Naina walked quietly along the almost empty lane, pushing her cardigan closer.
Six hours later, it was her b’day and like always, it got immersed along the festiveness of the late December celebrations, which made her unable to celebrate like she had wanted to” with friends.
It would be another holiday, spent at home. The only respite was her father went to Kota for some work.
Her father wasn’t a bad man. He was strict yes, and though going against him was never an option, they learnt it well to stay inside the boundaries he sketched for them.
When she had been to Tweesha’s and saw the sort of freedom she had enjoyed with her parents, only then occasionally had she felt a pinch. Geet’s was a different issue. Geet herself lied low, staying carefully in her own home, as if she were staying at a relative’s.
The only place the three of them hence enjoyed was Tweesha’s. And they never bothered to celebrate at any other place than Tweesha’s hence.
Naina mused as she walked at a slower pace now. She wished, just hoped that her birthday would be for once special for her, that she could be able to spend it with people she liked at her will, not hiding at a friend’s place, though it’s comfortable, the truth remained that it’s not hers.
What was hers, she had thought again. There was no secrecy in her life till date. There was Meghna to share and at school, there are Tweesha and Geet. They were a pack and she liked the fact, yet, sometimes she craved to have a keeper, a secret she would guard for herself.
A secret she had never had, a secret she now is guarding for about months.
Months earlier, she had left her email id in the book, wanting him to stumble upon. He did.
There were nights that rained, and there were nights that didn’t, but it started be a tradition where she would sit on her bed, next to the window in her room, overlooking the bushy shrubs where she saw him that rainy night, and write to him.
There were important things she told him, and there were silly things, but there was one thing in common. She had to tell him. Somewhere down the line, she wrote not only to share but to express. It mattered to her what he thought, what he felt. It mattered what he did.
They were not online most of the times at the same time. They exchanged emails back and forth, of things they thought worth sharing with each other. For her, he seemed like an imaginary friend she had back in her early childhood, who tended to take all her problems away. Words flew back and forth between them. Not frequently. Sometimes they weren’t even updating each other about their lives.
For the first time, she had come closer to a person, outside her closely knit group and trusted him enough to be herself with him. She wrote to him about anything that came in her mind, sometimes an extract of Gone with the wind, sometimes her raving about the rains, sometimes about how irritating it was to take the course of 5 injections she had to due to the dog bite, and how it was leaving a mark.
He lend her an ear, and most of the times answered the questions she raised as rhetoric. Yet, it wasn’t all she desired. She wanted to know more about him, she figured. She loved to read about him walking about his sport; something he was passionate about.
Somewhere along the back and forth of mails, had she got used to him being there for her. He became a keeper, a secret she held dear, and somebody she could speak her mind to without being judged. She kept him a secret because, her friends would worry over it if they knew. She would be called rash and nasty to trust an almost stranger. But Sameer wasn’t a stranger to her and that was that.
Admitting the simple fact to herself made the clouds in her head clear and that was then she had known what would be her ideal birthday would be.
No longer had the thought crossed her mind, she had felt someone whisper her name.
She turned, to have her breath knocked out of her system. Around six feet two, with a day old stubble, in a red tee and pale jeans, Sameer stood in the lane, few steps behind her.
She felt a sudden bout of happiness as she saw him smile at her, and then she had lived upto her name of being impulsive and did something he didn’t see coming.
As they closed the space between them in rapid paces, and he was just a foot away, she threw her arms around his neck, and hugged him.
“If we are testing the ability of your voice making me permanent deaf, you are a clear winner. No need to test high decibels on me again Adi.”
“Andy this is urgent”
The tremble in Adi’s voice made Andy straighten up in his bed, pushing away his comforter as he sat alert now.
“It’s about Sameer” Adi said and the remnants of sleep left Andy.
“Where are we going” Naina asked excited as a child and Sameer smiled in return, knowing that the short trip he took to meet her before her birthday was worth it.
He couldn’t be with her celebrating when the clock strikes 12. Yet, it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t give her the most beautiful evening to remember. Something she would love.
“You will see” he said and got a million dollar smile from her in return.
“This is what you call urgent dear child?” Andy asked clearly bored.
“We can’t find Sameer and this is the last day to claim for his scholarship. We can’t collect his cheque unless he authorizes one of us by sending a mail from his registered official account to the college, otherwise everything he had worked hard for would be lost” Adi said pushing his spectacles over the bridge of his nose nervously.
All of them knew what state Sameer’s family was in and how important this scholarship is to him. They also knew Sameer to be responsible enough to not keep it waited until the last moment and disappear the last day without a trace. Something about it seemed quite odd.
“We need to hack his account to send the mail to the administration office, and then one of us can collect it” Praneet said mentally ticking out the plan.
“Hacking is for outsiders” Andy said bored. “You want me to mail from his email account? It would be done”
“You knew his password?” Praneet asked surprised.
They were in an era where passwords are personal than underwear.
“I knew his underwear size also. Password kya cheez hain?” Andy said grinning before logging in as Sameer Rana.
Heavy droplets of rain made it difficult for her to keep her eyes open, as she looked at the vast clearing before her. The falling rain on the lake felt like tiny threads joining the inky black sky to it. The wild creeper that was on a fallen branch of a tree made it impossible for her to look away.
The wild growth of grass beneath her feet felt welcoming, making her remove her slippers and put her feet on the welcoming wetness.
Few grass blades felt rough against her, almost tickling her but the sensation made her smile as she pressed her toes into the moist land, feeling soft mud accumulating between her toe and fingers.
Looking up she saw the clearing once again and find herself before the most beautiful place on earth. The other shore of the lake lead to woods with tall welcoming trees, and heavy silence. On this side of the lake however, creepers, and wild flowers blooming to them had sparkled showing her two alternate worlds separated just by a lake.
She turned towards him only to find him looking at her all the while.
For a moment, she fumbled with the words, distracted momentarily, however as she saw him raise his face to the sky, and smile, she couldn’t fight the smile that hovered on her lips as she too faced sky, even though the torment of rain upon her face made it impossible for her to look up.
She felt a hand touch her palm, and before they knew, the hands intertwined as the smiles on their faces remained, and as they closed their eyes to welcome the beauty of nature that now touched them.
The place that had felt surreal, had caused a dj vu she was fighting to remember and as his fingers entwined with hers, had the images in her head felt clearer.
It was the place she had seen in her dream, which only meant that the person she had not seen the face in her dream was now standing next to her.
“Here,” he said pushing a glass container of warm tea in her hands.
“I don’t drink te”aachoo!”
“You need it now. It’s ginger tea” he said as he pushed it closer to her lips, and sulking she let the warm liquid sooth her burning throat as she sat in the evacuated bus stop, with his jacket on her head, relishing warm tea.
“Feeling better?” he asked looking at the delicious expression on her face, which showed she relished every sip of it.
“Mmm” she said with eyes closed, and he had to hide a smile at that.
Sitting in an evacuated old bus stop, as the winter winds picked up their pace, darkness blanketing around them already putting an end to the moments they spend together, they both sipped their tea as they waited for the next bus to take her home safely.
The next bus came around the corner, and he felt something unpleasant in his heart to know that this was it. He had made sure to come see her now, as it was possible but as he was to go to university shortly, he wasn’t sure when would he see her again and that uncertainty wasn’t something he liked.
However one look at her red nose, and continuous sneezes, he pulled his sweated closer to her as he help her climb the bus and got in himself.
Adrenaline rushed through her as Geet noted down the email id and logged in through her account.
It might be wrong on many levels for attempting breach on personal space of Naina. It was none of her business, perhaps but at seven, when Naina wasn’t home and nobody knew where she was, and when Geet came across the now blank screen of the PC in the library Naina last used, which had her email account left open, coming into life the moment Geet moved the cursor, showing a half typed mail that was to be sent to a certain Sameer Rana, a fear gripped Geet.
This couldn’t be too much of a coincidence. If Sameer Rana was the very Sameer she knew, it was clear where Naina had disappeared to.
It might still not be her place, yet, before Naina could fall into any trouble, Geet thought to take a step which might be on the extremes. Either extremely wise or extremely stupid. Only time will tell.
Logging into her account, she had written a short mail to Sameer and hit send. A small error she did was forgetting to send the signature of the mail which said Pari.
Pari… a pet name her late mother gave her, and which Geet wears till date as a locket around her neck as a memoir.
The simple error she had made that day shaped this story in a way nobody could fathom at the instant the mail was sent.