The next day, Divya and I had lunch together in office, something we rarely did. She had left home early in the morning and wanted an early lunch, and she asked me to join her. She had news.
“I’m going to stay on for another month,” she said. “There’s this project that’s just come in: the boss is very eager for me to handle it. It will only be over in early January, so I’ve agreed to stay on till then.”
“Are you okay with that?” I asked, looking up from the delicious aloo parathas her mom had packed for our lunch.
“Well, I did want to have a few weeks off,” she said. “I was looking forward to spend some time with my parents before I go away. But I’m taking time off anyway, after the wedding. I don’t know when I’ll get a work permit and be able to work in the US. Plus… Samarth’s always been the best of managers, I don’t want to let him down.”
“Well, your wedding’s on 23rd January, right? So you’ll have enough time to prepare… But I think if you want more time, you should get it. Don’t let them wear you down. You’ve given them enough notice anyway.”
“It’s all right,” she shrugged. “I’ve agreed already.”
I was a little annoyed at this way she had of giving in, of changing decisions for no other reason than someone else’s persistence.
I hadn’t had much luck finding a roommate so far. I preferred having someone I knew and liked, but there had been no such candidates yet. I had tried to persuade Kim to move in with me, but she preferred staying in Delhi with her friends and near her boyfriend.
I was a little fussy about roommates. I had lived away from home since I was eighteen: the first three years at college in Guwahati, the next nearly-two at my b-school in Delhi, and the last seven months working in Gurgaon. I had had many roommates in that time, and I had realized how important your roommate was to your happiness. There was so much potential for disagreement: money (spent on groceries or other shared items), noise, light (when to turn it off or keep it on), cleanliness, sharing each other’s things, late hours, visitors – and if the roommate had little sense of boundary, you got unsolicited advice or opinions on your habits and your love life.
The last few months had been relatively easier, because Divya and I shared a flat, not a room, and both of us had somewhat kept to ourselves, rarely sharing thoughts with or questioning each other.
But the best roommate I’d ever had had been Rizvi, in the first year of b-school. She was never interfering or judgemental. She never hinted that I should tidy my bed or my desk, though she had been meticulously tidy herself. She never turned on the lights when I was sleeping, and never insisted on talking when I wanted to be quiet. Her only problem was that she smoked – but I liked her too much to even ask her to desist from smoking inside my room. After some time, I had started sharing her cigarettes. They soothed me after a long tiring day, and we used to sit together by the window, smoking and talking.
Mrigank had resented my friendship with Rizvi. They were in the same class, and I later suspected he was afraid she would reveal too much of him to me. He claimed she was a ‘bad influence’ on me. I remember telling him that I wanted a boyfriend, not a father. And he retorted that if I’d had a father to begin with, I would have grown up to be a better person.
There was no way I could forgive that, but I was too proud to show him how much it hurt. I did not react at the time, but over the next few weeks, I took malicious pleasure in making him jealous and uncomfortable. When I finally told him I wanted to break up, he seemed relieved.
Rizvi and I, on the contrary, had remained friends. She got a job in Delhi, and visited me in the hostel every few weeks. Rizvi had hit it off with Raghav too, and during our summer training, when Raghav and I had been the only ones from our gang who had got internships in Delhi, the three of us had frequently gone to the movies together. Since I moved to Gurgaon, however, I had only met her twice, but she sometimes called to tell me about her troubles with her boss, or about her latest boyfriend.
The early lunch left me feeling hungry in the evening, and I pinged Divya to ask if she wanted to join me in the cafeteria.
“I don’t have much money,” she confessed when she met me. “I forgot to withdraw money on my way here.”
My jaw dropped. “Oh, my god. I’d forgotten I have barely any money left either. In my case, though – I didn’t forget to withdraw it. I don’t have any left in my account.”
“Well, the salary should come in tomorrow.” Divya spoke as if of a train coming into a station. “But what do we do now?”
We dug into all corners of our wallets, digging out coins and spare notes and pouring them onto the table. At the end, we had two ten-rupee notes, one five-rupee coin and two two-rupee coins from her, and one twenty-rupee note, one five-rupee note, three five-rupee coins, a two-rupee coin and two one-rupee coins from me.
“That makes 71,” I said. “It should be enough.”
I asked for a chicken puff – twenty-five rupees – and Divya asked for a vegetarian burger, which was twenty rupees. We poured ourselves tea from the machine.
“I wish they would accept credit cards here,” whined Divya.
“I wish I had a credit card,” I countered.
“Why don’t you?” she asked.
“Well, I applied for one last time the bank guy came, but he said I was below the income threshold,” I said a little sheepishly.
“What rubbish!” said Divya, getting worked up on my behalf. “That’s stupid. You know what, I’ll call up my credit card people and refer you.”
“Never mind,” I said. “That’ll be one more bill to pay, more statements to keep track of.”
“Yeah, but you get rewards for spending. Plus, it’ll be easier to book tickets online. You just talk to them and see. You can decide later.”
“Sure,” I said without enthusiasm. Our food arrived and for a few moments neither of us spoke a word.