The next morning she again woke up at half past five and got dressed and went out for her walk. She took the long road without thinking twice. She broke into a jog until she reached the grove. She crossed over to the other side and walked slowly into the grove. Dried leaves crackled beneath her feet. It was just beginning to get bright. She braced herself and walked on the old familiar ground. It hadn’t changed a bit in all these years. She took the path that led to the old pond. The stone was still there. The stone she used to sit on. She stood there, holding on to the trunk of a tree and stared at the pond, old memories flooding her mind and tears flooding her eyes. She was sure now that she still loved Sanjay like the way she used to. She knew she had done a big mistake; she should’ve never come here. She had avoided coming to her parents’ house for this one reason. And when she thought she had moved on, she knew she was getting sucked into it all the more. She fought those thoughts. She knew it was not right. She was married now. Her husband loved her very much. She had a daughter who was everything to her. She shouldn’t entertain thoughts of Sanjay in her mind.
She felt a warm breath against her neck. She turned around sharply. There was no one. Her heart beat fast. She felt a gust of wind in her hair. She turned again. There was still no one. The huge trees loomed over her eerily. She strained her ears. There were chirps of some early rising birds, maybe a little rustle amongst the dried leaves a little distance away, a lizard or a rat perhaps? There was a strong smell of alcohol. She was beginning to get a little scared now. She thought there was some drunkard around and she didn’t want to take a chance by being all alone here.
She walked out quickly. Just as she was about to cross over the fence she felt someone hold her hand. She turned and it was Sanjay. “Won’t you stay?”, he asked.
“I am getting late.”, she said trying to wrench her hand free from his strong grasp.
“Will you come back?”, he asked. She looked into his eyes and longed to be with him more than ever. He looked the same but there was something different about him. He looked very pale and anemic. But his glassy brown eyes surrounded by deep dark circles held the same warmth.
“I’ll try”, she said pulling her hand away.
She broke into a run when she reached the road. She reached home sweating. Adila was waiting for her by the gate. “Look at you, jogging and all ! No wonder you look so thin and fit”, she said.
Ria smiled at her. “Tea?”, asked Ria trying to act normal.
“Nah, I was just taking a stroll and thought I’ll see what you are doing. And hey, I ran into Sunil last night in the market. I told him you were here too. So we’re planning to have a reunion this evening. What say?”
“I say great”, said Ria relieved. This ought to get her mind distracted for a bit. And her parents would be back the next day, so things will be fine, she told herself.
“So I’ll pick you up in the evening. Mom said she’ll baby sit the kids together”, said Adila. Ria nodded and went in.
She chose a nice blue dress for the evening. She wondered if Sanjay would be there too. She wasn’t sure if she ought to look good or no. She discarded the dress and decided to just wear her jeans and a t shirt. She was meeting friends after all. What was the fuss all about? She told Mishti that she was going out to meet some friends in the evening and that she will be playing with the baby. Mishti seemed to like the idea. “Just me and baby?”, she asked.
“Naisha aunty will be there, but you won’t trouble her alright?”, she said. Mishti nodded a little more than necessary. She seemed very energetic now.
That evening she dropped Mishti at Adila’s house and the two of them headed off. “Where are we going?”, she asked Adila.
“Purple Haze”, Adila replied.
“That place still exists? Awesome”, she said.
They had hung out in Purple Haze from the day they had become eighteen. They worshipped that place. “Hey remember the time we went to that pub”, said Ria. “Yeah, was it really a gay pub?”, Adila asked.
“That is what the guys told me”, said Ria. “Sunil frequented it”, she added.
“No wonder”, said Adila giggling.
Sunil was already waiting for them when they arrived. “Hi oh look my favorite girls are here”, he said kissing them both on the cheek. “And this is a very dear friend to me Patrick”, he said introducing a tall and very cute looking guy in his mid-twenties.
“Hi Patrick”, the girls said shaking hands with him.
“Are the others here?”, Adila asked.
“They will be here soon. Why don’t I get you something to drink?”, asked Sunil.
“I’ll just have a coke”, said Ria.
“Yeah me too”, said Adila.
“What boring girls you have become”, said Sunil. “These aren’t the girls I knew back in school. Just because you have become mommies… sheesh”, he said going to get them what they asked.
“So, Patrick, what do you do?”, asked Ria trying to strike a conversation.
“I am a chef”, he answered with a very cute smile complete with dimples.
“A Chef? Sounds interesting. Do you own your own restaurant?”, asked Adila.
“Not yet. I am saving up for that though. Now I work for The Leela”, he said.
Both the girls raised their eyebrows.
“Hey why don’t we hit the dance floor until the others arrive?”, said Sunil handing them their cokes.
“We’ll wait for a bit”, said Adila. Ria frowned at her.
“Will you honor me with a dance?”, asked Patrick of Ria. She smiled. “I am flattered. Of course”, she said taking his hand.
Patrick was a very good dancer and Ria felt very rusty around him. But he was sweet and very easy to be with. They laughed at themselves. “I’ll be right back”, he said going towards Sunil. Ria was dancing by herself when she felt a hand slip across her waist. She turned to meet Sanjay right in the face. “Oh. Hey”, she said feeling a little uneasy.
“Hi”, he replied smiling at her.
“I was wondering whether you’d be here”, she said trying to pull away. But Sanjay didn’t let go. He pulled her closer and she could feel his breath against her face. She felt very nervous.
“Sanjay, I…”, she started to tell him something, but the look in his eyes caught her.
She felt a tingle all over her body. She tried pulling away again. “Sanjay I am married and I have a child”, she said.
“Come”, he whispered in her ear. He held his hand out and said again, “Come”. He smelled of liquor. It upset her all the more since he was drunk even before the party had started and was acting fresh with her. This was not the Sanjay she knew. Sanjay used to be a perfect gentleman even during school days. She tore away from the dance floor and joined the others at the bar. She was palpably shivering.
Adila hugged her. “What’s wrong?’, she asked.
Ria’s face was all red. “It was Sanjay”, she said gulping her coke. All her friends grew silent for a moment. “You miss him?”, Neha asked empathetically. “Miss him? He was right there on the dance floor, drunk and trying to get fresh with me”, she said cross. “Huh?”, said Sunil raising one eyebrow in disbelief. “I know. How cheap was that?”, said Ria.
Sunil came closer to her and held her hand. “You must’ve seen someone else like Sanjay”, he said.
“C’mon Sunil. I know Sanjay like the back of my hand. I’ll know him even if I see him in the dark, and we’ve been meeting every day since I came here”, she said.
“You must be imagining that Ria”, said Sunil.
“I am imagining nothing Sunil. I AM TELLING YOU I SAW HIM AND HE GOT FRESH WITH ME JUST NOW”, shouted Ria. “Ria”, said Sunil in a calm voice.
“What? What Sunil What?”, asked Ria losing her patience.
“SANJAY DIED LAST YEAR”.