Honest to God, I hate mornings, more so when they come after a night of frenzied chats with old friends gone abroad to pursue higher education. These buggers go off to places like Brighton, Munich, California, etc. and then keep you up all night with their fascinating exploits at either the pubs, the gay parades or the BMW factory! (Yeah, for the uninformed, Brighton has an annual gay parade!) So after haggling and bargaining, (with friends would you believe? And for what? Photographs? Not like I am asking them to give me their girlfriends pictures in compromising positions damn it, just a few odd pics of the gay parade maybe, some of the wild Californian parties and a lot of the BMW factory pics!) I manage to lay my hands on some fabulous pics of the BMW to show-off to my classmates in the morning class. (Which by the way, is about 2 hours from when I finally get to sleep!) Arghh… 9:15 a.m. and I am still descending on the staircase at my flat.
I reach my bike, not that I am in any particular rush but I still curse the ass who parked his bike so close to mine, it would take a miracle to squeeze it out. I search for my keys and as I do, I remember I am not carrying my identity card. With a huff and a gruff, I trudge my way to the apartment and back. I reach my 10-odd year old bike, push the key in, turn the ignition, kick-start the bike, pull the key out lest it should fall out of the lock which by now is little more than a cursory object to pacify my insecure mind against any possible theft. (Honestly though, even I know that if I left my keys in the bike, the most desperate of thieves would not consider stealing it.) I straddle on to it, rev up the little motor that still has quite a bit of pep left in it and gun my way to college at break-neck speeds. I arrive about half an hour late for the lecture and instead of disturbing the poor lecturer, who I am certain is well engrossed in teaching whatever important economic theory it is that he has planned out for the day, I decide to study the demand-supply characteristics of the college food-chain. (In other words, grab a sandwich at the canteen!)
As I sit down to bite into the sandwich, I suddenly hear a thump of a bag on a plastic chair next to me. (I could’ve sworn the chairs were wooden when I sat in!) I hear a cheery voice greet me with
‘Good morning! Late again aren’t we both?’
‘Nirlajjam Sadasukhi!’ is what I hear myself respond with.
I think I have a smug smile on my face. I don’t turn around to see who it is, heck, if I had a pen in hand, I’d probably detail the face so vividly in words, you’d know every single feature! I look at what’s in front of me and I see a green marble table with a steel jug and 4 glasses kept in an aluminium tray (made by one of our class chaps as a part of the mechanical workshop assignment…cheapskate college authorities!) a red plastic bottle that houses pumpkin sauce under the garb of carrying tomato sauce, a blue plastic plate with a wada-pav and groundnut and garlic chutney…wait a minute…didn’t I order a grilled sandwich?
I look up and see a 30-something guy pull a chair in front of me and this chair is metallic-wooden. I shake my head and bring myself back into the present. I need a few cups of coffee…for a moment there, I had turned the clock back by about 4 years! I get up and get myself a shot of coffee, finish my sandwich and after a few polite words with my senior classmate and putting up with his painful sarcasm about college, academics, college politics (and heaven knows what else, I am too darned zapped to even know where I am right now…it’s worse than a hangover!) I excuse myself as I see someone my age walk in to the canteen.
At 10:30 a.m. the day finally begins and the rest of the day is pretty much spent the way it always is, attending lectures with half my mind elsewhere and the other half engrossed in penning down another one of my legendary works in rhyme. As always, by some miracle or the other, the day draws to an end and I go down to the hangout for some smokes and some chat with my pals. After languishing about doing absolutely no good work, I finally get astride my bike again to head home when I realize I don’t have the keys to my bike. I curse myself and look in my bag, on the bike, walk half-way to college in search of it before finally accepting the fact that it cannot be found again.
‘That’s the 6th time you’ve lost the keys…what are you gonna do now? I’m not pushing the bike anywhere, you’re on your own.’ I hear her say teasingly.
‘Hey, take it easy will ya? I got this covered, I know this baby inside out, I’ll have it started in no time! We’ll go get a spare made, you have one set of keys with you anyways…’ I hear myself say.
‘Will you ever learn to be a little careful?’
‘Nirlajjam Sadasukhi, wouldn’t you agree?’
That’s when it hits me, “YOU” have the spare. I haven’t seen you in a while now. Strengthening myself against you…against not having you here with me…against staying away from you. And now I might have to undo all that by seeing you again. I think it’s been 6 years since I gave you my set of spare keys…the original keys. 6 years is too long to expect you to have still have them, to expect even you to have kept them carefully through all those transfers from one hostel to another in my city and back to your home…this city of dreams that now we share. Funny how long destiny has been playing this out for us.
I pull out my phone and think twice, long and hard, before calling you.
‘Hey! Long time! How are you?’
‘Ah! I thought you’d forgotten me! I’m good, you tell me, ssup with you?’
‘Ummm…I am in a bit of a quandary actually. Before you laugh, I’ve lost the keys to my bike again.’
‘Wow! After a gap of 3 years! That’s impressive!’ It’s supposed to be a sarcastic remark but your voice doesn’t suggest so.
‘Is there a remote possibility that you still have the spare I gave you years ago? I mean I’d understand if you didn’t have it…it’s been 6 long years after all!’
‘I’m not certain but I should have it at home. I’m at my aunt’s place for dinner, can I check and call you back in a couple of hours? You can swing by my place and pick it up if you’d like.’
‘That would be after 11! You sure your folks would be ok with that? Your dad would kill me…hmmm…perhaps not but he’d make me wait up and have dinner, which considering you’ll be cooking up would be worse!’
‘I can cook, pretty well…but I won’t for you since your majesty has such fine tastes!’
(Arghhh! What am I doing? Why am I such a moron? I love her cooking! Invite me for dinner…please! I’d give an arm and a leg for that right now!)
‘Ahh! Well then, get back home and let me know if you find the keys, I’ll drop by if you do. If that’s alright with your folks. I don’t want to get you in trouble again.’
‘It’s alright, don’t worry. It’s you after all…’
I end the call. What was that last part supposed to mean? After all that’s happened and all that she’s done? Or am I just reading too much into it?
Anyways, an hour later, she does call and I do go down to her place to pick up the keys. I do get offered dinner and desserts too, they’re delicious. I do end up talking to her and her folks for more than an hour after dinner and have the most fulfilling time I have had in a long, long time.
I thank her for the evening and more so for the keys. She walks me out and as we stand under her house catching on how we’ve been, all she can talk about is him. I wish she wouldn’t…it still hurts. Should I tell her? Probably not. Love is strange. You can love someone a lot, sometimes so much that you know you should part ways. I finally take leave.
‘Make a spare and return these to me will you?’ she says as I walk into the distance.
As I walk back to the station, I get an sms from her. It reads –
“That’s the 6th time you’ve lost the keys.
Will you ever learn to be a little careful?”
I laugh to myself…the irony isn’t lost on me. I reply with those two little words we hold dear…