After school was over, I saw Lewis, waiting near the gate for me.
I smelt out trouble, if I talked to him inside the campus. Someone might sight us together. That’d be a black mark in my clean record. So, I considered meeting him somewhere exclusive, as I didn’t want anyone reporting it to my Dad.
I told Naina that I had a small errand to be finished and sent her home alone. Then, I signaled Lewis to follow me after a few seconds.
I cycled through the lane leading to the slum area, parked my bicycle near a tree and waited for Lewis to arrive. He appeared after five minutes, walking briskly.
‘Hi,’ he greeted cheerfully.
He seemed to be quite relaxed and I was reluctant to disturb that stature. And also I didn’t wish for any heated argument, so I pleasantly approached him with a ‘hey,’ too.
But before he could ask me anything, I hushed him and looked towards my right and left, checking if anyone was overhearing us.
I didn’t want to pave way for any grievous mistakes. When I was sure that except us, no one else was present, I gestured him to continue.
‘So, what’s your…’ he dragged in a note of hope.
‘Lewis, first of all, I’d like to ask you something,’ I interrupted.
‘Do you wish to try me for a few days as a girlfriend?’
‘Well, hmm… yes. Just to check out if we could do together.’
Certainly a ‘no’ then – I thought.
‘Why do you think I’d be a right choice for you?’ I continued.
‘I don’t know exactly. But your character provoked me. I still remember the first day when you bumped into me.’
I blushed at that reminder, but was quick enough to hide it by radiating a smile.
‘So, what do you like in me?’ I dug even more, to reason out my ‘no’.
‘Well, your benevolent nature, I’d say,’ he said without missing a beat, ‘It touched me. I’ve noticed you during class hours, how you move with others, how you behave appropriately with the situation and persons. And also you seem to be cheerful and joyous most of the time. You remain happy and make others happy too. But no, not nowadays and I hate that in you. You are worrying unnecessarily.’
‘So, are these the reasons you love me?’
‘Obviously, but more than that, I’ve got that feeling in me that we’re made for each other. Let’s try to confirm it.’
I thought for a few seconds – No one has ever keenly observed me like him. Yet, he doesn’t know about my true nature. He wouldn’t buy my lie that I’m already in love with another boy and reject him. That’d only make him angry.
‘So, you think I’d be perfect for you?’ I asked.
‘But, Lewis, I can say that you’re making a wrong decision,’ I began slowly, ‘I’m hundred percent sure that I’m not the right person for you.’
He was aghast by my assertion.
‘Why do you think so?’ he asked confused.
‘Because, there’s someone else born, waiting for you out there in this world. You needn’t search for her, she’ll come to you. She’ll be the perfect match. I won’t suit you.’
‘But why can’t that someone be you?’
‘No, Lewis. C’mon, try to understand the reality. I’m not what you think I am.’
‘Then, help me understand.’
He was a bit agitated, meddling with my cycle hand-bar. I was glad; he didn’t make much fuss and got straight to the point.
‘Lewis, I’m not as happy as you think I am. I always have a jovial face, not to fret others with my problems. I try to drown my worries with myself. But that smile on my face is genuine. I face a tough life at home, unlike many of you.’
He continued to fiddle with the bar.
‘Lewis,’ I continued, ‘I can’t afford to break my parents’ hearts, neither can you. And one more thing, you are making me blurt it out,’ I drew in a breath and almost whispered the words, ‘I’m an orphan.’
That stopped him from fidgeting anymore. He raised his head and looked at me compassionately.
‘I came to know about it just a month ago. I can’t betray those who took care of me, all these years, when my real parents deprived me of facing them. Let’s forget they’re my foster parents. I still can’t let them down. Answer me. Can I hurt them?’
A few minutes of silence lodged between us.
He thought for a while and replied, ‘You can’t. But…’
‘But what? Do you want me to love you, without their acknowledgement?
He remained unspoken.
‘Lewis, I don’t mean to hurt you. But please understand…’ I halted as I sighted Toony walking past us.
She looked at us and gave an embarrassing smile of having disturbed our precious time together.
Lewis, knelt down next to my cycle, and clanked the cycle-chain harder and announced, ‘Teju, there seems to be a problem with this.’
I understood the game and replied, ‘Oh, that’s why it won’t budge. Can you help me fix it?’
He nodded and I turned to Toony who still stood there.
‘Tanya, Lewis is just helping me fix my cycle. I was wondering who’d help me when I sighted him,’ I tried to manage with Lewis nodding his head all the while.
‘Oh, fine, carry on,’ she commented, before adding, ‘nice deserted place to get it fixed.’
‘Phew,’ I said when she had left, ‘A pest she is. Now, Lewis, she’ll surely publicize this. This is the last thing I needed.’
‘Don’t worry. Anyway, they’ll come to know it sooner or later, even if she wasn’t here.’
‘I haven’t decided yet,’ I grumbled, ‘I’m a girl and I ought to take right decisions. And I’m not interested to be your girlfriend.’
He was dismayed to hear that.
‘Sorry as a matter-of-fact, I don’t wish to be anyone’s girlfriend,’ I said, realizing he had interpreted it wrongly, ‘what guarantee do I have that a boy would love me without cheating and marry me?’
‘Teju, but my love for you is true. I won’t leave you under any circumstance.’
‘This is what every boy and girl would tell when they commence their love. But, when things don’t seem to go together, they depart. And, one more thing, I’d like to make it clear. This isn’t love. It’s just an infatuation.’
After a moment of thinking he said, ‘Maybe.’
He was beginning to accept my view.
‘Lewis,’ I called out for him to see me, ‘you seem to be a nice guy. I can say that from the way you have listened to me, without any outburst of anger. I’m sure you can understand better. Our parents are sending us to school to gain knowledge, and not to fall a prey for infatuations. It’s not your fault. It’s the nature in adolescent age. If we try to brush it aside, we can carry on with our life.’
I made this talk, regretting every word that meant I won’t love you. My vision blurred and tears rolled down my cheeks.
I tried to fight away my tears and Lewis glanced at me sympathetically and said, ‘I’m sorry Teju. I…’ He was at a loss of words.
‘No problem, Lewis,’ I said wiping away the tears, ‘I wish not to shatter anyone’s heart. It’s just that, I’m not in a position to take anyone as my boyfriend. Moreover, I’m afraid; you or any other boy might leave me. It’d take months to heal my wounded heart.’
‘I do understand. Can’t you think it takes months for we boys too to heal our wounded hearts? Not all boys are same, Teju.’
‘Lewis, I don’t doubt every boy. It’s an overall thinking. Even you approached me saying, you’d try me as a girlfriend, testing if I’d suit you. Why can’t you just declare I’m your love, instead of that?’
‘Look, I take back my words. That was my cautious way to approach you. Thought I’d first get your consent to be your boyfriend and then, later on propose to be your lover.’
‘Sorry, try to forget it. But don’t forget there’s another girl who would suit you better than me. You’d get a better life partner, a better-half and I assure you of that.’
‘And, this is what I like in you. You drive me crazy with those little, meaningful thoughts of yours. I’ll still love you and wait for you, even if it is for forever,’ he declared.
I was taken aback.
‘Lewis, you are still thinking about…’
‘Yes, I still am thinking about you. As I’ve said, I’ll wait for you, till my life is snatched away from me.’
Oh my! That boy has gone mad over you. How’ll you react to that? I heard my nasty Teju, talk inside me.
‘Lewis, I’m not here to reject your proposal and say we can try to be friends all through our life. I’m here to say, forget me altogether. There’s not going to be any friendship or love blossoming between us. And drop saying those heroic dialogues, of not forgetting me till your death. This is neither a film nor I’m a heroine.’
‘You’re. In my love life, you’re my little heroine, my sweet angel, whose side I’m not gonna leave anytime, anywhere,’ he said in an attracting tone, which was forcing me to fall for him.
Accept him – Nasty Teju pressed on me.
‘Fine, if you think about me, even after growing into a young gentleman and think that no girl can satisfy your expectations other than me, then, come over and talk to my Dad,’ I looked straight into his eyes and said.
His reactions remained untouched.
‘If he accepts, I’m ready to marry you. Until my parents nod their consent, I won’t. Besides, you’re a Christian and you’ll find it difficult to convince my Dad for that.’
‘So, is religion the major problem for you?’
‘Of course not, see, you’ve misunderstood me. As everyone quotes ‘Love has no religion’, I comply with it, but, not my religion-bound parents. I’m sorry; you can’t anticipate anything more from me,’ I replied strong-willed.
‘Sure, I’ll secure your parents’ permission before holding your hand. And that’s a promise. Fine, keep my word. I’ll get a good job, everything that a guy needs to ask a girl in marriage and I’ll approach you. Till then I won’t come in your way. I won’t disturb or pester you. You needn’t be my friend. You needn’t give a damn smile or glance at me. You needn’t even bother about me,’ he said once again heroically.
I really began to wonder, if all this was a dream or a movie.
“I don’t need a car, a job, a house or anything, I’m even ready to accept a boy who has nothing. I’ll begin my life with him from scratch. That’s how our parents built their lives together. So, that’s not the matter now.”
“Yea, it’s not.”
‘Thanks, I’ll remember that. And, also thank you for understanding my situation. I was afraid you’d cause harm to me, like I had imagined. But you substantiated, you’re soft-hearted.’
He gave a fake smile, not to hurt me, hiding his truly gushing sorrow. I then took my bicycle, wheeled it next to him and said, ‘Sorry, if I‘ve hurt you.’
‘No, you haven’t. Don’t be perturbed by me. Sorry, I worried you much more, in a complicated circumstance. Forgive me,’ he said in a concerned voice.
‘Hey, no, I’m glad you empathized. You don’t get disturbed, thinking about me. It’s a waste of time, pitying for a girl who is worthless to be seen roaming in this earth.’
‘Oh, quit saying such nonsense. I don’t want you to worry anymore. Just leave. And forget that these moments ever happened, for a while. Bye.’
I nodded, with a soft smile curving at the end of my lips and mounted my cycle to ride home.
‘But, Teju, one small request,’ he said blocking my way.
‘Forget these moments, but don’t forget me,’ he said softly.
FORGET THESE moments, but don’t forget me.
The words rang clear in my ears as I lay on Sid’s bed, weeping.
When I had arrived home, only Mom was present. When she had tried to build a comfortable conversation in vain, I climbed to Sid’s room, realizing I wouldn’t have privacy in mine as Anu would arrive from college soon.
I had actually come upstairs with a notion to clean Sid’s room, to divert my mind. I really had started with my task, but when the song track that was playing on his laptop changed to Christina Perri’s ‘THOUSAND YEARS’, memories of Lewis flooded into me and so, I was weeping.
I was weeping hard since I felt guilty of cheating Lewis.
Lin and I had practiced in school, how to tackle Lewis. She reminded me often that, instead of telling a boy that you won’t suit me, you won’t be my perfect match, underestimate yourself and tell that I won’t suit you, I won’t be a perfect match for you.
When we explain our situation and underrate ourselves with boys, they wouldn’t turn angry and would leave us soon. And that’s what I tried to do with Lewis.
I too had an infatuation for Lewis, right from the moment he had bumped into me. I tried to neglect that spark, by avoiding him. But, Lin’s joke on me, of my behavior changing every time I sighted him, is indeed true. I hid my affection for him from everyone, including him.
I was sobbing because I had lied.
But, from the minute, the conversation between him and me had begun, I forgot, what I had planned to ask and tell him. So, all the words and expressions, I had spoken, were true from my heart. I was honest before him. So, I wiped away my tears, consoling that I hadn’t really cheated.
‘No, I didn’t betray him,’ I screamed and boxed the bed with my fingers folded tightly.
‘I’m sorry Lewis. Though I’ve the same crush like you’ve on me, I can’t deceive my parents,’ I said to the imaginative Lewis sitting beside me.
The next day in school:
I updated Lin of Lewis’ adamant love for me.
Lin was marveled.
‘Wow!’ she exclaimed, ‘wish he had proposed to me, instead of you.’
‘Shall I recommend, then? Why don’t you try your luck?’ I asked her, innocently.
I knew every girl would have the same jealousy at this certain point.
‘May be, I might.’
One stare from me made her roll with laughter.
‘Oh! Teju, you really are a dumb one,’ she said holding her stomach.
‘Thanks,’ I said and marched out of the classroom.
Lin followed me behind, still giggling. Frustrated, I turned around to stop her from laughing anymore.
But as soon as I faced her, Lin’s expressions changed. She turned silent and I was sure it wasn’t because of me.
She was giving a wary smile at someone – someone behind me. I became aware of that someone’s presence and revolved around again.
And, there he was – the boy who still loves me – Lewis.
I stood staring at him, ignoring the response I should give. I figured we were sailing on the same boat – as he couldn’t take his eyes off me and remained expressionless.
But I could read his mind from his looks…..
‘Won’t you smile at me?’ – It said.
Lin joined me by my side, when she realized that none of us is going to utter a single word. She slipped her hand into mine and pulled me to my senses.
‘Hey! Think you could pave way for us to pass through,’ she said unperturbed.
Lewis realized himself and moved aside.
‘Thanks,’ Lin said, smiling.
He returned the smile and so, just to be courteous, I smiled too.
But, he glanced sideways. Even then, I could read his mind.
Don’t kill me with that smile.
I was confused. He had wanted me to smile and now… well, I was obviously bemused.
Lin tugged me to the restroom and I pondered over the incident for a while.
‘Shake it off baby!’ Lin said, as we exited.
I shot a suspicious look at her.
‘I know you’re worried that he didn’t smile at you. Don’t forget, he told you, that he wouldn’t bother you,’ she reminded me.
‘Maybe, he’s abiding by his promise,’ I said thoughtfully.
‘Teju, it’s about time you rested your mind from all the hassles.’
‘Fine, let’s go,’ I said, shaking my head, to literally shake off all my worries.
On our way back, I noticed Lewis pondering alone in the corridor, while rest of the boys were chatting happily.
I was disturbed that he wasn’t interacting as he usually would. I sensed the absence of lively spirit bubbling inside him.
‘Lin, you carry on. I’ll just have a word with Lewis and join you soon,’ I said, twirling the end of my hair.
She shrugged and went along.
I leaned against the railing, next to him, spacing a few inches between us.
He was conscious of my presence, but ignored to look at me.
‘Lewis,’ I started.
He boxed the pillar next to him and turned around to leave.
‘Lewis, hold on a minute,’ I begged.
He restored his old position, still not facing me.
‘Thanks,’ I said and gazed at the distant floating clouds.
‘Lewis, don’t sulk this way. You were a guy in high spirits always. Every minute that you spend thinking of me, I’m sure you’re losing your joy. Life has many things to offer you. But no, not me,’ I spoke very low and paused.
Though my speech was directed at him, I rarely gazed at his face. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was talking with him, though I knew everyone’s attention were on us.
I glanced sideways and everyone turned their heads. But once, I withdrew my gaze, they again watched skeptically at us.
‘Must be Toony’s work’ – I thought, ‘She must have spread the word.’
However, I continued.
‘Every boy is enjoying himself now. Turn around and see. The whole world around you is still lively, while you think yours is dead. Don’t stand alone and ponder over a thing that wouldn’t matter much to you. Go, join others. Don’t waste your life, brooding again,’ I said, gesturing him to team up with others.
But he remained immobile.
Why should I listen to you?
Gosh! I could read his mind again.
‘You should listen to me,’ I ordered.
That made him swivel his head and face me. He was surprised, how I had scanned his thoughts.
I blushed and glanced away to hide it.
‘Fine, if you still want to behave like a Devdas, go on. I won’t ask you. But, my point is that, a beard on your jovial face won’t suit you,’ I said and walked off, smiling at my end note.
I heard him chuckle silently.
‘Good work, Babe!’ – My inner voice congratulated me.
And by the next recess, I saw him giggling with his friends. When he saw me noticing him, he laughed even more loudly, indicating that he was doing, what I wished him to do.
‘I love you,’ he whispered into my ear, when I walked past him.
‘I love you too,’ – I heard my heart whisper.