“So, did you ask him? What did he say? What..tell me!” chimed Kiara excitedly.
“Umm..yeah.” replied Diya avoiding Kiara’s piercing gaze.
“So…umm…he said he likes you…kind of, I mean.”
“Really? He said that! Did he say he likes me?” Kiara could barely suppress her exhilaration at this point. Her heart was racing like a juggernaut.
“Yes. Now, shush and get back to your seat. Matthew is a sneeze away from thrashing us out of the class.”Diya said that mechanically, trying her best to look anywhere else, but at Kiara.
“Oh come on! Don’t be a chicken. Just tell me everything he said and I’ll be gone. Promise!”
“But, there’s nothing more..”
“You know what Diya, look here…You didn’t talk to him, did you?”
“OK, time to take your Kitty party outside ladies. Get out!” thundered the irate Chemistry Professor, Dr. Eric Matthew.
Diya adjusted her glasses and opened her sorry mouth when a boisterous, “Now!”, cut her apology speech short. Dismantled, she collected her books in one hand, satchel in the other and left the class; pools of tear already making her ken blind. The last thing she saw was a crooked smile on the face of Rishaan.
Rishaan was more than happy to see the nerd coaxed out of the class for once. His eyes fell on Kiara as she followed Diya out. She was attractive. No, she was more than attractive. He gauged her long legs, ravishing figure, perfect fringes, commendable dressing sense and the cute little tattoo peeking through her crop top. He gasped and resumed his lessons.
“Diya…Stop!” trailed Kiara behind her. But, she did not stop and headed for the library, her favourite hideout. She could bury her face behind the books for hours altogether and avoid pretty much everyone. Besides, that would save some embarrassment.
Kiara was very irritated by now. Not only had Diya lied to her, but also acted irrationally about a little buzz in the class. They were in college. Kiara could not possibly fathom a sane reason for Diya to act thus. Had she spoke the truth at the first place, none of this would have happened. To her, Diya seemed to be someone from an ancient era altogether. She liked her, trusted her and respected her. But, she was a piece of work. At times like these, Kiara was compelled to think that were it not for Rishaan, Kiara would have never bothered to as much as recognize her existence in the class.
Actually, an alphabetical seating discipline was followed in their college. Vora Rishaan and Vyas Diya thus shared a bench at the back of the class. Everyone in the college knew about Rishaan crushing over Diya from the very first day. Even Rishaan’s girlfriends had made peace with it. But, no one thought more of it. For one, Rishaan used to have ten new crushes everyday and a new girlfriend every couple of months or so. He could flirt as smoothly as he breathed. This one crush, however, had lasted longer than the most and it was the end of four years already. But, he had never made any serious advances to Diya. Rishaan would never leave single stone unturned when it came to getting the girl he wanted. With Diya, it was always a calculated indecency, the kind that draws your attention, yet does not engender hatred, but makes you want to hate; imprinting in your mind the remarks made and the person who made it.
Diya, on the other side, was burning within. She was not a very sociable person. She was not a loner either. She had friends, good friends, few friends. Kiara was not one of them. But, she was happy to assist her nonetheless. Kiara was falling for Rishaan. He had just broken up with his current girlfriend. Kiara wanted Diya to make him talk, to know if he liked her too, if not make him like her. For the first time in life, someone had come up to Diya for help other than in studies. She naturally felt protective for the girl, because watching Rishaan flirt with herself for four years while on and off numerous relationships, Diya had but the basest of opinions regarding Rishaan. She could not understand how a girl, in her proper senses could possibly love a shallow guy like that. The man had no character, how much more proof could one need! She was thus stuck with Kiara for some time now, listening less from her, warning her more.
But, it had cost her an important lecture now. Kiara was still head over heels crazy about Rishaan. Rishaan was still the incorrigible flirt. She was angry for getting herself involved in this matter at all. With the final year trip round the corner, she decided she would no longer have anything to do with either of them and stay out of their mess as much as possible. Yet, something told her, things were just beginning to warm up now.
Thanks to social media, Kiara and Rishaan became friends in a very short span of time. Surprisingly, it made Diya somewhat uneasy. But, she stuck to her resolve of keeping distance. Finally, the day arrived when a bustling group of final year students set out for Goa. The trip seemed to be jinxed from the beginning itself. As Diya boarded the flight, she found out her seat was next to the feared duo. She took the seat by the window, thrust her earphones and closed her eyes. In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan’s right hand more firmly. Rishaan’s other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya’s. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioural dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa.
When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny…his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher.
He was afraid of how he felt as he held her hand in his. He was scared of how he felt her pulse race
under his touch. He felt the chill run down his spine as he reckoned the squirm of her soft hand under his grasp. She seemed so brittle, so fragile. It haunted him. He was intimidated by that kind of vulnerability. He was daunted by such kind of raw candour in those large eyes. Rishaan was in awe. He felt things he had never felt before, not once with any of the women he had been with. He had been with many! It baffled him.
The three, somewhat star-crossed strangers, were definitely about to embark on a life-changing journey together. The excitement Kiara felt was impossible to put in words. She had already sketched out the tour plan for Rishaan and herself around the Carnival. Diya, on the other hand, stuck with her coterie of two other friends. The first three days passed in a whirlwind of sun-basking, shacking, dolphin-spotting, parasailing, scuba diving, kite surfing, kayaking and biking across the beaches. Kiara and Rishaan seemed to have come closer than ever. They made the most of the vibrant nightlife and the thrilling day trips. They looked like they were carved for each other, a handsome couple. Rishaan was extremely fond of Kiara. He would not lose sight of her even for a minute. He was too comfortable with her, the kind of ease one obtains after years of living together. They understood each other perfectly. They seemed to read each other’s minds, completing each other’s sentences and rooting for each other. They could hardly keep their hands off each other. Yet, there was something amiss. Rishaan felt a tempest broiling inside of him. For what was romance in the eyes of Kiara, was only an asylum Rishaan sought to escape the unknown. He kept running away, but it would claw him in deeper every day. At the nadir of that tempest, lay Diya.
Starting fourth day, the Carnival commenced in Goa. The entire city entered a frenzy of merrymaking-feasting-drinking orgy. Kiara had been waiting just for this day. She dressed the best she could and the result was exquisite. She looked like a goddess in her red gown. She looked at Rishaan and saw just what she had ever wanted, a tall, dark, handsome and rich guy. He had been a perfect gentleman to her. He was fun to be with. He was not jealous. He let her be the way she wished. He whispered cute little nothings into her ears. When she walked with him, she could see jealousy dripping down the eyes of other girls and lust burning in that of the men. She was happy. Rishaan had quietly intertwined himself in each and every facet of her life. He had grown on her, a habit. She did not know anymore what she would do without him.
As the day matured, the streets were raided by the troupe of floats, masquerades and bands. It was a hullabaloo of vibrant colours, vivacious music and vehement dance. Kiara sure knew how to make friends, as wherever she went, people surrounded her and they frolicked. Rishaan could not stay quarantined of her free spirit either. They danced and yowled. Rishaan felt he was lucky to have such a merry company on this day. Amidst the wilderness, something tamed and pristine caught the eye of Rishaan. It was Diya standing on the other side of the road, dressed in white. She was wearing an orchid in her hair, which grazed her waist. Time froze for Rishaan then and there. He felt his heart thud against his chest. He could hear the rustle of the wind playing with her hair against all noise. He could see the faint quiver of her lips before they broke into a radiant smile. He could smell the taste of her skin from across the rift. She was not pretty, rather fetching. She might not stop your eyes, but she sure stopped your breath. He was bewitched. He was losing it all over again. He realized he had not blinked for a couple of minutes. The tempest inside grew more virulent that ever. He needed to retreat. He looked around, searching for Kia. She was not around. He was fazed. He saw the tumult inside his mind taking shape of reality. He found himself lost in the swarm of warm bodies. He saw the music decay into a piteous grunge. He heard the footsteps hurl bloody splashes against the scenery. He found himself slipping, falling into the pit of the tempest. It was all a haze now. He shut his eyes. He measured the fall with his inarticulate breaths.
A hand suddenly grabbed his arms and pulled him. It was a mute force, but he felt an electricity run through his veins. He knew the touch. He smiled with his eyes shut.
“Are you out of your mind, Rishaan?” blared Diya staring at him with an incredulous air and leading him into a corner.
“It’s you!” rambled Rishaan, still clinging to her hand.
“What were you thinking? There was a crazy stampede. Every one left the scene. The tableau was about to crash on you. People were shouting and you wouldn’t move. Do you want to die?”
“Diya, listen to me…hey, can you stay with me for the evening?”
“You have sure lost it. I don’t understand. What if something happened to you? You could have died. People die Rishaan. People die just like that.”
“So, will you stay?”
No one said anything further. They just sat there. Clouds rattled and grumbled and it rained. They kept sitting there, hand in hand.
“But, I hated you. I mean, I hate you!” said Diya finally.
“I know.” said Rishaan.
“You cannot fool me into your silly charms you know. I see through it.”
It was late in the evening already. The air smelled cold. They huddled up close together. He could hear her heavy breaths on his shoulders. He looked at her face, into her eyes. He could sense a garbed surrender. He saw her soft lips part and her large eyes flutter down. He looked at those lips and moved closer. He could feel the warmth radiating in his eyes already. Then, something changed. He held her face in his hands, moved close to her mouth, then lifted his face higher, kissed her forehead and said, “I love you. I have always loved you. I know it now.”
“But, Kiara? Rishaan!”
“I love you Diya.”
“But, she will hate me. You have no idea how I have spoken against you to her. You have no idea what it means.”
“I will always love you Diya!”
“…Because I have always known I don’t deserve someone like you. But, as I saw the world fade today, all I know is I only saw you clearly. Even with Kiara, I discovered I couldn’t pretend any longer. She was almost perfect; the kind of ‘almost’ that makes you realise what perfect to you is. I had to tell you this, even if I can never have you…”
Diya could feel the corner of her eyes grow moist. She had always feared this day. She had always known passively, if anyone could make her fall in love ever, it was Rishaan. She was a simple nerd from a middle-class family. She was not outright conservative, but circumspect. She had always campaigned against Rishaan, more of a make-believe to herself, than to others.
“What do we do now Rishaan?” sobbed Diya.
“Now, you let yourself love me and I you.”
She buried her face in his shoulders and both of them forgot breathing for some time. The moment lasted. Nobody walked in. And no turbulence followed, unlike the movies.
The next day was big. Rishaan and Diya broke the news to Kiara. She was not entirely shocked, just hurt. Not everyone is happy at the end of every story. Kiara and Diya would not confront each other for a long time to follow, let alone talking. Rishaan was thrashed again, but he took it with his head hung low. What changed was three lives. The player, who would stop; the nerd who would learn to love and the lark who would learn to move on!