Veera was going to marry the love of her life. But her quest to liberate herself from the small town she belonged to and to make something of her life, overpowered her love.
The sky was still blanketed in darkness. Veera was standing in front of the gas stove, making herself a cup of sulemani tea. Bubbles began to rise in the water which was put to boil, for the tea. She added a teaspoon of sugar and tea powder in the boiling water. The color of the tea powder had slowly begun to spread, resulting in the water graduating to a brown color from being transparent. The manner in which this color transformation happened, created this soothing feeling, in Veera. She squeezed a little of the lime juice into the tea and put a few leaves of mint. Her mother had taught her how to make sulemani tea. Her mother used to always make her sulemani tea in the evening. When she was about 12 years old her mother had gone out of station on work, for about a week. She missed her evening cup of tea for those seven days. No one at home made it as well as she did. So when her mother returned from her office trip, Veera had asked her to teach her how to make the tea. She never could reach her mother’s excellence. She never would and in actuality, she never wanted to. She wanted to leave her mother’s uniqueness with her.
It had been over a year since Veera had left home. She had left behind her ammi and abbu, Sakina and Jaden. They were her entire life. They were her entire home. A home she never imagined she would leave, one day. Every morning when she woke up to a new day she would ask herself whether she did the right thing by leaving and every night before she closed her eyes, the same question would haunt her. She missed them more than she could describe in words. But she knew in her heart that she had to do this, for herself.
Veera found a certain thrill in the chaos of the city of Mumbai. The manner in which life moved so fast that there was no time to just pause and breathe. She needed this non-paused life. She needed it to forget what she had done. Her teaching and her life in Bombay allowed her to escape the regret which had made a permanent residence in her.
Good morning, Veer!
She shivered a little when she heard Charmin’s voice. She picked up her cup of tea and turned to walk toward the set of chairs and table kept in the kitchen. Veera and Charmin studied together in school, back home. But after they got done with school Charmin moved to Delhi and finally to Bombay. They managed to stay in touch through a mix of letters, emails, text messages and phone calls. They grew closer through this constant touch, in all these years. Good morning, Char! Veera sat herself on the chair which was placed opposite Charmin, at the table. Veera couldn’t see Charmin’s face because the newspaper which she was reading covered her entire self which was visible above the table.
Ah, the tea smells good! Can I have some? Charmin said, slightly removing part of the newspaper cover.
I just made tea for me. I didn’t know you wanted. Should I make one cup for you?
Yes, please! Charmin said this and went back to reading the paper. I’ll just have a bath. Keep the tea ready, I’ll come and have.
Charmin glanced the paper for a few seconds and then, got up from her seat to head to the bathroom and Veera went back to the gas stove to make tea. Charmin knew a friend who was a professor in the college where Veera is a professor. Charmin got to know that there was an opening in the History department of the college and immediately informed Veera about it. Through their years of communication, Charmin got to know how much Veera wanted to be move out of her home and be free. Charmin knew how claustrophobic she felt and was positive that this opportunity would only give her what she wanted. After Charmin finished having a bath, she came into the kitchen and found her cup of tea sitting on the table. Veera was sitting on the chair reading the newspaper.
Do you have an off today?
No, I have decided to take an off. I’ve been busy with classes and correcting assignments the past couple of weeks. I really just need a break.
That’s good. What do you plan on doing?
I’ve been wanting to go to that cafe…The Place.
Oh yeah, The Place! You haven’t been there?
No! So many people have told me about it. You’d really like it.
So I’m going to watch a movie on my I-pad while I’m there and enjoy my time alone.
That’s a good enough plan!
Veera smiled and said, yes it is!
The Place was painted in white with pictures of vintage Bombay in black frames. It was a small cafe. Veera decided to sit at the corner most table. It was a table for two. She ordered a cup of espresso with one of their breakfast dish. She switched on her laptop and started watching one of the movies she had decided to watch. During the course of the movie, the waiter arrived with her coffee and food. When the waiter was placing her espresso and food on the table, her eyes suddenly fell on the door of the cafe. A man entered wearing a pair of blue denims and a white Polo t-shirt. It was Jaden. After a year of not seeing him, he was in front of her eyes. When his eyes began to scan the entire cafe, they fell on Veera.
When his eyes met hers, her heart began to unusually beat fast. She removed the ear phones from her ears and got up from her seat, to walk toward him.
He started walking toward her as well. When they were finally face to face, words failed them. Hi. Veera finally said. He did not say anything. How are you? He still did not say anything. He wore an expression which was an amalgamation of various feelings. I’m sitting there, she turned to point out toward her seat, come and sit with. He did not say anything and followed her to her table. They occupied the two chairs, now sitting facing each other. What are you doing here?
I’ve…I’ve come to see Christina’s baby.
She’s a mom?! Wow!
Yeah. A lot has changed since you ran away from our wedding. Veera did not say anything. The words felt like someone dragged a knife down her throat. Veera and Jaden had known each other since their graduate college days. They were in the same college, studying the same course. They were in the same class. They fell into love with each other, very naturally. They were first friends. In the process of getting to know each other and spending time with each other, they didn’t realize that they were actually falling in love with each other. The both of them wanted to pursue their Masters and then work. After three years of being with each other, they were separated due to distance. Veera was in Delhi and Jaden was in Pune. Somehow, the distance did not break the thread which tied them together. It brought them closer and they continued their relationship.
Jaden’s cold coffee arrived. Twenty minutes had passed, Jaden did not utter much, except the answers to the questions which Veera asked him. As Veera carefully observed the manner in which he drank his cold coffee alternately it by biting into his meat burger. It reminded Veera of the many dates they had. She loved watching him, the same manner in which he’d alternate between his food and the cold coffee he’d order wherever they’d go. Veera loved Jaden and still does. One evening when they were on a date, Jaden asked Veera to marry him. She said yes without hesitating. But something in her kept telling her that this wasn’t the right path to take. They were too young to be married and start a family. They were only 23. They had just moved out of the college atmosphere and taken a step into the ‘real world’ which everyone spoke about. Jaden’s parents never approved of them, initially. They believed that them getting married was a mistake because it was too early for them. Even after they’d approved Veera knew that it was a halfhearted approval. One they had done on account of having some peace in the house after a lot of arguments and fights. Jaden loved his parents and they were right. Only he did not see that. And at the time even Veera did not see it.
How are you?
I’m doing well. How about you?
What are you up to?
I’m one of the photographers for a magazine back home.
Which magazine is this?
Wow, that’s nice.
Yeah. How about you? What are you doing?
I’m a professor in one of the colleges here. I teach history.
That’s nice. You always wanted to do one. I’m glad you’re doing what you always wanted to do.
We remained silent until I suddenly said, I’m sorry. He half smiled.
One of us had to bring it up, right?
Yeah. But, you don’t have to be.
But I am.
Can I ask you, why did you leave?
Because we weren’t doing the right thing.
What makes you say that?
You know, when I said yes, there was a part of me which hesitated. I tried to ignore the hesitation because I thought maybe I’m just nervous or something like that. But it wasn’t nervousness. It was me wanting to do so many things before I settled down with you. You know how much I wanted to escape that place and I knew for sure that your parents would’ve wanted us to stay with them. I know you would’ve done something for us to move out but I couldn’t let you do that. I know how much you equally love them.
Why didn’t you say anything?
Would you have understood?
He remained silent. When I moved to Bombay, I tried contacting him through various means, but he never reverted back. And I understood. I gave him the space that he needed.
I’m sorry Jaden.
I know you’re. But do not expect me to forgive you so soon. I cannot do that.
We spoke for a little while. There were moments when we fell silent. There were moments we just looked into each other’s eyes, trying to find the people we fell in love with. That was the last time I saw Jaden.