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Shouldn’t she be annoyed that he had nurtured such feelings and not told her? Wasn’t it against the grain of their being best friends? She was a middle aged happily married woman.
As Aditi sat in the call taxi, her mind wandered to that fateful day two years ago.
She had reached home and was having her evening cup of tea when her phone rang. It was her college friend, Madhu. She had been out of town over the weekend attending a conference in Delhi. After the usual pleasantries, Madhu said, “Hey! Guess what! I met Shweta at Delhi. She mentioned that Saahil is there on a deputation in her company. It’s a small world, right?”
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“Oh, really?” asked Aditi, “That’s interesting! It’s been a long while since I heard from or even of him. Do you think I could contact him?” Promising to try, Madhu hung up. Aditi’s daughter Aarushi had by then woken up from her siesta and clambered onto her lap, eager to share her day with the favourite person in her little world. Anmol, her 10-year-old son, had gone out to play basketball, and Ranbir had not returned from office just yet. Aditi got busy rustling up the evening dinner which was a ritual she enjoyed doing for her family.
The next day, there was a text with Sahil’s official email from Madhu. That night she penned him a short mail. It opened a floodgate of thoughts.
It had been over 15 years since they had been in touch. Would he even remember her? But then they had been such good friends. Good in every sense of the word and friends in every sense of the word, too. So much so that many of their friends had thought it would culminate in something deeper. They could talk nineteen to the dozen and still have enough to talk the next time they met. They could keep silent and yet understand every word the other was not saying. Smiles would appear on their lips almost involuntarily as they spied each other anywhere on the sprawling college campus. Those were good days, she reminisced, carefree and full of cheer. She missed the deep friendships one can forge only when one is young and yes single. Sahil had been her best friend.
After graduation, both had married their present spouses within months of each other. They had moved out to different cities. There were a few New Year Cards, a few handwritten letters and hearsay news through batch-mates. They had gotten caught up with the game of life so much that they had no time or space left in their lives for each other. Aditi sighed. How do people who were so much a part of each other’s daily lives grow so apart that they did not even know where they lived at present? Strange are the twists and turns of life, she mused, as she pressed the “Send” button.
She was content with the twists and turns her life had taken. She had a respectable position at the MNC she worked for as a Software professional and she had managed to achieve a work-life balance that was the envy of her friends. She had no complaints against Ranbir, except for the perennial lack of time as he was the head honcho in another bank and was often away on tours. He was ambitious hardworking and sincere to his job and had scaled the heights of his professional life very early in life. But he was a supportive husband, loved her a lot and was an excellent father to her kids. He never failed to acknowledge her contribution to his own success as well as the bringing up of two young kids, while handling her own career. What more could she ask for?
She had a busy day at office the next day and was rushing out to grab a bite when her phone rang. Absently she rummaged for it in her bag and put it to her ear as she turned the key in the car door. “Hello, is that Aditi?” asked a baritone. The next moment there was a high-pitched squeal “Sahil?? I can’t believe this!!” That set the tone for the better part of an hour or so as their words tumbled over each other. There was so much to catch up, so much to say.
A couple of mails with more filled out descriptions of their lives followed. She had to go out of the country on a week’s training and she was busy setting the household right, once she got back. It was a couple of weeks later that she opened her inbox. The 21st century was here but the time guzzling smartphones were not there, yet.
There were two mails from Sahil. One of which simply said, “Why the silence? Now that I’ve found you, I do not want to lose you. Please reply.” She replied, followed by regular updates almost every day. She sensed an outpouring of thoughts in his mails as they discussed everything from politics to pets, from friends to family. There was mention of his wife, Sonia, a public relations officer with a leading media company, but in a perfunctory manner.
Aditi, on the other hand, happily shared all the little joys and sorrows she had to share about Ranbir, Anmol and Aarushi. She had created a happy balanced little world of home and work, a life which she was proud of, her true achievement. She was very good at her work, but her home was as important. She had a strong bond with her children and as Ranbir traveled very often, she had almost single-handedly brought up the kids. Sahil had two daughters – twins Aradhya and Anusuya, who were two years younger than her own Anmol. That was one topic that always animated him, and she sensed an abiding love and pride within him for his young daughters.
During one conversation, she asked him something that had often perplexed her – he had been unusually silent in front of his parents or even friends whenever they had met in their presence. There was a pause and then he said, “If I tell you the reason, do you promise not to let things change between us as they are now?” Perplexed, she asked, “Why should your answer change anything?”
The next day, her inbox gave her the answer she had sought. Sahil had been deeply in love with her all through the years at college. He knew that she did not feel that way and so, he never told her. But in the presence of the people he was close to, he would be nervous of his true feelings becoming evident and so he became withdrawn and stiff when he saw her in public.
Aditi read the mail several times. She had always held that friends of opposite gender could remain best friends without love and sex clouding perspectives. She was stunned. But she was also happy, she realised. A reaction that confused her. Shouldn’t she be annoyed that he had nurtured such feelings and not told her? Wasn’t it against the grain of their being best friends? She was a middle aged happily married woman. Then why was there that glimmer of happiness that it had been love from his side? Was she happy that he had found her worthy of love after all? Did that mean that she too had somewhere cared for him more than as a mere friend? Her mind was in turmoil as it grappled with these questions.
Finally, she wrote back. She was surprised but yes, she was happy too, she told him. She had never guessed though many had wondered. She said, as always, nothing he said or did ever fazed her or altered her deep affection for him. Like him, she was also glad to have found him and it was best not to let what had happened in the past cast a shadow on the present. Or, rather, she wrote ironically, what had NOT happened.
There was a new-found openness in the mails they exchanged now. Nothing was too silly or too personal. The virtual world they shared was their refuge, their go-to place for anything and everything that troubled them or made them happy. It was secure and secluded and they loved their world. It was like old times felt Aditi. She had a best friend again.
Weeks turned into months. She found her world revolving around the daily mails they exchanged. She loved reading them and filling in on the lost years. On a tour abroad, Sahil told her that he was madly in love with her. All over again. Did she reciprocate? He said he knew it was a difficult question for her to answer, seeing how happily married she was and so, all he wanted was permission to love her. She need not say the words. She was thrown into a vortex of confusion. Yet she could not deny her own growing attraction for this soulmate of hers.
He also went on to say that though to the outside world, they were a couple, his marriage was a sham. Neither he nor Sonia really cared for each other. They were strangers living under one roof for the sake of their daughters. Someday he would tell her more. She did not know how to react. Physical changes over so many years could alter the deepest feelings. Shouldn’t he wait for a little longer, till they met, perhaps? What about their families? Their spouses? Their children? Wasn’t it selfish to want this love? He agreed she had a point in everything she said but there was no denying this amazing bond between them. It was just like the old days but with the exciting and heady dash of love.
She knew it was wrong, yet was powerless against this force which drew her to him like a magnet. She never felt as happy as she did when she was writing to him or talking to him. A few more months down the line, she finally acknowledged, yes, she too loved him.
After that it was pure ecstasy as their own little world exploded with love. Occasionally he called her. They were drawn to each other by the thoughts and views and snippets of life that they exchanged. The years just fell away.
He confided the flaws in his marriage. Sonia did not care for his friends or family. She came from a sophisticated family that generally looked down on his simple tastes in clothes food as well as people and friends. Besides, they were now strangers in bed. And because of that, he had strayed. Aditi was shocked at this confession but her love was so strong that she still adored and loved him. He in turn, felt his sins had been washed away by her pure and unconditional love. He laughed more these days he would say, something that even his wife had noticed.
Finally, one day, Sahil called her to say he would be in Mumbai for a couple of days. Could they meet? She agreed unhesitatingly. The countdown began and the days passed by in a happy haze.
She decided to meet him on the pretext of a conference in the suburbs of the bustling city. She was nervous and yet excited. So here she was in a taxi on her way to meet him. The driver turned to her, cutting her musings short. They had arrived at the hotel he was staying at.
As she alighted from the taxi, she caught a glance of his beloved face through the imposing glass doors of the luxury hotel he was staying at. He was still so heartbreakingly and achingly handsome. The years had added lines to his face which made him look even more craggily handsome. Almost at the same instant he caught sight of her. Ever enigmatic, only a wry smile and a bright twinkle in his eyes gave a hint of the almost physical happiness he felt on seeing her again. She looked so beautiful even today, was his first thought, he would tell her later.
They looked at each other drinking in the pure joy of the moment, yet, just shook hands. They chatted awhile in the lobby. It had been two years now. It was as if the entire exchange of words and thoughts, views and opinions had been leading to this moment. A gentle hug, an almost accidental brushing of their lips and they could hold back no longer. The fierce love had to be expressed as they hugged and kissed. Aditi felt a sense of disbelief. She had a very clear sense of what was right and wrong and she followed that instinct unerringly. In her heart of hearts, she knew what had happened was wrong, yet, oddly, it felt so right! How could something so purely joyous, so very right, ever be wrong? She felt she belonged to Sahil forever. Nothing had prepared her for this kind of incandescent love.
Yet, guilt caught up with her. As she voiced her fears, Sahil tenderly soothed her. Yes, she would always be a perfect woman. Love is always a little selfish but if no one was hurt, she was not to blame. Is it so wrong to love me, he asked? Look at what you have done for me. You are my sunshine. You brushed away the cobwebs from my eyes, infused colour into my dark and dreary life and showed me the power of love. You have given me so much. I not only love you, I respect you and worship you for loving me the way you do.
Her frantic thoughts slowed. She let the beauty of their love engulf her totally. She let herself surrender to the power of the affection and attraction flowing like a live current between them. She felt she had come home today. The lost years had been found.
She would unravel the mystery of her feelings, her morality, her guilt and herself tomorrow.
As the cliché went, tomorrow was another day.
Today she was just Aditi the woman, not a wife, not a mother, just a woman.
A woman in love.
(to be continued)
Header image is a still from the movie Jab We Met
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