“Bhai, don’t touch the hair that fall on temple ok!” I was looking myself into the giant mirror hanging in front of me at one of the barber’s shop in Paprola market, the city where I completed my 7-year schooling.
“Let a tuft of hair fall on right side of the partition. Make it an Ajay Devgan cut” I reiterated as I tilted my head first right then left examining my overgrown hair falling on of my ears.
Ok! As you like” the expressionless barber said and started to sprinkle water all over my head to wet the hair.
While I was imagining myself in Ajay Devgan cut, something beautiful in the mirror dissolved my thoughts.
“Oh sh*t” I murmured.
Shagun had just walked through the lane outside the barber shop.
Barber had already trapped a tuft of hair in his comb over my head.
“Leave it bhai. I have to rush. I have an emergency. I will be back in 10 minutes” I announced.
I ignored the confused look at Barber’s face and freed myself from the white silk apron wrapped around my neck and hurried through the shop. Barber said something but I was not interested.
Soon, I was standing in the middle of the lane, trying to trace the direction Shagun had moved. My mind did some quick calculations based on her direction of movement, reflected in the mirror. I applied every theory from incident ray to reflected ray, line of sight to mirror image. I thought about every possible sh*t I studied in physics and never understood but I couldn’t locate the direction she disappeared in. It was finally the “Pappu Pan Shop” that came to the rescue as I remembered her crossing by the same shop.
I saluted “Pappu Pan House” as one salutes India Gate and ran in my target direction only to find her and Megha, her best friend, buying some charts and sketch pens at Karan Book Depot, the most popular stationery shop in the town.
While I stopped to catch my breath, the very thought of facing her made me nervous.
“Now what?” somebody inside me asked.
“I’ll definitely talk to her today.” I convinced myself.
No doubt, it was a great opportunity for me. There was nobody in the market who knew us. Though the Megha, the fevicol girl, was glued to her as usual, it hardly mattered as she would come to know this anyway. I was so used to Megha’s presence with Shagun that she accompanied Shagun even in my dreams.
I reminded myself the long wait of 6 years, the time when I was a student of 7th standard. I reminded myself the pain and anxiety I felt for my one-sided love. I reminded myself those 4 months, left for the final exam, that would conclude our hostel life. After which we all would return to our homes based in different parts of Himachal. And if still I didn’t expressed my feelings, I would never ever get a chance for that and my six years of pain and anxiety would transform into lifetime scar of unexpressed love.
And finally, I thought of the theory that girls never initiate. It’s the boy who have to make the first move. I remembered Sanjeev’s golden words, though he himself had not talked to any girl, when he’d said girls did not like men who couldn’t dare to propose a girl.
“Talk to her at the earliest or someone other would do it before you.” He had said.
I believed him. After all she was the prettiest girl in the school. I had already seen her talking and giggling with Kinchit though it didn’t bother me much as he was considered as a girl in boy’s skin.
Unaware of my presence, she was busy in buying the stuff for practical’s exam due for next week. I forced my feet towards the shop. They were heavy. I climbed the three steps before landing in the shop. I felt butterflies in my stomach. She had her back towards me. Her pony tail, tied with a purple band, was hanging loose down her neck.
She was wearing a purple Salwar Kameez matching her band. I wondered why girls were too match-conscious. I saw myself. I was wearing an ill-fitted blue striped shirt hanging lose over my grey bell bottom jeans. The black floaters destroyed the last hopes of any match. I wished if I could show her my blue handkerchief, matching with the shirt, to get some brownie points for my matching sense.
I pretended not to see her and stood by her side.
“Uncle, give me a thermocol sheet and cardboard paper” I told to shopkeeper.
I felt two pair of eyes catching a glimpse of mine, one of which was by far the most beautiful in the whole world. The gaze just lasted for a couple of seconds. Now it was my turn to turn around, saw them and say “hi” in a surprised tone. I turned but looked away in a split second. I tried again but it again ended up as a mere rehearsal. My vocal cord had skipped the word in nervousness. Before I could do more stupid, something unexpected happened.
“Hi Pankaj” a feminine voice interfered my rehearsal session.
Probably they had caught me in my fits of stupidity. It was Megha who broke the ice. She was my favorite girl for the moment. First time in last four years, I noticed her looks. She was of same height as was Shagun. Rounded face, fuller lips, dusky complexion, prominent eyes and slightly swollen beaky nose made her beautiful by any standards but I had already found my dream girl and I was not the one to lose my focus.
So Megha spoke, “Hi Pankaj”.
“Hi Megha” I’d almost dropped the thermocol sheet that the shopkeeper handed me. I was trembling like a dry leaf under the effect of breeze.
Then there was a pause but I could feel my heart, beating like a drum. Nobody spoke. The yawning silence was embarrassing for me. Everybody was expecting other to stir the silence.
Then somebody spoke though none of us.
“Aapka ho gya?” (Are you done with your shopping?). It was a small shop and we, in a state of trance, couldn’t notice the presence of another customer behind us waiting for his turn.
“Oh! I am sorry. I am almost done” I said in embarrassment.
Thank God he came. Otherwise, I’d no idea what I would have said or how I would have behaved in this state of nervousness, I thought and got aside to made way for him.
I turned back and with heavy steps headed towards the exit.
Don’t go. Make use of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a voice exploded in my head.
My head was about to burst. My heart was sinking. Somebody was pricking a nail inside me.
“God! Why have you made me a coward. Since its you who have made me like this, handle it by yourself. Now I am leaving it on you. You will be responsible for my sufferings.”
He seemed to hear my pleading. Yes. He did.
“Pankaj, are you done with your shopping or you still left with some chores to complete in market”.
I owe you, Megha.
“Yeaahh, I am done. Just leaving for hostel” the barber’s confused face flashed in my mind for a second.
“Great! Let’s walk together”
“Oh God…Is it actually happening? I love you Megha for this. Hey! Hold on Pankaj. You love Shagun. Don’t get carried away by the nuisances of circumstances.”
“Ok” All I could say but it seemed my heart, liver, kidney and stomach all had started jumping in joy and I began to feel butterflies in my stomach.
Within minutes, we were walking on the street, leading to our hostel. Shagun on extreme right, Megha on her left, and then me deliberately was falling two steps behind, to watch Shagun walking gracefully but slightly susceptible for my presence.
“Speak up…speak up you moron” Somebody inside me shouted.
But it was no more needed as Megha, to my ecstasy, spoke again.
“You topped in pre-board no?”
“Accha uske lie, TThhank you” I blushed.
“Congratulations Pankaj” WOW! Everything became beautiful suddenly. I felt music in the ears. The melody of her voice dissolved in my ears, traveled all through the heart and found a place to rest there. My ears refused to hear any other voice after listening to that melody. It was Shagun.
But they couldn’t resist any other voice for long as in the very next moment sound of a horn almost tore my eardrums into pieces.
I didn’t know what magic those two words had spelled…or it was the impact of her taking my name…making it so special…And then the miracle..
I was confident like never before…I felt a strong desperation to express my feelings…It was a now-or-never situation for me. I felt a sudden urge to speak…my body started shaking with excitement…I felt a bubble inside me…AND it BURST!
“I LOVE YOU” was what I wanted to say but ”I like you” was what I said.
Was I mad? This wasn’t what I was supposed to say.
I felt like a participant who came all prepared to stage and forgot everything on the mere sight of audience.
So “I like you” was all I could manage to say.
Then the eerie silence like the one before a storm!
It was the time to face the consequences of my reaction to that recent fit.
Suddenly, my excitement turned into embarrassment. Everything around me became blurred. I was deaf and numb. I wanted to run away from there.
Why did I do this? A feeling of guilt filled my heart.
Just when I was about to do something stupid, my ears felt the melody again
“I like you too, Pankaj”
“Is it a dream or a dream that had come true? Somebody please pinch me. No pinching would not be enough. Hit me. I guess I am in a slumber. This is not a real world. Then, I felt a pair of wings on my back and the very next moment, I was in the clouds that were cold and moist.”
“Pankaj…Pankaj” I woke up from the dream…dream that had come true.
It was Megha.
“Shagun liked you for last six years but she could never express as you never spoke to her. You never even saw her or hinted anything about your feelings.”
“If you hadn’t said first, she would have said this today” She added to my happiness and haplessness at the same time.
Damn…I wasted what could have been the most beautiful days of my life…Why didn’t I open my heart six or even 2 years earlier. I imprecated myself.
And here comes another thought!
What if I’d said ‘I love You’ instead of ‘I like you’. Would she have accepted it? Ok I will say it now? I should not be satisfied with just ‘like’. I want to hear the magical word – Love that I’ve waiting to hear for past 6 years
But this time I didn’t felt desperation or an urge to speak. I did not want to spoil the pleasure of the moment with a ‘NO’.
Let’s live the happiness – I’ve got today – to the fullest. Leave the rest on tomorrow. I persuaded myself.
I don’t remember how the day passed.
The next time I regained my consciousness was at night when I was lying on my bed, thinking about the proceedings of the ‘day’ that had passed like a dream or the dream that had came true.
There was no sleep in my eyes that were wide open. I revisited the dream day with open eyes. I was playing the scene, when she’d said ‘I like you too, Pankaj’ in loop. Everything was still fresh. Her voice was loud and clear.
It had turned midnight now…the visual’d blurred…the voice’s fainting…I was going to fall asleep. Was it an end of the dream or the start of another dream? Neither did I know nor did I want to know…
This story is first published in yourstoryclub.com .