“Amma, she has been my best friend since the last 12 years now. You know I have been in love with her since the beginning. You knew it all along. I know her well, She knows me well. She has finally agreed to marry me. Why are you disagreeing then?” Vishal said a tad impatiently.
“Vishie beta, you know.. her… about her.. all those boy-friends,” Amma said the word boyfriends almost as if she would contract some disease by its utterance.
“Mother, please. She has friends; I am one of her friends. But I love her. I always have. She is really very.. nice” Vishal finished a little lamely. He did not have a better word to describe his best friend and not soon-to-be-wife Raina. He did not know how to tell his mother that Raina knew him best. Raina understood him better than his own mother. She advised him better. Raina was truly wise, and she took responsibility for every action of hers. Yes, she had had a string of boyfriends, but not once had she shirked any responsibility which the consequences brought about. Raina had never been serious with any of those guys, and she had never faked a single thing. Vishal had seen Raina not at the helm of a situation only once. When he had met her all those years back, when she was nursing a severe heart break. Vishal had stood by her while Raina pulled herself out of her depression, while Raina regained her dignity and composure, Vishal had been falling in love with her. But Raina had refused. I don’t want to burn the bridge of our friendship behind us, she had said.
She had a lot of relationships since then, but she never started one with Vishal. They were for forever, she had maintained.
Now after 12 years, Raina had finally agreed to marry him. She had said she was ready to take the responsibility of it. If he could convince his parents. It had seemed like an easy task but..
“Vishal, I am not old-fashioned. I do understand this love business. But.. I always hoped you’d like a more reliable person.”
“But I have never known anyone more reliable then Raina. Amma, I am 29, don’t you think I understand what marriage is all about. Don’t you think I understand what kind of a commitment it is?”
“Age will never explain to you what marriage is all about,” Anuradha said sharply. She took a breath, cooled down, and continued in a gentler tone, “Look, if you both are sure, then I am not going to stop you. But I hope you both can take the responsibility of marriage. Only being best-friends will not last you through it”
Vishal was speechless for a few seconds. His mother had said exactly what Raina had. This made him more confident about her. “Amma, friendship alone might not last us through it, but it sure will help. I am sure of it.”
“Ok then, we should talk to her parents next, hai na?,” Amma conceded.
“Bhaiya, I really like Raina, and I have always known you were in love with her. But..,” Jyoti had specially dragged Vishal out of the house on the pretext of buying Mithai.
Vishal knew she had something important to talk about. “But, are you fine with her past? I know all about her bhaiya, she is my friend too. I am not talking only of Abhay, but all the other flings she had and all that..”
“Jo, Raina agreed to marry me. You know Raina. If she has agreed, then she will keep the faith intact. I trust her.” There was nothing to hide from Jo, although she knew Raina only after Vishal, Jo and Raina were very compatible.
“I do too. And I know she never lies. But I was just wondering if you are comfortable. You have a long life ahead now, together, you know. Anyway, I think gulab Jamuns are more festive. But what if they leak on the way to her place?,” Jo was satisfied. And at peace. She knew Raina would keep her brother happy, and she knew her brother loved Raina like crazy. Things would turn out fine.
Raina’s parents agreed immediately. They had known of Vishal’s love for their daughter since long too, and they liked the boy. A little immature, but very reliable. And he truly loved Raina. He had waited for her all these years.
While the parents looked up dates, Raina and Vishal retreated to the terrace. They loved sitting in the swing there. Silently, looking at all the trees peeping into the top floor.
“Rae, are you sure of this?”
Raina turned her gaze on her best friend. Sometimes, Vishal thought, it feels like Raina can read my thoughts. And she mostly could always predict his next move.
“Vishal, I took 12 years to think this through. Are you sure?, ” Raina asked him calmly.
“I love you. I have always waited for this.”
“Loving and waiting are very different from being sure. But I think you might grow into the idea of marriage once you experience it.” Raina looked away. For once, she was a little unsure about what Vishal would do in the future.
“Are you going to call Abhay? Or any of the rest, that you are in touch with?” Vishal asked Raina a few days before the wedding, on the phone.
“Hmm, I will inform Abhay. He deserves that much. And I don’t think I will invite Gaurav, or Mayank or Rolan or anyone for that matter.” Raina said thoughtfully, “And Vishal, before you ask, I don’t want you to call preeti too. Let us both let bygones be bygones.”
“Oh I was not going to call her anyway,”Vishal lied, knowing very well, that Raina would see through the lie.
“Yea, right,” she said.
“Raina,” Vishal said after a pause, “We will be happy..” His statement was toned like a question.
“Marriage is not disposable Vishal, remember that. Always”.
“Want to grab some lunch, love?” Vishal asked Raina.
“Hmm… I am elbow-deep in work Vishal…” Raina said apologetically.
“Which is why, I keep telling you to drop that job, and join me. But I know you wont listen.”
“Ok. Lets do one thing. Come over to my office, we’ll have lunch at the little pizzeria next door”
“Uhh.. and have your entire office staff peering down our shoulders? No thanks. You carry on with your work, I’ll see you tonight at home.”
“But.. oh. Ok.” Raina said, slipping out of her, let’s-go-out mood.
“Are you going to be at work late today?,” Vishal asked suddenly.
“Hmm.. mm. I’ll be home by 9:30 or so. You are cooking dinner tonight right?”
“Ok then. I’ll see you at the dinner table!!” Raina said, injecting some cheer into her voice.
Raina walked into the foyer of her building and waited for the elevator. When she stepped into the yawning door, she heard a clatter of heels. Surprised she was about to stop the door from closing but it snapped shut anyway. She punched in the open door button, but when the doors yawned open again, there was no one on the other side. Maybe that someone had clattered down the stairway, not towards the lift.
Raina turned the key into the door, and walked in. The table was not set. And the spicy sting of the stir-fry was not wafting around in the air.
“Vishal?,” Raina opened the bedroom door and walked in. Vishal was lounging on the bed. Doing nothing. He grinned at her brightly.
“Are you alright?” she asked him, standing at the door.
“Rae, you are early. It’s just… uh 9..” he slurred, “come, let’s go to sleep.”
“Aren’t we eating any dinner?” she asked him, not moving an inch from her stand.
“I din’t cook anything. I forgot. Went to sleep. Can you rustle up something? I’m hungry too”
“Corn Flakes, Toast and Cold Milk. With fruits,” she said in one breath, “wash your face and come to the table.”
She had his bowl ready. She knew how he liked his cereals. Chopped fruits, lots of flakes, cold milk and a chunk of chocolate hidden somewhere inside. Toasts on the side plate.
She sat with her mug of cold milk. She told herself she needed the strength. He slunk into his chair, picked up the spoon and stirred the mixture around. He avoided her eyes.
“Did you ever think of Abhay after our marriage, Rae” he asked after a lengthy, pregnant pause.
“Yes, I did. But I never contacted him again. And you know I don’t talk to Gaurav or anyone else too”
“Hmm,” he had even started talking like her. Living with her, he had picked up parts of her living, and made it his.
Raina gave up the pretence of eating. She just looked at Vishal, waiting for him to talk about it.
He looked up, and his face crumbled.
"How did you know Rae," he stumbled, "Please Rae, I'm sorry. I wont talk to her again. Please Rae. Rae I love you, but.. " Vishal was spluttering helplessly now
“Marriage is not disposable Vishal, I had asked you to remember that.”