Picking Up The Pieces

“What were you thinking?” squeaked the mouth on the floor.

“What were you thinking?” Colonel Batra shot back.

An entity with one arm and half a leg dragged itself over to the mouth, “I’ve often been told that I should stop running my mouth.” A toothy grin flashed from the mouth now nestled in a dirty palm.

Batra sighed. “What was I thinking?” he thought to himself as he looked around. His butt- a piece of his butt was missing and as a man rather fond of his butt, he was determined to find it.

He walked past two fingers and a kidney. Something that looked like a Gluteus beckoned to him from the left and he pounced.

“That’s mine!” a severed hand clamped over his leftover finger.

He jumped. “How on earth are you doing that?” he whirled towards the one-armed entity and snapped.

“I’m using the force,” the solemnity in the mouth’s voice didn’t match the twinkle in its eyes.

“Damn kid…dead and still joking around…” Batra grumbled as he pulled his hand away.

The entity was now beside him and offering a piece of flesh with its single hand. “Why don’t we think of this as my version of an olive branch?”

“My butt!” Batra snatched it from the hand and pressed it into his torn behind. It merged seamlessly into its place as if it had been waiting for the opportunity.

Batra sighed in relief. “I always thought my butt was my best feature,” said the 50 year old army officer.

“It is a nice butt. Felt quite meaty,” replied the 23 year old terrorist.

Once upon a minute, they had come face to face- gun to grenade. The officer was defending his base from the bomber; the terrorist was promoting his belief through the bomb. There was that split second when their eyes met. Then, they were dead.

Later that day, a terrorist cell will make a legend out of the young man’s name. Later the same day, the old officer would be honoured as a martyr that died in the line of duty. Neither had wanted to die. But, in that split second none of these thoughts entered their heads.

“Seriously, what was I thinking?” Batra mumbled as he hopped towards the wall, his leg tucked under his arm.

“The question should be: why didn’t you think?” came the cheery voice from behind him. The head was now re-attached to the torso and the entity ceased to be an entity and became a person. He slid down the wall beside the now fully-reassembled officer. “Don’t you need your fingers?”

“I only need one,” Batra held up his hand with the single remaining middle finger.

The terrorist snorted and opened his mouth. Then, closed it. The smile slipped from his face as he looked up at the officer he killed.

“Do you hate me?”

Batra moved the facial muscles to rise his eyebrows.

“That looks very weird when you don’t have eyebrows.”

“And whose fault is that?”

The young terrorist’s equally hairless face flushed. “Sorry…” he mumbled.

“What’s your name?”  Batra asked to break the silence that had fallen between them.

“Abrar,” came the quiet answer.

“Age?”

“23”

“First gun?”

“.22”

“Mine too!”

Abrar looked up with wide eyes at the excited officer. Slowly, his face creased into a smile.

“I used to love my rifle. I was only six then, so it was almost as tall as me. But, I would clean it every day and I would love to hold it, even if I wasn’t shooting!” Abrar fell back against the wall as the memories assaulted him.

“Ah…I know that feeling.”

The silence that fell between them now was more companionable.

“Do you hate me?” the terrorist’s question thickened the air again.

“I did. I hated you so much I would have shot you without a second thought.” The air became thicker.

“But…you didn’t.” the small voice almost lost its way in the miasma between them before reaching the officer.

“I know. I was surprised too,” Batra shook his head and shrugged. “But, what does it matter? I’m dead now. So, if it’s anything to you, I don’t hate you anymore.”

Abrar nodded. “At least, you died a hero,” he whispered.

“So did you,” replied the martyred colonel, “Just…to a different set of people.”

The air lightened and the companionable silence returned.

“You know, I read the Koran,” Batra started.

“Oh?”

“It’s a book open to interpretation,” he turned to look at his partner in death, “Just like any other religious book.”

Abrar nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Then, did you ever wonder how it would’ve been if you had adopted a more peaceful interpretation?” Batra’s lopsided eyes didn’t leave the young man’s lopsided face.

“All the time,” came the reply, “But, it didn’t matter. Because good boys don’t ask questions. They follow orders and I wanted to be a good boy.”

“Ah! People-pleaser, aren’t you?”

“That’s my weakness.”

“So, let’s say you meet Messiah now. What do you think you’ll say?”

The dead terrorist guffawed. “What were you thinking? That’s what I’d say!”

Batra laughed, “I thought good boys didn’t ask questions?”

“I’m dead now. What does it matter?” Abrar winked. “So, what would you say?”

“Ah…” Batra let out loud sigh, “I’m not much for talking. But, I believe it’s a sign that the only finger left on my hand is the middle one.”

The terrorist placed a hand on the officer’s shoulder. “You have a lot of growing up to do, old man.”

“And you have a lot of Sorrys to say, young terrorist,” Batra shrugged off the hand from his shoulder, “Let’s go. It’s time.”

 

 

The mourning comrades had lit the fire, one in consecration of a martyr, another in desecration of a terrorist. Leaping flames consumed the remains of hero and villain alike and nobody noticed a well-shaped butt and a toothy grin walking away.

 

*END*

Mask

The room was dimly-lit and crowded. Tendrils of smoke curled towards the ceiling; vibrations from the beat spinning in the corner crawled through the walls. The people were masked and swaying. Sipping a drink, smoking a stick, a couple kissing against a pillar; some talking, some dancing; all lost in the beat and in the moment.

I didn’t know any of them. None of them knew me. We were masked people escaping the reality of our lives, of ourselves and converging in a nondescript location for a nondescript party.

Nobody asks for a name, for an ID. No one offers me a drink, but the bar stood by the door welcoming those who wanted it. Nobody questions me as I join the throng on the floor, swaying into their mix. I usually needed a drink to loosen up. But, that day, in that room, under that mask, I wasn’t me.

Somebody offers me a hand. I take it and he spins me around. I laugh as the Joker-masked person catches me with an arm and pulls me close. We dance the next beat together before he lets me go, I let him go and we become a mass of people again.

A dancing train was forming and I join the tail end of it matching my step to theirs. The sound of laughing makes a heady mixture with the disco beat. We stop being masked people and become our masks. The brown eyes of an Audrey Hepburn catch my eye and pull me out of the train and onto the bench.

I slip in beside her and she offers me her drink. I refuse. I don’t need alcohol tonight. I lean in close and whisper into her uncovered ear.

“Dance with me.”

I could hear her laughter. It was clear. It was tinkling. It was mesmerizing.

I place my hand on hers and thread our fingers together. I guide her to the dance floor through the crowd which had gone silent in my head. I slip my hands around her waist and pull her close. In that moment, only she and I existed. We start swaying to a beat in our head rather than the music shaking the walls. Her hands were around my neck; her face close to mine, brown eyes staring into black. I didn’t know who she was; she didn’t know who I was. But, right then, on that floor, she was mine and I was hers.

We dance until our feet hurt; as sweat runs down our backs; as lips meet lips, we dance under masks where she isn’t who she is, I’m not who I am. We dance into a night which had no place for the trappings of the day. We dance until music stops and we could hear our hearts pounding, breathing, trembling. A lingering touch, a lingering kiss…and we let go.

I make my way home just as dawn breaks through the night sky. I take my mask off, shed the sweaty clothes and crawl into my bed. For a second, I feel like a stranger in my own bed. Then, the light hits my window ending the night…my mask was off, my ID card was lazily spinning on my bedstead and I was me again.

*END*

Image Credit: Hide Behind a Mask II by Catliv (Deviant art)

Memory of a Shadow

She remembers today.

 

“Daddy! He’s following me again!”

 

Dressed in black;

 

“He’s coming to get me! Daddy!”

The man turns, laughs and scoops up his daughter into his arm.

 

Standing by her father for the last time;

 

“Is he gone now?”

The little girl hides her face in her father’s shoulder, “I don’t know. I don’t wanna look.”

 

This time, she looks.

But, all she finds is the shadow of a gravestone made of granite.

So, she cries. She cries for the father and for the daughter. But, for the memory of the daughter’s shadow…

She laughs.

*END*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossroads

“Let’s break up?”

“Let’s break up.”

 

 

“You’ll be in the same hospital as Shona? That’s awesome! It’ll be nice to have a friend during PG.”

“She’ll be my senior. And in an entirely different department. I doubt if we’ll even get to meet much.”

“Nonsense! Of course, you will. If she doesn’t meet you, tell me. I’ll take care of it.”

She laughed. “I love you, Nishu!”

“I know. I know. Now, don’t you go getting back together with her and forgetting all about me.”

“Of course, I won’t! You’re my soulmate. My one and only. We’re engaged, aren’t we?”

“Yeah. Remember that…darling!”

 

 

“Maybe, we should take a break. Try it out and see if it makes a difference.”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s take a break.”

 

 

“Shona’s boyfriend?”

“Yep. He’s my colleague. Same department. Same year.”

“Her current boyfriend?”

“Yep. Small world, huh?”

“Gives an entirely new definition to the term, I’d say. She hooked up with him after she broke up with you?”

“Yeah. They met during her internship apparently. He’s nice.”

“Huh. Is he really?”

“Yeah, he actually is. We’re getting along super well.”

“But, are you ok?”

“Of course, I’m ok! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Are you over her, Micky?”

“It’s been more than a year, Nishu…”

“Yes. But, are you over her?”

“Of course, I am.”

“………………………..”

“You’re worrying over nothing, Nishu.”

 

 

“Something’s missing, isn’t it?”

“Yea…the spark. I feel like it’s gone.”

 

 

“Are they serious?”

“Are who serious?”

“Shona and that boy!”

“His name is Gaurav.”

“I don’t care. I don’t like him.”

“He’s really nice, you know. You’ll like him if you meet him.”

“Well, I’m not gonna meet him and so, I’m not gonna like him. Anyway, are they serious?”

“I guess so. I never asked.”

“Ask!”

“That’s their personal business, Nishu. I have no right to butt in.”

“You’re not butting. You’re just asking. Innocent question. Part of a conversation.”

“I don’t want to make things uncomfortable.”

“Stop being so goody-goody!”

“I’m not. I’m just being normal! Anyway, I gotta go. Bye!”

 

 

“Why’re you so quiet?”

“I can’t think of anything to talk about.”

 

 

“Micky….Sorry…”

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I won’t bug you about them anymore. I promise.”

“Pinkie swear?”

“Pinkie swear!”

“Oh good! Now, listen to what happened this morning….”

 

 

“I can’t remember when we talked last. Are you free this weekend?”

“Only after 7. Call me. I’ll be waiting.”

 

 

“Apparently, his parents want to him get married.”

“To Shona?”

“No. They don’t know about her.”

“Oh! What’re they planning to do then?”

“Shona doesn’t know yet…”

“What the hell? Why not? And why’d he tell you first?”

“Because, we’re friends, Nishu! Anyway, he says he’s got a plan…”

“What sort of plan?”

“He’s going to slip her profile in among the prospective brides and then, pick her out as his choice.”

“Will his parents fall for that?”

“He’s going to use me as a character reference for her since we’re college friends and all and I’m supposed to talk her up.”

“Still…What if his parents don’t agree?”

“I asked him the same thing. He said he’ll do his best to get them to agree. But, if not, he’ll have to go with his parents’ wishes. Only child syndrome.”

“That sucks! How can he be so easy about it?”

“He’s not, really. But, come on. I admire him for it. He’s dealing with it very sensibly!”

“Sensible doesn’t cut it here. He needs a better plan.”

“That I told him too.”

“Why are you telling him that? Are you nuts?”

“Excuse me?”

“If he succeeds, Shona will be married. Are you ok with that?”

“Nishu! You pinkie swore…”

“But, seriously, Micky…”

“Look, I’m not the one who should be ok here. Shona’s not going to like this plan, you know.”

“Yes. Because the plan sucks!”

“No. Because she would hate to start it off with a lie.”

“Really?”

“I know her.”

 

 

“We’ve been talking for 72 minutes and 44 seconds…now 45…now 46…”

“Stop counting! We’ll talk all night long if we want to.”

 

 

“She hated it.”

“The plan?”

“Yes.”

“What’s he gonna do now?”

“Currently, he’s sulking. But, I agree with Shona. You shouldn’t start these things off with a lie.”

“See, you guys agree upon the important things! That’s why you make such a great couple!”

“We’re not a couple anymore. Anyway, listen, Nishu, I think he’s a little pissed off at me too.”

“Why on earth? You were even going along with that ridiculous plan of his?”

“Well, today, we were sitting in the canteen when Shona joined us. He brought up the marriage issue and I was about to make an excuse and leave. But, Shona literally clamped on to my hand and wouldn’t let go! So, I had to stay and on top of that, Shona’s reaction was exactly as I predicted it would be…”

“Why on earth did Shona do that?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

“Weird. But, it’s not your fault you guys are better friends than they are boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“I know. But, I’m feeling a little bad for him, after all.”

“Oh well! If you’re so concerned, go talk to him directly. Maybe, you can tell him your history.”

“How would that help? If anything, that’ll probably make things worse!”

“Yes, it would, wouldn’t it?”

“You don’t need to sound so gleeful! That’s nasty. I’m not in a soap opera, Nishu!”

“When your ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend becomes your temporary best friend, it is called a soap opera.”

“Why temporary?”

“Because I’m the permanent deal.”

 

“I don’t want to break up. Do you wanna do the long distance thing with me?”

“I do.”

 

“So, what’s the next episode in the soap opera that’s your life?”

“They are not talking to each other.”

“Huh! Shona’s also sulking?”

“Not really. But, he’s still not happy with her and it’s strained; I think she’s giving him space.”

“Is he the kind of boy who appreciates space?”

“I think the space is more for Shona’s sake than him. Shona’s being Shona. I’ve been telling her to buck up and talk things out with him and now, she got all miffed with me too.”

“Oh, Micky, my self-destructive friend, what will I do with you?”

“Marry me and live happily ever after.”

“That’s on the cards already. But, about Shona, I mean.”

“Pinkie swear….”

“Come on, Micky! I know you’re not over her! You know you’re not over her! Why can’t you just admit it?”

“……………………………..”

“Fine! Live in denial!”

“Thank you. I will.”

“Aargh! Micky-baby, listen, the first step is always acknowledging the problem, isn’t it? Don’t you think it’ll be easier to move forward once you admit to your true feelings?”

“…………………… It hurts, Nishu…”

“Honey… Listen, why don’t you come over here next weekend? Away from all the drama…”

“Yeah. Yeah, I think I will. Thank you, Nishu. I love you.”

 

“What do you want for your birthday?”

“You.”

 

“I thought it was going to be just the two of us.”

“That’s what I thought too. But, at the last moment, Shona said she needed to get away… It’s ok, right?”

“I’m fine with it. Shona’s my friend too. Are you ok?”

“Oh, I’m good! All drama aside, she’s still one of my best friends. I love her company.”

“Not more than mine.”

“Not more than yours.”

 

“Wow… It’s beautiful up here! How did you find this place?”

“I searched. For ‘our’ spot.”

 

“She still likes you.”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“She does! I’m sure of it! And it explains everything! Her behaviour, her reluctance for marriage-talk, her reaction to that boy!”

“No, it doesn’t. You just haven’t seen them both together.”

“But, I’ve seen you two together and you’re still into each other. Mikisha! Be honest, do they make a better couple than you two do?”

“I can’t answer that! And anyway, it doesn’t matter. She’s with him now and I’m not such a lovesick puppy as to pine over her every new relationship. Give me some credit, Nishu!”

“Fine! Be proud! And later, when you’re an old spinster sitting alone on a Saturday night, go on a date with that pride too!”

“I will!”

“Fine!”

“Fine!”

 

“I just had the worst day! Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong… Except you. You’re perfect.”

“I know. I’m perfect. For you.”

 

“He’s getting married.”

“What?!”

“I know. I was shocked too.”

“But, they didn’t even make up!”

“Yeah. Apparently, she called him last night to break it off and he told her the news.”

“Wow…That’s cold.”

“Yeah. But, she doesn’t seem too broken up over it… But then, it’s Shona. She never seems broken up over anything.”

“She was broken up when you guys fought.”

“No…not really…”

“She was. Anyway, she’s not broken up right now, because she likes you.”

“Will you stop?”

“Yes, when you both admit it, I’ll stop.”

“Which means never?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’ll happen soon.”

“You’re underestimating our collective pride, I see.”

“Nope, I’m correctly estimating your collective horniness.”

“Bitch.”

“Love you too.”

 

“I lurrrve youuuu…”

“You’re drunk. But, I love you too.”

 

“He said- I’m not homophobic, but I’m angry you hid it from me for so long; then, handed us the wedding card.”

“Fair enough. All of a sudden, I’m liking him a lot.”

“Well, it’s not the sort of thing you slip in with a hello… Hi, I’m Mikisha; I’m gay and your girlfriend used to be my girlfriend?!”

“Oh! But, that’s an introduction he would’ve remembered for the rest of his life! Anyway, how’re things with you two?”

“We have been spending a lot of time together. But…”

“Just get drunk and talk it out.”

“Yes, I think it’s time to do that.”

 

“How can we make a date seem more like a date and less like two girls hanging out?”

“Should we make out at the bar?”

 

“What happened? What happened? What happened?”

“You were right about our collective horniness.”

“Yes, yes. But, apart from that?”

“Why’re you so interested in this anyway?”

“That’s a stupid question! Because I love you and Shona is my friend and you guys are perfect for each other! Do you realise how many hearts were broken when you two broke up?”

“Two?”

“Don’t be sassy with me, young lady! Now, tell me, what happened?”

“Yes, grandma. We drank, we talked, we made out at the bar; that’s all.”

“And?”

“And…we’re back together.”

“For real?”

“For real.”

 

“I like you. As in more than a friend kind of like.”

“If you mean you jerk off while thinking of me, then, I like you too.”

 

“When are you reaching?”

“Our flight lands at 7.30. Are you gonna be picking us up?”

“I’m sending a car. Where’s Shona?”

“She’s currently telling the guy her parents wanted her to meet that she’s gay. And introducing me as the girlfriend. (Hello, I’m Mikisha, Shona’s girlfriend.)”

“What’s his face like now?”

“I feel cruel.”

“That’s ok. Her parents are not taking it well then?”

“Nope. They still think it’s a phase. Maybe I should get my folks to talk to them.”

“Yeah. Anyway, my parents sure are glad after hearing about you two. Even if he is from the South, I’m still marrying a guy.”

“Sure…what are best friends for?”

“I’m glad we agree. Anyway, get here soon. There’s so much more shopping to do!”

“You think you’re making a compelling argument, but, you’re not.”

“Fine. Send Shona here. You’ll be useless anyway!”

“Traitor!”

“Monkey!”

“You’re losing your touch.”

“I know. Get here soon.”

 

“Marry me.”

“It’s illegal”

“So what?”

“…………………I’m free next weekend.”

 

*END*

A Last Chance: The last time

He roams around
Alone
A dog on the hunt
A scent he follows

He let himself into the house as usual. His best friend was out. She was out.

He pours himself some milk from the freezer and as an afterthought, adds some whisky to it. He needs it, he tells himself; he needs it after the day he had today.

A girl he meets
A girl he lets go
Alone, alone, he roams
None stays around
Too long

He knew he scared Tara today. He couldn’t really blame her for breaking up with him. Hell! He would have broken up with him after that behaviour.

A bark of laughter escaped as he remembered her face when he threw the glass at her. Almost, he reminded himself, almost threw the glass at her. At the last moment, he’d changed the direction an infinitesimal amount and it had shattered into pieces harmlessly behind her.

Ok maybe not harmlessly… he looked at his bandaged hand ruefully. It was a shoddy job. She would have done a much better job. Is that why he was here? He asked himself.

He sits at night
Alone,
Alone in his den
Nursing his bitterness
Restraining his anger
Holding back the memories
That eat at him, gnaw at him
Scratch at him
Until he breaks

When did he realize it? He wonders.

Was it after his first girlfriend? Or his tenth?

When did he realize that no girl stayed because he’s carrying a torch around for someone else? He groaned and put his head in his hands, covered his face as if that would make it all go away. He wished he was an ostrich- put his head into the ground and pretend these feelings never existed. He could feel the urge to throw the glass creeping up on him again. He clutched the cold glass tightly with both his hands; told himself breaking a glass against a wall never changed anything. Yet, almost involuntarily, his arm lifted, drew back…and the door opened.

“Nikhil?” the voice of his best friend brought him out of the daze, “Are you ok?”

Slowly, he willed his hand under control; he willed his mind under control and turned around.

“Yeah!” he replied gruffly, “Tara dumped me and I was out of this,” he put up the empty glass.

“Glasses?” his friend asked wryly.

“Yes, threw the last one at her head.”

“Mate, tell me she’s ok,” Jay’s smile dropped and his eyes narrowed.

“Yeah, yeah. She’s fine. Didn’t actually hit her. Just kind of threw it in her general direction,” Nikhil waved a hand airily and went back to staring at the table.

“You should have Mary take a look at that,” Jay had settled himself opposite to him at the table and was now staring at his blood-stained bandaged hand.

“Yeah. Ok.” And silence descended again in the little house.

He was unpredictable
Not very dependable
He cursed and drank and smoked like a chimney
Not good with families or
Very kind to his friends
He knew there are a million reasons
She shouldn’t pick him.
Yet, he wished…and dreamed
And craved…

The door opened again and this time, she entered. Laughing with her friend, not a care in the world. Her eyes were glowing; her cheeks were pink; she was full of life and he was only a shadow.

He felt a flash of anger surge through him and he stood up.

She’s the one
She’s the one, he needed
He wished…he craved for
She’s the one, he dreamed of
When he dreamed of anything at all

In one long stride, he was standing in front of her. Laila was looking at him strangely, maybe with a warning; the door opened again and in walked her fiancé; he heard Jay growl his name in warning behind him.

But, he ignored them all. Paid no heed to anybody but the girl in front of him- she was so full of life and he was only a shadow- and it was all her fault.

She’s the one
She’s the one
She’s the one…

He bent down and in the split second it took for the realization to hit her, he had swept her up in his arms and crashed his lips to her.

It was a kiss of desperation, borne of loneliness and pining and bitterness for everything that went wrong. It was a kiss of salvation, or at least the hope of one. It was a kiss that meant a lot, though neither realized just how much.

The shocked gasps from Jay, from Laila, from her fiancé, went right past the kissing couple, unheeded.

She’s the one
She’s always been the one

Until, finally, when they came up for air and caught sight of three gobsmacked faces staring back at them.

She went red, pushed him away, struggled out of his hands. He just stood there staring at her with an intensity, with an honesty that made her uncomfortable.

“I…I can’t do this…” she whispered, more to herself than to anyone else, “I…I’ll see you later, Laila.”

And with that, the girl of his dreams walked out of the house.

She’s the one…
She’s always the one.

**

He lives in her head
Sleeps with her thoughts, her ideas
In her bed

Mary stared at the ceiling blankly. She could feel it; the kiss; the touch of lips on hers; his need, his anger; his desperation…She didn’t know how much time had gone by. She didn’t know if George had come back home or not. She didn’t know anything but the feeling of his lips on hers.

He stays with her every minute,
Every second,
Every day

She hadn’t thought it would happen. Never even considered the possibility. Didn’t want to consider the possibility. But, it did. And now, she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

A spasm of anger whipped through her only to be replaced by sadness the next moment. Her eyes welled and tears slowly trickled down the sides of her face.

In that rare moment of self-awareness, she admitted it herself- she did want him. She had settled, but she hadn’t forgotten and now, she couldn’t stop remembering.

She wishes he’d go away
But, calls him back
Every time.

 **

2 years, 6 months, 23 days ago….

 

“Let’s get married.”

 “Why? Do you have a death wish?”

 “I love you. That’s why.”

 “………………………”

 “Silence carries the risk of being taken as acquiescence.”

 “………I don’t want to marry you.”

 **

 

 

Honest Moments: The Final Christmas

“I knew you’d be here.”

“Well, aren’t you the smartest frog in the well?” her tone of derision didn’t have the desired effect of putting him off. He came closer.

“Are you ok?” he asked gently, “I heard what happened.”

“Shouldn’t you be rejoicing?”

“I’m not that big of a jerk,” he smiled at her.

“Yet.”

“Yet,” he agreed.

She whirled around on her heels. “Don’t do that!” she snapped.

“Do what?” the bewildered look on his face did nothing to calm her down.

“Don’t be all nice and agree with me over everything! I know you’ve been doing that all year and I don’t like it! You hear me? I don’t like it at all!” her eyes blazed and her fists were clenched as if she was just holding back the urge to punch him.

“Ha! I knew it!” an impossibly large smile blossomed on his face, “You can’t stand me when I’m nice, can you? You want me to be a jerk. So that you can shout at me, throw things at me; venting, I believe it’s called,” he guffawed.

She narrowed her eyes at him and rapidly covered the distance between them. With satisfaction she noted the hitch in his breath when she placed her palm on his chest.

“No,” she whispered, “When you’re nice, it makes me want to do this,” and she rose up on tiptoe and kissed him.

He froze. He could feel the softness against his lips, but, couldn’t believe it belonged to her. He could feel her lips gently pressing over his, his lips responding to her touch, her tongue teasing the tip of his lower lip and in that instant, he came back to life.

He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close. The urgency in himself was something he himself couldn’t understand; didn’t care to understand in that moment. He opened his lips and claimed her mouth with his, transferring his sense of urgency to her, letting her get caught up in the rush of it too.

How long they stood there, attached to each other, they weren’t sure. But, when they finally drew apart, hair mussed and lips swollen, she was the first one to laugh.

“Who would have thought?” she gasped as she leaned back against the wall for support.

He just gazed at her, running his hand through his hair, still in a daze, still disbelieving that the event taking up most his dreams over the last couple of years had finally come to pass.

“Hey! Jay!” she waved a hand in front his face, “Hey jerk!”

In reply, he just stepped up to her and planted his lips on hers again.

This time when they drew apart, he was the one to break the silence.

“Now, we are even…” he rasped.

She snorted. “I should’ve known. There’s the kiss-counting jerk I remembered.” She said, smirking.

“Here’s the kiss-counting jerk you like,” he grinned slowly.

“Oy please! You were no ice-lipped rock in what happened just now,” she stared at him contemplatively, “I know you like me,” a simple statement that caused a flutter in her breast.

“How?”

“Girls always do.”

“Then, why did you go out with Matty? Then, Farhan? And then, Dinesh!”

“Wait! That means…you’ve liked me since then?” her eyes widened and a laugh emerged from her throat.

“It’s no laughing matter! Green isn’t my color and you’ve kept me forced in it for almost 2 years!” he snapped with a little heat.

She was laughing again, “I’m sorry! It’s just- I’ve had a crush on you for that long too; I never thought you reciprocated and well, that it’d be better to shift my focus.” She shrugged sheepishly.

“Well, you thought wrong, didn’t you?” he slipped his arm around her waist.

“Not anymore,” she grinned mischievously, “I figured it out when you punched Dinesh today. I supported you and well, let’s say he didn’t take it well.”

He stared at her, eyebrows raised, “You needed me to punch a guy to figure it out? You are dumb, aren’t you?”

She punched his arm in reply, “Shut up and kiss me, jerk.”

**

When Laila finally wandered back to her room, it was dawn and she couldn’t stop smiling.

“Where were you?” Mary’s voice snapped as soon as she entered.

Laila jumped, “Sheesh Mare! You startled me!”

“Laila Mahmood! Where were you until this hour? Do you know how worried I was?” Mary hissed.

Laila cringed. Mary didn’t get angry easily. But, when she did, it could be difficult to calm her down. She walked over and sat on the edge of Mary’s bed.

“I’m sorry, Mare,” she apologised contritely, “I was just…working some stuff out.”

“No! No more of these vague answers!” her friend snapped, “You do this every Christmas! You disappear the night before and morning after, you’re all lost and mysterious and I don’t understand!”

“Mar-“

“Pfft!” Mary pinched her friend’s lips with her fingers, “I know it has something to do with Jay. I’m not stupid. In fact, I know even your break up has something to do with Jay. But, if you believe for a moment that that nosy twit understands you better than your own best friend, I’m sorry, but, you’re gonna have a war upon your hands and it won’t be pretty!” she breathed hard as a tinge of red appeared in her cheeks and let go of her friend’s lips, “And thank you for not trying to lick my hand,” she added grumpily.

“I’ve had it done to me. It doesn’t feel good,” Laila shrugged.

“Yes, I know. The whole school knows, Lai. You weren’t exactly quiet about it,” Mary said dryly.

Laila let out a gust of laughter and silence fell between them.

“He asked me out,” Laila said finally.

“And?”

“And we kissed.”

“In that order?”

“No…I kissed him first. Then, he kissed me. Then, we kissed some more and finally, he asked me out…and I said yes.”

A beat passed as Mary stared at her friend.

“Good kisser?”

“Umm…hmm,” Laila nodded while a pretty blush spread across her face.

“I don’t like him.”

“But, why?” Laila stared at her best friend worriedly, “He’s nice, Mare. And he’s being especially nice this year and you know it. You’ve commented upon it. He’s a jerk, sure, but not all jerk.”

“Why did you break up?” Mary questioned in a sudden turn of subject, holding her friend in her gaze.

“Because…well, he punched Dinesh and I supported him. Dinesh didn’t like it; said if I liked him that much, then, I should be with him and not with him, that is, with Dinesh; and I said maybe I should be and that’s that.” Laila broke the gaze and shrugged uncomfortably.

“So, you’re definitely broken up? Not taking a break or some such shit?”

Laila shook her head.

“And Dinesh knows that?”

“Yes, our fight ended with us talking and we decided to break up. Anyway, we’ll all be leaving school soon and both of us knew there’s no point in continuing if we didn’t even like each other that much. Anymore.”

“What about this thing with Jay then?”

“He likes me,” Laila said simply, “And I like him. We’ll see where it goes.”

Mary looked at her best friend for a while. She knew this reserved girl and she knew it wasn’t secrecy that prompted her to not confide in anyone. But, soon, they won’t be sharing a dorm and…

“CONGRATULATIONS, LAI!!!” Mary threw her arms around her friend and hugged the surprised girl tightly, “I still don’t like him. So, if he puts a toe out of line, then, I’ll kill him. You tell him that, yeah?”

Laila laughed in relief.

“Yeah, I’ll tell him.”

**

“Where were you?” Nikhil’s voice cut across the room like ice.

“Putting things right,” Jay leaned against the window as he waited for his friend to join him.

“With Laila?” eyebrows wiggling, Nikhil dragged himself and a blanket over to the window.

“With Laila,” Jay nodded, a smile growing on his face.

“Congratulations are in order then?” Nikhil also leaned against the window and breathed in the fresh morning air.

Jay nodded happily.

“And one day, you’ll tell me how it happened?”

“Just a few secrets shared, that’s all,” his friend replied.

“Secrets you’ve kept from me?” Nikhil’s voice was cold again.

“You know them now…”

“But, she knew them before.” It was statement, not a question. But, Jay answered anyway.

“Yes.”

Silence engulfed the distance between them and took over the room.

“I like her, though,” Nikhil said at last, in a softer voice.

“Everybody does.”

“Well, she is the school captain,” he chuckled, “I can’t believe you’re going out with the school captain.”

“My best friend is a school captain too,” Jay pointed out dryly.

“Yeah. I can’t believe that either,” Nikhil chuckled again.

“I’m sorry, man,” said Jay after a moment.

Nikhil shrugged. “It’s ok. You got lucky, you know? She’s…good.” He said, turning to face his friend.

“I know,” Jay smiled at the rising sun, “I know.”

**

“You’ll call?”

“I will.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I know you don’t.”

“But, you’ll call?”

“I’ll call.”

He sighed.

“Believe me.” She said.

And he did.

/fin/

Thank you for reading!

Honest Moments: Fourth Christmas

“What’re you doing here?” the voice snapped and she bristled.

“What’s it to you?” she snapped.

“Nothing,” his voice took on the smarmy tone that he seemed to keep reserved for her nowadays, “Just thought you’d be spending the last night with your boyfriend. You do realize you’ll be apart for 3 whole weeks?” he mocked.

She narrowed her eyes and glared at the boy smirking in front of her.

“Did she really have a crush on him? This insufferable jerk!” the thoughts in her brain brought a heat to her face that lit up the darkness they were standing in.

“You’re such a jerk!” she snapped.

“And don’t you know it!” the smirk seemed permanently fixed on his face, “I suppose Matty never treats you like this, huh? All hugs and roses…and kisses?” he leered.

“Shut up! What’s wrong with you?”

And just as suddenly, the smirk dropped from his face and he colored.

“Nothing’s wrong with me!” he retorted with unexpected heat and turned away, “Of course, nobody could possibly be as good as your boyfriend…” his petty murmurs did nothing to the confusion rising in her chest.

“What are you? Five? Girls don’t have cooties. Boys aren’t covered in bogies. People have boyfriends,” she explained as if to an extremely dull child, “Get over it! Or get yourself a girlfriend. Of course, that would require at least an ounce of sense, but, you’re probably allergic to even the spelling of SENSE!”

“S-E-N-S-E!” he whirled around and yelled at her.

“Do not shout at me!”

“Do not mock me!”

“Do not talk to me then, you nonsensical nincompoop!”

“I am nonsensical? I’m a nincompoop? Have you ever even talked to your boyfriend? Or are you too busy to do any talking at all?”

Her eyes widened and fists clenched, “What is your problem with Matty?” she hissed.

He flushed. In a sudden rush of breath, he became aware of his surroundings, his proximity to the girl he liked, but, whom he, he was sure, hated more than anything else in the world in that moment. He took a step back as shame roiled in his belly.

“Nothing. I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…I just…I’m sorry. Matty’s a great guy. I’m just…sorry!” and he took off into the night.

**

Laila woke up feeling just as bewildered as she had when she’d gone to bed.

“How could one guy move through so many moods in one night? Heck! In a few minutes of a night!” she wondered as she dressed. Confusion was clouding her head and it was obvious in her haphazard manner of packing and in the worried looks Mary kept throwing her way.

“Lai, you okay?” she asked finally.

Laila didn’t reply. She hadn’t even heard Mary speak.

“Laila!” Mary reached across and threw a pillow at her friend, “Laila!”

“Huh? What?”

“What’s wrong with you today? You’re hardly moving. I know you don’t like going home, but this is the slowest you’ve ever been. I thought you were excited to go home this time with you getting your sister’s room and all. Is everything alright?” Mary peered worriedly at her best friend who was looking at her like a deer caught in headlights. “If you have a problem, you can always come home with me, you know,” she added gently.

“No, no!” Laila finally snapped out of it and shook her head, “Home’s fine. I’m just…thinking.”

“About?”

“Jay…” the name slipped unbidden from her mouth.

“Jay?” Mary wasn’t sure she heard it right, “That usually doesn’t take this much effort from you!”

“No, of course not,” Laila smiled feebly, “I’m just being stupid.”

“Lai, stupid about what?” Mary pursed her lips and puffed out her cheeks, “I no understand nothing!”

Laila laughed, “Nothing to understand, Mary-kins!”

Mary only gave her look of deep suspicion and turned away, “One day, when you’ll want to talk to me about this, I’ll be too busy being Prime Minister and won’t have time for you and then, you’ll regret not confiding in me now!”

Laila laughed, “I just need to talk to that jerk once, that’s it. That should do it,” she zipped up her suitcase.

“Yes, that should do it.”

**

Jay had no intention of talking to Laila today. In fact, he didn’t even want to see her. More importantly, he didn’t want her to see him. But, things had a way of not going according to plan and this was just one of those days.

“Oy!”

He knew that voice. Of course, he knew. For a good part of last year, he had convinced himself that he liked that voice. Not anymore, he thought. But, that didn’t stop the flush he could feel on his neck at the sound of it. Soon, he knew, that flush would’ve worked its way up to his face and he’ll be talking to her in the guise of a freshly ripened tomato. For the umpteenth time, he cursed his parents’ fair-skinned genetics.

He turned warily and tapped his foot to indicate his distaste at the meeting.

“Knock it off! I need to talk to you,” she was already glaring; and within a minute, he tells himself, she’s going to be narrowing her eyes at him. He groaned mentally.

“What about?” he asked, trying not to sound like a petulant child.

She shook her head as she walked towards him, “You really are something,” she murmured, “What happened last night?”

“What do you mean? You were there too, if I wasn’t mistaken. Unless, that was your evil twin! Do you have an evil twin? Though, seeing how evil you naturally are, you’d just be the evil sisters, I suppose!” he smiled toothily.

She gaped at him. “See! This!” she poked him in the chest “This is what I’m talking about! One moment, you look like you’re about to run away from me and the next moment you open your mouth and that diatribe pours out! What did I do to you? Why do you hate me so much?”

“I don-“

“Pfft!” she pinched his lips with her fingers, “Why do you insist on playing with my head like this? The first time we met, you were great! I thought you were the sweetest boy ever! Then, you wake up the next morning and become a jerk! In fact, so many times in the darkness, you’re so nice to me. Then, morning comes and voila! Meet the resident Frankenstein, people! And last night! Last night, you managed the entire gamut within minutes! What a performance, it was too! I bet Freud is turning over in his grave right now wishing he had a front seat entry! STOP TRYING TO LICK MY HAND!”

A sudden silence fell over the corridor as everybody turned to look at the shouting school captain. She didn’t seem to notice however.

“You decide what you want to be, you hear me? Be a jerk or be Mr. Nice Guy. But, do not confuse me by playing around with both as you wish!” she let go of his lips and shoved him back in one swift move and walked away.