Wednesday, 22 April 2015

THE PROMISE


We all have made that one promise to that one person and never gave much thought while breaking it. Have you ever pondered upon how much that promise meant to that person?

The Promise

Standing at the old street of Raviwar Peth at Pune, I was expecting a surge of nostalgia. After all, it had been more than ten years since I last came to this place. However, far from nostalgia, I was not feeling anything, not even coziness that this street used to provide whenever Seya and I used to come here. What I was feeling was, I don’t know how to put it, a blankness - without any color or memories. 

The raindrops were a relief. Of course, I carried an umbrella. It is unwise not to carry one especially in the month of August in Pune. Apart from a couple of things like the crowd of Raviwar Peth and old, jerky buildings here, another thing that hadn't changed was Pune’s rain; unpredictable with brief duration, but momentous enough to drench you in a few moments.

I realized I was thinking so much about the things around me that I totally forgot about my purpose and why I was standing in a hideous street full of rickety infrastructures and shadowy people. Why I was thousands of miles away from my town, across continents and oceans? What brought me here? 

Ah, yes, she told me to meet her at this place. Alarmed, I scanned the jewellery shops across the street. No, no sign of her. Involuntarily, I looked at the watch. Damn, it had been two-and-half hours already! It was one of those rare occasions when I had to wait this long to meet someone since school.

Like past seven months, my heart was still beating with an unusual, strange rhythm. Though doctors told me it was nothing to be worried about, I knew something had changed. I had this feeling that this change, whether for good or bad, had taken a significant toll on my life. No matter how hard I will try, it won’t return back to the time when things used to feel so good, so comfortable, so….normal.

No matter how hard I tried not to indulge in past, I guess being at Pune and not thinking about my life was something that was beyond my will. Slowly, I found myself thinking about school more and more and about her too.
    
The bell was about to ring and I was already panicked. It had been more than an hour but there was no sign of Hari. Irritated, I checked my watch for umpteenth time. “Damn it nerd,” I said to myself. As usual, Seya was sulking around trying her best to look in my eyes.

“What?” unable to take it any longer, I snapped.

“Nothing.” she said in an I-don’t-care tone.

“Then stop creeping me out.”

Suddenly, I saw him. “Hari!” I shouted across the hall.

Taken aback, Hari looked at me for a full minute, and then he looked behind him. Irritated, I shouted again, “Yes, you!”

Duffer, but I can understand. It’s not a very usual thing to see a super geeky nerd talking with me, Anusha Mehta, one of the most beautiful girls in the school, or as boys used to say, “the hottest chick around.”

“He..Hey,” stammering, Hari came to me hurriedly.

Wearing my best fake smile, I looked at him lustrously, “Hey, hi. Congrats for winning the science Olympiad.”

“Who told you?” he looked at me, disbelievingly

I sighed. Well, totally understandable. Me following the on-goings of science Olympiad is again something which was highly unusual.

“Oh c’mon,” I said, keeping my smile intact, “something that prestigious happens in the school and I won’t know of it? Not a chance.”

A bit embarrassed, Hari started, “Well, nothing out-of-the-box, you know. This was just state level competition. It will be really hard to crack the national tournament.”

“That I know you will.”

“Really?”

I slowly came closer to him and pinched one of his cheeks with my fingers. Whispering in his ears, I said, “Do you doubt me?”

“Oh no! No no! Nothing like that” he said, a bit scared.

“Then can I expect a help from this prodigy?”

Hit with a surge of passion, he asked, “Anything, anything Anusha. Whatever you say.”

“Okay, I really need to finish that physics assignment, but you know, I have to prepare for my debate and also have to write an article on 18th century England. I don’t know how I will manage all of it.” Saying that, I stooped a little and sighed that was audible enough for Hari.

Valiantly, he put his palm on my hand. “Why you worry so much when you have me as your friend? After all, if friends won’t help in the time of need, who else will? I will do your assignment. You prepare for the debate.”

I looked at him in the best-relieved way possible and hugged him tightly. I guess it was too much because he was literally dazed for a few moments.

Smiling, I bid him goodbye, but he was rooted to the place, looking at me, mesmerized.

Suddenly, I felt a jerk at my arm; Seya was dragging me away from Hari. When we were at a good distance from him, she turned to me.

“Here it comes,” I rolled my eyes.

“What is wrong with you?”

I was bored of this question and bored of the conversation that always followed.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know damn well what I am talking about.”

“It’s no use to ask a question the answer to which you already know.”

There. Bull’s eye.

I fired my ultimate shot, and now it was Seya’s turn.

And I know what was coming.

As always, these brawls used to end with her not talking with me for days and sulking more than ever. Nevertheless, I was familiar with all her tactics and knew how to coax gentle and sulky Seya Mathur.

“Okay baba, sorry.”

No reply.

“I won’t do it again.”

No reply.

“I swear on my life.”

“Will you just shut up?” it was her turn to snap.

I looked at her innocently and spread my arms.

“That look won’t work with me, you know.”

But anyways, she came to me and we hugged, the smile returning to her face.

So, that was Seya Mathur, my childhood friend. Coincidentally, both our fathers worked for same IT firm in Pune. We were neighbors since as long as I remembered. We grew up together and attended same school. More than best friends, we were like sisters. Hence, it was a joyful day when both of us were allotted the same section in 12th grade. That was more than I could have wished for.

However, as they said, opposite poles attract each other. It was something like this between Seya and me too. Though we both were good in literature and arts, I was the “trendy” one and she was well, your usual “behenji” sort of schoolgirl.

I was hot. There is no doubt in it. She, on the other hand, used to wear these thick-rimmed specs and loose uniform that I hated like anything.  

“Look at me, my uniforms are a size smaller. You know it develops your personality and makes you appealing.” I used to nag her constantly.

“I don’t want to develop my personality in that way.”

So, moral of the story, I was hot and I knew how to utilize it. Despite constant warnings from Seya, I never used to miss any chance of exploring my looks for getting work done. Whether it was getting grades from male teachers or getting assignments done by nerds, I knew how to play.   

Like an old woman about to give lecture on life, stooping a little and pointing a finger at me, she said, “I don’t know why I care about you so much, but this will leave you with nothing in your life, just keep it in your mind.”

I grabbed her finger, “If I get into any trouble, you will be always there for me.” I said, laughing.

She looked at me, smiling a bit sadly.

“I won’t always be there, you know.”

The raining had increased. I looked again at both sides of the streets. Still, empty like a ghost town. I wondered whether it used to be this empty always or is it only today?
Yes, she was right. She left me very soon after that conversation.

Just a week after our 12
th board exams finished, a rampaging truck killed Seya. Her fault? She was just walking on the footpath. Apparently, the truck driver was drunk enough to lose his senses and rammed right into her.

I cried a lot. It was not like I really missed her, but it was shocking to have your best friend dead with whom you have spent so close times. Nevertheless, I was sad. Later that day, I went to hospital, but doctors didn't let me in saying her body was beyond recognizable. However, I didn't listen, and rushed into the ward.

Now I think of it, it was a huge mistake and the thought of it still haunts me.

I was expecting a dead body; instead, what I found was a seeping and reddened lump of deformed flesh on the bed.    

I shrieked and fainted.

It was all dark, and Seya was saying hurriedly, “Listen, you have to make a promise.”

“W..What promise?” I said, stammering.

“That you won’t die.”

“But why would I do that?”

“Just promise me, please.”

She was desperate. I noticed she was going away from me.

“Seya!” I tried to catch hold of her hand but she was slipping away as if a strong force was dragging her away from me.

“Just promise me!” I heard her voice from a distant place but I couldn't see her.

When I opened my eyes, I was at my home and mummy told me it had been several hours since I was unconscious. I asked about Seya. She told me her funeral was over already. I didn't say anything, neither did I weep. It seemed that my mind had entered some kind of unexplained blankness.

I checked the watch again. It was getting cold now. “Quarter past seven,” I said to myself. I was worried now. What if she don’t show up? To pass the time, I sat on a nearby stone parapet. Reluctantly, my mind started to ponder the reasons that led me back here in Pune.

After school, things went pretty smooth. I went to America, did my MBA and got a job at one of the good banks. I used to get a good pay. But with time, my needs started to increase. Money was something for which I was ready to do anything… and I did everything.

I slept with my colleagues, my customers, my boss… Anybody who was in the position to provide with money and luxury, I used to sleep with that person.

Very soon, my social stature took a significant leap. I became a member of elite class society. With parties, functions, social gatherings, and award shows, I never dreamt or expected that things will take such a turn.

For ten years, it went really good. I never married, because I knew I won’t ever be happy with one person and secondly, I knew I won’t be honest to one person.

Well, luxuries have their own price.

With growing age, my charm declined and so did my admirers. Now, I was not their fantasy anymore. They stopped noticing and taking care of me. In less than six months, I had to shift from a marvelous bungalow to a small apartment in New York. I was alone - no family, no children, nothing. didn't even have enough money to go back to India. I had abandoned my parents a long time ago when they were constantly urging me to get married.

Nevertheless, I had to live, and for that, I needed money.

So, after trying my luck at hundreds of job vacancies, I resorted to one thing that I never thought I would have to do – selling myself for money.

Now, it was a downpour, even the umbrella was doing less to protect me. Suddenly, at a distant, I saw someone. It was all blurry due to the heavy downpour, but someone was moving towards me.

One day, while shopping for the grocery, I saw someone in the store that froze my bones; it was Seya. Yes, Seya as I saw her last, before her death. She was still that young. It can’t be, I said to myself. Nonetheless, there she was, staring at me from one of the ends of the store. I rushed towards her, pushing the crowd. However, when I reached there, she was nowhere to be seen.

I was not scared. No. I was just shocked beyond anything. How could it be?

After searching for a while, I left the store, convincing myself it was just an illusion or something like that.

It didn't end there. I should have known better. Since that day, no matter wherever I went, she was always there; lurking behind some corners. As soon as I used to spot her, she used to run into some dark corner or alley.

It started to affect my work. Already I was doing lowliest of things to barely survive, desire to find her out started to drive me insane. For days, I used to search for her in any random places. There was not a single street, alley or shop in New York where I didn't look for her for past one year. But whenever I saw her, she used to vanish. At times, I even ran frantically shouting her name, but in vain. The cops started to suspect me; maybe they were thinking that I escaped from an asylum.

One day, I just had enough and I decided to end this all for good. I didn't ask for this and I don’t think I deserved a life like it. So, one morning, I made a rope tying a few bed sheets and tied it with the ceiling fan of my bedroom. Just when I was about to hang myself, I found a piece of paper lying on the chair beneath. I was pretty sure there was nothing on it when I stood on it. Slowly, I came down from the chair and picked up the paper. It was a note written in hand writing:

“If you want to meet me, come to Raviwar Peth at seven in the evening on the seventh day.”

It didn't take me much long to identify that familiar writing. A chill ran through my spine. With shivering hands, I folded the note and put it carefully in my cupboard. Lying on the bed, I stared at the fan with the rope still dangling from it. What does it mean? How is it even possible? Is it some kind of hoax? Is someone playing a disgusting prank on me?

Deep inside, I knew it was not a prank. So, I started to think about what was written in the note. I had enough money to make a one-way trip to India. Anyways, there was nothing left here. I had to start with a new beginning.

Therefore, the next day, I started preparing and in a couple of days, I was off to India.

As the person came nearer, I realized it was silhouette of a girl. Suddenly, I noticed myself dreading to face her even though I knew who she was. In a moment, she was standing in front of me. Seya Mathur wore the same smile that she had the last time we met.

“This…. This can’t really be possible!” I said, hoping against hope that what I was seeing was just a hallucination and not reality. But against all my hopes and pleading, it was her standing here, as solid as the textile stores behind me. Still, something was unreal about her. For one thing, she hadn't aged and was still in the same clothes in which she died.

With quivering hands, I tried to touch her.

“You still don’t believe, do you?”

I retracted my hands quickly as if they touched a live wire. God, it was her voice for sure. However, it had lost the warmth and chirpiness that it used to have. Instead, a cold and hollow tone had replaced it, like a metal container was falling in an endless well or pit.

“You! Why you are after me? What do you want!”

Unable to control my yearlong anger and frustration, I burst out.

She didn't say anything. It made me more mad. Slowly walking towards me, she stood just a few inches away. I could see her eyes; they had lost their liveliness and a void had occupied them, without any feelings, expressions or life.

In the same cold, hollow voice, she said,

“You remember how much I cared for you. What I asked you to promise me?”

Transfixed, I just nodded a little.

She looked deeply into my eyes, her smile transforming into a grin.

“But you didn't listen, you never listened to me.”

I was out of words; it seemed that something was sucking the life out of my marrows.

“Anusha, you are dead.”

I don’t know why, but these words hit me like the claws of a wild animal. I was scratched and bruised, though not physically. I didn't even know what it meant, but I panicked and started shrieking. Suddenly, there was a sharp lightening; so strong that I closed my eyes for a moment.

When I looked again, she was no more there. Frantically, I looked at both sides of the street. The rain had stopped and the crowd was jostling in the market.

I never found Seya Mathur again.