Friday 5 October 2018

Short Story 2018 Longlist, Tanu Malhotra Kochchar


Chapter 1
“Coffee for…" a shivering voice corrected coffee for two to “One dark chocolate please…” The old man serving coffee at the reading room choose to pretend that he was unable to catch her say anything but dark chocolate. He exactly knew how shattered the little girl at the coffee shop was… He had seen her and Sameer, her boyfriend since college days; grow in his little reading room… He had seen them in their early ‘love birds’ phase, seen them fight and patch up soon after, pass notes to each other when the reading room had few other readers. They were this cute couple, who were simply adorable and gave real relationship goals. Sameer would wait hours reading novels while Naina attended college. Not that he liked reading, but Naina would just jump with joy like a two-year-old toddler when she would see him reading the book she read, loved and cried reading or maybe her favorite romantic pick. Sometimes they would read together. Naina would turn beet red whenever they read something involving sex, and Sameer would pretend as if he is reading a newspaper, stone faced. 

It was a treat to Baba’s eyes to watch Naina and Sameer. They addressed the uncle at the reading room cum coffee shop ‘baba’ lovingly. And baba made sure that he served coffee to the couple, while waiters attended rest of the crowd. Sometimes baba would act as an arbitrator in their puppy fights. Sameer was always a help when baba would have issues connecting calls to US, his son, daughter in law and little granddaughter were settled abroad from past few years. He would miss them on few occasions, especially festivals. Sameer and Naina ensured baba joined them for coffee on those days. Baba would offer a muffin with coffee to all his customers every month when the lovey-dovey couple celebrated their monthly anniversary. Yes, it sounded crazy to all sane people but not Naina and Sameer. They were often spotted kissing in the reading room when nobody was visibly around. Naina celebrated her 18th birthday in the orphanage where her dad had left her after her mother’s death. She was the happiest that day. Sameer was trying to hide his smile seeing his girl behave as if she was celebrating her first birthday ever. It was only late in the evening that he found her muttering something in middle of a kiss. She whispered that now she is of the age where she can be his wife. It was one of those rare occasions when Sameer blushed more than Naina. He hugged her tight as though vowing that he would never let her go!

Baba brought a big mug of dark chocolate to the table. She thanked him with a faint smile. He nodded and left. Naina was clearly lost in her thoughts. It had been an hour and she was only flipping pages. She had only sipped the shake when she broke into tears. She cried more bitterly than she had cried at his funeral. She could barely breathe now. She had lost her mother at a very young age; she does not even remember how her dad looked. All she remembers was that he hated her. She does not remember the reason though. The only person who ever loved her was Sameer. The Almighty, whom she had lost faith in, had taken him away too. It had been more than three months now. So many nights have gone that she had woken up screaming and then crying until she fell asleep. She not only missed him, he had become a part of her by now. She spends hours at the reading room, reading the novels they read together. Sometimes finding the notes they wrote and left in the book, giving her goosebumps and allowing a rush of blood in her body. She needed therapy but she ignored anybody who mentioned that. She knew she would be guilty of not loving him enough if she led a normal life. In fact, she tried committing suicide so many times. She thought that would end all her pains for good. She often visits the spot where Sameer was hit by a truck. She can still hear him. She can still feel blood all over her body.

 Chapter 2
It had been a week, Naina hadn’t left her room. She had never felt lonelier before. Today marked five years and four months of their relationship. She always thought forever meant till the end. She blamed Sameer for leaving his promises unfulfilled. She ran back to their fifth anniversary, the last which she spent with him.

At midnight she waited impatiently for him to call. He was planning a surprise. She had a hint of it. Maybe he had recorded a song for her. Maybe a video. She kept staring at her mobile screen. Every passing second made her more uncomfortable than the first. It was 12.01 when the worst thought crossed her mind. What if Sameer had forgotten?  Her heart skipped a beat. It was funny that she could even think about it. 5 years meant they have celebrated this date for 60 times, there was no remote possibility of him forgetting after having revised it so many times. Just then, she spotted few balloons at her window. She did a little dance there. Naina was a simple girl; a few balloons at midnight would be enough of a surprise for her. However, Sameer had other plans. He never failed to surprise Naina. Her twinkling eyes was all he lived for. She took the balloons in. She was bubbling with excitement. A note tied to the ribbons read ‘More Surprises in the Balloon’. She hated him for this. He knew she was scared of bursting balloons. She ran to the window again, but he wasn’t waiting down. Then came back to the bed, bursting each balloon with one eye closed. First balloon had a love letter scented with her favorite fragrance. She took around fifteen minutes to read it. Blushing, smiling, and laughing all at once. Then she kissed the letter and screamed ‘ I love you Sameer.’ Immediately she received a text message, ‘I love you more Naina’. She texted back ‘Happy Anniversary Love, where are you?’ He replied ‘next balloon please’ with a winked emoticon. The second balloon had two movie tickets. Third had a note confirmation of table for two, candle light dinner. She chuckled. One balloon had a note from Amazon. It was order confirmation of her favorite novels. 

By this time, Naina had lost control of her tear glands. The last balloon had to wait for few more minutes. The last balloon was a key. Oh, she had been searching for this key from past one week. She didn’t know what this key did to deserve a place in the set of surprises she was receiving. She asked Sameer. He chose not to reply. After waiting for some more time, she unlocked the cupboard to which the key belonged. In the cupboard rested the most beautiful gown she had ever seen. ‘I must look like a princess in this gown’ she thought. Just then, her phone beeped. Prince Sameer is waiting for a picture of the princess. She blushed. She indeed looked no less than a princess in the purple satin gown. She clicked a few pictures and before she could press send. He sent her few pictures of hers. She was astonished. She demanded an explanation. He, to maintain the surprise, kept mum. He had placed a few cameras in her room. She always wanted someone to capture the moment when he proposed her for marriage. And he thought no other day would be more apt than their anniversary. Naina, by now, had forgotten the real world. She was already transported to Disney World. While she was still looking at the photographs, she felt his presence in the room.  She knew, she had lost all her senses. She turned around to find him nicely suited, half seated on his knee, with the most beautiful ring in his hand. She screamed out of joy.

Chapter 3
Naina had dreamt of this day so many times. But it was much more beautiful when it actually happened. Every inch of her skin was filled with love. She had bookmarked this event of her life. She was swirling in a hurricane of emotions. It was difficult to decide what sparkled more, the diamond ring or her eyes. Slowly they held hands; he planted the first kiss for that night on her forehead. Slowly reaching her eyes, her cheeks, her nose. She chuckled… His lips caught the curve on her lips-  She pushed him away at first, he refused to stop. And then she melted in his arms. She tasted heaven…

Very soon, they were on her bed. It was dark yet lit enough for her to see his deep black eyes. It was noisy outside yet silent enough for her to hear every breath he took. She could now hear longer breaths. Was it her fantasy or were they nearing each other. She was losing herself and finding herself in the same minute. Naina felt his feet near hers. Very soon they were leg tied. She wondered why was he taking so long. Sameer gently pushed the strand of her hair. She shivered, as his palm accidently happen to rub her lips… She wanted him to do that again. He inched closer…. No, wait. No no no! He grabs her in his arms. His eyes seeking permission… She could feel his beard on her neck… Is it really happening?  His wet lips on hers…  She wanted him to stop…. And when he stopped she wanted him to keep kissing . It was only him who could make her feel naked despite all the clothes. But this time, they didn’t want to stop at all. They made love to each other all night. His rough fingers on her pink areolas… The scent of her vagina kept the magic of the night. The bed was cold and gritty underneath her, and it’s overcast was almost blustery. A lot of ‘I love you’ were exchanged that night…

 Naina was missing him even more. Little sobs had turned into louder cries. She wanted him back. She hadn’t eaten anything since past few days. She had already turned pale yellow and weak. Because of constant crying and a weak structure, she fainted in her hall. Only after few hours, when her house cleaner arrived, that she was taken to the hospital. Doctors realized the critical condition of an unwed pregnant girl. Yes, she was four months pregnant with Sameer’s child.

Chapter 4
Naina got up feeling restless. She felt nauseated in the room. A pungent smell filled her nostrils. The smell reminded her of Sameer. Those few minutes when he breathed his last. Still she was unable to figure out that she was in a hospital and how she landed there. Her eyes were searching for someone who could answer her. Not that it really mattered. She was comfortable in the loose gown she was wearing. Only the needles pricked into her nerves was a little hurtful and she found it difficult to move. She waited on the bed until she heard a knock on the door. An elderly lady, with hair neatly done, wearing an ironed white blouse and navy blue skirt soon entered the room. She looked at the notepad hanging at the end of her bed. She asked Naina a few questions. Naina in turn asked her who brought her here and when would she be discharged. The nurse narrated the story she had heard from senior doctors. She also mentioned to her, her four months of pregnancy. Naina shivered when she first heard it. She confirmed it again and then checked the reports. Doctors had expected her to ask few questions regarding abortion. Naina was all set to surprise them. After months, her lips had realized they could smile. Her eyes acknowledged the difference between tears of joy and that of pain. She realized that Sameer wasn’t gone. He was still with her, in her tummy, breathing with her. Slowly she moved her hands on her womb as if apologizing for not taking enough care of the baby. She consulted the best gynecologist in town. Took medicines on time and supplemented her diet with fresh fruits and vegetable soups. She had arranged her room exactly the way Sameer had planned for them when they would get married. In another five months, she delivered a healthy baby girl. She had the deep black eyes exactly like Sameer. Her nose, perfect. Though it reminded everyone of Sameer, Naina would teasingly tell the baby that her nose was perfect like momma. And and and when she slept, her face had the same calmness. Naina named her Samiera, in fond memory of her father.

Not all love stories end when we think they did. Some stories are eternal. Some stories are always (…… to be continued)!

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