“What can be said of a man who loves one woman and is loved by another? That he is a lucky bastard. That he can have his cake and eat it too. And that he definitely is the most laid person around me.”
“Quit mocking my situation, Rahul. This is serious. I don’t know what to do. I love Suma. I really do. But I care a lot for Sahana. I can’t seem to let go of her. I need her as much as I need Suma. And I know that’s not right. I... am confused. I mean, I’m not doing justice to any of us three in the process, right?”
“Ajit, you are reading too much into the situation. I think you should just enjoy the liberty you have right now and just, you know, go with the flow,” Rahul took a drag from his cigarette. “Bloody lucky bastard, I’d say. I haven’t had a single girl chasing me, nor have I felt real true louwe for anyone,” he sighed.
“You are too damn frivolous about this. Somehow I can’t… and I am going with the flow, if you haven’t yet noticed. But I feel terrible about it sometimes. I feel like I’m cheating myself, Suma as well as Sahana. I don’t want to do it, but I end up doing it, and then…”
“Cut the crap, dude. I’m pretty sleepy right now. What I don’t understand is why you start all this right after two drinks, and spoil my mood too. Blergh! Do what you want, bro. Good night, and happy thinking!” Rahul turned on the bed and went to sleep. Ajit was left wondering to himself.
* * *
“Sahana, please, try and understand. I cannot, I am not able to fall in love with you. Don’t push me so hard. I’ll give up. I’m already under too much pressure.”
“Aji you just… don’t understand. No, you refuse to accept me for some stupid prejudice of yours. ‘You’re not the right woman for me.’ What nonsense! Tell me one woman who has understood you and your needs so well and supported you on everything. You go on saying true love is loving the person who loves you, and when such a person is there in front of you, you don’t want to accept that. I’m just so exasperated. I love you so dearly that I can’t give you up so easily. I don’t know what to call our relationship. I have done so much for you, and you don’t want to acknowledge that and…”
“Please don’t tell me I don’t acknowledge your love or things you do for me. I really really appreciate all that and I have always told you that. But I cannot fall in love with you. You don’t evoke that special feeling in me. You make me comfortable, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had, and you’re awesome in bed… but that doesn’t make love!” his voice was getting increasingly gruffy. “And, I’m warning you, if you want to keep testing my limits, let us cut off this relation right away. Let us be just good neighbours and leave each other alone.”
“That’s nothing less than threat, and Mr Ajit Prasad, I’m not gonna take that from you. No one tells me what to feel and how!” Sahana picked up her bag and got up from the bed. “But one final word. I love you more dearly than life itself, and you cannot change that.” And she walked off, leaving Ajit with his head between his hands.
* * *
“Do you want a coffee? I’m gonna grab a cup…”
“Yeah sure. Do you have a smoke too?”
Sahana’s laughter rang in her bedroom. “What, post-coital cigarette, eh?”
Ajit laughed too. “If you wanna call it by such a technical name, fine!”
“There, on the shelf. The lighter’s next to it, and the ash-tray is under the bed. I’ll make the coffee.”
Ajit’s phone rang. It was Suma.
“Sana, don’t speak, okay? It’s Suma calling.”
“Oh yeah, I’m not here, you’re not with me. Understand, understand, sir.” She laughed again, and went into the kitchen.
“Yeah, tell me honey. What’s up?”
* * *
“So, what do you think?”
“Yeah, suits you, but you can look much better.”
“This is the best I could do. I wasn’t ready to go for complete colouring. I thought this light burgundy shade looked charming. And you give such a lukewarm response!” Sahana cried.
“Honey, honey, you look awesome. I just said you have more potential! You’re a very charming woman, and I want people to know that. Come on, I’m buying you some funky attire to go with that hair of yours. How about trying out the new stuff at Lifestyle? Laika said there are some trendy things there. Might suit you.”
“Okay okay. Whatever you say.”
“Listen, it’s not about you obeying me here, okay? It’s about getting you a light makeover. Just a touch-up, actually, but something that’ll make you stand out in the crowd.”
“Makeover, yeah that’s right,” she smiled. “I love you, Aji. I love you so much.”
Aji returned the smile. “Let’s go, my pretty pie. Hop on to the bike.”
* * *
“Suma, you’re sure we’re doing the right thing? I mean, isn’t this too sudden for you? You haven’t even gotten over Vasishth yet… and then marrying me… you know how I am situated. With Sheela’s studies still going on and mom down in the hospital every month, I don’t know if I can…”
“Ajit, I am not worried about the finances. I have a good amount of savings, and of course I’ll work after marriage too. I have no issues with you giving off all your salary at home. And about Vasu. The earlier I forget him the better.
“Don’t worry I’m not using you as a rebound. I actually want to settle down with you. You’re the one for me; I’m sure of that. I want to know if you are fine. Anyone you’re involved with, or anything that doesn’t appeal to you? I mean, do you think I’ll be good enough for you?”
“Oh God, listen to you talk! I… listen, I know I never articulated it to you, but… but I love you. With all my heart. I can die for you. You tell me, when do you want me to come and meet your mother?”
Suma’s heart rose in a flutter. “Aji… you’re such a sweetheart. Make that this weekend. I assume there won’t be any problem from your side?”
“Not at all. My mother’ll be happy to hear I chose you. She’s always been a little partial to you among all my female friends.”
“Oh!” Suma blushed. “Very nice, my future hubby, then drop the call for now. I have work at eight in the morning, and oh my God, it’s two a.m. now! Sleep, sleep, sleep, idiot!”
“Hahaha… okay Sumi. Good night. Sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams, Aji.”
* * *
“So you’ve made the final choice now.”
“There’s no going back?”
“There is no need to. Not for me.”
“And what about me?”
“You already know I’m never going to marry you and give you a life you dream of. I have made that quite clear many times, I’m sure.”
“Yes you have, definitely. You and I are together on a ‘no-strings-attached’ basis. And all that only because I, the bloody fool, am in love with you. Ever occurred to you that you could be just taking advantage of me?”
“Fuck you, Sana. I thought we already discussed this. I am not in love with you. But I can’t seem to be able to let go of you. You are more than a friend, much more. I need you like the water I drink six times a day. You said you understood that. You said you wouldn’t accuse me of using you. You said you’ll be okay. Damn it, Sana!”
Sahana broke down. “Okay, sorry sorry. I am sorry. It’s just that sometimes I just snap. I don’t know what I’m saying. Or rather, it all comes out in bitterness, and then it’s over, and then… I don’t understand. We make such an awesome pair. Why not?”
“Because I love Suma. More than I care for you. She’s the one for me, Sana. You and I are a mismatch. You’ll realise it when you get over your obsession.”
…Sahana cried bitterly. Ajit made no attempt to soothe her. He walked over to the shelf and took out a cigarette and sent swirls of smoke up at the fan in her bedroom. Then he picked up his clothes and went into the bathroom. She looked after him, gave out a long sigh and wiped her tears. In front of the mirror, she felt her face. She started out as if she was beginning to cry, but suddenly smiled. “Not so easy, not so soon. He’ll be back. I know it. This chapter’s not closing so easily, honey.”
* * *
“What is Sahana’s PAN card doing in your laptop bag?”
“Oh that? She gave it to me so I can fill in her bank form when I go there tomorrow. She doesn’t stay in Nashik, remember?”
“Then can’t she come down and do it herself some other day? Why do you have to do it for her?”
“Suma? What’s wrong with you? I keep doing odd chores for her anyway!”
“Stop doing that now. She’s not a baby. Let her handle her own things. She wants to take you with her for shopping, she wants your opinion on the dress she’s bought, she buys little nothings for you from everywhere she goes… I think she’s in love with you.”
“Oh Suma, you don’t know her for as many years as I do, that’s why. Or wait… you’re being jealous! Suma!”
“I know, I know, we spoke about this. You have close female friends, and I have to get used to it. But Sahana seems different from your other friends. I don’t like the feeling she gives me when the three of us are together.”
“Come on, give that girl a chance. You just met her once. You’re being…”
“You are being defensive about her. I don’t like that too.”
Ajit looked at her. He moved forward to hug her, but she shrugged it off.
“Pack your bags fast, Mister. The bus is at 9.”
* * *
It was a big gathering. Sahana’s friends, collegemates, professors and schoolteachers, the nuns and fathers from her orphanage. Ajit sat in a corner, as if set in marble. One of Sahana’s professors walked up to him.
“Ajit? I’m Naseema. Sahana used to refer to you as her local guardian. It is so unfortunate. I mean, a road accident… very, very unlucky, poor girl. Her parents died the same way. She was saved in that accident. Only to die in another one, 24 years later… The Lord has his own ways…”
Ajit looked up coldly. “Yes ma’am. He has. She was a lovely girl. Thanks for your condolences.” He blinked and paused for a few seconds, before continuing, almost apologetically, “Can you please write something about her on that golden sheet over there? She wanted me to maintain a scrap of writing from all those who attend her most important ritual after the age of 24. She wanted it to be the wedding, but… thanks.”
The professor patted Ajit’s shoulder lightly and moved on, unsure of how to take the bluntness in Ajit’s voice. Rahul came around to him, noticing his alabaster pose.
“Listen, take it easy. It’s not your fault. She’s made it clear in her letter, right? She couldn’t get over you, she was incapable of moving on. There’s no point in you dejecting over…”
“Shut up, Rahul,” Ajit groaned. Raising his eyes menacingly, he screeched through his teeth, “You’re always The Pragmatic. I am not. I cannot be. She chose to die… with my memories rather than give me up. She bloody took that accident on her because she realised Suma didn’t like her being friends with me. She couldn’t let go of me.”
His voice rose to a feverish pitch. “She fucking loved me like no one ever did. And I couldn’t give it to her. I couldn’t even make her feel better. Maybe I made her feel like a slut. ‘No strings attached’, my foot! There were strings all over the place, and I could spot none. I fucking took a long time to realise things. I had too much on my dish and I couldn’t clear it sooner. It is my fault, damn it!” His words resonated in the silent hall. Everyone turned to look at him. He sat down quietly again.
“Go sign the sheet, Rahul. She’d love to know what you think of her. Do write what you always used to say – ‘You’re bloody lucky Ajit. She’s so fucking pretty.’”
‘What can you say of a man who loved two women at the same time and could never decide whom to keep and whom to wave goodbye to? That he was confused. That he should have made a decision sooner. That he shouldn’t have waited until one of the women died. That, my friends, is the tragedy of the bitch called love.’