“I knew you’d come,” he said with the air of formality as I pulled the chair to make myself comfortable.
“Obviously, I would’ve,” I replied to no question of his. My sheepish smile lost behind the glass of water I sat drinking.
It had been 4 years since we shared space. Convocation was last when I met him. He got a job in Bangalore, I settled in Mumbai – two cities though sharing time-zones, known to host two different breeds of working class.
Life happened. Made new connections, lost old ones.
That afternoon while managing a client’s portfolio, my phone rang. At first, I gave little attention — last I heard my phone sing Summer of ’69 was on 28th January (my birthday) — but this was Monday, hot and sunny – Special? Nothing!
Startled a bit, I took the call. His jolly voice dispelled the ominous thoughts brimming in me. It felt true, that bonding and everlasting too — everlasting in the way we associate very few of our relations to. From strangers to inseparables, our affinity ascended in no time.
“The usual?” he asked. I nodded as I craned to look at the spot I occupied a few years back. He looked physically fit. But his eyes and voice talked on different notes. My mind was racing with curiosity. I held back the itch to ask him the reason of this surprise visit and decided to tread carefully.
This treacherous silence lasted an odd minute before we said ‘Cheers!’ at the clink of bottles and gulped about a quarter of the pint.
The communion of the bottle and my lips reminded me about the countless hours we spent in each other’s company under the cloak of silence, sipping beers, amidst occasional philosophical musings – gazing at the night’s sky between phrases as if plucking thoughts straight from the denizens of the philosophers gone by. It was he who found the way to the hostel terrace & became a ritual in no time – college life changed forever.
I knew too well, he was not the kind to beat around the bush. He was biding his time and I decided to be forbearing too.
We talked about our families, our love life, work, GoT, Steven Wilson’s new project etc.. All along, questions harbored more words than answers.
Sun painted the street red, it was beautiful outside. We took the cue, he paid the bill and off we went towards the Marine Drive.
We walked on the promenade for a while. I sensed nostalgia in his voice as well as mine when we started discussing college-life. I was surprised why we didn’t touch upon the life we shared while sitting inside the air-conditioned walls of Leopold Cafe & Bar. We re-lived one anecdote after another, each bringing laughter greater than the one before.
The camaraderie grew, the cocoon of time started withering away.
We stopped to admire the Gateway of India, I caught the 18 years old in his eyes. I knew he missed me; I missed him more.
The sea was in accord with the sky now and the horizon ambiguous. Sodium lamps filled the canvas behind us. I motioned a 1000 rupees note towards him, his eyes said that this isn’t college anymore. I retracted my hand.
We bade goodbye.
This isn’t college anymore! The words he didn’t say reverberated in my mind. Our destination is different. We won’t be traveling together back to college in Bombay locals. We won’t be buying ice-creams before stepping in our hostel. The ritual is long forgotten — no night-outs gazing stars, quoting Nietzsche or Plato. A glass of milk has replaced beer bottles; starry-eyes thinking about the adventures tomorrow shall divulge have lost their sheen. We definitely won’t watch the likes of Tarantino, Nolan or Woody Allen before getting cosy in our beds tonight. Meetings are our evening sports now. This isn’t college anymore!
I felt a heartbeat skip.
I didn’t ask, he didn’t tell but I knew why he came all the way to meet me. We didn’t exchange many words, but that second flooded me with questions I should’ve asked and answers he should’ve demanded. He wasn’t beating around the bush, I was.
I turned, saw him taking strides like he used to — in the hostel, heading towards his room from mine. I shouted his name, as I would, sometimes after a late-night flick.
He stopped, turned and started tracing the steps back.
That night, I pilfered few moments from sleep. I lay on the bed, eyes open – wishing for a look at the sky through my room’s ceiling; thought about the evening with the one whose snores fill the room.
Two tears wet the pillow, a smile lightens the heart.
And come rushing in the mind memories I deemed lost– with the friends from college, school friends, and of other relations of which I once was an active participant.
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
~Quote by Albert Camus.