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I don't Wear Sunscreen

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I live for him and he lives for me, everything else is outside our world – My dad, This book is dedicated to him with much affection.

Preface:

I had an affinity for writing, and was hopping in and off. There was a time where I had to take a stand, and I picked writing, for which I would never regret. My father, my friends and I, have gone through tough times and worst falls, but then we shined. I picked the story’s baseline, for us. “Life pushes you to the least possible negativity, before it throws you out to shine,” and interestingly, I found the universe conspiring in favor.

Though I start off with a line, I would always have striking ideas while working on the manuscript which made the novella even more interesting. I took about six months to complete, as I went through health issues, writer’s block and of course, a lot of sheer laziness. Anyhow, what you will read has a part of me, and regardless of the outcome, I love the story and how it worked out.

Apart from writing, am a Business Analyst, working at GAVS technologies, Chennai. Thanks for holding this book, and I hope you will like it. Happy reading!

Acknowledgements

Sapna, my college hostel roommate who discovered my potential

Author Yaagneshwaran Ganesh – who told “you have enough ‘me’ time, start writing!”

Guru Saranya – My backbone, who was just right there with me, throughout the process and read the drafts many a times than I did myself.

Harika Bantupalli – My bunny, who helped me go through the writer’s block at ease and get back to normal.

Buddies those who were right there, when I went through hard times and encouraged to do the best.

My close circle of friends, who reached me from nowhere, but fills my life with enchantment and love.

Others would include my friends from school and college. My colleagues from previous and present companies. Friends whom I gathered and are still in touch, who encourage and pat me to grow. Other writers and authors, who I know through social media, and helped me a lot to shape my book and thought process.

Also, for those who would hold my throat for not mentioning their name in the list of acknowledgements.

My editor, Anuradha Mehta, her passion for English was crystal clear when I started working with her. She edits at ease, with lot and is such a grammar nazi. She believes that words transforms how you feel, and indulges with books, travel and concoct fantastical ideas. Am so glad for choosing her, and am impressed enough for the work she did.

Prologue

Priyanka…

Jan 1^st^ 2014

“Priyanka… Priyanka! Are you alright?” Laksha whispered to the tired girl hugging her own legs.

“Hmm, ” she answered, still not lifting her head from her lap.

The whole place was quiet, creepy, and dark. There were no lights, and Laksha tried her best to pay attention to every strange noise she heard.

“Chissz” she heard a sound. Swiftly she turned at the 8 directions she knew. To her horror, she noticed a small yellowish flame. She narrowed her thoughts, and furrowed. Her heart beat picked speed, and she figured the outline of a man wrapped in a dirty patched sheet of cloth that swirled him. He was trying to light his cigarette, and she stood there calculating her next step.

She sat there looking at the guy, checking for any change in his behavior. The darkness added fuel to her anxiety, and she saw him take lethargic puffs. In one such puff, she saw the glow of the cigarette turn towards her, and she knew he was looking at her.

“Did he see us?” she said softly to Priyanka, who still didn’t move.

In the next puff, she had a clearer vision of the man. He was sitting against the wall in a squat, balanced on his toes.

The cigarette burned away, and she figured out that he was trying to figure why two girls were sitting on the steps of the railway station in the middle of the night. This is one terrible New Year, she thought. The whole place was quiet and deserted, like it is on most New Year celebrations.

“You are not allowed to call this number,” said the cell phones from which she tried calling their folks. The damn signal, she thought and frowned while she rested her cheeks on her left palm. She heard the man moving and straightened up in alarm. He moved a few steps away from his seat and she said “Phew,” but just then she saw three more men come up from behind, approaching her, talking quietly to each other.

“Priyanka! Get up, we are in trouble, we have to run,” she shook the drunk girl hard. She finally pulled her up and they took the stairs, rushing to the other corner. “Let’s go back to the railway station,” Laksha said, panting. “No, we can’t, no one is there, and nobody will help us,” Priyanka told.

They rushed to the other end of the station and got out into a narrow lane. Priyanka sat down near a small hut, and bumped her head on the door.

Laksha kept an eye on the lane entrance to see if they were followed. They were, she realized, as the men appeared in the distance. “Priyanka, they have come back,” she cried, and knocked frantically on the door.

An old man opened it sleepily and asked “What are you girls doing here?”

“Help! Some men…” Laksha raised her hands towards the lane. “You two get in, I will talk,” he said immediately and moved towards the men.

He came back a few minutes later. “Water?” he asked, and took out two cups. It was then that Laksha noticed three small little girls sleeping in a corner.

“They are my granddaughters,” he said and gave them an old bedspread. “Sorry, that’s all I have,” he said.

“I see God in your form,” Laksha joined her hands in a “Namaste” and bowed. When she looked up, she saw the old man looking at her, overwhelmed.

***

Coz am a freak… The way you...” the alarm belted out Enrique Iglesias, and Laksha woke up with a start.

The same dream is occurring every night for more than a year now, she thought.

“You’re awake? Good! So all set to go to your old school?” asked her mom. “Yeah, it’s been 6 years and I have awesome memories,” she said, stretching.

“I will leave early and go to the church near the school first,” she said and got her towel for a shower.

As the church bell rang, she turned back and saw a girl rushing in on her cycle. With that, Laksha went back to her memories.

***

Chapter one

2^nd^ July 2009

“Again on the list, you are always late Laksha! No more excuses, now go run around the basketball court ten times.”

“Sorry Miss, I will make sure I come on time from tomorrow,”said Laksha, and walked towards the cycle shed. There, she kicked the cycle’s stand to situate it erect and left her hefty school bag in a corner. Why are they torturing me like this? Just another six months and am out of this school, thank God. Why is running so hard? She thought. She pulled out her water can, a two-liter 7UP bottle, and quenched her thirst.

***

“Students who have French class, please go to the physics lab!”shouted the class leader so that the noisy students would hear her above the din. Laksha and 20 other students from the“J’aime tu français” crew walked across the lobby to the lab, looking like a mass of clouds in their blue and white uniforms. The lab seemed like a nightmare to her, with its long scales and vernier calipers lying on the tables. Thank you, dear God, she thought, for not having any apparatus like this in commerce and accounts.

***

When the class dispersed for lunch, there was a significant discussion among some of Laksha’s friends about their career aspirations. Laksha wanted to do a basic degree as she wanted to become an interior designer. Even now, she was the one who handled all the decorations for the sports and other cultural programs in school; they were usually quite eye-catching and stood out. She was determined to do interiors, though her father wanted her to pursue CA.

Laksha and her dad shared a unique relationship; they don’t talk to each other much, but there was a deep inherent understanding between them. So much so that even though he speaks about CA and the career progression it promises, he understood what Laksha aspired to, and ultimately supports her dreams and decision.

Laksha, being a Chennaite, is such a homely bird and she own a good number of friends to whom she is close with, yet there is one best pal whom she trusts with life, Pallavi. She spent most of her free time at her place, and they were so close that they were teased and called the lovebirds’ at school. Pallavi was studying in the science stream and wanted to become an engineer. Even with all odds, they remained best friends, and that added strength to their friendship.

“Laksha, I’m tired of these books and exams, let’s go to the beach this weekend, what say?” asked Pallavi during their evening break. “Done,”she said.

At the beach, they were holding hands tight as the waves wet their legs in Besant Nagar.“Bessy is the best nah, compared to Marina beach?” asked Laksha.“Of course, but the desi feel comes only in Marina Laksh!” laughed Pallavi.

“Chalo let’s go to Barista, I really need a nice coffee and a sandwich,” said Pallavi, dragging Laksha to the shop. After a quick bite, they started walking towards the shore again.

“I just can’t wait anymore; all I want is to do well in my engineering and join a great company that pays well. Only then will I be able to uplift my family Laksha. These next four years are my everything. I really want is to see my parents in a better position and status in society,” sighed Pallavi.

“Oh, come on Pallavi, if not you then who else? Cheer up, my cuddly toy,” Laksha smiled and said in a happy tone.

“So what is the interior designer within you say?”

“That’s a cute, but burning desire Pallavi. I don’t know why I would love to become an interior designer, knowing that it’s risky in terms of pay or the future scope. I think I just want to create something different. I don’t even see any lead in my family circle so far, all of them are in a government or company job that allows them to sit for 8 hours and pays them a decent amount to lead their daily lives with, and to have a good bank balance. Their wallets are fat, but when I ask them if they are satisfied, they frown. I don’t want that. I want my job to define me and my work should come from my soul. Just that Pallavi,”Laksha explained herself in simple terms, but right from her heart.

These are the kind of conversations that strengthen a friendship bond – after all, respecting the differences is what friendship is about, isn’t it? And so the two of them were fantastic friends, the kind who knew each other really well and supported each other in the best possible way.

Their school days were filled with like-minded people, the stamp of uniforms. There was no escape from moral science classes and craft lessons that would keep them really busy. However, when love buds popped up here and there, everything else went out of their minds –about being tenacious in their ambitions or about their family strictures, which never let them utter the word ‘love’ at any cost. The smell of a guy went missing, until the day when Prabhu intruded.

***

“Laksha, please bring more water bottles tomorrow. I just got the news from the teacher that we are participating in a school rally about green peace and deforestation,’said the text that was delivered to Laksha’s father’s cell phone from Pallavi’s family cell phone. This was used as the common phone in Pallavi’s house. Argh! But at least the rally will be a good escape from accounts, thought Laksha.

October 2009

The rally was big and had 8 schools participating, among which 3 were co-ed. Which means the bird’s flock together to pick the right worm. Pallavi and Laksha were holding hands and waiting in queue, chatting. “Hey,” said a voice from behind them just then, which made Pallavi turn around with her eyebrows raised as if asking, “What?”.

“Hi am Prabhu. I’m here to explain the peace formulation that you should campaign for further. Is that ok?” he asked. “Fine, exxxxplain.” said Laksha. “See, it’s all about deforestation, whenever you get time, do read more on the website and talk about it to whoever you meet. Ask them to encourage plantations and grow a tree in your region. Try to use solar energy, for example get solar cookers at home, solar lights are also getting famous these days, just go green. Avoid plastics as much as possible and try to encourage agriculture. If your native place is somewhere other than Chennai, if it’s in some remote place, talk to people there about the importance of farming.”

“Hmm.. Hmm.. Okay.” said Pallavi, trying to take in all the information the guy was giving. “Fine, I guess our friends are waiting for us, ok?”said Laksha.

“Yeah, nice meeting you.. Prabhu, right? See you,” Pallavi cottoned on and waved him bye, with an eyelash bat in slow motion.

As they walked away, both the girls heard him call out “hey,” but only Laksha turned and looked at him. “Huh, not you, the other girl,”Prabhu said. That felt like a slap and did hurt her, but Laksha managed really well. She gave Pallavi a stern look as her friend walked back, looking at the ground with a puzzling thought. “Give me your number,”Prabhu said when she reached him. “No, I’m in twelfth standard, ah, I don’t–” stammered Pallavi, to which the guy laughed.“Come on, I am not a lion, I will not pounce over the phone. Here, add your number and name, this is just for the campaign and not for personal use,” he said, still laughing, though his eyes twinkled with a new interest. So, numbers were exchanged with smiles. All of this was observed by Laksha and made her feel really left out, and it forced her to look in the mirror more often and to cut down on her dinner for a few days.

Somewhat sensing her emotions, even though Pallavi had started chatting with Prabhu, she kept this knowledge from Laksha ever since.

***

14^th^ February 2010

February 14th wasn’t just Valentine’s Day, it was also Pallavi’s birthday. Laksha wanted to surprise her with a midnight wish followed by a little party with four other close friends. Ever since they had been best friends, it was always Laksha who wished Pallavi first, but unfortunately and a bit obvious, this time Prabhu stole the show. When Laksha called at midnight, Pallavi’s number was busy for about 2 hours straight. This hit her hard, so much that early next morning, she dressed swiftly and rushed to Pallavi’s place, showing up there with unkempt hair and a sobbing face.

“I want to talk to you, your garden is free, right?”was the first thing Laksha asked fiercely.

“Yeah! Come in and have some coffee first, why do you look so dull?” asked Pallavi. She knew she was in trouble and was trying to frantically think of an excuse for the previous night.

“Garden!” Laksha walked away swiftly while Pallavi followed. “That deforestation, no plasticsguy, right?”

“Prabhu,” Pallavi answered, lowering her head in guilt.

“Chin up princess, your tiara will fall down my darling baby. Oh, my best pal now belongs to a stupid creepy social activist,” yelled Laksha, while her eyes filled with tears.

“I was afraid to tell you Laksh. Prabhu is really a nice person, we are not in a relationship, we are just great friends, you know?”

“Oh yeah! So you think this stupid Laksh, who stayed awake and got sleep deprived and dialed your number like a crazy bug, is going to believe you?”

“Fine, it’s your birthday today and your first valentine’s day, why ruin it with this lame, dumb, plump girl, go enjoy it with your guy. This is my final goodbye and never come back!, ”Laksha stomped off.

She spent the whole day crying in bed; though her parents noticed, they pretended like everything was fine and didn’t approach her even for lunch. The day passed like this till the evening, when Pallavi entered Laksha’s room with a lot of hesitation.

Laksha didn’t even get up. She looked away as Pallavi latched the door. But when Pallavi put her head on her lap and started weeping, she responded instantly. Pallavi caught hold of her hands and said,

“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. But since I know you were hurt by him, I didn’t want to reveal our friendship. He is a nice guy, but you’re more important than him. I will cut his friendship for you Laksh, please don’t leave me, I’m sorry!”

When there was no response, she continued, “Talk to me, please, kill me if you want, but don’t burn me with your silence. I promise you, no more Prabhu. He is going to Mumbai for his internship and if he does well, the company will pick him, offering a job, that’s why he really wanted to talk yesterday.”

“Whatever,”Laksha replied.

***

27^th^ May 2010

The days rolled by swiftly and the final exam results were announced. All landline and cell phones in the house were busy, with Laksha biting her nails in anxiety and praying to her favorite spiritual guru, Shirdi Sairam. She could hardly bear it when the day came and her dad was noting down scores relayed by her cousin on the other end,“160 – commerce, 152 – Accounts, 187 – French, ok then, ok, ok” ermmm.. Excellent, “Lakshaaaaaa, You passed with 78%,” shouted her dad with excitement.

Laksha’s eyes widened with happiness, and she got all geared up, jumping with joy. Later that day, she dressed up to celebrate along with her friends while her parents got busy informing all their relatives. Laksha was overwhelming, and she was noting down her friend’s marks, the overall percentage of her school seems to out beat the competitive schools which added to her joy.

Pallavi had scored a high percentile of 89%, regarding which Laksha was almost happier than Pallavi herself. They planned to celebrate together and after several back-and-forth between the 2 families, they won by getting permission to go to Pondicherry with a few other girlfriends.

The five of them were going to be accompanied by a friend’s older sister who was good at driving. She promised their parents to take enough care of the adolescent bunch and get them back home sharp 7 P.M After all the drama, they finally headed towards the ECR highway that would take them to Pondicherry.

“You girls, are you all nuts? What do you all know about Pondicherry? Do you at least know what one would do there?” smirked the driving Priyanka.

Though annoyed, Laksha replied to this by saying that they loved visiting the Ashram and Auroville.

“Come on! You girls have just completed school, right? It’s time to get spoiled” she laughed while the others glared at her younger sister

Pallavi and Laksha had a great time walking along the French-style streets, while the others were praying in the ashram. They had excused themselves from the others for some time gripping each other hand tight, they walked synonymously in the same speed with a plaster smile on their face. The breezy weather allowed them to have a great time in silence; they were totally comfortable with each other without even speaking a single word.

Then Laksha asked, “Pallavi, any news about that Prabhu?”

“Nope, the day after my birthday was the last time we spoke, he asked me to come to the railway station, but I was busy crying on your lap that time, so he sent me a long text and walked out of my life,” Pallavi blinked rapidly six times to stop the sudden tears from rolling down her cheeks.

“Why this question all of a sudden? You still suspect me, huh?,” she continued. “I trust you more than my life. It’s just that as I was deciding on institutes to study Interiors after my UG, and wondering whether to directly join interiors, one of the best places is Mumbai. That very word reminds me of this deforestation guy, I don’t even remember his face actually,” she laughed.

“Cool! Even I am looking for other places in Tamilnadu rather than only Chennai, but I’m sure I’ll join only after I’ve done the counseling process. Let’s see, fingers crossed,” said Pallavi, smiling.

On the way back to Chennai, Laksha slept while Pallavi played with her hair. These years should go by quickly so that I can join a big company even before passing out of college, she thought. I must fill the place of my lost elder brother and help dad to have a better retirement. I want to be the best ever, and thank God, I was about to lose my concentration on my studies when Laksha intruded at the right time. All is well as Aamir Khan says.

***

27^th^ August 2010

Pallavi got into KCT College in Coimbatore. Her parents were ok with this choice since some of their relatives were settled there and would take enough care of their daughter in their absence. Meanwhile, Laksha joined B. Sc in Interior Design in Mumbai after several fights with her family, who wanted her to join Measi in Chennai. But she was stubborn about going Mumbai for its scope and exposure, and she finally got her way. It took a while for both of the friends to settle down; they had promised to talk to each other every day for at least 20 minutes after college hours. They still loved each other the same way as they did in school, and no one was going to enter their zone.

Chapter two

Friendship is all about the ‘connection’. That is the moments where ten minutes spent over the phone with a best friend are much better than hours together with someone else. Thanks to Alexander Graham bell for the wonderful invention as well as the others who came up with mobiles, SMS and every other application that’s of great use so far. Pallavi had never owned a mobile before, though Laksha had, and the liberty of Mumbai helped her in getting many things she wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, since the college put her up nearby.

“Hey Pallavi, what’s up with you?” she asked in excitement. “I was talking to one of my seniors the other day Laksha. She offered me the opportunity to earn while I study, you know. So, since yesterday I’ve been doing data entry to make a few bucks.”

“Ohhhh! That’s nice, but don’t lose concentration in your studies,” “Yeah, of course, I work only for an hour or so. I use my cousin sister’s laptop to work so that I don’t have to ask uncle for pens and notes,” replied Pallavi.

“Hmm! That’s good, so are you going home this weekend?”

“What am I going to do there? Tell me when you’re planning to go, I will come accordingly. So how are you studying?”

“Pretty interesting, I’m finally learning something that I love, designing and sourcing. We’ve also started off with CAD designing,” answered Laksha, grinning.

“Okay, cool, let’s talk tomorrow. I have to finish my work,” said Pallavi.

“Done, don’t strain yourself honey pie, concentrate on your studies and just wait for some time, things will turn up,” saidLaksha.

“Hope so, bye, take care,” Pallavismiled and cut the call.

Pallavi’s life was limited to a lot of record work, studies, and the pressure of doing well and of course, the data entry job. She kept her head down and didn’t really talk to others in class except a few students; the only friend she wanted to speak to was Laksha, who gave her the freedom to be herself. Coimbatore was quite slow by her standards, but it helped her in concentrating on her studies. But studying from her dad’s younger brother’s place was very annoying.

On the other hand, Laksha was fascinated by Mumbai. With all her new friends were from Mumbai, and she enjoyed the city as much as the taste of its panipuri and her late night outings. The city let her to fly without wings; she explored and enjoyed, had a lot of fun with her mix of friends, but still felt that no one could replace Pallavi. She refused to share her new social life with Pallavi knowing that she would feel bad about her own situation in Coimbatore. This depth of understanding was the essence of their friendship.

The days passed quickly and the first semester hit the calendar. Pallavi was busy studying and Laksha called only for a few minutes one day mid-exams to wish her luck and to ask how she did on. Pallavi had worked hard and felt she did her exams well, except her old enemy, mathematics.

“Laksha, I am dying every minute, I don’t think I will clear this stupid maths paper,” Pallavi cried a river over the phone.

“Relax Pallavi, things will be fine. Come, let’s calculate, how many pages did you write?”

“I wrote 39 pages, but I didn’t get any of my answers right! Now it’s freaking me out, you know I started crying soon after my first glance at the paper?”

“Stupid, you have written 39 pages, even if the gracious person reward you 1 mark per page. You’ll get 39 marks. Inyourinternal you will definitely get16 marks at least, right? So 39 plus 16?”

“I’m weak in maths remember, can you please calculate that for me?” asked Pallavi in a feeble voice. “Dumbo, its 55, so stop crying, you will clear all papers with a good percentile,” laughed Laksha.

“Are you sure?” Pallavi asked and then she also laughed about the calculation. “Okay, you sleep well, I have an internal exam about graphic designing tomorrow,” explained Laksha. “You do well my designer, be prepared, you are going to build my new house, so study well sweetie pie, bye!” Pallavi cut the call and hit her bed with 55 marks on her mind.

Pallavi was very busy with studies and her part-time work, while Laksha was exploring Mumbai even more. She used a pseudo name for her Facebook profile to keep her identity a secret, butPallavi didn’t even bother to step into the social world. She kept off from mundane affairs and other friends; she led a caged life at her relative’s place. The only goal that drove her was the dream of being in the IT world. She had a few professors helping her in her studies and leading her towards her aspirations. She even spent time reading placement books and taking aptitude tests to sharpen her skills.

Laksha, meanwhile, was obsessed with arts, architecture and designing; she visited Delhi, Jodhpur and other places renowned for great palaces and forts and she focused more on landscape designing. She was a much better student as a conceptual artist.

Both friends used to have great conversations on Engineering and Interior designing; both were happy for each other, supporting each other and always bonding. Right from exams, semesters, animation models to hostel food and draft works, everything was discussed. Everything except Laksha’s “being a brat” experiment.

***

May, 2013

The months flew by. Pallavi finished her 6th semester with good scores – she was one of the most expected competitors for other toppers in her class. She had even polished her communication skills over time and groomed to be a perfect fit for any big IT company. Her aptitude courses helped her in sharpening her logical skills.

Laksha was working on her final semester project and trying her luck to bag an internship at a top interior designing company. She went to the Sai Baba Mandir in Indira Nagar to pray for getting selected. She would fight and argue with God too; she was praying hard. Being a Chennaite and moving into Mumbai permanently was not going to be easy for her.

“Na ennapersaketuten, internship thana kekren (God, all I want is an internship and nothing more),”she mumbled in a small voice, and the person next to her heard her talking to God and giggled.

She turned her head and gave a cold stare. Then she walked to the footwear counter to get her shoes back. As she handed over the token, something struck her. “Hey, I was talking in Tamil, how did that guy understand?” she wondered aloud while buckling her shoes.

“Well, I laughed because I know Tamil and am from Andhra Pradesh.” He was standing near her, still smiling.

Laksha glared some more. “So what do you want?”

“Typical Tamilnadu, I just want to be your friend,” he smiled again.

“No, thanks, I have a good number of friends already,” she tossed her head and started walking.

“Plus one is no harm,” he smirked and she smiled to herself. She did enjoy the flirting, and after a few steps she turned and smiled at him. He swiftly ran the few steps down and came to halt next to her. “ So I guess you will love my name, I am Sai.”

Hmm! I am Laksha, what’s your full name?” she questioned. “Typical Tamilnadu girl, always asking annoying questions,” he said, knowing he would start a debate. Laksha replied “Yes, dear Andhra, your spicy words don’t interest me! How can you just say that? You think we are boring? Then why did you follow me?”

“Huff! Tough fight, well, I surrender, do you want to have a coffee?” Sai started moving into her comfort zone. “No, Tamilnadu girls don’t take coffee offers from Andhra guys,” she said and walked away.

As she stood at the bus stop holding her bag and thinking about the conversation, Sai came up from behind. “How about tea?” he asked, and as Laksha turned, he moved closer and smiled. “Sorry! I think you were offended. Apart from the state that you’re from, I see you as a little girl who gets hurt by silly guys like me. I wanted to extend my friendship to make you feel better. There is a coffee shop in the 200 meters, says my smart mobile, so shall we?” he asked this in a very soft and sweet manner.

“I am ok with that, now let’s walk,” she smiled back and gently hit Sai with her handbag.

“Ouch! That hurts,” he said, swiftly running his left hand over his right arm.

***

Once their coffees were served, they started talking about each other.

“I am finance graduate and working in L&T, how about you?” Sai asked.

“I am an interior designing student and desperately looking for an internship, you know.” Laksha said, a bit sadly.

“Do you have your CV or resume? I have a friend working in a company related to interior designing, I think he can help,” Sai smiled.

“Well, thank you God!” she thought and opened her handbag. She took out a copy of her resume and handed it to him, saying that had brought it to keep at God’s leg in the temple. She felt glad that she met him and after an hour, departed happily.

That entire night, Laksha had a battle going on within herself. I should have given my number to him or at least asked him for his number. Why did I miss, I wonder why he didn’t ask me.? Maybe he thinks am arrogant or something, she thought and kept going over the conversation with the Andhra boy.

A week later, Laksha received a call from a random number. For a second she thought about Sai, and then answered the call. “Hello am I talking to Laksha?” asked the caller. “Yes! That’s me,” she answered.

“Ok, we are a startup company in Mumbai for interior designing; we received your resume recently. I would like to invite you for an interview,” said the firm male voice at the end.

“Oh! Great, I can come anytime, can you please send me the address details?” she asked. Her pulse rate had shot up immediately.

“I’m emailing you right away, I’ll see you tomorrow, and please acknowledge my mail,” said the guy and cut the call. Laksha hung up too, all excited and geared up.

She rushed to an internet café nearby and checked her mail, and then she checked the address in Google maps and found it to be an office near Andheri. She had spent an hour in the internet café trying to learn about interview techniques. Then she called Pallavi to tell her about the interview.

“Do well Laksha, this is your chance to learn a lot, have the learning spirit and perform well in the interview. I will pray for you, I am sure that you will get this. You are one of the most versatile girls in designing, I love you! Call me after the interview ok?” Pallavi was almost as excited as her.

Laksha didn’t sleep much and kept dreaming about the interview that night.

She dressed on time and left for Andheri with copies of her resume, and after 10 more minutes of discussion about interview etiquette with Pallavi and blessings of her parents. Her intuition told her that she would definitely get this offer; she was very positive and kept praying to do well. But soon after she reached the address and stepped into the office, her hands were shivering as she told the receptionist, “I am here for an interview today.” The receptionist took Laksha’s resume and asked her to sign in the register.

She waited anxiously in the lobby. The receptionist came back in a few minutes and directed her to a room, “go straight and then enter the fourth door,” she was told. Laksha’s heartbeat was so loud that she could hear it.She held her bag tightly, looking around. It was in fact a petite company with 40 people, and there were four small rooms for conferences. It looked posh, and she was satisfied with the look of the place.

“Hi Laksha, so did you find it easy to reach the office?” asked the interviewer.

“Yeah, I did,” she smiled nervously.

“So tell me about yourself Laksha, give me your profile,” he said.

“I’m Laksha, and I’m from Chennai. I did my Bachelor’s in interior designing and am now looking for an internship to strengthen my skills,” she explained.

“Why did you take up interior designing, Laksha? And why in Mumbai?” asked the interviewer.

“I had an affinity towards interior designing right from my childhood. It was difficult to move to Mumbai, but I was firm because the exposure and learning here cannot be matched. Even though many colleges in Chennai were available, I chose Mumbai for the extensive knowledge. I opted to do this internship also in the city because the companies here drillout work enhancing the skill set and that’s what I want,” she sounded confident and pretty clear.

“That was like fire from an ice cube, Laksha!” he smiled. “Please wait for sometime, one more person will come in to discuss more about the internship,”with that, the interviewer moved out of the room.

Laksha waited, coiling her dupatta around her finger. Finally, the next interview arrived. As he opened the door, she turned to look at him and was stunned to see Sai.

“What’s up, are you happy with what you see?” he smiled at the gaping Laksha.

“Whoa.. What are you… I don’t get it, explain.. How?”she stammered.

“Chill, this is my cousin’s company. I visit often so I told him to include you in the internship interviews. Not just that, you can also join in if you’re interested, in six months time, and the pay will be more than those who typically take internships here. And of course I will be here to support and help you in case you feel uncomfortable with anything.” Sai explained all this while she just blinked at him.

She took a few minutes to come back to normal, and smiled at him. “I can’t thank you enough for this flavor Sai, thank you so much! I seriously don’t have the words to explain,” she said to him, meaning it completely.

“Don’t thank me, work is different from friendship. I just helped you get in, from now on it’s your show. I did note your number from your resume, but I thought you would take me wrong if I called you. I would have told you in the coffee shop about my cousin’s startup, but I was not sure if you would take it in the right spirit. I am a stupid person, and this extra effort I took was just to get forgiveness from the individual I hurt. Hope you will, Laksha,” said Sai, and looked away.

“I don’t even remember that anymore, Sai. Anyway, can I have your resume, please?” she asked.

“My resume? What for?” he asked her curiously.

“To note down your number,” she smiled with a tinge of shyness.

Their friendship bloomed from that moment, and Sai grew to be one of her best friends.

***

Chapter Three

“Pick up the phone, pick up the phone, pickkkk upppp,” muttered Laksha as she dialed Pallavi’s number to inform her about the internship. After several missed calls, she gave up and called her parents. “Daddy, I got an internship, and you know, they promised to pay a good amount as well! It is not finalized yet,” she said. “God bless you sweetheart, here talk to your mom!” he said, handing over the phone to his wife.

“Hi darling, the best thing to hear before I sleep. Now don’t be a spendthrift, transfer enough to your savings account regularly, okay?” said Laksha’s mom. “Yeah mom, I will, you take care.. And hey, I might shift soon to a hostel near my office,” she said, “what about your college then?” her mom inquired. “Just a few reviews here and there, I can travel. I will let you know, convey my regards to everyone, and tell them about my job as well ma! Bye!” Laksha blew a kiss to her mom and hung up.

She kept thinking about Sai; the same incidents and his behavior impressed her. Even when she felt like calling him right away, she tried to convince herself that her parents and Pallavi were more important than him. The temptation was very strong, however, and she finally gave in and called him.

“Hi Sai, what’s up?” she asked.

“You sound pretty dull, what’s wrong with you? Any issues?” he asked in return.

“Um, yeah, my friend didn’t answer my call,” she explained.

“That’s it? And you’re worried about that? It’s time to celebrate baby!”

“No Sai, I called her even before informing my parents, she is really important to me. I don’t know why she didn’t answer my call.”

“Chill out, maybe she didn’t she was not well, or she is really busy. I can tell that you value her more than enough, because she hasn’t bothered to call you for just one day and you’re worried. I’m dead sure she is busy partying and hooking up with some guy,” he laughed slyly.

“Shut up Sai, how can you just talk like that about someoneyou’ve never met? And if you can pass a comment about a stranger like this, what will you do to your folks? Who knows, you must be bitching about me too. You think I will fall at your feet just because you arranged an internship for me? Damn it! Just stop there and don’t call me back,” Laksha cut the call like an angry butcher slaughtering a chicken, blinking away tears of anger.

Sai kept calling her through the night, but she didn’t bother till early in the morning. Even then, she saw the 35 missed calls and but didn’t call him back. She received a call from the company, meanwhile, informing her to join after ten days. She told the caller she would let them know and then sat for a while, confused on her bed.

“Hey Laksha, sorry, I was preparing for the semester exams and aptitude tests as well. I have an interview next month, so I had to begin preparing,” explained Pallavi later over their call.

“Why didn’t you tell me Pallavi, I kept calling you like a nut!”

“Come on, what’s the big deal? You know that dad bought me this cell phone just to help with placement and studies. I missed one leaked question paper last time, just because I didn’t have a mobile. Dad told not to use it unnecessarily.”

“Great! So my calls are unnecessary now?”

“Listen Laksha, I’m not a designer like you to just design things in a click. I am an engineer and I have tons of work, you know my family situation. Don’t irritate me, just grow up!” Pallavi’s tone was stern this time.

“I called to tell you that I have got the internship,” Laksha said in a flat tone that showed how hurt she was. Pallavi was astonished and didn’t reply for a few seconds. “Sorry, congrats!” she said, but then cut the call without another word.

Maybe Sai was right; she doesn’t care for me as I do for her. Designing is easy, huh? Hell! I didn’t know this B.E would place an invisible crown on her head. I fought with Sai and was ready to throw away my internship and now, she is telling me she’s busy with placements? These thoughts went through Laksha’s head the whole day, till she finally left a text message for Sai, stating a simple “sorry”. Immediately, he called her back.

“Laksha, thanks for the text, I went nuts man, I am so sorry,” he explained in an anxious tone.

“No Sai, don’t be sorry, but you were right. I think of her as the same, but she doesn’t care about me,” she confessed.

“Oh ho, I don’t even know her name, but she took you away from me for two full days. Let’s not talk about her, honey,” his tone had changed.

“Let’s meet at our usual coffee place, my treat,” she said, smiling.

“Whoa, picked my bike keys right away! You come to the corner of your street and my Yamaha beast will transport you like a new born baby,” he said.

After a hearty laugh, she hung up. They met some time later at the coffee shop and talked for a couple of hours. Sai was overwhelmed by her. “I love the way you are, when you are angry, you just blast without a thought, when you chill out you’re an angel.”

Laksha just smiled and sipped her coffee with one brow raised. She looked at him and gave a broad smile, which summed up that their friendship is strengthened enough.

***

Laksha was totally enjoying the internship. She explored much more than just interiors, and worked closely with seniors in the team. She understood how the United States works for interiors; she studied various niches and turned out to be one of the best assets of the company.

I would like to meet you tomorrow for a small chat at my cabin, said the email that Laksha had read five times already. She called up Sai to inform him. “Saaaaaiiiiiiii, the CEO, I mean your cousin, wants to meet me tomorrow evening yaar,” she said in a whisper over the phone.

“I do that often, just go and meet him.” “Dumbo, he is your cousin, but for me he is the owner of ‘VE’ home decors, my boss!”

“What can I say Laksha, do something, text me if you can say it. I will read that over the phone,” Sai laughed.

“Laksha is pretty angry and she is going to cut the call right away, so Mr. Sai, please get ready to send lots of sorry’s and flower bouquets, specifically red roses,” she said with a smile.

“Anything for Laksha,” he replied, in a melting voice that usually got her attention.

Laksha couldn’t stop thinking about meeting Saurav, sorry, sorry, Mr. Saurav the next day. Sai distracted her with a story of how his other cousin fell in love with a Mumbai guy, which linked his connection with North India. He told her about the differences in wedding ceremonies and the fun their crew had due to them. He was fond of telling her cute stories, the kind that made her smile throughout the conversation. He had an innate quality of sensing when she was smiling even when they are on the call he would ask her about it and usually was right. The roots of love were going deep, watered with the quality time they spent. The gap that Pallavi had left was undoubtedly getting filled by Sai in Laksha’s life.

The next day, Laksha picked the nicest Salwar Kameez she had for her meeting with Saurav.

“Hi Laksha, come, thanks for accepting my invitation,” Saurav said formally.

“Thanks a lot, sir, it’s my pleasure. I am happy to meet you.”

“So, how is work? You are happy, I hope?” he questioned.

“Of course, I am actually learning a lot. I love it, the team is awesome, and they teach me so well. They assign me different kinds of tasks, its brilliant working here. What I was when I stepped in here is entirely different from what I am now.”

“Great! So brief me your learning experience so far, what are you up to,” said Saurav.

“Ok, sir, so I am working on projects assigned by lead, I work with the CAD diagrams with assistance. They usually ask me to design interiors and I do, so whenever there is an odd placement in the drawing, they help me out.”

“Hmm,” nodded Saurav as he sipped some water. Then he asked “so, are you exploring anything else in here Laksha?”

“Yeah, everything actually,” Laksha said, feeling comfortable with him.

“We are working with clients abroad as well; we have a few customers who stick with us, but the advancement in interiors abroad is still not met. What’s your take on this?”

She continued, “I am exploring minimalism now, doing great. I love the concept and am researching well on that, I usually sit and read about it. I also implemented the concept in my recent submission. My lead appreciated me for the same.”

“Exactly! That’s the reason you’re sitting right in front of me Laksha.”

“I don’t get you, sir,” she stammered.

“I saw your design, and was very impressed to see the minimalism concept-based models from you. This is my exploration as well, living well with the least fundamental things around, constructing designs with multi-functional items that are pretty important these days. I have seen people implementing this for other clients, but not in India, thinking people here loves to live in the most sophisticated way. Your design attracted me,” he said.

She was completely overwhelmed and failed to respond for a minute, but her smile and eyes spoke about her excitement.

“So Laksha, do you know about Egalitarianism?” he questioned.

“No,” she answered honestly, which got Saurav’s attention.

“It’s a term used to denote equality within an organization. This is followed by the US and other countries, but not in India. Here we have this power distance, which I don’t care a damn about. I don’t want a pyramid structure in my organization. I want the young talents to pitch in and prove well. I hope you are one of them. I want you to take up a full-time job with us. What do you think?” he asked.

“Sir, it’s my pleasure! Oh my God, I didn’t expect this, thank you, thank you so much!” she said.

“Great, that’s nice to hear, the other terms and details will be explained by HR. Keep up the good work. Keep exploring everything, and we will often meet going forward. Just finish this one, and then I will assign you a project myself.”

“Sure, sir, with pleasure,” she replied.

“Okay, keep up the good work. See you soon Laksha, bye for now, take care,”

“Thank you, sir,” Laksha left the room all smiles and the whole team saw her walking out of the room. Many comments were passed, which she turned a deaf ear to.

***

Pick me up today, we will eat at a good restaurant near my hostel, Laksha sent an SMS to Sai.

Done sweetheart, Yamaha is dying to honor you, he replied.

Sai raced to reach on time. When she sat on the bike he adjusted his mirror to see her reactions while he rode. Though she saw this, she pretended to be unaware and made more cute faces.

“Egalitarianism, power distance, minimalism, Saurav sir is the best da,” Lakshasaid after ordering two cold coffees.

“Sir huh? LOL!” he laughed.

“Shut up! He is my boss, he is so brilliant man, now I know why he is the boss,” Laksha kept praising Saurav.

“Yeah, even I can talk all this bullshit if I spend an hour googling about interior designing,”

“Hmm! I smell smoke, do you?” she chuckled.

“You’re irritating me now, see am leaving.” he said.

“Hey, ok ok, no more Saurav topic. Now let’s talk about us,” she said.

“What? Us?” Sai’s eye widened to twice the usual size.

“Hehehe, I mean only things related to you or me, let’s not discuss others, am I clear now?” she asked.

“As always! Surrendered!” he adjusted his straw to finish the last of his cold coffee.

“Drop me back home, I have to pack,” she said after doing the same.

“Hmm, to pack?” he asked.

“I am planning to go home! I’m home-sick,”

“Tickets booked? Which flight?”

“My grandpa runs a flight exclusively, don’t you know?” she smirked.

“Come on! What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, I must meet them before joining your cousin’s firm as a full-time designer. Maybe my college will schedule back to back reviews. My friend also might come, I must meet her and set things right. I think it’s time, I am going for a week, will book tickets in tatkal.”

“Hmm! Okay, but Friday is my birthday!” he frowned, stirring the empty glass with the straw.

“Oh! So?,” she said.

“I can’t stop you though, but I.. Will miss you.. I wanted to tell you something.. On my birthday..” He fumbled with the words.

“Let’s see, I have not finalized. Erm, it’s time to go, shall we make a move?” she asked.

“Chalo!” he picked the bike keys.

Neither of them said a word in the twelve minutes of traffic. He dropped her, waved bye and left without even looking at her. She stood thinking for a while, but she couldn’t decide. The night had been a confusing one for both of them.

***

It was 11 in the morning. Sai woke up late since he hadn’t had enough sleep. Groggily, he picked up his cell phone while trying to think up a good excuse to go on leave. He saw 3 missed calls from Laksha, and had a sudden feeling that she might cancel her trip for him.

I’m not well, please inform the boss, he sent a text to one of his colleagues.

He called Laksha anxiously, but she didn’t answer as she was in a meeting. In a meeting, call you later, said the text. Goddamn! These girls drive one crazy yaar! Right from the first girlfriend to this plump tomato, she eats my brain, let me plan how to propose to her. I hope I don’t have to do too many stunts to impress her, she has already fallen for me, he thought as he sipped his bed coffee near the half open window.

My tickets are confirmed, I just informed Saurav and am leaving tonight, am going to my room to pack. Can you come to the station? Said the next text from Laksha.

The beep distracted him, and he casually opened the text. He was astonished to see her text and muttered, “whaattt the ff…,”

I have mistaken her attitude, maybe she’ll just use and throw me, he thought crushing the cup and threw it through the half-opened window. It failed to hit the mark, and some drops of coffee remained on the window sill, made him think.

Busy, visiting a client for a payment issue, sorry! He replied and turned the airplane mode on so that she could not reach him again. He wanted her to miss him.

These chicks! OMG! What next? He kept turning around in his head for a great idea to stop her from leaving Mumbai.

***

Saurav had offered to drop Laksha to the station as he was leaving to meet one of his clients. She was glad that he was nice enough to help her with the luggage. He also gave her a lovely wall decor to take to her parents on his behalf.

Did you make it to the station? Sorry, I was held up. Sai sent the text later to show that he cared. “Why miss a chick!” he thought.

I did, Saurav dropped me,” she replied.

Well! Here comes the competitor, he thought. He kept thinking about it all day, and was angry that Saurav had ruined his plan. So, he wanted to thrash him away from the track for sure. This made him think wild to create issues and part them away.

Saurav is kind of a playboy, be careful, don’t go again with him. I referred you because I know you are culturally personified and also that I could take care of you! I thought Saurav wouldn’t intrude as you’re my friend. He filled my gap, what an unexpected twist,” he sent her a long message to make sure she got confused about her boss.

He just dropped me to the station, I am not using any exchange coupons to leave you on a shelf and pick him. Stop thinking like a stupid guy as you always do. I can’t text or call often, I have signal issues, and also when I reach home, I won’t be able to text as often. See you next week, advance birthday wishes!” she replied.

Chapter Four

Nov, 2013

Every train journey is different –a good breeze, observing the new people around and so on. It enchants every passenger in its own way, be it the solo traveler, a family, or a group traveling together. Laksha settled with a bottle of water, still thinking about the text from Sai. She was wondering whether he was genuinely concerned or just jealous. Possessiveness, mostly, she thought. Questions of where this was heading, what to do next, were jostling in her mind.

A group of friends was in her compartment. They were having great fun teasing each other, and some of them smiled at Laksha. She smiled back to show she was okay with their fun, and it did not disturb her. When she saw one of the girls fighting over the phone with her boyfriend, it felt like a short trailer of her future with Sai.

Come what may, let me not get anxious about my future. For now, it’s just my family and settling things with Pallavi. It’s been a really long time, I am not even sure if she is coming to Chennai! If not, I should go to cbe and meet her, she thought.

Laksha’s dad was waiting at Central station to pick her up; he was happy to meet her after a year. A lot of Desitalks, how happy he was with her and everything under the sun that he could share with his daughter was discussed on the way home.

Happiness is seeing our parents happy, wow! It feels great, she thought as the taxi entered her street. She looked out of the window like a Pomeranian, with a broad grin; she was happy to look at the neighborhood and notice changes here and there. It’s nice to be back after a year.

“See there, can you recognize her, it’s your DidiLaksha who used to play with you when you were a kid,” a lady from the neighborhood approached her with a three-year-old child.

“Wow! Chintu! So grown, huh. How are you sister? How is everything at home?” Laksha asked.

“All good Laksha, looks like you have put on weight, is it all the delicious food in Mumbai?”

“Hahahaa.. Really? Maybe, I eat a lot of chaat items and fast food, that’s why,” she laughed and frowned at the same time.

“Lakshh!! Welcome back,how are you darling?” Laksha’s mom rushed out and hugged her tight.

“I’m a great mom, how are you?” she smiled.

“Come in! Let’s talk properly!” her mom took her into the living room, gave her some water and went to bring a cup of coffee.

Laksha was overwhelmed to see her cousins all gathered to meet her; she had a great time with and, later, dressed up to go and meet Pallavi. She had lingering thoughts on how to set things right between them. As she entered Pallavi’s house, she saw her mom coming out of the kitchen.

“Hi aunty, how are you?” she asked.

“Heyyyyy.. I’mverygood, how are you? When did you come home? Pallavi never tells me anything; we spoke yesterday over the phone.”

“Well! Just a sudden visit aunty, but she told me that she was coming home this week when I spoke to her a few months back.”

“Yeah, she was, but her placement schedule is on so she canceled her plan. It will take months for her to come it seems.”

“What placements aunty?” she asked.

“You sound as if it’s been years sinceyou spoke to her,” Pallavi’s mom laughed while giving her a plate of snacks.

“No aunty, both of us have been reallybusy, so we didn’t find much time to talk.”

“Acha! Even she hasn’tsaidmuch about you in her recent calls, you talk to her nah! I don’t understand her terms, aptitude -latitude, something, just talk to her.”

“Fine aunty. I am meeting some friends today, so it’s time to go, see you later,”

“Okay, dear, come for lunch one day,” Pallavi’s mom smiled.

“I will visit the garden and leave aunty, bye,” Laksha swiftly climbed the stairs. The speed is directly proportional to how usedyouaretothosestepsregardlessofitscondition, isn’tit?

Thegreen,lush gardenimmediatelystirredupthesweet and sour memories of their friendship. Wow! She thought. She went toevery plant and waved a greeting.She had a close connection to that place..A lot of laughter and painful tears had watered the plants.She walked slowly, reminded ofthe days when she used to walk on the same path with frocks, skirts, pants, salwars, and now and then even a really expensivedress. The changes in her life and style were evident to her at that moment.

I miss my idiot, let me call her, she thought and dialed the number.

After six rings, Pallavi answered the phone.

“What, madam, it took six rings for you to decide whether to pick my call or not?”Laksha asked.

“Yeah, when it took about six months for you to dial my number, can’t you waitfor six rings?” Pallavianswered.

“Fine, let’s fight later, I am back inChennai for a short visit, can you come? I amactually in your garden now; I thought you would be here.”

“Nope, I am on a tight schedule this week, there is a campus drive, and only the top 10 from every class have been chosen for the same. I booked my tickets and canceled them. ”

“Oh! So you mean you will get a job soon?”

“Hope so, fingers crossed!”

“Come on! If not you then no one will do well Pallavi, call me with the good news. We will fight on other issues later, bye.”

“Yeah, it’s my time baby, make sure you come by next month as well, I am planning to. I will keep you informed.”

“I am joining the same company after internship; I will ask my boss, let me see.”

“Oh, that’s great news, okay! We will meet next month. Chalo, you enjoy your vacation,”

“Yeah, fine, bye then, see ya!.”

This is not the first time that I missed meeting Pallavi, but this gap and the phone conversation denote a significant difference in her. I don’t really know why, maybe, the recent fight accounts, but still, she usually gets back to me except now. Am not sure, whether she is occupied with someone else or if this gap drifted us apart. I really miss her after talking over the phone, are there any chances to know if it’s the same with her?

Should I call someone? If yes, whom? Or is she really busy with preparing for her placements? Whatever, I wish she gets the job soon. Her family desperately needs her support. Even when I wanted to help her, she denied. So, there are no chances of other’s intruding us. She is mine, even if I chill out with friends and experience a great affinity towards Sai, like a compass that shows North, I always to go Pallavi. Let me straighten things, I want her back, she thought.

Laksha was busy with her parents and eating home food.She was forced to visit every relative’s place also, but she had a great time telling her cousins how exciting Mumbai was, so it was a short but pleasant trip. Now that I got a job, I must come home at least once in six months, she thought.

“I’m not going to bore you with the usual questions like “are you in love?” or “Are you seeing someone?” Laksha, I’mreally overwhelmed to see you doing well in your field. I am glad that your company is offering you a full-time role with good responsibilities,” said her mom on the last day.

“Yeah mom, same with me, I was so happy to see you all after a long time, I miss being here,” Laksha showed a tinge of emotion as well.

“So, nice then, you take care, we are always here to support you!”

“I know Mom, and I will be coming next month end as well, Pallavi wants me to since she is busy with placement and stuff now. She will probably get a job at an IT firm pretty soon, the much awaited day!” Laksha said.

“Good! You take care of your health, keep us informed, and be open minded. God bless you.”

I’m so lucky that I have great parents and friends. It’s a special gift, thank God. It would be really great to have a lovely partner now, who syncs with these great people to fulfill my life. Though it’s not calculative, I would love to marry a person like Sai. Hmm! Things are really positive, maybe mom and dad have evolved enough to agree, and I hope his family will also be on the same wavelength. Fingers crossed, let me see! “Saiiiiiiiiii will you be mineeeee”, Laksha sang a line to her own tune with a smile in front of her old mirror, the one attached to an Almira.

***

Laksha packed her things and said goodbye to her parents, neighborhood kids, the vegetable vendors who lay their mobile vegetable shops in their street. On the train, she swiftly arranged her things and was excited about returning to Mumbai; she also planned a surprise visit to Sai’s place. The excitement turned into a pleasant dream that let her sleep with a smile for hours in her seat.

Indian railways had planned a better surprise for her, however; her train was delayed by four hours, which pissed her off. She was drained by the time she reached home at 11 P. M. When she called Sai, he answered in an irritated sleepy tone.

“Who is this?” he asked.

“Saaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiii,” Laksha dragged his name to get into his comfort zone.

“Well, nice to know you remember my name, I’mso glad dear interior designer, of the stupid startup company VE,”

“I know you are hurt, let me explain nah..”

“Thanks, I’mnot hurt at all, you think you’re so important to me?” he blurted out in anger.

“I actually started on time, just to be with you on your birthday, but the train was delayed,”

“I am not asking for an explanation Laksha, I just don’t care, I’mnot drinking and lying in a corner, crying that you are not with me, you don’t mean that much,”

“You are killing me with these words Sai, stop it please. I came back today for you, to spend quality time with you and express my love to you,”

“What?”

“I mean, to make sure you understand, how much you mean to me,”

“Huh? Okay! Beautiful, thanks! Anything else to worsen my day further,Miss Interior Designer?”

“I want to meet you, I don’t mind that it’s late, can I come over?”

“I’mnot in Mumbai, but 600 kilometres away from you Laksha,that doesn’t just mean the distance between the red colours air balloon that Google map symbolises, it means much, much more.I’mcelebrating my birthday with people who value me,”

“Bye Sai, I have nothing to say!”

Laksha was hurt, but still, she was scared about how easily she had blurted out her love towards Sai. She thought it was casual and given that she managed to escape, it was right from her heart. She wanted to meet him and talk; she planned to catch him somewhere.

She had no one else to contact except Saurav, so she decided to ask him about Sai’s vacation.

Saurav, I’m sorry for disturbing you, I just wanted to know where Sai is, please reply whenever you see this text,”

Reason?” Saurav replied immediately.

I want to meet him, and I am planning to visit wherever he is,” she replied.

Are you serious? Can we meet before that?”

Yeah! But.. Why? It is just enough if you tell me where he is celebrating his birthday,”

He is in Goa with his friends, but I want to meet you before you even think of meeting him,”

Fine, sure, we will meet in the morning.” she replied.

Why does Saurav want to meet me? Is Sai’s opinion of him real? What is this game, what should I do now? Should I book the first bus in the morning to see him or meet Saurav first? What does he have to say? Am I on the right track? Whom should I talk to.. Mom? Pallavi? No – mom will never allow me to go meet Sai for sure, and Pallavi will kick my ass off. Whom shall I talk to about this???

How about talking to mom that my friend needs this advice, let me try the same with Pallavi also. But oh no, she is busy with her placement, she thought.

Mom, a friend of mine wants to go to Goa to meet her boyfriend, but his cousin wants to say something and stopped her from going, what do you say? Is it okay for her to go? Or wait and meet the other guy?” Laksha sent a text to her mom.

The best thing is to book the Goa tickets later in the morning, meet the cousin and then board the bus,”

Haaaa! This idea just didn’t strike me, you’re brilliant mom, thank you! I will tell her,”

Okay then, take care.”

Thanks my darling, you’re a warehouse of ideas and sense.”

Yes Laksha, sensible enough to also figure out that it’s you!”

Mom, what?”

Are you trying to pretend? Please don’t do that,”

The phones were silent for a minute.

I won’t ask you not to go to Goa or to call me after your conversation with his cousin, but, come back to me when you really feel like you need me, take care! And I really mean the last two words, TAKE CARE!”Laksha read the new text.

Her mood was jostling, and she started crying, but didn’t know why. She was in no mood to book her Goa ticket as well. She waited to meet Saurav, and she had an intuition that he would give her a new story.

Saurav called her in the morning and asked her to meet him on Marine Drive.

“Hi Laksha, glad to meet you after the vacation, how you are doing?” he asked her.

“Good Sir, thanks!”

“Call me Saurav, this is a personal meeting, isn’t it?” he smiled.

“Hmmm,” she nodded her head with puzzled thoughts running in her mind.

“I love Marine Drive, the complete stretch amuses me, I just want to see my company flourishing and then move to one of those offices at the other end,” he said, pointing to the huge, impressive buildings.

She just smiled, nodded her head and wondered how to start the conversation.

“So, what’s up with you and Sai?” he asked.

“We’re just friends, but he is angry that I didn’t meet him on his birthday, so I thought I should meet him, I thought he must be somewhere around and asked you,”

“Hmm.. Hmm..”

“I didn’t know he was in Goa, so yeah, I dropped the plan of going to meet him,” she said.

“Ha, okay, nice then, so what has Sai said about me?”

“Sai? No, nothing,”

“Okay, let’s get to the point. I know Sai really well from our childhood, he is a normal guy, but still, there are few qualities that do irritate people. He told me that you felt that I’mtrying to impress you by dropping you to the station. He also said that you are not my type and I should stay away,”

“WHAT? Seriously?” she asked.

“Now don’t be surprised, I’m pretty sure you have heard the opposite version,”

“Nothing like that Saurav, I’m not feeling well, please let me go, I need to get to my hostel,”

“Sure, and I’m not going to offer you a car drop this time,” Saurav smiled.

Laksha took more than a day to recover while she thought a lot more than necessary. She wanted to relax and visited a few temples, including Sairam’s temple where she met Saifor the first time. What the hell are you doing to me? She had a small fight with her favorite God. She managed to smile at the cute debut of Sai in her life. I don’t really know if he is an idiot, but I just pray that he is not being one, she pleaded laying her forehead on Sairam’s feet.

Let him come, let me ask him why he’s trying to play a game with Saurav and me. What does this mean? Should I cut his friendship? Then I should quit my job too. It’s all because of him and I just can’t continue working there, it would count as being selfish right? Let me postpone these stupid thoughts until he comes back from his trip, she thought.

Life presents twists and turns, and there comes a point where you have no clue if you should turn left or right. It is pure luck or fate, and of course, let’s not forget the only one who takes the blame, God! God wants this to happen, it’s all God’s plan to direct you to something better. This thought kept Laksha, she didn’t know what to do and planned to stop at the edge of the fork road.

Chapter Five

Laksha was upset and could not concentrate on work that day. She was worried about the drama, the fact that her mom had understood the hints, Saurav and his part of the story. She called in sick, was and kept thinking about the incidents over and over. Though it goes in vain, after all, that’s what a girl’s mind usually does. To her surprise, her mom didn’t ask her anything about it on their call; even when Laksha volunteered to talk, she ignored it and changed the topic.

She thought it was time to talk to Pallavi as well, and after a lot of thought, dialed her number.

“Pallavi, I want to tell you something important,”

“Me too!”

“Ha.. Okay! So this..,”

“Can I go first?” Pallavi interrupted.

“Oh sure! What’s the news?”

“You know what? I interviewed with four companies in this campus drive, I didn’t get through any and I’mstill jobless, but the others are all placed,” Pallavi started to cry.

“Oh My God.. Pallavi, Wait. Don’t cry.. You will get a job soon,” Lakshasaid.

“No Laksha, I am.. Sure, I will get some other job, but you know, there were stupid incidents,” she started to explain.

“That’s good, don’t lose hope! Cheer up, okay? Shall we meet? Even I want to talk to you,” Laksha told.

“I’m not planning to go to Chennai without a nice job offer,”

“Pallavi..”

“Don’t force me, I am already upset because of these people Laksha, you know when the top ten were selected for training to do well in the placement, the whole class pointed at me, stating I would bag the first offer.”

“Hmm.. Hmm..”

“I tried really hard, I was all prepared with everything, right from current affairs to all the aptitude problems in R. S. Agarwal book, Shakuntala Devi book, solving Sudoku, what not,”

“I understand Pallavi, hard work never fails, you will get an awesome job for sure honey,” Laksha tried to calm her down, but failed.

“See Laksh, I am the only one without a job in the whole lot, nobody talks to me now, they kept saying that I would definitely make it, and it did build my confidence, but I have never dreamt of getting back to college empty handed.”

“I know how it feels; I also understand that you need me right away. I have taken leave for a few days, can I just come over to CBE? What do you think?”

“Will you?” Pallavi asked.

“I’m booking my tickets right away! See you soon!” Laksha explained.

Hi Saurav, I have an emergency, am leaving for my hometown tomorrow. I would like to extend my leave for the next two weeks, as am not well, my parents want me to get back, I will complete my medicals and get back asap.” Laksha sent a small text for which she received a “take care” in return.

“Dad, there’s some touring here in the office, I need some money, can you send some?” Laksha asked over the phone.

“How much? 1000 bucks will do?” he asked.

“Daaaddddddd,”

“Hahahaa.. Okay! I will put 10k by evening, alright?”

“Thanks dad, love you!” Laksha was excited about her sudden visit to Pallavi’s place.

***

Dec 2013

As she started packing her bags, she had many thoughts about Sai running in her mind. She tried to ignore them, but she understood that it was just not possible. She finally managed to say “it’s ok, it’s ok,” to herself to get out of the distraction.

Three and a half hours of journey drained her, but the moment she saw Pallavi at the airport, she jumped out of joy.

“Huff.. 3.5 hours, huh? Damn! I prefer long hours of journey via train, it would be more interesting nah!” Pallavi said.

“Make it four, my damn baggage came last,”

“Ha-ha, see, this is the reason you should never make it on time to the airport, they will take your bag last, go late and get fast, FIFO,” said Pallavi.

“What the hell is that?”

“First In First Out – I studied it in data structures,”

“Oh hahaha, call a taxi you idiot,” said Laksha in a teasing tone.

“Oops, yeah, come on give the bags to me,” Pallavi offered and then, they made it to the room where Pallavi stayed, in her cousin’s house.

“Nice, Cbe is so cool, though it looks a bit outdated,” Laksha said.

“Ha! Mumbai ladki, talking about outdated and stuff? How mean!I should have got you into some normal college over here, you would have worn pinned dupatta in V shape over your salwar and roamed around with oily braided hair,” Pallavi and Laksha laughed in unison at the image.

***

They went to various places in Coimbatore, exploring temples and sights, but Laksha was constantly wondering how to begin the conversation about Sai. They went to an isolated temple in the morning, and started off on their childhood and then wandered, right from movies, politics, fun, boys, sex, friendship and everything else under the sun. Laksha was hesitating still, when Pallavi again started to talk about her interview experience.

“I cleared the first round Laksha, and then they asked us to come for a personal round, where we were five in number for this panel. We all were seated on a couch in the reception of the company, it was so cold in there, they are lavish I guess. You know, the girls and guys working in the company, all were so posh, they just walked out with classy Tupperware boxes for lunch and swiped their ID card to open the door. The girls were all pretty and stylish, loose hair, chic clothing, just wow! I just started to dream about wearing that ID card and swiping too, wearing nice clothes! It just ended for me, just like that dream, you know,” she said while tears rolled down her cheeks.

Laksha was amazed; all she could do was to pat her back with an ‘it’s ok’ look.

“They didn’t even reject me right away, you know? After some 30 minutes, that HR person walked out and asked the other four to leave. She turned to me and told me to have lunch in their cafeteria, so I thought I got selected. I went and had a nice lunch, I spent my pocket money. I felt that this office was my future and I was going to be here, befriending people. When I went down, the security person informed me that, even I was rejected and should leave. By the time I left, the other four who got rejected had spread the word that I got selected, so my phone was flooded with “congrats”,”treat?”,”You made it,” and what not. I was totally embarrassed when I had to inform them that, I am not selected either,” Pallavi sounded pained, she knew that Laksha couldn’t talk more, but she was just happy with the fact that she was there for her.

“See, this is not the only company, there are many others around, let’s wait, you know, there might be a better one waiting for you,” said Laksha.

“Don’t try to console me, I don’t really need it, I am fine. I hope I get a job, but the fact that my expectations and the gossip that I got a job really pissed me off,”

“Hmm, I think it’s time we leave, this Coimbatore turns dark at 7 itself,” said Laksha.

“Yeah, it does. Chal, let’s take an auto, otherwise my uncle will start calling me,”

“Hold my things, I want to go to the loo, you check if any auto passes by and stop one,”

Pallavi bargained and stopped by an auto by which time it was quite dark. So they asked the auto driver to drop them quickly as her uncle called, inquiring where she was and how long it would take.

“10 minutes, uncle, heavy traffic,” Pallavi lied.

“Yeah, I am here in Coimbatore for decades, I know how crowded it is after 7, come home, let me screw your ears,” he said and cut the call.

“Eerrr… he found out!” Pallavi winked at her;they finally reached home in 30 minutes.

“Here comes the 10 minute beauties,” her aunt said and stepped out of the kitchen with a spatula in hand.

“This Laksha went to the loo and took 20 minutes aunty, I was waiting for her in the auto stand for a long time,”

“Hello! 20 minutes huh, just 10 maybe, it was dark and crowded. I had to take every step carefully,”

“Enough, Enough! Come have your dinner, “ her aunt laughed.

“So, you’re leaving tomorrow?” Pallavi asked.

“Hmm! I had a nice time here, it is good that we spent this time after a year or so,” Laksha told.

“Hey! You wanted to say something, right? I totally forgot, what’s that?” Pallavi asked.

“Yeah! But let me tell you later? Okay?” Laksha hesitated.

“No, no, no, I want to know right away, tell me, else my head would blast off imagining,”

“Okay, let’s go somewhere quiet, I don’t want others to hear. So tomorrow early morning we will go somewhere, fine? After that, we will get back and pick my bags. I will take the train, then,”

“Done, but still, one whole night? I can’t handle the suspense, give me a hint,”

“Nothing doing..” by the time she could finish the sentence, Pallavi received a call.

“Oops, it is from the placement ambassador, you sleep, I will come back soon,” Pallavi said and went to the balcony.

“Palllllaaaaaaaaviiiiiiiii…. Get up right away, it’s time, am going to leave now, the train won’t wait,” shouted Laksha and Pallavi woke, with a half eye open.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Nice question, it’s been really a tiring job, waking you up, it’s time for my train and am leaving now, I tried for the last time to wake you up, just to wave a bye,” Laksha explained.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry, I guess it’s because of the long walk we had last evening, I was totally tired, am so sorry again,”

“Madam, even I walked with you, I woke up! Okay, see, I don’t have time, you wake up and call me later, am leaving, bye,” Laksha kissed Pallavi’s forehead and left.

It was nice to just fly down in 4 hours, now it is a stretch of a day and more, Gosh! Money plays a vital role, she thought. I did not work properly, took leave and thank God, Saurav is really sweet. What happened to this stupid Sai, he didn’t even call me, oh, I told him not to call is it? Laksha kept animating her face with expressions without spelling a word, which annoyed the person sitting opposite to her. When she realized it, she raised her brows and adjusted to sit comfortably, sat in Padmasana and took her Femina book and covered her face.

31^st^ December 2013

Tonight at 2 I will reach Mumbai, come to the station, stupid,” she sent a text message to Sai.

Done, can we talk? Shall I call you now?” he replied.

Boarded the train, yeah, call me,” she texted.

He then called her and they spoke for an hour, he asked her to eat some food and be careful throughout the journey. All she did was say yes and nod her head with a cute smile.

She kept thinking about the conversation they had and throughout the day, messages were exchanged; in between she spoke to Pallavi, her aunt and uncle, her parents as well. Time can run swiftly and she fell asleep for a few hours. She woke up when she felt hungry and munched the little hearts biscuits with some mixed fruit juice that Pallavi’s uncle had given her before boarding the train.

***

When the train reached Mumbai. Sai was eagerly waiting to pick her up, but even after 15 minutes, he could not trace Laksha. Even when he tried calling her, her number was not reachable. He figured that she must be sleeping on the couch and scrolled down the text to check the couch number. S2-47, it said, so he swiftly ran ahead and entered the coach. To his surprise, he found her bag there. He took it and walked to and fro, thinking that she must be in the loo. Even after 20 minutes, though, she didn’t turn up, so he got down and scratched his head.

He was clueless and didn’t know what to do, he kept checking his phone and thoroughly checked her bag, he could not understand what happened. He tried to reach out and check with the TTR about the passengers who travelled with her, but all in vain.

Even if she had missed the train, she would have called me by then, he thought.

Chapter Six

1^st^ Jan 2014

The subscriber you’re trying to reach is currently unavailable,” Sai heard the voice of the stern lady every time he tried calling Laksha. Panic bubbled in him; gradually, the news was given to her family and other relatives and friends. A massive search, beginning at hospitals and reports of accidents was conducted. The television at their house was tuned into some news channel or another to check if any major incidents had been reported, with fervent prayers going on at the other end and a hope that they did not hear anything awful.

As time passed, the panic increased manifold, and the painful task to approach the police was the next step made by the distraught family. The extended family from all over India was alerted. Pallavi, who felt that this had happened because of her invitation to Laksha, was completely shaken. Laksha’s mom was strong enough to talk to all the relatives and friends who tried to help in the search for the lost girl, but her father, the man of few words, sat in a corner looking like a crumpled sheet of paper.

At every ring of the phone the whole family pricked their ears. They were filled with fear, and the emotion in every prayer, shook some relative each time. “Aunty, can I have a picture of Laksha?” asked one of the cousins. “Why? You are going to lodge a complaint, is it?” her mom questioned. “I understand the risk, but we can still request the police not to reveal it, they will understand that it’s a girl’s life. Also, my friend’s uncle knows an official high up in the department, I’m moving through him,” he answered.

“My daughter calls me sharp at 9 P.M every day, shall we wait till then?” her mom’s voice broke and she was on the verge of tears, but she managed not to cry in front her husband, knowing it would weaken him further. “Aunty, it’s been more than a day, please understand, there is no news from any of the hospitals. I checked with a high-end official in this regard, there have not been too many accidents in the last 24 hours,” he whispered in a convincing yet sensitive tone.

Just then, Laksha’s father’s mobile rang, an old song playing as his ringtone. while her mom went searching for her recent picture in the Almira, with thoughts about Laksha. Her mom came rushing back to the room. “It must be Laksha, It must be Laksha!” “Some old guy,” her husband said and proceeded to talk to the person at the other end. “Yeah, Laksha, my daughter only, she is with you–” before he could complete the sentence, her mom grabbed the phone.

“Give the phone to Laksha, if she is in a state to talk,” her mom said to the man, who handed over the phone without a word.

“Hi Mom, I’m fine, I will reach tomorrow morning with this uncle,” Laksha said in a feeble voice.

“Laksha! Are you ok? Can you manage? Shall I come over?”

“I can manage Amma,”

“Take care, see you soon!”

“What happened?” “Why did you cut the call?”“Why didn’t you ask her where she is?”“Call that number again!” shouted different voices across the hall.

“That was not required, Laksha sounded confident, and she will manage and be back tomorrow morning, so stop arguing. Wait for some twenty minutes, I will get dinner for all of you,” with this, Laksha’s mom walked off to the kitchen, bundling her hair into a knot.

After she left, a cousin asked Laksha’s dad to pass on the man’s number, but he refused and escaped to the bathroom. After a simple dinner, the relatives left; Laksha’s mom thanked them heartily for their help. It was almost 11 o’clock as she set the bedroom for her and her husband to sleep. As she was adjusting the pillows, he came in and asked her to sit down.

“What’s going on? My daughter is a courageous woman like me, not a weak person like you, so smile,” she said, looking at him..

“Why don’t you cry? Let it out, enough of this,” he replied.

“You think I want to cry? I didn’t cry the day I married you or even when I gave birth to Laksha after hours of pain. A mother’s instinct is stronger than anything else. So if I had felt that she was in trouble, do you think I would have refrained from approaching the police? I don’t even care about going to the media for help, I just knew she was fine,” said Laksha’s mom, laughing at him a little.

“Let’s sleep for some time, she will come early in the morning and jump on my head for coffee. I want to sleep, do whatever you feel like,” she lay down while he watched her sleep, like a puppy.

Women are not the weaker sex, even after experiencing such pain, they still have the capacity to get up and walk, regardless of how long it would take. Men on the contrary, though they look a lot stronger, wiser, and meaner, and of course, masculine, are not really strong enough when it comes to their children, especially a daughter. No matter what she does, no matter how rude or soft she is, the daughter would come first, then the rest of the world. It was evident that her mom is bold, beautiful inside, which helped her maintain the family so well and raise Laksha in the best possible way.

***

“I can’t thank you enough, sir, you are a messenger from God himself, thanks for saving my daughter,” Laksha’s dad spoke to the gentleman who dropped her safely.

“It’s my pleasure sir, I have three daughters and I know the pain of raising them, take care of your daughter, she seems to be a very nice girl,” he retired and left their house after some coffee, which he had had to drink after requests from everyone in the family.

“Talk to her, ask her the details,” her dad whispered.

“Why? She is fine, you shut up already,” answered her mom and walked to the kitchen.

“Mom, actually,” Laksha started after a good lunch.

“No explanations required honey, just take some rest and carry on with whatever you want to do,” her mom answered and left the room, placing some new clothes that she had bought on the bed.

Laksha thought for a while and asked her dad for his phone. “I informed Pallavi last night itself. I only told her not to call since you are tired,” her mom said from the kitchen. “Don’t talk much to anyone for a few days, all they will do is to simply question you on what, where, how, why.. You will be tired of answering. There was a guy named Sai, who called in late night, he said he is your colleague. We told him you are fine and just lost your mobile, so maintain the same story.”

“Goddamn, I don’t remember his number,” Laksha snorted. “I must talk to him about some office work, let me talk to him, give me his number dad,” she called out.

“It’s in my mobile, check,” he handed over the phone and walked away.

Sai, I am fine, nothing to worry about. I will explain in detail when we meet. I am just sick and will get back in a week’s time. Please inform Saurav for me. Don’t call for now, I can’t talk much, my mom has strictly told me not to talk to anyone about anything. This is my dad’s number, so please don’t reply.”She quickly sent a text message to him and deleted it.

While she left the phone and tried to turn, she was hit with a tight hug from behind. As she stammered and settled in a second, the deodorant by itself said to her it was Pallavi.

“I’m so sorry, it’s because of me, I should not have invited you to Coimbatore,” Pallavi said emotionally.

“Chill, no big deal and shhhh! Mom told me not to talk about this, okay?” she said.

“So it takes something terrible to bring the princess Pallavi to our home?” Laksha’s mom walked in with a plate of savouries and a cup of tea.

“Aunty, why all this formality, I just had lunch,” Pallavi said.

“Who said it’s for you?” Laksha’s mom asked and all three laughed. “Any age limits for the audience? Shall I join you girls for the chit chat?” she asked.

“You are younger than us aunty, by heart!”

“Okay, you guys carry on, my cooker is calling me, you stay and have lunch,” Laksha’s mom said and left them.

“What really happened? I don’t get it, you left and spoke to me soon after boarding the train, then all of a sudden you vanished,” Pallavi was concerned.

“Let’s not talk about it now, I will tell you after some days, even my parents don’t know, they didn’t ask me,”

“Fine, you look very dull, hmm.. I don’t know what to talk about now,”

“I know what to talk about. Come here, let me show you something,” Laksha told her, picking her small handbag.

She looked in the bag for something, when Pallavi noticed that her bag was torn badly. It had been in a pretty good state in Coimbatore, so she understood that Laksha may have fallen down somewhere or missed the train and run behind it like Kareena Kapoor.

“This is Sai, my best friend for now, I am interested in him and I guess he is also interested in me,” Laksha blushed as Pallavi took a closer look at the picture she was holding.

“He was the one helped me to get a stable job in Mumbai, he is from Andhra, very nice guy. He works in finance and is such a nice person, we were just friends, but for the long run, I felt that I could really like him. We didn’t propose to each other, but I have a strong feeling that he is also in love with me. We keep fighting and work to resolve it, then we fight again, we are crazy about each other.” Laksha smiled while Pallavi kept looking at the picture.

“Hello, why are you standing still like a statue?” she asked and tapped Pallavi on her shoulders.

“What’s his name?”

“Sai,”

“Full name,”

“Huh..some Some North Indian name, his great grandfather got married to a North Indian and the flavour kept going, he said one day,” Laksha answered very casually,checking to see if her parents could hear them.

“His full name is Sai Prabhu,” Pallavi said in a very flat tone.

“How do you know that?” Laksha asked in a confused tone.

“Don’t you remember? Prabhu? The one we met at the Greenpeace rally when we had a great fight during school?”

“It’s him, he challenged me when he left for Mumbai that he will find you and take revenge for being the one who drifted me away from him. I thought he was just kidding and eventually forgot him completely, with my studies and stuff. This picture just shook me, I am so sorry Laksha. I never knew he would do this to us. It was just an infatuation, he was just blabbering in emotion, I thought.. I didn’t know that it would go to this extent,” Pallavi said quietly.

Laksha was puzzled. “I don’t understand, what is happening? So Sai was just fooling me? He is not in love with me? He just wanted to take revenge and did all this to me?” Laksha blurted out in anger, the truth dawning on her.

“Don’t shout, calm down, your mom is here! I’m so stupid, you’re sick and I said all this. But I had to. Thank God it’s still in the initial stage, see, and just don’t reveal this to him. Okay? He will trouble us even more, so just stay smart, we will work through this,” Pallavi said in a soft tone to Laksha, who was still rewinding the best moments with him.

“Come out girls, time for lunch,” they heard.

“Come, let’s have lunch, stop thinking too much right now, this is not necessary. We have to forget and move on, we will talk later, after lunch we will go to my place and talk it over in the garden,” Pallavi was already making a plan, and moved Laksha to the kitchen.

They had lunch and went to Pallavi’s garden. Having gone through a tough time, Laksha found this even more devastating. All she could do was to cry and think of every sweet moment she spent with Sai. The only thought that that kept running in her mind was him and nothing else she felt like she could never think of anything else, even if she wanted to.

The next few days were hard and even when Pallavi tried to help her, all she could do was ignore her and turn over the other side. It took three full days for her to recover what she felt was only 10% of the trauma, and she was still burdened with thoughts. Her confidence felt broken.

Pallavi met her every day to make her feel better, but she failed again and again. The sad face remained the same.

“He helped me a lot, he was searching a room for me to shift into since I am not comfortable in the present one. Daily, he would jog with me to help me lose weight, even when he was healthy enough. He used to pick and drop me, he would come wherever I called him, and he was so possessive that he wouldn’t even let his cousin to talk to me.” Laksha poured out her grief to her best friend.

“Look, he wanted to spend some private time with you, that’s why he took charge of searching for a place for you. He can easily mesmerize and pull you into bed. Who is he to force you to lose weight? You look great even if you are chubby, if he is really in love with you, why should this bother him? He was not possessive, he must be afraid that his cousin would tell you about the plan Laksha, don’t be an emotional fool,” she knocked Laksha’s head.

Life is not really fair, this should not have happened to Laksha. Well, you can’t expect a lion to stop pouncing on you just because you are a vegetarian, as the saying goes. Yes! Shit happens to everybody, regardless of how good at heart you are. This is karma and it will screw you.

Chapter Seven

Whenever Laksha looked at her phone, she thought of Sai, since it was his choice. He had paid the first EMI, so that they could be in touch through technology better.

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These kinds of memories just killed her inside. Like the crumpled chocolate wrapper that had both their names written in the tissue paper in which they played FLAMES that resulted in LOVE. Life in Mumbai was all about Sai and only Sai. Small things preserved to sound sweet aftermath, only drowned her in misery. Love, after all, means different things to each of us. For some it’s parents, for others it’s a pet; for Laksha, it was only Sai. She wrote his name first with every new pen she bought; she loved to buy pens just for this reason. Throughout her life, she had been waiting to fall in love and pour all her affection on somebody even before they declared love for each other. They have been in love already, according to Laksha.

While she was all travelling down memory lane, Pallavi interrupted her.

“Are you still thinking about that guy?”

“No, just thinking about work and pending assignments, taking leave often is not really good during the probation period. I have to join back ASAP.”

“Emergency, doesn’t know Probations Laksh, forget it and concentrate on getting out of this trap, I know how it feels, when I first missed him, you were there for me. So likewise, now I am here,” she held Laksha’s hands tight.

Laksha smiled sadly and put her head on Pallavi’s shoulders.

“Did mom ask anything?” Pallavi inquired.

“You know her, she pushed me in the swimming pool when I was 10 years old and asked me to swim all by myself, even when I was drowning and shouting out for help, even when people around yelled at my mother, she said that I should come out by myself. You think she even cares a damn until I forcefully tell her?” Laksha said.

“She must be curious at least,” Pallavi raised her brows in astonishment.

“She is, but she won’t ask me, stubborn lady,” she smiled with pride.

“That’s good too, let’s not pull them down, they sent you so far away, it involves a lot of trust. It’s not easy for them, so don’t break it,” she held her shoulder and gently shook her.

“I am worried about my job actually, it was his recommendation,” Laksha confessed.

“Crap, as if it’s the only company on Earth, quit that damn job,” Pallavi said furiously.

“I would definitely get another job, but it’s just not that, my role here and the learning is just great, no one can understand that I know so much as a trainee, its beyond words, I love my role,”

“Okay, fine, he is just your friend, right? You didn’t propose or anything yet, keep going that way. If he proposes, say a big no, don’t even let him know that you understood he is a cheat. Promise me,” Pallavi rolled out her fingers and pointed them straight to her eyes.

“But what if he asks why?”

“When he hasn’t even disclosed his full name to you till date, what makes you want to explain why you are not interested?”

“Makes sense,”

“Or, okay, tell him that your parents found a groom for you,” Pallavi exclaimed with an invisible bulb switching on over her head.

“This is so stupid,” Laksha turned towards the road. “Leave this, I am leaving next week, let us tackle it later. What’s the news your end?”

“Tragedies, as usual. We are facing the same old hassles, we are bankrupt and the debtors are forcing us to hand over the house. The interest has piled up and is now huge, we can never repay in this lifetime. So the only option is to give away our only home, which had been preserved for generations,” Pallavi pressed her lips together and looked up seriously.

“I am so sorry, how stupid I am, involving you in my small problems when you are already facing such big issues in your life,”

“Come on, big deal! Facing the same for years together, the debtors thought I will bag a job and repay in lakhs, stupid people. They don’t know that I will not get a job, and even if I do, repaying will take my whole life!”

“Are you nuts? Look, I’m sure you will get a job next time. All I dream of is to see you grow big, really big. You will get better opportunities, they say engineers get work in the US or UK and make a lot of money in a few years. Repay all your debts, settle and live happily ever after!” Laksha threw her hands up in the air at acute angles.

“Very nice to hear, let’s see, thanks for the high hopes, it boosts me up,” she gave Laksha a bear hug.

***

It was late when Laksha went to bed. She didn’t notice her mobile, which she had left on the bed, as it rattled whenever she turned left and right, trying to sleep. Some keys got pressed and the music player started off on its own, with the heart soothing Tum hi ho song from Aashiqui 2. It just took 2 seconds for her to recognize it, she hastened to switch off the volume and peeped out to see if it had disturbed her parents. By then, the phrase Zindagi, ab tum hi ho had begun.

The only Hindi song in her mobile that Sai had uploaded, even before handing over the mobile to her. “I love one song and I want you to hear it, open the music folder and play it, I will stay on WhatsApp,” he had ordered in the sweetest way possible through a small greeting card that he stuck over the gift wrapped phone. She carefully unwrapped every part and smoothened the wrapper to keep it safe forever. She read the greeting message four times and flicked open the mobile, inserted the SIM card and opened WhatsApp, “Hi dolly, been waiting all day long to see your name pop.”

She swiftly clicked the Music folder and found Aditya Roy Kapoor holding his jacket open while Sharaddha Kapoor hugged him tightly, their noses sliding next to each other. She smiled broadly, listening to the romantic song.

Chapter Eight

“Laksh, remember, don’t disclose anything to Sai, and try to behave normally. Go and work as usual and don’t meet him. If you need to just keep giving him some excuse, like you have to be in office for long hours. Concentrate on your work and nothing else,” Pallavi gave her a lot of advice before she left.

“Yes, sure,” Laksha nodded, feeling low.

“It’s totally okay, prevention is better than cure. I am so happy that you did not disclose your love for him. I really did not expect him to go to such lengths, otherwise I would have warned you in advance. I underestimated him so I am also responsible for this mess. I am so sorry, I feel like I am the mother of all misery,” Pallavi said all this in a very low, sad tone.

“Cheer up, he is such an unethical and cheap person that I don’t want to meet him again. I’ve blocked his number already.” Laksha spoke with confidence, which helped Pallavi feel better.

“That’s nice,; thank God you had his picture! Otherwise, it would have been an epic disaster,”

“True. Anyway, you take care, and I am sorry that I feel terrible today. I can’t make it to the station,”

“Come on; don’t be so formal with me. So when are you planning to leave?” Pallavi questioned.

“No plans yet, I am just feeling down and I want to spend time here at home, so let’s see. I will call you once I decide,” Laksha said.

“Bye Laksha, I want to spend more time with you, but I might have any interviews next week. All these months I have been preparing only to get placed, so I haven’t really enjoyed student life as a normal person would do. I used to think that those who do that and don’t study would have nowhere to turn after their course. But look where I am, fallen flat on my face,” Pallavi vented her thoughts.

“This is not rock bottom. You come to Mumbai after you get a job, we will celebrate,”

“Sure, pray for me!”

***

Laksha felt lonely as soon as Pallavi had left. Though it takes a lifetime to forget someone who gives one so much to remember, there comes a point in life, to dial it down and swing in life’s own way. Just being mean, doesn’t make it easy. Even though you survive a storm and feel relaxed for a while, life may suddenly throw another one your way.

Laksha took a break, she took a drive along the marina beach from the light house to the Anna square in the morning, dropped by the Spencer plaza to for some window shopping, drove across the mount road, and reached Amethyst for a cup of coffee. She walked past the garden, with thoughts of Sai creeping and welling her eyes. “Why did he do this to me, why this happened to me,” and more “Why’s”crossed her mind. She drove back to home in Gopalapuram, after the “Me” time she spent in Amethyst, that one place she goes often to revamp herself.

***

“No… No… Let me go, it hurts! Ahhhh…. No… Let me go, leave me, I want to go home, let me go, let me go!” Laksha screamed.

“Laksha, are you alright? What happened?” her father was sitting right next to her with a frightened expression.

“Nightmare, nothing much,” Laksha gasped. “Just let me have some water,” she stretched out her hands to get hold of the bottle.

“I warned you not to see any stupid TV show before sleeping. I got so scared,” her dad walked out of the room while her mom stood next to the door and laughed at him.

“Stop laughing, will you?” he glared at her.

“Stop kidding, will you? She is just shouting from her bed and what else can it be except a bad dream? Grow up, old man,” she winked at Laksha and closed the door as he walked away with a small smile.

Kids they are, thank God they don’t know what has happened. I don’t want to tell them ever, so that they stay chirpy as always. I will grow in my career and walk their way, going forward. This crappy incident shouldn’t dominate my life. I will let this humiliating truth and bury it within me. Laksha thought this and whiled away the gloomy night alone

The next morning, she woke at 11:00 A.M and wondered when she had fallen asleep. She walked out and saw Pallavi’s mom sitting in the hall, discussing something seriously with her mom. She went a few steps closer; her mom noticed her and gestured to her to get back into the room.

Laksha kept thinking about the unusual visit, again and again.

“Why did she come? What she is trying to do? Did Pallavi tell her everything? What will mom do, will she lose her cool? Will she inform dad and stop me from going back to Mumbai? No, no, I can’t afford to lose my job, I am trying to grow there, I can’t imagine myself in any other company. What can I do?” Laksha’s mind popped all these questions again and again, and her heart raced like a drunken person driving a car on the empty ECR route.

As soon as she heard the door shut, she rushed towards her mom and asked what happened.

“Why are you so bothered? Calm down first, this is the first time I am seeing you so anxious about something,” Laksha’s mom asked with a suspicious expression.

“No, just curious mom,” she was expecting an immediate answer.

“They are moving, handing over the home to the debtors. They signed an agreement that if they don’t return the amount, it will leave their hands forever. She just came today to inform us and share her worries. Now you don’t take this to your dumb heart,” her mom spoke in a flat tone, with thoughts on Laksha’s behavior.

“That’s awful, to where are they moving?”

“Back to their hometown, but Pallavi will continue to study in Coimbatore till she finds a job. Don’t share this with her, if she tells you, just nod and don’t comment,” Laksha’s mom kept talking while working with the vessels in the kitchen.

“How will she know that I am nodding? If we talk over the phone that is, mom,” Laksha asked playfully, popping her head into the kitchen door.

Her mom looked around for something to hit her with, and ran out with a whisk.

“Thank God, I don’t know why I turned so anxious all of a sudden, phew,” she mumbled and walked past the hall.

“Aye, come for lunch,” her mom pulled her braided hair. “Thought of asking you days back, your hair looks shinier and softer than ever, how come?” she asked.

That question reminded her instantly one of her best days with Sai.

Do I smell breakfast?” he asked.

What?”

I smell eggs, where? You have them hidden?” he pulled her handbag.

That’s my hair, I applied an egg to give it some shine,”

Oh man, I will take you to a nice parlour this weekend Dolly,” he smiled.

Huh, no way, I don’t visit parlours often, just for haircuts and that too once in a year,”

I know, that’s why I am taking you this weekend,”

No, I don’t want, please,”

Come on, how will they make money then? They depend on us, let’s buy them food,” he chuckled.

What’s your brain made up of, Sai? How can you come up with such an excuse to visit the parlour?” she laughed.

“Hellooooo,” Laksha’s mom waved her hand, bringing Laksha back to the present.She said dully, “Egg white, I apply egg white,” and walked to the table to eat lunch. She kept fidgeting with a spoon, and her mom kept watching the change with widened eyes.

“What’s bothering you, Laksha?” she asked her finally.

“Nothing, just not in the mood to eat,” she took a few seconds to get back to normal. She realized it was no longer right to stay home, since it would reveal the battle she was fighting within.“Mom, I want to leave,” she said in a blunt tone.

“Where? Back to work, Mumbai?”

“Yes, I have left all my assignments and taken a big break. Since it’s a startup and the CEO is happy with my work, he let me take the liberty. I don’t want to extend it and take advantage of them,” she clarified.

“Hmm. Let dad come, I will let you know,” for the very first time, her mom considered postponing a decision and that scared Laksha.

What if she is against me going back to Mumbai? Why she is suddenly going to consult dad? What they are going to discuss? They might ask me to stay back in Chennai and find a job. That is not what I want, I can’t afford to lose my job,” she kept thinking things like over and over again though another sleepless night, with tears assisting them all along.

***

“How would you like to travel? Flight or train?” Laksha’s dad asked her while she kept staring at the row of red ants walking across the old wall.

She didn’t respond, so he touched her shoulders and she turned swiftly, alarmed, to which he gave her a puzzled look.

“I didn’t notice you dad! What were you asking, huh.? Did you say something?” she looked at him, trying to gain her balance.

“I asked whether you want to take a flight or train dear, is something wrong with you?” he asked in a concerned voice.

“You have money, dad?” she asked back.

“What question is this? Just tell me your preferred mode and that would do,” she had hit his ego in the right spot, which turned him angry.

“Sorry dad, a flight would make things easier. I don’t want to use train anymore,” she answered, not meeting his eyes. .

She thought about the furious dream she had and went outside. She saw her dad talking over the phone to his friend to check flight schedules.

“Flight rates are high now Laksha, I am trying my level best, don’t worry. I will make sure I arrange a ticket as soon as possible,” her dad told her, noticing her walk outside the room without looking back.

“I am still okay with train, if you or mom accompanies me,” she replied and turned to see if he looked at her, but he didn’t.

“I will go with her,” her mom answered. “It’s been a long time since I visited Mumbai,” she said.

“I will book the tickets; you’ll pack your bags. When do you want to return?” he asked her mom and moved close to her. Laksha walked away quickly.

***

Chapter Nine

“Hello, I’m calling from VE interiors. Am I talking to someone from Laksha’s family?”

“Yes, I am her father,” the voice responded.

“Sir, sorry to inform you that Laksha has been admitted in the hospital. We checked our records and your number was given in her emergency contacts,”

“What? What happened to her? Is she alright?”

“Sir, please calm down. When can you come over?”

“I’m in Chennai right now, but her mom is in Mumbai. I will contact her, but please tell me what happened!”

“Sir, can you please send someone immediately? I don’t know what really happened; I am just calling as per my instructions,”

“Fine! Please give me the hospital details, I will send her mom right away.”

***

“She is all right now, we will discharge her tomorrow. Please make sure you give her the tablets regularly. If this happens again, we will have to do some tests,” the doctor on call informed Laksha’s mom and moved away.

Laksha didn’t have the courage to look at her mother. Though the lady knew what the issue was, she was not ready to ask Laksha about it.

“I’m bored of this Horlicks mom, can you please get me some coffee?” she asked her mom a little angrily.

“Shut up and sleep, will you?” mom said, raising her left eyebrow, which a lot of people can’t do.

The day was filled with silence and small talk, and nobody asked Laksha about what had happened. Though her mom was confused and almost on the verge of questioning her, she kept thinking over again and again about Laksha without spilling a bean. When her father called, she calmed him down and explained that she would stay with Laksha for some time. She also asked him to cancel her return tickets.

“Tell me what you want to do Laksha, do you want to talk to me about something? Or do you want to do something different today,” her mom asked.

“Hmm. Now that I have lost my job, what else have I got to do? I don’t know what to do,” Laksha finally said what was on her mind, sipping the hot coffee with extra sugar and looking out the window.

“What made you behave like this, Laksha?”

“Love, mom. Love for my job and my career. I saw my career progression happen in that office. I don’t know why I shouted and screamed like a wild cat when the receptionist didn’t allow me in. I wanted to meet Saurav and ask him why, but she said I could not, because I’d got a pink slip,”

“Well, she did her job,”

“I did too; do you know how hard I worked? Don’t talk to me about my job,” with that, Laksha screamed again. Her eyeballs moved rapidly and she clenched her head tightly with her hands as if she was getting hit with a hammer.

“Relax Laksha, you’re freaking me out, for God sake! Doctor, Doctor.” her mom ran out to call for help.

A rush of two hours kept everyone alarmed. For the first time, she realized what was happening to her daughter, and was aghast seeing her shouting wildly.

The only confidence the family had was in her being right next to her daughter, so they sounded relaxed after the first period of anxiety passed.

“You will take care of her, I know that. Please bring back our daughter as she was, I know you will,” her husband left a short text message, which brought a smile to her lips, relieving some of the tension she had been under the whole day.

An hour later, the nurse informed her that Laksha was injected with a sedative to relax her. She was to be left undisturbed till she woke up on her own.

“I want to know the details of what happened,” her mom said.

“I know, I will check with the doctor, please wait,” the nurse said, giving her an understanding look.

After about forty minutes, the nurse appeared again and directed Laksha’s mom to a different room to meet a new doctor. This doctor had a few files on her table with the name “Laksha” on them

“I am Laksha’s mom,” she said with a look of hesitation. She assumed there were a large number of reports within the folder.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Namrata. Please don’t be worried. I understand your situation. Your daughter will be alright,”

“Can you tell me what happened to Laksha in one sentence? And then, whatever, I don’t understand, you can elaborate on that. I am strong, you don’t have to worry about me, I’m very practical.” She said firmly, adjusting her posture.

“Laksha has PTSD.”

“Ok.. A little more in detail, please,”

“It’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Chapter Ten

“I know that you already know what happened to Laksha, when she got lost. So stop trying to hide it from me. I am her father and I want to know what’s happening to her,”

“That’s so sweet of you, great that you figured it out,” said his wife.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Can I reveal the flashback a little later? I have some work,”

“So this is why I rushed to Mumbai, is it? I am her father; I want to know what’s wrong!”

“To sum it up, she was betrayed by someone she trusted, her legs were pulled from under her by her beloved. She lost her job when she was trying to be calm. Everything together pushed her to the limit, so she slipped into acute depression,” Laksha’s mom said in a flat voice.

“Is the depression a part of heredity?”

Silence crept in. She stood like a statue for a minute, suddenly remembering the toughest part of her life. She was raped by four men when she was sixteen, thrown out by her family and treated in an orphanage by a distant relative, whose children were now very close to her.. It took her years to recover from the traumatic event and the depression it caused. During the orphanage visits, she met a wonderful guy who fell in love with her. Now, he is Laksha’s dad, a proud father and husband, a man whose world revolves around his two girls.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you, but it was so hard for you to become the person you are now. I made sure nothing hurts your heart and gave you space to be yourself. I can’t really take it if our daughter has fallen into the same trap.” He said sadly.

“I wouldn’t mind my daughter falling into the same trap if there was someone who could help her get over the trauma like you did for me,” she admitted, while her eyes filled with tears.

Life pulls down every person to the least possible negativity and thrusts them outward to shine. It is the fight that matters; when you reach the bottom, you are left with no choice but to pick yourself up and climb every difficult step. Feeling down and letting situations tear you apart proves that we all are human and nothing more or less. So, there is no need to worry about the devastating moments; there will come a moment when you will be forced to stand for your rights and make one single move that will pull you into the world of success. Seize the moment and grow, that’s all you can do and that’s why you are born.

Life is never easy; there will be one issue after another to test your nerves. It might be beloved’s death, a severe health problem, career stumbles, breakups, divorces, loneliness, and anything else. Be strong and make sure your days mean something, find out what helps you grow towards fulfilling your satisfaction.

“I was afraid so I acted as if I didn’t know to swim. He assured me that he would help me and held my hands tight. He didn’t leave at any point, and I felt his love in the way he clenched my hands. I strongly believe in the connection between us, but I just could not digest the fact that he did all this just to betray me.” Laksha coughed, and took a short break from narrating her story to have some water.

“What if both Sai and Prabhu are not one and the same? What if Pallavi lied? How can you believe that they are the same person just on her word?” Like an arrow the question hit Laksha, and she widened her eyes without moving the bottle from her mouth.

“Mom, Its Pallavi,”

“That’s why I am questioning you.

“There are a lot of questions in my head now, what should I do?”

“Take these tablets and sleep, I will clear the mess and you can take your course of action after that,”

The next few days were bleak, and Laksha found it difficult to sleep without medicines. The disturbing flashback of the day where she saw Priyanka, her friend’s sister who accompanied them on the Pondicherry trip, all drunk and getting exploited in public turned chronic, running on behind her eyelids even when she tried to sleep. The way she ran to her rescue, her attempts to save her and getting back stabbed in return, holding Priyanka’s hands and running and finally, getting hold of someone to help..all of it was still a nightmare.

“It was pitch dark when I walked out of the station holding Priyanka’s hand, and suddenly there was a tiny spark of fire. It was a matchstick burning. Only then I realized that there was a person sitting right there, which freaked the hell out of me,” Laksha explained her most frightening moments to the doctor. It was quite unbearable to her parents, so much so that they couldn’t listen anymore and walked away.

When pictures of Priyanka had Saurav closely knit to her like a conjoined twin, she was literally broken into pieces. Though, she promised not to reveal the identity, still, the incident never turned fruitful, but she lost her job, which was never a part of the agenda she ever planned. The twists and turns of life, like the slides in a swimming pool, is quite interesting indeed. You may never know how many turns it has or where it will direct you, and the ‘U’ turns and ‘S’ turns will ultimately push you into the great wide water that is destined for you. So let life unfold as it is supposed to be.

The adrenaline responses and over-reactions to even a tiny sound left Laksha in great panic. Her stress hormones were tested; the Dexamethasone Suppression Test proved the severity of her PTSD. Right from the stress reaction to her immunity, mood swings and emotions, even her digestion left her unable to cope.

“Admit her, she has to go through many treatments and we don’t have any prognosis just now, it might take few months to a few years for her to recover.” The doctor said while scribbling some medication names on Lakha’s prescription.

“No, I am taking her back,” Laksha’s mom said, to which the doctor and other two nurses didn’t react instantly.

“Do you understand what I am trying to convey?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, I do, but I am opting out and taking her home,” she said in an even firmer tone.

After an hour of debate, Laksha was discharged and taken home with heavy prescriptions. The tablet helped her get some sleep, and her mom gave her undivided attention that helped her feel safe. Her sudden screams, midnight fears, all received an immediate hug when she opened her arms. After some weeks, there came a day when Laksha slept peacefully without waking and to top it all, she didn’t take her scheduled pill. Her mom had replaced it with lookalike vitamin tablets days earlier to pull her out of the medicated addiction that she anticipated.

“You know what is better? When you sit right next to the person who needs your help and help them to recover. It is the best thing when you have already gone through what that person is going through, have struggled without the kind of person that you needed. I don’t see the strain in here, but I am now the person I wished I once had. So don’t be worried Laksha,”

“Mom, I don’t know where my life is and what I am doing here, I know I am a burden to you both right now. I just want to hold the neck of those who betrayed me and –“

“Don’t think like that, those who screwed your life will eventually screw themselves even more. What is important is that you have to now resume your life and career,”

“Right, I get it. But before that I should recover, how do I forget the bad memories?”

“If you keep repeating that you don’t want to see a chimp, that’s the only thing that will come to your mind. Concentrate on something that will distract you,”

“Great, what should I do?”

“No more hints, find it yourself.”

“That’s so mean Mom –“

“Shut up and sleep now, I am sleeping.” said her mother, and rolled over to sleep.

Chapter Eleven

Months later…

“Your password was changed 3 months ago,” said the official mail id, she had.

After several trials of her password, she understood that it is no longer active.

Laksha sent umpteen emails to Saurav, to send her a copy of the experience certificate. Her emails were not reverted and she was clueless about her next step. To recover from her trauma took nearly six odd months, her mom being her backbone for every step she took; it strengthened their relationship than ever before. Her life had a great changeover, with the motivating smiles and energy boosting talks from her parents. She felt a lot better, but without a career, she felt like moving around in a wheelchair.

Right from her childhood, her parents taught how important job is, and she caught hold of it tight. The days were paralyzed, when none returned her calls be it Saurav, or even Pallavi for that matter. Though, she had some hints of things going otherwise, she couldn’t take a step against it, as her illness would push her into a note of depression again.

She was afraid to take the first step towards her life, like sipping a hot cup of coffee which could burn the tongue.

“Hi Laksha, how are you?” asked Priyanka, as she stepped into her room.

“Hey, hi, come in, are you alright?”

“Am, I just dropped by to thank you with all my heart, I will never forget you for this lifetime.”

All Laksha could do, was to smile and look away elsewhere, to avoid the awkwardness.

“In a way, am totally responsible for things happening around you. Am so sorry, you saved me from life threatening moment. I don’t know, if in case it wasn’t you, and if it was any close friend of mine, am not even sure whether they would jump from the moving train to save me, but you did.”

“Nothing as such Priyanka-“

“When I realized things, I was totally shocked about the heck I was in, I just don’t think I would be standing alive here, if you were not there,”

“It just happens, don’t we meet friends at common joint and wave a hello instantly, it is just life’s way of telling us that the world is small,”

“Yes, true, and it did show me, that what goes around, comes around,”

“Means-“

“I made a mistake, which held my neck and may be, at some walk of my life, I would have done something good, that you came in disguise to help me out,”

“Yeah, you sure did, Priyanka, I was a lot more conservative, but Mumbai life changed me. Now, I realized that smoking, drinking or even hooking around, has nothing to do with one’s character. Am all tuned to what life has given me, I am living the trend and shed my orthodox skin,”

“Am sure you did, Thanks! But, I still want to spill some beans, in return, as a favor,”

“You mean?”

“Am a close friend of Saurav, I mean, yeah, we were in a relationship. I introduced Pallavi to him, and she had been doing some data entry related work for him.”

“Whattttt? Sauravvv and Pallavi?” Laksha raised her voice in shock.

“Yep, am sure that you didn’t know this, Pallavi didn’t want to share this with you,”

“But, she did start all this long back, even before I know Saurav, right? I mean, I… I.. Just couldn’t connect the dots Priyanka,” Laksha’s tensed brows, kept scrutinizing.

“Okay, what about Sai Prabhu?” Laksha questioned relaxing her brows and widening her eyes.

“Who is that?”

Now, Priyanka’s brows furrowed with a million dollar question, with the all new, new character entering the twist.

“Aw! Snap! Give me sometime Priyanka,” Laksha pulled a pillow and slant herself in an obtuse angle while Priyanka, was still at 90 degrees. Straight like a Barbie, with flexible hands and legs.

“Okay, so what else you know? What’s the twist all about?”

“Saurav and I introduced Pallavi to his cousin; I didn’t know much about him, looks like he is a misogamist, that’s how Saurav introduced him to me. He accompanied to the Goa trip, but, I didn’t talk to him much, as Saurav doesn’t like it,”

“What? Saurav and you went to Goa?”

“Yeah! It was that guy’s birthday and he was celebrating there, but we joined only after a day or two, I don’t remember.”

“And-“

“And?”

“Pallavi accompanied us; I asked her to join as she was upset with her placement results. The other guy convinced her and promised a good job as well. I even remember, she was terribly crying and no-one could convince her and only after talking to you she was better. Only then she was back to normal.”

“Oh my.. Damn..” Laksha thought, but didn’t say it loud.

“I was surprised, that, even when most of us were around, that too in a Party town like Goa, with alcohol, she was so much depressed and all it took was just a few minutes of phone call with you, to get her convinced.”

Laksha felt like a good number of little cartoon birds flying around her head. Sorry, am just kidding, it was actually like nailing her with every word hammering the nail go deep.

“Can you please pick that tablet from the blue colored box in that Almira, I feel like suffocating,”

“Oops, are you alright? Let me pick that,”

She opened the cupboard, picked the only box in the third compartment, and walked towards Laksha picking a bottle of water residing right next to the bed.

Laksha swallowed the pill in a jiffy and frowned, for the sake of its bitter taste.

“Sorry I have to rest for a while, can you please excuse me,” Laksha spoke in a softened tone.

“Sure, sorry again, we will meet later,” she said. In a minute, Priyanka left their place and walked out while Laksha rested on the pillow.

Laksha was curious at the same time confused, with no further thought, she slept for hours together.

***

Sometimes, life probes you and sometimes, life turns resilient. There are phases, and there are not-so-lively phases. Sometimes you feel wow and sometimes you feel a void, sometimes you feel goddamn, and yes, there comes an ultimate confusing phase where you can do nothing – just literally nothing! Likewise, Laksha couldn’t do anything!

Laksha had too many questions popping; she couldn’t move even a little finger. The un-answered phone calls to every number she dialed increase the count of question marks, and nothing more. To let go of things that’s pestering her, took a while.

Who betrayed me? Who is true to me? What did I actually do? Why me?” questions bombarded her, and it affected her recovery stages.

“Stop thinking all the crap and take enough rest,” Laksha’s mother told her.

“I want my questions to be answered, properly answered.” She said.

“Well, so you think the lion won’t pounce on you, if you’re a vegetarian? Don’t be a kiddo, get some life,” her mother said.

“Priyanka, sorry that am bugging you, but just want to know a few details, can we meet,” Laksha sent a text message to which she replied swiftly.

***

“Amethyst is my favorite place, the plants here know me more, been visiting often these days,” Laksha broke the ice.

“Hmm, nice that you revamped yourself so quick, I just kept off for you to get well soon,” she spoke with a tinge of fear and guilt.

“I am just confused, actually I am done with thinking enough about things happened in my life, but still some clarity would do,” she spoke straight.

“I am not sure Laksha, I didn’t know that you work for Saurav, and things that you asked about Sai Prabhu is totally foreign to me,”

“Well, where is Pallavi now? What is she doing?” Laksha cared enough.

“I just know she is working for L&T and is in training now, not sure of the location. Her mom left to some native land down south I guess,”

“That, yeah, I know her mom isn’t here, but would like to know where Pallavi actually is and why she doesn’t revert to me, she went inaccessible by the time I recover,” she said.

“How was Sai and Pallavi in the trip?” she asked again.

“That’s their first meeting, but he swept off in the first go, he easily made it to her comfort zone,” Priyanka said.

“He does that always,” she thought.

“Actually, we never knew you worked for Saurav, pure coincidence, as I delegated the work to Pallavi she was not informed to whom she works for,” Priyanka cleared.

“Yeah, coincidence plays a major role, just like how I saw you in one of the stations on the way from Coimbatore. I never knew you were the senior Pallavi told me about, how do you know Saurav?”

“Social networking, some chat room, we met many a times and we were in a casual relationship for a while,” Priyanka explained at ease.

“Hmm! So when did you know that I work for him?”

“When you saw the pictures and asked me that night, one of the worst, I was all drunk and never knew what exactly happened. Been a while, Am not in touch with Saurav much,”

“Can you call him now? I just want to ask him something,” Laksha asked in a pleasing manner.

“I will,” said Priyanka and dialed his number.

***

“Long time Priyanka, how are you?” Saurav asked with enthusiasm.

“Am good, but am Laksha and not Priyanka,” she said.

“Laksha?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, would like to know why my calls and mails were not reverted,” Laksha asked.

“I hope you know what a pink slip means, it means that you don’t deserve to know the reason why we expelled you from the company,” he answered professionally.

“Sir, please, I trust and respect you, please give me one good reason,”

“You want one? Well, I have a list. Too many holiday plans and leaves in a short period, not completing the assignments, not informing your leaves and add few more “not’s” before whatever you are supposed to do. You ruined my respect for you, ” he flushed his anger.

“Is that all? I was not well-”

“I don’t want patients and mentally ill fools in my office Laksha, you ruined my company’s reputation in front of my clients,” he yelled.

Laksha went mute over the words he spelled and her eyes welled. She cut the call and remained quiet.

“Please Laksha-“

“It’s ok Priyanka, I can deal myself, please have your coffee,” she said and stirred her Irish coffee, which she usually takes whenever she hits Amethyst.

“You want me to drop you somewhere?” she asked after some silence while she saw her finishing her drink.

“Nah, I will take an auto from here, how will you go?”

“My home is very near, Gopalapuram,” she said.

***

Sometimes to cry, doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you are stronger letting go of things that hurt you. Many a times, we hear to cry a river and walk over the bridge, which most of us find it difficult. Being bombarded with too many taboos and issues, and mostly million dollar questions, Laksha found it difficult.

“You know there are many a things happening in the world, few get divorced, few lose their loved ones in a terrible accident, few are orphans, and you are bothered about your life which is nothing before-“

“Even stealing a candy from a kid is cheating, and it is devastating for that kid, don’t define what would bother who,” Laksha threw the arrow before her father could finish the sentence.

He went mute for a while, walked across the hall and smiled at his wife with pride. She smirked and walked across, to give Laksha a cup of milk. They were proud of her, no matter what, any parent would feel proud whatever the child achieves or not. After all, they are parents!

***

“Get some fresh air, go walk around, see something interesting, come back when you feel better,” her mom said.

Laksha walked past the road, took the first bus and got down in a while when she noticed a big park. She walked in, to see all age groups in there, there were old couples walking and young chaps playing tennis. She smiled at the kids playing see-saw and felt light. She heard some toddler’s voice nearby, and walked past the park to notice a pre-school and she stood right there, watching the kids. From then on, she started visiting every day, and felt way too good to see the kids.

“I feel much better, I guess I want to become a teacher,” Laksha said to her parents at the dinner.

“Good option, do whatever you want, all we want to see is, you are leading a peaceful life,” her dad said.

“Should I approach the same pre-school,” she asked her mom.

“Let’s give it a try, but if it fails, don’t worry, I will make arrangements,”

“I have been watching your daughter visiting our kids every day, but, we have rules and regulations with the qualifications one requires turning a pre-school teacher. Am afraid, she can’t join in here,” said the pre-school in-charge when Laksha’s mom tried her luck with them.

“My daughter had some depressing moments, watching these kids every day, gives her peace, we are not looking for money or anything else. Please let her visit these kids, let it be a disguise, I will pay for it,”

“I am sorry, I don’t have the privilege to take any decisions as such, but..”

“But.. Do you have any other option?”

“I will check with other branches and franchise of this school, let’s see her luck,” said the lady.

“Thank you, I will be more than happy to receive your call,” she gave her number and came back home.

“I would be more than happy to teach, it is nice to see those teachers in there helping those toddlers to learn the basics. Maybe, I should teach aspiring architects mom, I think so, because I know enough to teach others, I will apply for a M.Sc course and then pick teaching, alright” she said.

“Nice, go ahead,” she said.

***

The days rolled and the call from one of the pre-school franchise got Laksha’s mom a job after 20 years. She took the opportunity, as Laksha took up the M.Sc course and both excelled. Laksha’s dad was pretty happy to see both of them, picking a career of their choice and making the most of it.

Every day, talks about “you know there is a kid named…” and “That parent cried watching the kid reciting poems…” fancied her dad. After all, he was thrilled to see his wife proud and more confident. He also enrolled her in the prerequisite course that one requires to join as a teacher, and he planned to take a separate franchise, if things go well!

***

Thoughts of Sai would creep in and disturb her, sweet disturbance though. That one expression where we lay our eyes comfortably staring an abstract object, and smiling with a heavy heart when we miss a loved one, even after being betrayed just proves us human. Feeling inferior, or less than what we deserve or even whiling away that we deserve much better than the relationship we went through, goes in vain. If a past relationship hurts you now, it means you matured over time, but what was it can never be replaced by any other memory. To fall in love is human, to betray is also human if you take a closer look at it.

Laksha sipped her favorite coffee, at Barista in Besant Nagar. She missed Pallavi, though she was not ready to accept why she left all of a sudden. A couple crossing the road in bike, reminded Sai and his cute and flattering talks.

“Will you invite me for your wedding?” Sai asked while driving her to the hostel room.

“Gosh, will I? I will not even meet you by then,” she giggled.

“Then who will drop you back home from work?”

“Definitely not you, you will never receive my wedding card,” she chuckled with a punch.

“Well, yeah, and I know the reason,” he grinned and she pat his head shying away.

Good days, she thought looking away from those in the café, who gave a stern look watching her sipping coffee alone. “Who comes alone to Barista?” they thought, which she ignored and felt peace, walking near the beach.

***

2 years passed, and Laksha joined a mediocre college as a teaching assistant.

“Ensure you all stand in proper queue, and don’t talk to anyone unnecessarily,” Laksha instructed her students, and walked straight searching her college students.

Scorching sun, and it is so hard to stand in here, she thought and moved to a shade.

“Hi, you look familiar,” a voice approached to which Laksha turned furrowing.

“No, I don’t think so, I just joined this college few months back,” Laksha told, but something struck her and she was already figuring out things.

“Well, okay, but I am a social activist for years together, I have been doing this from school days,” he said.

“That’s nice, wow! I was not at all interested in any of these things, even now, but yeah, as a college professor I should accompany my students. Have been to one during my school days I guess and just that,” Laksha told.

“I was not keenly interested initially, I would just approach beautiful young girls back then and lately, I started involving with interest and years rolled like crazy,”

A small kid approached and handed over a small tube to him, “Sir, sunscreen lotion,” he said and rushed away.

“I don’t wear sunscreen, do you?” he asked.

“I don’t,” she said and smiled.

“Am Prabhu, and you?”

“Laksha” she said and their eyes met!

***The End***

Epilogue

How will I ever tell you? – Pallavi

Pallavi –Software Developer, read the ID card that I wore. I had a very tough day, and I walked out of my office and traveled back to my hostel in OMR. I crossed the colleges to reach the other far end of the district, where I stayed in an apartment. Yes, I crossed the “Nurture – play school” that Laksha’s mom runs, that was yards away from my office.“Hmmm,” I told myself feeling a sink as if my heart dropped an anchor deep down. I felt heavy.

I am near you, will we ever meet? When we do, will I ever have the guts to talk to you?” I was talking to Laksha within me. “I can’t forgive myself for what I did to you, but maybe, you will definitely forgive me, if you get to know the truth,” I said to my Laksha who is within me again.

There were two cute kids playing with each other, they resembled the ease of being together, feeling nice and all that. “This is how we were Laksha, I fucked what we were, the moment I got to know that I will wear this ID card the very next day,” I scolded myself and banged myself in the window’s bars.

The phone rang, “Where are you Pallavi?” he asked.

“On the way, will reach in the next twenty minutes,” I told and cut the call.

Husband ended” read the gray colored text when I pressed the red button with the old received symbol. “Wow, too good to read this,” I felt.

“I know you were ill Laksha, and I also know you will be fine pretty soon. I know that if I break open the truth, it would break you down into chunks that would have made it even harder for your revamping survival,” I thought, as if am talking to her. I imagined talking to her on a serene beach.

“I have made mistakes, and have done only that,” I thought. “You’re good for nothing” I told myself.

“But, I saved you from a person who would have ditched you big time,” I smiled with pride, but the price paid is high though.

I don’t know, whether meeting you would do any good. How can I ever tell you, that I attended the phone call from Sai in Coimbatore? How will I ever say, that I felt vulnerable and re-routed him to forget you giving fake meaning to your character? How will I ever tell you, that I was talking to him the whole night confusing him to forget you? How will I ever, ever, ever tell you that I liked Sai and Prabhu are not the same, but I lied,” I was slapping myself for every question that I kept asking myself.

Did I just do all this to get this blue tag around my neck?” she might think so. “She will definitely feel happy that I made it to get back the home from the debtors, when she gets to know, but yeah, I ditched her for this reason as well” I thought and felt filthy.

“Velachery,” the conductor raised his voice, and I swiftly distracted myself and walked down the steps.

I surfed to see if any Honda active with a well dressed, tummy popping person is waiting for me, turning back every few seconds. I did find him, and rushed, with a smile, a faker one thought.

“Hey Vasanth, how was your day?” I asked him.

“Good one Pall, hope it was the same with you!” he told and raised to Vroom. He doesn’t like to ask questions, I know. After all, it’s been a year that I got married to him. He found it difficult to balance and tripped upon a stone, people around rushed and a few hands held me.

“Are you mad? With a pregnant lady by your side, won’t you be careful,” I heard a few voices from all around.

“Just lost balance,” he told and took me home. I entered, left my handbag, and went straight to the kitchen. “I fucked my life,” the same sentence that I repeat from day one.

“You need this, karma is a bitch, get fucked you badass.” I heard my husband shouting from the hall. I need not peep out, I know he was watching WWE, which I hate it more than how much I hate him and the fucking life am leading with him. That sentence he told, pricked me hard, yeah karma is a bloody bitch, I told myself.

“Am hungryyyyyy,” shouted the guy sitting in padmasana on the bed, whom I married, as Sai said on my face that he will no marry me and doesn’t have any idea of marrying anyone else in his life. “yeah, coming,” I shouted and crossed the kitched with dosas lined up one after the other with the leftover Sambar. “Thanks!” he yelled and said again, “Come on, hit him hard, oh yeah, baby…,” that pissed me off instantly, and walked to the kitchen.

“Did I ever propose you? Or ask Laksha did I ever propose her. No, I mean I am clear of what I want, I hate marriage and had no idea about it,” that’s how Sai spoke to me the last day when I asked him about our future plans. The one incident that strikes me hard, whenever I pick any grocery item from the slab which had the branded seal “Sai.”

“Am clear, I am not looking for any girl to get married and live my life with. All, I enjoy is the company that you girls give, I am sweet and good to them, ain’t it?” The most toughest pill I ever swallowed were these questions he threw at me. “A heart of stone,” I thought when I poured enough water to the kidney beans in the bowl.

“I got you a good job, you were actually behind me for that. You told me laksha isn’t good, and I didn’t even question you on that. The moment you picked my phone the other day, I felt a reviving spark. You told me, it’s meant to be and hence you picked the call instead? Am I right? Did I ever try things out or walked an extra mile to attract you back to me after the Goa trip?” He pressed the big red button to shutter between us.

“I didn’t even disturb Laksha, it was Saurav’s call to terminate her, and I didn’t say a word on that. I still like Laksha and the happiness we shared. All I need is a relationship that is more than friendship and less than the relationships that you guys think.” Said the rolling in dough, kind of Sai.

“All fucked,” I thought. Just like the chicken or the egg choice, I went picking a job which literally cost me my whole life.

I went to the bedroom, and set things aside to pass a wave on the bedspread to make it look neat for one to sleep. The most posh looking and cute bedroom, must be Laksha’s student, I thought, and walked to the other corner and slipped myself in.

“I am sorry Laksha, hope one day, you will get to know the bitter truth but please hate me less, I can’ afford to stand right in front of you,” I said to the Laksha residing in me.

“What’s that in the paper? Why have you been holding it for hours together?” Vasant asked, “wow, 2 questions in a row, sure shot! Good improvement” I thought.

“It carries an article about the campaign run today, and it has a picture of the students and teachers from various colleges. This girl here is Laksha, my very close friend, I just got to know she works at this college and collected details about her,” I answered him.

“She was zero’d one day, now she stands tall, all by herself. She revamped, redesigned, and flying out in colors now. Her mom is in a great position, she was working for a small play school and now she started one of her own. I feel proud,” I told with enchantment.

“So you mean our kid gets admission without having to pay?” he grinned and switched off the lights.

I had to roll over the faker lying next to me, rest my head over his chest, and shut close my eyes, with satisfaction, and enough pain that rips her every day.


I don't Wear Sunscreen

For Laksha, life is a gift wrapped in red ribbon. But that’s all shattered when she falls for the misogamist. His ambivalence and vacillation always keeps her at bay, turning her into a neurotic. She gets betrayed by the most credible, loses her job, feels devastated and dejected as incidents crowd upon her corrupting her naiveté. Enigmas unfold revealing every glitch. Who will clear her blurred skies? What invigorates her career and life? Will she ever forgive her beloved? And how will Laksha survive? The story also revolves around her rapport with Pallavi, a childhood friend and the relationship she has with her silver-tongued mom. Focusing on how experiences change perception of little things, this contemporary tale gives a better meaning to friendships, relationships, solitude, pain, compassion and success. More often than not, Life drags you down to the adversities and thrusts outward to shine. It is your grit that truly matters when you reach rock bottom, and left with no choice other than to pick yourself up and leap forward, however arduous it may be!

  • ISBN: 9781311586322
  • Author: Kavipriya Moorthy
  • Published: 2015-08-24 13:11:38
  • Words: 26112
I don't Wear Sunscreen I don't Wear Sunscreen