I sipped some more of my cold coffee and re-checked my watch. It was half past seven and and still Aditi was nowhere to be seen. I pinged her on whatsapp for the third time.
'Are you coming or not?'
I had been waiting for my girlfriend (at least she was till that point of time), Aditi for more than an hour. I had finished two cups of cold coffee with ice cream and one chicken sandwich and was ongoing with my third cup.
My cellphone beeped. Finally, Aditi had replied.
"Ankur, I can't come. And it's all over between us and I do not need an official breakup meeting for it. I am done with you. THAT'S IT!"
I couldn't believe that she had typed me such a long message for the first time in her life. I finished my cold coffee in one gulp. My breakup was done and dusted over a whatsapp message and three glasses of cold coffee and two chicken sandwiches.
'Bitch!'I said to myself but audible enough for the girl sitting behind me. She glared at me, I returned her a smile and got up to pay my bill.
I walked up to the counter absent mined, remembering all those times I and Aditi had been here together and she had put on calories on my money. I hated her even more for this.
"Ah! I am sorry. Excuse me please."
I herd a sweet girly voice and a even sweeter fragrance filled my nostrils. The long curls of brownish black hair, was the first thing visible as I saw her from behind. She went straight to a corner table and searched something vigorously. Her eyes were dark and she had very little makeup on her face. I had that experience of makeup from Aditi. She wasn't tall, neither was she too short. In her white chikkon salwar kameez she resembled some beautiful white flower. I don't know if it was the effect of fragrance, like they show on television adds or something else, I felt I was in love for the very first time. The thought of being with Aditi seemed a joke. Yes just after dumping my girlfriend ,Oh wait! she had taken the trouble for me, I was in love.
"What's the matter?" I asked the sales person at the counter.
"Madam seems to have lost her wallet and she needs to pay the bill." He replied almost mechanically. How can you be so cruel to such a pretty girl?
"Two hundred and twenty two rupees only." That was much less than what Aditi gobbled up in fifteen minutes. I couldn't imagine how she still managed to remain slim.
She came back worried.
"I had my wallet when I came in."She said childishly.
The salesperson gave a blank expression.
'It's time' I said to myself, this time silently though.
"Allow me to pay your bill." I said raising my wallet like a glass of wine.
Her beautiful long eyes with the slightest touch of kajal fell upon me. I smiled like an idiot.
"But...but, I don't know you." She stammered.
"Do you have any other option?"
Obviously she didn't and I had played my card. I payed her bill and stood out as her savior of the day.
We walked out together. I was willing to talk to her but my dumb brain wouldn't tell me what.
"I don't know how to thank you. You literally saved me from a big embarrassment."
I had heard this somewhere. Yes, Bollywood movies. I knew the reply.
"How about a coffee tomorrow? Same place. Same time."
She stopped and looked at me. Had I said something wrong?
A smile popped up her on her lips and they looked even more beautiful.
"Okay, done."She said and resumed walking.
I waved her goodbye at the bus stop. She boarded the one to Khidderpore and I opted for a rickshaw.
'Huh! Ankur Banerjee, you better keep a check of you emotions.' I said to myself.
"Did you say something sir?" The ricksawwala inquired.
Had I said that loud enough again ?
I sipped my cold coffee again, this time I had been waiting for someone else. Wait, I still didn't know her name. I mean how foolish could I be to have not asked her name? I kept sipping my coffee and as I was about to finish a strange fear engulfed me. What if she doesn't turn up? Like Aditi had done yesterday? What if she ditched me? I picked up the glass to take my last sip when I smelled that same sweet fragrance again and before I could react I heard that sweet voice.
She was there in front of me.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting. Got struck in traffic."
"Sit..sit."I said tongue tied.
She kept a smile and took her seat before me.
"It's okay. You were not that late." I added. She smiled some more.
I asked her what she wanted to have.
"Anything. "She said. I remembered how Aditi would have a long list of what all she wanted to gobble.
I ordered two cold coffees and sandwiches. My favorite.
I realized that I was still to know her name.
"Ehm, it's quite ridiculous, but I forgot to ask your name."
She laughed briskly covering her her mouth with her hand. She wore a cream colored salwar and had her hair tied up in a pony. She looked even more beautiful today.
"Shayna." She said. "Actually even I don't know yours." She smiled broadly.
"Ankur." I replied
The waiter served our orders, she sipped her coffee in silence. Doesn't she talk? I thought to myself or maybe Aditi was a chatterbox.
"What do you do?"I inquired.
"I teach in an orphanage." She took a bit of her sandwich.
"That's pretty amazing." I replied thinking what to say next. Shouldn't there have been a counter question like, 'how about you?' or something. But she remained silent.
"Is everything all right?"
"You have been so quiet." I said.
"Ya, I like to remain silent. I am quite a boring type."She replied.
I decided to remain silent this time.
"You can talk, I am listening." She added after a minute.
ONE YEAR LATER ...
I was running through the alleys of Khidderpore. Sun Smile Orphanage read the old rugged board. I ran up to the second floor of the building where Shayna used to live. The door was locked. How could she leave this way? I turned around in disbelief. A little boy with a lollipop in his mouth stood there staring at me.
I pointed to the door and asked, "Shayna?"
The boy held the lollipop in his mouth, "She went....went away."
One year since we had met. One year since I fell in love with Shayna. She left, without any reason. I reversed time in my mind. Our visits to the CCD, the long walks on the highway and hours we spent by the river. She was older than me. Yes, three years and five months but that never stopped me from loving her any less. She would remain silent and I used to tell her everything that happened in my life. All I knew about her was her present, the orphanage and the children.
"Past is past, lets talk about the present." She would say.
Sometimes when there would be an abrupt silence between us, she would say, "I miss Kashmir, the mountains, the peace."
I knew that she was from Kashmir. Once I asked her about her parents and her reply was disastrous.
"They are dead."She said blankly.
I never asked her anything more. Whatever I knew of her was what she would say to fill up the voids between my stories.
She was different from the girls I met. Maybe this was her style of breaking up. A shiver ran down my spine. She cannot leave me like this.
I asked for the key to her room but the orphanage owner denied. I slipped him a five hundred rupee note to get them. I hated myself for this but I had to. Her room was still the same. She hadn't taken anything with her only that her cupboard was open and her clothes were missing except for that white chikkon salwar kameez that she had put on, the day I saw her first. I found a piece of paper on her table under the paper weight. I could see my name written on the top.
I always knew you would be here, so I am leaving this note to you. I need to leave, not that I am leaving because you did something wrong but because of my own personal reasons. I know I have been very secretive and have hardly shared anything with you. But the fact is I loved spending time with you. I found peace with you, peace that I longed for. You were the only one who didn't ask me about my past. Who kept entertaining me, with your stories. While you would tell me your day to day happenings I wished to stop you and tell you how much I loved you, but I never did. I know you love me too but maybe this time it wasn't meant to.
Follow your heart, follow your dream. You will find me there, where there is peace.
I dropped the paper from my hand. I picked it up again. I was getting mad. It all seemed like some old Bollywood movie and I thought that I would go out in search of her. I wanted to, I really wanted to.
I touched the inscription on the paper. How hard it must have been to write something like this. I sat down on her bed and kept doing so for an hour all in utter silence. A strong wind forced opened the window behind and brushed my hair. I could hear the street dogs howl and some vendor selling bangles. Then, everything turned silent. My eyes shifted to her table again, there was nothing else there except some notebooks she had brought in to correct, a table lamp and some pens.
I got up to leave but I wished time would stop and flow back, I wished Shayna would be there with me, I wished.
Outside her room, I found the boy with the lollipop still there. He was hiding something behind him. His large round eyes kept staring me.
I wasn't in the mood of entertaining a kid, who probably had no one of his own in this world. But I spoke.
"What is it that you are hiding?"
He kept quiet.
I knelt down before him. He kept quiet and kept staring. I looked at him in his eyes and I din't even realize when tear drops had started rolling down my eyes.
"Don't cry, Bhaiya. I will show you." The boy stretched out his left hand, it had a spiral bound notebook.
"Shayna didi gave it to me."
I took it from him. and wiped off the saline water with the sleeve of my shirt.
'PIECES OF MY LIFE' was the title on the cover page. I slowly turned it open. There were some old yellowing pages pasted and pinned in it. I tried reading one and found out that they were pages from her diary and towards the end it had some recent ones too.
"Can I borrow this for a day?"
The boy nodded as I got him another lollipop.
SHAYNA'S DIARY ENTRIES
23'rd JANUARY, 2005
Today is my thirteenth birthday and I am so happy. I woke up early this morning and saw the sun rise behind the mighty Himalayas. The golden mountains are the most beautiful thing ever. Daddy brought my favorite chocolate cake from the upper market and mummy made some of my favorite dishes. During evening I had invited Shruti, Amrita, Sazia, Arjun and Rahul. They wished me a very happy birthday as I cut the cake. They gifted me a fountain pen and my parents got this Diary for me. Daddy also bought me a new dress. I am so happy. I love you mom and Dad.
28th FEBRUARY, 2008
I am in such tension that I cannot even pen down. My board exams start from tomorrow. Now-a days I hardly get time to write to you. But I will regularly after I am done with my exams. Tomorrow we have English. I have prepared well but I am not that confident. Daddy says I will do well. Mom asked me to pray to God every morning. I am doing so. You too please pray for me. There are a lot of other things I wish to write about but dad has been asking me to go to sleep for an hour. Talk to you later. Bye.
19th SEPTEMBER, 2008
It feels good to write down about my life after the day's daily hustle. Classes are going well. I really love the way Verma sir teaches physics. I have come to love the subject. Maths is good as well but I can't cope up with chemistry. I mean how can you memorize so many equations and jolt them down correctly in the examination sheet? I have no Idea.
Abhishek has been a real jerk. He now keeps proposing me day and night. I don't think he loves me really but just wants to brag his friends about a girlfriend. I have no interest in him. I hope he stays away from me or else I might slap him one day.
Tina and I have become best of buddies. She says I talk a lot but do I do so? Haha, maybe yes. People say I am a chatterbox. I have no idea when will I shut my mouth. Maybe never.
Bye, see you.
5th NOVEMBER, 2009
It has been a month since daddy passed away. I feel like leaving this world too. Mom hardly talks. The beautiful little world of ours has gone down like a pack of cards. I miss him, I miss him more than anything in this world. I sit outside by the main gate and hope that he might walk back home one day and say, 'Sweety, I am home.' I can't believe what I am writing today.
I can never forget that October night. 'There might be some trouble. I had a call from the Indian Army.' he said. But why would they call him. Why? He put on his jacket and left. 'I will be back soon.', he had said looking at my eyes. It was the first time he didn't keep his promise to me. We got his dead body two days latter. Those two days were the longest days of my life.
Who shot him? Why? I wanted the answers, mom didn't. 'He's gone. He will never be back. What's the use?', she says. I can understand her pain but I will find out one day for sure. People say he died in cross firing that took place between the Pakistani army and the Indian army. I am not ready to believe it. I need to know the truth. I really do.
Daddy come back. Your girl is waiting by the Himalayas.
2nd FEBRUARY, 2010
I am an orphan now. Mom died of a heart attack. That's it my life ends here. I mean it was so easy for them to leave me. Mom had always been finding ways to join daddy and she has it. Why me? Why does it happen to me? I remember my childhood when I used to look at those mountains from the window and say, 'Dad I wish the snow stays there forever'and he would reply saying, 'It has to melt someday, it has to.' Those mountains are snow-less today. I sit here on my table with just the table lamp switched on in this ghastly house. Everything changed and for the worse. I don't know how I will survive. Maybe I should join my parents. I wish for death that's it. I wish, I could die in peace.
In between her entries she had pasted some old photographs and made some pencil sketches. As I turned to the next page it was blank. As if she had pasted an entry and taken it off. I continued reading anyway.
19th DECEMBER, 2013
Ankur is someone with whom I've felt comfortable after such a long time. I remember when I saw him for the first time and he paid my bill when I had lost my wallet. He talks a lot, I see my childhood in him. How strange life can be, I have become so silent. I could never imagine myself like this. I love spending time with Ankur and I do the same whenever I am free. I think he likes me, I am not sure though. He's sweet.
Little Mohan begged me for another lollipop today and I had to fall for him. But I guess I have to be strict, on the other hand I can't help loving these kids any less. They are like me. No they are more helpless than me. I want to be by their side.
11th SEPTEMBER, 2014
I have nothing much to say today, just that I am leaving my old life behind and all my memories with Mohan. I must leave now. I will miss Ankur, I wish to see him again. I am leaving a note behind for him. I am sure he will read it. Goodbye.
That was it. I could do nothing but just take off my spectacles and lie down on the sofa and keep staring at the tube light glowing above me. With so much to tell, she left me. But why? I wanted to know. And why had she taken off a diary entry. Was she hiding something? What did her words mean?
'Follow your heart, follow your dream. You will find me there, where there is peace'
I closed my eyes. I could do no more.
THREE YEARS LATER...
Three years went by like flowing water. I decided not to find her as she wished to. Instead I joined the NDA as I wished to. It was my dream to, and it was the only thing I thought could keep me distracted but it didn't work out well. I had her in my thoughts every now and then. I just couldn't get over her. I never really knew what true love was like but staying away from her made me realize.
My performance in NDA had been good and I had been posted in the Line of control for my training.
It was an early winter morning and we had been called out for our introduction and first drill. Amid the foggy atmosphere I stood with others waiting for our officer-in-charge. A sweet smell filled my nostrils and an even sweeter voice my ears.
Shayna it was. As the fog cleared a bit her eyes met mine, she stopped and so did time. I wanted to be there for ever. The beautiful Himalayas the fog, the cold, the snow. I loved everything.
She had to continue with the drill and she did. I could always sense the uneasiness in her. I just waited for the drill to end.
She took me to her home. Where she had lived all her life. A wooden cottage behind the mountains. There was no electricity, she lit an oil lamp and asked me to follow her. Her presence made my life complete. I pinched myself to check I wasn't dreaming. No, I wasn't.
Before I could say anything, she placed her index finger on my lips and handed me a piece of paper. It was the same piece of paper which she had torn off the spiral bound scrap book. I read it under the flickering light of the oil lamp.
27th MAY, 2010
My letters to the Indian government and the Indian army didn't go in vain. I got my reply but what I have with me leaves me in utter shock and disappointment now. Maybe mom was right. What is gone is gone, I should have never tried to find out about daddy's death.
I received a letter from the Indian army some days back. It stated with a heavy heart that my dad was linked with Pakistani terrorist sources and that he was to trigger a major bomb blast in Kashmir. Can this ever be true? Can I accept this ever in my life? I have been silenced. Daddy my daddy, no never. There ought to be some mistake. First they kill him and then they come up with this? Nevertheless it was me who demanded an answer.
Along with the letter they sent me an invitation to join the Indian army, part time and if I turn out good I can serve the nation. Daddy has always said that life tests you and I know this is one of the hardest tests in my life but I am not ready to face it now. I need some time to settle down, I need peace. I am heading to Calcutta in search of it. I will come back, I will for sure. If people think of my father as a terrorist then I , his daughter can die for this country to prove them wrong. I will join the Indian Army, very soon.
I dropped the paper on the table and looked at her eyes, they were fixed on mine. Her hands were resting on the table top and her chin above them. The amber of the oil lamp made her face glow.
"I got another call letter three years later, but if I had told you then, we both wouldn't have been sitting here today." She almost whispered.
I remained silent. A chilling cold wind blew past us through a window and the lamp went out.
I could smell that same sweet fragrance and then that same sweet voice filled my ears.
"I love you too."
She had read my mind perfectly.