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CHOICES I : Dreams

Checking her berth and the number on the ticket she settled herself on the grey seat of the sleeper class. She tucked her bags beneath her seat and hung her wet umbrella on the hook. All mechanically. Lost in her thoughts. The compartment seemed empty, even here she was alone, she mused. Fate has an uncanny way of deserting her on situations where she needed company, when she needed a shoulder to cry on. In spite of her resolution, she couldn’t help but look back to the happenings of last week. Just a week back she believed she was the happiest person on earth. Standing on the podium with her degree certificate, watching her father clap the loudest in the crowd with unadulterated joy on his face, it was worth all her struggles. Yet she wanted to include one more person in her happiness. And she had scanned the sea of people for that one familiar face. She knew he would keep his promise, she expected him to be there. But then fate had mocked at her ‘when would she stop expecting’.

She tried to placate her wounded heart, repeatedly telling herself that he might have got tied up at work. He didn’t contact her, yet she decided to wait. He had given her time, two years. She would give him his.
But all her hopes and expectations  shattered when she saw his photograph on the daily with another woman. “Mr. Mehra ready to tie the knot”, it had read. She had touched his face with utmost care on the paper, momentarily relieved to see his face after so many days. But died a thousand deaths when she saw the woman beside him and his arms wrapped around her waist, posing for the photograph. Tears had choked her throat, the pain, the anguish….but then untamed fury had clouded her senses. He was getting engaged to another girl while here she had been desperately waiting for his one look on her graduation day. She was angry. Angry at him, for doing this to her. Angry at herself, for being so gullible.

“Have coffee with me tonight”, he had said. Later that night they had strolled near the beach together under the moonlight in silence.

“I LOVE YOU”.

She had been dumbstruck by his confession. She knew she harboured feelings for him; he was an intrinsic part of her life. He had helped her to realize her dreams and had always been her pillar of support. But she wasn’t sure if she could associate the word like ‘love’ to her affection towards him.

Being always the reserved one with not as many friends she couldn’t comprehend what that four letter word entailed. He was smart, good looking and intelligent, the owner of one of the top private companies in Kolkata, and she a less than simple ordinary girl. There was no match between them. Besides she would be living in another city. So she had reasoned, keeping her own emotions at bay. But he had assured her that he would wait. Even if took her a lifetime to say yes. And she believed him.

Suddenly she felt suffocated with all the pent up frustrations and emotions. She needed to escape this. She opened the windows letting the cool water of rain wash her face. She could see the trees sprinting pass her as the train continued its journey.
It has been raining continuously since morning. She closed her eyes.

It was raining that day too, he had come to Lucknow on a business trip, two months after she had shifted .He was to stay there for a week. The week that gave her the most cherished moments of her life. Together they had walked the streets of Lucknow in the rain, visited the Chatter Manzil, the ancient Jama Masjid, Bara Imambara and went boating in the Dream Valley . She had then known that she couldn’t envisage her future without this man. On his last day there he had taken her to the Taj Mahal. There he had tied a beautiful blue and silver band on her hand. It was a platinum bracelet studded with stones. She had denied taking anything from him, but he had insisted.
“It would remind you of me, even when I am far.”
His word echoed back to her and unknowingly tears started streaming down her face, merging with the rainwater. Veiling her vulnerability with obscurity.

“I know the scene outside is really tempting but can you please draw the windows I am getting soaked”.

Startled she looked towards her left to find a man in white shirt, pointing towards the window from where the water had started streaming down and had already drenched her partially.
“Oh”, she muttered, now trying to pull the shutters down haphazardly and simultaneously wiping her face with the back of her hands. She was thankful that rainwater had splashed her face; she wouldn’t let anyone know that she had been crying.

“Here,” the man said forwarding a handkerchief towards her.

Not wanting to worsen her predicament she took it from him mouthing incoherent thanks.
Wiping her face she blinked her eyes twice to get rid of the tears accumulated in her eyes. Once her vision cleared she noticed that the compartment was now almost full, an elderly couple was sitting on the opposite berth and a middle aged woman was perched on the corner. She glanced up to find the man sitting by her side staring at her amusingly. She fidgeted with the now soaked handkerchief, not knowing whether to return it or not.

“Keep it,” he said smiling. “Until the next time.”
“Huh!” she frowned in confusion.
“This world is a small place, you see,” he answered her unspoken question, still flashing his dimpled smile.
“So Delhi?”
She nodded her head in a yes, not knowing why he was so keen.
“Home?”
“No .New job,” she replied disinterestedly.
She turned her face towards the window hoping he got the hint that she wasn’t interested in talking to him or anyone else for that matter.
And she was successful. From the corner of her eyes she saw him sigh. Putting his headphones back on his ears he concentrated on his camera which hung from his neck.
Now once again all to herself, she relaxed in her seat and gazed out of the window. Soon she dozed off.

She was finally here.
To this new place. To her new life.

She retrieved her bags from below when something clattered to the train floor. She looked down to find the platinum bracelet lying there, beckoning her to make her choice. She could either pick it up with all the forebodings attached to it or walk past it, leaving it and the bitter memories behind. It was now or never.
She closed fists briefly before opening them with a surge of determination.

She had made her choice. She won’t let her past tarnish her future.

She made her way through the crowded Delhi Station. She had called up her uncle who lived in Delhi. He was due to pick her up. He had said he had arranged an affordable two roomed flat not far from his own apartment. It was easier this way to survive in the big city, living close to your relatives. And she was to shift there today. She looked at her watch; it was 10:30 already. Keeping her luggage beside her she sat on the bench at the far end of the terminal entrance. She checked her phone for any missed calls, maybe he was stuck in the traffic, and maybe he had called. But there was none she sighed. The autorickshaws were lined up at the side street and a group of men were chatting at the corner occasionally glancing towards her. The side street was almost empty.

Shifting uncomfortably she recognized their leering glances. Not wanting to attract unwanted attention she hastily picked up her luggage and made her way back to the station. She heard the scurrying of feet behind her and she knew she was being followed. An unknown fear gripped her, the realization of being alone in an unknown city far from her family washed through her. She heard one of them call out to her and she quickened her pace, gripping the sides of her dupatta. Once out in a little crowded area, she steeled herself. She wouldn’t let anyone to take her to be weak. She wouldn’t make that mistake again. Making her stance impregnable she took a deep breath and turned back to confront them.

But to her astonishment there was no one there. She sighed in relief, but then she saw a figure running towards her from a distance. And it didn’t take her long to realize it was the same person from train. She frowned. Was he stalking her? She contemplated whether to call for help or give him a good hearing. Reaching there he halted before her, resting his hands on his thighs still panting from all the running. Before she could speak, he put up his closed hands towards her making her even more confused.

Few seconds later he stood up straight and she noticed he didn’t have his camera strap around his neck and was now wearing a full sleeved sweatshirt over his white t-shirt.

She gasped when he opened his forwarded fist. For there on his upturned palm lay, the same platinum bracelet which she had left behind.

“You forgot this back in the  train,” he said.

“World is a small place but that does not imply you would make me run like this,” he said insinuating his earlier said words with a sense of mock humour.

She stood there transfixed.

When she didn’t make an attempt to take the bracelet, he grabbed her hands holding the duppata , prying it open he placed the bracelet on it.

Still recovering from her shock, she wasn’t able to articulate her response.

He flashed his similar smile and turning on his heel he was gone.

She was hardly aware of what he said rather, her attention was captivated by the shimmering piece of metal in her hand, the embedded crystals reflecting the sunlight in myriad hues. The curved edges imparting dazzling patterns to those hues.
And the words involuntarily slipped her lips in the form of whisper.

“Why?”

Fate had its own way of getting back at her. She didn’t know what to make out of all this. Didn’t know what to expect anymore. She was still healing from what her earlier expectations had entailed.

Expectation is a treacherous dream that our subconscious weaves, to delude us into believing against the stark reality. Leaving nothing but marred dreams and ripped hopes in its wake of realization. Deceiving us with its alluring outlook, even though it’s empty inside. Even deception turns guileless when compared to it; at least it doesn’t give false hopes. Yet, Expectation isn’t the depravity, deception is.

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