Charan parked the car and Madhumita and himself got out and walked towards the park. The weather was lovely and Madhu didn’t want to just sit in the house and chat. Crazy woman, she hasn’t changed a bit in 20 years thought Charan, of all things she could have done today, she wanted to go for a walk. She was walking beside him, just the way she used to twenty years ago. She hasn’t changed much Charan thought. How does she manage to still look so young, she was as old as him and yet here she was looking twenty years younger. It wasn’t like her life was happy or anything, and yet nothing seems to have affected her. She still had the same smile on her face that Charan fell for twenty-four years ago.
Charan can tell the exact moment when the magic happened. Charan was at his friend’s place when this girl walked in actually she ran in shouting “Ravi, I got admission in Siddhartha college”. “you too” is all Ravi managed to say. “What you too? Who else has got admission in that college?” She was giggling at this stage. “Charan here, my best friend, he has also got admission in the same college.” “Oh!” Now it was her turn to be surprised. That was the first time she noticed that there was an outsider in the room and she blushed all of a sudden. Her pink face complimented the white dress she was wearing. Charan had already fallen flat for her. She just smiled at the stranger, nodded her head and ran into the kitchen to talk to Ravi’s mom.
Time flies…… nearly twenty-five years later, here they are together, Charan was married to Kavitha and father of Keerthi and Kiran. Madhu, on the other hand, was married had children and lost her family in a very bad accident in which only she survived. She saw her husband and children lose their life in front of her eyes. This was a few years ago. It took her six months to sort out all the paperwork! The seventh month she found a job and got out. Some people said she was arrogant and she brought it all on herself. Some said she was a very strong person, but nobody asked her what it felt like to lose all your dear ones in one go.
She refused to stay with her parents or in-laws. She moved to a different city, new city, new life. Finding the right job was not a problem, she was working before the kids were born and she was in a good position too. She refused to talk to anyone personally. No one other than HR in her office knew her story. She maintained a very professional relationship with her colleagues. She would be at work on time and leave on time, would have her lunch by herself at her desk and get out for a walk at lunch time and did her work perfectly well, so no one had to complain about anything.
Her work involved a bit of travel and here she was in the US on one of her work trips. She was flying into Washington DC for work and she knew that Charan lived there, she got in touch with him after years. She asked him if she could meet up with him. Charan asked her to come and stay with him, which she refused, she said she would like his company for the four weekends that she was there, that is all, she did not mean to occupy his time and space more than that. Even this only if he was free and his wife Kavitha was fine with spending time with her and they had nothing else planned. “Typical Madhu” Charan thought. Has she ever opened her mouth and demanded anything? Has she ever asked someone for something? He couldn’t remember a single incident where that would have happened. Kavitha was on a holiday in India with the two kids and had spoken to Madhu to tell her that she would be happy if Madhu stayed in their home, but Madhu knew where to draw the line.
Now walking in the park quietly the two of them were thinking about the past. “How is life?” Both of them asked together and then laughed. The same twinkle in her voice. She waited for him to answer. “Life is fine Mitu (he had always called her that way), Kavi is a lovely person and the two kids are my world. Work keeps me quite busy too. I hate to send Kavi on holidays back home, but she needs a break too.”
“I am glad you are happy Charan” Madhu said softly and continued walking.
“What about you?”
“You know my story Charan. After we left college, I got a job and married to the guy who proposed to me first without even thinking, managed to live a horrible life with him for eleven long years and had two children and then lost everyone in that terrible accident”.
“No.. Why did you have to dump me and go when we left college?”
“Charan, why do you want to dig up the past?”
“Mitu, I need answers!”
“Now? After this many years?”
“Charan, first let me apologize, I am very very sorry that I did what I did. But do you know why I am not with my parents now?”
“No, you tell me. But what has that got to do with you running away from me after college?”
“Charan, remember we were great friends in college but have you ever seen me discuss anything other than books, studies and music with you?”
There was silence for a few minutes.
“Now that I think of it, No Mitu, we stuck to just our likes and dislikes and studies. I don’t even remember discussing our dreams, at least you didn’t”
“Yes Charan, I lived a fake life then. I had a very bad childhood, came from a dysfunctional family and your friendship was all that I could hold on to.”
“If I meant so much then why…”
“Charan, I was afraid, I was afraid that you would judge me, let me go if you knew about my family, about my father who had an extramarital affair, about my mother who was depressed most of the time and who could never be happy herself and never keep any of us happy and about me who went through physical, emotional and sexual abuse from the time I was a child.”
Charan had tears in his eyes, he wanted to hold her, hug her, tell her it was ok, that he was there for her. But knowing her would she even let him touch her? She had always been that person who would keep a distance from him, even though they were going out with each other in college.
Slowly he held her hand…” Tell me, Mita, have I ever come across as the person who will judge you?”
“No Charan, but I had never met a ‘nice’ person till I met you. You were a dream come true for me, but with that I also felt that dream could go away when I woke up from my sleep. Many times I wanted to tell you everything, but something stopped me. We never were alone in college most of the time, in fact I made it a point never to meet you alone and I made it a point not tell anyone about ‘us’. The reason was that I knew that if we broke up then I didn’t have to explain to anyone. You know something? The four years that I was with you were the only period in my life when I did not contemplate suicide. But I was confused, you were so good that I didn’t want to force myself on you.”
“But I love you Mitu, how could you have forced yourself on me?”
“I had a feeling that you deserved better. I wanted you to find someone who will be happy with you, someone who came without baggage. Now isn’t your Kavitha a wonderful person, see, you found the right person after and I can see you are really happy. Would you have been this happy with me?”
“Mitu, yes I am happy with Kavi, she is my wife and she does everything for me and I absolutely adore her, no doubt about that, but I love you and I would have been very very happy with you, I would have happily helped you unpack your baggage, sort it out and discard what was not needed!”
“It is too late Charn, 20 years have gone by, it took me this long to even get the courage to come and meet you, to let go of everything and be myself. You have a happy life and a wonderful family. Your children have grown up. Now is not the time to talk about this. And surely you cannot say that we are talking about all this so that I know for next time. There is no next time. My life is over. Actually no, my life has just started, only now I have let go of all my terrible past that I have been holding on to, I feel like a free bird in the sky. I don’t feel that I have to do anything for the sake of others. I feel that everyone has to live for themselves, I cannot do anything for the sake of my parents anymore.”
There was silence for a few minutes.
Madhu continued “They threw me out Charan, they threw me out when they found out that I wanted to get married to a guy of my choice, no questions, nothing. Only when the kids were born they took me back in, and now they wanted me back. But I know what torture it will be to go back and live with them, conform to what they have to say. They always treat me like a five-year-old and I can do only what they want me to do. I will not have a life at all. Now I live my life. I am dancing to this wonderful music called life.”
They sat down, the sun was setting. It was clear skies and such a beautiful sunset, Charan could see that Madhu was lost in the beauty, just like she used to be when she was in college. She always used to love to sit and watch the sunset with him. They were doing it after twenty long years.
Neither of them were ready to talk, there was no need for words. There were children running around, a few kids rollerblading, parents chatting away and walking with their babies. Madhu and Charan were sitting there taking in all the sights and sounds, but their minds were elsewhere. Nothing mattered anymore. Charan got his answers and Madhu had the courage to tell him everything, that was such a big deal for her, to open up, to tell everything to someone and not feel that the other person would walk away from her.
It started getting dark, Madhu got up and Charan followed her cues, both of them walked back towards the car. “Charan, can you drop me back in the hotel, please? I want to sleep, I am very tired.” Madhu did not make eye contact. “I will Madhu, but if you want a good cry, my shoulders are there for you any time, remember I am your best friend!” The next second Madhu hugged Charan and cried. All those tears which she had held onto for such a long time came out. Half an hour later she was fine and as they walked back to the car, Charan knew Madhu’s life had changed for good and he was a part of the change. He was happy for her and let her go.