Saturday, May 12, 2018

Love Me Back

I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again. I know that everyone says that after a heartbreak, but the difference is that I’m not heartbroken. I’m not cynical, or pessimistic, or sad. I’m just someone who once felt something bigger than anything else I’d ever felt and when I lost it, I honestly believed I would never have that again. But... I was 22 then and life is long. And I’m feeling things right now that I haven’t in a long, long time. Because once again he is in front of me. Still looking dangerously handsome even after 15 years.

 I had buried his memories somewhere deep into my conscious. Memories, which came from a place of broken rules, a time of love cut short. But today, it all came back into my senses like the smell of air after first rain. May be because it was raining when I had first met Arvind sir.
The water bullets were pelting from the sky on the roof of that waiting room in the train station. I was waiting for the train to the city where my college was. It was a small connecting station, so the room was empty on this late evening. I sat in the far corner of the room, chomping on the last sandwich my mom had packed. Suddenly a loud thunder clap brightened the dull room and almost on cue, the door flung opened at the opposite end. I got up startled and dropped my sandwich on the floor in alarm. A man drenched in rain had tumbled into the waiting room. I was looking at him in astonishment, like a magician had suddenly pulled out a rabbit out of an empty hat. His soft brown eyes looked at me curiously, Almost as surprised as me to find someone at that train station. The water was still dripping down from his messed up hair onto his coat. My eyes invariably went towards his strong shoulders on which those water droplets were finding their shelter. And before my eyes could wander anywhere further on his tall and firm body I pulled back my composure and sat back on my seat.  An amused smiled played on his lips as he brushed off the water from his hair. 
I looked away too embarrassed to let a stranger know I was ogling at him. He pulled out his coat, and settled back in his chair reading a book. I took a fleeting look at him after a while. A smart reading glasses rested on the bridge of his nose while he cupped his chin reading seriously into the pages. By looks of him, I felt he must be somewhere in his late thirties. He had a smart intelligent face and a clam posture. May be married with a kid but somehow his attitude was not giving a vibe of a family guy. He seemed to be from a decent family, but the skeptic inside of me urged me to sit near the door. It’s always good idea to keep your exists in clear view in case you find yourself in difficult situation with a strange men. So I picked up my bag and sat opposite to him in front of the exit door.
Once again an amused smile played don his lips.
“I could go out if you want..” He asked politely. I was little taken aback with the fact that he had caught on why I moved near to the door.
“I didn’t ask you to” I answered defensively.
“I just asked that because I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence” there was sincerity in his voice that gave assurance of his character.
 “I am fine..” I shrugged casually.
He nodded and then proceeded to take out a big samosa from a greased newspaper. I had just lost my last dear sandwich, so my stomach grumbled at this scrumptious item in front of me.
“Do you want half” He asked. I realized he was looking at me while I was mentally dipping the samosa into chutney.

“No Thanks” I responded gallantly as my stomach moaned in protest.
“It’s fine, I saw you that you dropped your snack when I startled you. We can split it” He suggested. But I knew better than to accept snacks from strangers. Especially when they looked devilishly handsome.
“I think I can survive the next five minutes by when my train will come” I smiled critically at him. He shrugged and just as he was about to eat his samosa, the station announced that my train was going to be another hour late.
 I could see how this was all so funny for him because he was trying to fight a smile back. He took half of that samosa and ate it.
“Now if I don’t faint in next few minutes, you would know it’s safe to eat this other half” He kept it on the table in between of us and went back to read his book. I would realize much later that his sense of stubble humor was one of the reason I was attracted towards him.
 I stifled a grin before he could sense it. And for the next hour it was my ego that helped me be hungry. I pulled in my earphones so I could create a distraction. I once caught him looking at me with concern, wondering how long I would just sit hungry. It was uncomfortable to have a stranger care for me so much.
When finally the train arrived, I just rushed away without even looking at him or nodding goodbye. I felt it was rude since he was nothing but nice to me. But my heart was beating so loud in his presence that I had to get out before he could hear it.
The whole way back in the train I did not let myself be convinced that he had charmed me with few sentence and an amused smile. I wasn’t that easy. It was a matter of self-respect for a 22 year old me. In a way I was happy that I would never have to see him again and put through such a test of will.
I was so wrong. Because when I went to college next day, he was standing in front of the black board and writing down his name on it.
 Professor Arvind Sinha.
 He turned around and introduced himself. He would be taking computer for the last semester of our college. I saw that every girl in that room was gaping at him with wide eyes. I took some relief in the fact that he has that effect on everyone and not just me. If he recognized me, he did not made it apparent. That somehow infuriated me a little. Was I that forgetful? Because he was not.
He was an instant group crush of our entire girl’s college. Girls went to great extend to dig out every single detail about him. The fact that he was still unmarried at the age of 39 built a mystery around him that made him even more desirable.  Girls would bat their eyes and call onto him to clear their doubts and like an adult he would politely and kindly answer their insincere concerns. I realized he was generally very friendly with everyone and yet maintained the distance that was supposed to be between a student and teacher relationship.
I hated that. Because we had met before he was my teacher, and so I wanted a different, a more personal treatment. But he would not even recognize me. If anything, he was kind of ignoring me. We would pass in corridor without even a greeting. He would write a note at the end of test papers for every other girl like ‘good work’ or ‘nice progress’ , but would leave mine with a boring tick mark.
So I decided to maintain even bigger distance between us. Every time he would crack a joke in class everyone would laugh and I would keep a straight face just to spite him up. If I ever had a doubt in lab I would make my friend ask it from him right when he would he standing there. I would dress up nicely on some days and would check if he looks at me. He would reward me by boringly looking away. 
Years later I would laugh at these silly things, but at that time I was too young to understand that one cannot ignore you until he is aware of your presence. Before the last semester exams we girls decided to go on the final college trip. Arvind sir and two other teachers were to accompany us. Girls decided to use this opportunity to prod more into his personal life. They surrounded him one day and asked
“Why didn’t you ever get married sir?” They asked looking at him with dove eyes. I tried to look as disinterested as possible, but all my senses were hyper alert.
“Couldn’t get the one I wanted..” He said and a collective ‘aww’ went through the crowd. The idea that he was once in love tingled something inside me.
“You never found anyone else after that” Another girl asked with ridiculously flirty voice. Usually he would change the topic gracefully but in the rarest of the rare moment he decided to engage this time

“It won’t matter. My astrologer said I am unlucky in love.”  There was a tease in his voice that could melt the heart. I was furious. That face had no right to be so nice to anyone. It was just too dangerous.
“Any girl would be lucky to have you Sir” A girl said and he bowed his head lightly in a thank you. He was slaying each one of us and we all were willing to die happily. I could bet that every girl that night imagined how it would feel to be loved by him. And so I wondered if it was just me or was there really something between us. It could be possible that he was just being the mature person like he was and was giving me my space since I had always been kind of snobby towards him.
The more I thought about it, the more restless I felt. I dozed off in our car drive back that night, thinking how silly I had been acting. The breeze from the window made me open my eyes and for a moment I thought I was just dreaming. Arvind sir was sitting in the front seat of our Van and was looking at me through the rear mirror. We could have just looked away, but the minutes passed and we did not. I had never felt that intimate with anyone else. There was this strange sadness in his eyes, like he was in a battle of willpower and in that moment he had just slipped into his feelings. His forbidden feelings was out in open for me to see. We looked at each other the whole night and as the first light of dawn fell on us we closed our eyes and pretend to sleep.
But the desires inside me was wide awake. I did not cared if he was 17years older than me or was my teacher. He made me feel brave and I was ready to fight the world for him.
With butterflies inside me I went to meet him the next day before the class could start.
“Hi” I said. He looked up at me but something was changed.
“Yes” His voice was distant and detached. I stood there for a minute confused, suddenly unsure of what I should even say.
“Did you had any doubts?” he asked in a manner like last night was just a dream. Like he did not cared for me or even knew me.
“Yes..” I said feeling humiliated and cheated.
“You can ask that after today’s test. I am in middle of preparing questions..” He said in manner of dismissal. Oh, it was so easy for him to hurt me. I turned back fighting my tears. Such a big fool I was. I was nothing but an amusement for him. The rage was flipping me inside out.
When I got the test paper that day, I scribbled all the wrong answers and wrote at the end of the page in bold, ‘ I HATE YOU’. I slammed the paper on his desk and was out of the class in five minutes.
 I cried whole night. I wished he would just disappear and next day my wish came true. He had suddenly left stating a family emergency. Teachers told me that I would have to write my last test again as my paper was misplaced. I guessed he had intentionally done that to save me from failing miserably. I wanted to hate him but missed him too much to do that. But I refused to be heartbroken over someone who did not even said good bye before leaving.
Life moved on and his face fossilized into my memory. I would still search for him in the faces of strangers and even married someone who looked and talked like him. I loved my husband but I could never love him fully. Because I had once loved someone completely and he had not loved me back. I was content in my life and had decided not to look back in my past, until the past came right in front of me.
My husband bought a family house from his mother and as I was cleaning an old trunk, I found a picture of Arvind sir in it.  After 15 years, I was looking at him and my heart still jumped. I was that 22 year old girl who was left unloved by this man. I asked my husband who he was.
“Oh, He was my uncle. This was his house. After his death my family did not wanted to sell it to outsiders. It was empty for years until I thought of buying it off.”
I stood speechless. I understood now, why my husband looked so much like Arvind sir.
“When did he died?” I asked still trying to make sense out of things.
“Way before our marriage. He had cancer. Mom said he never married because of that. Why make anyone part of the misery.” He looked at his trunk and said “I think we should keep his personal trunk in the house. He would have wanted it to be within family” he went back to arranging the house.
 I stood there in a trance, unable to believe what I was listening. Why would life bring me back to him after all these years? I fumbled through his things in the trunk when I found an old test sheet kept neatly pressed inside a file. It was the same one in which I had written all the wrong answers. I turned to the last page where I had written ‘I HATE YOU’ in bold and found that right below it, Arvind sir had written in his neat handwriting….‘Me too’

 I tear rolled down my eyes and I breathed in the smell of that old ink on paper. I could finally fall in love again, and love my husband with all my heart. Because after all these years, I finally knew that the man I loved, loved me back.

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