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“If Only…” Could These Be The Most Heartbreaking Words Ever?!

She had always felt that Subu beat her in this game only so that he could extend his hand and knowingly pull her closer to his body while helping her board the train. Perhaps, it was the very reason why Suyashi never really cared if she lost the race every single time.

Suyashi had met Subu at the office at her current workplace. Subu was an employee of the accounting division and Suyashi was a fresh recruit in the Marketing team. Their first encounter took place at the coffee machine.

Subu had told Suyashi – “Hi! Welcome to our company. This is a copy maker. Sorry, I meant coffee… it makes coffee.” This silly mix-up of words had made Suyashi burst into peals of laughter. It took away some of her anxiety and nervous energy on her first day at work. Subu had sheepishly joined in the laughter. Over the weeks that followed, the copy machine became a place for many more such pointless, meaningless, useless yet precious conversations between the two of them.

Subu and Suyashi started finding great solace in each other’s company. Subu had devised a clever line to steal Suyashi away from her desk at work. He would approach her workspace and ask, making sure he was audible to those around him, “Copy Machine?” Suyashi’s cheeks would turn a shade of crimson before she would get up and join him.

The “Copy” machine time became a sacred time of bonding, innocent banter and somewhere amidst the garden of caffeinated aromas, paper cups, and dancing steam fumes, Subu had started to love spending time with Suyashi. Subu had never even realized when Suyashi became such an integral part of his workday. He woke up in the morning, excited to be at work. It wasn’t his love for accounts and numbers that brought an extra spring to his step. He felt a rush of fizzy excitement when he thought about pulling Suyashi towards him on the morning train. The tug was always an intentionally artistic one. He loved the sensation of her proximity to his body. He had developed a strange love for coffee. For Subu, work had become everything that happened between “copy machine” breaks with Suyashi.

Four months passed and Subu was basking in the warmth of his beautiful camaraderie with Suyashi. He had no label for his feelings or their relationship. It was more than a friendship, maybe it can be called a close friendship. A very close friend. A ‘special’ friendship. Yes! That’s what he was going to call it.

It was a Wednesday morning. Suyashi walked into work after two days of leave. Subu had been miserable in her absence. She had sent an e-mail to her senior partner, asking for a two-day leave for some urgent personal work. Subu could not fathom what this work may have constituted. The past two days had been unbearable for him. He had felt almost entitled to know the reason for this leave. After all, Suyashi had made it to his ‘special friend’ category list. He ought to know what’s going on in her life!

He walked rather hurriedly to her desk and asked her in an excited, demanding, and yet curious tone – “Where have you been ?”. Then he cleared his throat and asked in a louder tone – “Ahem… Copy Machine?”

The coffee machine dutifully brewed 2 cups. The air was tense. Subu spoke first – “So, what’s happening? I was wondering how you just disappeared for 2 days so suddenly. Where exactly were you? Why didn’t you answer my calls and texts? Why didn’t you..?…” Suyashi interrupted his rant. She gently took his hand into hers and Subu felt as light as the frothy bubbles in his coffee cup.

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His hand was on top of hers and it felt so warm, soft, tender, and a bit cold in one place. Cold, like metal. She gently turned her hand, still holding his. Now Suyashi’s hand was on top and Subu couldn’t help but notice her slender fingers, her smooth skin, and her beautiful diamond ring. Wait a minute. Her beautiful diamond ring?! He looked towards her, baffled and confused. He felt like a sad puppy, completely at the mercy of his tormentor. Suyashi was beaming, her smile drew open like a stage curtain, from one ear to another.

She told Subu about her engagement, an alliance arranged by her family. It was all so sudden. It happened before I could even blink an eyelid! I wanted to tell you in person. Subu’s world crashed before him. He felt guilty for not being able to show genuine happiness for his special friend. He wondered why it felt so painful to him. Why was he feeling so miserable and detached? Why did this not seem right?

Unable to gather himself, Subu managed to put up a friendly smile and then stumbled his way across to his work desk. Why did this feel so wrong?

On the other hand, Suyashi had never been happier. She had felt a surge of excitement for the future that lay ahead. The wedding was scheduled a few months later. Subu couldn’t bear to be a bad friend and so he put up a face for Suyashi. His morning tugs became a little less intentional, the copy machine breaks became a little less frequent but he was always around for Suyashi. She had jokingly once called him her office spouse.

Subu enjoyed being in Suyashi’s company and made his peace with her decision to get married. It was a one-sided love story. The wedding day arrived and Suyashi glowed brighter than a thousand stars. The world was at her feet. Subu showed up for his special friend and gifted her a set of coffee mugs.

When Suyashi returned to work after her honeymoon, she was disturbed to learn that Subu had moved jobs and had relocated to another city. She felt angry, deceived, and even upset. Could he not even inform her? Why hadn’t he even called? How could he just leave like that? How dare he change his address AND his number like that? How rude! Insensitive! She hated him. She missed him. But she could not stop thinking about him.

Two years into her marriage, Suyashi’s world was dark, dim, and dull. As Suyashi grew accustomed to her married life, she realized she missed the humor and banter that surrounded her in abundance before her marriage. She hated being expected to fulfill certain duties that were unfairly assigned to the women at her marital home. She was enthusiastic about trying to ‘fit in’ to this new life, but she often wondered why it couldn’t be as seamless and smooth as the way Subu eased her into a train compartment? Why couldn’t it be as easy as the friendship she built with Subu? Why wasn’t there any room for useless and pointless banter in this new life? Why wasn’t she happy?

In moments of despair, Suyashi remembered each one of her conversations with Subu. Over the last two years, she liked to replay every single joke, dumb statement, repartee, and comeback in her head, while walking from the station to her home. She would also try to recall his style of laughter and try to remember exactly where the two of them had stood when these coffee-machine chats happened. It is a strange thing about old conversations. Sometimes, you remember the pauses in between sentences more, the sighs, even the expressions, even if you cannot see them.

Serving as a survival pill, the walk from the station to her marital home served as a shrine that helped her to relive her memories in her head, with Subu. In the two years of her marriage, she had survived a truckload of ill-treatment and unhappiness. The more she tried to ‘fit in’, the more she seems to ‘jut out’ like a sore thumb.

Whenever her soul yearned for moments of pure happiness, she would think of her coffee machine chit chats with Subu.

Suyashi walked her usual route from the station to home, stopping on her way to buy the customary fresh lemons and mint leaves from the roadside vendor, just outside the station. Her husband liked lemon juice with mint leaves. But he preferred absolutely fresh lemons each day. She also wondered why she hated lemon juice herself. Why couldn’t lemon juice be her favourite beverage?

The twenty-minute walk from the crowded station to her home was an almost meditative period for Suyashi. While most of us search for peace and solitude for meditation, Suyashi thrived in the throes of absolute chaos. She found a rhythm in the hustling feet, in bodies that brushed against hers, in anxious faces rushing towards a departing train and in hordes of people spilling out of an incoming train at the platform. Perhaps, the chaos helped Suyashi to lose herself in the crowd.

Truth be told, the vibrantly rhythmic chaos at the train station wasn’t the only reason for her attraction towards the crowded walk from the railway station to her home. It had a lot to do with Subu.

Back in time, during their office days, Suyashi and Subu used to manage foot space in the 7.30 a.m. local at platform number 2 of a similar crowded station, in the same city – Mumbai. Subu would usually be the first one to leap onto the compartment and Suyashi would be pulled in by him. She had always felt that Subu beat her in this game only so that he could extend his hand and knowingly pull her closer to his body while helping her board the train. Perhaps, it was the very reason why Suyashi never really cared if she lost the race every single time. The rush of unexplained excitement that she felt when he swirled her in and pulled her close, was a prize worth losing for. The giggles that followed between the two, were worth a thousand missed trains.

Then, in a moment of enlightenment, almost like an epiphany, she knew it was love. Suyashi went home and announced that she was off on a 2-day work trip, something she did often, as part of her marketing job. Her husband kept the glass of lemon juice down and said – You should remove the seeds carefully, and choose the right lemons. This one was too tangy for my taste. Make another glass now.

One search on LinkedIn and one flight later, Suyashi found herself standing in a small office corner, right next to a coffee machine. A small figure appeared from afar. As he came closer, Suyashi’s vision became blurry thanks to her moistened eyes. She blinked a few times and then there he was. Right in front of her.

Suyashi looked at Subu and smiled faintly. She whispered, in a voice that seemed choked up. I wish I had known that I loved my coffee so much. I wish I had removed the seeds from my lemon juice 2 years ago. I miss you. I never understood what you meant to me until you left. You were in love with me, weren’t you? Subu smiled. We were always much more than ‘special friends’, It took me 2 years more than you, to realize this.

Subu and Suyashi held on to that frozen moment. They stared into each other’s eyes. The paper cup was empty and the machine was still. Subu broke the moment by looking towards the machine. It had a sign that said – MACHINE BROKEN. REPAIR WORK-IN-PROGRESS. Suyashi broke the silence once again. She looked at Subu and asked in all sincerity– “Willing to make a fresh start?”. Subu, who had been shocked into silence all this while, managed to say – Copy That!

This story had been shortlisted for our November 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. The author-juror Anuradha Kumar said about this story, “This story nicely blends a woman’s inner self with her external persona; it traces the trajectory of her thoughts, her growing self-awareness and confidence in taking the steps to define herself.” 

Image source: shutterstock

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About the Author

Ilham Modi Bharmal

My passion in life lies in learning new things all the time. Emotional Intelligence is a way of life for me. I like to mix it with all my areas of interest that include - Psychology, read more...

7 Posts | 10,201 Views

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