The long winding roads and the ever slow KSRTC buses get to her as she jumps a mile in the air and mutters something that sounds distantly like a profanity. She feels the depression get to her once again as she looks out of the window. The arguments for what she has done become nothing more than a nightmare she wants to get away from. Her cell rings again and she barely glances at the caller id as she takes the call and mutters,
“I’ll be there in an hour. Wait for me at the usual place.”
She closes her eyes, trying to ignore the mother and daughter playing in the seat parallel to hers. It reminds her of happier times and she dares not dwell into them. The fight rings in her ears, her brother and father echo each other as they say,
“We believed you, we trusted you. You can come back; this is your home as well. But not as his__ do not make me say the word, but as our little girl.”
She did not regret choosing him. Mahesh was everything she hoped for. He showered her with love, passion and was unpredictable. Just like her. She knows that she did the right thing. She is pulled from her day dreams when the bus halts again. She looks around and sees that they have just reached Palakkad. One whole district to go before she is safely in his arms, in the small apartment near Ernakulam North railway station that they will make their home. She knows she has done the right thing. She moves to make room for the new passenger who sits next to her, helps the girl with the luggage. The girl smiles gratefully and sits down. She seems an emotional wreck, her eyes are blotchy, tear tracks run down her face. She doesn’t want to be rude and interfere. She offers a Cadbury’s éclairs to the girl who takes it and chews. She is dressed in a cream printed salwar, hair plaited and vermillion dot on her forehead. A traditional mallu girl, she deduces, in contrast to the tank top and skirt gear she wears, a Goth look, complete with the snake tattoo and nose ring. She recalls the fit her mother had on seeing her new look. Mahesh loves it. The other girl’s cell rings and she whispers incoherently. She deduces that the girl is eloping. Disgusting kissy noises are exchanged and she can barely bite back the retort and contempt for the vanilla romance that the girl seems to have. A virgin, she is sure. The girl meets her eyes and says,
“Sorry you had to hear that. He can be persistent.”
“And you all too willing.”
“You have no idea. My parents still have trouble accepting him. He and his friends have embarked on business together. Both our families don’t think that the venture offers a future.”
She nods to indicate that she is listening. She asks,
“What do you do?”
“I work as an HR in Info Park. I’m Ahalya.”
“Tanya, Calicut. Advertising venture in Cochin.”
Ahalya nods and is on the phone again. Her mother, Tanya presumes. Her own cell flashes to life with a text message. She smiles as he tells her that he will be at the bus stop. The journey is quiet after that. Tanya and Ahalya barely keep conversation going. She tells the girl a little about herself. She is interrupted by the call from her brother.
“Stay safe. Come straight back if you cannot handle things. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“Tell that to dad with his dramatics.”
He sighs and mutters something that sounds distinctly like, “Why did I even bother?”
Tanya cannot keep back the grin. She can never be angry at her goofy older brother. She tells him quietly,
“I will be safe; I know you will be there for me. Don’t worry about anything.”
When she is done, she closes her eyes and reflects on so many things that come to her. Who is she to judge the obviously in love girl next to her, whose parents have accepted her beau with no qualms. She knows that her own family would not abandon her over her choice of not walking down the aisle, but she knows that she will no longer be easily accepted by them. It will be her home, but the love and warmth that she has been given will no longer be hers. Does it hurt? It does but her choices have been made and she must stick to it. She knows that her relationship with Mahesh will not be free of its own explosions. They are too alike, two parts of the same coin. Her Mahesh with his dark pagan eyes, his cold demure, everything she had cared for, had wanted. He will take her in his arms and the passion they share with each touch is nothing short of explosive. She knows what she is in for. If the elastic cable’s marks on her arms are any indication, she knows that her relationship will be unconventional. The sex? She doesn’t want to dwell on it. In some ways, she and Ahalya are the same. Love, passion they are all the same, she surmises as she looks out of the window, the Gothic rock music she loves hamming in her ears as she sleeps.
The bus screeches to a halt and she realizes that she is at the Cochin KSRTC stand. Ahalya gets off and she follows suit. She turns to the girl, who says,
“He is here. Look, the black apache.”
She turns, recalling that her Mahesh drives the same vehicle and her heart stops beating as she sees Mahesh, in a faded jeans and t shirt, clean shaven, his handsome face lights up in a way she has never seen on his face when they are together. The look of love on his face is unmistakable. She looks around hoping for another such vehicle near his. But that is not to be. She understands in that one moment what she meant to him. She was his whore after all. Nothing more. A gold ring glitters on Ahalya’s finger, the name Mahesh is etched on it. She looks at the simple girl, madly in love with her fiancée, the man whom she first…she cannot even bear to say the words aloud, even in her head. She walks mechanically towards him and she sees with some cold satisfaction that he has seen her and his face becomes dark, his eyes flash angrily. As if she has done some grave injustice. She walks, her head held high, refusing to let the tears sting her eyes. And as she walks, the words of her own brother rings in her ears.
“Men, Tan, are all the same. Me included. I would check out a girl in stilettos and micro minis but I’d never want my girl walking around in the same. So think before you get that wardrobe makeover.”
When she and Mahesh had entered their whirlwind romance she had been sure that he would never do the same and had been sure her brother was mistaken. It turns out he had been right all along. Now she faced Mahesh, the hypocrite. Ahalya hugs him and he turns to her with such a peaceful expression on his face that for a moment she is fooled. Does Mahesh love the village belle? She will never know because the same hands had touched her body, the same mouth that was turned in a smile was all over her, the finger nail marks she had made on his shoulder would be fading. Mahesh turns to her and she says indifferently,
“Tanya. I met your fiancée on the bus. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.”
His eyes glitter, lust flashes across his features. The double meaning of his words doesn’t go unnoticed by her as she grasps his hands in a firm handshake. She bails on the couple and walks on, her head held high, her stilettos tapping rhythmically on the road, the eyes of the men follow her, she knows. Mahesh amongst them. Her cell rings and she tells the male voice on the other end.
“I’m home. I’ll be going to the hostel.”
“We decided not to go for it.”
There is silence as her brother understands. The gazes follow her but she seems immune to them. She watches as the black apache zooms past them, he checks her out as he passes by. He knows how to do it discreetly. And she is left wondering if he is in love with Ahalya at all…
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