Chapter – 9
He was chattering with the group. I noticed the same indefinable smile in the corner of his lips and the deep mesmerizing darkness in his brooding eyes. Though apparently, I was fighting dauntlessly with my cool composure and indifferent posture, within, I was a whirlpool of emotions. The earth’s solid outer crust separated into different plates was sliding in a rapid motion within me, raising many Tethys into many Himalayas.
Akash got introduced to everyone by Soma and when he turned towards me I felt my heart leaping to my throat clogging my eyes, blocking my voice. I blinked rapidly to avoid being so silly, so fragile. I offered my hand without raising my eyes. Eyes are prone to betray, telltale of any secret you bore in your heart. He took my cold, sweaty hands in his, and asked, pressing them warmly,
“We need not be introduced. Do we Aatri?”
“No, we met before.” I smiled raising my composed eyes at him.
“In didivai ‘s marriage.” Soma clapped with joy as if she disclosed a huge truth.
Suddenly the hall became alert with the coming of the CEO and other executive officers.
“Welcome everyone. Take your seats. Be comfortable. The programme will start soon.” One of the organizers declared in a goofy voice.
Akash left us.
“Bye. Meet you guys later”
I took my seat and tried to bring back my attention but something was disturbing me. Perhaps Soma guessed it, perhaps my face was the projector of every feeling, churning within me.
“Are you ok Aatri?”
“How could she be after meeting such a handsome check?”Anita giggled.
“I’m fine, just a bit nervous.”
“Good girl.”Anita chuckled.
I never liked Anita. She always pretended an astrologer as if she could foresee everything, could scoop every individual thought.
I hid my irritation.
I felt I had to be fine. It was my hard labour, it was my first step towards my career and most of all my dream that I cherished. It was Shanti, it was my village, my last grip to hold in. But something was wreaking me, I could not feel the zing and the fire within me. I felt helpless, remorseful, and lost.
“Why on earth do I meet Akash now? One day he escaped from me, never tried to find me in his life and now he is saying we don’t need to be introduced. What kind of sarcasm is it?”
CEO had a pleasant personality with stamina and free will that attracted everyone. I sat erect and tried to listen to what the man on the dais was saying.
They had prepared a list based on which names would be declared. Every participant had to present an individual survey paper on the selected subject matter. When the participants’ list was exposed, I found Akash’s name on the second day of the seminar and mine on the first. My feet started trembling again. But then we got a break as the whole arrangement would take some time and it was declared that submission and presentation would start after the lunch break.
I needed some time to be alone, to have a clear discussion with myself. The canteen was so crowdy. Soma was talking with Akash. I pretended just to overlook them and came to the open air on the balcony where only a few were sharing their tiffin and gossiping. They did not even look at me as they were in groups.
I inhaled sharply, trying to detangle my thoughts.
I turned back.
It was the same fascinating lovely smile perhaps more fascinating even after those long years.
It was Akash. I peeped behind him but I found none of my group to save me from this situation that I was not so sure whether to take part or not.
“How are you Aatri? I’m so glad to see you.”There was so much intimacy in his voice as if we never got separated, we just stepped out from yesterday to the light of today hand in hand, heart in heart.
I wanted to scream at him in the most vulgar incrimination. But I checked myself, “Cool Aatri, cool”, someone said inside me. Splashing a tub of ice-cold water on my heated head, I tried to be fake and smart.
“Fine, but I do not think you are so glad that you are declaring”. I could not hide the cynicism in my tone. It was impossible after such treachery on his part.
“Really?” He was smiling mischievously.
“Stop kidding me.”
“I’m not kidding.” His voice was husky and I tried to divert the topic.
“So what is your project, Akash?”
“On wage differences between sexes”.
“Oh, it’s great. I’ll eagerly wait for your turn.”
I was not feeling comfortable under Akash’s gaze. I wished to flee.
“Yeah, a bit.”
“Eh, you are too good at speaking. I remember those extempores in Sujatadi’s house.”
“You remember!” I chewed every letter under my breath as I could not chew him up.
“How can I forget you Aatri?”
“Oh, Akash I thought you forget me.”
I no longer could hold my tears back. My lashes got wet and my voice cracked with raw emotion. Such an emotional fool I proved every time. I just hated myself.
His voice was so dear and so caring that it might lull me to slumber.
“Akash I missed you, missed you too much. I needed you very badly after father’s death.” I could not hide my grievance anymore.
“Oh dear I got the news from Soma, it was so disheartening, I could not believe it at first.”
“Why didn’t you call me then?”
“Sorry, Aatri. I regret. I’m sorry. I wanted to call you but I do not know Aatri what was wrong with me. But you also have my number.”
“I called you Akash. But you had changed your number. It was the wrong number every time I dialled it. I could ask Soma for the new number, but I waited for you to inform me. Why should I beg for the number of someone who even did not care to notify me that he had changed his contact number.”
“Oh! Shit. What have I done? I forget that you did not have my new number. It is all me to blame for. I’m sorry, extremely sorry for the pain I afflicted on you.”
It seemed that Akash meant what he said. I silently felt the melting of ice and it was nice to feel so.
“And I also feared”, Akash looked deep into my eyes holding my two shoulders, “Aatri must have found a cowboy already and gotten married and maybe the mother of two chubby kids.”
“Akash…,” I exclaimed in mock anger and try to hit him unless he caught me in his arms.
The bell rang.
Akash set me free and we hurried towards the room.
I felt a black cloud evaporating from my sky and I felt so light. Hundreds of butterflies were churning in my bosom. Past was past and I should not think of it again. I was feeling lucky to get Akash back and promised to preserve him for the rest of my life.
They started declaring the names according to their lists. And after 12 it was my turn. With the beating of my heart in my chest I rose. I crossed Akash’s seat.
I offered a nervous smile. When I rose on the podium all the faces were fixed on me. I took a deep breath and started. I faltered, hampered, hesitated, and sweat with all the stammering and awkwardness. But finally started when I felt the calm breeze touching the paddy field, the helpless faces, so dear to me, and the struggles of Shanti in the ditch of a financial crisis. It was my first-hand knowledge, not from any online website or bookish source. It was my blood and sweat, my emotion and attachment. I could tell the best what life means for rural women who are deprived of any privilege.
When I stopped, the hall broke out in clapping. I could feel I had done it. I felt happy.
Hey, I am Munmun, the phoenix fabulist who wants to tell you stories. I love to read stories and I love to weave stories. I feel life is an amalgamation of multiple stories, colourful threads, and threads of pain, pleasure, hope, and hopelessness. We just need to pick those hues and arrange them, knitting them with our own emotions and perception. So let’s celebrate the stories of life.