The classroom was unusually livid. A group of guys were chattering excitedly sitting on the second row of desks arranged in a circular fashion. The girls were hoarded in the right-hand portion of the class looking engaged in serious conversation. Ishita and Ashish stood aloof as usual, with Ishita leaning on the blackboard. Her brownish hair appeared golden due to sunshine streaming through the windows next to her. “But, it is a very lively class in general. I must get ready for my presentation.” I thought to myself. There was to be a presentation on Mergers & Acquisitions. I was feeling quite nervous and irritated as it has been delayed several times and now I was the only one left who has not presented her findings of the case study given to the class. As soon as professor entered, chattering minimized to excited whispers.
“Sir, I have to present my findings today.” I blurted out before professor could start with any other topic.
“Yes, please start.” He replied in his usual strict tone.
I swiftly arranged the laptop on wooden stand for presentation before he could change his mind.
I could look straight at couple of boys and a girl who were sitting at the last row of the desk from the stand. They were already looking bored by the end of my first slide. No sooner had I finished my second slide, college peon entered the class and started discussing something with the professor. Suddenly, the class seemed alert.
“Ok, these are your new classmates; their admission was withheld due to some procedural lapses. They will join from today.” Five girls and two boys entered the class as this announcement was made.
I instantly understood reason for all excitement since morning. The first two girls were very good looking. Then entered a plain-looking yet confident girl followed by two girls who looked quite nervous. Then there was a tall confident guy with a silver stud glistening in his right ear. But, it was the last guy who caught my attention. He was very handsome with a lost look on his face.
Everybody started chattering as new students occupied seat vacant in middle rows of right-hand desks.
I noticed that there is even more diminished interest in my presentation. Some of the boys even shifted to the rows on the right and had started introducing themselves in hushed voices. By the time presentation ended, it felt as if I was talking to myself but I was glad that it was over.
I moved to once vacant right rows to get my blue bag but it was also thrown off the bench in all the excitement. The handsome new guy picked it up and passed it to me.
“Hi, I am Ishan.” He said nervously.
“ I am Anam.” I answered offhandedly, head still buzzing with tiredness from the presentation.
Maybe I was too tired because I thought I saw a glint in his eyes or maybe sunshine reflected off his eyes giving them a hazy brownish color.
Since then, I loved meeting the hazy brownish eyes everywhere I went. Corridors, library, canteen, parking and the classroom. As we met often, we became good friends. I would miss him when he had to miss classes when he fell ill. He would call me when I have to away for travel.
Blame it on being a Sharukh Khan’s diehard fan; I believed that every strong relationship is based on friendship. And as the time passed, our friendship blossomed.
Perhaps time passed too quickly. Placement season came and he was to US for his job! I vividly remember the farewell party. We were writing goodbyes messages on a massive poster crafted on a wooden easel. The college has a tradition of using the cloth to design coverings of its lamps spread across the grounds of the college.
Ishan was writing next to me. He has this cute little smile on his face which I loved while he was concentrating on writing his message. I was still thinking about what to write. The last two years flashed in front of my eyes. What do I loved the most about this place. I thought about my friends, few supportive teachers, benefits of brand name of college, add-on to professional life and Ishan. But, I wrote the message excluding Ishan.
“I still do not know what he thinks about me.” I thought to myself.
And I did not get an opportunity to know as well. Everybody went to their respective home before they join their jobs. Ishan belonged to Mumbai and his flight was on the same night. He was too excited about his job and going to US. May he was too excited for the new beginning or maybe our separation did not matter to him as much as it mattered to me. He was chattering incessantly about his plans when he would land in US: places he would visit in the first month itself, things he would try, opportunities he would have. I listened intently for fifteen minutes before the realisation hit me that he most definitely did not feel the burdening, suffocating knot I had inside me.
That night, I could not sleep. There was too much commotion inside me. Knot seemed to become more entangled further disrupting my breathing as I reflected on the moments we have spent together in last couple of years.
Couple of days later, Ishan called to ask how I was doing at my home in Jaipur.
“You know what, I just loved that city. It has such a royal feel. I wish I could visit you sometime when I come to India.” He spoke in his usual friendly tone.
I just could not say anything. The words got lost in my internal knot.
“Are you okay?” he finally asked.
“I have got fever. I just had medicine. I need to go and rest.” I lied blatantly.
“Okay, I will call you later. Take care.” He said hastily.
He called again next day and a week after but I have made my mind to avoid him, at least for some time. I got myself busy in preparing myself to return to Delhi to join my job.
As I moved to Delhi, I met my friend from college Dipti. She told how Ishan moved to Atlanta after a week following our farewell party. ”Maybe he was calling to say bye to me.” I thought to myself. The knot inside me tightened.
“And why have you not come online since you gone home.” Dipti asked exasperatedly.
“There was some technical problem with internet provider in our area.” I answered dishonestly. The truth has been that I did not want to be spotted by Ishan otherwise he would have started talking to me.
Apparently, I have succeeded in my attempt to avoid Ishan. Now, he must be gotten busy in his new life in US. Although this successful attempt did not make me happy, instead the knot painfully hit my chest.
Next day, I decided to go online on chat. And as soon as I was visible, Ishan messaged me. I remembered the hazy brownish eyes glittering in his profile picture and answered. Thereafter, we started chatted every evening.
Although we have been good friends in college, he was never that open with me. After all, he had many friends. Now, he would share details of his day and ask about mine. It was a very different feeling.
After months, I have started breathing properly once again. I was even happy.
To add to my happiness, I soon got an opportunity to visit Atlanta for an official trip.
I messaged Ishan as soon as I returned home. He called to know where I would be staying, how far it is from his place and where all we would go together.
My colleagues came to pick me at Atlanta airport. We had meetings and formal dinners lined up entire week. I hardly got a chance to speak to Ishan. He also had a busy week in the office.
After all rescheduling, weekend meeting in Los Angeles and last minute cancellations, he came to see me off on airport.
He has put on some weight and got a pink tinge to his complexion. He hugged me as soon as he saw me in the waiting lounge.
Knot swirled and twitched, making me giggle.
We started talking from the point where we have left. Soon, it was time to go. As we said our goodbyes, I confessed my feelings from him.
He appeared stunned for a minute. His tone gave away his feelings before he actually said that I was always his good friend.
Somebody was saying something in the background. Ishan was speaking nervously to justify that nothing in his behaviour could have given me such an impression.
Voice in the background was getting louder.
“I think you should go now. Have a safe flight.” Ishan said tensely and turned to leave.
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
A shrilling voice caught my attention.
”Last and final call for Ms.Anam Singhania travelling from Atlanta to New Delhi via flight no. BX2234.”
I walked towards the deserted security counter. “five, four, three..”.
If US authorities have invented a machine that could search inside human body, they would have found that the knot was choking me.