It was a wonderful day. The exotic smell of earth after early morning showers, the sweet chirping of birds – hopping from one dripping branch to another, the playful swaying of lush green tress laden with baby mangoes, kids gleefully playing in the puddle of mud. Ah! Life was perfect. Or was it?
Behind every beautiful day, every bright blue sky, lies the darkest of nights – the kind that makes you fear there would never be a dawn. But out of the blue, a beautiful ray of sunlight cuts through the darkness, brightening everything up. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the darkness of the soul, the mind.
Reha’s was embroiled in the throes of the endless night. Her soul was preyed upon by the tightly clenched jaws of pessimism and there seemed no ray of light that could lift her spirits from that bottomless pit of depressing darkness. Who was once the epitome of charm, happiness and optimism had now become dull and quiet, sleepwalking through the daily chore called life. What changed? How did a person known to hold the limelight effortlessly be content with observing mindlessly from the sidelines?
Reha was a happy child – aced her studies, rocked the extra-curriculars. She easily qualified as the star kid wherever she went. Come college and her popularity only seemed to soar. Not that her gorgeous looks didn’t help the cause. A perfectly chiseled face highlighting her cheekbones, the thick luscious hair, a smooth caramel complexion, an inviting mouth, a slender hourglass figure – all seemed to work in her favor.
The guys tried hard to get her slightest attention; and girls, well girls were biologically obliged to succumb to envy. But those who managed to rise above that discovered the lovely person that Reha was.
All was hunky dory till that fateful day of September 21st. That was the day her heart plummeted to the depths of despair. That was the day she realized how one can lose all hope and wish to die – that very minute, that very instant. The reason is as mundane as it’s painful; as common as it’s unique. For some it might be just another bump on the road, but for some it was a life altering event. Yes, she had her heart broken. But the damage done seeped much beyond her heart. It shook her down to her very soul.
He was her first love. She heard something inside her click the moment she laid eyes on him.
It was a hot summer afternoon and the sun was shining overhead in all its glory. Reha was about to shelve her plans of venturing out to the mess for lunch but the incessant banter of her friends made her reconsider her plans.
Just as she was about to step inside the canteen, bustling with the young college crowd, she caught site of the most handsome man she had ever seen. He looked dashing in his blue jeans, checked shirt with folded sleeves, classic black aviators and light stubble. There was something about his face that beautifully contrasted the rustic exterior. The contrast was ever so slight but ever so appealing.
“Do you know where the registration room is?” Although spoken right in front of her, the words seemed to emanate from afar. Suddenly at a loss for words, she managed a sheepish smile and uttered two incoherent words, “Straight, Right”. With that Arjun left, but his presence didn’t.
Reha daydreamed about that encounter for days, replaying in her mind so many different ways in which she could’ve responded. She was supremely disappointed at having made a fool out of herself.
It was finally time to welcome the juniors and Reha secretly hoped the ‘handsome hunk’ was one of them. As destiny would have it, or so she liked to think, he did get through. But much to her discomfort he looked even more fetching than before.
Reha soon realized the feelings were mutual and before either of them knew it, the sparks began to fly. They soon became the ‘it’ couple and everybody agreed that their match was made in the coolest heaven ever.
But this smooth ride hit a rumble strip when Reha started dropping subtle hints about things getting serious. The final straw was when she discreetly refused to consummate their relationship without things getting official.
Pretty soon Arjun’s attitude began to change. They were little things really, but a woman as much in love as Reha, was bound to notice them. She soon decided to confront Arjun and the feisty woman that she was, taking things lying down (no pun intended) wasn’t an option.
Armed with the desire to have a heart to heart, she marched straight to the boys’ dormitory only to find Arjun sharing drinks with his friends. Playing spoilsport to the boys’ little party, she tore Arjun away from the group.
Visibly irritated by her behavior, Arjun drunkenly demanded an explanation. She tried to calm him down citing her reasons. But this seemed to aggravate him even more and in his drunken stupor he did something Reha hadn’t anticipated. He raised his right hand and planted it firmly on her left cheek. Abuses started flying freely out of his mouth. Alcohol made him more eloquent than usual and he said things that put all of Reha’s doubts and confusions to rest.
A seething pain shot through Reha’s heart, shattering her whole being. The sweet tingling pain on her left cheek paled in comparison to the mind numbing pain she felt within. And the fact that she was subjected to physical violence, something she never thought would happen to the confident and worldly girl that she was, made all of it too much to bear.
Turned out Arjun was already engaged to a girl of his parents’ choice and he dated Reha just so he could tap the most desirable and elusive girl in college.
Too shocked to react, she sat where she fell long after he was gone. If breathing was a conscious act, she would’ve been too stupefied to even do that.
After what seemed like an eternity, she gathered herself up and headed back in a trance like state; like a dear dazed by the blinding headlights. All through the night she hoped to wake up from this bad dream but unfortunately the pain remained as the sun shined.
She had never experienced a pain so scathing, so intense, that it dulled all her other senses. That empty feeling in the pit f her stomach, that heaviness in her heart, that numbness in her mind; made her angry, squeamish, empty and emotional all at the same time.
The next week seemed to go by in a traumatic haze. She was amazed at time’s inability to set things right. Whoever said time was the best healer must’ve been drinking.
Soon college got over but the trauma didn’t. She still woke up with the same start each morning, lying in her bed long afterwards with a heavy heart. The pain had become her silent ally, a constant in an ever changing world, a nagging reminder of that awful incident.
Everybody she knew reminded her how it will all go away with time and how common heartbreak was. But what they failed to understand was that heartbreak may be common but her pain was unique.
She seemed to be just trudging by in life. She now had a job to go to instead of college, her beautiful thick hair turning grey at places, her slender hourglass figure now just an angular bony structure, the glow on her face replaced by dark circles and fine frown lines. She was now just a shadow of her former self; from the ‘sunshine girl’ she had now become the ‘gloomy woman’.
She had become oblivious to everything about and around her until one day. The blow came when her appearance and desirability was sarcastically made fun of by a colleague and to her surprise, was met with approving laughter from others.
Reha returned to the present, unable to believe how she had turned from a woman who was sought after by men to someone who was made fun of for her gloom, all in a matter of two years. No matter how much hurt or pain a woman goes through, it always jolts her when she’s snubbed by the opposite sex.
She headed home that day, stood in front of the mirror and noticed things she hadn’t bothered with in a long, long time. It was then that she decided it was time things changed and changed soon. Hell! She didn’t look attractive to herself anymore.
The next few weeks went by in implementing the health conscious diet plan, a grueling fitness regimen, makeover shopping trips and the works. Initially the changes were tough and she just wanted to fall back into that comfortable numbness, but the self-pity she felt for herself kept her going. After a long long time she had something to look forward to, a target to work for, a goal to accomplish.
A few more months and the result was for all to see. Her swanky new attitude complete with the image makeover started having the desired effect. Men started noticing her again, her work started to improve and she soon got into the good books of the people who mattered.
Despite all the changes, the September 21st episode reared its ugly head from time to time, forcing her to succumb to that familiarly sweet pain. It was almost as if she missed it if it didn’t appear for a long time. And this would’ve continued had it not been for an office party.
Her company had recently made an acquisition and threw a party to commemorate that. She mingled with the bosses and got introduced to her new reportees.
After endless presentations and introductions, just as she was about to hop into her car, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around to her name.
A flicker of recognition, but quickly dismissed. This couldn’t possibly be the man she, for an instant, thought he was. But her worst fears were confirmed as the man introduced himself as Arjun. She recalled meeting him briefly as one of her new reportees earlier that evening.
A gasp! Memories flashed back, but they just wouldn’t coincide with the reality in front of her. What had once been a flat washboard stomach was now replaced with a potbelly bulging at the seams. What had been a thick mop was now just patchy hair fraught with male pattern baldness. What had been a well sculpted face complete with sexy stubble that she was so fond of, was now just chubby cheeks, double chin and greying side-burns. It was nearly impossible to believe this was the same guy she had fallen in love with and had been agonizing over ever since.
In the melee of her thoughts she could only manage a “Oh, Hi”. After awkward small talk, the pudgy man surprised her by asking if she would be free to join him for lunch next Sunday. Before her mind could even process the request, she heard herself saying yes.
The rest of the week flew by in anticipation and curiosity of the coming Sunday. And when the day finally arrived, Reha took her own sweet time getting ready. By the end of the whole exercise she looked absolutely ravishing. Although she hated to admit it, a small part of her wanted to show Arjun just what he had missed.
At the venue she found Arjun already waiting, sitting at a table for two in a quiet corner of the restaurant. At the sight of him, the memories came flooding back. Reha waited for the usual pain to surface, almost wanting it to surface. But it never came. Amazed at the discovery, but with no time to analyse, she made her way to the man she had loved to hate all these years.
She found Arjun looking at her, all wide-eyed, taking it all in. Even a fool would’ve been able to see that he was suitably impressed. Initial pleasantries were exchanged and just as Reha started to wonder about the real purpose of the meeting, Arjun spoke up.
“Reha I’m sure you must be wondering why I invited you for lunch” he said. After an affirmative response he continued. “First up I want to apologize for all the pain I put you through. I was a spoilt kid back then and didn’t know any better. I saw you, liked you and just as everything I like, I wanted you.” Despite Reha’s disgusted look, he continued “Although towards the end I did start having some feelings for you.” The last sentence was spoken as if to compensate for the look on her face.
Reha was amazed at the fool she’d been all those years. The man she’d loved with all her heart and pined over with all her being was now casually telling her how little she meant to him. She again waited for that pain to rise, almost forcing herself to feel it, but she felt nothing other than a strange calmness.
Arjun carried on. “My fiancée and now my ex-wife cheated on me and managed to squeeze every single penny I had. All that while I could only think of how wonderful you were and what a fool I’d been to let you go.” Reha could only manage a “Hmmm”. “Is there any chance in hell we could begin again giving me a second chance to put things right?” Arjun said with puppy dog eyes.
“Start over?!” “Second chance?!” Reha looked at him, aghast. She searched for an appropriate response to such an outrageous suggestion. She thought anger would suffice but all she felt was pure amusement. She wanted to shout, lambaste the stupid man in front of her for his audacity but all that came out was pure and loud laughter.
Without another word she got up, still laughing hysterically – the whole restaurant looking, and left leaving Arjun red-faced and wondering. There was no pain, no feeling of revenge, no hurt, nothing! She just felt utter calmness, like a heavy fog had been lifted, like a long pending chapter had closed and a brand new one waited to be lived.
Life had taken the best revenge she ever thought possible!