The other Love

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In this part of the world, biases are a way of life. Stereotyping is as common as thinking. So anything that catches a person's eye, has to be filed under a section of his brain that says 'so that makes you a ____'. Blanks to be filled with something that really isn't a part of you, but they like to believe so anyway. Like I said, way of life.
My best friend is a boy. He is very talented, very polite, soft spoken, and well, I hate admitting it, also very cute. Best-friend-dom has its glitches, here. First, they said it was a crush. Then they called me desperate. Then they called him stupid. It was none of these, it still isn't. Things change, all the time. Feelings, specially. Not just mine, even theirs.
Hormones get the better of them.
It is normal practice for all the girls in my class to go gaga over him and start giggling when he's on the podium or running on the field or eating lunch, or even something as mundane as scratching the back of his neck. After all that biting.
It irritates me to a mild extent. In a very what's-wrong-with-you-he's-such-a-bum sort of way. I am not in love with him, at least not in the girl-boy kinda way. I love him because he's as much a part of me as I am. It's like two minds in one brain, thing.
As it turns out, girls and guys can be only friends.
Nicky is a month older to me. 26 days, to be precise. He loves football, cars, converse, sleeping, eating- all things boys have to, HAVE to like. He also likes playing the guitar, specially trying to teach me chords, which I stubbornly refuse to learn. He goes to church, prays before meals, even those at McDonald's. He tries to make me a religious person (did I mention I am atheist?).
He's my best friend because he cries like a baby, he follows his id.
Stupid disasters happen all the time. Like you're walking down the road, there's water coming from somewhere, the flow gets stronger, and Lo! You're in a flash flood!
Nicky and me were walking down the road when I got a call from Dad. He didn't speak for a moment, then simply said- "Sneha, I think you must come home now. Mummy isn't feeling well".
Mummy wasn't keeping well these days, as is kinda obvious by what dad said, but Dad never asked me to come home for her. I wondered why, I thought Dad wanted to go out for work, so he thought he'd ask me to sit in for him.
Nicky wanted to come too.
"Why?"
"Just like that, I feel like."
"Okay, she'll be happy to see you"
"Let's hurry"
"Bus?"
"Auto, please?"
"You pay."
"I hate you"
"I'm not in love with you either"
In the auto, we sat at different ends. We're also probably the first couple to enter Bandstand in its history to sit 3 feet away from each other and talk about dogs' life cycles. I was still wondering why Dad had called me home for Mum. Wasn't he on a time-off? My hand slipped from the rexin seat of the auto. It was sweating. My hand, not the seat. I thought about mum, something I rarely miss doing. She is everything to me, quite literally.
I kept my hand back on the seat, trying to recall if mum had asked me to buy any grocery today. Surprisingly, I didn't even remember her awake. Why was she sleeping in so late?
We passed through the Irla Traffic jam. An accomplishment, actually. My phone rang again. Dad.
"I'm at Irla"
"Please hurry up"
"Where are you going?"
"Is Nicky with you?"
"Well", I glanced over at him. Dad never liked me being around him too much. Never figured why, but I don't lie.
"Yeah"
"Just come home, I'm here"
Hung up. Phone rang again, this time it was Nicky's.
His conversations, with everyone on the planet are filled with 'Yes', 'No', 'Okay', 'Hmmm'...and to the maximum, 'In 5 minutes'.
He hmmm'd for a while. I lost interest, began staring at the trains under the bridge. Oh yeah, mum's nose ring. Suddenly, Nicky put his head on my shoulder. He did that when he was tired. I kept looking outside. To be frank, it tickles my insides when he does that. I have to resist the temptation to lean my head back on his.
But he was downright creepy that day. Held my hand, fingers intertwined. And then tightened. Somehow, I could feel the hum too. It was right in him, I knew. That thing about being one mind two brains? Same with all other sensory organs.
By the time Jogeshwari came, I did give in to the temptation. A little more than give in. I was weeping into his arms.
Sounds mushy, I know. But there you go.
We got off at the entrance of my building, just as my Maasi, or maternal aunt's rickshaw arrived. Her eyes were more swollen than usual.
The knot in my stomach tightened, as did Nicky's grip on my fingers.
By the time we reached the lift, Maasi, Nicky and me, Nicky was hugging me tightly. I couldn't place one step straight ahead of the other. Something was gone.
The lift took me to a new level of, weirdly enough- peace. My aunt had started running a tear factory, but I was still calm. I could still see clearly, though feel nothing.
Nothing other than his hand covering my shoulder, somewhat holding me back.
The door was ajar. Dad wasn't in the living room. Nicky pushed it open, and led me in.
I suddenly lost control of my legs. I had to drop.
He fell with me. As I huddled next to the shoe rack, I could feel his stubble on my neck, his breath down my back. His hands wrapped like bubble-wrap around me.
Dad pulled me up gently.
"She was sleeping"
"No pain?"
"No"
That's when my chin started shaking. The room blurred out of view. I wanted to see where I was going. I heard Dad give out a cry. My Maasi was holding him.
"She was happy", is all she could say, through the tears flooding her mouth.
Nicky mustn't have left me, because that moment, I remember hiding my face in his jacket, and his arms around my back. He didn't utter a word. Just rocked me like a baby. He led me to the sofa, and I curled up into him. Nothing seemed more right to do. I have no clue how long I must have sat that way.
Dad was better when I woke up, and the house was fuller. My grandparents had come, judging by the chappals, and both were in the bedroom.
My cousins were in the kitchen.
Cleo, my German shepherd, was resting at my feet.
Nicky was my pillow, I realized, I had been leaning on him all this while.
He kissed my forehead.
And hugged me tighter.
Dad came, gave him a cup of tea, patted my head, and left. He looked like he stopped crying just a few moments back, his hands were still shaking when he handed out Nicky's tea.
I turned to Nicky.
"I want to see Mum"
"Sure?"
"Yes"
He helped me up. And came inside with me.
People say that there are moments like these where they'd rather be left alone. I'd say this wasn't mine.
Her eyes had sunk in. Hair still the blackish brown, and a little messy. She could've been sleeping. She was, I remember Dad saying something like that.
I walked closer, and held her hand. She didn't squeeze it back. She always did, even if she was asleep. I thought I felt a tiny pulse. But her tummy wasn't going up and down like it normally did. I tried touching her toes, a habit she hates, hated, whatever. She didn't squirm, get up and start yelling. I put on the iron, with my grandmother watching in bewilderment, and put my palm to the hot surface. Still no response. She'd always shout at me for that.
It wasn't working. They were right. No debate could solve my problem, my certificates couldn't make her an invalid to just walk off in her sleep. One thing I inherited from her- deep sleep. Nandita asleep is as good as Nandita dead, they used to tell me about her.
I wanted to kill them now.
Then again, I heard my father calling me. I think that's from the kitchen. I walked to there and saw him ready with a tray full of tea cups and a jug of tea. "But that's for water", I argued. She hates things mixed up.
I went into my room. And slumped on to my bed, Nicky still beside me. He didn't have to tell me, but I already knew that he knew before me. Before Dad him up to tell him to hold me, before I thought of Mum's nose ring. He knew when I hung up Dad's first call.
Suddenly, he was all I had. Suddenly, my 14-days-transfer Dad was a complete stranger. Somebody who couldn't use this room like his own, but like something he owned. Nicky knew that too.
Nicky and me stayed in the room in the same position for sometime. He moved first, still not saying a word. He undid my hair, and hugged me again. His stubble was against my neck again. His breath in my hair.
And that's how I liked it.
That's how I survived the day- by his breath.

Even today, we hug out of the blue. I've come to realize that there is more to us than telepathy and eye-to-eye communication.
It's this thing right inside our stomach, and it makes me cry.
The closest word, though a lot lesser, is love.





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