I know you exist in the multiverse and I know you there.
Somewhere in Tamilnadu… (year 1994 )
“I cannot see her in pain. I just cannot.” George was yelling around in the corridors of the hospital wing. Hysteria? I am not sure.
Bouts of screams were shooting across the hall. Sabina was in labor. It was pre-term, didn’t even finish 30 weeks of gestation.
Finally, a long shriek echoed across the hall followed by the cry of a new born. Worry, anxiety and fear plastered across the people’s faces made George make a swift move towards the labor room. There was a click on the door and the doctors and nurses started pouring out.
The chief doctor stopped to reassure George with a smile. George shifted his eyes to understand if he can breathe or there is no reason to. Confusion flooded his face.
“You have had a daughter.” The doctor said.
George sighed and cupped his face in his hands in relief.
“Sabina is alright but she needs a lot of rest right now. You can go in after some time when the nurses allow you to.”
George’s face filled with immense pleasure. A kind of happiness which no one, who isn’t a father, could ever experience. Finally, he was a father. A papa. To a little angel. His little angel.
When you get something after years of yearning and disappointments, the amount of ecstasy is immeasurable and inexplicable. Tears of happiness flowed down on George’s face. He let them wet his scars. He never believed in luck or fate but that day, he felt very lucky.
He leaned on to the closed door unable to hold himself back from meeting his family, looking at the two most important beings in his life, unable to withhold himself from letting his daughter grab his finger in a tight fist.
“I will love you both till my last breath.” He whispered through the closed door.
Somewhere in Kerala…. ( Year 1993 )
“When will he be here? I want to see him.” Chitra cried in pain.
“He is on his way, my dear.” Her mother lied through gritted teeth.
Chitra was in labor. It was her second child. She had called her husband numerous times the same week to come down to Kerala and be with her because her expected date was close. Arun was a busy businessman who always went on trips and worked hard to send his family money, to keep them in good state. Happy. Or so he thought they were.
He couldn’t reach the hospital when their first son was born.
And that day, he didn’t either.
“Ma. It’s getting late.” Amren yelled on top of her lungs in the parking lot as she waited for her mother to get her packed lunch.
George honked twice and was about to do it the third time when Sabina appeared with the packed tiffin in her hand.
“Why do you both have to be so painfully punctual? There is still time.” Sabina said, as she climbed in on the back seat of the car.
“It is not called being painfully punctual but just being on time, considering all of that could go wrong.” Amren said to her mom as she took the seat in front with her Dad behind the wheel.
George smiled at his daughter.
“You talk just like your Dad.” Sabina murmured.
Both of them smiled at that and headed towards Chennai airport to drop Amren off. She had come to meet her parents on her vacation. She was pursuing fashion designing at a college in Mumbai. When she had told her mother about what she wanted to do, she denied without even giving her a reason. That tore Amren’s heart to pieces. But she had a support. Her Dad. He never gave up on her or her dreams. No matter what they were. If it was something she wanted, he had always made sure she got it.
George convinced Sabina and got Amren the application form to the college. She got it and excelled in what she did. She was in her second year then when all the ordinary things were about to fade and extra-ordinary things were about to appear. That trip from Chennai to Mumbai was one trip she will never forget.
“Okay, Dad. I will see you soon.” Amren said, as she kissed his cheek. She looked at him gingerly to make sure he wasn’t crying.
“And mom, stop crying. I will be back in just two months.” She hugged her mother who was crying like a baby and walked into the airport.
She waved them bye bye one last time and strode off.
“Ma’am, please buckle your seat belt.” The stewardess said politely, in their loving voice.
She did buckle her seat belt. She imitated the hostess in her mind. She found it funny. She giggled to herself.
As soon as she closed her eyes to take a quick nap, her phone buzzed with vibration. Another rule broken. Switch off your mobile phone, please. The stewardess’s voice ringed in her ears.
She unlocked her cell phone to check what it is –
She couldn’t believe what she saw.
“Ma’am, I am afraid you have to switch off your cell phone.”
“No…wait…” She said, subconsciously as she clicked on the notification.
“Please..” She responded back.
“Ma’am, the flight is about to take off. Please switch off your cell phone.”
“Alright..” Amren grumbled and switched her phone off as the screen where his picture stood faded into darkness.
He sent her a friend request.
She tried to contain her emotions but instead, she let the information smother her.
“What do you think she will do? Ignore it?” Nikhil asked as he kept playing with the football in his hand.
“Shut up. I am already stressing. Don’t stress me out more.” Akshay said.
Nikhil let out a low laugh as he walked towards his friend sitting on the bench, with his hands in his messy black hair.
“Why are you stressed? She won’t ignore, bro. Have you looked at your ugly face? Nobody ignores you, they delete your friend request.” Nikhil laughed at his own joke.
“Very funny.” Akshay hissed as he licked his pink lips and rubbed his worn out knuckles.
“Come on, now. She is just a girl.” Nikhil purred.
“She is not.” Akshay replied and invited a football to his face.
It was a spring day when fate brought them together.
Fate? Destiny? Whatever one might want to call it.
But it was not just a coincidence.
It was more than that.
“You never let me touch it.” Amren cried.
“I do. See, you are touching it.” Akshay said furiously.
“I want to ride too.” Amren said, her nostrils flaring as she held the bike’s back seat tighter.
“Then, tell your Daddy to get you one, Princess.” Akshay said, mocking her while the other kids laughed. His little gang.
“Now. Let me go.” He said as he looked at Amren’s hand on the seat pulling the bike back.
She let him that day.
Akshay was the coolest kid in school and no one ever messed with him. He was the school’s little bad-ass who could get away with just anything. He had a group of admirers who followed him everywhere he went, who nodded their heads to whatever nonsense spat out of his mouth. He was the cool kid who was good at everything except studies.
But Amren was a total opposite. She hated sports. She loved reading. She loved studying and excelling in academics was her goal every year. Akshay, on the other hand scored goals on the football field.
They became neighbors when George made the decision to move to Chennai from his small village. George and Sabina found good jobs there with a decent amount of salary.
Akshay’s parents, Chitra and Arun had moved to Chennai a few years before Amren’s family. Arun was transferred to Chennai and the whole family decided to stay together and shifted to the city.
Akshay hated Amren but Chitra and Sabina were best friends. They had no idea what the kids felt for each other.
Amren, however, oddly so, never could despise Akshay even after all his bullying.
“You want to play Cricket? Akshay smirked.
“Yes. Let me play too.” Amren said.
Akshay laughed. So did his friends.
“Girls don’t play Cricket.” Akshay mocked Amren who was holding the hem of her skirt.
“I want to.” Amren insisted.
“Why do you keep bugging me? Do you like to get hurt?” Akshay asked, cocking his head slightly.
“I just want to play.” Amren said, teary-eyed.
Akshay groaned as he shifted the cap on his head which said “Captain.”
“Fine, be the umpire.”
Amren’s face lifted with excitement.
“Where do I stand?” Amren asked.
“Anywhere you want to.” Akshay said, bored.
“Okay.” Amren said, smiling wide.
She walked over to one side of the ground close enough to the fielder, Akshay.
Even though she was the umpire, she felt like no one even bothered to listen to what she had to say. Everyone just argued and decided everything. But she was happy that she was officially in the game and no one bothered her.
Suddenly, someone thrashed on to her body –
“Are you blind?” Akshay hissed, his face inches away from hers.
“I…I am…sorry.” She said.
Her apology was followed by fists of laughter from the group crowded around them. She was not sure what triggered that but she found out soon.
As Akshay got up to steady himself, she noticed that her skirt was all the way up revealing her underpants.
Her face went dark red as she looked at Akshay who was flushed as well.
She stood up and ran as fast as she could and did not bother to look back.
She could not sleep that night. It was the most embarrassing thing that had happened to her. Everyone laughed at her and he just watched. He watched. As always.
She shoved away the thoughts that told her that he was her friend, remotely so. She realized that no one was.
It was a hard night for Akshay as well. He could not sleep even though his mother hugged him tight. He was thinking about what he had done and what she might have felt.
He hated her, true but not enough to make her feel alone. He hated her for being the book worm she was, for being every teacher’s pet, for being the reason he was scolded by his mom to study harder.
Maybe it wasn’t hate. Maybe, it was just jealousy because of what he didn’t have himself and for what she had. Maybe, he was jealous of her because she had a Dad who could do anything for her and he had a Dad who went to work before he could open his eyes and came back home late enough that he slept.
Maybe, he never hated her. But he had been terrible to her and that made him lie awake that he saw his Dad walking in through the door, closing it behind him.
“Dad?” Akshay said to the silhouette.
“You…What..Why are you up at this time?” His Dad asked.
The silhouette came closer to the bed and sat near him.
“I…I was just thinking.” Akshay said as he sat up next to his Dad.
“Thinking?” His Dad chuckled. “What were you thinking?”
“About Amren.” He replied.
“That girl you play with?” His Dad asked.
Akshay remained silent.
“Your mom tells me everything.” His Dad said, answering his silent question.
“I have been a bad friend to her. I am feeling very… uncomfortable about it.” Akshay said quietly as his Mom shifted a little on his side.
“Then, apologize to her.” His Dad said casually.
“Will that help?” Akshay asked innocently.
“It always helps.” He replied.
“Okay.” Akshay said sadly.
“Listen.” His Dad said and Akshay looked up at his Father who was not a silhouette figure to him anymore.
“Will you forgive me if I apologize?” Arun asked his son.
“Why would you apologize to me?” Akshay asked his father.
“Because….” His Dad paused. “Because I haven’t been a very good father to you and your brother.”
Akshay remained quiet, not quite finding the words to tell his father. He simply hugged his father and said –
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too.” Arun said as he hugged him back.
“Do you forgive me?” Arun asked, facing his son again.
“Then, she will forgive you too.” He said, smiling at his son.
Akshay smiled back and had a good night’s sleep.
The next day, Akshay had decided to apologize to Amren and be good friends with her –
“You want to ride my bike?” Akshay asked Amren sweetly.
She ignored him and kept reading her book sitting on her usual bench. Her eyes were swollen and her face was impassive.
“Hey.” Akshay nudged her again.
“Don’t touch me.” Amren seethed.
“Alright.” Akshay said, taking a step back from her.
Amren stood up suddenly and said –
“You ride your bike. I have asked my Daddy to get me my own.”
“Don’t be mad at me.” Akshay said and was interrupted with a snort.
“Mad? I am not mad at you.” She smirked.
Akshay sat on his bike and started cycling his way back home, disappointed. And then –
The next moment, he was on the ground, screaming with pain and then, all of it went dark. The last thing he saw was Amren standing in front of him, crying –
“I am sorry.” She said.
Amren knew that what she did was wrong. She was angry. She wanted to hurt him. And she pushed his bike to the wall breaking his arm.
When Akshay got back from the hospital –
“Where are you going?” Chitra asked her son.
“To see Amren.” He said.
What his mother said next broke his heart. He stood still wondering what to do next. No one knew. His mother’s words resonated in his ears –
“Amren doesn’t live there anymore.”
To be continued…