One 54

Looking through the viewfinder of his DSLR camera, twenty-seven-year-old Anand adjusted the focus as the sun started to dip down the horizon. He overheard someone talking in Malayalam nearby and it piqued his interest. Excited to spot a Malayali on his Shimla trip, he glanced towards the young woman who was talking on her mobile. He waited till she was done with her call before walking up to her.

“Hey! Malayali?” he asked with his infectious smile.
“Yes,” she nodded, her eyes reflecting a hint of annoyance.
“Me too. I am Anand,” he extended his arm to shake her hand but she didn’t budge.
“I am sorry but I am not here to chit chat,” the twenty-three-year-old said, rather nonchalantly.
“OK then. How about we discuss the Israel – Palestine conflict?”
“What?”
“Those would not be chit chat,” he said with a playful smile.
She rolled her eyes and said, “Just leave me alone.”
“Sure, I shall grant you your wish. But you owe me one,” Anand replied and walked away.
—-

Later that evening, she was immersed in a book while having dinner at a restaurant when someone pulled a chair opposite to her and sat down with his plate. She lifted her head and saw Anand.
“You again?” she said, getting up immediately and looked for an empty table but there wasn’t any.
“See? No other table is free.” Anand said.
“Are you stalking me right now?” she asked rather sternly.
“Stalk you? Why would I stalk you? You see that girl in the red sweater?” Anand pointed towards a girl seated a few tables away, “She is stalk worthy.”
“Stalk … .Whatever,” she said, sitting back down to finish her dinner.
“I am really not stalking you. It’s true that I sat here because I saw you but then there weren’t any free tables either.”
“Next time you see me anywhere, stay away.”

Anand was about to say something when her phone rang and she answered it.
“Yes, this is Sakshi…….. Do you know what time it is?…….I DON’T WANT A CREDIT CARD!” Sakshi yelled into her mobile before hanging up. Everyone in the restaurant looked towards her but Anand kept his gaze at his plate as he gleefully smiled and said to himself softly, “Sakshi..”

Sakshi glared at him

“When was it?” Anand asked.
“When was what?”
“Your breakup.”
“When did I ever tell you that I had a break up?”
“Isn’t it obvious? You want to be alone, you are always irritated. You just hate everyone around you….”
“What nonsense! I am alone because I want to be alone. I am irritated because YOU are irritating me. And I don’t hate everyone around me. AND I will never be in a relationship for a breakup because I do not believe in love. God!, why am I even telling you all this?” She picked up her plate and got up.
“Wait wait …. Sakshi, I am sorry,” Anand said, getting up with his plate, “Relax, finish your dinner. I’ll find another table.”

Anand walked away from her as Sakshi continued to glare at him for a few seconds before resuming her dinner.
—-

Over the next few days, Sakshi and Anand spotted each other at various locations, but Anand smiled and walked away from her every single time. And Sakshi ignored him. She wanted to get away from the crowd and just be all by herself, and so she ventured into the woods. After about an hour of trekking she realized that she was lost. She didn’t know which direction to go or where she came from. At a distance, she could hear what sounded like a waterfall and she followed the sound.

After trekking through difficult terrain she finally reached the waterfall and she felt relieved at the sight of a man trying to get on top of a boulder.

“Hey!” she called out.
The man turned around and Sakshi stood there in disbelief when she realized the person was Anand.
“No way!” she said to herself.

Anand took a few steps towards her.

“Are you stalking me right now?” he said with his trademark smile.
“I would rather stalk him,” Sakshi said pointing towards a monkey seated on a tree nearby.
“Oh! Now I get it,” Anand said with a smirk.
“What?”
“You are into wild things, huh? Naughty girl,”

Sakshi couldn’t help herself and laughed, “Just shut up,” she said.

“Come, let’s climb that boulder,” Anand said, pointing towards the one that he was trying to climb earlier.

Sakshi wasn’t sure if it was a good idea but she gave it a shot anyway. Anand went first and after several attempts he managed to help her up the boulder. She took in the view of the waterfall as the breeze sprayed tiny droplets on her.
“So beautiful,” she said softly.
“So elegant,” Anand said.
“Just looking like a wow,” they said in unison and laughed.

“I wonder why no one else is here. Not that I am complaining,” Sakshi said as she sat, “How did you find this place?”
“Well…ummm….I tried to follow you and got lost,” Anand admitted.
“You are impossible,” Sakshi smiled, “I thought you said I am not stalk-worthy.”
“I wasn’t exactly stalking you. I was just… you know.. Making sure that you don’t get lost.”
“That went well.”
“Mmhmm.. “ Anand chuckled.

The two were silent for the next few seconds, lost in their own thoughts before Anand asked, “Why did you want to be alone?”
“Well, I am more of an introvert. Maybe it has to do with my upbringing. My parents were always busy with their business. So usually it’s just me at home, and most of the time I have to take care of myself. Overtime that became a habit and I found solace in being alone. So much that talking to someone actually makes me anxious and it annoys me.”
“That part I figured,” Anand said, playfully
Sakshi nodded with a smile and asked, “So what’s your story? You seem totally opposite, and yet here you are on your own.”
“Actually this trip was planned with a colleague of mine but then there was a death in his family and he had to cancel. But in a way I am glad he couldn’t come. Or else we wouldn’t have met.”
“Hmmm… I don’t know what to say to that. I mean, this is just a casual meeting and it ends when we part ways.”
“Why does it have to end? We can exchange numbers, keep in touch. Can’t we?”
Sakshi glanced at him for a few seconds and said, “I am better on my own, Anand.”

Anand stared at her without saying anything.

“At the restaurant, you said you don’t believe in love. Why?” Anand probed.
“My parents, they have been married for around twenty five years now. Dad runs his own auditing firm in Kochi named PRS Associates and mom is his business partner as well. I have never seen them having a normal conversation or talk like a couple, They mostly only talk about business, numbers, plans and that is their only love. At first I used to think it was just them, but when I observed everyone around me, even those who claimed to be in love were all selfish. We can only truly love ourselves and even if we end up loving someone, it’s only because that person makes us feel good about ourselves or makes us feel better or happy. Just think about it, no one wants to be in a relationship that does not make them feel good, right? And if it is all about us, then why do we need someone else to make us feel good?”
“So according to you, you can not love anyone more than yourself?”
“No one can love anyone more than themselves,” Sakshi retorted.
“Well, I don’t agree with you completely because our perceptions about love are different. The thing about love is that you will realize you are in love only after you have already fallen in love. But how would you know? You are stalking monkeys,” Anand quipped.
Sakshi poked his hips in mock anger and he moaned, before both of them shared another laugh.
—-

Sakshi and Anand spent the next couple of days together, hopping from one tourist spot to another. They enjoyed each other’s company and Sakshi was comfortable around him.

They had set out to explore Kufri, a hill station, and the couple were enthralled by the panoramic views and meadows. Sakshi’s eyes gleamed with excitement as she scanned the breathtaking sights. Anand couldn’t help but snap a few candid pictures of her amusement against the backdrop of the hills. Her red color hoodie added more contrast to the frame but it was her expression that made the clicks perfect.

Sakshi kept looking around when she noticed Anand, “Hey! What are you doing?” she asked, sensing what he was up to as she walked towards him.
“Sorry but I couldn’t help myself. See this,” Anand said, showing her the pictures.
“Not bad,” Sakshi said, “Show me the previous one……This is good.”

She viewed all the clicks and then said, “Here, take some on my phone as well,” handing over her phone to him.

Anand took some shots on her phone and also a few selfies of them together. Sakshi posed with her head slightly tilted to the left, standing sideways with a gentle smile and that was her standard pose for all the selfies.

“Don’t keep posing like that, try something else,” Anand said, teasing her.
“I look better this way.”
“Try this,” Anand said, sticking his tongue out and making faces.
“That is so silly. I am not making a clown of myself,” Sakshi laughed.
“Be a sport now, make random faces, 1 .. 2… GO!”
“NO!” Sakshi just kept laughing at the start seeing Anand’s expressions but eventually she started to imitate him and joined the fun. Anand kept clicking away and he lost count of how many pictures he had taken.

It was super fun but like all good things, this one was about to end too. Anand was scheduled to return the next morning. And their last meeting place was at a campfire.

Everyone gathered around the fire and a few danced around it as Sakshi and Anand watched them as the music thumped from the speakers placed around.

“Let’s dance,” Anand said
“You go ahead. I don’t know how to..”
“Even I don’t know how to dance,” Anand said, interrupting her, “And that’s exactly why this will be fun. Let’s see how bad we really are.”
“You are out of your mind. I am not dancing. No way!”
“Come on, Sakshi. This is probably our last night together and we’ll never see each other again. And no one is going to judge us anyways. Just give it a shot. One last craziness with me,” Anand pleaded.

Sakshi thought for a few seconds before reluctantly agreeing.

The two of them joined the group around the fire and Anand started moving his legs in a very weird way and Sakshi did her best to suppress her laughter but couldn’t help herself. She burst out laughing, “What are you doing?” she asked.
“I thought we said no judging. You think you are better?” Anand challenged.
“Of course, I can do MUCH better.”
“Really?”
“Mmhmm.. Watch..” Sakshi said, and she swayed her hips and moved her legs gently. She grooved to the beat. She wasn’t much of a dancer but was graceful in whatever she did.
“Hmm.. Not bad,” Anand said as he tried to imitate her and Sakshi laughed again.
“Not like that, like this,” Sakshi said, moving her hips slowly, swaying it back and forth, forming a wave, “and faster now….”
“That’s a very feminine step,” Anand said, dismissing it when he couldn’t match her.

Over the next few minutes, Sakshi and Anand continued to dance with whatever little steps they knew, at times imitating what the others in the group were doing. Sakshi made new friends as everyone shared their steps and tried teaching the other how to do it. The group frolicked around the crackling campfire, their laughter echoing through the night as they danced joyfully.

They didn’t want it to end, but time was up and everyone dispersed saying goodbye.

“That was fun!” Sakshi said, as they walked together under the starlit sky.
“Yep! I am going to miss this,” Anand said, reflecting on his trip.
Sakshi didn’t say anything at first and then asked, “What time is your bus?”
“6 o clock. Once I am back in Trivandrum, then it’s back to routine stuff, scrum, deliverables, client calls and most importantly bugs vs feature conflicts.”
“I am not sure if I can relate because I am not working yet. Mostly I’ll end up in my dad’s firm as a CA intern.”
“Cool. When are you going back?” Anand asked.
“I think I’ll hang around for a week or so.”

Anand nodded.

They kept walking in silence for a while before Anand asked, “You sure you don’t want to exchange numbers?”
“Yes,” Sakshi said, without an iota of doubt, “Don’t get me wrong. I did have a good time. Perhaps the best in a while, but I am happier alone..”
“Weren’t you happy when you danced with all those people a few minutes ago?” Anand asked, rather irritated, “You weren’t alone then.”
“Yes, I was happy but where is that group now? It was momentary. Nothing lasts forever, that’s how life is.”
“You have some misconceptions, Sakshi. Things don’t just last like that, at times you have to make them last. Back at the falls, you said your parents are busy with their business and they don’t have time for each other. And you think they are not in love because of that. Love is not necessarily what you see in movies. It’s not necessary to keep telling a person how much they love each other or have candlelit dinners or keep gifting one another to express a person’s love. Let me ask you this, you said you haven’t seen them expressing their love for each other or spending time together. On the other hand, have you ever heard your mom or dad complaining about their lack of love, or seen them not talking to each other because they hate each other?”
“No,” Sakshi replied softly.
“Don’t put your perceptions of love on them, Sakshi. Let them decide if they are in love or not. Let them define their relationship….”
“But what about me?” Sakshi retorted, “They never had time for me.”
“You know, when we met for the first time, you were speaking on the phone. Who were you speaking with?”
“My parents.”
“And from what I heard, they were checking on you, correct?”
“Yes. But that’s what every parent is supposed to do.”
“If they don’t like you or care about you, they are supposed to do nothing.”
“What’s your point?”
“If you are not happy or do not like something, you should express it. You should talk to your parents, tell them what you are going through. If you think your parents are going through a rough patch, you should talk to them. Understand from their perspective and see if you can do something to help. Relationships work much better that way. You say we can only love ourselves and that is because you only see things from your lens. Love is not about making us feel good about ourselves or making us happy. Love is about making someone else feel good about themselves and making them happy. And when someone’s happiness means more than your own, then that is true love.”
“It’s still selfish if you ask me, because if I want to see someone’s happiness more than mine, I am doing it because I feel good about it,” Sakshi reasoned.
“Selfish is when you don’t consider other people at all and do things purely for your gain.”
“Maybe. Anyways, I don’t want our last conversation to end in a debate. I know for sure that I am happier when I am on my own. Besides, even if we keep in touch, eventually we will go our separate ways, our priorities change. Then why,…..”
“You don’t know that for sure,” Anand said, interrupting her, “And you’ll never know for sure unless you give it a shot. Sometimes in life, you have to take a leap of faith.”
“I am sorry, but this is how I am. But seriously, I never thought we would end up together like this. You made this trip special,” Sakshi said.
“I will miss you,” Anand said softly.
“Thank you for everything.”
—-

Anand departed the next morning and Sakshi was finally alone, all by herself, just like how she had wanted. But something was amiss. She had planned on staying back for another week, but the place didn’t excite her anymore. And so she returned from Shimla after a couple of days.

Back home, she was back to her routine but the memories of the trip lingered on. She smiled at the selfies she had taken with Anand. She hated to admit it but she did miss him. “I should have taken his number,” she whispered to herself.

Days turned into weeks, and with each passing day Sakshi longed to meet Anand again. “But how?” she thought to herself. She didn’t know much about him. She first tried looking him up on Instagram and Facebook but his name was too common. She tried # tags with Shimla and various other locations they had been to but couldn’t find him. She thought about reaching out to some of her classmates who were currently working in Thiruvananthapuram to see if they could help trace him. But what would they think of her?

“What if he doesn’t want to see me again?” she wondered. Just then, Anand’s words echoed in her head – “Sometimes in life, you have to take a leap of faith,”

She made up her mind to go to Thiruvananthapuram no matter what. She told her parents that she was planning on doing a course there, and not to tell anyone about it because she didn’t want her friends to know.
—-

Sakshi knew from her friends that most techies worked in Technopark and so she found herself a PG nearby. What she didn’t realize was that the place was bigger than she had thought, as it was spread across multiple locations. Even though she was an introvert, she kept all her inhibitions aside and hung around the main gates, showing their selfies to almost anyone passing by to see if they could identify Anand.

Another two weeks went by and she was heartbroken at the end of her unsuccessful search. She didn’t know what else to do. Tears welled up her eyes and rolled down her cheek as she packed her bags to return home. “What was I thinking,” she whispered to herself, doing her best not to burst into tears. Sakshi stared at their selfies on her mobile and decided its best to delete their pictures. She had to move on. She selected all their pictures and her index finger moved towards the bin icon as tears kept flowing down the corner of her eyes. She took a deep breath and said, “Goodbye,Anand,” and was about to tap the icon when her mobile rang. The call was from her dad and she answered it.

“Sakshi?” she heard her dad’s voice
“Yes, Pappa?”
“Everything alright, Sakshi?” She heard her mother’s voice and figured they were on a conference call.
“Yes, Mamma.”
“When are you coming back?” her dad asked.
“Soon.”
“Sakshi, we’ll spend some time together when you are back, OK? We need to talk. But I want you to know that we have never ignored you. We just wanted you to have your own space,” her mom said and Sakshi’s eyebrows narrowed, “We have always loved you and will continue to. We will be there for you no matter what.”

Sakshi wondered what was going on.

“Yes, dear. And there are no issues between your mother and me,” her dad said, and Sakshi’s eyes widened.

“Is Anand with you, Pappa?” Sakshi asked anxiously.
“No, he left saying he had a flight to catch. He told us not to tell you that he had come to meet us. He thought you wouldn’t like it,” her mom said.
“Did he…..did he ask about me?” Sakshi asked, trembling slightly.
“Yes, he did,” her mom replied.
“Did he at least leave his number?”
“No, but don’t you have his number?” her dad asked.
“Did you tell him I am in Trivandrum at least?” Sakshi was starting to break down.
“Sakshi, you told us not to tell anyone,” her mom said, “Baby, are you alright?”
Sakshi just stood there holding her mobile and rested her forehead against the wall in front of her, “I am fine,” she said after a few seconds, “I’ll see you both soon, bye.”

She hung up and gently tapped her forehead against the wall several times as her heart throbbed. She guessed Anand must have traced her dad’s auditing firm because she had mentioned it in Shimla. She was still heartbroken but there was a glimmer of hope. Sakshi thought at least he knew how to contact her if he really wanted to and if he felt the same way that she felt about him, then he would come for her. She was sure he would, but only time could tell.

Sakshi took her mobile to search for the next available flight to Kochi, but based on her last search, she noticed that there was only one flight that day from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram, and that was scheduled to arrive at 1:25 PM. She immediately looked at her watch, it was 12:33 PM and her eyes lit up. She grabbed her handbag and left for the airport in a hurry.

Sakshi impatiently waited at the Arrivals gate, scanning every passenger that exited. It was 1:54 on the clock at the airport and Sakshi was anxious. “Where are you?” she whispered to herself in desperation, and just then she spotted him walking out with a shoulder bag.

She hurried to the other side of the railings and stood in front of him.

“Sakshi!”
“Yes, I exist,” Sakshi said, her eyes welling up.
“I never thought we would meet again,” Anand said, walking towards her.
“You went all the way to Kochi to meet my parents but why didn’t you want to meet ME?” Sakshi almost shouted.
“Because YOU didn’t want to be in touch.”
“But you did, and you could have, why didn’t you?”
“Because your happiness means much more than my own,” Anand said sternly.

Sakshi understood what he meant and staring into his eyes, she said, “I missed you, Anand.”
“I missed you too.”

The two of them began to walk together towards the pre-paid taxi counter, when Anand asked, “How did you find me?”
“I have a thing for stalking monkeys,” Sakshi quipped and laughed.
“I figured,” Anand laughed with her.
“Do you mind?” she asked.
“Not at all. As long as I am the only one.”
“You are all I need.”

Nothing in life can be taken for granted, but Sakshi and Anand will forever treasure the moment they met again, against all odds.

Sometimes in life, all we need is a leap of faith, because we might not always get a second chance.

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