“You are again late, why did you even bother to wake up?” Mr. Banarjee was frowning at Sameer Srivastava, everybody knew him as Sam. He arrived in the first lecture on his usual time which was 10 minutes late. He is 5ft 11” tall, fair complexion and has a good athletic physique. It seemed that he didn’t get a haircut from ages or a proper combing. He was in a mess and was standing at the door with his usual expression, which resembled nothing less to a rock. He was just waiting for the lecturer to complete his thirty seconds of the daily drill. Sam seems to have a lot of patience; he never uttered a word.
“Now don’t stand there like a fool, get in” Mr. Banerjee shouted in his typical Bengali accent, adjusting his spectacles he added, “you get good grades in the exam but it doesn’t mean you will have the privilege to come late in my lecture, next time I won’t allow it”. The next time had never occurred in these three months of the 3rd semester. He went to sit on the back bench, a two seat bench where he used to sit alone, it was his usual seat.
Mr. Banerjee turned towards the White Board continuing his Field Electronic Device lectures which mean students are free to do what they actually want to do (quietly). Shefali whispered with a sigh leaning slightly towards her friend “he is looking extra handsome and extra silent today and his hair is also looking extra sexy”.
Shefali Singh was the topper of her batch. She actually serves the purpose of the proverb ‘beauty with brains and a heart throbbing smile’. Half the college was after her and she was after him and he was simply ignorant. It seemed nothing mattered to him except basketball and guitar; he also somehow managed to maintain his above-average grades in academics. She had a crush on him since the 1st year. However, they had spoken only once in their ongoing college life. It was on her first day of college, she had asked him the direction to her new class. She was happy to find the guy who showed the way to her class. She had fallen for him at that instant only.
“And you are looking extra attracted to him today” Her friend replied.
“Well his aroma attracts me so much, what can I do?” she let out a little sigh, seeing Mr. Banerjee is still enjoying drawing PN junction diagram.
“So we have a sniffer bitch here” she taunted her and Shefali replied with a giggle “anything for him, ma’am”. This time, it was a little loud, loud enough to interrupt the labeling of the 5 V battery of his PN junction diode circuit.
“Yes, you” It was a head shot using his index finger. She was caught and now she was standing, guilty and without any more stretch on the lips.
“I don’t like people showing their teeth in the front row, in fact in any row. Pick up your empty notebook and sit at the back “. She didn’t apologize, she gathered her blank notebook and took an about turn and before putting a plus sign to the battery, Mr. Banarjee made an important declaration “And that will be your place in my every lecture”. He was also little extra angry today, it seemed that he certainly don’t like white teeth, may be because of his own.
‘Chewing tobacco is injurious to your smile’
Shefali was sitting next to Sam, It was the only vacant seat. She knew it and may be that’s why she didn’t oppose the punishment. She loved it and Mr. Banerjee has just topped the chart of her top 10 favourite lecturers of all time. She was happy, excited and nervous, all at the same time and he was silent. She was sitting first time near him. He was scribbling something on his notebook. She tried to look into it but he didn’t allow.
She also scribbled “why so serious” and poked him with a smile and flaunts her handwriting.
He simply put his note book in front of her. It was a sketch of the Batman standing next to his Batmobile. It was a good one, another impressive skill. He made an arrow and label it ’Sam’. She smiled gracefully and started writing something on her note book and after two minutes poked him again. She liked poking him, poking his tight biceps.
“Batman is Ok but I like Bruce Wayne”. He was confused everybody likes Batman, no one actually cares for Bruce Wayne, leave the likeness part alone. Out of Curiosity, he wrote back “Why? Just because he is a billionaire and what is the difference, both are one person”
She looked at him as if she was expecting the reply. She snatched the notebook and added, “I don’t care about money, my father is super rich and I am his only princess.”
He was peeking into her notebook trying to read every word before they can be formed into a sentence; he was impatient and couldn’t wait for the sentence to finish. ‘Curiosity is a bitch’. He was also impressed by her handwriting, it was flawless and she seems to be creative.
Shefali turned her head towards him, smiled and took the notebook a little furthered towards her right. She took a minute to finish the writing. It was a lot more than a minute for him. His eyes were glued to the notebook and he was trying to understand the depth of every word.
“Look, I know everybody loves Batman, they should, as he is a superhero. But I like Bruce Wayne. Nobody thinks about him, but I do. Actually, he is real, he doesn’t need to wear a mask, he is the creator of this superhero, it is he who has done all the hard work and most importantly he can fall in love with an ordinary girl like me. Everybody wants to become a Batman; I think they should rather give Bruce a shot.”
He was impressed. He didn’t know what to write still he did “there is one quality of Batman which Bruce Wayne can never have.”
Now this was something unexpected, she stretched her eyebrow looking at him and waited for him to add the reason. He wrote and passed the notebook “He is so easier to sketch.”
She read and laughed. She kept her right hand on her mouth on time other wise Mr. Banarjee would have to find a new place for her to sit. She was looking at him, it was the first time she saw him smiling. There was a dimple on his right cheek, she liked it. She loved it more than her own two dimples. She couldn’t take her eyes off. She was not afraid that Mr. Banarjee is still in the class.
They started sitting together every day. They didn’t actually talk for the first month. There were scribblings, crisscrosses, some beautiful sketches made by him and deep captions were given by her to them. They were having good one hour of every day and one day she decided, it will be her seat too, it will be their seat. Sam didn’t mind, may be he wanted her to take this decision, he didn’t want to sit alone now.
It was mid of November, winter was slowly spreading its arms and so was the smile on Sam’s face. It could be seen quite frequently on his face. He started coming class on time, he didn’t like to keep her waiting. Mr. Banarjee must have been missing their routine conversation. He was quickly covering the syllabus and with the same velocity, she was inducing life into him. He was moving forward and there was a sense of happiness flowing through him.
They had started having their lunch together. They used to sit on an isolated bench situated at the farthest corner of the front lawn of their college. There was an ATM nearby the bench which almost never came online, there was even a guard for protecting that cashless ATM but for them he was invisible. It was just him and her. This used to be Sam’s place during the lunch hour and now it was their bench.
Sam said closing the finished lunch box “you don’t know but two years ago, I was not like this, I was not this silent all time, in fact, I was a party freak. I loved playing basketball and was in school Rock Band. I knew how to enjoy life”.
“Then what happened, let me guess, you fell in love with some chick and she kicked your sorry ass” she chuckled and took the lunch box from him and kept it in her bag. She was not insensitive; she was just trying to lighten up the conversation.
He said “Yes there was a girl and I loved her but was not able to confess, we came together in the same section after class 10th. I didn’t know about this feeling earlier but gradually it became stronger. Our class 12th standard was about to finish, only six months were left. We had not talked much all these years and she was not very regular in her attendance. She was not the talkative type but I knew she used to like me. I could tell by the way she used to look and smile at me; my friends were also confident”
“What was the problem then? You should have had proposed her.” She seemed little irritated. She kept the bag aside which was lying in between them. She went to sit close to him, she was jealous and he added “Yeah, exactly that was the plan. I had everything prepared. It was our second term’s last exam. There were roses, chocolates and a song which I had written. Friends were placed at the planned positions but she didn’t arrive that day. I was confused that how could she miss her exam. I asked her friend and she told that she was not well; she has gone to Mumbai for treatment. I got even more confused. I caught her best friend who at first did not want to tell me, but agreed after I told her everything. ”
He got up, there was a tear in his eyes but he was not crying. He turned away and continued “She went there for chemotherapy, she had a cancer and I don’t know which kind. All I knew that it was diagnosed when it was in the third stage and she didn’t survive after two months.” Now a tear drop rolled down his left cheek and she came from behind and hugged him. “I am with you, I will not leave you and I love you”. There were some heavy promises in one sentence.
He didn’t reply, he could have but he was waiting for the right moment. 1st January was near. He just hugged her back, it was a tight one. The security guard got alarmed and was on his feet, this was not a common scene in an engineering college. He was ready for any other activity but it went in vain. They were quite descent.
One week later, they were having their favourite (at least Sam’s favourite lunch) ‘rajma and rice’. She brought it for him. She wanted to break some news to him and waited for him to finish his lunch. She broke the news “Sam, I am going to Singapore on our father-daughter biennial vacation” she stretched her cheeks and was giving pseudo-innocent look. She seemed excited and worried about him at the same time. They have developed an amazing level of understanding in a very short span of time.
“It is Singapore baby and that also via Mumbai and guess where we will be staying in Mumbai for three days?” She was clearly excited. It must be her some favourite place, he assumed.
He was not at all excited, it was written all over his face “Like I care, all I know I will have to eat alone and this fatso guard and his weird mustache will come back to life again. ” she was smiling, she knew that he would miss her and it was giving some weird kind of joy to her. “Don’t worry, you will manage and I will keep sending you the pictures. Today is 22nd of November; I am leaving on 26th morning and going to return on 7th of the next month, it’s about 10 days only”. He corrected “12 days”. He calmed himself and said “you didn’t tell me the place where you are going to stay; you seem very excited about it”
She winked and said “don’t worry, I will send you the pictures on Orkut and will keep texting you. One more thing and it is important. My best friend aka my poppy wants to meet you. I have told everything about you and you can relax he is not going to ask you to marry me. It’s just you are my first male friend and he is now convinced that his daughter is not a lesbian” she chuckled “and yes, he might demand you to play your guitar”. He wanted to kill her but he couldn’t. He loved her.
“I thought the other way round. He might give me one blank cheque and ask me to fill in with numbers to forget you. I am confused that how many zeroes I should add. Any suggestions?” He winked and she pushed him over the bench.
He was sleeping when phone beeped, it was a text from Shefali “Check your Orkut, it is one of my favourite hotels. I really love this place, it is so magnificent and I also missed you. You should also do the same. I will compensate for these when I return”. She left for her Singapore tour earlier this morning. He played basketball for a very long time and was exhausted. He also knew, the longer he will be awake more he is going to miss her.
He woke up next morning, there was lots of talk going on. Everybody was in the hostel common room. There was a terrorist attack in Mumbai, over two hundred were killed. Hotels like Taj and Oberoi were targeted. He was still half asleep. He checked the message on his phone and something struck in his mind. He ran to check his Orkut account. He was praying to see some other picture but it was that of the hotel Taj only. His heart sank.
He tried to call her but the balance was insufficient. He was impatient and desperate. He snatched the phone from his neighbor’s hand while he was already on the call. He tried once, twice and so on. The number was switched off. He didn’t know what to do. He glued himself to the common room.
It’s been two days and the nation was still in shock. He was in trauma. He hasn’t gone to college and was there sitting in the common room hearing news all the time and trying her number. Around three hundred people were killed in this attack and many were wounded. He was concerned about the 31 people killed in hotel Taj.
Nothing was helping; he didn’t have her father’s number. He again tried, this time, it connected. He ran towards his room away from the noise of the television. A male voice picked up. He was silent ” Sam, is this you, son?” Voice was getting heavier. He didn’t know what to say, he replied: “Yes Uncle, Can I talk to Shefa”.
His sentence was interrupted in between. His father voice was sinking his heart. “..is no more. She took five bullets, she couldn’t survive. The body….” after that all he heard was a father crying. His brain ceased. He couldn’t understand the words, all he knew he was crying and she couldn’t survive. He couldn’t hold the phone anymore, it has become heavy. It holds the heaviest news of his life. She was gone and he was stoned. He looked up for thirty seconds and punches the wall with all the force he could gather. He was angry and there was a blood stain on the wall. His right hand was in pain but not as much as going through his heart. He was numb and was lying on the bed looking up at the ceiling. It was not actually the ceiling he was looking at but at what is above that, above everything, above all of us. He couldn’t believe what has happened. He was hoping that to this turned out to be some kind of a prank, which she aways tried to pull off. He was waiting for her phone, he was looking at his phone once in a while but her number didn’t flash. His eyes were overflowing with tears and there was silence in the room.
Mr. Banarjee was distributing the surprise test question paper and it was Sam standing at the door, he was 10 minutes late with a firm expression which resembled nothing less to a rock. His hair was not combed, his right hand was wounded and it seemed he didn’t care for the first aid, he didn’t care for anything. Mr. Banarjee said nothing and Sam also didn’t seem to be in the mood for any kind of drill. There was a volcano erupting inside of him. He marched straight towards their/his usual seat. There was murmuring in the class and silence on his face. He sat on the bench alone.
She was not there waiting for him. She is never going to be there.
Hailing from the city of Allahabad, Prashant has always been curious about our perception of emotional relationships and their impact on us and that has served as one of the major triggering forces that made him a writer. In his words, “I have always been telling stories, might as well write them and grab the credit of a writer too.” Obviously, Prashant has a flair for discovering humor where you least expect it.