Every Sunday she would see him. It was the only day she actually saw him. Johnson Academy it was. The place where she would see him. 9 AM to 12 PM it was, when she would see him. She was attending classes for IAS exams and he was also a student amidst the 60+ students in the class. Among the guys, his was the face that registered with her at first sight. On the contrary, he had never even properly noticed her. She took notice of him when he had travelled in the same bus in which she was in. His demeanour of seating himself, acquiring the ticket from the conductor and watching the scenery through the window, bought her attention. She had also noticed that he was dressed in red, just like her. A full sleeved, red checked shirt it was and hers was a red kurti paired along with black leggings.
While alighting from the bus, his eyes had met hers for a fraction of second. But that was it. Nothing more, nothing less. While she had taken a different route to reach the academy, he had taken the shortest one, which made him disappear among the crowd. During the class, she could not glance at him, as he had occupied a seat in the last row. The interval break provided a good view of him, as he had passed her bench to reach for the water-cooler. After the class hours, she could not even trace him, as he had packed his bag soon and left to catch the earliest bus.
On the subsequent Sundays, Lavanya’s ‘stare saga’ continued. The curly haired beauty was enchanted by his ochre colored skin, his flappy hair and his peachy lips. Her doe-shaped eyes looked at him with awe while her tawny skin turned pink with an unnameable emotion. But it was only she. He wasn’t even aware of her existence, let alone know that she was his classmate. Like a saddled horse, he concentrated only on the window in the bus and on his books in the class. He never let his eyes wander at any woman in the class. He did not get acquainted well with the boys. A smile rarely escaped his lips even when the professor had cracked a guffawing joke. But she noticed the moment when he smiled or rather laughed at a joke. She knew when his grumpy looks would take over. She also noticed that he just had a basic feature phone, not the classy smartphones which the other guys possessed. She literally registered every movement of his, despite his ignorant attitude.
Before she knew it completely, she was in an unbearable crush with the guy, whose name wasn’t known to her.
“The opening ceremony of the schools and colleges have been held…” chanted the English professor from the practice workbook. “The blank has to be filled with the word ‘have’.”
“But, Sir, I think the answer is ‘has’,” said the guy from the second row. Lavanya looked up from her workbook as she recognized her crush’s voice.
“How can it be ‘has’? Schools and colleges are mentioned in plural. So the answer is ‘have’.”
“Oh my God! I think this Sir is a fool. The emphasis is actually on the ‘opening ceremony’, not on the ‘schools and colleges’. The answer is ‘has’. That guy is right,” murmured Lavanya to the girl seated next to her.
“But, Sir….” the guy raised his voice once again.
“The answer is ‘have’. Let’s move on to the next question,” commanded the Professor.
Lavanya fumed with rage as she noticed the offended expression on her crush’s face. ‘He deserves a better place. He doesn’t belong in this bunch of half-baked people, who don’t get their grammar rules right,’ she thought, assuring that her crush was right in his answer.
After the class got over, Lavanya hurried to catch up with her superfast crush. She decided to speak with him and she had the opening line rehearsed in her mind. As she climbed down the stairs of the academy, she caught up with him at the right moment.
“Excuse me!” She exclaimed through short pants of breath.
“Yes?” He turned around. His face had a stony expression.
“You were right. The answer was ‘has’, not ‘have’. The professor isn’t well-versed in the subject, I think so.”
The very next moment, he smiled at her. ‘Oh my God! He is smiling,’ she beamed.
“Thank you! I thought there is none in the class to support my views. But I was wrong.” He smiled yet again.
“Don’t worry. I think we are the ones in the class with a good grammar knowledge. Why don’t we become friends?” She asked him, with a hint of hope in her voice.
“Friends? Look, I haven’t really made any friends in this class for the past ten weeks. I am not interested in socializing with people who are going to be in our life only on Sundays.”
“Ha ha ha…Really? Is that why you don’t talk to others?”
“Oh! Have you noticed me?”
“Yes, of course! In fact, we travel in the same bus on all Sundays. But, sadly, you haven’t even noticed me once.”
“I might have. As I don’t show interest in talking with people from this academy, I wouldn’t have come forward to befriend you. And also I am much older than the others…”
“Hold on! Did you say that you are older? What’s your age?”
“I am 27.”
“It isn’t a big deal. I am 21. Aren’t we getting along?” Lavanya winked at him.
“Yes, that’s why I am talking to you. Can we walk and continue our discussion? We need to catch the bus, right?”
“Yeah, sure.” They started walking on the heavily crowded street.
“I am Chetan.” He extended his hand for a shake.
“Lavanya.” She shook his hand firmly. But she felt her heart jolt with a splurge of love as his fingers touched hers.
“Good.” He flashed a pearly smile at her. Lavanya couldn’t contain her joy. She was walking beside the one with whom she was in love. Her first love.
“So, Chetan, what do you do?”
“I am working in Wipro. I don’t like my job. My aspiration is to join IAS. What about you?”
“I have just now completed my graduation in B.Sc Maths. Since my childhood, I have been nurturing the dream of becoming an IAS officer.”
“That’s really good.”
They boarded the bus. Though he became acquainted with her, Chetan felt reluctant to sit beside Lavanya. “Well, I don’t feel comfortable sitting beside a girl. But we can continue our talks through phone. Give me your number.”
Lavanya’s face gleamed like a thousand watt bulb. Smiling at him, she exchanged her number with him.
That night, she had a dream about him. Passionate it was. She felt like the happiest girl in the world. Being in love felt magical for her.
Two weeks passed by. Since Chetan was hard pressed for time, he couldn’t talk to Lavanya much over the phone. The two Sundays whiled away with few talks, strictly pertaining to general topics and world issues. No personal matters were shared between them. Though Lavanya was dying to delve into the personal life of Chetan, he maintained a distance from her, tagging her as a ‘just friend’. Hence, it was a complete surprise for her when he called on a Friday, asking her to meet him at his home.
Lavanya jumped up in excitement. She dolled herself with the best dress from her wardrobe. She dabbed on extra makeup which made her look prettier than before. W’oohoo! I think my passionate dream is about to come true. I never expected him to call to his home. I wonder if he is alone or with his parents.’ Informing her mom that she is going to visit a friend, she zoomed away on her Scooty Pep to Chetan’s house. On her way, she brought a bouquet of red roses. She had an idea of proposing to him, if he wished to take things further.
His deluxe apartment was situated in Anna Nagar, a busy residential area in Chennai. Leaving her scooty in the parking lot, she rung the bell of the apartment in third floor. Chetan received her with a warm smile and made her comfortably seated in the large hall. He brought her a glass of cold water, asked her about her day and proceeded to chat about some general things. All the while, Lavanya could listen to the sound of water gurgling from the bathroom.
Casting a glance at the bathroom, she asked, “Do you live with your family, Chetan?”
“Yes and no, I can say.”
“What should I make out from that answer?”
“Ha ha, chill, Lavanya! I was trying to crack a joke.”
Just then, a woman in her early 20s emerged from the bathroom, clad in a cotton floral night dress. She smiled at Lavanya and said, “Glad to see you, Lavanya! Chetan told about your arrival. You speak with him. I’ll bring you some tea.”
As the woman retreated inside the kitchen, Lavanya slowly asked Chetan, “Who is she?”
“Mamta, my wife. Isn’t it obvious?”
The jute bag containing the bouquet of red roses slipped from Lavanya’s hand to the floor, without an iota of sound. A surge of pain seared through her heart. Her eyes brimmed with hot tears that were threatening to stream down. Nevertheless, her reactions weren’t noticed by Chetan. After his reply, he had buried himself in the newspaper, negligent of the mixed feelings brewing inside Lavanya. She never knew that the love which she nurtured for him would get crumpled in such a manner. Her world came crashing down in a minute. She received the answer for his ignorant attitude towards women. She understood why he hadn’t sat beside her on the bus. ‘All the while, I was thinking that it was his reluctance to speak with girls that made him behave strangely. But I was wrong. He is married! God! I cannot believe this is happening to me.’
“Tea.” Mamta’s voice drifted Lavanya gently back to reality.
“Th – thanks,” she stammered while receiving the cup. Immediately, she picked up the jute bag and hid it behind her, before it could be noticed by Mamta.
“Chetan told me that you were his only friend in Johnson Academy. Generally, he doesn’t speak to girls much, having had a love marriage. Ha ha ha….”
Lavanya could feel her heart ripping to pieces. Her eyes were turning moist, repeatedly. She had a difficult time in hiding her feelings from them. She looked at Chetan with remorse, well aware that it would be the last time she would see him. She had mentally decided to keep away from him from the next Sunday. ‘My Sundays won’t be the same anymore,’ she thought painfully.
“Lavanya! Where are you? Meet my brother Shyam,” said Chetan, while clapping his hands in front of her eyes.
“Oh, sorry! Hi, Shyam,” she said absentmindedly, looking at the guy who was an exact replica of Chetan. He had deep-set eyes, a perfect jawline and an olive skin tone which made him strikingly handsome.
“Hello, Lavanya! I have heard a lot about you from Chetan. In fact, I had tried befriending you in Facebook by searching for you,” he said. He was jocular, unlike Chetan.
Lavanya was taken aback at that startling information. Just when she was trying to cope with her pain of losing Chetan, she was confronted by a guy who had actually liked her from his brother’s description about her.
“Huh? Is it? But I didn’t receive any friend request.”
“You wouldn’t have. Check your notifications properly. There will be one which says, ‘Shyam Varma is following you’.”
‘Following me? But I was following your married brother, dammit!’
“Okay, I’ll check it.”
After a few more minutes of chatting with Shyam, Lavanya took leave from the house. As she was walking towards the parking lot, she heard footsteps behind her. Turning around, she found Shyam grinning widely.
“What?” she asked him irritatedly.
“I am just 23, Lavanya.”
“I really, really like you. Your Facebook timeline spoke a lot about your character. You are such a sweet person. I think I have a crush on you, just by following you virtually.”
“Crush? Just go away! I don’t have anything to do with you or your family anymore.”
“Hey! I know why you are frustrated. I can read others’ mind.”
“Really? Tell me why.” She asked him sarcastically.
“You had fallen for my brother, right?”
Lavanya’s expression changed to that of shock. “How – how did you know that?”
“The bouquet of red roses with a small ‘I love you’ on it. Though it was inside the jute bag, it was clearly visible from my angle.”
That was the moment when Lavanya let her tears flow freely. She reached for the bouquet in the jute bag and threw it in the nearest trash can.
“This is so painful to see, Lavanya. Well, I’ll give you my number. If you like to continue from where you had left, you can start talking to me. I am more interesting than Chetan.”
“Chi! What kind of an approach is this?”
“A modern approach to love. Come on!” Saying so, he snatched her mobile phone and started typing his number.
“Give back my phone!” She snatched it back from him, choking through her tears.
“Okay, I have typed the number. If you wish, save it. I promise you, I’ll make you smile forever. I am not like Chetan…”
“Get lost!” She yelled and started her scooty and drove off to her house, leaving behind a crestfallen Shyam.
“Hey, why didn’t you call me? I was expecting at least a text from you.” Shyam’s voice boomed over Lavanya’s ears. She almost jerked when she found him very close to her.
“Shyam?! You scared me. Idiot! What are you doing here?”
“What will people do in a bus stand?”
“Shit! I told you to get lost.”
“What makes you so irritated? I like you, Lavanya. Why don’t you give me a chance?”
“I have my own reasons, Shyam. I needn’t explain everything to you. You are still a stranger to me.”
“Look, I have spoken from my heart. You’ve to tell me the reason for this harsh attitude of yours. Just because Chetan….”
“Stop it! I still love him. Is that enough? I love him, dammit! He might be a married guy, but I was unaware of that fact when I fell for him. Now just because I came to know that he is married, that doesn’t mean I should forget him immediately. I still can’t come to terms with his marriage. And the sight of Mamta is still fresh in my mind. I don’t know what to do.”
Lavanya began crying bitterly. Her pent up feelings found a way to flow out.
“What if I say that he isn’t married?” Shyam suppressed a smile.
“What are you talking about?” Lavanya glared at him.
“If you don’t mind, will you come with me in bike? I will take you to my home. There’s something in store for you.”
“No! I cannot trust you.”
“But you ought to trust me in this. Okay, if I say that I don’t have interest in dating you, will you come with me? If I say that I am already committed, will you come with me? If I say that the love speech spoken by you a few minutes earlier is being listened by Chetan, will you come with me? ”
“What the hell is happening, Shyam?” Disgust peaked in Lavanya’s mind.
“Get on the bike. I will tell you.”
Flashing an enigmatic look, Lavanya plopped herself behind him. Shyam drove towards his home.
All the way, she was utterly confused of the happenings.
The door opened and the next moment Lavanya was blessed with a shower of rose petals. Looking around the dimly lit room, she saw her Facebook pictures laminated in every corner of the hall. Her eyes bulged out and her jaw dropped. There were heart-shaped balloons everywhere. Read, pink, white and orange. The walls were adorned with ‘I love you, Lavanya’ in red spray. When she was looking around with a confused expression, out came Chetan from the bedroom. He was holding a small box in his hand. He came closer to Lavanya, looked at her passionately and went down on his knees.
“I love you, Lavanya. Will you marry me?” He asked in the softest tone. The small box had a glistening silver ring in it.
At that moment, Lavanya felt like fainting. She couldn’t understand what was happening. There were a hundred unanswered questions in her mind. Then, the lights came on. She noticed Mamta flicking the switches on.
Without giving Chetan a reply, Lavanya moved towards the sofa and gently sat down. She was too bewildered to speak. She looked at Shyam, then at Chetan and then at Mamta. ‘Are they making a fool out of me?’ She shuddered at the thought.
“Lavanya, I….” began Chetan.
“Could someone explain me what’s happening here?” She asked in a rigid tone.
“Have you gone nuts, Lavanya? Don’t you know what’s happening here? Chetan has proposed to you!” Shyam hollered.
“But he is already married!” She exclaimed in disgust.
And that’s when the trio burst into laughter. They caught their bellies and almost rolled on the floor. Lavanya’s face perched up in anger.
“Ha ha haaaa…Lavanya, just rewind to a few days back. What was the date you came to our home to meet Chetan?” asked Mamta through her giggles.
“It..I think it was…” Lavanya clenched her right fist to remember the date. And then she understood everything. The built up anticipation, her worries, her heartbreak, her disgust, everything summed up to a quaint joke that she had overlooked.
“April fool!” The trio chorused in unison.
Lavanya turned red. Out of sheer embarrassment, she picked up the heart-shaped cushions and hurled at each one of them.
“Idiots! Mindless fools! Do you even know what you guys did to me? Stupids!” She bawled in mock anger. But then, she still had her queries.
“Who is this brat over here?” She asked Chetan, pointing to Mamta.
“Ha ha ha! She is my best friend. And, she is married to someone else. He he heeee!”
“Stop laughing, Chetan. It’s irritating me.”
“Oh, my baby, I am sorry for everything. I came to know that you were in love with me through that notebook of yours. You had scribbled my name all over. Though I am reserved outwardly, I am also a prankster. When I realized that I, too, had feelings for you, I came up with a plan to fool you. And boy we acted soooo well!” Chetan hi-fived Mamta and Shyam.
“Aaarrgghhh! Well, whatever it is, I am not marrying you, Chetan. Goodbye!” Lavanya picked up her handbag and headed out fiercely. Chetan grabbed her hand from behind and engulfed her in a tight embrace.
“I am not leaving you anywhere, okay?”
Lavanya turned around, looked straight into his eyes and hugged him tightly.
“Give me the ring.” She demanded.
Chetan slid the ring on to her ring finger. “I love you.” He said, softly.