“Let’s get married,” I told him, suddenly. It was almost like an order, but the sentence held deeper meaning for us.
He stood there, blinking, unable to make eye-contact with me. The cool September breeze of Ooty blew across his face. His hair swivelled and he looked all the more handsome. I admired him even after letting out a sentence that was too difficult for him to bear. He knew he had to face the reality eventually, but he was not prepared to answer. I held his hand and entwined my fingers with his. I led him to the stone bench and made him sit.
“Can we talk about something else, Pragya?” He asked me without slightest concern for what was going on.
“No, we have to discuss this, Rishabh. You just can’t slip away like that. You have to answer me.”
“But I am vulnerable. I can’t do this. I don’t want to spoil your life, Pragya. I beg you to leave me. You can’t put yourself in such a situation. Please try to understand.” Although he sounded annoyed, I could feel abundant amount of pain in his words, a pain that was taking him away from me. I wanted to erase that pain. I wanted to bridge the gap between us that was created by one fateful day in the past.
“But I love you…” my voice broke and I started crying. I felt sensitive beyond words. I needed him badly, but he was slowly breaking away from me.
The breeze turned cool and I shivered. My hands and feet were turning numb. I felt a reassuring hand on my shoulder. The next moment, he pulled me closer. He held me in a tight embrace. I felt the warmness radiating from his body. I buried my face deep into his chest and let my tears flow freely.
“Pragya, I want you to lead a happy life. If you choose to live with me, then you have to undergo all the sufferings.”
“I am ready to undergo anything for you, Rishabh. I promise you that we won’t suffer. I will always keep you happy. We will have a beautiful life together. You won’t have any negative thoughts if I am with you.”
Immediately he pulled away from me. He stood up and spoke, “The situation is getting out of hand. I have no other way, Pragya. I have to leave you and move away.”
His words tore my heart into pieces. I could literally hear the sound of my heart breaking.
“But Rishabh, I love you. I can’t leave you like this. I need you to share your life with me…”
He cut me short, “I love you, too, Pragya, but we are not meant to be together. I am very sorry. This is over. Please move on with your life and be happy, always. Never think about me. You would lead a life that is thousand times better than your life with me. Do you understand?” He almost yelled at me.
“I..I..Please…” I stuttered, but he stormed off leaving me all alone.
The rains came down at that moment. My tears were engulfed in those raindrops.
“This is not my Rishabh…” I thought. I stood up and walked back home with an undefined emptiness weighing down on me. I began to reminisce those days when I fell in love with Rishabh, two years ago.
“Hey, meet my friend Rishabh. He has joined as the new Geography teacher,” said Anil, one of my colleagues in Breek’s Memorial School.
I looked up from my desk to see who it was. My heart skipped a beat for a second. I saw the most handsome man ever. His skin had a porcelain tone and his bright eyes seemed to exhibit positivity. His hair was neatly combed and his cheeks had dimples when he smiled. The manliness, which he emitted, was beyond description. I was so much awestruck that I did not notice his hand, which he had extended for a handshake. I came back to senses and gently shook his hand. My god! His touch sent vibrations throughout me. I withdrew my hand rather quickly and bent my face down in shy. Anil was watching all my crazy expressions. He cleared his throat and spoke, “And this is Pragya. Mind her. She might bog you down with her Mathematics”. Rishabh chuckled. I glared at Anil and flashed a warm smile at Rishabh. He smiled back and seated himself opposite to me.
“Pragya..Don’t get distracted. Concentrate on your work! Concentrateeee!” I warned myself, but I could not take my eyes off him. I slowly watched his mannerism. He had quickly made friends with two other male colleagues of mine. He began chattering with them. Soon, his exuberant nature got over him. He made friends even with a few female colleagues, excluding me. I didn’t know whether he felt the same way as I felt for him, but he avoided my gaze most of the time. He was glancing at me stealthily. I kept my face buried inside the problematic Maths book. Occasionally, I looked up to have a glimpse of him. It was at that time that I realized he was already watching me. We exchanged shy smiles and got back to work.
As days progressed, I developed a huge crush on him. I had never been attracted to any other male staff before. Rishabh was quite different. He knew well how to handle people. He was loving to the students and even got them chocolates. It was as if entire Ooty vibrated with his euphoric attitude. However, I noticed that he changed according to the seasons. When it was raining, he was his gloomy self, penning some poems on nature. When it was sunny, he loitered around the campus in a light-hearted manner, greeting anyone who came across him. Something about him was making me mysteriously attracted to him. Maybe my marriageable age was creating some emotional disturbances within me.
It was during the Teachers’ Day celebrations that I had a real conversation with him. I had worn my favourite turquoise saree that obligated people to have a second look at me, but I wanted Rishabh to notice me.
“Hello, Pragya madam. Happy Teachers’ Day!” Rishabh’s ebullient voice echoed through the staff room. There were none other than us. I felt elated at the thought of being alone with him.
“Wish you the same, Rishabh sir!” I broke into a smile.
“Well…You look like India.”
“What?!” I could not register his words.
“Geographically speaking, India is the only country which looks beautiful in the world map. So, that means you look like India, beautiful in the entire staff room.”
For a moment, I was debating whether he was flattering me or genuinely speaking his heart out.
“Thank you, Rishabh. And you are like Linear Algebra.”
“What? Is this some kind of a joke, Pragya?” Now it was his turn to be amused.
“Mathematically speaking, your handsomeness cannot be spanned by a finite basis of vectors.”
“Oh, my! Are you trying a mathematical pick-up line?” He twisted his eyebrows. The next moment, we burst out laughing. We connected intellectually, too.
By the end of the day, we exchanged our phone numbers and began our beautiful journey of love.
“Pragya…I can’t jump over the compound wall. It’s slippery. The rains have made it worse and I feel like puking. I have driven all the way from Ketti to Lovedale. The roads are not smooth and in addition to that, I have this queer indigestion, which gives me the creeps. And you are staying in a two storied villa, which has a rather high compound wall….” Rishabh was roaring over the phone.
“Ha ha ha ha ha…” I laughed at his pitiable condition.
“There is nothing to laugh. You come down.”
“I never asked you to jump over the compound wall, Rishabh. You thought you could act like Romeo, expecting me to be Juliet?” The words came out of my mouth in a flow. I bit my tongue for letting them out. I never wanted Rishabh to know about my feelings.
“What did you say, Pragya? I can’t believe…”
“Stop it, Rishabh! I am coming down.” I cut the call and climbed down the stairs quietly, without waking up my parents.
I met Rishabh outside the main gate. He was hiding something behind him.
“What is it, Rishabh? Show me.” I demanded.
“Wait for two minutes.”
I could not figure out what he was up to. I loved Rishabh’s childishness at times.
“3..2..1…Happy Birthday Pragya!” To my surprise, he was kneeling down with a bunch of Kurinji flowers in his hand.
“Th..Thank you soooo much, Rishabh”. I was overwhelmed by his act.
“So, is that a yes?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you understand what I mean?”
I knotted my eyebrows as though in confusion. I had a faint idea of what he was hinting at, but I did not want him to know that.
“I love you, Pragya.” Those magical words felt like honey to my ears. His voice reverberated through the shivering December night. I wanted to squeal in joy, but all I could do was smile at him shyly.
“You are smiling? Do you love me, too?”
There was no looking back. I have to confess to him, but I was too reticent to admit my feelings. I slowly opened my mouth to tell those three beautiful words.
“Say soon, Pragya. I am dying to hear it from you.”
I cupped my hands across my face. Then, I ran over to him. I kissed him on his cheek and tried to escape. But he caught hold of my hands.
“Say it, Pragya. Please.”
I turned around. I closed my eyes and said, “I love you.”
“That’s cheating. Don’t tease me like this. Look at my eyes and say.”
I opened my eyes slowly. I locked them with his. For a moment, I was lost in my own thoughts. Rishabh shook me gently.
“I love you, Rishabh.”
“This is enough. I am yours and you are mine. We will remain inseparable,” he said, cupping my cheeks with his hand. Slowly he came over and placed a sweet kiss on my forehead. I didn’t want to let him go, but I was afraid that my parents would wake up.
“Bye Rishabh. I must go. Let’s meet tomorrow in school.”
“Happy Birthday once again. I need Dairy Milk Silk chocolate tomorrow. I think you remember.”
I nodded. He let me go. I blew a kiss to him and entered my house. I had the best sleep that night.
He looked tense. My heart wrenched to see him like that. Never in those three years had he appeared like that. Something was bothering him. He took leave of absence from school that day. He entered the restaurant in which we had planned to meet. He failed to notice me. I was wearing his favourite pink saree, which he had presented to me. He did not even bother to compliment me. His eyes held a deep sorrow. He had a peculiar file in his hand.
“What is in that file, Rishabh?” I asked him, finally breaking the silence between us.
He did not answer me. He seemed to be in some other world
“Hey, geographer, what happened?” I tried to cheer him up.
Still, he remained silent. The waiter brought our coffee and placed it on the table. I held Rishabh’s hand. But he pulled away. My eyes filled up with tears instantly. My Rishabh never had behaved like this before. Something was bothering him.
“Rishabh, please look at me. What’s your problem?”
He passed over the file to me. I opened it anxiously. I took out something that seemed to be like a hospital report. My hands started trembling. I looked at him. He signalled me to open it.
Patient name: Rishabh Kumar
Diagnosed with: Cancer
Type: Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
I gasped and the report fell from my hands. I sat there like a rock unable to comprehend what I had read just then.
“I have only a few days to live.” Those were the only words he spoke that evening.
I could not bear it. I stood up abruptly and ran out of the restaurant like a mad girl. I did not want to disturb that serene atmosphere with my wailing.
“Rishabh!” I exploded once I was safe in my room. I cried my lungs out. I hit my head against the wall and threw things all around. My parents were banging on the door, saying, “Pragya..What happened? Why are you wailing and throwing things?”
“Please go away…” I shouted back at them. There was no sound from the other side of the door after that. They left me alone. I wailed till my voice went hoarse and I could wail no more.
“Why should this happen to my Rishabh? What sin did he commit?” I cursed God for giving him such a pain. It was then I realized that I had abandoned him in the restaurant. It was the time when he needed me the most. But I had just left him. I tried calling him. But he did not respond to any of my calls or messages. I felt miserable.
“My Rishabh needs me…” Another flood of tears broke from my eyes. I could not stop them. I was not able to sleep that night. I tossed around in my bed, completely filled with Rishabh’s thoughts. His painful words never left me.
The next day, I met him in a secluded place in our school. I stared hard into his eyes. He held a lot of remorse within himself.
“Rishabh…” I cried and hugged him. I melted in his arms.
“Please…leave me alone, Pragya.” He started crying.
“Dare you say it once again!” I burst out at him. “I will never leave you alone. You are my life, Rishabh. How could you say such words?”
“I am not your life anymore, because I don’t have a life.”
Those words hurt me much. Once again, I hugged him, “It’s just your mindset, Rishabh. Nothing is going to happen to you. Don’t be afraid of your life. I am there for you. I will be with you forever.”
“It’s very easy to say this, Pragya. You can’t live with a person suffering from terminal illness. How can I assure you of your happiness? Life will be a hell. I know it’s difficult for both of us, but we must do this. We must break away from each other.
I felt an urge to slap him at that moment for his negative speech, but I controlled myself. “How could you speak like this, Rishabh? You have been the one who radiated positive energy all around. You are the one who makes me smile always. Now, from where did you learn negative stuff? There is no disease without a treatment. Everything has a cure. You need to have will power to live.”
“The doctor has clearly told me that the cancer is in the advanced stage and I am counting my days. Just think about your life, Pragya. You will be all alone after I die. For that, it’s better to separate now.”
There were a few moments of silence. I bit my lip and entered into deep thinking.
“Rishabh…let’s get married.” I told him, finally.
“Pragya, meet me in Blue Hills restaurant.”
I read the message a thousand times. It was unbelievable. He finally talked to me after he had walked out on me. I dressed up quickly and met him in the restaurant.
“How are you, darling?” he asked me with a tinge of sadness in his voice.
“Do you even know me, Rishabh? How can I be fine without you? It was so easy for you to leave me on that day, but I have been miserable from that day. Look, I can’t be happy without you. Live with me, Rishabh. I will show you the true meaning of life.”
“But it would be a sin to marry you, Pragya. How can I spoil your life knowingly?”
“You are not going to spoil my life. I promise you, we will be happy. I have talked to the doctor for your treatment. He said though it’s acute, he will try his best. Please have hope, Rishabh.”
He entered into a deep trance. I did not disturb him. I let him dwell in his own thoughts.
After a few seconds, he said, “Let’s get married, Pragya. I too have a life and I want to spend it with you, however short that life might be.” He smiled at me.
“Thank god! I have been dying to see this smile, Rishabh.” Tears of joy streamed from my eyes as I held his hands.
“I need to give you the best gift till the end of my life. The gift of love.”
“Mom, take me out for a walk, please.” Mohit pleaded.
“Will you be quiet without pestering me for chocolates and ice cream?” I asked in a childish tone.
“Yes, mom, I promise.”
I took him out for a short walk. He enjoyed the cool weather and I sang his favourite rhymes to him. Without Mohit, my life would have been incomplete. He made my life cheerful and he was solely responsible for my existence.
“Mom! Let’s sit on that bench.”
I turned around to see the same stone bench where I had bitter experiences. But I didn’t want to upset my son. We walked over to it. He was surprised on seeing the lavender hue beside the bench.
“These flowers look so beautiful, mom!” he exclaimed.
“These are Kurinji flowers. They bloom once in twelve years, only in Nilgiris.”
“Did dad gift you these flowers? I saw a bunch of dried ones inside your diary.”
I was dumbstruck. He brought me back Rishabh’s memories. I smiled thinking about the days I spent with him. Rishabh had indeed taken a good decision to marry and live with me till the end of his life. He gave me the best gift of love and that was Mohit.