“I knew you’d come,” he said with the air of formality as I pulled the chair to make myself comfortable.
“Obviously, I would’ve,” I replied to no question of his. My sheepish smile lost behind the glass of water I sat drinking.
It had been 4 years since we shared space. The convocation was last when I meet him. He got a job in Bangalore, I settled in Mumbai – two cities though sharing time-zones, known to host two different breeds of working class.
Life happened. Made new connections, lost old ones.
That afternoon while managing a client’s portfolio, my phone rang. At first, I gave little attention — last I heard my phone sing Summer of ’69 was on 28th January (my birthday) — it was Monday, hot and sunny – nothing, special!
Startled a bit, I took the call. His jolly voice dispelling the ominous thoughts brimming in me. It felt true, that bonding and everlasting too — everlasting, in the way we associate very few of our relations to. From strangers to inseparable, our relationship ascends in no time; but now, acquaintances (politely said).
“The usual?” he asked. I nodded as I craned to look at the spot I occupied a few years back. He looked physically fit. But I knew his eyes and voice hid something from me. My mind was racing with curiosity. I held back the itch to ask him the reason of this surprise visit and decided to tread carefully.
This treacherous silence lasted an odd minute before we said ‘Cheers!’ at clink of the bottles and gulped about a quarter of the pint.
The communion of the bottle and my lips reminded me about the countless hours we spent in each other’s company under the cloak of silence, sipping beers, amidst occasional philosophical musings – gazing at the night’s sky between phrases as if plucking thoughts straight from the denizens of the philosophers gone by. It was he who found the way to the terrace. It became a ritual in no time and college life changed forever.
I knew too well, he was not the kind to beat around the bush. He was biding his time and I decided to be patient enough.
We talked about our families, our love life, work, GoT, Steven Wilson’s new project. All along, questions harboured more words than answers.
Sun painted the street red, it was beautiful outside. We took the cue, he paid the bill and off we went towards the Marine Drive.
We walked on the promenade for a while. I sensed nostalgia in his voice as well as mine when we started discussing college life. I was surprised why we didn’t touch upon the life we shared while sitting inside the air-conditioned walls of Leopold Café & Bar. We re-lived one anecdote after another, each bringing laughter greater than the one before.
The camaraderie grew, the cocoon of time started withering away.
We stopped to admire the Gateway of India, I caught the 18 years old in his eyes. I knew he missed me; I missed him more.
The sea was in accord with the sky now and the horizon ambiguous. Sodium lamps filled the canvas behind us. I motioned a 1000 rupees note towards him, his eyes said that this isn’t college anymore. I retracted my hand.
We bade goodbye.
This isn’t college anymore! The words he didn’t say reverberated in my ears.Our destination is different. We won’t be travelling together back to college in Bombay locals. We won’t be buying ice-creams before stepping in our hostel. The ritual is long forgotten — no night-outs gazing stars, quoting Nietzsche or Plato. A glass of milk has replaced beer bottles; sparkling eyes thinking about the adventure tomorrow will divulge have lost their sheen. We definitely won’t watch the likes of Tarantino, Nolan or Woody Allen before getting cosy in our beds tonight. Meetings are our evening sports now. This isn’t college anymore!
I felt a heartbeat skip.
I didn’t ask, he didn’t tell but I knew why he came all the way to meet me. We didn’t exchange many words, but that second flooded me with questions I should’ve asked and answers he should’ve demanded. He wasn’t beating around the bush, I was.
I turned, saw him taking strides like he used to — in the hostel, heading towards his room passing mine. I called his name, as I would, sometimes after a late-night movie.
He stopped, turned and started tracing steps back to me.
And like college, he agreed for a sleepover.
That night, I pilfered few moments from sleep. I lay on the bed, eyes open – hoping to grab a look at the sky through the ceiling, thought about the evening with the one whose snores fill the room. Two tears wet the pillow, a smile lightens my heart. And come rushing in the mind memories forgotten – with my friends from college, my school friends, and involving other relations of which I once was an active participant.
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
~Quote by Albert Camus.