kohl lined eyes. Her sing-song voice rang in his ears and a restlessness began to grow within him.
Huffing and puffing, Rahul came to a stop by Abhimanyu's side. He tried to figure out what Abhimanyu was peering at but the knotted old tree looked no different to him.
"Extra running today? At an extra fast pace, suddenly?" Rahul wheezed.
" F$#* man!" Abhimanyu turned around and swore at him, breathing like a fire dragon,"You should have told me I'm going the wrong way."
"Chill dude!" Rahul retreated two paces, taken aback by the sudden outburst from his pal, "People do jog anti-clockwise on the track. What's so wrong about that, Abhi?"
"Shaddap, you nitwit! You don't get a thing, do you?"
"What are you talking about?" Rahul's face crumpled and brows knotted in worry.
"Rahul, don't you see? I'm done for!" Abhimanyu exclaimed.
"Aachoo!" someone had sneezed, while padding past them - it sounded like it came in confirmation.
Abhimanyu composed himself and pulled out his smart phone from the zipper pocket in his cargo pants.
"What happened, Abhi?" Rahul's voice had trailed off into the distance while Abhimanyu tried to recollect how it had all begun - his friendship with Ananya. And why had he let it flourish into a love story?
He revisited the last chat on WhatsApp which Ananya and he had had early in the morning. He started typing in the dialogue box but deleted it. After some rethinking, he typed again but didn't send it. Then with great tenacity, Abhimanyu chose his words wisely that would give their conversation the most meaningful end, for good!
Abhimanyu typed and sent forth just three words, "Over and out!".