He turned his head for a quick second in the direction of the digital clock on his table, which announced 11.15 PM. The last time he checked, it had said 9.10 PM. He checked the screen of his laptop. He was nearly done with his work, except for a few final corrections in his speech. The sudden realization of the lateness of the hour seemed to have drained him of his energy, and he thought it best to pack up for the day and complete the remaining parts at home the next morning. After giving it a bit of thought, he shut down his laptop, put it in his bag and walked out of his office. He locked the door and shuffled the few yards to the elevator along the deserted corridor.
He was still cursing himself for the delay in the preparation for the speech as he got into his car and drove it out of the parking lot. He was so disappointed with himself about his mismanagement that he began to show it off by wildly yanking his car from one lane to another as he sped past the other cars. Realizing that he was close to landing himself in trouble, he decided to calm his nerves with the aid of music. He turned on the radio and began to shuffle through different channels when he heard his name.
‘…renowned writer Vaishak Deshmukh is going to attend the graduation ceremony at Sir Peuper University of Arts, and deliver his speech to the graduating students. Some people speculate that there is a possibility that he might throw some light on the particulars of his upcoming romance “The Counterparts”, which is all set to release on the 3rd of September, two months from now. The particular attention that his upcoming book has garnered could be attributed to the fact that it is his first love story since “Her”, the novella which had brought him into the limelight by winning him the prestigious “Kevin Lutyens Best Debut Award”.’
The news surprised him, for he wasn’t expecting the radio channels to broadcast news related to literature and people linked up with literature. The news had further aggravated his nervousness by reminding him of the responsibility he had to fulfil, which he had lazily left uncompleted. He would have started cursing himself once again, if not for the traffic signal demanding him to halt his car. That was when he saw the billboard over an adjacent building. It was announcing a new brand of cologne, which would’ve gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been named after Her. It said “ATHENA”.
The memories came back and he made no attempt to repress them.
REWINDING BACK FIFTEEN YEARS…
TO BE PRECISE, I am not sure when I had first seen her. That must have been when my friend pointed her out amidst a crowd and told me she was the popular girl everyone was talking about, Athena Summers. ATHENA, like the Greek Goddess. Having got something else on my mind, I did not pay much attention to her. That was in the first year of my business school.
It wasn’t until the beginning of my second year that I saw her properly for the first time. It was during a fest in our university. Yes, she was beautiful… she was rather cute. That was what I registered and nothing else. However, for some inexplicable reason, her picture was painted clearly in the back of my mind. Months later, when I thought back to that moment, I still remembered every little detail about that moment; her grey colored dress with bright red designs on it and the way she explained my exhibit to her friend instead of asking me. If someone asks me if I had any feelings for her the first time I saw her properly, I would laugh out loud. Love at first sight, according to me, was just a baseless concept. How could one fall in love with someone just by seeing them? Is that all it takes to fall in love, a face? Well, if you say so, I suggest you change your opinion. All I registered was that she was cute, and nothing more.
THE SECOND TIME I gave her my attention was when I was in the cafeteria for my breakfast. I was seated at my usual corner table with my friend. She arrived a few minutes after us and took a seat at the table in front of ours, with her back to me. When my friend suddenly started showing off his skills of sipping his tea noisily, I joked about how he was mimicking one of our Profs, and she turned around. The movement drew my attention to her and our eyes met. I just froze and neither of us broke eye-contact for god-knows-how-many-seconds before my friend’s voice brought me back to my surroundings. Minutes later, walking out of the cafeteria, I felt an adrenaline surge. It wasn’t the first time I had made such prolonged eye-contact with a girl, however this experience was unlike the rest of them. It was pure euphoria.
THE THIRD TIME I gave her my attention wasn’t until months after the first encounter. It was during a class when she was caught chatting with her friend in the backseats and was asked to sit in the front. That was when she sat in the seat in front of me. It was an interactive class, and I felt an invisible force compelling me to show off. I had always been an attention-seeker and that day was no different, and I made an endeavor to get noticed. I wasn’t sure if she noticed me, but by the end of the day, I was on cloud nine. If you ask me the reason why, I am sorry I haven’t got the answer. That must have been the endorphins, probably.
THE FOURTH TIME is kind-of a turning point of the whole story. Someone from my class happened to leave his book on my bike’s seat, and my friends went a great distance to speculate that it was some girl who had left it there purposefully. Though I knew it wasn’t so, I was enjoying their comments, before one of my friends studied the handwriting and confirmed that it was one of our pals’. Though I didn’t admit it openly, I felt let down by the revelation. It only lasted a few seconds before I saw her riding her bike on the road by our side. That would have been a normal thing, if not for the smile on her face and her gaze aimed at me. For a second, I stood frozen, analyzing the situation. Was that real? I asked myself for hours after that. I wasn’t sure whether she had smiled at me, however it seemed that way. That was when I dedicated part of my mind to her.
After that moment, my gaze automatically diverted in her direction when she was around, and I would see if she was looking at me. But, that was it. In the next month that followed, I didn’t see her staring at me, and I just let it sink.
MY SECOND YEAR ended and paved way for the third year. The first day I attended my classes, I found my gaze searching for her. And, the days that followed were quite eventful, for I found her staring in my direction quite a few times, and she would immediately divert her gaze when I turned towards her, or maybe I thought so. However, these little moments made my days, and I was always filled with a sense of euphoria for inexplicable reasons.
The next big day was just round the corner. It was after a morning class, when I was leaving the administrative block after registering my attendance. Just as I turned round a corner towards the exit, I saw her, dressed in pink, enter the building. Before I had taken few paces, my attention turned to her. And, she performed her routine of swaying her gaze sideways when I turned to her. However, her gaze turned back to me again, this time to meet my gaze. We had our eyes locked on each other. Time seemed to have stopped for the both of us and my heart started to race. The adrenaline flowing through my veins had left me oblivious to everything around me, except her eyes; the eyes that seemed to have cast a spell to seize the moment. My heart did not stop racing. At that moment, I would have accepted an arrhythmia with pleasure for that moment to last longer. Just as I crossed her, my heart skipped a beat for the first time ever because of a girl. I exhaled hard, realizing that I had been holding my breath throughout the entire encounter. It must have been her eyes, for that was the moment my heart told me ‘She’s the one!’ That was the moment I realized that falling in love with someone depends on how they make you feel, rather than how they look. In my case, a cute girl made me feel special, and that was all it took for me to dive deep.
It wouldn’t have been my big day just for a single encounter. That afternoon, I was seated at our usual corner table having my lunch, when my friend joined me. A couple of minutes following that came the girl, accompanied by her friend.They sat at a table diagonally from ours. I just sat there debating whether to look at her or not. However, it did not take long before our eyes met again. She sat in her awkwardly angled chair and stared, while she continued chatting with her friend. I continued my multitasking of eating, chatting and staring, before I suddenly found myself cursing my friend for dropping out of the blue at such a wrong moment. The big day had filled me with enough serotonin to make me anorexic for the next week.
I mustered enough courage to start a conversation with her. I should have given it more thought. Just because a girl stares at you doesn’t mean she likes you. My euphoria had blinded me to all other possible explanations. Maybe, that was my FIRST MISTAKE.
The next day, I sent a text to her phone and thus started a conversation. Within the next seven days, I had several conversations with her. If I asked her something, she replied. And, that was it; she never asked me anything that could prolong the conversation. And, I had to find topics to spark a conversation. That marked the beginning of a doubt in my mind about her feelings for me.That must have been too soon for the doubts, yet the urge kicked in. Out of the blue, I made up my mind to ask her why she stared at me. For a second, it felt awkward to be asking her something like that. However, my curiosity got the best of me. One evening, I started a casual conversation with her, before I asked her about it.
- V– Athena, basically I am a curious person. And, there’s something which I would like to ask you… what should I make of all the staring between us?
- A– What staring?
- V– The staring. Don’t you remember the multiple times you stared at me the past few days?
- A– What? I don’t remember anything of that sort.
- V– I am just being curious. I just need an honest reply. That’s all I’m asking for.
- A– When I don’t even remember anything of that sort at all, how could I give you an honest reply?
- V- Fair enough.
That was the end of conversation. When it ended, I was left dumbstruck. I did not understand what to make of it. For the first time, I wondered if I had imagined all those staring episodes. Being a writer of a psychological-thriller, the doubt stayed in my mind for quite some time.It did not take me long to realize the awkwardness of the conversation. Besides experiencing doubt, I was guilty about the awkwardness of the conversation. I realized that I had made a fool of myself by asking for a senseless honest reply. If there’s something that I wish I could undo, it is that conversation with her. Maybe, things would have been different without it. So, I decided I would make my intentions clear to her.
- V- Athena, regarding the conversation we had the day before yesterday, I did not mean to embarrass you or annoy you. I was just being curious. Hope that you understand.
- A- Okay
- V- So, are we even?
- A- Yeah
- V- Okay
Even though I had that conversation with her, my guilt was nowhere near exhaustion. That guilt had piled up to such an extent that I did not text for another six weeks.
THAT WAS WHERE the trouble started. I knew I liked her and everything around me reminded me of Her. I wasn’t even able to watch a romantic movie without recollecting her memories. Every song I heard sounded like it was meant for me to sing for her. Yet I couldn’t overcome the guilt and text her as if nothing had happened. Throughout the five weeks of our summer vacation, I just had to fight my various emotions regarding the scenario. Sometimes, I felt I had committed a mistake by texting her in the first place, while sometimes I felt I had just misinterpreted things by exaggerating them to an extent where they would just satisfy my misconceptions. Just like that, I had to tide over the entire vacation counting days since I last texted her. There were instances when I thought I was over her; however, the real question was what my reaction would be when I saw her again after vacation.
And, the day came when I had to face her again after the vacation. Once I saw her after the long break, all my inhibitions seemed to evaporate within a few milliseconds. That evening, I texted her and again sparked a conversation about some academic stuff, which I could have acquired from anyone else.
Just when I was looking for a medium to express myself to her, Facebook seemed to have answered my pleas. The STORY feature on Facebook with its customization to reach just a particular recipient paved me the way to express myself. That was how I expressed how our different encounters had made me feel and wrote about every encounter, incorporating my perspective and feelings in them. The story had me referred to as “He” and to her as “She”, and no names. I would post a story exclusively for her and make sure she received it. As time went by, I not only wrote about our encounters, but also about petty things that happened in my everyday life. Sharing these things with her made me feel ecstatic. Even though I felt silly about these things, looking silly for her didn’t sound like such a stupid thing.
Stories appeared on Facebook every few days, and every time I saw that she had seen them, it led to an endorphin surge.There were many instances where I wanted to complement about something I felt special about her, yet I was not sure how she would receive it. I didn’t think it would be appropriate. Amidst these stories, I had several conversations with her regarding various subjects, yet there was no trace of any effort on her part to prolong any conversation. My ecstasy did nothing to mitigate the doubts that seemed to pile up as each day passed. That made me more and more anxious to know whether she was really interested in me or not.Even imagining that she was interested sounded like an absurd assumption to make. Though I was not sure if I was ready for a serious relationship, I just wanted to know if she was interested in me, so that I could let my mind rest at ease.
Out of the blue, I decided one day that it was time I asked her, though not directly, but in an indirect, stupid and creative manner.
One day, I texted her as if it was just like the other casual conversations we had had in the past.
- V- Hey Athena, there is something I would like to discuss with you. Could you spare some time for this?(my heart was thudding hard against my chest)
- A- Yes
- V- So, I have been posting several stories on my Facebook page over the past few weeks. Did you get to read them?
- A- Yes, some of them
- V- Were they any good?
- A- No comments
- V-(Is she acting defensive?)Well, any feedback would be welcome. I just need a feedback and you are the only one I could ask for a feedback(I did not mention why she was the only one, for I let her know through one of my stories that she was the only recipient of those stories)
- A- I really haven’t got anything to comment about it
- V- Since you said you read some of them, there is something I want you to do. I have written the story from the boy’s perspective, however I haven’t written the girl’s perspective. Could you help me with that?
- A- I don’t get it
- V- Let me lay it down for you. If the boy expresses his love to the girl, do you think she would accept?
- A- How can I say that without knowing who the girl is?
- V- If you were in her place, would you?
- A- I don’t know who the boy is
- V-(She’s definitely being cautious about this. It doesn’t seem to be going in my favor) Imagine it is someone you know
- A-I don’t get it
- V- You are really making me do this… Imagine me in his place
- A- What?!
- V- Just for imagination sake, that too only if you like…
- A- No, I wouldn’t accept
It made me feel like an idiot asking her all those questions.
- V- Thank you for helping me write the end of this story. Sorry for taking so much of your time. And, I shall not disturb you ever again. Sayonara.
There was a brief pause before she replied again.
- A– Now I get your intentions
- V– What intentions? (trying to act as if I didn’t get it)
- A– Never mind
- V– You got my attention. I’m curious. Please don’t play with my curiosity
- A– Our conversation till now was about you proposing to me your love, right?
- V– Never mind
- A-Anyway, I wouldn’t accept. I don’t like…
- V– Thank you for your assistance in completing this story. Sayonara.
That was the end of our last conversation. I was partly expecting her rejection, yet when she said so, it took me by surprise. I asked myself if her staring was just an unimportant issue, which I must have taken the wrong way. Maybe, amidst the many things in our daily life trying to pull us down, our minds tend to exaggerate certain insignificant events and things, which could make us happy, so that we could find a good reason to look forward for the coming days. However, we fail to realize that these very things end up hurting us the most in the future. I must have encountered her during such a bad phase of my life that she seemed like just the right person to light me up. And, I was proven completely wrong.
For a few days, I wished I had asked her why she wasn’t interested in me. However, I did not want to put her through any more embarrassment than I had already put her. Expressing myself multiple times wasn’t going to change anything as long as she had no feelings for me; it seemed pointless disturbing her like that. That was the reason I did not speak about it with her again. Moreover, I had mentioned in one of my stories that I was just “One call away” if she had something to say to me.
In an attempt to put myself out of the grief, I wrote my feelings and the incidents into a novella by name “HER”. I even registered it as my entry for the “Kevin Lutyens Best Debut Award”, where it won me the first place in the competition and also the fame that I now enjoy. For everyone else, it was just about a boy rejoicing and grieving about his first love. However, it was my way of dealing with rejection, my love letter to her, a confession of my love and about how confused one could be with his feelings. Weeks after that last conversation, I sent her an electronic copy of my novella.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Before he knew it, he was at the door of his apartment flat. He quietly unlocked the door and walked into the hall. He dropped his bag on the couch and walked into the bedroom, where he found his wife Saina sound asleep, while his son rolled around in his cradle quietly. Vaishak stood by the side of the cradle and watched his son Josh play, when suddenly someone honked a car horn outside. The noise jolted Josh out of his quiet playful mode and he began crying. Vaishak lunged forward to soothe him before he could wake Saina. However, before he could pick the kid out of the cradle, Saina was up and reaching towards the kid, as if she was subconsciously anticipating this even in her sleep. She took Josh into her arms and paced the length of the room jolting him in her arms and singing him a lullaby.
Once Josh had settled down, she returned him to his cradle and diverted her attention to Vaishak for the first time.
‘You’ve got to stop working so late, Vaishak,’ she complained, caressing his face with long tender fingers.
Yes ma’am,’ He eyed her manicured nails suspiciously, half – expecting them to end up somewhere in his face.
‘Did you eat something at all?’
He shook his head, ‘yeah… Yes…’
She acknowledged the lie with a condescending sneer. She grabbed his arm and dragged him in the direction of the kitchen as the grandfather clock in the sitting room chimed twelve.