Trial & Error – Part 2

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Love? Love is young. Love is innocent. Love is a little foolish. Whenever I think about her it makes me smile at how cute and innocent we had been.  Would I love her if I met her now? I don’t know. Is love really forever and ever? I certainly thought so once upon a time but I was proved wrong at that instance. I was 18 then. I thought that one can decide when to fall in love. Love was a switch which can be flicked on and off. I wanted to be clear and focus on other things which mattered more. I was in college that time with my two best friends Dushyanth and Anisha. We had met during our 1st day and went on to become pretty close, something like friends for life. Dushyanth was this happy go lucky guy who flirts with every cute girl when he gets the chance but he is never too serious about it. I guess he wasn’t too serious as he did not want to have any expectation nor commitments as he had been in a relationship throughout his high school but then she broke up as he had to leave his hometown to join college, she did not believe in long distance relationships. In short, he was afraid to get his heart broken. Anisha on the other hand believes that love is the greatest gift one can get. She was committed to a guy who lived thousands of miles away in another country. She is the kind who believes that long distance relationships can work. Both have quite contrasting philosophies in life. I was the middleman.  I was still nostalgic whenever I listened to romantic songs, read romantic stories or watched romantic movies. The only person who came to my mind was Ayesha. I did not want to commit for now. I was content with my puppy love memories. My friends teased me for it often. They are not aware of my past and I never tried to make them aware of it either as I believed it to be special. I guess none other than the two of us knew about it. My friends just thought of me as a guy who was a friendly cool geeky nerd who was just not interested in girls. Somehow having a girlfriend/boyfriend had become a priority, an absolute necessity which is multiplied by many folds when you enter college. I was one of the few guys who didn’t have a girlfriend or a crush on anyone.   However all those notions got shattered one fine Tuesday morning.

‘Hey! How about that girl?’ whispered Dushyant for what seemed like the 50th time that day.

I saw her for the first time then. Long hair with a shiny headband, big loopy earings which she called as “jumkas”, she wore something like an ethnic salwar khameez, short, just a tinge chubby and cute. She was dazzlingly beautiful.

‘Just fill the names.’ I said exasperatedly.

We had like a million participants for the “Surprise event”. The hit event was always the non- technical ones than the technical ones, less work for the cerebrum I guess. My hands were aching after writing so many names. I think we ought to have an event for designing a solution to form filling or something the next symposium.

‘Are the registrations closed?’ enquired a voice.

It was her. She had brown eyes. Not dark brown as in chocolate but more like caramel brown.

‘No, please do give in your name, course and college.’ said Dushyant eagerly.

She smiled….Wow! That dimple steals my heart everytime but I guess I was too much of a hypocrite to have realized it back then.

‘Zara Sheriff…B.Sc. Psychology….Dwaraka Institute of Science and Humanities.’ She said as I wrote it down.

Zara….Did you know that the meaning of the name Zara is Eastern Splendour?  A splendour she was…

‘And your phone number please.’ Said Dushyanth.

I did a double take and gave Dushyanth a glare which he plainly ignored.

‘9942300423’

She had a really fancy number. I was able to remember it without even trying. And another reason was that out of the “million” participants, her phone number was the only one we noted.

‘Please go inside. The competition is about to start soon.’ Said Dushyant flashing one of his billion dollar smiles.

After she had gone inside, Dushyant nudged me in the ribs.

‘You moron! We did not need phone numbers for registration!’ I said indignantly.

‘How else do you think I’d get her phone number?’ he said with a big grin to which I responded with a swear word which I don’t want to re-collect.

‘And did you see that? She kept smiling at me!’ he smirked with glee.

‘She seems to smile at everyone bro. Besides, if she is really that good looking then she already has a boyfriend.’ I said writing down the last participant’s name.

‘You are just jealous.’ He retorted to which I simply rolled my eyes.

Luckily Anisha came to my rescue.

‘What are you guys still doing here? Let’s go inside and watch. Everybody has given their name, right?’

‘Don’t you have a quiz contest to conduct?’ I asked.

‘Prelims are over. Finals going to be held in the evening.’

We got ourselves a seat in the first row near the judges. We are basically last benchers in class but first benchers in events like these. The surprise event had 3 rounds to test your communication skills. Speaking, Writing and the last one was a game of Scrabble.  First off was speaking-an  extempore event. Some of the speakers were awesome while others reduced some in the audience to a stupor.

‘Zara Sheriff.’ Called the judge.

She waved at us as she went past.

‘Did you see that?? She waved at me!!’ exclaimed Dushyant excitedly.

‘Chill Dushmanth! She waved at me. She is my school friend.’ Said Anisha hitting Dushyant on his head.

The next few minutes went into Dushyant begging Anisha to give him an “intro” with her high school bestie. I was more interested in seeing what her topic would be as she fished out a chit from the box.

‘Good Afternoon everyone. My topic for today is “Endangered treasures of mankind”… You are listening to Hubbub F.M. with me R.J. Zara . Do you know what day it is today?’

‘Tuesday!’ shouted some wise-crack from the back which invoked some laughter among the audience.

Zara grinned and said, ‘Yes! Today is also February 13th and it is celebrated as World Radio Day. How many of you listen to the radio? Let us have a show of hands?’

I looked around to see only a few, maybe about 7 people raise their hands.

‘The radio has been with us for almost 120 years. The numbers have drastically reduced today but back in the old days almost every household had a radio. Do you know who invented the Radio?”

‘Marconi!’ exclaimed Dushyant eager to catch her attention.

‘Wrong. It was actually Tesla. But not many remember him for that thanks to some ugly patent wars.’

The next 5 minutes I was spell bound. She went onto explain about the evolution, revolution and convolution of the Radio. She also shared some interesting events like the Hindenburg disaster reporting, the War of the Worlds drama, war time speeches by Winston Churchill during the world war and so on. She impressed me with her creativity and knowledge. And to think that she was able to come up with so much and when she had only a minute to prepare for that topic on the spot. I felt like listening to her all day long. Her voice was comparable to that of a wind chime that dances to the autumn breeze.

‘Thank you for listening to the nation’s number 1 station. This is me R.J. Zara signing off until next time.’

Everybody started clapping though none were as loud as Dushyant.

A few minutes later we all were cosily seated at our favourite spot in the canteen. The next round was due after lunch. Dushyanth had successfully managed to bug and convince Anisha to invite Zara along.

‘This is Dushyanth. He is your biggest fan.’ Said Anisha introducing Dushyanth to Zara who laughed and shook hands.

‘And this is Karthik. Our department topper, budding author and leading procrastinator.’

I curtly nodded at her to which she responded with a smile.

‘You were awesome back there! Everybody was listening to you intently hanging on to your every word. I am sure you’d bag the 1st prize.’ Said Dushyanth excitedly. The guy really did not know how to play it low.

‘Told you, right. He’s your number one fan.’ Said Anisha with a wink.

‘Let’s see. Fingers crossed. Hope the other rounds are as easy. What’s the prize?’ asked Zara with a smile.

‘1500 Rupees. Why? You’d give us a treat if you win?’ I said jokingly.

‘Oh! So you think that I would win too?’

‘Yeah! I think you did great. I liked your creativity with pretending to be an RJ. And for you to think all that up on the spot within a minute and say it without any pauses, stammering or hesitation is like awesome. You seem like a seasoned campaigner in speaking events.’

‘I guess I just got lucky.’

‘Oh! Shut up! She’s just too modest. All through school she always gets 1st place in any speaking contest. Debates, speeches, drama…you name it and you’d see her name on the prize list. Not 2nd, not 3rd but always a 1st.’ said Anisha in a matter of fact tone.

‘Stop it Nish! You are making me blush’ said Zara turning a little pink.

‘So I guess that confirms the treat?’ said Dushyanth with a grin.

‘Sure! Why not?’ said Zara with a smile.

Great! An excuse to meet her again. Were we granted that excuse? You bet we were. She won 1st prize as we expected. It was Dushyanth who decided the place. It was “Frosties”-an ice-cream parlour. We had a great time. Zara was this hyper, cheerful, smart and friendly character. She was full of interesting stories and facts. No one can ever get bored with her around. She was very passionate about psychology. She would spook you out with weird theories like the Jungian shadow, Freudian mask etc… and phenomena like the Bystander effect, Decoy effect, Cocktail party effect and so on. We started hanging out more and more often. I literally admired her. I realized this only when we were playing a truth or dare game at one of such hangouts.

‘Truth or dare?’ asked Anisha.

From past experience which involved hugging the waiter, rolling on the floor and even venturing in to the ladies toilet(when it’s seemingly empty) by “accident” I decided to play it safe and go for the “truth”.

‘Truth’ I said apprehensively.

‘Out of all the people whom we both know, who do you think is the most attractive of them all?’ she asked.

I thanked my stars that it was not some embarrassing question like what colour my underwear was.

‘Zara.’ I blurted out without too much thought.

I saw her turn a delicate shade of pink.

‘Why do you think so?’ asked Anisha with a smile.

‘I don’t know. I guess because she’s full of interesting stuff and very smart. I am a sapiosexualist.’ I replied with a shrug, ‘Ask Dushyath, he would say the same.’

‘Yeah! You are very pretty.’ He said smiling at Zara.

‘Thanks.’ She said quietly looking at me.

I never thought much about it when answering at that time. I just merely spoke what was on my mind. Anisha and Dushyanth started teasing me ever since. Whenever I listen to some song on my iPod I get a scenario like this,

‘What song are you listening to?’

‘Mast Magan’

‘Oh! How romantic! Thinking about Zara?’

Whenever I text on my mobile I get comments like,

‘Who are you flirting with? Zara?’

And to think that I have not even texted her once. It’s not like I don’t have her number, just that I didn’t feel like it. The two would tease me silly to the point of exasperation. To the extent that when I sneeze they would say stuff like “She’s thinking about you.” I mean seriously? Glad to know that the irritation in the inside of my nose and her thoughts about me are synchronized.

‘Dude! I am not the one who drools over her everytime we meet! I should be the one who teases you, not the other way around.’ I said one day irritably at Dushyanth.

‘I was just kidding around dude. She’s all yours. Have you seen the way she looks at you?’ he said in a teasing tone.

I guess it took about two months. At first my reaction to their teasing was ignorance, then facepalms, then the rolling of my eyes, then poker face and eventually it became a smile. I stopped imagining about Ayesha when I listened to romantic songs, read romantic stories or watched romantic movies. Instead it was slowly but gradually replaced by thoughts about Zara. I started texting her. Then she started calling me. We would talk for hours on end, from p.m. and even past a.m. . I feel alive in those priceless hours.  Our conversations are the most versatile. Our topics range from philosophy, life, movies, books to childish chit chat that would make us look like lunatics if a 3rd person read them. All those mindless banter makes me feel like a child again and the feeling is so surreal.  At first I was like why should I love her? Then it became should I love her? In the end it was why would I not love her? Yes. Love is a fickle thing. Thanks to peer pressure what would have been friendship had transformed into a crush and subsequently evolved into love.

When I finally confessed to my friends, Dushyanth rolled his eyes and sarcastically remarked “surprise!” and Anisha started jumping up and down with glee telling what a perfect couple we’d make. However I was scared stiff to confess it to the person whom it really mattered to. I was afraid of rejection and the loss of a good friend. I decided to delay it as long as possible and made myself content with just sharing my love with my friends. But my friends had other ideas. It was one of those late nights when I had called up Anisha to talk about her.

‘Did you see her today? She looked wow in that dress. She seems to love long earings, it suits her so well. And that story of how she slapped that boy for giving her a love note when she was in LKG was so cute.  She actually sat and cried with him when he cried after she slapped him. I wish I was that boy.’

Anisha responded with “Uh-huh”,”yeah” and “hmmm…” so I knew that she was awake and hadn’t dozed off in the midst of my musings.

‘Then the other day when we were going back to the bus stop after that movie she suddenly held my arm. There was a dog in front of us that was rummaging the garbage there and she was scared of dogs. She held on to me for dear life and expected me to protect her. The feeling was awesome for words. The dog as all dogs do just ignored us though.’

‘Hey! Hold on a sec.! I am getting a call.’ She said suddenly and disappeared putting me on hold.

We had met up that day for a game of bowling. Strangely Anisha and Dushyanth conspired to be a team and insisted that me and Zara would make a great team. Later I realized that Zara was hopeless at bowling, the ball kept finding the gutter and never knocked down a single pin. After two unsuccessful attempts I offered to teach her and she consented. It felt awesome to teach her and when she listened intently hanging on to my every word. On her next attempt she knocked down 3 pins and the excitement on her face was priceless, even more so when she attributed it to me. Each time she knocked down a pin she would jump excitedly and give me a hi-5. She even got a spare and almost hugged me. True, we lost by a fair margin in the end but honestly I won more than anyone could imagine. I seriously did not need red bull to give me wings when she was there with me.

‘Hi! I am back.’ announced Anisha cutting my thoughts short.

‘Who was it at this unearthly hour? I wasn’t finished talking about Zara yet.’

‘You were talking about me?’ asked a another voice.

My heart stopped beating for a second.

‘Karthik, it is Zara. I’ve put a conference call.’

Great! Couldn’t she have said that at the start itself.

‘Errr…’ I stammered.

‘Yes. He was talking about your KG love story.’ Said Anisha coming to my rescue.

‘Ha ha. Sweet memories indeed.’   Laughed Zara, ‘What about you Karthik? Do you have any love stories?’

Drama class. Biscuit packet. Zero. On my knees proposal. A warm hug. A kiss on the cheek. A snickers wrapper. All these feeling and images crossed my mind in a split second.

‘Nah! I am not as popular nor desirable as you.’ I said smiling to myself.

‘But he has a crush on someone. A huge one.’ Said Anisha mischievously.

Argh! I almost had a heart attack this time.

‘Wow! Is it true?’ asked Zara with a hint of excitement in her voice.

‘A crush? I am not sure.’ I said. I did not have a crush, I loved her.

‘Who is it?’ she asked.

‘Oh! You know her really well.’ Chimed Anisha who was clearly enjoying this.

I felt like strangling Anisha but unfortunately she was miles away. Maybe the next time I saw her.

‘Now I am getting more curious. Who is it Karthik?’ asked Zara.

‘Ask me no questions and I will tell no lies. I will introduce her to you soon. Deal?’ I said hoping we could change the subject.

‘Oh! Alright.’ Said Zara sounding a little crestfallen.

‘Cool! So who’s up for a rematch in bowling next week? Same teams.’ I said changing the subject.

We spoke for another hour or so before finally Anisha succumbed to the clutches of sleep. So now Zara knows that I like someone. Now this makes me obliged to confess to her soon lest she thinks I like someone else and am not interested in her. I had to think fast.

I wanted to get out alone with her once. I wanted to spend time with her, just me and her and no one else. I was looking for an opportunity but none presented itself. I was deep in thought thinking of how I could lure her out on an unsuspecting date. My mind and heart felt caged. I wanted to open up and let her know how I really felt. I was tired of keeping it a secret. I glanced at the calendar and sat up straight! It was June 8th. Perfect! I had a master plan ready!

‘Heya!’ I texted her.

 ‘What’s up?’

‘Nothing much. Are you free this Saturday?’

‘Not sure. What’s the plan?’

‘Anisha’s b’day is coming up this Sunday. So I thought we’d surprise her.’

Yeaaaa! I know! That seems like a great idea! How do we go about it?’

‘I was thinking a cake, a gift and we go and wish her at midnight!’

‘Midnight? I am not sure about that. Why can’t we make it morning?’

‘Midnight is more special. She will never expect it. Trust me, it will be awesome. Somehow convince your parents.’

‘Errr…I’ll try. So what’s the gift and where to order the cake?’

‘I guess I can take care of the cake. Gift…am not sure. Guys are hopeless at shopping. We need the help of your girl power. So how about this Saturday? We’ll go to Nexus mall?’

‘Yeah. That would be cool. Make it 11.’

‘Sure. Dushyanth has gone to his native. So I’ll meet you at the food court?’

‘Yeah. That would be perfect.’

Bingo! Couldn’t have asked for a better setting. It seemed to be a blessing.

I was so excited on Saturday. This was the day,  I am going to propose to her. Come what may I will get this weight off my chest once and for all today.  I dressed up in her favourite colour. Blue and white, blue jeans and white t-shirt. I thought of getting her a gift and after careful consideration decided that there is nothing like chocolate to please a girl. So dressed neatly with a box of my favourite chocolate(I believe I have good taste) I went. I arrived at the bus stop just as planned. Everything seemed nice. 5 minutes…no bus. 10 minutes…no bus. 15 minutes…no bus. Heck! It was 30 minutes and still no bus in sight. Fate seemed to be conspiring against me. Finally a bus came in sight, but it was so crowded. I glanced at my watch. I had no choice, I was already behind schedule. I got into the bus…at least partially. I was at the footboard holding on for dear life, placing my foot onto the smallest inch of space I could get. All the while I was praying to God to let me survive so that I can finally meet the love of my life alone. I was also cursing my ancestors for this monstrous magnitude of population. I finally got down at my stop all sweaty and my t-shirt seemed all wringed up. I was a mess, and terribly late by like 20 minutes. I checked my cell, about 7 missed calls. I was nervous. On my way to the mall I saw a flower boutique. I imagined her to be a little irritated, so I thought of getting her a nice bunch of fragrant flowers. Armed with the flowers and the chocolate I entered the food court. There she was sitting right at the centre. She sure was my centre of attraction. It seemed as if a spotlight was shining on her. She too was dressed in blue, blue jeans and a nice blue khurta top. I smiled…no I positively beamed at her. Then I saw something that turned my beam into a dull glow and finally a fuse-less light. She was accompanied by someone else. A friend. Her friend.

‘Hi! This is Ananya. Ananya, this is Karthik’ Said Zara introducing us to each other.

Zara flashed a huge smile at me and I managed to only feebly smile back. I expected some alone time together but she had brought along her watch-woman? How was I supposed to convey my heart felt feelings when her friend was around. I held the flowers and chocolate awkwardly in my hand and looked at them. I knew today was not the day, so I gave up my plan to confess today and decided to set it for another day.

‘I am sorry I am late. Here, I bought some flowers to make it up for you.’ I said giving them to Zara who gracefully accepted them.

‘Awww…you shouldn’t have. That’s so sweet. I love them. But isn’t this just too much? Lucky I had Ananya here so I wasn’t bored while I was waiting.’ Said Zara with that ever dazzling smile.

‘Here Ananya, this is for you.’ I said awkwardly handing her the chocolates so that she did not feel like the third wheel.

‘No. It’s ok. I rea-‘ started Ananya.

‘It’s ok. Take it. He got it specially for you.’ Interrupted Zara looking amused.

Ananya accepted the chocolates and giggled.

‘Ok, I better go. I am getting late for my class.’ Said Ananya getting up to leave as I took my seat opposite to them.

‘You are leaving?’ I asked her abruptly.

‘Yeah. I just met her by coincidence when I came shopping and we were catching up as she was waiting for you.’ Said Ananya with a wry smile.

I felt like a fool and cursed myself for giving her the chocolates.

‘Bye. I’ll call you later.’ Said Zara with a laugh.

I waved helplessly as I watched her go and turned to face Zara grinning at me from ear to ear.

‘So shall we start hunting then?’ I asked feebly.

‘Yes. Any idea what are we hunting for?’ she asked.

‘That’s why you are here.’ I said getting up preparing myself for some shopping adventure.

Nexus mall is huge. It was a labyrinth of passages that twisted left, right and centre. Sometimes you would even get lost and lose sense of where you are and it is always a huge task to search for a particular shop in quick time. You get all sorts of stuff ranging from the hi-fi shops to the low-fi ones. It’s a place that is perfect for a wallet of any size. We had no idea what we were searching for. We considered many options ranging from the conventional coffee mug, book, dress to the unconventional lava lamp, rum flavoured lip balm and a 5 feet tall inflatable monkey doll. I was really tempted to get the monkey doll but Zara just wouldn’t agree. I guess she felt jealous because the monkey was a tad taller than her by an inch. We tease her for her height at times. She calls it normal height and we agree…that it’s normal for maybe a 12 year old. We were completely tired out from all the walking. We decided to have lunch before we continued any further. We needed some fuel in our tanks before we could hit the road again.

‘I am too tired. I need something to drink if I am to walk a step further. I am afraid you have to carry me home Karthik.’ Moaned Zara as she settled into a chair at the food court.

‘I wouldn’t mind.’ I said slyly with a small smile,’ But first how about getting something to drink? Pepsi? Sprite? Fanta?’

‘Water would be awesome.’ She replied.

The thing I hate about malls is that they just don’t accept cold hard flipping cash! We had to use those stupid plastic cards and then recharge them. I was starving and cursing while I waited in line to get a card and recharge it. All I wanted was some damn water! Finally I got what I wanted and headed back to the table to find her waving and pointing excitedly at her phone like a maniac.

‘Karthik! I got it!’ she exclaimed grabbing hold of my arm. Boy! She sure was excited.

‘I was going through Facebook when you left and I found this!’ she positively shouted and shoved the phone in my face.

I grabbed it and saw it. It was a status by Anisha made a couple of weeks back.

“Feeling low. Lost my lucky bracelet today while travelling. My 7 year baby is gone forever. I feel like the unluckiest girl in the world already. :’(“

29 likes and 67 comments.

‘I updated a status about spraining my ankle once. I got no likes and maybe 2 comments, out which one of them was mine.’ I said heaving a sigh.

‘Oi! That’s not the point! Bracelet! See! That’s what we are going to get her! We’re are going to get her a lucky bracelet.’ She said triumphantly raising her fist in the air as if she had just found a cure for Cancer.

‘Yipee! So that’s a mystery solved. How about we celebrate it with food?’ I asked half relieved to have reached the end of the quest and half starved.

‘Sure! Pizza?’ she asked. She was a Pizza lover.

‘I could eat a cow if you let me.’ I replied.

A few minutes later we were gorging away on cheese pizzas loaded with liberal doses of chicken and sausage. We were on 7th heaven after finishing it all up and were chatting away.

‘What do you think about love?’ I asked hesitantly feeling maybe I should give it a shot.

‘Love? Love is when someone else’s happiness has become an integral part of your happiness. When their smile is yours and their tears are yours. It means to care for someone beyond all rationality.’

‘Wow!’ I exclaimed, ‘The last time I asked a girl that question she dismissed it away as being stupid and not realistic.’

‘Really? What do you believe in?’ she asked looking at me intently.

‘I believe that love is this funny feeling that makes you go weak. Your heart feels all light and you get this butterfly effect somewhere in the region of your tummy. It makes you want more oxygen, your breath becomes slow and measured. A smile creeps on to your lips and at that moment you feel like you can possibly never want anything more in life.’ I said with a dreamy look on my eyes.

‘Is that how you feel when you are around your crush?’ she asked with a wink.

I looked at her. Her black hair with streaks of dark brown as if it had gone under an artist’s paintbrush, her soft caramel eyes that twinkled like the north star, that small indent that appeared on her cheek as she smiled at me waiting for an answer, her smile that stretched wide and lit up her eyes giving her face a warm glow…I could just keep looking at her all day.

‘Yes.’ I replied with a warm smile.

We got the bracelet and she left me wishing that the day never ended. I already started to miss her as I boarded the bus back home. I would possibly be meeting her in the next 24 hours or a little more but one day seemed too long a time. Somehow when you are in love the perception of time gets distorted. Days start to feel like years when not together and time seems to stop when she smiles at you.

The next day we met near Anisha’s house. It was close to midnight. I had been waiting for her with a couple of friends. She was almost late when she got down from the three-wheeler.

‘I thought you wouldn’t come. How did your parents let you off?’ I asked her.

‘They didn’t. I snuck out. My sister said she’ll manage and my parents are sound sleepers. So as long as I get back before the sun rises I may just be safe. Fingers crossed.’ She replied with a wink.

Wow! This is the kind of recklessness I absolutely love in a girl. It’s just so rare. It was a nice small party. Me, Zara, Anisha and two other friends Sumit and Akshay. I had called Anisha’s Mom and let her in on our master plan. I had got the cake, a chocolate truffle and we went in like a bunch of commandos on a military operation. We found her busy chatting on the phone with her friend when Zara ambushed her. We covered her eyes and locked her in her room. She had become a hostage in her own house. We set up the cake and got all the decorations setup. We let the birthday girl out and led her to the cake blindfolded and we kept quiet making her puzzle over the identity of her captors. The look on her face when we finally did the big reveal was priceless. She was super excited and hugged all of us while uttering what seemed like a zillion thanks. She finally composed herself to cut the cake and we had an awesome time, so awesome that we barely noticed the time fly. It was close to two when we were about to leave.

‘Why don’t you stay and leave in the morning? It’s is too late now.’ Asked Anisha’s Mom as Zara got ready to leave.

‘No Aunty. I have to get back home now itself. I think I’ll call a cab. Thank you so much.’ replied Zara as she started dialling on her phone.

Aunty did not look convinced. She was visibly worried as she bit her lip in doubt.

‘Or I could drop you, if you don’t mind?’ I asked her immediately.

Zara paused and looked at me considering my offer.

‘Yes. Go with Karthik, it’s much safer. We’ll know if you reached safely.’ Agreed Aunty.

‘Are you sure? I could go in the cab. It’s not a big deal.’ Said Zara a little hesitantly.

‘It is not a big deal. I can drop you. Come.’ I said reassuringly.

‘Alright. Shall we leave then.’ Asked Zara looking at me and Anisha.

‘Bye guys. Thank you so much for everything. You are the best. I will never forget this birthday. Love you all.’ Said Anisha hugging us again.

‘Call me when you reach home.’ Said Aunty as we were leaving.

Akshay and I had a bike. Akshay and Sumit left together as they are from the same neighbourhood. Zara and I live at the two opposite ends of the city. So this would mean it would be a tiresome journey back to the hostel alone. I was already dead tired and felt drowsy as I revved up the bike and gestured for her to sit. She hopped onto the back and grabbed my shoulder. It was as if I had gotten a sudden shot of adrenaline straight to my heart. I felt charged. Recharged. Fatigue and drowsiness ceased to exist. The warmth of her touch on my shoulders spread across my body serving as a tonic of energy.  I looked at her reflection in the side mirror and realized how precious this moment was. The girl of my dreams, on my bike that too so late in the night when the roads were empty. I felt the wind in my hair and a gentle breeze in my heart as we cruised along the empty streets under the moonlight. I usually love to go at blazing speeds but tonight I was content with the concept “slow and steady wins the race”, I was just about at 40 kmph though there was not a soul in sight. The slower I go the more time I get with her. But however much we wish, all good things come to an end. We reached the street of her house but she didn’t want me to go further in fear of attracting attention.

‘Thanks a lot for coming today. I really appreciate it.’ I said as she got down.

‘Is your gratitude really necessary? We needn’t be this formal.’ She said smiling to which I replied with a smile of my own, which I had reserved only for her.

‘Guess it is goodbye then.’ I said a little crestfallen that the night has come to an end.

‘Yeah. See you later. Thanks for dropping me.’ She said with a smile and started to walk away.

As I watched her walk I felt like I am just letting her go right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t take it.

‘Zara!’ I whispered loudly.

She turned back and stared at me quizzically. I gestured her to come back for a minute.

‘Yes?’ she asked me when she drew close.

‘I want to tell you something.’ I said not meeting her eyes.

‘Yes?’ she repeated with an odd smile on her face.

‘But promise me that what I am about to say won’t affect our friendship.’ I said still not meeting her eyes.

‘Promise.’ she said.

‘Pinky promise?’ I asked her holding out my little finger.

‘Pinky promise.’ She said entwining her pinkie finger around mine.

‘I really don’t know how to say this but I think that you are very beautiful Zara.’

‘Thank you.’

‘You are not only beautiful but you are very smart and intelligent. You are beauty with brains.’

‘Wow! I am flattered.’

I looked into her eyes which curiously looked back into mine.

‘Right now, as in this very moment, this very instant you make me go weak. My heart feels all light and I feel like butterflies are fluttering in my stomach. I find it hard to breathe, you take my breath away with that smile of yours. Your happiness is an integral part of mine. I want your smile and I want to be the reason behind your smile. I care for you beyond all rationality.’ I said while she stared at me wide eyed and expressionless.

‘The thing is…what I really want to say is…’ I mumbled on not knowing whether to go on or stop as I just couldn’t read anything from her reaction.

‘Zara?’ I asked her uncertainly.

I got the best response I could hope for. She grabbed my shirt collar and gently pulled me close and gently kissed my cheek. She didn’t need to say anything after that. That was the best “Yes” a guy could hope for. Sometimes words are simply not enough to express one’s self. Sometimes words are not necessary either.

‘Zara, meet my crush. The girl of my dreams.’ I teased her as I made her look into the side mirror of my bike.

‘Wow! She’s so beautiful.’ She said looking at her reflection with a laugh.

We parted and the ride back to the hostel was not as tiresome as I thought it would be. On the contrary I felt energized.

‘I reached home. Good night baby.’ I texted her when I finally got into bed.

‘Good night honey bunny :P’ came her reply.

After countless nights of sleeplessness on account of thoughts about her, tonight I slept peacefully like a baby with absolutely no worry in the world.

To be continued…

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