Friday, July 27, 2007

Love Story

As she finally started answering Ayaan's unasked questions, Rutu found herself going back in time, to when she was twelve, in a dark and dusty bookstore in a corner of the little town she'd grown up in.

They entered the store giggling and giddy, as only twelve-year old girls on an adventure can be. They quietened down at the old storekeeper's stern 'not-these-two-again' look and made their way to Fiction. They came to the aisle marked "Ri-St" and their eyes scanned the names of the authors till it came to Segal. Segal, David - No...Singhal, Rajiv...No No NO! Where was it?
Mona nudged Rutu and directed her attention to the girl who was standing there staring at them, with a hesitant smile on her face. Rutu glanced at her sort-of-familiar face and started - she had The Book! "Hey, we know you, don't we?"

Anila hesitated - she knew who they were of course, the most popular girls in her year, every teacher's favorite, and suddenly this year, every boy's secret crush - Rutu especially. "Yeah, I go to Loyola too - same year as you." Mona said kindly to her - "Oh yeah - you're in B-division right?" Anila smiled, heartened that she wasn't all that invisible. "Yes!" Then, shyly, "My name is Anila". Rutu said in a rush"Nice to meet you Anila...hey, are you planning to buy that book? Only - I've been telling Mona here about it all week and she absolutely has to read it and I couldn't find it at the library and..." Mona interrupted her - "Don't worry about it, Rutu...we'll ask them to order another copy. Sorry, Anila - she gets too excited about stuff!".

She waved bye and tugging Rutu's sleeve started leading them out when she heard Anila in a quiet hesitant voice - "Actually, I had ordered this myself two months ago - it takes a long time to come from the city. If you like, I can lend this to you after I'm done."

"She had saved a long time for this, and wasn't quite ready to sacrifice it completely and let us buy it.This was the best she could offer, being twelve, poor, very much tied to this deeply sought after relief from her circumstances and at the same time, eager to please us." Mona explained to her daughter. "You know, even not knowing the terrible struggle it was for this shy, invisible girl to talk to us, much less offer us her precious book, we thought it was a terrific idea and said yes at once."

And that's how The Book, as they would always secretly refer to it, brought these three unlike but soon inseparable souls together. They found relief, wisdom, joy and simple comfort in each other's company. Their different backgrounds and personalities served, curiously, to complement each other until they were only whole as a unit and couldn't have an idea, a fight at home, a crush or a period without sharing it completely with each other.

Rutu's crazy spiritedness was the best escape from Anila's dreary circumstances at home; Anila's patient and kind nature was the stabilizing force for Mona's depressed, angry tormented teenage years brought on by a broken family and an abusive mother, and Mona's brilliant and curious mind was the perfect stimulant for discovery and growth to channel Rutu's energy.
Little wonder then, when their own adult lives intervened and separated them not just geographically but also spiritually, it was like bits of their souls were snatched away from them.
Rutu's departure to the US, Mona's damaged psyche from a doomed and failing marriage, Anila's financial troubles and familial bonds were all catalysts for their eventually going their separate ways and not even trying to 'keep in touch' any more. They felt just too different from each other, living lives that they felt the others couldn't relate to any more.

As her thoughts wandered down these familiar paths, a sudden epiphany struck Anila. We think we are so different from each other and can't relate any more? How is that any different from what we were in that store all those years ago? We had nothing in common but a desire to read the same book one day. And look what we made from that...
As she packed the last box and opened the windows to let the smell of death and disinfectant out of her parent's room, she decided to take the first step and picked up the phone. Life was too short...
The surprise in Mona's voice was not masked by her choked whisper "I heard about your mother, Anila. I am so very sorry"
Drawing strength to speak just as a twelve year old had done once long ago in a dark book store, she replied "My friend, love means never having to say you're sorry."