And that’s five months today, texted Ankit hoping Ria would toss the mystery. Five months of absolute anonymity. He later sighed, doubting if even the name “Ria” was real.
And that’s the fifth time in as many months you said that, came the reply from Ria. Have patience.
The World Wide Web has revolutionized our lives like no other tool had since the invention of the telephone. Miles of optical fibers, laid deep down in ocean floors and transforming people’s lives – sounds more like a fairy tale than truth. But the founder may never have fancied that it would also become a tool to befriend people whose very existence is akin to that of aliens.
And that worked magnificently for Ria. In the five months that they have been friends on Facebook, they talked everyday but always through messages. She has known every bit of his life that has changed over the past three years but managed to share not even one bit of hers. Her Facebook profile was as empty as a sandy desert with just one friend – Ankit and just one profile photo – that of a small girl holding a hose in a lush green garden.
It was this photo that had tempted Ankit to accept her request. The photo gave him a vague sense of déjà vu. It was as if there was a faint beep on his radar of memories but he could not exactly locate it. He could hardly place the name Ria anywhere in his yet ordinary life but the picture of the small girl always rang a bell. Every now and then, he would try and persuade Ria to unveil the mystery but to no avail.
Ria was hardly happy. She was always terrorized with the aspect of disclosing all she held close to her heart. Would he still smile the crooked smile when the facts saw the light of the day? Would her sudden change of heart still anger him? Will open arms greet her or will she risk what little she has with him in the virtual world. She did not know.
She had however achieved all her heart desired in these five months. She now knew Ankit was permanently settled in Delhi with his mother. He has been working in an MNC all these years post college. In simple terms, he was hardly any different from the Ankit in college – tall, athletic body with dishevelled hair and no beard. His attire changed though, as was needed for a corporate career. His appearance had always belied his small town upbringing. She also knew Ankit did not have a single real relationship post their college days. This was the only silver lining amidst all the ridges in her forehead. She long wished to come clean but could not muster the courage.
Nostalgia overtook her as flashbacks invaded her mind. She could hear the distant laughter and the chatter. Life in Delhi University was always all fun and frolic. What she despised was the grim end. For a moment, she was transported.
It was her first year in Delhi University and her first stint away from home. An ever smiling face, brown skin and long hair – she was a girl next door in the true sense. Her smile brought out her jovial nature and endeared her to all. She loved her time in the campus, spending hours on end with friends in the classes, canteen and various groups. Frequent college events provided great opportunity to meet people and it was one of these events that made Ankit happen. It was the annual college fest and she was a member in the hospitality committee. Ankit was on board with her in the committee. The sheer number of students in a batch of the university was so high that she would have never met Ankit had it not been for the event. The fest ended but their bond had just begun.
Over the course of the next two years, Ankit grew closer to her. Their bond strengthened over classes, exams and more college fests. They even chose their subjects together. Birthdays and Valentine’s Days were celebrated, not to forget anniversaries. They had a close group of friends among whom their relationship was clearly known. To them, their fate was destined together.
It was therefore a surprise to their friends when by the end of third year, she moved on not with Ankit, but Karan – the serial ladies boy. That choice was the cause of her current predicament.
The memories took a toll on her. Tears rolled down as she lay on her bed feeling selfish and empty. She cursed herself. How could she sever what she had with Ankit over Karan’s proposal? She always knew Karan was a womanizer. Yet she succumbed to his charms. Karan was her batch mate back in school in Panaji. As luck would have it, they both ended up in Delhi University. Her childhood crush on Karan misguided her to take a wrong decision.
Seeing how hollow Karan was, it was hardly a surprise that the relationship ended. As college ended they both headed back to Panaji, dreaming of togetherness. She should have known better. After a few months of initial craze, things turned sour. Karan moved on to other girls, and she just stood, stranded.
Was she wrong? Yes. Was she foolish? Yes. But what good was a realization when the moment had already passed. In her case, it had passed years back.
She decided to come clean. It had clearly been a long time. She knew waiting was futile as the timing would never be perfect. It wouldn’t be perfect because the damage was already done and it was in the past. Her only choice was to lift the veil and let things take their own course.
It was already 2.00 am. Ankit was lying on the bed trying to remember where he had seen the small girl. His memory failed him yet again. Meanwhile Ria logged in to her Facebook page and made a ton of changes. She filled in her personal and education details. She uploaded photos from college, fests and every other place in Delhi they had visited together. She uploaded her most recent photo, the one she took in the very same garden holding a hose as did the small girl and posted it right at the top. And then, just before logging out she changed her name to Shruti dropping a message ‘Remember me’ via messenger. The toughest part started now – waiting.
She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his “last seen at” status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from his end was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?
At first, Ankit’s reply did not register in her mind. She read it again to see if she had misread it.
It was me, not you. I induced Karan over alcohol to propose to you, knowing full well about your childhood crush.
Shruti could barely grasp what the words meant. A spectrum of questions flooded her mind, the most vital one – Why?
Over the next hour, she would begin to reply many times but would press backspace, failing to decide on the appropriate words. Miles away, Ankit continuously stared at his screen as he saw Shruti’s chat box changing from online to typing… back and forth. He was already late for his office but it did not matter anymore. He had decided to skip office for the day.
It was his turn to undergo the toughest part now – waiting. As he waited, he scrolled Shruti’s page up and down, reliving all those days through the photos. His first reaction on seeing Shruti’s updated page was total shock. It was a bolt from the blue. It was as if his past had come calling, demanding answers to questions he had dodged back then. Ankit could now place the photo of the small girl in the garden. It was the one he chose to start the scrapbook with that he had made on her birthday in second year. “ANGELIC innocence,” were the words he inscribed it with. How could he not remember it?
After another hour of indecisiveness, Shruti finally decided to call him figuring that was the best possible way to clear the mess. A strange sense of numbness engulfed her as she dialled the numbers, recalling them from her heart.
“Hello,” said Ankit in a dull, familiar voice.
“Explain your message,” responded Shruti, her voice devoid of any emotions.
Ankit sighed. He couldn’t figure out the head or tail of the events that were the answers to Shruti’s question. But it was only fair that he narrate them to her honestly. Deep down, he felt it was more of an obligation.
After a moment of silence, Ankit began recounting the events. “It was the night of the last day of college. We had a month’s break to prepare for exams. I got a call from my mother. She told me in the most remorseful voice of his sister Rita’s elopement. It was so sudden. They did not have the faintest idea that something like this would happen. Dad was desolate. He had spent his entire life in the small town in UP and this was utterly unacceptable to him. The loss of both his daughter and his face in the society was unbearable.”
Shruti was all ears. The silence was more out of the surprise of the news of these events of long past than out of a sense of understanding.
“Dad somehow survived it but I knew he would never survive the same if I repeated anything remotely akin to it,” continued Ankit. “Maintaining my usual self with you was the toughest part. The other tough part was breaking your heart. I just could not do it. Somehow I wished if it could come from you. What happened back home had already sucked the happiness out of me, If only I could save you from the same fate.”
“That’s when I planted the idea in Karan’s mind to propose to you. I knew about your childhood crush on him. I thought maybe my parting gift to you could be turning your dreams into a reality. Yes, I manipulated him but just for your happiness. I knew Karan would never pass this opportunity, especially since college was ending and both of you belonged to the same town. Karan was my dorm mate and I got the right time just before the exams started. Bored by studies, we went to the nearby bar for refreshments. After a couple of beers, Karan became a little tipsy. I told him your little secret and I knew the rest would follow automatically. And it did.”
Ankit’s confession was met with dead silence from Shruti’s end. She opened her mouth but just couldn’t frame the words. She mumbled but nothing decipherable. Ankit could hear her sobbing but knew it was best to let it all sink in. Seconds later, Shruti disconnected.
Shruti lay in her bed all day sobbing. She constantly debated with herself in her mind, running for and against arguments in her head. If Ankit was guilty of hiding what occurred in his life, was she not guilty of abandoning him at the first proposal from Karan? If Ankit had manipulated, did she not fail in choosing the right person? Quantifying the wrongs done was impossible. How could she decide which side on the scale tilted more? Over the last three years, she blamed herself every day for all that had happened. How could she forgive him now for making her feel so miserable when part of the fault was his? Yet again, had she not desired to reunite with him all along? Separating the right from the wrong was getting harder by the hour.
The hands of the clock had turned a full circle since the time Ankit sent his first message in the morning. He had not eaten anything. He had not bathed. The long hours drained him as he waited again for another response from Shruti. In the two years since his Dad passed away after the grief got the better of him, Ankit did think of connecting with Shruti, but dreaded telling the truth. Karma however had other plans.
It was midnight now as Ankit stared at the pale walls of his room. His phone suddenly sprung to life. The screen showed an unknown number, but the digits were familiar to him. He tapped the screen and voiced out a hopeful ‘hello’.
“Does the big girl with a hose in the garden still remind of you an angel?” Shruti spoke out in her most melodious tone.
“Yes, she very much does” beamed Ankit, sounding the happiest he could with tears in his eyes.
Story By Gaurav Jain