I know I've taken more than my usual time this week and I sincerely apologize for that. I just want to clear up a few things before you read the chapter.
Firstly, from now on, I am not going to promise for a particular day for the update. There are two reasons for it. One, I can not say if I'll be able to update on one particular day and two, it only makes me feel guiltier when I tell you I'll update and leave you all hanging there, waiting for me to fulfill my promise. Hence, no fixed day from now on.
Secondly, I'm considering shortening the length of the chapters to almost half. But if I do, the updates will probably be twice a week on random days. Please give your opinion about which way you prefer; long chapters once a week or short chapters twice a week. Remember that either way, there are going to be no fixed update days.
I turn back to Mom as she calls me before I can step out of the house. 'Yes Mom?'
She signals me to sit by her side. Ranbir is lounging leisurely on Dad's old comfortable sofa with his feet perched on the footrest in front of the sofa, his eyes trained on the mobile phone in his hands. I sit by Mom's side on the couch. 'You're going to have to take tomorrow off.'
I knit my brows in confusion. 'Why?'
She smiles. 'We're going to Zara's place tomorrow.'
My eyes flicker to Ranbir who's now attentively looking at Mom with a wide grin. Mom looks at me as she continues. 'We're going to fix a date to bring your Bhabi home.'
Ranbir jumps off his seat and kneels down beside Mom, hugging her from the waist. 'You're the best Mom! You're the best!'
Mom hugs him back and pulls me to join in. I notice her slightly wet eyes fixed on something and I follow her gaze to look at my Dad's smiling picture hanging on the opposite wall.-------------------------------------
After the few family moments, I tell Mom I have basketball practice and so I leave to meet Ayush and the rest of the team at the court. With the match only a week away now, we have increased our time for practice. This has resulted in lesser time for us with our friends which is making Ayush irritated. He cribs about not being able to spend enough time with Anaya and I make fun of him, internally agreeing with him on not being able to spend some time with Geet. Her thoughts bring to the forefront the thought of her going away soon and as I play this evening, my mind goes around in circles over what I'm supposed to do and how.
As the game ends, Ayush suggests we go to the cafe Geet works in and call Anaya over. I agree and after we freshen up and Ayush informs Anaya of our plan, we head over to the cafe where Geet gets very surprised to see us. She tells us that her shift is almost over and she'll join us in a few minutes. When she comes back, she has a plate in her hand with three delicious looking chocolate pastries on it. As soon as she puts it on the table, settling down on a seat, Ayush's hand reaches for one. A smack on his hand makes us all look up and Anaya's standing there with a playfully strict face. 'What? Trying to party without me?'
Ayush jumps to our defence. 'Of course not. How can we?'
His question is rhetoric but Anaya answers it anyway, reminding him of his outstretched hand she just slapped back a moment ago. Ayush pouts and the rest of us laugh.
Anaya quickly picks one of the three pastries and announces that one is hers, to which Ayush complains that she's taken the most chocolatey pastry and Anaya sticks her tongue out at him. Ayush quickly picks up the second pastry, saying that one also has a generous amount of chocolate on it. There's only one left in the plate now and I reach for the plate, sliding it in front of Geet and telling her to take it. 'Oh no. I brought these for you guys.'
She slides the plate towards me. 'Nope. I'm fine. You eat this.'
I slide the plate back to her. Her mouth opens to protest as her hand reaches for the plate to slide it back again but I hold her wrist and Anaya says a loud 'Enough'
simultaneously. We both turn to look at our audience who're both sitting there with barely eaten pastries in their hands, looking at us. 'What's the big deal in it? Let me get her one more pastry. Simple'
She shrugs. As Geet and I refuse at the same time with the same excuse of not wanting to eat it, Ayush pulls the plate to himself, shrugging and saying that he'll eat it if nobody wants it. I see his eyes glancing at Anaya and I look at her to see her narrowed eyes. Ayush slides the plate back to the centre of the table. 'Uhh... I guess I'm full with one pastry.'
His sheepish expression makes me chuckle and he looks at me. I catch the abrupt change in his eyes from accusing to mischievous and I wonder what he's going to do.
He pulls the plate back and before Anaya can say something, he explains himself. 'I'm not eating it myself. I'm cutting it into two for these two very humble people.'
He takes the fork and slices the pastry into two. 'Now Maan eats one half and Geet eats the second.'
He grins at me before turning to Geet, who's refusal is almost out of her mouth now. 'Don't be silly Geet. We can't all eat and you sit there staring at our delicious pastries. We're not that heartless, you know, to deprive you of its mouthwatering taste.'
I roll my eyes at him. Typically Ayush!
Geet still hesitates. 'But how can I eat Maan's...'
Ayush lets out a breath. 'Look Geet. I'm very tempted to eat this pastry I'm saving for you two. If I eat it, Anaya will beat me and if I don't, the poor pastry will cry, so I'm trying to take the middle way. Maan won't eat it until you eat too so you either take this half quietly or watch me being beaten by this crazy girl.'
He ends his monologue with his finger pointed towards Anaya. Seeing the girl in question beginning to fume, Geet quickly agrees to eat her share and passes the rest to me.
As we eat, I tell them about Mom's plan of visiting Zara's place tomorrow and they cheer. Not Geet of course, Anaya and Ayush do. Anaya excitedly starts talking about Ranbir's wedding and I remind her that the date isn't even fixed yet. After quite a lot of time sitting in the cafe, we decide to leave. Since Ayush and I have come in my car and Anaya has come by the bus, we all file in the car, Anaya taking Geet along and making her sit in the back seat. While driving, my eyes catch Geet's reflection and I notice her looking at me through the rear view mirror. Because our eyes have already met, I smile at her through the mirror and I see slight pink spreading in cheeks as she looks out of the window.-------------------------------------
The next day, we're welcomed to Zara's magnificent house with grandeur. The combination of them being wealthy and their down-to-earth attitudes makes them all more amicable. Zara's younger sister, Zynah, has come home from her hostel for some time. She's just as beautiful as Zara and very shy. After they seat us in a huge hall, Zara's mother only calls her name and she nods, going into one of the rooms with Zynah following her. I poke Ranbir in his ribs inconspicuously to make him stop staring at the door of the room that Zara disappeared in. He looks away, not at all appearing embarrassed. As talkative as our mother is, it doesn't take long when she's engaged Zara's parents in a friendly conversation, discussing about things ranging from world issues, to reviewing certain places as holiday destinations, to talking about the new shopping area. When the conversation turns more towards the interests of women, Zara's father turns to Ranbir, talking to him about how his work is going. Neil - who has just stepped down from the stairs - comes to sit beside me. I find out he's a fun guy but his interests and mine differ. He's interested in girls, sports cars and partying.
Shortly after this, the two sisters come back to the hall with trays in their hands and two servants following them with their hands full too. They put the trays down and Zara signals the servants to leave. Kneeling down, the younger sister passes plates and dishes to Zara, who in turn walks around the hall, serving each one of us the edibles they've brought. I notice her passing a bright smile to Ranbir, a soft and shy one to me and my mother. As both the girls sit on the sofa opposite to ours after serving us, Mom brings to the forefront the reason of our visit. Silence falls upon the youngsters as the elders discuss the dates, asking Zara and Ranbir what kind of a wedding they want. Both their answer is the same. They don't want a lot of pomp and show, just a few close people to be invited. Neil objects, saying that he wants his sister to marry in a grand way. Zara tries to tell him that she doesn't want it that way but he doesn't relent. Before the disagreement can turn into an argument, the elders intervene, coming up with a middle way. They suggest that we can have a private ceremony but we can still celebrate it in a grand way. This option suits both the siblings and the elders consider suitable dates. With a lot of discussion, they come to a final decision of arranging the wedding in one and a half month. Spirits high and faces beaming with smile, the two families congratulate each other, the ladies planning on beginning the preparations as early as possible. As we leave, Ranbir is very excited and that rubs off on me and Mom too. All three of us talk about what we're going to do and how, as Ranbir drives us back home.-------------------------------------
The next morning is a holiday. It's Sunday. But I see Mom calling the women she knows of; who include Anaya's Mom, Ayush's Mom and G, planning on meeting at our place in the evening over tea. After she's done with her phone calls, she runs to the kitchen, preparing for the evening and I help her as much as I can, taking out the crockery, passing her the ingredients.
In the evening, the ladies gather in our living room. Along with G, Geet comes too. I find out Mom has invited her as well. Zara comes with her mother and sister, Anaya with her mother and Ayush's mother comes alone. They plan on how to go about the preparations, all the women suggesting they meet at each of their houses as they prepare. Ranbir joins in too, eagerly suggesting that meeting at our place every time is much better. The women tease him on wanting to get time with Zara and he shamelessly accepts that. This time, Zara objects to his suggestion of meeting at a single place every time and they get into a playful argument.'But I want to help in selecting dresses and jewellery and all.'
'No you don't. You just want to make fun of us women. You don't even like to shop.'
'Yes, I do want to help.'
'No you don't.'
'Yes I do.'
Looking back and forth between the two, I bite my tongue to not laugh at the way they're arguing. Mom intervenes this time, siding with Zara, shutting Ranbir up and telling him as well as me to let the ladies have some girl-time.
As we both step out of the house, Ranbir grumbles and I laugh at him. He gets more annoyed so I tell him that we guys can prepare for ourselves, suggesting that we can include Ayush, Neil, and any of his friends if he wishes.-------------------------------------
With Ranbir's wedding in a month and a half, Aunty requests all the women to help prepare and they readily agree. As per the plan, all of us collect at Anaya's house the next day. Zara's mother laughs remembering Ranbir's behaviour the previous day and the rest of us join in. This day passes as the women discuss where to shop the dresses, jewellery and other accessories from. I sit and talk with Anaya and some times with G. Zara is a confident girl, I notice. She takes active part in all the discussions in a lively manner. Her sister, on the other hand, appears shy. She only talks quietly with a few people. I don't get a chance to talk to either of them. -------------------------------------
Our basketball practice continues as Ayush and I indulge ourselves in it during the day time and running around the malls with Ranbir in the evenings, checking out suits and traditional dresses for him, making him try different things and giving him honest opinion, some times making fun of his eagerness. But as a whole, the time with him is enjoyable.-------------------------------------
The next day is scheduled for clothes' shopping. I sit with G and Maan's mother in G's car. I've tried opting out of it but Aunty won't relent. Anaya comes with her mother and Ayush's mother in her car while Zara comes with her mother and sister in her own car. We reach the destination, which is a designer store. The store is elite and has wonderful designs. Though the staff is very cordial, I notice that as much as Zara mingles with the people she knows, she keeps a strictly professional face throughout the time that she converses with the staff. To someone who doesn't know how she actually is, she might appear to be an arrogant, rich snob. I silently admire the young woman for her confidence in the way she does everything, be it engaging in casual conversations with people related to Ranbir, or with the guy himself, or with the staff of the store. Anaya also checks out a few dresses and forces me to try some. I don't agree and stick to my word that when I'm not buying anything, there's no point in trying clothes. To my surprise, she doesn't argue a lot and asks my opinion of the dresses she likes.-------------------------------------
The next day, we meet at G's place. Though there's little that has to be done at her place, the women have a gala time chatting. They talk about the colour schemes of the bridal couple's dresses and discuss how the gents are coming up with their preparations for the day. Ryan wants me to come with him to the garden so I go out and sit on the bench and watch him as he plays with his ball. About five minutes later, I see Zara walking out to the garden with her phone pressed to her ear. With the way she's smiling, I guess it's Ranbir on the other side. She wanders closer to where I'm sitting as she talks and my thought of it being Ranbir is confirmed when I hear her addressing him. I smile at the way she tells him that he has to come with her to the jeweller the next day.
Hanging up her phone, she looks up at me and smiles a warm smile. She comes forward and asks if she can sit with me. 'Of course. Please sit down.'
I move a little aside smilingly and she takes a seat. 'Geet, right?'
I nod. 'Aunty told me that you're Maan's classmate.'
I smile and answer in affirmative. A few moments pass in silence as we both look at Ryan running from one end of the garden to the other. I decide to speak. 'You and Ranbir make a wonderful couple.'
She smiles a little shyly. 'Thank you. So do you and Maan.'
My stomach does a flip-flop at her words and I hurry to correct her, telling that I'm just his friend and nothing more. 'Oh. I'm sorry. I just assumed...'
I don't let her complete, aware of my cheeks turning pink. 'That's alright.'
I avert my eyes back towards Ryan. This time when Zara speaks, her voice is the lively, friendly voice that I know of. 'Ryan is so cute. You know, I love children. They're so cute. Even though they're sometimes a little cranky and all but I still love them.'
I smile and listen to her speak about her fondness for children, laughing when she says she always complained to her mother to have at least one baby in the house. She asks me about my family, recalling the days when she used to be away from her family for studies. Our conversation is interrupted when her sister comes to inform that Maan's mother is calling her. I watch her walk inside as I think about how wonderful a person she seems.-------------------------------------
For jewellery shopping, it's only Mom, Ranbir, Zara, her mother and Zynah. I decide to study after the match practise. We have a test in class tomorrow and so Ayush, Anaya and Geet are also busy preparing for it today. With all the wedding frenzy around the house day in and day out, I need to study harder for my exams which are so close to the dates of the wedding. All three of my friends promise to help me with this when I discuss it with them. Since more time with Geet is now guaranteed with her promise, I think over how I'm going to tell
The coach asks sharply. Ayush looks down. 'I'm sorry Sir but I have to go somewhere.'
I sigh, knowing that there's no choice for Ayush. 'But the final match is tomorrow. What could possibly be more important than your
Ayush looks back into his eyes. 'My grandfather passed away, Sir. I have to go attend his funeral.'
His voice is low, upset and the coach looks away. 'I'm sorry about your grandfather.'
After a few seconds pass in silence, Ayush speaks again. 'I'm sorry about letting you down, Sir, but I have to go.'
Coach puts a hand on Ayush's shoulder. 'It's alright. Take care of yourself, boy.'
With that, Ayush turns around to walk out of the room and I follow. As we reach the gate silently, we come face-to-face with Anaya and Geet, both standing with somber faces. Ayush hugs me and then Anaya, side-hugging Geet as well. He apologises to me and wishes me luck for the match. All three of us tell him to take care. He walks over to his car as the three of us stand there and watch his sagged shoulders, not voicing it but still concerned for him.-------------------------------------
Since Ayush is gone on such an unfortunate event, we're all a little upset. I haven't known Ayush for as long as Anaya or Maan but this doesn't come as a consolation when it comes to worrying about him. I just hope he can overcome his loss and return back, the way we all know him. With heavy hearts, we return to our respective residences, hoping and praying that tomorrow's match goes well.-------------------------------------
The day has finally arrived. The day that Ayush and I have been practicing for a long time. But to our bad luck, Ayush is absent on that very day. The coach wishes us luck and gives the instructions to the player who's replaced Ayush, still saying that Ayush is one of the best players and his level cannot be matched by anyone. Someone says two girls have come to meet me and they're standing outside the rooms and so I go to greet them. Anaya hugs me, wishing me luck in a subdued voice and Geet holds my hand, wishing the same. I tell them to go take their seats and Anaya points out where they'll be seated.
The match kicks off well with our team leading. Throughout the first half of the time, we play technically, dodging them, covering them when the ball is in their hands and snatching it away as they dribble. At half time, I walk over to take a sip of my energy drink and look at where Geet and Anaya are seated. They wave at me and I smile, turning away again when it's announced that the match resumes in two minutes. Taking our positions, we prepare ourselves. As soon as the whistle is blown, the ball is in the opposite team's hands and I realise they've changed their strategy to a much better one where they aren't letting us reach the ball. It's only with Ayush that I've discussed and even practised how to tackle if they use a strategy other than the usual, so now I lunge for the ball, trying to act on it alone. I manage to get a hold of the ball and throw it to the other player of my team, the one who's replaced Ayush. The guy doesn't act fast and the other team's player catches the ball, deftly taking it away from us and to their court, scoring the basket without much of an opposition. I try again and again, and even score a few baskets but unfortunately, it isn't enough. With the final whistle, the scoreboard clearly shows that we've lost this match. As we walk back to the locker room, I look over at where the girls are sitting. They aren't there and I stop in my step. Where did they go?
Before I can think about it, a teammate calls me to catch up with them and I rush forward, still thinking where the two went.
They're standing by the locker room door with encouraging smiles. I can't talk to them yet so I walk in with the team. The coach says that he isn't disappointed in us because we still played good but he's just sad that they couldn't win. This makes me - and I'm sure the other players too - feel bad about not being able to live up to our coach's expectations. I change out of my uniform and into a pair of jeans and a shirt, going out to meet the two girls who try to lift my spirits, telling me that it was a great game, that we played well. I smile wanly at their efforts, still feeling a little upset. Maybe if Ayush was here, we wouldn't have lost the match.
Anaya's phone rings, she attends the call and tells us she has to leave for something important. With her gone, it's only me and Geet left, walking silently to the parking lot.-------------------------------------
With the match lost and Maan so low, I feel restless. I want to raise his spirits back to the way he normally is. Anaya herself has been a little upset, though she has tried to put up a jolly front for Maan. Now with her gone to attend something important, it's just me and Maan. When he offers to drop me to hostel, I refuse and tell him that we'll go somewhere else. Even with his low morales, he doesn't object and asks where I want to go. I give him instructions to one of the few places of this city where I've been to with G.
He looks around when I tell him to park the car at the roadside and I point out an ice cream stand across the road. I tell him this is the best ice cream I've ever had in my life and so we'll have one today. He makes an attempt to smile and we get down from the car. He waits for me to come around the car and then holds my hand as we cross the busy road. I don't object, rather I tighten my hand around his, liking the way his hand curls around mine. Reaching the stand, he asks me what flavour I want and orders one. When he doesn't order anything other than that, I ask him why. He shrugs, telling me he doesn't want to have any ice cream.
I frown looking at him and turn to the vendor, ordering him to make it two. Maan tries to protest but I cut him off. 'Who told you I'm ordering it for you?'
At his confused expression, I continue with my charade. 'You see, I really love this ice cream and I feel like having two right now.'
He raises both his eyebrows, nodding his head exaggeratedly. 'I see.'
He plays along. 'Why don't you order two scoops instead on one?'
He grins at me and I smile sheepishly, knowing that I've been caught in my act, but still glad to have finally brought him out of his gloomy mood. Taking both the cups from the vendor, I give one to him and he smiles at me again. He insists on paying the bill but I don't let him, saying that I'm the one who brought him here so it's my treat. He doesn't object then, and we walk back to the car after I pay for the ice cream. Seeing him reaching out for the door, I hold his wrist to stop him. He looks at me questioningly. 'Can we sit on.. uhh.. on the bonnet?'
He's surprised by my request so I hurry to explain that this is how G and I ate this ice cream the last time, and how much we enjoyed. He shrugs and we both lean against the car's bonnet - not climbing on it -, silently having our respective ice creams.
A few moments pass before I decide to break the silence by talking about random places I've been to in this city and what I liked about them. It only takes a little effort from me before Maan begins giving his input about whichever place I talk, telling me about more places I should visit before I leave. As the topic of my leaving comes up, we both fall quiet, immersed in thoughts. The time has passed so quickly ever since I've made these wonderful friends.
I look up at his face to see him looking down at his feet. I can't see his eyes so I can't guess what he's thinking but the corners of his lips turned down speak a lot. I'm going to go away from them... from him so soon. Just about two months...
The thought makes a knot in my stomach and to shirk the sudden lull fallen over both of us, I paste a smile on my face as I speak. 'So when do you plan to show me around?'
He looks up. 'Do you really want me to show you around?'
His voice is hopeful and I nod. 'Of course.'
I smile brightly and his twinkling smile returns. He agrees and then thinks aloud, asking me when I'd like to go around, how much time I'll need and where we can go first. I'm happy to have brought the enthusiasm back in him. -------------------------------------
Just when I step in my room, my cell phone beeps indicating of a text message I've received. I pull it out as I put my bag on the study table.Thank you Geet. :)I look at the number again. Is this Maan? As soon as this thought enters my mind, my phone beeps again. I check to see another message from the same number.
'It's me, Maan.'Seems like he read my mind. I smile and reply back to him.You're welcome. :)I put my phone on the table and turn around to fetch my night suit only to turn back around after another beep.So we're meeting tomorrow, right?
I quickly answer in affirmative and get his reply in a few seconds.
The deal is sealed then! :DI smile at his eagerness and wonder if he's reached home already. Is he texting while driving? I think with horror.
Sure it is. First some fun and sightseeing and then getting down to Algebra. :)
By the way, have you reached home?This time I wait for his reply with my phone in my hand. As soon as my phone beeps, I open the message to read.Oh yes. Algebra.
On my way right now.Just what I thought! I text him back quickly.Don't text while driving! And reply to me when you get home now. I'll wait till then.His message doesn't come immediately so I go to the washroom to change. Ten minutes after my last message, my phone beeps again. I open it to find it from Raya, my Chhoti, asking me about the day just like she always does. I reply to her, knowing the moment I receive another text. It's from Maan, informing that he's back home safe and sound. I reply to him with just a smile and get back to chatting with Chhoti. After about fifteen minutes of talking to her, she says she's sleepy and so we wish each other good night. I put my phone on the bedside, sit on the bed and bring my book to my lap to study when my phone beeps again. I roll my eyes. Chhoti hasn't slept yet, it seems. Opening the message without paying a lot of attention, I read it.Are you awake?Yes I am. I thought you said you were sleepy? :P
Sending my text, I look back into my book. The phone beeps after a few minutes and I open the message, expecting it to be Chhoti.When did I say that?My eyebrows knit together and I recheck the sender. It's Maan. Confused, I check the previous message, which asked me if I'm awake. To my chagrin, that message was Maan's too and I've replied to him thinking that it's my sister, not paying attention to the sender's name.I'm sorry. I thought it was my sister and that's why I replied that way.Stupid Geet! You should've checked earlier! Chiding myself, I put the phone on the bed beside me. As soon as the beep indicates a new text, I pick the phone and open the message.
That's okay. :) So you're still awake?I roll my eyes at his silly question. Nope. I'm asleep with an eye open and replying to you this way.Yes. I was studying. Just going to sleep now. :)I put my book away and lay down on the bed.Oh okay. Good night! :)
I smile at his simple wish. Replying to him, wishing the same to him, I turn the light off and drift off sleep with a smile on my face, to dream of basketball and ice creams and sight-seeing and group studying and text messaging.
Edited by mayyo13 - 18 April 2013 at 10:49am