I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. Before I could muster enough courage and call out to him, the door opened and he was gone. The shrill of the alarm clock woke me up and realized that I had one of my nightmares again. I took a sip of water from the bottle on my bedside table and just lay on the bed for some time.

I am Ananya Pradhan, working as a team manager with one of the leading BPOs of the country.  My family comprises of me and my parents. People have an impression that I have the most enviable life because I am single, have a good position, a big house and all the material luxuries that money could buy.

But I am a very simple, undemanding person. For me, sheer luxury would have been an evening spent with Nachiket Kothari, who was my best friend, my guide, my confidante, everything except being my lover and my soul mate. Nachiket and I started our careers together in Mumbai. We had just finished our college and started working in a BPO. Nachiket was an extremely intelligent guy, with the looks of a film star. Girls were always ready to eat out of his hands. It was extremely difficult for him to judge as to who was being genuinely friendly with him, without any ulterior motives. His parents and sister stayed in Kerala, whereas he chose to come to Mumbai for an education and career.

I, for myself, was an extremely adventurous person, who loved to take chances in life. I didn’t need anyone else to complete my life. I was in love with myself and was content the way I was. Probably Nachiket understood this principle of mine and chose to be friends with me because he was assured that I was not looking for a relationship with him.  Nachiket was a very ambitious person, for whom the BPO job was only one of the steps in the ladder of his success story, whereas for me the BPO job was a good enough thing to keep me going. In just a matter of few months, both of us had become an enviable couple, though we were not literally a couple.

In the two years of our working together, there was not a single day we would be away from each other. Even when Nachiket was away, visiting his family in Kerala, we would ensure that we spoke to each other every day. Since he used to live away from his family, I was his one stop solution for all that he needed, whether it was shopping for his clothes or taking care of him while he was ill. It was always ‘Anu” that he sought after. Though he had his circle of friends, I was the chosen one for everything. Of course, I knew most of his close friends, we used to go out for movies and picnics, but they would always tease me, about being the most important one in his life.  Most of the times, his weekend days would be spent over at my place and I would be cooking something for him. Cooking for him was always something that I looked forward to. In those days, those were the simple pleasures of my life.

 I still remember how my heart used to skip a beat every time he would enter the office, smartly attired. The day used to be incomplete whenever I did not see him. I used to talk a lot and he seemed to listen to all my gibberish. It seemed like a bond of an active with passive nature of two individuals. So different to one another but strongly connected and giving room to each other’s individuality. For obvious reasons, we had forgotten that the world around us existed.

But any kind of commitment was scary at that point of time.  Somehow I just assumed that Nachiket was going to be a part of my life forever.  But, the only thing that Nachiket, would always talk about passionately was setting up a successful business of his own.

I still recall vividly, that evening of September 1995, when we were out for dinner after our office and he hesitantly announced that he was moving to Bangalore, next month, for his business.  Initially I thought he was just pulling my leg, but later I realized he was serious. I had mixed reactions to this news as on one hand I was happy that he would be moving forward in his life and on the other hand, I knew I would miss him crazily.

That night when I lay awake at home thinking about the events of the day, I realised that Nachiket had become more than just a friend for me. It was just not possible for me to visualise a day when I would not see his face or hear his voice. I already felt lost although there was still a month for him to leave. My mind was full of questions, is this love or is it just that it had become a habit to narrate the day’s happenings to him, spend time with him, go out with him or even cook for him. Should I discuss this with him or would doing so put him off in the one month that we had together? I drifted off to sleep in the midst of my confused thoughts.

The next day when I rose in the morning, I decided that I would not say anything to him. His business being his passion, I was unsure of the fact whether I figured anywhere in his life or not, although I always felt that he had a soft corner for me. But the journey from being a very good friend to a life partner was an unsure and tricky one. The matter was left untouched and we continued to be together for that one month. Our meetings were more silent. It was as if we were trying to tell each other all that we wanted to, through our silence.

Finally on 15th October, 1995, Nachiket left for Bangalore. With a heavy heart, I was at the airport to see him off. We hugged each other and I clung to him as if by doing so I could stop him forever. All I had to do was tell him that I loved him and he would surely have stopped, but I just couldn’t speak. I was choked with tears. I consoled myself that maybe the separation between us, would make us realize the value of what we had and get us back together. As they say distance makes the heart grow fonder. I was hoping that Nachiket too would realise and accept that I was more than a friend and that we could be together for life.

Once Nachiket reached Bangalore, he immersed himself in his business, so much so that we didn’t even talk as regularly as we used to. I too was promoted at work and was dealing with my new responsibilities. . Both of us were caught up in our professions. 6 months had passed and I had concluded that probably there was never any love between us, because if it had been then we would not be so aloof with each other.  The best of pals and soul mates were actually strangers now. One evening, I got a courier when I reached home and found an invitation card in it. It was the wedding invitation of Mr. Nachiket Kothari and Ms Navya. With the card in my hands, I just wept my heart out. I had lost my soul mate forever to Navya, she was the lucky one to have Nachiket in her life. I had been a fool, to let him go, to not listen to my heart and to not tell him how much I loved him. It was just too late now. The next day I just could not bring myself up to go to work. I sat recalling all the days of joy and all the pleasant things we shared and how we were always there for each other, no matter what. How foolishly had I just let love evade me, simply because I was scared of getting committed to him. Little did I realize that my heart had already committed myself to him. There was no way I could go down to Bangalore for the wedding. 

Over the years I have been briefly in touch with Nachiket. Thanks to the social networking sites of the present times, I do know pieces of information about his life, about his family and so on. I have moved to be a team manager now, a successful one at that.  I guess people who fail in the matters of the heart, in their personal lives, generally make up for it in their profession. Loving someone, in a special way is not possible anymore maybe because I have not get out of the love I had for Nachiket. At my position and at my age, I do come across a lot of youngsters, couple of whom may be ready to do just about anything to be around me, but nobody was ever that special to me. There are times when I still look out for Nachiket’s favourite dish on the menu card in the restaurant, for movies of his favourite actor and so on.  Sometimes I feel that I am going to be living with his love and his memories, all my life.

Suddenly out of the blue, Nachiket writes to me that he wants to talk to me during lunch hours. I wonder what he wanted to talk to me about. I was behaving like a teenager waiting for a call from my first crush. First crush, sure but not a teenager anymore. While I tried to concentrate on my work, the day slowly progressed towards lunch time and as per the promise Nachiket called. I was speechless when I heard his voice after so many years. After repeated hellos from him, I finally got a hold of myself and replied back. . The reason my love had called was that he was due to visit Mumbai next week and wanted to meet me. That came as a huge surprise because I am sure, in all these years he must have had  surely visited Mumbai a couple of times but had  never called on me to meet him. Nevertheless, I have to wait for him to know why he wants to meet me.

I was counting the days…just the way small kids count days to their birthday, 6 days to go, 5 days and so on. Finally, the day dawned when Nachiket was to arrive in Mumbai. As expected, Nachiket, the thorough professional that he is, called to inform me that he had landed in Mumbai. He wanted to meet me at a quiet place which was not too crowded. I offered to cook for him and called him over for dinner. I started preparing for the evening, behaving as if it is my first date.

All was done and I was ready to receive Nachiket, I had prepared his favourite food, at least it was his favourite when we were together.  . Though I did take the trouble to prepare all that he loved once upon a time, I also tried to be as casually dressed as possible. I didn’t want to shoo him off as soon as he came. The door bell rang….Nachiket was at the door.  My heart was beating so fast as if it would just fall out off my chest any moment. Nachiket came in and in his usual way said ‘Hi Anu, How have you been?’I replied ‘I’m doing great’, come on in, it’s so nice to see you after so many years’.

I asked how is Navya doing. Nachiket started the conversation and showed me pictures of his twins, Varun and Vedika. They were all of 16, Varun being a replica of Navya and Vedika, a look alike of Nachiket.

‘What’s for dinner, Anu? I am famished.’ Just like old times, except that we have 20 long years between us now.  Most of our habits have not changed, only our lives have.

‘Go on and freshen up, I’ll warm the food and set the table’ I said and went off to the kitchen. While I was warming the food, suddenly Nachiket was behind me and looking over my shoulder as to what I am heating.

‘Oh Great, plain jeera rice, with plain moong dal, and baingan bharta, you still remember my favourite food!’ We had a pleasant dinner, with again a lot of conversation involving Nachiket’s business, my job and a lot many things. Nachiket and I were not very fond of desserts ever, so assuming he is still the same, I didn’t add anything special for him to which he was fine. As usual, he wanted to have a cup of coffee, which he offered to make. I showed him the places where he could find milk, coffee and sugar and came back to the drawing room. We had our coffee in silence, and I thought Nachiket had something serious to talk, for which he had come over to meet me. But he said nothing and after a few moments, he left. Before leaving, he asked to meet me again the next day. Of course, this was a pleasant surprise to me as I thought he was in Mumbai only for a day. Obviously I agreed.

The next day when I went to work, I was visibly exhilarated and was waiting for the day to get over. Once I was home, I went about freshening up and getting the house in order. Nachiket had insisted that I don’t cook today. He just wanted us to relax and chat. I was reminded about our older times when we would just sit and chat, for hours together, on the weekends. After Nachiket arrived, we ordered Pizzas and kulfi, one of our favourite combinations. We had a very lively and fun evening, after years. I realised, as the evening progressed, Nachiket had started becoming silent and he had a serious look on his face, making me wonder what the problem was. He finally started talking. “ I actually was to fly out by today’s morning flight. But I wanted to spend more time with you, one last time. I didn’t want to go away so soon.  That is why I put off an important conversation that I wanted to have with you.’ With a thoughtful look on his face, he asked me ‘Anu, tell me something. Why didn’t you get married?’ I was obviously not prepared for this question; the answer was right in front of me. But how was I supposed to say it? He continued ‘I’ll answer this question for you. The fact is Anu that you never quite got over me.  20 years back you loved Nachiket Kothari and you still love him today, though the fact of the matter is that the old Nachiket Kothari doesn’t even exist. I know what you are thinking. If I was so sure about your love for me, why did I just go off? The main reason was that I was not sure of my feelings myself, because I thought it was just pure infatuation and nothing else. For me, it was just about two best friends, being always there for each other. This belief was strengthened once I settled in Bangalore. Then Navya came along and things changed. But somewhere in my heart, I had a feeling that you had just stayed where I had left you.  That’s why I came to meet you now. Two weeks from now, I am leaving for New Zealand, I am migrating.’

I just kept staring at him because all this was too much of a shock at one time. Nachiket understood how I felt and he just stood up and opened his arms and hugged me. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and I am not sure how long he was holding me and I was crying. I felt as if all the love that was swelled inside for all those 20 years had suddenly flowed down my eyes.  When I looked up at Nachiket, he said ‘Let go off me, Ananya. It’s a long time now. You need to have someone who is ready to love you back, not someone who has moved ahead in life.  Forget the old times and move on. Spending time with your old friends is one of the best things to do in your life because they take you to a part of your life, which probably was the most enjoyable one. But as much as I would like to be in touch with you, I cannot do it because that would mean, keeping you attached to me and I don’t want that to happen anymore. Thanks for all the lovely time we spent together. I got to go now.’ He just gave me a short kiss on the forehead and left.  I was dazed and just went to the bedroom and lay on my bed, going through the happenings of the last two days. Unknowingly, I drifted off to sleep.

Two weeks later, I received a message from Nachiket, saying that he was leaving that day for New Zealand. For the first time in 20 years, I didn’t react to this message. I just wished him luck.

It’s been more than a month now since that meeting and I have not had any of my nightmares which I used to have every second night. The love of Nachiket has finally gone out of my system. I am a free bird now.  I look for only my favourite dishes on the menu card and read reviews of movies with my favourite actors.

I should probably start giving a thought to those people who are willing to fit in my lives.  After all, there is no rule that says that you cannot fall in love at age of 44. And for the rest of the things which could matter, aphrodisiacs are always there to help.

This story was first published in Storymirror :

https://storymirror.com/read/english/story/let-go-off-me/g4cinodj

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