Hope We Never Meet Again

Chapter 1

Who Am I?

I went to answer the call of nature. And that was when I saw it.

While relieving my bladder of its contents, I casually gazed around that dirty railway toilet. I frowned at the pungent smell that seemed to choke me and wondered why railway toilets were not a part of ‘Swach Bharat’.

“Was   it because railway toilets were not a part   of Bharat at all?” I thought with dismay.

That’s when my gaze locked onto the doodle on the toilet’s wall. No, it was not a doodle. It was a more deliberate, neatly written message with a blue marker pen. The message said: “Available @ cheap rate. Call Raja 9496352761. Ask for Sajina with a mole on her left breast… Fuck her as much as you want!”

“Some pervert who has no work…” I thought.

I finished my business, flushed the dirty closet and came out of the toilet. Then I went to my seat and made myself comfortable. I opened the India Today magazine and skimmed through the pages with little interest. I was on my way to Bangalore in the Intercity Express to attend my friend Kiran’s wedding. Arathy and Kiran were my colleagues in Zinfy Solutions. They fell in love and had come all the way to my village in Palakkad to invite me for their wedding. I had no intention of visiting Bangalore again, but the sincerity with which they invited me, prompted me to change my mind.

I boarded the train from Ottapalam Railway Station, since I lived a village called Mannur, just 15 kilometres away from Ottapalam. The train was moving so fast that the hot summer wind gushed in like a storm. Even though I pretended to be engrossed in the magazine, the reality was something else. Sitting opposite me was a voluptuous, beautiful and very sexy girl. She had boarded the train from Palakkad and I was stunned when she sat opposite me. She was wearing a yellow T-shirt that was so fitting that her ample bosoms seemed to be teasingly inviting me for a caress. If that was what made her voluptuous; it was her magnificently full, youth fed thighs inside that light blue faded jeans that made her too sexy for me to bear.

But it was her face that looked most stunning. Symmetry like I had never seen before. What skin she had! Those eyes seemed to tell an erotic love story when it brushed past my gaze. There was life erupting out of each and every cell of her body. Her eyebrows were threaded like perfect rainbows guarding her magical eyes. Her lips were sumptuous and full. There was a light shade of pink lipstick, but nothing was overdone. Her hair looked straightened and was coloured Burgundy. It glowed at the occasional touch of sunlight. She was listening to music on her iPad. I desperately wanted to strike a conversation with her, but had no clue on what pretext. Each breath filled my lungs with the fragrance of her shampooed hair (she probably used Sunsilk shampoo ) and the perfume she had on. She not only flared my sense, but fed my carnal hunger as well. My imagination ran wild like the speeding train.

The train reached Erode and that is when the OTHER GUY came. He sat next to me. Like in every story, the handsome hunk that plays the spoil sport for the hero. In the next 15 minutes, Mr. OTHER GUY charmed everyone around him with his chocolate-boy smile. Within the next 30 minutes, the girl was giggling at Mr. OTHER GUY’s jokes. I was frustrated seeing them discuss music, books and movies. I cursed myself for not striking a spontaneous conversation with this sexy babe.

“Did I lose my earlier self? Was Ritu still influencing me, making me scared to get into a relationship?” A random question that seldom had an answer kept bugging me.

Again, my bladder seemed to cry. So I folded the magazine and kept it where I was sitting and went to the same toilet again. While relieving my agonies into that dirty, stained closet, I saw that message again: “Available @ cheap rate. Call Raja 9496352761. Ask for Sajina with a mole on left breast… Fuck her as much as you want!”

This time the message seemed to lure me like a silent witch. There was a tingling sensation in my groin. For reasons unknown, I dreamed about this Sajina and how she would look in person. “Mole on left breast… Now, did that ring a bell somewhere? Forget it!”What if this Sajina looked as beautiful and sexy as the girl sitting opposite me? For   a fretting moment, I felt like calling this pimp called Raja and setting up an evening with Sajina. But an inner voice stopped me. No. I was not that type. Paying money for sex was not in my culture. So I put aside those thoughts and went to my seat. By now the girl was sitting in my place, rubbing the tip of her bosoms over Mr. OTHER GUY in a subtle, tender way. Both of them were listening to music from her iPad, each sharing a bud from the same headset. When they noticed my quizzical presence, both of them apologetically requested me to sit on the girl’s seat. There was nothing that I could do but oblige with a fake smile. I sat there, skimming through India Today with Dalai Lama in the cover. I strangely felt like a Tibetan monk ousted of every pleasure in life by China. My heart burned and boiled as the girl and Mr. OTHER GUY started having a really good time, all at my expense. The biggest disappointment came when I saw them exchange mobile numbers.

I became increasingly angry and this time my bladder seemed to roar. So I got up again and went to very same toilet. This time, the message on the wall grabbed me. I took my phone. The burning sensation of jealousy and failure made me dial the number on the wall. I waited for 5-6 rings. No reply. The toilet was becoming agonizingly hot. I was about to cut the call but then, at that moment a heavy voice answered the call. A voice that sounded elegant and far superior to any other voice I had ever heard. I asked for Sajina with a mole on her left breast. Initially, the pimp seemed perplexed, but I convincingly made a deal at an astounding Rs.5,000 for that night. I could not believe my luck. I asked the pimp to WhatsApp the girl’s picture as well. Then I cut the call and went back to my seat.

I waited for minutes that stretched like hours. And then my mobile vibrated indicating Sajina had indeed landed at my WhatsApp doorstep. Quickly, I downloaded the image. I was shocked. The girl looked like Ritu in every sense. She was extremely beautiful and sensuous. I could not believe my eyes. Even in a simple white salwar she looked awesome.

A beauty that would put even the girl sitting opposite me to shame. I could not believe my luck. Finally I can enjoy a girl who looked like Ritu! My old team mate! I loved her so much, but destiny had something else in store for us. As nostalgic yet dreaded thoughts haunted my mind, the price for the girl is what made me feel that I had hit a jackpot.

“WOW! All this for 5K! My goodness! I’m gonna enjoy tonight!” My thoughts spread like a wildfire through my body. I immediately started a conversation with this pimp named Raja on WhatsApp:

“I like her…I will take her all night…is it fine?” “Okay…fine,” replied Raja

“Where should I come?”

“Come near Domlur flyover and call me…”

“At what time…?”

“Any time…today we are totally free…”

I assumed that business was dull for this pimp and the call girl. Why else they would settle for such a cheap deal? Nevertheless I relinquished my luck and fantasized enjoying the warmth of Sajina’s body. I mean how many men would be lucky enough to enjoy the body of a woman who looked exactly like his lost love? I could not take my eyes off her picture. I mused drinking that intoxicating beauty of hers. With open eyes I dreamed of running my fingers over that beautiful face, lustrous hair, sumptuous lips and every nook and corner of her sculpture-perfect body. Only when my black jeans felt a bit too tight around my groin did I notice that I was having an erection. I closed my thighs instinctively to control it.

By this time Dharmapuri, Hosur and Karmelaram had all passed. It was 7:30 PM when the train arrived at Cantonment station. Luckily the girl and Mr. OTHER GUY got off there. I felt a pang of regret when I stared at her curvaceous body. “Not everything one desires can be attained…” I thought for a moment. I brushed aside my regrets since something better was waiting for me! Life is always like that. When something good slips right through your fingers, you run towards something similar to avenge the loss thinking that it is a far better option.

It was 8:00 PM when I reached Majestic Railway Station. I walked out of the station breathing the night air. It was refreshingly cool. I strolled through the crowded, dust filled subway and reached Kempegowda Bus Station. From there I took a Volvo to Domlur. As the bus started off, I dialled Raja. To my relief, the pimp picked the call without much delay.

“Hello Raja…?” “Yes…”

“I’m on my way to Domlur… will reach there around 9:30…”

“Okay…get down below the flyover and call me…”

The remaining part of the journey, I kept looking at Sajina’s photograph. It was not Sajina I saw, but Ritu. I kept wondering what all we would do to each other that night. It felt ticklish to think of my flesh meeting hers. Finally,   I got down near Domlur flyover and called the pimp.   Raja answered the call immediately.

“I’m here as instructed,” I said

“In five minutes, I will come and pick you…” Raja replied

“Okay…how can I identify you…?”   But before I finished, Raja cut the call. I waited under the flyover watching the vivid colours of the city. The bright neon lights of street lamps and a never-ending flow of traffic just mesmerised me like I was reliving an old dream. Suddenly, from nowhere, a maroon Skoda Rapid stopped in front of me. The driver lowered the window and asked me to get in.

“Are you Raja…?” I asked.

The driver nodded. I got inside the car. It had a thick fragrance of Ambi Pure car-freshener that seemed to punch my nostrils. The car’s interiors were all plush red leather. I looked at the pimp. Raja was too elegant and charming for a procurer. With fair skin and gelled hair he looked nothing less than a corporate executive. But I had lived long enough to understand that looks can be deceptive. I wondered how a pimp managed to keep a Skoda Rapid offering a high class call girl to customers for just 5,000 bucks per night. I could never make sense of Raja’s business model. Well, that was none of my business anyway since I was just here to enjoy a great evening. We drove through the buzzing city traffic for nearly 20 minutes and then suddenly Raja made a left turn in to a pocket road. Here the traffic looked amazingly thin and population on the road was almost zero.

“Where are we going?” I asked “Kalpalli…” Raja replied. “Ohh… so she is there?” I asked.

“Yes. In another five minutes, we will be there.” Raja’s reply made me feel good. True to those words, Raja stopped the car after five minutes. But the place was isolated. It was completely dark and silent.“We have reached!” Raja said and got out of the car. I followed suit. Raja opened the trunk of the car and took a bag. He hung it across his strong right shoulder, closed the trunk and then locked car. “Beep”…the locking sound seemed to echo in every direction. I became really tensed for a moment since there was not a soul in the vicinity and there was nothing but a street light that seemed long dead. The moon was full and bright. So there was no problem with visibility under that cloudless sky. Raja looked at me and smiled. As though reading my mind Raja said: “Don’t worry, come with me…”

“We have reached!” Raja said and got out of the car. I followed suit. Raja opened the trunk of the car and took a bag. He hung it across his strong right shoulder, closed the trunk and then locked car. “Beep”…the locking sound seemed to echo in every direction. I became really tensed for a moment since there was not a soul in the vicinity and there was nothing but a street light that seemed long dead. The moon was full and bright. So there was no problem with visibility under that cloudless sky. Raja looked at me and smiled. As though reading my mind Raja said: “Don’t worry, come with me…”

I did not trust the alluring smile of Raja anymore and said, “Man… I need to go back and take cash from ATM. By the way, where is she?”

“You can pay me after the business, Sir. Please come with me…” he reassured me.

Some intuition told me that Raja could be trusted. So I followed Raja into that night. The moon above followed us like a silent partner.

“The end of this journey could be worth the entire wait and all the risk…” I thought, suppressing an urge to take my phone and have a final look at Sajina before I saw her in flesh and blood. She looked so similar to Ritu. My fantasies raced like a wild horse in a forest fire. After a few minutes of strolling, we stood in front of a huge concrete arch. A watchman sat on a steel chair in front of it. But the guy looked totally drunk. He kept blabbering senselessly in Kannada, which I was not able to comprehend. Then, I slowly looked up and was appalled to see the words written over the arch:

“KALPALLI CEMETERY”

“What the fuck!” I shouted at Raja.

Raja lifted his right hand to calm me down and then pointed across the cemetery, towards the other end: “Sir, do you see that flat over there? Across the cemetery? That is where she is. We need to walk silently and get inside the flat. We cannot take the car there! Sir, please trust me. Nothing will happen to you!”

I did not have a choice but to walk with Raja. He seemed to be a genuine guy. So we walked through the graveyard in the direction of the flat. There was nothing but hundreds or even thousands of gravestones around us. Suddenly, Raja stopped when we were somewhere in the middle of that cemetery. But I kept walking ahead without noticing that. Only after I walked a few paces did I find that I walking alone. As I turned around, looking for Raja, I found him standing still, like a statue staring at something on the ground. Raja’s head was bent. So I walked back to him.

“Hey… let’s get on with the business, man…Come, let’s walk!” I whispered aloud, tearing the silence of that night.

“We are already there sir…” Raja replied without moving an inch.

“What do you mean we are already there…? Where is Sajina…Where is she?” I looked around in confusion

“Here…”

“Where?” I looked around with zero understanding of what was happening.

Raja pointed to something on the ground. It was a grave stone. I looked closely and then stumbled backwards with my palm over my wide open mouth. It was horrific. There, inscribed over the black granite tomb stone were words that read:

Sajina Ramanujan

W/O Raja Krishnaswami

22-July- 1986 to 24-June-2015

My legs began to wobble and I fell back. My head struck against something that felt like a low lying branch of a tree. As I gripped my head with both my hands, unable to bear the searing pain, Raja rushed to me and helped me stand up. It took me a few minutes to regain my balance. Then, I looked at a Raja who was sitting on a nearby marble tomb as if nothing had happened. His pale face, under moonlight, showed no emotion.

Finally I asked: “Who are you and what the hell do you want?”

“I’m Raja Krishnaswami… Sajina is…sorry… Sajina WAS my wife… ”

I could not believe what I heard.      I was literally

flabbergasted.

“Why the hell did you write it on the railway toilet… that…”

“I did not write it…” “Then who did it…”

“I do not know…actually nobody knows who did that…All I know is that there are trains running the length and breadth of this country carrying the message you saw today. That my wife is a prostitute with a mole on her left breast and if someone wanted her, they had to just call me.” There were tears rolling down Raja’s eyes as he spoke.

“Then why you did not tell me earlier?”

Raja simply smiled at me. His smile carried more sarcasm than humour. Then there was silence. It just seemed to fill everything around me and Raja. A silence so deep, that it seemed to crush the very moonlight that surrounded us.

“I’m sorry, Raja!” I broke the silence with an apology. “No, there is no need to be sorry. It is not your fault.

Somebody loved Sajina so much that the person could not

tolerate her getting married to me… Or it was someone who knew both of us but simply wanted to…”

“Ruin your lives…” I completed the sentence for him. “Yes…exactly…and the person had an evil stint of success.”

Strangely, I felt comfortable with Raja. My heart went out to him and his dead wife. But one question kept haunting me like that silent dormitory of death in which I was standing right now.

“Raja… I can understand your feelings…but how did she die…”

“We were just a week into our marriage when calls started coming to my number. I had a nervous breakdown when people started calling and texting me with certainty on something physically secretive about my wife! I was shattered, she was shattered. Our relationship was tormented. We both plunged into depression.”

“There could have been a misunderstanding!”

“What misunderstanding? It was a deliberate attempt to destroy us…”

“There could have been someone she had an affair with…” I speculated.

Raja lost his temper at that point and shouted angrily at me: “Nooooo! No! That was not the case… I asked her a million times and she confessed that there was nothing of that sort…She was not the kind who would lie… Now I realize she was pure…innocent…”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

Silence was the only reply I got. I understood that this Raja was a lunatic and the best way to get away from here was to use sympathy and compassion as a tool. But somewhere I felt for the poor couple torn apart by the cruel fate. I churned my brain and thought of every possible explanation to this puzzle and use it as an excuse to make a safe exit. An exit from a trap I had created for myself. “What if someone loved her…may be one of her colleagues or friends? What if she rejected them ardently…with great force? What if she was wearing a tight costume that exposed her cleavage and this pervert accidentally spotted the mole…?”

“Yes… even she speculated things on the same line. But I was blind and mad. Life became treacherous each day… Our marriage had become a hell and there were fights. Each day I would receive a minimum of ten calls from unknown numbers… We tried to come to terms with each other… But we could not…”

“Man…you should have gone to the police… Or changed your mobile number…”

“Yes… but before that everything ended…” “What do you mean?” I asked

“You see that flat…” Raja pointed towards the flat we were walking towards earlier. It was more than 15 stories for sure, maybe even more.

“Yes…” I replied.

“That is where we started our life. And that’s where she ended her’s. She jumped off the top floor. It all ended there. I insisted on burying her here so that I could see her whenever I wanted to, from our flat!”

I slapped my forehead with my right palm. This was turning more sinister now.

“The police arrested me initially and I told them our story… They did some kind of investigation and made a few arrests as well… most of them were juvenile teens. They had nothing to do with the crime other than dialling my number. They called because the number was written in some railway toilet…”

I noticed that Raja was sweating even in that chillingly cold weather. He continued, “But we could not catch the real culprit…The one who did all this is somewhere out there… Walking happily amongst those millions of strange faces…”

I felt tormented and lost, listening to this sad, wicked tale. “I’m sorry Raja… I think we need to go back…”

Raja sat silently with his head bent and did not move   a bit. I walked towards Raja and put my arms over Raja’s shoulders and said, “Come let’s go brother…”

Again silence.

“Come let’s leave this place…” I spoke a bit too loud this time.

The reply was a silence louder than the last. My skin crawled when Raja spoke: “Finish off what you came here for…”

“Finish off ? What do you mean …?” Raja looked in my eyes, held me by my left arm and made me stand and face Sajina’s tomb. “You came here to do something… DO IT…NOW…” he shouted in a voice filled with blood-curdling vengeance. I felt like throwing up at the thought of frolicking the rotting corpse of his wife.

“Are you mad…? Fuck you man…!” I shouted at Raja trying to get away from his iron grip. Raja pushed me over Sajina’s tomb. My head slammed against the cold granite.

“You came here to fuck her right… remove your trousers and get it done…NOW…” He shouted as if he had lost his mind.

I understood that Raja was completely nuts. I stood up slowly and pretended to remove the buckle of his jeans. My plan was to dash towards the exit. But unbuttoning seemed difficult since the buttons was stuck to some loose string. I bent down in desperation. Then everything happened in a fraction of a second.

I felt Raja’s cold hand holding my forehead from behind. I lifted my head in reflex. Before I could react, I felt the cold edge of a steel blade slit my throat. I saw my own blood spraying over Sajina’s grave. I wanted to shout, but the more I strained, blood spattered with more force, like a rhythmic dance of a musical fountain. A pain like no other I had ever felt, spread through every cell of my body. Like a fish thrown out of water, I struggled for life- air. Then after a few seconds, the pain receded like it was draining out of my body. I fell down, gasping for breath over the tomb. The last thing I saw was Raja’s blank face staring at me under the moonlight.

He stood there for some time looking at my motionless body. Motionless and emotionless. My blood formed a viscous, warm layer over the black granite tomb. Raja sat on Sajina’s grave and he placed the sharp edge of the imported commando knife over his left wrist. The stainless steel surface of the knife gleamed under the cloudless full moon sky. Raja closed his eyes and for an instant I was able to visualise the life he lived so far cascading down his memory lanes. And then I saw Sajina’s lovely face urging Raja to accompany her into eternity. After that, Raja cut his vein.

He fell down and hugged my lifeless head with love, as though it was Sajina’s. Blood flowed like a stream from his left wrist. Our blood got mixed over Sajina’s tomb and became one. Like brothers until death, we slept over her tombstone, deep into that night.

Between births and deaths, life dangles over two thin ropes of actions and consequences. If actions have the power to alter the very course of life, those digressions are what leads to the consequences that we face every moment of our existence here on earth. That is what defines who we are. And that very same thing defines who I’m. Well, you may be wondering “Who am I?” It is a long night and I have a short life. But within this short span, I will have to tell you a long story. My story. It is said that when a person dies, he has seven minutes of brain activity left. That is the mind playing back the person’s memories in a dream sequence. In that sequence, we find answers to questions that were left unanswered in this life. We also find answers to puzzles left unsolved in our previous lives. So before I leave this world to take another form, I want to tell you my story. But the events are all getting jumbled now as I try to rewind and recollect…

To know what happens next CLICK HERE –> Amazon.in

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Winning hearts world wide… #HopeWeNeverMeetAgain

The Boy Who Dreamed of Booker

A Timeless Love Story by Srinath Krishnamoorthy
Timeless love stories just have beginnings…. – Srinath Krishnamoorthy

A rainy evening-1997, Palakkad- India

It was raining like hell. Five boys raced through the monstrous monsoon at lightning speed. They were pedaling their BSA SLRs as hard as their strengths allowed them to. Visibility on the Kozhikode highway was almost zero since the rain-drops slapped every eye that went naked against it. But nothing seemed to deter the boys. They kept pedaling as if ‘The Undertaker’ was following them for a smack down. Earlier when they had started from their respective homes in Parakunnam, a marginalized settlement in Palakkad town, there was no rain. But by the time they reached Govt. Victoria College, it started raining like cats and dogs. Now there was no stopping since it was the most important day for one of them. His name was Vinay and the 17 year old was the one who was riding ahead of all of them. By the time they reached Chathapuram (their intended destination), most of the students were already out of Iyyar Sir’s Maths tuition class. The pouring rain was nothing more than a subdued drizzle now. The five men army circled the vicinity as if performing a slow cycle race. Vinay’s cold brown eyes searched for her. He looked a lot more handsome than his usual self with wet hair and rain-cleansed skin. His jaw muscles tightened when he saw her and that made his face look more angular. Vinay was sure she saw him, but was pretending otherwise. That made him really angry. Vinay dismounted his bicycle and kicked in the stand, right in front of Iyyar Sir’s house. Students started staring at him from under the umbrella. With the deliberation of doing something cruel or uncertain, he walked towards the girl. She had thick black hair, pony-tailed and hanging across her shoulders that hosted a brown Duckback school bag. The bag’s zip was half open. Like a rabbit shivering at the presence of a leopard, she shivered as Vinay strode towards her. She clutched the handle of her umbrella tight (as if Poppy Umbrella was going to save her) and before she could take another step, he blocked her progress.

Preetha did not move, neither did she have the strength to glance upward, for that would mean to look in his eyes. They were classmates for ten long years and he had proposed her last month. Vinay confessed that he had a huge crush on her from 3rd standard onwards. He also confessed that the sapling of a crush was now a fully grown tree of love. Though she believed a part of this story (a tiny part), she was 100% sure that a larger part cooked up. Well each time Vinay said he loved her, she vehemently said NO. But her blunt rejections seemed to make him more persistent. Now after almost 30 days and 30 nights, even she was not sure if her NOs were good enough. Now she had her own set of doubts. Whether she loved him or hated him; Preetha’s tender heart did not have an answer in black and white. She calculated that the best way out of this wretched situation was to avoid Vinay. That strategy seemed to have completely backfired. Vinay seemed to be more infuriated and agitated by this action of hers. He was following her with his bunch of cronies everywhere she went. She looked sideways and saw them standing there. The one in the front was Srinath, the fatso, he was Vinay’s cousin. And then there was Nirmal, Prasad and Vishnu. They were all with Vinay in this. One glance and anyone could tell that they were born rowdies. The only one who seemed to have a comparatively innocent face was Nirmal, who was also happened to be their classmate. Though tall and long haired, everyone called him Kullan or Shorty (she still had no clue why they did that). Looking at his innocent, expressionless face, she could not suppress a smile.

“In the class you won’t talk to me…so I waited near the library and later near the banyan tree near the entrance of the school… “

“I left through the back gate…” she replied looking down, not looking in Vinay’s eyes. She pursed her lips to stop an erupting smile.

“I need an answer today…” there was a kind of frustrated longing in his voice.

Silence is all that he got in reply.

“Tell me… do you love me…” his voice was timid this time and she could feel his sincere love for her in those words. But she was not ready…not yet. The ever so strong boy looked all too weak now. This was her chance to capitalize on him…

“Look Vinu its board exams this time…go and study well…”

“I want to study… but I cannot. All the time I’m thinking about you…”

“Get lost…or I will tell my mother…”

“Don’t threaten me ok…if there is problem talking to me here, see I have written my heart out in this…” He took something out of his pocket. Initially Preetha thought it was a hand kerchief. But then it was a love letter, a wet and sodden one though. By the time he handed it over to her, she was laughing aloud looking at the mix of water and ink dripping from that love letter. She took it anyhow, opened the fragile, ink smeared letter. She read its contents and looked into those eager brown eyes of Vinay. Then with a smile she said:

“Good. Now I want to tell you two things…”

“Really…” there was hope in his voice and eagerness in those eyes.

“The first thing is that you need to go for an English tuition for sure. With this kind of English you are anyway going to fail in paper1 and paper2…”

Vinay’s face became pale.

“Second thing is your approach towards me seems as unimpressive like this letter itself… I don’t love you… so keep this letter. Go and study for tomorrow’s class test…”

She pushed the letter into his hands and walked past him. Her strides were a lot more confident this time. Vinay was speechless and felt totally numb. At that instance Vignesh Bus came, she got into that bus along with tens of other students. Vinay stood there, drenched and disappointed. He kept gazing inside the crowded bus, searching for her. Then he saw a glimpse of Preetha’s beautiful face and his heart just missed a beat.

Five cycles and five pairs of dirty feet wearing white Paragon slippers moved in parallel. Vinay and his friends pushed their BSA SLR’s at a snail-slow speed. Everyone felt so stupid about how they had raced here to enjoy some real action and how Preetha had disappointed them all. There was an India-Pakistan day-night match going on. They all had bunked their afternoon class for watching the match and they had missed a major chunk of Pakistan’s batting for Vinay’s sake. Had it been India batting first, they would have killed him. Even then Nirmal was sad. He believed that his Cricket Gods would send him to purgatory if he missed even a single ball of an Indo-Pak one dayer. Curses flowed profusely as they walked their way back home. Each of them carried out a lengthy retrospection of today’s failure and unanimously came to a conclusion that it was Vinay’s love letter in English that was the root cause. And by the time they reached home, Pakistan had finished 295/4. And Abhi Kuruvilla was smashed for a disappointing 70 runs in just 6 overs for no wickets by Inzy and Saed Anwar. Vinay understood that the day was damned…for him, his state and his country.

Doordarshan News was the greatest kill joy of all next to KSEB when it came to dampening Cricket fever. The news never seemed to end and Vinay’s father could not afford a cable TV back then. He cursed everything under the sky for missing the precious half hour of the match when Sachin and Ganguly were in such a fantastic nick. Well, there was little or even no point in complaining since there was a class test next day. So he pretended to study while eagerly waiting for the match to resume on TV. Suddenly the news reader became a bit excited:

Ippozh kitiya vartha (News update just received)…”

The DD news readers were seldom emotional since they lacked any kind of excitement towards any kind of news. India winning the match and India loosing the match would be read with the same tone. But all of a sudden, this lady on the screen seemed all excited. The sudden surge in the energy of the otherwise bored out news reader caught Vinay’s attention:

“…Arundati Roy becomes the first Indian Woman to win Man Booker Prize for her debut novel God of Small Things …”

The news went down a few more lines explaining the details of the prize. The News Reader seemed to stress on the fact that Arundati Roy was half-malayali and half-Bangali. Vinay was mesmerized. That news touched his heart. He remembered how Preetha had asked him to go and learn better English. He gazed with wonder at the photograph of a thin, unkempt, unconventional curly haired woman in her early thirties smiling at him from over the TV screen. They showed her photograph till they were done with the news. And once done, the news gave way for action packed cricket. But even as Sachin and Ganguly trashed the Pakis all around the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, the smiling face of Arundati Roy kept playing in his mind. He did not cheer aloud as usual when India beat Pakistan by 6 wickets with three balls to spare. Some unknown force seemed to have made a profound impact in that young mind.

***

It was after the first hour that Vinay was summoned to the Head Mistress’s room. He was playing pen fight with Nirmal and had won two successive games as well. That was when the peon came for him. Preetha had not come to school. As Vinay walked towards the HM’s cabin, he tried to reason out why. Especially on a day when there was a class test scheduled, there was no way she would miss a class. For an instance he cursed himself for causing all the trouble. But he could not help his actions. He was damn sure he can never make it till the end of his life without her.

In that room that smelled of chart papers and chalk powder, three grim faces were huddled together waiting for Vinay. The first face was that of his class teacher Smt. Mary Thomas, next one was the HM whom they (both students and staff) all lovingly called Rakshasi (‘coz she was a devil of a woman), the third and last face belonged to none other than Preetha’s mother, Smt. Sathyabhama. She taught English in the high school section… in the same school.

“How dare you give love letter to a girl whose mother is a teacher in the same school…” the Head Mistress thundered. But Vinay felt as if a bulldog was barking at him, it was only that fearsome.

Vinay stood still, with bent head and arms stuck behind in obedience and in total submission. He felt like he was being boiled inside the blue and white uniform, under those angry stares. He cursed himself for putting the love letter back in to Preetha’s half open bag seconds before she dashed for the bus. Now nothing could be done. He had to face the music.

His class teacher beat him with the cane a few times and few drops of tears did spill off his eyes. But he held on. Finally the head mistress commanded:

“Take your bag and get lost. Come with your parents and only after that you will be allowed inside the class. Now get out…”

As he left the room he heard the head mistress say:

“You need not worry teacher…we will get rid of this nuisance…”  And those words stung him like no other word had ever done. He could not believe that Preetha would hand over the letter he gave her. No. That was not her. She loved him…did she not? He knew that she was sensible. No…something had gone wrong. Vinay brushed away his tears, took a long breath and then entered the class. There was so much commotion inside the classroom that hardly anyone noticed him taking his bag and leavening the class.

***

Preetha came to school next day. She looked for Vinay, but she never saw him. Neither his parents came. That day evening, she expected a visit from him and his gang in front of the tuition class. But nobody came. She missed his arrogant yet protective presence. Preetha went home totally sad and dispirited. She wondered what had gotten into her. She tried to inquire her mother regarding this, but mother was not interested even to talk. She kept blaming Preetha for not telling the truths in time. Preetha felt her mother was merciless when she told that had she not accidentally found the letter from Preetha’s bag, she would have never known about this stuff.

“I will make sure that boy studies in some other school…anyway he will not continue here…” her mother had sworn.

That night she could not sleep. She liked Vinay. But was it love? She hardly knew how to define her own feelings. A few drops of tears tickled down her eyes as she tried desperately for a peacfull sleep. Next day she waited eagerly to meet Vinay. But he did not come to the class. So she pretended to go to the water cooler kept near HM’s room every hour or so as an excuse to see if Vinay or his parents were there.

But No…nobody came.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. There was no news of Vinay. She kept asking Nirmal about his whereabouts. And every time she questioned Nirmal, he kept telling the same thing, that Vinay had left the school and went somewhere else. And when she asked where, he would say he did not know. She knew he was hiding something. Board exams were approaching and she was finding it difficult to concentrate in her studies. Even her mother looked somber. One evening when her father had gone out, Preetha finally decided to confront her mother regarding this matter:

“What happened to Vinay… ?”

“WhhWhh…why…why do you want to know…??” , her mother was totally taken aback by her daughter’s new found boldness.

“I want to know…he was my friend and classmate for 10 years. I have every right to know…” Preetha’s face was flushed red and she was almost in tears.

Mrs. Sathyabhama came and hugged Preetha tight. Preetha broke into sobs as her mom caressed her hair, comforting her.

“Nothing…nothing my dear… he is safe…somewhere…we don’t know…”

Preetha pushed herself away and there was nothing but loathing in her eyes for her mother now.

“What do you mean by safe….? What do you mean by somewhere…? Did you not enquire?” she shouted.

“Yes we did. After one week, when nobody came from his home we called his landphone…”

“Then…”

“The phone was dead and….”

“Tell meeeeee……Amma….what happened…”

“Me and HM went to his home… it was locked. We checked with the neighbors…and…”

“And…”

“They told that Vinay and his family left…”

“Where did they go…”

“Don’t know…nobody knows…”

Preetha shrieked and her mother rushed to her and covered her mouth with both hands. But still she shrieked at the top of her voice and tears ran purple down her cheeks. Her mother tried to calm her down. And that’s when she heard father honking the car angrily urging her / mother to open the gate for him. Her mother released the grip from Preetha’s mouth. She requested her daughter not to cry anymore and study well… but all the time Preetha kept saying:

“You are lying….you are all lying….” And she fell down over the cold marble floor, her dress completely drenched in tears.

***

Two years latter : A cruel summer afternoon- 1999-Shornur Railway Station

The sun scorched everything under it. The train became a box of static oven for human beings sitting inside. On top of sweat and heat, none of the fans were running. It was horrible. Preetha and her mother had come for HM’s daughter’s wedding and were sitting in the Shornur-Trichy passenger.

“The paalada was so good…ille mole…”

“ya it was ok…”Preetha replied totally disinterested.

She was sitting by the window seat. She looked out through the train’s window into the infinite, cloudless sky. Suddenly there appeared a set of migrating birds flying in a structured ‘V’ shaped formation. But the last two birds abruptly broke out and started flying in the middle, close to each other giving the formation a ‘<3’ shape. And suddenly Vinay’s handsome face came to her mind. Two years had passed since she last saw him. She had passed SSLC with distinction. She had prepared hard for Engineering Entrance and 10+2. But somewhere in her heart Preetha knew that she just did things for the sake of doing it. There was something missing in her life. She wondered what had happened to Vinay and where he would be right now. She found it amusing to think about him running the same thoughts as she did right now. A nostalgic, romantic smile crossed her lips as her heart pulsated a bit harder in response to her feelings.

“Are you feeling thirsty Preetha…” Her Amma asked

“Yess…it is so hot”

That’s when a voice cried at the top of its voice and walked towards where they were sitting:

“Chai chai…chaye chaye…Madam.. Chaya??”

Both mother and daughter were startled when they saw the guy selling the tea. The chaywala was also shocked.

“Teacher!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Vinay smiled lavishly as he kept the heavy tea cask with a bang on the train’s floor. Neither of the three could believe what they were seeing. Preetha was shocked…she felt like she was dead. Her heart literally stopped beating for a few moments. Sathyabhama teacher looked at Vinay with an open mouth which closed only after Vinay asked her if she wanted a cup of tea.

“Ahheemmm… No mone…no…we just had a heavy lunch…”

“Still…teacher…you both should have a cup of tea…please…for my sake…”

Preetha and her mother looked at each other and were wondering what to say when Vinay poured hot tea into two paper cups. They gave a feeble smile and sipped the tea.

“Nice tea…” Teacher said

“Mmmm…” Preetha nodded in agreement.

Silence seemed to bounce between the three. They all found it really odd being like that. Some fellow passengers were either dozing off or were busy with some magazines.

“So..mone…tell me what happened to you…?why you did not come to school after that day…?” Teacher asked Vinay, looking in his eyes. He hesitated a bit, but eventually decided to tell the truth.

“That day after I went from school, my father got a cardiac arrest. He was in ICU for 3 days, but we could not save him. He passed away on the fourth day. I was left with my mother and a little brother to take care of. They wanted to inform the school but I said no. My mother’s health is also not that sound. Already there were some bank loans waiting their due for long. My father was a failed businessman…so we disposed everything, settled our debts and ….shifted here…”

“Why you could have stayed there itself Vinay…?” Teacher’s voice shuddered as she spoke

Vinay looked at Preetha and then at her mom and then shrugged.

“No teacher…no…that won’t be good. Moreover I had to do a job without distraction… Palakkad is not good for that…There will be people who know me and my mother. My father has more enemies than friends. They would never let us live in peace there….so I came here….”

“What about your studies??”

“Studies and all will happen teacher… No problem…I will do some correspondence course or attend evening classes…that will happen someday…” Vinay gave a painful smile as he uttered those words.

“For that you need to get your certificates son…come to school one day…I will help you with that…” there was a sea of affection in her voice.

“OK..teacher…”

“So you are working as tea vendor??…How is the business….?”

“Business actually belongs to my uncle…Me and my cousin help him run it…today the guy who served tea is on leave…so I’m here as back up…”

Both Preetha and Sathyabhama Teacher seemed to have finished their tea; there seemed nothing to be said any more. Vinay looked at Preetha. She looked much more gorgeous than he had seen her two years back. She had groomed herself into a beautiful, sophisticated girl with richness sparkling out of everything she wore or held. He smiled at her and felt a little ashamed to be sitting and talking to them in shabby, grease stained jeans and T-shirt. He felt especially embarrassed about his apron that was not washed for ages. They spent a few more minutes in silence. That’s when Vinay’s fatso cousin Srinath came in shouting:

“Cool drinkseee…Cool drinkseeee…Cola, Pepsi, Thums Upeeee….”. His voice was a horrible baritone. It reminded them of coconut shell being rubbed on barren rock.

He looked even more menacing now and had put on a lot of weight in two years. Preetha got scared looking at him. But Vinay got up with a smile and introduced his cousin who looked bewildered. But Srinath looked at Preetha for a few seconds and once he recognized her face, he figured out the situation. He smiled at Vinay showing all his yellow teeth and Vinay pinched his cousin’s fat buttocks asking him to close his stupid mouth.

When all this was going on, Preetha’s mother had silently taken 500 rupees from her purse. The train’s high pitched horn blared indicating that it was going to begin its journey. Sathybhama Teacher tried to slip Rs.500 into Vinay’s dirty apron pocket.

“Keep it Vinay… this is for you…keep it”

“Teacher what are you doing…?? No way… please …keep it with you…”

Preetha’s mother struggled a lot but she could not make him take that money. Srinath looked at those 500 rupees as if he wanted to snatch it and run. But Vinay did not take it. The train started moving and was gaining speed. At that moment, Vinay took a big bottle of Miranda from Srinath’s ice bucket, tossed it onto Preetha’s lap. She looked in to his charming eyes and sat spellbound. Vinay’s tanned faced looked handsome and Preetha could see every bristle of his manly stubble. They kept looking at each other as if nothing else mattered and that moment was LIFE.

“Da come, train is moving…come Vinuuuuu….” Srinath shouted pulling at his T-shirt. The magic was broken. Vinay took the heavy Tea-cask and dashed behind Srinath. Both of them jumped off the train safely on to the platform.

Inside the train, Preetha took the Miranda bottle in her right hand and looked at it affectionately. A river of love flowed between her eyes and that bottle. It was summer and she was damn thirsty….as her mother watched her, she opened the bottle with a fuzz. She lovingly pressed the bottle against her lips and took a long lovely sip of Miranda. The chilled fluid seemed to move down like a snake within her. She felt refreshed and soothed out completely. Preetha felt like her body had finally met its soul and she took another long sip. Then she looked into the sky once again through the train’s window.

“The magic was broken, but love is still there…And he had given a lot more than he had ever taken…” her heart thumped hard against her ribs as her thoughts flew like another bunch of migrating birds flying towards an unknown destination.

Whether Preetha was Vinay’s last love, only time would tell….but for Preetha, he was definitely her first!!!!

*THE BEGINNING*

To know what happens next click below:

https://srinathkrishnamoorthy.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/the-boy-who-dreamed-of-booker-part-2/

Reach me @ srinathtk86@gmail.com

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https://www.facebook.com/hopewenevermeetagain

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