Meet Me, MikiLeaving office at six on a Friday evening would have felt much nicer if I had actually had any plans for the weekend. I said goodbye cheerily as I walked off, smiling at the jealous groans of those who were still at their desks. I chatted with a couple of colleagues as we took the lift down. I found my cab and squeezed myself in next to the two other people already in the back seat. Usually, we all sat in silence as the cab took us to our homes, but our relief at finding ourselves at the end of another week of work loosened tongues.
“I’m going home to my parents in Meerut,” confessed Geeta. “My dad’s on his way to pick me up: I’m just going home to change and pack first.” Geeta lived in Gurgaon, at least on weekdays, with two roommates. I knew her well because we often shared a cab; her house was at a little distance from mine.
“I wish I could go home every weekend!”said Arpita enviously. “My parents live all the way away in Jamshedpur. But I’m going out with my roommates and some other friends tonight. ”
“All the way away indeed!” I thought. My mother lived in Assam, and I hadn’t seen her for nearly two years.
“Where are you going?” The man in the front seat, whose name I didn’t know, seemed curious.
“I don’t know,” said Arpita. “Some place in Vasant Vihar, I think. It’s supposed to be a happening place, with a great bar, but I don’t remember the name…”
My bschool was not very far from Vasant Vihar and I had lived in the vicinity for nearly two years, but I had no idea of what nightly attractions the area held. My hostel had had a curfew of 9 pm.
“I’ve got a cousin coming over tomorrow morning,” said the young man, whom Arpita called Shailesh. “I’m going to show her around town: she’s very keen on getting some shopping done.”
“What about you, Miki?” asked Geeta kindly. “What are you doing this weekend?”
“I… I haven’t made any particular plans yet,” I said. “I’m just so glad that the week is over.”
“Amen,” said Shailesh, and the others gave sighs of agreement, while I was relieved at not being asked to elaborate upon my lack of plans for the next two days – or, indeed, for the future.
As I lived nearest to the office, I was the first to be dropped off. I waved goodbye and ran lightly up the stairs to the first floor. I let myself in. It was dim inside, and I turned on the light to reveal a longish living room with cream walls and floor that looked suspiciously like they had been white once. I went into my bedroom to change.
The room looked bigger than it really was because of the sparse furniture: one narrow bed, one built-in cupboard, and a rack for miscellaneous odds and ends. The blue checked curtain at the window and the black-and-yellow bedspread lent some colour to the room.
The room opened out onto a narrow balcony that spread across my bedroom, the kitchen, and the other bedroom. I pushed open the door and walked out on the balcony to retrieve my towel hanging there. The other bedroom was inhabited by Divya, who also worked in my office. But Divya was going to her parents’ home straight from work, and I had the house to myself.
It was only half past six. I was alone at home with the entire weekend stretching empty before me.
I pushed that thought away as I washed up. The cold water stung my face. I wandered into the kitchen and peered into the cupboards. I fleetingly considered making myself a nutritional meal before my hand reached out for the pack of Maggi noodles.
I sat in the living room with my plate and the morning’s newspaper. After some time, I put both down, emptied. I turned on the TV and flipped through channels before turning it off again when I found nothing to hold my interest. Having exhausted all other sources of entertainment, I turned to the last, most reliable resort: talking to myself.
I cheered myself up with the reminder that Raghav was coming to Delhi tomorrow. I would see him again after what seemed like a very long time. I hoped he would also meet me next week after I got off work in the evenings: it would be exciting to go out with him for a change, instead of coming home early every evening and watching TV till I was sleepy enough for bed.
I sat on the mattress on the living room floor, my arms wrapped around my knees, thinking of Raghav. We had been friends for nearly three years now. I thought back to the first day of b-school. When I had arrived at the auditorium – way too early so that the door was still shut – there was a boy standing by the door. He smiled at me and held out his hand to shake. “I’m Raghav,” he said.
I had always wondered at the coincidence. That he and I should meet right at the beginning of the first day, and sit talking on the steps before the other new students crowded around. That we should start making friends right then, like we didn’t want to lose a moment.
Before Raghav, friends had been just people to do things with, like whispering in class and going to the movies. But with Raghav… well, it was different. For one, we had made friends instantly. I had never done that before: my friendships usually developed gradually. But within a few moments of meeting Raghav, I felt like I had known him for years.
It didn’t take long for Raghav to become one of the two most important people in my life, the other being my mom. For the last three years, he had been the first person I had told if anything happened. I had sought him out right after my mom called to tell me my graduation results when I was in the first year of b-school. I called him whenever I had boy troubles; when my boss praised me at work the first time; when I got a raise after completing six months at work; when I was lonely or missing home; when my roommate irritated me. I even called him when I was annoyed with my mom. He was a brother I could always turn to, a friend I could always gossip with, and sometimes, a parent who soothed me.
It was not like I didn’t have anyone else. I had a sister, a brother-in-law and an adorable little nephew; an aunt whom I was fond of and her children who were still in school and looked up to me as an older and wiser sister: but somehow none of them were a part of my life the way Raghav was.
Raghav himself would have been scandalised at my putting him before my family. He was very certain that family came first, even though he himself had little in common with his parents, and hid from them the fact that he smoked and drank (and much else, I was sure). I found this difficult to understand. I loved my mom because I liked her, because she left me alone and treated me like a grown up and didn’t judge me. I couldn’t imagine respecting her if I had to hide things from her. I wasn’t sure whether that made me weird, or Raghav. I was inclined to think it was him, of course, but then I’d seen so many people think like him that I suspected I might be wrong.
Raghav was the only person who could make me laugh so hard that tears rolled down my eyes. It wasn’t that he was very witty, more that his sense of humour was quirky in the same direction as mine. Often, when we were sitting with a group of friends in the college canteen, some random phrase that no one else had blinked at would prompt our eyes to find each other and twinkle.
We had seen each other through romance and heartbreak. There was that girl in college – Nivedita. I used to wonder what Raghav saw in her, but I took care not to say so – at the time. She was pretty, but she had no sense of humour and an exaggerated sense of her own importance. She used to roll her eyes at his jokes.
It lasted for an entire year. I was relieved when she dumped him. He seemed to be, too, after the first couple of weeks.
But whenever I brought it up with Raghav later, he blamed me. I had imagined myself in love with Mrigank then, and I spent so much time with him that Raghav was lonely and (according to himself) sought comfort in Nivedita.
When I was finally single again – after Mrigank as well as that short episode with Abhijeet – Raghav had got rid of Nivedita, and we celebrated our singlehood together. We had a large group of friends, and we bunked classes, went on drives and picnics, and hung out at the flat three of our male friends shared. At night, Raghav always dropped me off at my hostel before going home to his parents.
But by the time we were single again, and had all the time we could steal from classes and projects and assignments and exams to spend with each other, the course had almost ended, and we had both got jobs in different cities.
My job was in Gurgaon, and Raghav’s in Karnataka. Amidst all the triumph and euphoria at getting jobs with salaries that had felt, then, almost quite lavish; at the end, forever, of studies and classes and exams; at the imminent beginning, finally, of grown-up life; was this dull heavy pain that constantly reminded me that Raghav was going away, and it was the end of our carefree time, of our constant togetherness.
I had consoled myself with the thought that he would be visiting Delhi often, to meet his parents. Mature as Raghav usually seemed, he was also a mama’s boy: he had never lived away from his parents and I was sure he would miss home. He had talked easily, before he left, of coming home only at Diwali, but I had bet myself that he would be back in two months.
But he had left at the end of March, and now October was ending, and he would be back for the first time since he had gone. He hadn’t even made it back for Diwali, though he had made plans to, and I had decided to stay in town - even though it was a four-day weekend and my sister had been insisting I visit her – so that I could meet him. But two days before he was due to come he had called and said that he had to cancel: there was some big Diwali sale that he had to coordinate, and his boss had refused to let him go.
I knew he was upset, and he had already told his parents and they must have voiced their disappointment already, so I didn’t tell him how disappointed I was – though knowing Raghav, he would have guessed anyway. I laughed at his slave-like position in the company, he laughed at my being all alone in my flat in Gurgaon for Diwali, and in this typical fashion we tried to cheer each other up.
A couple of days after Diwali he called up with the great news that the Diwali sale had gone off very well: his boss was very pleased with him, and he could take his vacation soon.
So, finally, he was coming tomorrow. I had kept my fingers crossed, but as there was no news yet it was safe to assume nothing would go wrong this time.
Even though we had been apart all these months, it didn’t seem like I missed him any less than at first. We spoke on the phone at least an hour every week, but it wasn’t the same as Raghav being with me, holding my hand as we walked to pull me along because I couldn’t keep up with his long quick strides, poking fun of strangers on the street, grinning wickedly as he looked down at me.
But now he would be back, if only for a few short days, and I would get all that again.