“Why aren’t you talking to me?”
“But I AM talking to you”, she mumbled, her voice wet with unshed tears.
“You aren’t talking to me baby. You are giving monosyllabic responses to my questions. You are trying to avoid me and wishing me away. I assure you, you aren’t going to succeed. You can’t wish me away- I am your best friend. I am here and I always will be. Now tell me why you are hurting so bad… is it Rohit….?”
Her eyes flew to his and the hurt in them was like a stab in his heart. Her eyes flowed over with tears and his heart drowned in them. He gritted his teeth and cursed Rohit silently in his heart. It took all his effort to keep it from showing in his face. This was not the first time he had wanted to kill the wimp. But he said nothing and just held out his arms to hug her close.
They had grown up together. Their families had been neighbours for over twenty years. Their parents were best friends just like them. They were both only children and always felt as if they had two sets of parents. The bond between the two families was as strong as it was seamless. Within half an hour of meeting her for the first time- he eight and she six- they had fought royally. When it refused to get contained with words, he had let loose with a hard slap. She had retaliated with a well-aimed kick to his shin and a surprisingly powerful punch to his jaw. He went to his house to get an ice-pack to nurse her knuckles and his jaw. They were best friend ever since, having learned a healthy respect for each other by direct perception.
For over twenty years, they had stood by each other. They studied in the same school which was walking distance from their home. He once beat up a boy who tried to bully her. She campaigned for all she was worth when he was nominated as one of the candidates for head-boy. He helped her with her home-work and she handled all of his craft work. For both of them, the other was as inevitable a presence as the sun. Neither questioned the presence of the other… nor considered the other’s absence conceivable.
And then, they grew up.
One thing cannot be denied. God has a sense of humor… an exasperating one admittedly… but he has one. Along with a strange sense of timing and an absolutely lethal sense of drama which only our grudging reverence stops us from calling ‘convoluted’. But yes… he has them all. In combination, they are responsible for most of our life’s incomprehensible twists and perplexing turns. But, have we a choice…?
God’s killing combination weaved its weird tapestry in the lives of these two also. They fell in love with each other, but the tapestry got in the way of them seeing it. Perfect isn’t it…? You know the PURRRRFECT hissed between clenched teeth…? Yeah, that perfect…!
College to different cities… different professional lines… different friends. The inevitable happened- they got involved with different people. God must have burst into a fit of pleased giggles after moving the strings around a bit and getting her posted to his city.
They met sometimes, mostly with their partners. The four got along with a suppressed reserve. Each of them thought they were the only ones feeling it and so made a bigger effort to ignore the elephant sitting with them. The young are always self-conscious and focused on themselves. Had they not been, they’d have seen that there was something wrong. God grinned.
Now here she was, sobbing. She wiped away her tears on the sleeve of his shirt, in a reflex automated action. He knew the exact moment to dig out his handkerchief and the spot on her head to stroke while she blew her little nose.
“Now tell me, what’s wrong..?” he asked. She took a deep breath and began.
“I don’t really know what it is. I mean, I know but I don’t know how to put it in words”, she said.
“Ok. See, Rohit is a nice guy. He is doing well professionally and is very charming to me. I really have no complaints and feel like a heel for even discussing him with you.”
“What exactly is it that made you cry just now…? It was some event, wasn’t it..? Tell me about that.”
“It is not one event Prateek… but you are right… the recent event was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“So tell me…”
“As you know, Rohit and I have been seeing each other for a year now. I know we are both serious and want to make this permanent. Six months ago, we agreed that we must start saving money and build a nest egg. We decided to open a joint account and put the money in it. His package is almost 2 1/2 times mine, so we agreed that each month I will put in five thousand and he will put in ten. I just checked the balance a few days ago. He deposited his share the first month and since then only I have been depositing the money. When I asked him why, he gave me evasive answers. For the past week he has been avoiding me.”
“I am sure there could be an explanation for this Rea. I can understand that you are feeling let down, but surely this is not enough to cry about…? Is there more..?”
“Yes there is. I have noticed one thing about him. He gets all excited and goes about volunteering for things and then doesn’t follow through. He doesn’t do it only with me, but also at work. He is losing respect because of it. The other day at a get-together with his office colleagues, Rohit volunteered to buy movie tickets for a show we had all decided to catch over the coming weekend. All of them reacted the same way… saying Rohit cannot be trusted to do it… and that they want to see the movie this week… not three years later. That really hurt Prateek. I was so ashamed. I hope you will not say- like him- that I am making a mountain out of a mole-hill.”
“No, I won’t. But surely there has to be more.”
“You know me too well. Yes there is more.” Her voice took on a raw edge. “Two months ago, his parents found out that his younger brother was getting into bad company and his grades were falling. Rohit volunteered to coach him and to keep a close eye on him. From the day he promised his parents, he has begun to spend more and more time with me and goes home late. When I reminded him about his commitment, he picked a fight with me and accused me of nagging. He said I should be grateful for the time he was spending with me. When that didn’t work, he began throwing tantrums saying I didn’t love him anymore. It is I who coaches his brother now. Honestly Prateek, I am getting fed to the teeth. Am I wrong to be worried..?”
“Noooo”, he said slowly, deep in thought. She prodded him.
“What are you thinking about now…?”
“I was just thinking, Neha too does things of this kind. She has lost two major accounts for her company because she pushed herself in the forefront promising her boss she will take care of things and then didn’t. Her boss is livid with her. I think her job is hanging by a thin thread. I am trying desperately to get those clients back to her company. Last month when her aunt was critically ill, Neha volunteered to stay with her in the hospital. Half an hour her cousin went home at night knowing Neha will stay till morning. Once he left, this girl also pushed off to a friend’s place. She returned after four hours by when her aunt had taken a turn for the worst and the family had to be called because they needed someone to run around and get the medicines and blood. The worst of it is, when Neha left, she switched off her cell too. When scolded, she lied and said that her battery had run off.”
“Oh great…! We’re BOTH stuck with people who are irresponsible. Perfect score partner..! I feel like kicking us both. How could we be so dumb…?”
“Now now… before you go killing us in cold blood, lets thrash this out. First of all, we were so dumb I think because we have always been around responsible people, including ourselves. We had no idea people could say one thing and do another… not for any reason.. but just like that… wantonly.
“Yes… wantonly. That is what makes it so monstrous. If there was a purpose- even a vile ugly one- behind it, I could have understood. I just cannot understand this Prateek..!”
“Hush Rea…! Don’t let it hurt you so much. Tell me, would you say Rohit was doing all this out of a deliberate meanness…? What I mean to say is would you say he knows what he is doing and then doing it just to get people into trouble…? Is he doing it consciously because he doesn’t care about anyone but himself…?”
Rea was silent for a while, mulling over Prateek’s questions. At last she shook her head slowly.
“No Prateek. In all honesty, I cannot credit Rohit with deliberate motives.”
“Exactly…! That is what I would say about Neha too. She is too silly to be calculative and deliberately mean.”
“But the result is the same, isn’t it…?”
“Yeah…”, said he morosely. “The result is the same.”
“So, just because they are weak and irresponsible but not calculative and mean, does this behaviour excuse them..? Is it right that you and I should be taking up their slack all the time…? Why do they go about promising the moon and the stars when they don’t have the guts to follow through on their promises…? I am done with feeling guilty on Rohit’s behalf. I won’t do it anymore.”
“You are right of course. I was so ashamed of the way Neha absconded from the hospital. I hated to feel guilty for something she had thoughtlessly done.”
“Thoughtless…! That’s the word…!!! Without understanding, without weighing the pros and cons, without having a CLUE about what kind of commitment they are getting into, both Neha and Rohit promise things they cannot deliver. In the process we get burdened with guilt saddled with commitments we never made. AND they merrily go and make some more promises. They jump seven feet and grab responsibilities and then lightly toss them over their shoulder knowing we’ll break our necks but catch them before they hit the ground. I’ll be damned if I’ll do it anymore…!!!!”
Her voice had gone from woebegone, to irritated, to hopping mad. Her eyes blazed and her nostrils twitched as if about to issue flames.
Prateek stared at her mesmerized. How utterly adorable she looked with color flaming in her cheeks and her eyes limpid pools of lava…! How very right she was….! He must have been blind not to have seen it so clearly. She really was such a sensible girl; so earnest and sincere. His blood boiled at the thought of the poor thing bearing with an irresponsible fathead like Rohit. Why the hell hadn’t he seen this before…? How had he remained blind to Rea all these years..? But he pushed the thought aside hastily. God smiled his crafty smile.
“You know, you are 100% right. Just because they do it thoughtlessly not deliberately, it doesn’t make things any better for us. I have spoken to Neha many times about it. Though she has promised to change, there is not an iota of change in her. Tell me, have you spoken about all this to Rohit…? I am sure you must have. You would never have discussed it with me unless you had exhausted all possible options and were at the end of your tether.”
How well he knew her…! His faith in her always wanted her to kneel down and thank God for him. She remembered the arguments and unjust accusations Rohit had flung at her, wounding her to the core. She knew Rohit had never understood her even a hundredth of what Prateek had. Why the hell hadn’t she seen all this before…? How had she remained blind to Prateek all these years..? But she pushed the thought aside to answer his question. God rubbed his hands together with (holy) glee.
“Of course I have spoken to Rohit about it until I am blue in the face….!! As with Neha, he has promised the earth and zilch has happened. Now what do we do…?”
“I don’t know that. But one thing I have realized today. Thoughtless people have a fissure somewhere inside them, making them weak. Just as you cannot tolerate a crack in a load bearing wall, so also you cannot expect to build a secure life with a weak partner. The fact that the weakness is not deliberate doesn’t hide the nature- or consequences- of the weakness. It will give way some day and bring down your carefully built life crashing about your ears. I really think we ought to steer clear of the ‘thoughtless ones’. They create nothing but trouble for the people around them and clutter up their lives. To make a promise and not keep it… for no valid reason… time after time… is NOT a characteristic to be permitted in one’s partner. What do you say…?”
“You are right…! Over the years, I know you are the only one I have depended upon completely. I have never seen you go back on your word, never seen you thoughtless or irresponsible. You think things through before you commit yourself, but once you do, you deliver on your promise. And the best thing is- your word is your bond. You’ve always been a rock in my life.”
“My Rea making pretty speeches for me today…?” He smiled teasingly. “Well, I would say the same for you. You are always there… not only for me… but for anyone you promised you’ll be there for. I am so grateful to God for you my little girl. What do you say we ease out these fake sponge-like rocks out of our lives and replace them with the real article…?”
“Replace…?!” she exclaimed.
He pulled her to him and looked down at her so that she read the answer in his eyes before she saw his happy nod.
“Will you…?” he asked.
“Of course I will…!” she said happily.
God forgot to be dignified for a moment. He jumped to his feet and danced a jig.
Someone should have told Him, He looked insufferably smug.