Saturday, 22 June 2013

24 Seconds...

24 Seconds

1:40 am, 9 June 2012
Andheri, Mumbai.

“Ek chaalis ki last local”, that was the first thing that came to my mind that night as I stepped out of last local, that ran on the western local rail line, on Andheri west platform. I was not new to the place. I have been to Mumbai more than a dozen times and was more than familiar with the protocol one has to follow to ensure safety at all times.

I wasn’t alone. With me was a friend, a dear friend. The day had been very long and tiring for both of us. Almost all the formalities for her admission to a Government engineering college had been taken care of and on our way back, both of decided to rest and relax for a while at marine lines after our Chinese treat at 5 Spice restaurant, Marine Drive.

Though I consider Mumbai to be the safest metro city of our country, I was extra cautious of our safety, as I had a girl with me. At that hour of the day, it was highly unlikely to see a ticket officer coming your way and asking for tickets. But the city surprises you always. Following the protocol, I showed him our tickets and then we headed out of the station.

No matter what time it is, as soon as you step out of the station, rickshaws begin to circle you ready, to offer you a ride back home. Home was not more than 2 kilometres from station. And since the traffic was relatively very low than the peak hours, she said to me in her soft voice, “Akshay, I want us to walk back home. Plz plz plz plz, see it’s very rare that I am out at this time of the day and the traffic is so low. I sort of like this aura around, the temperature, the hour, the cool breeze, and the satisfaction of completing the admission procedures, and having you with me after almost a year, just perfect. Thus I don’t want to put all this to an abrupt end. Thussss…”.

I considered her to be one of the most treasured friends and it never so happened that I’d say no to her. Still I thought for a while but then said, “Ok Geeta, as always, we go with what you wish”.

I called up my aunt and updated her that we had reached the station and will be back soon, and asked her to pass on the information to Geeta’s parents, who lived next door. Well, it is always difficult for relatives to understand our na├»ve youthful wishes (*especially at this hour of the night), and thus I chose not to tell them that we were planning to walk our way back home.

Now began the walk. It was a beautiful view, McDonalds on both sides, with the road in centre and the city lit by yellow street lights with a silvery tinge of moonlight. We quietly crossed the lane and began to walk on S.V road.
Geeta and I had been friends since we were in 6th. And ours had been an ever flourishing friendship even though we lived in different cities. We were almost in a regular contact, and not a day passed without a call being made from any end.

As we walked a few metres in silence, I noticed her trying to synchronize our footsteps and I uttered, “Geeta, aadhi raat ko bhi teko masti sujh rhi”, and as I said this I myself attempted to synchronize our steps, was successful in a few attempts. A few more silent steps, and then she started the conversation.

“Akshay, I feel so relieved today. Finally the admission procedures are completed and now the weights are off me. I FEEL FREE and back to normal”. Well getting into a govt. engg. college does provide such relief, back home I was planning to take admission into MANIT after AIEEE results were out. Backing her talks with recurring “hmm(s)”, I tried to assure her that I was all ears.

My palm reached for the little weapon of self-defence, which every marshal art learner carries always, after every hundred meters that we walked. It somehow used to reinforce the sense of security and made me more confident to take care of any mishappening that might befall us.

Geeta was a very sweet and loving, ambitious and independent, smart and BEAUTIFUL kind of a girl. I’d known her for 7 years now and was aware of almost everything that used to be in her mind and heart at any given time.
There always are some special people in our life, who when call out our name, make you fall in love with your name. Geeta was that special a friend to me. Every time she used to call out my name, my face used to light up with a grin from one ear to the other, and my heart used to skip a beat.

While Geeta continued with her talk, I took out my mobile from my pocket to look for time, it was 2:03am and the based on what the weather app on home screen showed, it should have been raining then. I directed the mobile back to my pocket and continued with the recurring “hmm(s)”. I felt the temperature dip in weather and placed both my palms into my pockets.

Between these conversations, we occasionally used to look down at our feet and tried to synchronize them again.  
We then took a right for the J.P road, our apartment still being a kilometre away. It was growing cold and Geeta now stepped close to me, holding on to my left arm, and her head resting on my shoulders. Considering the relationship that we shared, this nowhere felt to me as awkward. She seemed tired and thus I tried to comfort her by letting her walk that way.

She continued, “Akshay, today is the happiest day of my life. I have moved step ahead in my life and so have you”, and as she said this, we doubled the length of the footstep to commemorate the high sounding word.

“Akshay, it’s been seven years and all through this I’ve gone through a variety of circumstances, highs and lows. Things have changed around us. The entire teen-life, we have been together always. From petty fights with friends at school to winning every competition, from irritating homely issues to driving car for the first time, from studying late at night to getting into this college, there is one thing that has been common. A force behind me, a belief. And that is you Akshay”.

My heart filled with pride for being able to offer such positivity in my dear friend’s life. And I said, “Same here Geeta”. 

Meanwhile I checked my right back pocket again and then again took out my mobile to check for time. 2:26am it was and a slight shower had begun.

We were walking at a slow pace, home still being around 600 metres away.

She continued, “You have been always there for me, any hour, any moment, you were only a call away. My life centres around you, and I cannot even think of a day without you”. Her voice grew deeper and deeper. And then I felt a drop on my left arm. Was not sure whether the shower was turning into rain or Geeta was… and as I turned my face towards her’s , I saw that tears were trickling down her cheeks.

I wiped her tears with my right palm and tried to calm her down. She tried to stop her tears. We walked a few steps in complete silence, the insides were on fire with emotions though. I felt her withdrawing her arm from mine to wash away her tears. I continued to walk until I realized that I couldn’t hear her footsteps. I stopped. Turned back. Noticed I was 5 steps ahead and she had stopped walking. Looking into my eyes were her deep oceanic eyes, brimming with love for me.

“I love you Akshay”, the words that broke the silence. Surprized I was but didn’t took me long to realize that the feelings were not one-sided. As we began to come close the intensity of the rain seemed to increase. As the distance between us decreased to a mere step, I took the last one and hugged her tight; the rain appeared to be trying to cover us in her blanket with growing intensity.

As the hug came to a halt, I kissed her forehead and said, “ Though it took me time to realize it, but yes, Geeta … if there is anyone for whom I have been working hard, for whom I could do anything, with whom I can see my bright and happy future, it’s you… Geeta, I love you too”.

Now my left arm was round her neck, her head resting on my shoulders and our steps by default synchronized resulting from our proximity.

Nothing in the world pumps out more satisfaction than the realization of having someone in your life, whom you can always turn to, no matter what circumstances, no matter what happens, you know she’ll always be there for you, in your highs, in your lows, behind your achievements, to push you always and most importantly, her being with you, makes you feel complete. And today we both were COMPLETE.

Next few steps, we walked talking and planning out our future moves, and how eventually we’d chalk out our careers and then persuade our families to allow us to marry each other and to live together happily forever.

The rain had stopped and I checked the time then, and it was 2:46 am. I was expecting a call from my aunt since it was late. We almost reached the end of J.P road. Our apartment was a mere 150 metres now.

There were a few medical shops in our area that also used to deal in ice-creams at night, and as they were officially medical stores, they had the permission to be open 24*7. Though it was very late and moments like this need to be celebrated, we decided to go for a special choco-chip cone, and to buy some for our families to cool them down incase they roared at us for being so late.

I took out my wallet and just then I saw 2 miss calls from my aunt. I told this to her and began redialling my aunt’s number. She took the wallet from my hand and signalled me that she’d be back with the ice creams while I finish with the call. I nodded in agreement. She crossed the road and ordered for ice-cream. As my aunt picked up my phone she started asking all sorts of questions in just one breath. I was praying that the final 1 rupee balance should not collapse before I inform her that I was just a lane away from the apartment and we were safe.

As I ended the call I saw the the mobile screen blinking:
                                                              “Call duration:  24 seconds
                                                                Call cost: 24 paise”

Happy that I was still had 76 paise left with me, I turned to see if Geeta was done. There she was, with my wallet in one hand and the bag full of ice creams in the other, crossing the road. Each step she took, brought her close to me, making me happier. She was still about 10 meters away. We were mesmerized looking into each other’s eyes.

Just then, I noticed a high truck speeding towards Geeta, she being totally unaware, “Geeta”, I yelled pointing towards the truck and rushed towards her. The truck won the race, blaring it’s horns, breaking the pin drop silence.  And before I could make it to her, Geeta was gone. And with her, all my dreams were killed by the over speeding truck.

Helpless I lay there with Geeta in my arms. My tears diluting her blood.
I closed my eyes and cried helplessly.

I felt someone keeping her hand on right shoulder, I turned back, opened my eyes. I was taken aback by what I saw. My mother was behind me, looking at me curiously and looking worried. And I… was on my bed.

It took me some time to realize that I was home… I looked around for Geeta, she wasn’t there… I realized it was a dream… and nothing had happened in reality… was JUST A NIGHTMARE INDEED.

I decided to make a call to Geeta immediately, to ensure she was safe… I picked up my mobile, unlocked it and opened up my contacts.
On the search bar I typed, “GEETA”. I was surprized to see that my phone had no contact suggestions for that name. I re-typed it, same result. Puzzled of what all was happening to me, I called my mother and asked, “When was the last time that you heard from Geeta”. Maa’s reply left me shocked, “Geeta?? Who’s Geeta?? Beta, none of your friends I know is Geeta. Whom are you talking about??”.

With my eyes closed and head between both my hands, I recollected all my memories since childhood upto the nightmare, and realized… I was never a friend with someone named Geeta… T’was just an imaginary character of my nightmare…

I got out of my bed, walked towards the window, stared blankly at the rains and sighed in relief, “ohh gosh, was just a dream”.
Continued to look out of the window, arms folded, immersed in the thoughts of Geeta… until I heard my mother calling me up for breakfast.

Disclaimer: Parts of the above episode are fictional. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead is purely coincidental.