Joined: 09 February 2012
The train came to a screeching halt. Masses of people rushed past me to get out. As excited as I was, my legs felt like they were cemented to the floor of the train. I somehow manage to get myself near the doorway. The cool wind greeted me as I peeked out the doorway to get a better view of the station. India. I was born here but don't remember it at all.
My parents moved almost as soon as I was born, and I was only 6 months old when we moved. That was the last time I saw this country. It was 20 years ago.
It took months of arguing and convincing to get my father to agree to let me come back. I couldn't just pack up and leave. That's not how things work in my house. I cannot so much as sneeze without my father's permission. As tough as he was, it was hard for him to say no to me. My mother was also worried but not quite as frantic. She told me that she would agree to letting me go as long as I stay with Vanshika Aunty who resided in Chandigarh. Finally, my father agreed to letting me go as long as I promised to call him or my mother every day.
After all, it was my best friend Jeevika's engagement. She and I had known each other since Elementary school. I still vividly remember the scene in my head of when we became friends. She was playing around at recess, and a boy pushed her. Jeevika, being the soft hearted, sweet girl, began to sob quietly. The boy, triumphant, walked away with his friends snickering. I witnessed the whole thing. I went, and helped her up. She meekly thanked me and asked me my name.
"Friends?" she asked, still trying to control her crying.
"Friends!" I smiled back and added, "But on one condition."
She looked worried. "What's that?"
I smiled the mischievous smile she would grow to recognize. "We get him back."
"Deal." She laughed and linked my pinky with hers to signify our deal.
And thus began our infamous friendship. The two of us couldn't be further apart in our likes and dislikes-she was quiet, and I was outspoken, she enjoyed science and medicine, and I was more of a bookworm. When stressed, she cried. When stressed, I preferred to go by the lake and do some water sports. I had a thirst for life, and she was headstrong in following her duties. But as different as we were, some things bound us together. Both of us were our parents' darling daughters, raised in traditional Indian homes. Both of us loved classical Indian dancing. And both of us were kind hearted and honest. I made up for what she lacked, and she made up for what I lacked. I always stuck up for her, and she always calmed me down when I let my emotions run away from me.
My parents were unable to go to India for business reasons but knew they couldn't stop me because of what she meant to me. There was no way I was missing this. Plus, I calmed them with the thought that I would be with Vanshika Aunty and within miles (or kilometers should I say) of Jeevika as her husband lived in Chandigarh too. Her husband had managed to get Jeevika's family a mansion to reside at during their stay, since it would be improper for the two of them to be under the same roof without being married to each other.
I felt a couple of people behind me push me forward, bringing me back to reality and out of my thoughts. Finally, I managed to get off of the train. The cool air greeted me as I got off and the smell of Indian food lingered in the air above me as various venders moved through the crowds with their small carts filled with food and beverages. I was tempted to stop them and grab some of the savory snacks. However, my first task was to find my hosts. My parents told me that I would be picked up by someone from Vanshika Aunty's family.
I became apprehensive as I looked around. The train station was so crowded that it was hard to move without bumping into someone. There were all types of people surrounding me. To the left of me, there was a family of four. The child, who looked about 4 or so years old was tugging on his mother's sari begging her to pick him up. On the other side of me were two older men with dark brown leathery skin and long white beards. Their heads were covered in turbans, which was part of the traditional clothing. It was a bit daunting to be surrounded by so many people all at once. But at the same time, it was refreshingly liberating being out all on my own.
Finally, I came across him. He was holding a board with my name on it, and I knew that he was sent by Vanshika Aunty's family. So, I walked towards him slowly. When he finally saw me, he looked up at me with one eyebrow quirked.
"Maanvi?" he asked.
"Yes. And you are?"
" I'm Virat. My mother sent me here to pick you up," he said.
He goes to pick up my bags, but I stop him. It's always good to double check.
"And what's your mother's name?" I asked him eyeing him curiously.
He shook his head, amused. "Vanshika. And before you ask me your biography, I'll tell you myself. You're parents own hotels in America. You are their only daughter. You came here for your best friend's engagement. They only agreed to send you here after you begged them. Correct?" He said with a slight Indian accent. Even still, he seemed to be quite fluent in English.
I nodded, relaxing a bit more.
"Don't worry," he said "My mom told me the entire story over and over again. She was so excited when she heard you were coming to India. When I was 2 or so years old, I would come over to your house every day and your mom would always give me chocolates. This was before you were even born though."
"Really?" I asked.
"Yup. That was so long ago. But speaking of your parents, how are they? I remember very little about them now."
"They're doing well. They're a little worried about me being here alone though."
"You aren't alone though. You've got my family here. I'll be sure to let them know we will take good care of you while you are here."
Slowly, my anxiety began to melt away. It was comforting to be around family friends and knowing that I am not all alone. For the first time, I really looked up at him. He had a muscular body with broad shoulders and a strong jawline. His hair was a normal length and thick but had a bang like style to it in the front. Mischievous dark brown eyes. And his half smirk was captivating. He was incredibly good looking.
It was dark by the time we got to his home. I was greeted by almost a dozen people. When his family saw us coming towards the gate, they all rushed out to meet me. They were so welcoming that it felt just like a home away from home. Once I got inside, the first thing I did was call my parents to tell them that I reached Chandigarh safely. Virat and his parents also spoke with my parents and made sure to let my parents know that they would look after me. They told my parents that Virat would take me to wherever it was that I wanted to go and would be my own personal tour guide.
I was amazed to find out that my parents had no problems with that. Normally, they would hate the idea of me spending time with a guy. But since they visited India every year, they knew Virat and our families had be friends for ages. In fact, they were happy that I had a trustworthy person to show me around the country, and were comforted to know that I had someone to protect me should something go wrong.
After dinner, Vanshika Aunty showed me to my room. Though I was tired, I was too excited to sleep. I had dreamt of being in India all my life but for school reasons or summer camp or some other reason, I never got a chance to come until now. All thanks to Jeevika and her soon to be finace Viren.
After about 20 minutes of attempting to sleep, I gave up. I never had much patience anyhow and couldn't sit still. Luckily, the house was big enough and my room was far enough from Aunty's room that I could listen to light music without disturbing them. Or so I thought. I turned on the tv in the room and began to unpack a little. But being me, I couldn't resist a little bit of dancing. I got a little to excited and crashed into the table, sending a few items flying to the floor. Silently cursing myself for all the commotion, I tiptoed around the room to fix the items back as they were when I heard a knock on the door. Walking towards the door, I shook my head at my stupidity.
"Are you okay?" He cut in.
It took a moment for me to stop staring at him.
"Oh, I, um. Yeah. Im okay," I smiled apologetically. Then I added, "I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"
"Nah. I wasn't sleeping anyhow. Why are you still awake?"
"I couldn't fall asleep," I admitted, shifting a little at the awkwardness between us.
He noticed this and smiled his half smile.
"I guess it's a little difficult being in a new place around people you've never met but only heard of huh?"
I nodded, not meeting his eyes.
"When Virat is here, never fear."
I couldn't help but laugh. He made it so easy to relax, even though I didn't know him too well.
"Don't worry. We aren't as different as you think."
I looked up at him curious.
"Your parents adore you. They talk about you a lot when they're here," he explained.
"I've heard some stuff about you too, but I only vaguely remember," I confess, feeling guilty that I never paid attention when my parents went on and on about their trips to India.
He picked up at this and admitted, "I was reminded of your famous stories by my parents when they heard you were coming here."
I was too embarrassed to ask what my parents told him and silently prayed it wasn't too bad.
"How about we trade stories, and maybe I'll bore you enough that you will fall asleep," he joked.
"I'm up for it if you are," I said all too excitedly, as a strange curiousity rose in me to learn more about him.
"I didn't think you'd take me seriously but why not."
"You don't have to," I interjected.
"Nah. You're going to be here for the summer. I'd rather you feel at ease here. The sooner you hear about my embarrassing stories, maybe you'll stop feeling a little awkward."
"You picked up on that?"
"It's only natural. You're in a new place with people you don't know much about."
I was thankful for his generosity and kindness. When my parents mentioned Virat would be there, I pictured a nerdy 20 something year old who parted his hair in the middle and slabbed a lot of oil on it to make it resemble gel and who wore awkward looking clothes. I was glad that I was completely off base. When my parents rambled on and on about his success in business school and intelligence, I couldn't help but peg him as some dork that I never wanted to meet. He waved at me, breaking me away from my thoughts. A rosy blush crept up to my cheeks as I realized I was locking eyes with him and staring at him dazed, a blush that didn't go unnoticed by him. His mischievous eyes sparked at a sudden thought.
"hmm?" I muttered, still unable to look away from those piercing chocolate brown eyes.
"The answer to every question has to be honest. It's the only way we will be comfortable with each other. I mean, we are old family friends. And we get one pass each, just in case something too personal comes up. After that, you have to pay a penalty," he smirked.
"Penalty," I half stated and half questioned.
"Yes. There's no point in trading stories and getting to know each other if we aren't bound to be honest. Plus, there's something liberating about being honest with a complete stranger, who isn't entirely a stranger," he said, meeting my gaze at the last part.
This sparked the bold side of me that I decided to leave back in America, for the sake of my hosts. "I hope you know, I'm not one to back out of a challenge"
He quirked his eyebrow. "I know. I've heard stories," he winked.
"Oh god," I muttered, mortified.
"If I can look at you with a straight face after hearing the story of when you tried to learn swimming, I think I can handle the rest of your secrets. Plus, you can trust me to keep it to myself. I promise. I wont even tell my friends about that story when you meet them," he laughed.
"They didn'they wouldn-." I said turning pale.
"It's okay. You were young. And you have yet to hear about some of my most embarrassing stories," he said, trying to spare my mortification.
"Okay," I sighed. Something in my gut told me that I could trust him even though I had to real reason for believing that I could.
I realized that we were still standing in the doorway. In order to ensure my comfort, he suggested we sit in the family room, the room that was in between our respective bedrooms. He waited until I settled myself on the large sofa before he jumped onto the chaise, lying down in full comfort. This made me relax a little more, and I pulled my legs up and crossed them.
"I'll go first. Ask me anything you'd like."
"Umm, your biggest accomplishment?" I asked, feeling a little foolish for knowing the answer yet still asking. Of course, his MBA from one of India's top universities.
I saw him pause, thinking for a minutge. "My music."
I stopped fiddling with the corner of the pillow and looked up at him, surprised. "Music?
I didn't know you were a musician. Aren't you a top businessman?"
He smiled a sad smile."That's for the sake of my family. A few years ago, my grandfather and I got into a huge argument over my career. I was independent and stubborn, still am in many ways. I had a passion for music. But my father and grandfather wanted me to pursue business. It's the family tradition. My grandfather and I got into a huge argument, and I stormed off. I didn't want to be forced into something I had no interest in. After many arguments, he grudgingly allowed me to follow my dream, hoping that I would realize it was no career. We eventually made up and I made an album but a few days before the album released, my grandfather passed away from a heart attack. In his last words to me, he told me that he was proud of me but wished his lifelong dream of me being a businessman would come true, and I promised him that it would."
Silence. But this was the first time in my life that I felt comfort in that silence. The truth was still lingering, heavy in the space between us. He let out a sigh and looked at me with apologetic eyes.
"Sorry. I didn't even realize that I was confessing all this to you. This was meant to be fun and lighthearted. Not serious and ominous."
"Don't be." I said quietly.
He looked up at me, a little surprised, his face a little hopeful that he didn't completely scare me.
"I told you that Im always up for challenges but I didn't tell you that im also a very good listener. You said this was supposed to be entirely honest, and you were doing just that. Being honest. And I appreciate it. It shows that you trust me and really consider me a confidant in the short time we have known each other."
"I have no idea what got into me. I just looked up at you. And somehow, I let it all out. I really am sorry. I already added to you feeling awkward without intending to," he said, his eyes still looking at his feet.
"Since when do friends apologize to each other? You've been so kind since I have gotten here. The least I can do in return is listen and be someone you trust," I said, not thinking about how awkward he may have felt at my knowing a personal piece of his life'something that he probably kept hidden and didn't want to discuss further.
"You mean weird," I corrected.
"No. different. I haven't known you for long but you're personality is so charming that I feel completely at ease with you. Maybe that's why I said so much without even thinking," he said looking at me with a strange depth in his eyes.
"Yeh toh Maanvi ka kamal hai."
"You speak Hindi?" he looked shocked.
"Is that your question for me?"
"No but it can be."
"Yes I speak Hindi. And it doesn't have to be, " I smiled, thankful that the tenseness in the air was gone. I wanted to ask more' about his music.. about his passion'about that spark in his eyes when he spoke of music. But I left it alone, knowing if he was comfortable enough with me, he would tell me. I didn't want to remind him of something he wanted to keep hidden.
"Hmm'okay then. I'll ask you a real question. What makes you happy? I mean other than the general answer of ffriends and family and oh yeah your Mr. Snuggles." He said with a wink.
"MR. SNUGGLES? They told you about that? I wont spare them!"
"You really are a Sherni aren't you?"
"Sherni? Well I never thought of myself that way. But I like it. And to answer your question' the smell of fresh rain," and then looking at his quizzical face, I added, "I know, I know, it sounds all very Bollywood and typical. But seriously. Have you ever danced in the rain? Or gone puddle hopping? Or just laid on the ground and felt the rain fall on you?" I finished, wishing to feel the Monsoon in India.
"Rain? Arey yaar. You could have said ladoos or roses or white water rafting. Or dancing. Or writing."
My mouth hung open.
"How do you know all these things about me?"
He quirked his eyebrow, giving me a look that made me feel butterflies. "I've heard so much about you that I feel like I've known you for ages."
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