I Try to Act All Grown-up
It was difficult to concentrate on work after what had happened on Sunday, especially when work itself was boring. I was distracted and made little progress. Thankfully the project deadline wasn’t for some time, and I was working alone, so I could afford to slack off if I made up for it later.
I kept thinking about that kiss with Raghav, trying to decipher what it meant. Trying to decipher my feelings, and his.
“He seems so infatuated with Sonali,” wailed Mandakini. “Yet right afterwards he says he wants to be with me! What does it mean?”
“What do I feel towards him?” asked Miki. “Why did it feel so nice to kiss him? If I am not in love with him, why am I attracted to him?”
“Maybe you are in love with him,” said Mandakini.
“No, I don’t think that’s true.”
“Come on, Raghav is your best friend, you like him better than anyone in the world. You are attracted to him. What more do you want?”
“I don’t know. But somehow… it doesn’t feel right. And I don’t want to make a move unless I’m absolutely sure… Maybe I’ll just wait and see how it goes.”
“If you wait too long, that girl will take him,” said Mandakini.
“But if he goes to her, that means he never really loved me.”
And sooner than I had expected, Raghav proved Miki right.
Raghav called me on Wednesday evening when I was in office. I had done with my work for the day and was only waiting for my mandatory nine hours to be over before I went home, so I told him I could talk even though I was at work. Everyone else who sat near me except for Ajay had gone home, so I could talk comfortably.
For the first time since Sunday, he talked of Sonali. He told me how much he’d enjoyed meeting her on this last visit.
“You know, I spoke to her last night. We ended up talking for hours. It was so… wonderful.”
For some reason, I felt no sadness. Maybe I had gone numb. Maybe both Miki and Mandakini were asleep in my head. All I felt was what Raghav’s friend should feel when he found love (again): understanding, happiness and some scepticism.
“Indeed!” I said.
“I feel weird. I don’t understand it.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“Well, I thought I was in love with you…”
“And now you think you’re in love with Sonali,” I concluded.
“Yes,” he admitted. He had the grace to seem embarrassed.
“Don’t feel guilty,” I told him. “I’m not offended or anything. In fact, I think you’ve liked Sonali for some time, and you tried to come closer to me because – well, you’ve known me longer. You thought I was the ‘safe’ choice.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s all right. I told you, didn’t I, that I didn’t believe you were in love with me? You only wanted to be with me because you knew me well, because you thought that was the wise thing to do.”
“You’re a darling,” he said.
“Oh, I know. But what are you going to do now? Will you tell her?”
“I don’t know. Should I?”
“I don’t think you should, not right away. Keep on being friends with her. Wait and see how it goes. Don’t scare her away with a declaration too soon.”
“I guess you’re right,” he said. “I’m not sure if I have a chance. I mean, I seem to be her closest friend – guy friend, at least – right now, but what if she thinks of me like a brother?”
I recalled how Sonali’s eyes had turned big and round when she talked to Raghav. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I am sure you have a chance. Only don’t ruin it by moving too fast.”
We talked a little longer. When I finally hung up, I glanced at Ajay to see how much of it he’d caught. His grin left me in no doubt. “Interesting friends you have,” he said.
“Want to go for dinner in the cafeteria?” I asked him.
“Sure.” He got up. Ajay sat next to me at work and had slowly, quietly turned into my one real friend in office. It helped that he was married and was totally devoted to his wife, so there was no risk of any… complications. It helped even more that he was one of the nicest people I knew. We sympathised with each other over tough project deadlines and difficult team members, we consulted each other on grammar dilemmas and email protocol. Unlike anyone else in my life at the moment – including me – he was unfailingly courteous and cheerful.
At dinner he complained ruefully about not being able to find his socks because his wife was on a work tour, and I expressed horror at his incompetence. We talked of movies, and I asked if he wanted to watch one together on Saturday.
“I can’t,” he said. “I am going to my in-laws for lunch, and Vaishali will be back that night.”
Even Ajay rejected me.
After dinner we both went down to catch our cabs. I chatted with Arpita and Shailesh, who were again in the same cab, and heard them complain about why they had had to work late. I got home and changed and got straight into bed. It was only then, when I lay in my dark room with a little moonlight sneaking in through the one window with my blue checked curtain partly drawn across it – it was only then that I thought about Raghav again.
“How can Raghav be in love with that girl?” fumed Miki. “She is so vapid, so… inconsequential… How can he prefer her to me?”
“Maybe you are judging her too harshly,” said Mandakini. “What do you know of her, after all? You have only met her once. Maybe her character has hidden depths that Raghav has glimpsed.”
“Hah!” said Miki.
But then, “even if she is the insipid creature she seemed, who am I to blame Raghav for being with her? Maybe he prefers that insipidity to the complexity of being with, say, someone like me.”
“But he is my friend,” said Miki. “He used to enjoy my company. How can he like someone like her?”
That was why it hurt. Raghav had been devoted to me for almost as long as I had known him. In spite of my boyfriends and his girlfriends, we had seemed to belong together. We got each other in a way no one did. And I had always felt I was the most important person in his life.
That wasn’t true any more. Maybe what hurt me most about Sonali was not that she was not good enough for my best friend, but that when she was there Raghav was paying attention to her.
“And what about that kiss?” said Mandakini. “Did that mean nothing? How could he forget it so soon?”
“It’s just a kiss,” said Miki. “Get over it.”
“It was just a kiss,” Miki repeated. “He had been attracted to me for a long time – he admitted that. Maybe that’s all it was – attraction. I explained it so well to him: why is it difficult for me to accept it?”
“It’s not like I ever wanted him in that way.”
“Really? Maybe I did and never really recognised it. Why else would I have responded to his kiss?”
“But things were so great between us!” cried Mandakini. “Now he’ll grow away from me. He won’t be my Raghav any more.”
“I suppose that was bound to happen sometime,” said Miki. “And I can’t complain, can I, when I don’t want him for myself?”
“I had the chance,” said Mandakini wistfully. “I could have had him all to myself,”
“It wouldn’t have worked out,” said Miki. “I have always been too difficult for him. He probably needs someone more easygoing, like her.”
I pictured Raghav with Sonali.
“And when he’s with her, he’ll be like he was that day at Priya – nice and polite and uninteresting. He will become more like her as time passes, and he and I will slide into being polite acquaintances.”
Tears slid down my cheeks and dissolved into my pillow. I was losing my best friend. I wanted to call up someone and seek comfort. But whenever I had had a problem in the past, I had called up Raghav.
I couldn’t call him now, no matter how late I stayed awake, no matter how alone I felt.
I would have to grow up and deal with this alone.