Read part 1 & 2 of the story here –
Neelam came to take the exam. She was flanked by two burly cousins who did not allow any male to come near her. She had a chat with Ruchi, Sneha, Amrita and Kiran for a few moments. The girls were left shaken. Neelam’s left eye was surrounded by a black patch. There was an ugly red bump on her forehead and her lower lip was swollen. She was walking with difficulty. She took the exam and went quietly back to her home in the car. No one saw her slip a pen in Ruchi’s hands which she later gave to Saahil.
The five of us gathered in Saahil’s room as soon as we reached the hostel. He opened the pen and a paper protruded out of it. There was no refill inside it. The paper was folded multiple times and pushed in the base. Saahil pulled it out and opened it. It was a message from Neelam. He read it and passed it over to us.
I might not be able to write again. They have locked me up in a room. Dad beats me up everyday. I don’t feel the pain anymore. My left hand is numb. He twisted it too much.
My love, I have agreed to marry someone else. Dad says that if we try to elope, he will dig us out and hack you to pieces in front of me. He can do that Saahil. I am not able to sleep at nights.
I want you to go and find happiness without me. Our friends were right but we were hopelessly in love. I will never regret loving you but I cannot bear the thought of seeing your dead body. I will live happily knowing that you are alive somewhere.
I know what I am asking will be unacceptable to you but time will heal everything Saahil. You will fall in love again. And me. Don’t think of me as heartless. I have to think of happiness so that I don’t go mad in these walls.
Give my love to the gang.
* * *
“You think I chickened out that day, don’t you? The day the message came in the pen?” Saahil asked.
“No, I don’t. This is not a movie,” I said. The breeze was still playing with the swings.
“You think ours was not a true love?”
I remained silent.
“I loved Neelam. The day I saw her during the exams, I was furious. I wanted to go and kill her dad. How could he do this to his own daughter? And what would it have solved?”
“It’s just that I think you and Neelam gave up too easily. It’s like…”
“It’s like Neelam and I am glad that we parted, that I do not live with a sad expression on my face, that I do not always remember my past, that I do not make my wife realize that there was someone else in my life earlier and was snatched away from me,” Saahil completed it for me.
“I am sorry but yes, that is what comes to my mind. It is as if both of you were relieved that you got rid of each other.”
“No. We were not. You saw how I barely passed the exams, how I used to sit in the hostel room and cry all day. You were there. Do you expect me to do that all my life? Our happiness is not confined to one person. I had to dig out my happiness again after she was gone. I had to because I was going nuts. And now I should feel bad that I tried to find love again and succeeded?”
On an impulse I looked towards my left and saw Kirti standing at the door of the house and looking at us. She was far away and could not hear us but her expression said it all. She then smiled and went inside.
“Did you talk to the others about it?”
“Of course I did. I wanted to talk to you too but you were so unapproachable. You had drawn walls around yourself. We barely talked in the last three years. Thank God you are back.”
“I was completely shaken up by the incident. I always thought our country was progressing.”
“Outsourced jobs, more money and shiny cars cannot change the mindset,” Saahil said.
“I guess you are right. I am sorry for everything. I should have talked to you earlier. I don’t know what I was thinking,” I said after sitting silently for a dozen heartbeats.
“I cannot live my life starting every thought with a what-if. I had to forget Neelam to live. That does not mean that I did not love her and that does not mean that I love Kirti less.”
I nodded and looked up at his face. Both of us smiled and then stood up and hugged.
“Welcome back,” Saahil said.
As we moved towards the house, I slowed my steps so that Saahil got a bit ahead of me. I took out a folded piece of paper from my pocket and tore it in two. I then crumpled it and threw it away. The wind took the pieces towards the swings. There was no need for me to preserve Neelam’s message anymore. It was time to move ahead.
“All ok?” Rajat asked as we entered.
“All ok,” I said.
Saahil went and sat with Kirti and put his arm around her as she placed her head on his shoulder.
* * *
The train entered the tunnel and a cool breeze brushed my face as I mulled over what had happened today. It came to me that the way we look at it, our definition of love is quite monochromatic. But when you go through the layers of your life, you begin to realize that our understanding of love is very similar to our understanding of the universe. Unimaginable dimensions of it will always remain unexplored and so our characterization of love will always remain elementary. It is not just the warmth that spreads through our heart; it is not just the pain that obliterate our soul. We discover it when we are not searching for it; we find it in remote inaccessible corners of our heart, when the light of hope has almost diminished, when we believe that our soul is too ravaged to mend by its touch, when we are sure that we are done with it.