“The stupid neither forgive nor forget;
The naïve forgive and forget;
The wise forgive but never forget……”
- Thomas Szasz.
I was driving past a couple of good restaurants on a hot sweltering morning. I saw a couple of pushy and boisterous group of college girls and boys hanging out in front of the Café Coffee day. I reflected upon my past and recalled the days when me and my group used to hang out in the café. As I was all alone and the exuberant group was thrilling me, I decided to have a cup of coffee. When I was entering the café, I saw a stunningly beautiful girl standing at the paring lot with a couple of other girls. I lowered my sunglasses to take a better peak at the appealing figure. She wore a pink kurti and black jeans. A beautiful diamond studded gold ring on her suggested that she was engaged. I was gaping at her open-mouthed for a few seconds until one of her friends spotted and pointed her finger at me. I took my eyes of her instantaneously to avoid any confrontation and started pretending to be examining the beauty of the surroundings. I felt embarrassed and started walking faster which made me stumble across a coffee table spilling hot coffee on a young couple.
“Dude? Are you blind?”, the guy yelled at me.
“I’m sorry. I got carried away”, I apologized in a suppressed tone.
“Yeah, you better be careful, or we won’t be exchanging words next time”, he said by folding up his sleeves and the crowd behind him was hooting. Obviously, he wanted to be the cynosure of the group. I nodded apologetically at her girlfriend and walked away. People were staring and laughing at me.
“Your flirting days are over, pal! Now, get back to business”, I muttered to myself.
I made my way into the café and grabbed a table. A fat waitress smilingly approached me and said, “What would you like to have, sir?”
“A cold coffee with some chocolate ice-cream”, I replied showing no interest in her.
As I was judging my “gaping” activity, someone patted on my shoulders from behind. I closed my eyes for a second because I was pretty sure that the hunky guy had come to pick up a fight to impress his girlfriend. I angrily turned and said, “Alright, let’s settle this...” and I don’t remember saying anything after that. I saw the ravishing beauty with crossed arms and a haughty expression. Her face seemed quite familiar but my memory had been a bit foggy for a couple of years.
“Abhay Mishra?”, she asked in a squeaky excited voice.
“Yes”, I replied
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“I’m trying real hard, but in vain”
“Remember the high school days? I’m Prakriti Chatterjee!”
All my senses had gone numb and my mouth was awfully dry inspite of having a glass of water. The nightmarish thoughts which were buried deep within were starting to come to the surface. The ground had vanished beneath my feet and a meteorite had crashed on my head. She had changed a lot.
“Maybe, she had a plastic surgery…”, I muttered to myself.
“Hello, Mr. Walter Mitty! Am I talking to a corpse? Say something”, she said smilingly.
I returned a peculiar peevish smile that made me look like a total dork.
“Yeah, it’s nice to see you around”, I replied clumsily, still smiling, “But, you have changed enormously. How? When?”
She marked the desperation in my voice and that made her feel good, I guess.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you sometime later”
“Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me?”, I asked eagerly expecting a “yes”.
“No, I have to leave today. My husband is returning tomorrow”, she replied quickly.
“It’s just a cup of coffee! Hardly takes five minutes to sip it down”
She hesitated, but somehow I managed to coerce her to spend some time with me. I wanted to know more about her. Operation “Prakriti” had commenced then.
“Fine, I can spend some time with my old friend. I need to notify my friends that they can leave”, she said haughtily which was annoying.
I was looking at her silky dark brown hair which was glittering in the sunlight. My mind kept on making stupid conjectures about her changed appearance. Ten years ago, Prakriti was the most unsightly girl in our school. She had lots of frizzy, unkempt hair, which her mother used to tie a knot.I wondered she may have received a huge electric shock during her birth. Her glasses were exactly like my grandpa’s; big and square. She had a pair of giant front teeth that looked like a beaver. She used to wear permanent braces which were like noxious barb-wires sealing big chunks of marble. Above all, was her ear-splitting, vociferous laugh, which had the capability of bringing everyone to tears. But now, the world had gone upside down for me. I couldn’t stop staring at her. The braces have been replaced by nice and proportionate pair of teeth, her hair isn’t frizzy at all and she didn’t even wear glasses! How on earth can an ugly girl transform herself into a poised and dignified beauty like the Aphrodite? A myriad of ideas were swarming around my head, but, since she was coming back towards the café, I didn’t want scare her away.
While she was walking towards me, I could observe a small sneer on her face and a almond shaped smoky black eyes were concealed under her aviator-styled sunglasses. She was making me damn horny but I had mind control.
“So, what are we having?”, she asked airily
“Whatever you wanna have”
“One Choco latte please!”,she gestured the waitress.
“What are you doing lately?” she asked me lowering her sunglasses.
“I’m currently working in Infosys as the project manager”
“And where do you live?”
“Bangalore. I’ve come here on a business tour”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No”, I began, “And no more questions. Its time for Quid Pro Quo”.
“I can’t imagine! Abhay Mishra is single! Must be awful for you…”, she said teasingly.
“I prefer not to have a girlfriend”, I replied calmly despite her sarcastic remarks.
“Where is your husband now?”, I started questioning her.
“He’s in Helsinki”, she said proudly, “You know, in Finland”
“I know where Helsinki is”, I snapped.
“I live in New Delhi with my three year old son. Prior to my marriage I was working in State Bank of India as an assistant manager. But now, I’m a freelance writer.”
I nodded my head in appreciation, though I was not amazed. I wanted this conversation to end ASAP!! I couldn’t bear her new attitude and her sneering remarks.
“So, I guess, you are ready to leave…” I asked with my fingers crossed.
“Do you want me to leave?”, she asked surprisingly
“Me?..Absolutely not”, I faltered
“Actually, I’ve decided to spend the whole day with you”, she said playfully.
It felt like I swallowed a brick. She had planned everything from the beginning. She seemed determined about something… maybe, revenge. I’ve heard that revenge is a dish best served cold, but, it amazes me that it took her ten long years to cool off her wrath with me.
She urged me to go to a nice and quiet restaurant instead of some chaotic shopping mall, so that they could spend some quality time. I was trying to comprehend her every move so that I’ll be able to counter-attack later on. We left the café and started to drive away to a restaurant on my grey sedan and didn’t speak to each other much. Petty feelings like envy and aggravation were engulfing me and making me vunerable. To calm my nerves down, I switched to listening Pink Floyd.
“You haven’t changed a bit! You still listen to Pink Floyd”, she giggled.
“What’s so funny? They are my all time favorites. I’m glad you remembered that”, I said uninterestingly
“Oh, I remember a lot of things, Abhay”, she replied sharply.
I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the journey. I realized that this is my judgement day. It was time to pay for all the pain and humiliation I caused to her ten years ago. I could never forget the day because it was the day when I dumped her. It was August 25,2004, my 15th birthday. I was a bit edgy about our relationship which was going too smooth. She started questioning me about where this relationship was going. She even started to develop an increasing possessiveness towards which freaked me out and I needed to escape. So, I started avoiding her. Pissed off at my behaviour towards her, Prakriti showed up at my birthday party, which I kept a secret from nearly everybody. She threatened that she would reveal everything to my mother. A strong surge of mixed emotions struck me like a lightning bolt which compelled me to show my true colours to her. I dumped her in front of my friends and said that I deserved better. Shell-shocked by by my decision, she commented that I callously butchered an important part of her life. I felt sorry for her but my vanity and ego constrained me to apologize.
That was the last time I saw her. Even, I stayed below the radar for a couple of weeks to avoid much attention. I never wanted things to end in such a haste. One day, when I felt like paying a visit to her, her mother said that Prakriti had gone to Delhi to start a new life and it would be better for me if I didn’t interfere with any of her decisions. I never tried to get in contact with her because I never cared for her. She had become just an other girl in my life. But now, I was feeling quite contrite for my actions and I wanted to make it up to her.
I was driving pretty fast because I wanted to sort things out. Eventually, we reached one of my favorite restaurants, Tangerine 9, where I booked a table for two. This place was ideal for me because of its peacefulness. There were a few people present in the restaurant who were least interested in us.
Before anything obnoxious could come out of her mouth, I asked, “Prakriti, are you happy?”
“Yes, Don’t I look like I’m happy?”
“I meant, are you happy with yourself?”
“Yes, absolutely”, she flushed. Her ears had gone red and her face had the same colour as her top. “Why did you ask that?”
“No reason, just had a gut feeling”, I shrugged, “But I do want to know the mystery behind your phenomenal changes”
“Have you ever seen a butterfly?”
“Yeah, they are beautiful”, I replied.
“But do you know what they look like in their early stages of life? They are caterpillars which are gross. But, eventually, when the caterpillar mature, they go through a series of transitions to transform into an exquisite and serene beauty”
“Hmm”, I replied. I was perplexed by her comparison. The conversation had taken a bold and intriguing twist.
“I’m sorry for what I did to you ten years ago”, I blurted
“Forgiveness is the virtue of the strong. I’m still weak at heart”, she started gloomily, “It was unimaginably difficult for me to forget about what you did to me. Every time I looked in the mirror, I could see you laughing and bickering at me. But, later on I realized that you gave me the strength, the impulse to change. If you had not shown me my place ten years ago, I wouldn’t have changed and believe me, change is better”.
I gave her a bewildered look and started laughing hysterically. It was beyond my expectation that she would someday thank me for what I did to her. Throughout the day, I was getting paranoid, but in the end I emerged to be the saviour.
“Are we clear now?”, I asked
“Yes, clear as the sky”, she replied.
“I have one last question for you”, I asked seriously.
“Shoot”, she added jokingly.
“Would you be satisfied with yourself if I had never broken your heart in the first place? Would you be as happy as you are now?”
She was taken aback by my rhetorical question. Her face contorted and she was taking shallow breaths. She turned her back at once and started to scurry away.
“You didn’t answer my question?”, I shouted.
She turned and looked at me. Her face was red and tears were gliding down upon it, like drops of drew on a fresh rose. She was deeply overwhelmed and wished to leave.
“My answer would be no”, she murmured, “You were an insensitive and wretched piece of crap. I was never comfortable with you and never will I forget the stuff you did to me. I’m more than being happy now and I think you feel the same for yourself too”.
I lowered my eyes due to guilt. Ten years prior to this day, I had the guts to break up with a girl publicly, but now, I’m like a timid sheep ambushed by a vicious tigress. Her words were piercing through me like hot knives. She stopped sobbing and gave me a tight hug. She caressed my hair and whispered, “You have become a good man. I was a fool to underestimate you”. She kissed me on the cheek and walked away before I could say anything.
“Do you want a lift?”, I blurted.
“I’m tired of taking favours from you, Abhay! I’m independent now”, she said playfully walking away from me.
“Shall we meet again?”, I shouted eagerly
She didn’t answer my question; instead she gave me a shrug. I didn't know why I asked her such a question and I wish , she never answers that. The sky was getting dusky and darkness was about to begin. My solitary life was getting started while I watched Prakriti move away from me. Soon, her figure dissolved into the chaotic crowd and she was gone.
“Thanks”, I whispered to myself and started my car. I have nothing but a memory of a girl who gave me a free and valuable piece of advice. Maybe, it was time for me to change and leave my darkness behind. We are still thankful to each other for the spirits we have instilled upon ourselves.
- Original Short Story bySupratik “Ronnie” Sarthak.