She Felt It Was Better To Be Distant Than To Hurt The One Person She Loved

Unbeknown to them both, a distance had began to creep in between them. Both of them felt powerless to bridge the gap. The petty fights of their childhood had not prepared them for this moment in their lives at all.

Laasya looked beautiful. So relaxed, her laughter leaping out of her in sudden bursts as she sat speaking on the phone. Mimi watched her from afar, almost hidden behind the Golden Pothos that trailed all around the cafè. When she first caught sight of Laasya walking in, her heart had started thumping so hard, she could not hear her own thoughts. As the blood rushed in, it brought along memories, so many of them. Trivial, transformative, minute, monumental, they jostled with each other jumping in all at once, refusing to be ordered on a timeline. When Mimi realised that Laasya was walking to a table away from her, she calmed down. She did not have to confront Laasya. She was not ready. Hadn’t been the past two years.

Laasya, her bestie of 13 years. They were both barely 7years old when they had started on the same day in the middle of the school year at Sacred Heart Convent. Laasya, after her parents had divorced and her mom moved to Mumbai with her. Mimi, when her dad sent her to live with her aunt (Mausi) and grandma (Naani) in Mumbai, after her mom died unexpectedly. For the next 11years, almost to the day, they were inseparable. Like two peas in a pod, in fact the other girls would call them mattar-1 and 2. Mimi being 1, the natural leader protecting the timid and bewildered Laasya.

After Mimi’s Mausi was married and left Mimi alone with super strict Naani, Laasya’s mom felt to Mimi like her own. There was so much warmth that radiated from her mere presence. The two girls spent many afternoons and all Saturdays playing in Naani’s yard. Climbing the lone mango tree or playing house under it until Laasya’s mamma returned from work. They would rush in as mamma turned the key, the aroma of spicy vada-pavs packed in flimsy newspaper packets having reached them all they way under the tree.

To this day the chickoo juice that Mamma made to finish the snacks off, remained unparallelled in all of Mimi’s 21 years existence on this earth. Including the one sitting in front of her at the table. Mimi bent down to sip it, savouring the memories yet again and when she looked up, it was directly into Laasya’s green tinged brown irises swimming desperately in the drowning wetness of her eyes.

Mimi burned. It was not the slow heat of rising rage that she had felt the only time she beat up a classmate. When they were in tenth standard, Siya had teased Laasya in front of the entire class when she found out about about Laasya’s secret crush on an older girl. As tears of shame streamed down Laasya’s face, a blinding rage had risen in Mimi and she slapped a stunned Siya non-stop until a teacher stopped her and she was suspended for a week. In that time, Siya apologised to Laasya without being asked and everyone looked upto Mimi with so much more respect.

This time Mimi burned with guilt. Gut wrenching guilt.

Laasya’s dad had reappeared in her life as she entered college and so by extension, in Mimi’s life too. For Laasya and Mimi who were nurtured in the deep waters of nearly all-female family and friends, he was an endlessly fascinating presence, especially in their ripe adolescence that discovered pleasure as much in the warmth of sunlight touching the skin as in the tears that stung at a rebuke. By then they had outgrown vada-pav-chickoo juice Saturdays which Laasya’s dad now replaced with ragda pattice and masala chai by the beach-side. Embraced in his engaging presence, Laasya had metamorphosed into this bold butterfly, full of joy. The change was not lost on Mimi who loved the new Laasya even more. On those special Saturdays, they would spend hours fussing over their outfits, trying on different earrings, exchanging stoles and slippers until they deemed themselves deserving enough for the evening with “Dad”. The salt leaden breeze of the ocean, the twinkling lights along the road, the rhythmic crash of the waves together with the easy company of “Dad” seemed almost too good to be true!

Gradually Mimi found herself daydreaming about him often. She routinely caught herself reliving the moment Dad had touched her arm to move her away from harm’s way. The pleasure that spread all over her body when he had complimented the silkiness of her hair. The protective warmth of his arm as he steered them through crowds. The heady scent of his aftershave as they sat together on the sand watching the waves.

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It delighted yet confused her. Was Dad just being himself? Was it just her who was starting to feel these things she was not supposed to? Or did he really like her? Was there something special between them? Was there a “them” at all? Just admitting to all this in her mind made a wave of shame wash over her. And she could not discuss with Laasya how she felt. What would she tell her? Laasya was rediscovering her dad after more than a decade and was making up for lost love. Her dad was Mimi’s dad too. Laasya spent hours sharing her dreams about rebuilding her relationship with papa. How could she, Mimi, even think these thoughts!? She could not look Laasya in the eye. She was torn between wanting to do Saturday special with them so she could be with him and feel the pleasure, the specialness, bask in his attention and not wanting to be anywhere near “Dad” for fear of what Laasya might sense. She tried very hard. Once she did fake a tummy ache and stayed in bed, but she was so miserable and stricken, her feelings for him surged through her with a vengeance, even stronger than before. Later when Laasya recounted the evening, Mimi could barely breathe as reality and imagination merged into one and she could feel his presence right there and then.

Unbeknown to them both, a distance had began to creep in between them. Both of them felt powerless to bridge the gap. The petty fights of their childhood had not prepared them for this moment in their lives at all. Laasya was baffled and Mimi blamed herself.

Laasya did bring it up. She had wanted to know why Mimi was keeping things from her, they had always known everything about each other. Laasya had asked if she had done something to hurt her. She even asked once if papa was making Mimi uncomfortable. Of course Laasya knew her better than herself… But Mimi couldn’t say a word. As the three of them spent more time together, the distance between Laasya and Mimi became a gaping, insurmountable chasm. In fact Mimi felt it was better to be distant than to hurt the one person she had so much love for – Laasya. Little did she realise how much pain the distance caused them both.

When college closed for the year, Mimi, all of eighteen, was nowhere closer to reconciling her ever expanding feelings for Dad with her unquestionable love for and sense of protection towards Laasya. She felt she had no option but to flee. The vortex of feeling – of love, loyalty, desire, guilt, shame was immensely overwhelming. Under the pretext of an inconsequential fight, Mimi left behind her refuge of a decade, her warm, safe space while also denying herself the excitement of infatuation. Nothing that her Naani or Laasya’s mamma said swayed her. They had no inkling of the secret shame she carried.

It had been 2 years ago – the loneliest years of her life. She had carefully avoided crossing paths with Laasya. Transferring to another college, gratefully living on her own in a hostel. Graduating with a job at hand. How much she had longed for Laasya to be by her side! She knew from Naani Laasya had done the same, and knew Laasya would have desperately wanted to share the moment with her. Why had things become like this? Should she have handled it differently? Was it worth the pain of separation from Laasya? Questions like these kept tormenting Mimi every now and then when some crack appeared in her armor against the world. Those times, the weight of loneliness bore down on her, threatening to drive her crazy.

As she had spotted Laasya today, all the tender love she carried within her for her friend, her one person in the whole world, burst into blossom. She enjoyed watching Laasya, she wanted to scoop her up and crush her in a bear hug. But instead, here she was staring into her best friend’s pain-filled eyes.

She knew Laasya was waiting for her to speak. To erase away all the years of waiting and longing. So they could reclaim their joyful past with all its sparkling memories.

Laasya looked into Mimi’s eyes and willed herself not to cry. Mimi who had beat up Siya in order to protect her. Mimi who hugged her without judgement when she told her she liked girls more than boys. Mimi who knew first when Laasya started menstruating. Mimi, who kept her secrets.  Mimi, before whom and since whom there was no memory of a friend for Laasya. Was it not Mimi and Laasya against the whole world forever? When she had been overjoyed that mamma and papa had reconciled enough for him to be able to start seeing her again, she had no inkling that it was also going to be the beginning of Mimi’s withdrawal from their inseparable life. She now recalled waiting anxiously with Mimi the first time after the divorce when papa had came to take her out. She had insisted Mimi should come as well. She remembered being nervous and excited and not letting go of Mimi’s clammy palm. When Mimi left, it was a shock. Laasya was hurt, angry, betrayed, baffled and all alone. What had happened? Why? After two years there were still no answers. She travelled all the way back, to that last day of first year college….. she could not even remember the exact words of their fight. But as she dived deep into Mimi’s eyes now, she felt the pain in there the same as all those years ago. Laasya desperately wanted to forgive Mimi for whatever it was Mimi could not speak about. She could sense that Mimi could not form the words. So she walked around and sat in front of Mimi and spoke.

“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. I have forgotten the words but I remember your pain in those pauses, your sighs, your silences. And I remember mine. I feel it now and I see it mirrored in your eyes. Whatever it was, whatever it is, it is enough Mimi. Don’t punish yourself, don’t punish me any more. I need you dearest and I know you need me.”

Even before Laasya finished, Mimi burst into her arms and sobbed non-stop. Laasya kept murmuring that it was going to be okay, that they were going to be okay. For a long time they remained that way. Even the waiters knew they were not to be disturbed. 721 days of holding in. Of big feelings. Of reviewing every pause, every sigh, every glance that had transpired. Of loving and hurting of connecting and losing. Finally when Mimi, still within Laasya’s protective embrace, looked up at her face, she knew in the deepest recess of her heart that it indeed was going to be okay. She had Laasya back, they could heal together, no matter how difficult the journey.

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, “An intriguing story of two women who are friends. Both have their secrets, their mutual deceptions and yet there’s a lingering protectiveness, a desire not to hurt one’s friend – it’s this complication that stood out for me in this story.” 

Image source: shutterstock

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