The dark overwhelming clouds cast a shadow and the cool breeze calmed everyone at Model College – before their unit tests and projects would wreak havoc in the upcoming days. While some were quite anxious about it, the rest were quite relaxed about the same.
As Arya wiped off the dust from the reference book on ‘Computer Networking’ which she had issued from the college library months ago, her phone notifies her of a message.
“Will reach in five. Same place. Where are you?”, Neil’s text made her smile.
“Gotta go guys. Will be back soon.”, Arya said as she put down the book back on her shelf.
“But where? And with whom?”, her roommates asked in suspicion.
“Just for a small walk. My regular ones.”, she winked as she readied herself and left the room in a hurry.
As she reached their usual meeting place, her eyes searched for Neil.
When she couldn’t spot him after five minutes, she decided to text him.
As she was about to type, she heard his voice from behind.
“Heya Neil!”, she went ahead and gave him a warm hug.
“How you doin’? All good?”
“Nah..nothing new, unit tests are around the corner and I’m just binge watching Friends again. No point studying the last moment when you know you gonna screw up in the end anyways.”,she shrugged.
“Oh! I see some of my ideology right there.”, Neil faked as if he’s thinking something deep.
“Stop striking a pose. Tell me the important stuff! Got any info?”, Arya asked, her eyes gleaming in excitement.
“Not much, but I did notice something different.”, Neil said.
“You don’t deserve that info perhaps..”, he flashed his evil grin.
“Aye! That’s unfair ha! Neil!”, she lamented playfully, well knowing that Neil would finally reveal what she wanted.
Although they didn’t meet much in college, their friendship wasn’t influenced by it. Once the weekend kicks in, they made sure they made up for the lost time at college, and that was enough to set tongues wagging. From fighting over the last pizza slice to bonding over their favourite Khan, their friendship grew stronger. Both of them were burdened by their friends with questions to clear what was exactly brewing, but they never obliged to them. “There’s no need to entertain their questions. They won’t understand. If they understand they won’t accept.”
Back in the hostel, they had the most supportive of friends, at least in Arya’s case. Gautami, Arya and Jyoti were the thickest of friends, sharing common interests and hobbies. On the other hand, Neil’s roommates were the exact opposite of him. While Neil was the definition of a normal guy, Aman defined abnormal- always experimenting with stuff, Ishmeet loved food more than himself and Arjun was the silent brooding guy. While Neil managed to at least bond and interact with Shyam and Ishmeet, he never managed to crack the wall between him and Arjun. After all, Arjun was that guy in the group who had this ‘no drama’ rule. Straight-forward, silent, mysterious.
It was the 16th of October. The Semester 5 unit tests had ended and everyone was up for a party at ‘The D’ – the local pub which was the hub for all kind of celebrations for these guys. Arjun, as obvious as it sounds, was the least interested in that idea. He preferred watching something informative, say some engineering stuff, instead. As Shyam, Ishmeet and Neil left for the party, Arjun finally sighed as he played with the terrace keys that he had borrowed from the warden a few days ago. His heart raced as he finally realised – it’s time.
Slowly, he sneaked out of his room and checks the pathway twice before taking the steps to the terrace. As he unlocked the door, a fresh wave of breeze hit him. The moon looked sinister and he could hear the sound of crickets nearby.
Walking in circles on the hostel terrace, Arjun was busy thinking and judging his miserable life till now – full of issues, some real, some unnecessary. And he was on the verge of ending it, for once and for all. He couldn’t help but imagine how much one’s life can change in a couple of moments.
Everything was going quite okay until he received a call from his parents a few days ago, regarding their mutual decision to go separate ways. Apparently, with each passing year, their compatibility and understanding levels went down, and that was an enough reason to break their bond and Arjun’s peace of mind. Their legal battles were about to start, and Arjun was about to lose his sleep. That’s when his girlfriend Mansi decided to drop the bomb that she too wanted a break in their relationship as she ‘couldn’t focus on her studies’. Distance is what she demanded, and Arjun was quite okay with it since he knew that she was just bluffing and this was just an excuse for a full term breakup before she goes in a relation with Sanjeev -the most handsome and rich guy on campus. Arjun loved her but wasn’t addicted to being with her. He was quite fine without her presence. Obviously, it hurt knowing that soon she’ll be with someone else and not him.
On the other hand, his grades had taken a massive dropping. He was amazed how a guy who scored a distinction in his twelfth boards can go down to almost a dropper in engineering. Maybe, that’s the beauty of this course.
He smiled, looking at his phone. The photos looked as if they were taken a few days ago. “ Mom and Dad look so great together. I wish it’d stayed longer.”, he mumbled. He still remembers the day when his parents had gifted him this phone when he had passed his boards with flying colours a couple of years ago. As he was about to end his life, he decided the phone to go along with him. After all, this is the only thing that reminds him of his glorious past.
After a few more thoughtful minutes, Arjun was up for it. Slowly with the help of a broken stool that lay there, he stood on the edge of the terrace wall. He didn’t have the courage to look down at death. But he did. As Arjun stared at the red and yellow tiled ground at the far end below, he imagined what’d happen after he goes down. The watchman and the warden coming out hearing the loud thud, students and staff looking at the corpse with suspicion and unclear thoughts in their mind. Whispers of rumours doing the rounds. His roommates-Neil, Aman and Ishmeet crying their hearts out as the police officials drag them away from his corpse. Lifeless, without any stress.
But his mind wasn’t as fragile as his heart. It asked him to stay strong and not to give into such thoughts. If he could manage till now, he can manage it ahead. ‘Times may be tough but only the weak give up’, it kept on reminding him with the old world quotes. But ‘whom to live for?’ was the question that shut it off. His parents were busy in their fights, his girlfriend just got bored of him and went away, studies aren’t going well either. As Arjun took a long breath before his last
jump, his mind replied: “Live for yourself Arjun.”
Those words stuck in his mind like a kite trapped in a tree. But it was too late. He had made up his mind. There’s no point in living for yourself when you aren’t happy with it. As he was about to switch off his phone, his leap to death was interrupted, this time by a phone call. He had the option of declining the call, but seeing the unknown number, his curiosity took over.
“Arjun”, screamed a girl from the other side the moment he received the call.
“Who is this?”, he was petrified.
“I’m Arya! Neil’s bestie! Please help!”, she was out of breath already.
“Oh! You! What..what happened? Tell me exactly where are you?”
“I’m..I’m just running now! I just passed Junction road now. A pair of goons attacked me and Neil as we came out of the pub. And your other retarded roommates! Instead of helping us, Shyam and Ishmeet joined them!”, she was out of breath.
“Unbelievable!”, he gasped.
“I guess Neil passed out in the alley after they fought. But they are actually after me. Oh no! They’ve almost caught up with me! Arjun!”, she started crying.
“Run towards the railway station. It’s a safer place. It’s not that far away from your location either. I’ll reach there in a few minutes. Don’t worry Arya! Nothing will happen to you. Believe me!”
“Okay, I trust you Arjun. Please hurry…”, her voice faded as her network weakened and finally disconnected the call.
Arjun couldn’t believe his ears.
He knew that Ishmeet and Shyam can go a bit overboard when drunk, but he didn’t know that they can literally change sides. He felt sorry for Neil and hoped someone helped him out soon.
Cautiously, Arjun turned back and jumped back to the terrace. He ran to his room, took the keys of his bike and reached the gate. The warden let him go without any issue. He had already befriended him the day he entered this hostel. As Arjun made his way to the parking area, he tried calling her again, only to find her cell switched off.
Jogging his way to the bike, he started it in a hurry. That’s when he saw it.
The bike was out of petrol. “Perfect”. He cursed his luck and started running
towards the station without wasting any time. He knew it’d take at least a 15-minute run to reach the station. There was also an option to go back to the hostel and ask for someone’s help. But he had neither time nor friends at his disposal.
The road was deserted. The only company Arjun had was that of his shadow, running alongside him. His mind wandered back to the conversation he had with Arya a few minutes ago. He wandered about her current whereabouts and how her one call apparently stopped him from ending his life.
After a few halts in between, Arjun reached the railway station. Panting like a dog for breath, his eyes search for Arya. After frantically searching for about five minutes or so, he tried calling her.
“Please! Just keep your damn phone alive this time!”, he mumbled in anger and anxiety. When he gets the same annoying ‘the number you’re trying to contact is currently switched off’ voice, he couldn’t help but throw the phone in anger. He walked ahead and sat on the wooden bench, hopes all dead. Fists clenched in anger and confusion, he punched it twice.
But he hadn’t given up yet. Worried about her whereabouts, he ran again with renewed energy and a sense of hope. Something inside him said that she’s nearby, and needed to be rescued before anything happens to her. After checking each and every nook and corner of the station, he finally spots her helplessly crouching at the edge of platform 4 as Ishmeet and Shyam went near her.
“Arya!”, Arjun screamed in happiness and anger, as he ran towards her.
As he reached near her and was about to punch Shyam on his face, Arya stopped him from doing so. But Arjun didn’t comply. He punched Shyam, who was taken aback by his decision. Ishmeet was the next, but he had already started running to safety.
“Where are the others?”, Arjun resembled the angry young man from Deewar.
“Calm down Arjun! Let me speak!”, Arya spoke as she stood up slowly.
“You better speak up fast Arya!”, Shyam moaned in pain.
“Say what Arya? Are you alright?”, he went near her, his eyes searching for bruises.
“Ya… I’m alright Arjun.. the thing is..”, Arya struggled for words.
“What! Just speak out Arya!”, Arjun didn’t like testing his patience.
That’s when Neil pats his shoulder from behind.
“What the actual fuck? How come you’re here? You alright Neil?”, Arjun was shocked, to which Neil could just smile.
“But..you don’t look like you passed out a few minutes ago. No bruises either. What’s going on!”, to which Neil stood silent. He just nodded his head, looking at Arya. Even Ishmeet came back.
The second Arjun spotted Ishmeet, he ran towards him, only to be stopped by Arya midway.
“STOP! JUST STOP DUDE! CALM DOWN”, Arya tried calming him down.
“..and what is it with you? You said that they were misbehaving with you and now..”
“The thing is.. I’m in love with you, Arjun. It is as simple and complicated as that.”, Arya cut in nervously.
For a split second, everyone turned silent. Arjun stood there, stunned, trying to register what he just heard.
“What? What did you just say, Arya? Are you in your senses? Or have you all been drugged or something?”, he was clueless and angry at the same time. He turned to Neil for an explanation, but he didn’t say anything.
“WHAT? WHY. ARE. YOU. SILENT!?”, he went ahead and grabbed Neil’s collars, only to be stopped by Shyam and Ishmeet.
“And you! Seriously? I can’t believe what you just said! I’d only give you an answer if you explain me this shit going on right now. And ya, what if it’s a NO?”, Arjun smirked, looking at Arya.
“If it’s a NO, then that be it. This topic will be done and dusted. Simple.”, Arya shrugged.
“That’s it?”, he was quite surprised.
“Then what should I do Mr Handsome? Steal the terrace keys and jump off the building like you?”
Arjun couldn’t believe what he heard, for the second time in the past few minutes.
“How..how do you know!”, he was aghast.
He looked back at Neil, who now smiled, looking at his reaction.
“Do you mind pulling my collars now, Arjun? Will you?”, Neil taunted him.
Arjun was agitated, but his logical mind took over. Clenching his fists in utter helplessness, he yelled.
“Tell me! I demand an answer goddamit!”
But no one flinched an eye.
“At least tell me, does anybody else know about this?”, Arjun was tensed. He couldn’t imagine the rest of his life living in a world which will constantly judge him on this stupid decision.
Arya shook her head, signalling no. Arjun sighed a heap of relief before going all silent, trying to join the dots.
“So, is that why you did this?”, Arjun asks Arya, regarding the proposal stunt she just pulled.
“Yes.”, Arya quivered, looking into his eyes.
“So you guys pulled this stuff just to..”
“Yes, to stop you from taking that damn stupid step!”, Neil came to the fore.
Arjun kept silent.
“Suicide ain’t cool bro. Just ending things when you can’t cope up isn’t the solution. Things may be gloomy at times but quitting on your life just isn’t the way Arjun. I hope you understand.”, Neil said as he slopped on the nearby bench.
“But how..how did you guys..?”, Arjun asked after a minute of contemplation.
“We are your roommate’s, bro. We notice stuff right?”, Neil winked, looking at Ishmeet and Shyam, who was still recovering from that punch.
“..like those terrace keys that you managed from that warden friend of yours. You really thought you can hide that from us?”, Neil smiled.
“Oh..those..”, Arjun felt guilty upon his act.
“That started the suspicion among us- like why the hell on earth would you require the terrace keys dude?”, Neil waved his hands.
Arjun kept silent, mentally bashing himself for the loophole.
“At first, we thought you were into drugs or something, and you wanted to hide that fact from us, not considering the fact that you hide almost everything from us.”, Ishmeet said.
“But then with some more checks, we realised that it isn’t drugs you were involved in; but something else. Something that had crept up our minds before, but quite unsure of.”, Shyam revealed.
“Then our mastermind Neil planned this entire stuff. The basic idea was to check your actions when left alone. Brilliant right?”, Arya patted Neil mockingly.
“Yeah! Brilliant planning. But how did she call me at the right time? What if the call was late by a few more seconds?”, Arjun asked.
“Yeah, that one was too close, I admit. Gautami, Arya’s roommate had almost screwed it up. Apparently, we had placed three guys in all the three directions you can probably jump from, one per direction. Ishmeet was monitoring our terrace from the B-wing to your left, Shyam from the building to your right, and Gautami from the girl’s hostel in the front. To get your view, she selected a front facing room from her hostel and planned a night out with those friends. She spent her time at the window, faking a call, looking out for any signs of you. Meanwhile, I and Arya had already reached the pub by then, waiting for their calls, if any.
When Gautami spotted you, she tried reaching me, but her call couldn’t connect! It didn’t even work the second time around. She managed to text me from her friend’s mobile in the nick of the moment. And from there onwards, Arya managed it all with her acting skills. Ishmeet and Shyam reached here in the next few minutes and were in position.
I, on the other hand, gave them signals from the foot-over- bridge above. Simple, well-sketched plan. If the call was late, we’d have lost you. Forever.”, Neil concluded.
Arjun couldn’t help himself from going ahead and hugging Neil as he heard this.
“So much for this asshole roommate like me?”
“Hey! We’re bros right?” Neil smiled as the others too joined in their embrace.
“We were noticing you since a few days, all your erratic behaviours from moodiness to loneliness” Neil stated matter of factly.
“But why on earth would you do that? ” exclaimed a surprised Arjun.
” Because Arya asked… ” Neil trailed off.
Arya motioned him to keep quiet. Arjun turned towards Arya, his brow grew knit and gloomy.
” Arya…? ”
” Yes.. Neil wanted to be friends with you and pull the thin layer of mystery off you. So I suggested that he should better watch your actions to befriend you and what happened later was the least we expected”, Arya added rolling her eyes.
“Arya.. ” Arjun paused, stunned and comprehending.
Neil creases his brow and looked at Arya narrowing his eyes with his mouth half open. He lifts his hand sideways and his shoulder up slightly, his way of asking ‘What the hell!’
Arya shook her head as Arjun submitted in brooding silence.
He lifts his head, turns towards them and asked, “Will you guys tell others? ”
“Depends…” said Neil.
“On what? ” Arjun added.
” On… Whether you try to be an ass again!”
Arjun’s mouth presses into a thin line and he shuts his eyes tightly.
When he opens, he is a new person. “You are an ass!” he grins.
“I never denied”, Neil stated proudly as everyone burst out laughing.
“Alright, guys. It’s past midnight. We must head back to our hostel now.” Neil advised.
“I was about to say that” Shyam asserted.
“I’ll drop Arya at her place and join you guys in our room” he mumbled with a yawn.
Neil started his bike as Arya climbs up and they leave.
“Arya what the hell do you think you are doing? What are you up to? Can you explain? ” he quavered after covering some distance.
” No Neil.. I don’t think this is right” she chimed. Her eyes were limpid and her beauty was softened by an air of indolence and languor.
“What is not right girl? We did all this mutually. We knew about him because we stalked him. You saved his life. And now, after all these efforts you are being over the top silly” he roared.
“Listen to me, Neil. Believe me, this is not the right time. Even if he accepts my love at this moment, that will be on the basis of his gratitude towards us – for what we did for him right now. He’s oblivious to our mean reason to keep an eye on him. He’s already broken Neil, it would be very mean of me to use the situation as a weapon against him to win his love” she whimpered.
Neil stopped the bike as they reached the gate of the girl’s hostel. Arya climbed down. The watchman was already notified that she’ll be going out tonight by her Dad, whose voice apparently matched with that of a husky Neil.
“Trust me, Arya. You are over-thinking”, he drawled.
“Maybe Neil. But at this moment, this seems right to me”, she forced a faint quivering smile.
“As you wish!”, he murmured a vague acceptance.
“Get in fast”, he reprimanded.
She waved and entered her building. She reached her room and flickered the tube light, a code that meant she reached safely upstairs. He revved his bike and left the place.
Later in his room:
Arjun is caught deleting his family pictures from his phone.
Neil snatches the phone from Arjun’s hand. startling him and sits down beside him facing down. Arjun turns towards him.
“I know.. I know about the divorce, Arjun” Neil stammered.
Arjun stilled and trampled on the inward protest. He was conscious of the tumultuous rush of feelings inside him.
Neil tapped on his shoulder. “Arjun, I believe one is called an individual because each one has a separate and distinct characteristic, behaviour and world view. Just imagine how amazing and confusing individuals are. They are different in all states and traits, and even if we find somebody similar to our tastes and preferences, we use the word “similar” and not identical. Your parents are individuals too. And it’s their right to take decisions for themselves. You can’t expect them to live all their life with discrepancies in every walk of life. And why? Why do you think their decision is not justified? Just because they are parents? There is no age limit to make choices Arjun.. None.”
Arjun listens silently
“They are not going away from you Arjun. You will always be their beloved son. They did so many things for you until today, can’t you just give them their right of making choices with your whole-hearted acceptance? Just think about it.” he justified.
“Good night then, I’m damn sleepy” he added as he shifted and rolled on to the bed.
Arjun held his breath in admiring silence. His face lit up by a glow of gratitude and resolve. He sat on the bed and looked at Neil who was fast asleep now. He sighed deeply, from a kind of mental depletion and lied down to catch some sleep who hadn’t shown up since a long time.
Some days later:
“Ya..say! You called me up to ask something important?”, Neil asked Arjun as he sat on the canteen bench.
“Yeah..actually I had this question since a long time..”
“Dude! Ask fast! We’ve our lectures in five minutes. We can discuss this in our room anyways right?”
“Neil, just tell me the truth okay? No hesitation of any kind. Are you and Arya dating?”
“Lol! Are you crazy?”, Neil crackled on listening to his query.
“Come on! You guys are always on WhatsApp and phone calls. Don’t hide!”
“I agree, Arjun. But no, we aren’t dating each other.”
“I think you are lying. You like her!”. Arjun didn’t buy his answer.
“I like her obviously, she’s my best friend! But unfortunately, she likes you and is afraid to tell you”, Neil smiled as he stood up.
“Another one of your tricks mate?”, Arjun smiled.
“Nope. I’m serious, Believe me.”
Arjun was at loss for words, as he realised he isn’t lying.
“Why do you think we stalked you? So that I can break the wall and mystery surrounding you? Nah! She likes you Arjun! She is totally enamoured by you. So, I decided to do a background check on you, to just assure myself that my bestie gets the perfect guy. And in that process, we discovered..”
“Oh..”, Arjun went silent again.
“It was all for her. But she thinks too much. Weren’t you convinced by the proposal that day? Didn’t it seem real?”, Neil nudged him playfully as they went back to their respective classes.
One month later, and the college was neck deep in cultural day celebrations. The last day was ‘Rose Day’, the one day every love bird eagerly waits for.
Arya was surprised as she too received a bouquet of red roses, along with a message.
“Enough of having taken care of me behind the curtains,
coz am gonna lower the curtain of secrecy between us”
She turned and looked around to spot Arjun waiting at a corner, smiling and studying her reactions.
Later they meet at the college lawn, spending some quality time, trying to know each other. And that’s when Arjun asks her about Neil,
“Neil and I knew each other since 8th standard when the classes were shuffled. It’s been 7 memorable years with him – it’s.. it’s like an inseparable bond between us. Always through the thick and thin, joy and sorrow. People always felt that we were in a relationship, But it was false.
He is the only friend which I have, whom I can truly call mine.
Even after the day his parents were divorced, he called up to me as if….”, Arya stopped as she realised what she just uttered.
“Wait a sec! What did you just say about Neil.. his parents..?”
“Yeah, it’s true. They went separate ways when he was in 10th standard.”, she said calmly.
“Oh..”, Arjun was taken aback by this sad fact. He didn’t know how to react.
“Everybody fights their own struggles Arjun. It’s just that we don’t know about it.”, Arya said as she put her arm over his shoulder.
“Hmm..So what’s your struggle?, Arjun asked lightly after some moments of silence.
“I think I have won mine, and right now am sitting with my trophy.”, Arya smiled.
“So am a trophy now, eh?”, he smiled back.
ABOUT THE COLLABORATOR:
Aathira and I met for the first time in our Junior college, 5 years ago. We didn’t talk much, thanks to my shy nature :p (lol)
But we did catch up sometimes during the lunch break when our mutual friend Vignesh gave us a visit. Later, when
we opened up, we worked together in the admin panel of our quote page on Facebook and Instagram for a while before she decided to take a break. She isn’t a full-time writer, but I’ve gone through few of her writings and frankly speaking, I was left craving for more. She is always full of ideas and plotlines and that was quite evident when we developed this one. She is that one reader/critic of mine who is quite firm and straightforward when it comes to giving opinions. She pinpoints the areas that she feels that could’ve been better, and that’s a valuable asset that any writer can possess.
It was quite considerate of her to look and contribute to the editing as well, even though she was unwell and for most of the parts, was out of the station.
Thank you Aathira for being my constant support over the years and understanding me. That’s all I can say so that this section doesn’t go long and overboard. :p
There are many untold stories behind the one you all read, and sometimes those stories become more interesting than the main plot.
Well, the development of this plot was quite interesting. Remember I had once posted about an upcoming story which eventually was cancelled due to ‘script issues’?
Ya, that’s the first time anything of that sort happened with me. I was already stuck on a plot for weeks, after which I got frustrated and moved on.
But the funny thing was – I wasn’t exactly sure of what I’ll write for the next. With a loosely held plot I started writing and when I reached the half way stage, I changed the main genre of the story, from horror to romance.
The title changed from ‘inside your mind’ to ‘gone with the wind’
And even after completing it, I felt something amiss. So, I asked Aathira for a feedback to which she said, I quote her: “Do you really wanna publish this? Forgive me, but don’t. Tera naam neeche likhna bhi mat. It’s not worth that.”
And I was glad she said that because I too felt the same. I had this collab thing already in mind, and after seeing her inputs to this storyline, it’d have been unfair not saying this as a “collab”.
So, if you want to check out what exactly I had written before, read it here:
I’m sure you’ll be surprised. Do let me know how you felt about this one too!
Also, with over 4000 words, this marks my longest single chapter/ short story ever written!
P.S.: The number of edits that the final draft went is too damn high. She always has a valid point up her sleeve :p