She flung her laptop bag on the bed. Weekend. Finally.
Anjali glanced at her watch. Rahul should be here any minute now. She changed into her usual skirt and top ensemble, comfortable shoes, simple make-up. She ditched the contact lenses and chose to wear her glasses instead. A quick glance in the mirror and she saw a slim figure, a round face, wavy hair. Well, not so bad.
Rahul was back from his Paris business trip. They had agreed to leave together to Sonal and Ankit’s new place. Their whole bunch of cousins had arrived the previous evening from various parts of Europe for the wedding and they had planned a house party.
Rahul pulled up and honked twice. Anjali hurriedly locked the door and ran towards the car. She got in and hugged Rahul. They talked about his new assignment and he moaned about the long hours he was now expected to put in. They’d met about six months ago at a theater workshop. They continued to see each other as good friends. Neither mentioned commitment and were happy to go with the flow.
They arrived at the penthouse. The party was already in full swing. Sonal waved out to them. Someone handed Anjali a glass of chilled white wine which she gratefully accepted.
Anjali realized she hadn’t eaten anything since 11:00 that morning. She hurried towards the dining room, grabbed a plate and piled it with a handful of kababs. Sighing with satisfaction, she turned. And bumped into him, lost her balance, fell backwards onto the chair. The chair toppled over, she was on the floor, her glasses askew, the plate’s contents strewn all around her. A kabab was sitting comfortably on her forehead. She irritatedly threw the kabab aside and adjusted her glasses.
He stretched out his hand, with concern in his voice, “Are you okay? I am so sorry!”
Damned right you are – she wanted to scream at him. Her best outfit was ruined and the party hadn’t even started yet. She hadn’t eaten anything the whole day and for some reason, she felt like crying. She angrily wiped away her tears. He was even more concerned. “Does it hurt that bad? Stay here, let me go get Sonal.”
“No, I am fine. Really. Just had a little meltdown there. I am good. Thanks,” she hurriedly got up and rushed to the washroom. She knew the skirt was ruined beyond repair.
“Oh Sweetie, let me get you something to wear,” Sonal’s concerned voice came from behind her. She took out a floral maxi dress and handed it to Anjali. “There you go. I bet this will be a perfect fit”.
Anjali tried it on. It did fit her well, though she wasn’t too sure she liked the deep scoop neck on the dress. She thanked Sonal, hating herself for all the fuss she had caused. He was waiting for her, still looking worried, holding a fresh plate of kababs.
“Anjali, this is Ajay. My cousin from Delhi. He’s here for our wedding. Ajay, Anjali and I go back a long way. Now you be nice to her, won’t you?” Sonal said mischievously before walking away.
Anjali suddenly felt deserted. She looked at the stranger in front of her. Medium height, broad shoulders, the beginnings of a paunch. Ajay stood with the plate in his hands, forgetting to hand it to Anjali. He continued to blink, at a loss for suitable words a guy ought to say in situations such as these.
“Let’s meet the rest of the gang, shall we?” said Anjali as she walked onto the terrace. There were whistles and catcalls as she made her entrance. Rahul quickly walked up to her. “Well, well Anjali! You look gorgeous.” He had his arm around her waist, possessively, as he led her to the group and introduced her. Ajay followed, looking a little embarrassed.
The usual party games were finished and most folks were taking a breather. There was one last game that Sonal insisted everyone play. Truth or Dare. The bottle was spun, the questions were relatively crazy and the game had everyone in splits. Suddenly, the bottle pointed towards Ajay. Sonal opened the slip of paper from the bowl and read aloud, “What is the stupidest thing you have done in your life?”
There was silence in the room when Ajay spoke. “I broke the heart of this beautiful orphan girl in Bangalore. We stayed in touch for a year over emails and finally decided it was time to meet in person. We agreed to meet in Bangalore last year. I stood her up. I simply never showed up. I know she shouldn’t be with anyone else but me. If she will forgive my momentary lack of courage and have me.”
Rahul heard Anjali’s sharp intake of breath. And looked at her with concern. Anjali excused herself and went out to the terrace. She desperately needed the fresh air. It was a coincidence. Had to be. It is possible isn’t it? That this world is full of guys who use a matrimonial site as entertainment? To play with a girl’s emotions and then discard them like yesterday’s newspaper? She composed herself and was about to go in when she saw Ajay in the doorway. She ignored him and tried to walk past him.
“Anjali, please wait. Let me explain. Please?”
“Ajay, I have nothing to say to you. I don’t know who you are. I am with Rahul. I guess you know that already.”
Ajay sighed. “Anjali, you need to listen to me. You know me as Harish. My profile name on the website. You also know we never exchanged photos because we thought we should get to know each other long distance before actually seeing one another.”
Anjali said quietly, “Ajay or Harish, or whoever you are. I want to say this one last time. I am with Rahul, I do not care what you have to say. I’d like to go in now.”
Ajay tried to hold Anjali’s hand. She pulled away angrily.
“Please listen to me Anjali. I was scared when you mentioned your parents abandoned you as a five year-old child because of suspected Hansen’s Disease. And that the fishmonger took you in and later handed you over to the orphanage. It was simply too intense for me to comprehend. For the first time in my life I allowed circumstances to overwhelm me. I stopped thinking rationally. I love you Anjali. Always have. Please forgive me.”
Sonal came to the terrace, closely followed by Rahul. Rahul put his arm around Anjali’s waist. “Hey Anjali, everything okay?”
Anjali looked right at Rahul and said, “Rahul, I haven’t mentioned this before. But I may have had Hansen’s Disease in my childhood.”
Rahul immediately dropped his arm from around Anjali’s waist and took a step backward. “Ohh,” he stammered as he wiped his palms on the sides of his trouser legs.
Sonal hugged Anjali, “Come here my little one.” She turned to Rahul. “Rahul, I’d like you to leave. The terrace and my party.” Rahul hurriedly walked away, not once looking back.
She turned to Anjali, “Anjali, what Ajay hasn’t told you is that he had Hansen’s Disease as a baby. He was fully cured by the time he was in his teens. He has been traumatized enough in this country to be scared. Really scared. I think you should give him a fair chance.”
Anjali whispered,”Sonal, you knew? All this while. And you didn’t say anything to me.”
Sonal looked at her helplessly. “Anjali, what could I say? Ajay did mention a certain ‘Anjali’ to me and I did wonder if it might have been you. But you know, coincidences usually happen in books and to other people. I thought if the two of you met each other, maybe we’ll all finally know the truth? And maybe your story ends the way it is supposed to?”
She left the two of them alone. Ajay and Anjali were very quiet.
Anjali whispered, “How did you know it was me? I never sent you any pictures.”
Ajay smiled. “The butterfly tattoo on your left wrist. You’d mentioned the tattoo to me. Your profile name is Anjali. And the pictures Sonal uploaded on Facebook. Look, I meant to meet you and tell you in person. That our relationship would always be a gamble. I didn’t want to cause you any more hardship. God knows you have been through enough already. But here I am, I simply couldn’t stay away. Not after knowing you.”
Anjali smiled, “Ajay, life doesn’t have guarantees. I know Hansen’s Disease is not genetic. But who knows what genes we carry? Or what ailments our children will be born with? It is too much of an expectation that our futures will turn out perfect. I’d like to focus on the present, Ajay. The here and now. Do you have the courage? To place your faith in the possibility of us? I do.”
Ajay held Anjali tight and said, “Anjali, will you marry me?”
They went inside hand in hand. Anjali walked up to Sonal, hugged her and said, “Thank you Sonal. Few in this world are blessed to have friends such as you,” Sonal had tears in her eyes, “Baby, any time. You’ve been there for me too, remember?”
Ajay and Anjali were married a month later at a quiet ceremony at Sonal and Ankit’s place. Within a year of marriage, they adopted a baby girl. Anjali is pregnant and the baby is due in August this year. They presently live in Delhi.