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Sometimes life keeps going on in one uneventful direction and then something happens and it turns your entire life upside down. That something makes you question your life’s choices, your principles, your self-respect, and your self-worth. That something brings out the worse in you which you never thought existed and makes you look at it right in the eyes. And when it ends, you feel you’re reborn as a much saner, a much wiser person than you were ever before.
That something was Shreya in my life.
After that evening at Cafe Universal and the night at the library. I didn’t see her for three months. If you thought the two weeks I didn’t see her the first time was bad, these three months were a nightmare in itself.
For a day, I just kept reliving the kiss in my head. It was definitely the best I ever had. I am sure I was floating when our lips were locked or maybe it was just the alcohol. I tried calling her the next day. She didn’t pick up. I thought it’s okay, she must be busy. That went for a week. She just wouldn’t pick up my calls. It was painful, every attempt to call, the endless ringing, the hope diminishing at the end of it, and the self-respect leaving the body as I made another attempt. I don’t even know what I had done wrong. I kept analyzing that evening, the conversation at Cafe Universal, the coffee after that, and the ride back to the library. I kept scrutinizing every word that came out of my mouth. I don’t know where I went wrong and that made it even worse. I kept sending her text messages all day for the next few days. There was no reply. I bought a large case of cheap whiskey that weekend. I don’t remember the next few days after that. I was either calling her, texting her, smoking, or drinking.
Meanwhile, the submission date for my thesis was close by. One hungover morning, I realized that I had to submit my entire work bound in hardcover in the next ten days. That jolted me out of my heartbroken stupor. I still had to write the conclusion, edit the entire document and give it for printing and binding. As I shaved my thick beard that morning, it did seem like an impossible task, but I had no option but to finish it or risk an entire year. I packed my bag and left for the local railway station.
I reached the library around noon. Mrs. Fernandez was not at her desk. I quietly went to my spot and settled down. I took out my phone and the urge to call Shreya crept up behind me. It was difficult but I let that urge pass. It felt weird. I opened my messaging app and decided to leave a final message from my side.
Hey Shreya, I know I’ve been calling and texting you incessantly for the past two or three weeks. I apologize for my behavior. I am not a crazy maniac or a lunatic. I’m just someone who felt there was a connection and what happened after that night just brought a lot of questions to my mind. I am just looking for answers. Why did you leave? Why did you stop picking up my calls and stop responding to my texts? Was it my fault? Did I do something wrong? What could I have done differently? I am sober enough to realize that there is nothing more in this, but could you please be a little kind and give this poor soul some closure.
I pressed the send button and kept my phone aside. I got back to writing. I didn’t have time to lose. I didn’t have time to be distracted anymore. I didn’t have time for feelings.
Ten days went past like a whirlwind. I had to edit a lot of my writing and I was working non-stop from early morning to late nights. Mrs. Fernandez was kind enough to let me sit at the library till the end of Gomes’ shift. I’d catch the last local train back to the suburbs and then start early in the morning the next day. I managed to finish everything two days before submission and had to pay a premium to get the document printed and bound on time. All this work meant that I had no time to feel or think about Shreya. But as soon as I submitted my bound copy at the university, there was a rush of feelings, memories, and pain all at once. I opened my phone and went to her chat window. There was no reply. My heart sunk back to the bottom.
What was I doing? It was just one evening, one coffee and above all just one kiss! Why was I making a big deal about it? Why was I letting it ruin my life? If I had not noticed the date that morning, I’d have missed this date of submission and would be repeating the year for an absolutely nonsensical reason! My anger turned from Shreya to myself. How stupid am I? Who the fuck writes a thesis on Dostoevsky and Murakami? How does writing about them translate to me having a career? I need to stop lazying around at the library and do something more serious with my life. I opened my phone once again and deleted Shreya’s number.
Three months later…
The University had invited all its four hundred Bachelor of Arts in Literature students from various colleges for our convocation. I was going to skip it entirely but it was the last time I was going to see and meet some of my college friends. I reached just five minutes before they started giving out our degrees and I didn’t have to wait for long as my name was called out. I went up the stage quickly, received my degree, and swiftly came down the stairs. I almost bumped into the queue of women waiting for their turn. To avoid a collision, I maneuvered to the left, and my shoulder clipped one woman. She turned back and my heart sank. It was Shreya.
“O… Oh! I didn’t expect you to be here!”, she stammered.
“Nor did I, just came to say goodbye to my friends and get this piece of paper.”, I waved the degree in my hand.
“I know I don’t have the right, but can you wait for me outside? I need to talk to you.”, she said looking at the queue progressing.
“Yeah, sure! I’ll be outside.”, I blurted out
“Thanks!”, she turned around and I wanted to kick myself.
I waited for ten minutes and then she came out.
“Thanks for waiting!”, she said and started walking towards the open ground. I followed.
“What are ten more minutes?”, I said smiling sarcastically.
“I know you’re mad at me.”
“Not anymore.”, I shrugged.
“I got all your calls and messages. I just didn’t know how to respond.”
“I really don’t care anymore, but why did you do such a thing?”
“I was dating someone, still am. That evening, I really had a good time and maybe it was the alcohol or the fact that you were perfect, but that kiss was so good. I felt guilty the moment I left and like every mistake I’ve committed in the past, I chose to escape from it.”
I tried to process it.
“If I was perfect then what was the problem??”
“I can’t break my four years old relationship just because one kiss was perfect.”
“You won’t understand.”
“Help me then!”
She remained quiet.
“So it wasn’t my fault?”
“No! Not at all. You were really good.”
“Huh! What good does that do to me?”
“It will, someday!”
“Yeah, it doesn’t matter anymore!” I stopped, I had more questions but I could feel myself having moved on from that evening. I turned to her. “I’m glad we had this talk. But I got to be somewhere. Have a nice life.”
I didn’t look back, just walked away, carrying a bag of mixed feelings.
Sometimes you could be perfect and still not enough.
Five years later…
I flew in from Delhi the previous night and stayed at the five-star hotel close to the library. From writing my thesis, I had moved on to writing blogs and content for marketing people as a freelancer. It was tough work but it paid well.
It was Mrs. Fernandez’s last day as the librarian. I had coordinated with Gomes to give her a surprise. When she entered that morning, she found balloons and gifts at her table. Gomes and I emerged from under her table and she was stunned.
“You bloody fools almost gave me a heart attack!”
“Oh no! Mrs. Fernandez, you’re going to live till a hundred!”
“Shut up you!”
I hugged her. “This is for everything you’ve done for this place!”
“I just did my job.”
“Yes, and you did it so well that you deserve this!”
We cut the cake, opened her gifts, and then I walked around the library.
It’s funny how places have a weird memory associated with them. I walked past the section on Mark Twain. I reached my spot where I sat and wrote my thesis. The place where I kissed Shreya. Everything came back in waves.
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- Darshan Pania