Glimpses of a Love Story – Down the Road…
For those who came in late, this post follows the last one. So if you’re new to the story, read the earlier post before you start this one. And if you’re already familiar with Raghu and Priya’s story, read on..
There’s just one thing I failed to mention before. The University, the locations, even the Football League outside our mess hall and the Amrita Trophy are accurate descriptions.. Every bit is true. These are real places the story is taking you..
The Story Continues..
I woke up with a start.
Lord No, had I overslept? Please God, not today! I frantically reached for my phone and checked. Phew!
I said a small prayer. Nothing should go wrong today. Not one thing. It meant so much to him. And to me too.
I threw away my covers, stood up and opened the window. The cold draft hit my face like a splash of fresh water. I could see nothing in the mist outside. Ettimadai was famous for being this way. It was best in the mornings, the greenery invigorating, the coldness refreshing and the mist just breathtakingly beautiful. Many a morning I had lazed here, sipping hot coffee and looking at the hills that stretched as far as I could see.
My phone beeped its message tone. My heart leaped. It was 5. Raghu was up. I ran to pick it up. It’s been three years, but his morning message is still my drug, my opium. I’m addicted, I truly am, not to the drug, but to the peddler, to Raghu, in every way possible.
“Priya, big day for me girl. I just wanna say this. Everything’s been because of you. Every single thing. You’ve made my dreams come true, but you know what? You are the biggest dream of them all. Come soon baby. Love you”
His words always have the same effect. I just can’t wait to see him. I ran off to get ready.
Coming Baby. Love you too.
The stands are half full. I’m standing near the gym’s entrance as hordes of people make their way to the ground, most of them in jackets and sweaters. Some of them gave me knowing smiles. We were no secret. Kinda difficult to keep it under wraps, we were inseparable and I sometimes even went to his training sessions. We gave two hoots anyway. The mist was lifting and the pitch was just about visible. It was still very cold. I pulled my sweatshirt’s hood up. Where was he?
There he was.
He walked towards me and I could see he was nervous. It was the biggest game of his life, the final of the Amrita Trophy. He’d fought long and hard to get here, but I wanted to see him win. He deserved it. From street football to captaining Amrita University, the boy I loved had come a long way. He stopped in front of me and took my hand. It was all we could do, but my face burned. I badly wanted to kiss him. But I held back. He had a trophy to win. Time for all that later. He looked at me and squeezed my hand “Wish me Luck, Priya”. That look of his. It always made me feel that he could see through me, that he could somehow read my mind. “You’ll win”, I said and that was enough for him. He walked to the edge of the pitch, bent down to touch the earth, and went in, as the crowd screamed, whistled and cheered their captain on.
I watched him as he ran, wearing the new Reebok studs that I’d got for him. I watched his muscles work, the sweat dripping from his brow, as he sent in the first goal. I rose with the crowd and shouted myself hoarse. I was proud of him, always had been, always would be, but at such times I felt truly glorious. My mind wandered back to our time together, a treasure chest of memories. That day during Anokha when he told me he loved me, the train trips, the long evening walks, the movies at Coimbatore. There were just so many of them. How he’d changed for me, from a boy who cared about almost nothing to the boy who is now a regular volunteer at orphanages, from a boy who’d never come on time to class to the boy who never makes me wait even for a second, from the boy who hated looking at a book to the boy who was starting to Australia today for his final project.
That stopped my chain of thought. I didn’t want to think about his leaving, not now. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t even think about it till evening. It wasn’t working. I felt myself slip.
But again Raghu made it easier for me, netting another one. I jumped up and cheered, the ordeal of the evening pushed back again, but still nagging at my heart, like a string tugging at a flying kite.
I stood at the gate, waiting. The match was over. Raghu had lifted the trophy. Amidst a cacophony of celebrations and mind numbing noise, he had come over and given the trophy to me. It was all he wanted, to play for his university, and to play well. He had done better. He had led his university team to glory. And I had stood by his side.
But he was going now.
And I could not bear the thought of it.
This was his career, his life’s biggest opportunity, his triumph on a path that I had led him on. I had made him study, work on his subjects as hard as he worked on his football. And he had trumped both. He was one of the very few chosen to go abroad to do their projects. I was happy. Of course I was.
But he was going. For six months. What was I going to do?
I was afraid too.
We had never discussed our future. It seemed stupid at that time. We were in love. How would it matter? I had never seen any reason to think about it. But now, as he left, I felt stranded. What was gonna happen to us? Would it just end, like another one of those cute college romances? My mind swirled as it comprehended the enormity of the situation. It had all been a fairy tale. I had lived a dream. But it felt like this would be the end. Life had caught up with us. Our four years of insulation from the rest of the world was gonna end. I had known this of course, that we would have to talk about this. I had dreaded it, but I had known it. I just had not foreseen that it would come down upon us so fast.
But I would not ask him. Not now. Raghu was heading towards his life. I would not stand here and ask him to make promises. He had given me everything, every inch of happiness that I had was because of him. He owed me nothing. And I would not put pressure on him. Maybe it was how it was meant to be.
I saw them.
Raghu and Hari walking towards the gate, from the ATM. I pulled myself together. I could not cry, not after holding on so long. I had to let him go.
Hari was the one who came near first, “Bye, beautiful”, he said. He always called me that. This guy was the reason we were together. He had refereed our fights, got us out of trouble, stood up for us, even given proxies for us when we were off together. He was our best friend, and I loved him for what he gave us. I could not speak. I was breaking down. But he put his hand on my mouth, “Don’t say anything”. He gave me a package in red wrapping. I knew what it was. It was a photo of the three of us together, framed in some ornate casing. Raghu had told me. “Raghu wants to say something to you, don’t cry yet.” He laughed, ever the joker. I mock punched him. But he’d moved away.
And Raghu came close. It still felt like the first time I saw him. It was always the same. His chiselled, sharp features mesmerized me, held my gaze, like they had, thousands of times before.
“Priya” he said simply.
I had written him a letter. I gave it to him. “Go, Raghu, it’s almost time. Don’t stand here and make me cry.” “I’m going,” he said, “but there’s something I have to say first.”
I waited. He waited too, before speaking. I could see Hari at the far end, too, waiting.
“Priya, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. These four years have been all about you. We’ve been together in springtime and held together during storms. You’re the reason I’m somebody today. There’s nothing I can’t do when you’re with me. But I need to know something today, now.”
His trembling hand brought out a ring. He took my stunned hand and slid it onto my finger.
“Will you marry me?”
My hands went up to my mouth. My lips wouldn’t move. My heart was going into palpitations. I felt dizzy. I looked over at Hari, he rushed up to hold me. The tears just wouldn’t stop. It was a full minute before I finally got out the words.
“What took you so long?”