Our college commenced for XII std and it was a week and Nirav had not arrived from his parents’ where he had gone visiting. Ranchi, he had said… and he was to get back on time since he had IIT entrance classes too. I was worried because he took his studies way too seriously. Every one of them in class asked me what the problem was but unfortunately those days we didn’t have a mobile phone and I didn’t have his parent’s home’s new contact either. He hadn’t called me during the week-long vacation and that was strange as well. We always spoke at least once a week during vacations…of course the conversations always centred around academics but nonetheless it pleased me to hear his voice. My heart sank with every passing day wondering what was ailing him… unfortunately I couldn’t even confide in anyone and my mounting anxiety further propelled my teenage heart into a whirlwind of misery…
Finally, he came on day 13 and what the hell… he had shaved his head… His fluffy hair which was his crowning glory had disappeared. He didn’t look anywhere and quietly took his seat on the last bench. The class had already commenced and I couldn’t focus. What was wrong with Nirav? We had practical immediately following lectures and it was only after that, I caught up with him as he was escaping to the hostel. I held his arm to stop him right beside the hostel building.
“…Hey… no hello or hi…? What’s up buddy…? What’s with the new hairdo…?” I tried to cheer him up. If someone hadn’t told me I had a horrible sense of humour, his expressions said it all. He just stared at me breathing heavily his eyes filling with tears. “…hey…hey… Nirav… what happened… wha…?” Before I could complete the sentence, he collapsed to the ground wailing into his palms. My heart splintered into a million pieces… I couldn’t see him like that and sat right there next to him, the stones on the gravelled ground hurting my butt big time through my jeans. But at that time nothing mattered except that my friend needed me. I held his shoulders and he leaned close to me as he cried his heart out. I rubbed his back as he slowly came to and wiped his face with his palms. I tried again. “…What’s up Nirav… tell me please…”
“…Amma died…” his voice cracked in the last word. Oh God… I had met his mother a couple of time when she had visited school last tear. She was a pleasant lady. Short built but soft spoken. Her son had definitely taken after her. She had thanked me for helping out her son. It was tough to imagine her gone. I continued rubbing his back.
“…. how…?” I asked softly, knowing very well, he had to vent it out and surely, he hadn’t done it so far.
“…She had breast cancer… diagnosed late…they didn’t tell me so that I didn’t get distracted in studies… she worsened last week and then…Ani…it was as if she was waiting to see me one last time…I miss her so much…” He wept again. This time he held my hand close to his chest as he cried. I saw a few passers-by glance at us with funny expressions on their face but I didn’t care. My best friend needed me and I was there. It was an hour before he composed himself and smiled as he said. “…Ani… you are the best… thank you…” At that moment if my heart could sore out of my chest it would have. My feelings for him further took flight and I was too deep.
Months passed and we were again inseparable… but most of the time it was about studies as he helped me with physics and Maths and I helped him complete his journals since his coaching centre gave too many mock exams. My tuitions kept me busy too and I started to do well. In no time the academic year passed and it was time for him to go back to Ranchi. Our examination centres were different and we had decided to meet up on the last day in college. As promised, we did and I couldn’t hold back tears as I realised the chasm of uncertainty separating us.
“…Ani… what is it…? Why are you so quiet…? Your papers were ok…?”
I nodded sniffing back tears. “…Yea they were good. Very good in fact… so when are you leaving for Ranchi…?”
“…Tomorrow… I will be coming back once the dates for the entrance exams are out… What about your PMT… any idea about the dates…?”
“…Oh…I don’t intend to give them…”
I nodded. He knew I wasn’t interesting in studying medicine and had told me umpteen times to reconsider and do what I liked. “…I…um…I am planning to study microbiology…I love the subject… I … I just hope my parents approve…”
“…They will Ani. If you talk to them…Great decision…I am so proud of you…”
My eyes welled up again. “…Um… Nirav I will miss you. Promise to call me at least once a week…?”
“… Of course, and as you said any week day afternoon… I will… I promise….”
We hugged sideways like we usually did whenever I left for home, as he dropped me to the bus stop… yet again as I watched his silhouette disappear into the distance, I felt the same tingling awareness… he wanted to tell me something…but refrained yet again. I thought I could read his eyes… I did. In fact, that’s how I knew but unless he told me what it was, I wouldn’t know, right? Did he have feelings for me in the same domain that I did?
As promised, he called me without fail every Tuesday afternoon. My parents were both at work and my grandmother visited my Aatya every Tuesday to visit the nearby temple close to Aatya’s home. So, there was no one to hinder our conversation. As always, he spoke about his life in Ranchi, his studies and how badly he missed his mother. Besides asking him directly I tried every means under the sun to find out what was troubling him but he just didn’t speak out. We met two months later when he came down to Mumbai to appear for his exams. It was then I met his father who had accompanied him. I had visited his examination centre which was close to Siddhivinayak having told my surprised parents that I was going to visit the iconic temple in Prabhadevi. His father too received the same excuse and we all went to a nearby hotel for a quick lunch post his exams. His father was a man of few words just like his son and I could sense a cold vibe between the two. Nonetheless we couldn’t speak much and I had to leave again with a heavy heart and Nirav promised to stay in touch. I thought that was what our destiny held in store. I loved him… with all my heart and thought he did too. But our friendship was too precious for me to go all out and reveal my feelings. Besides we both were young and had our careers to worry about.
Nirav always kept up his promise and if there was some issue with Tuesdays, I made it a point to call him from a local STD booth. My home landline didn’t have an STD facility. And it was all over the same story… Nonetheless I looked forward to share my life with my best friend and hear him as well…that gave me great solace and freedom from stress. Soon our results were out and though my percentage was good enough to get me into a local medical college I put my foot down and secured admission into BSc microbiology in a prestigious college. Nirav was a merit holder once again and I couldn’t be less proud. In spite of the tragedy in his life…of losing his mother he had done so well. He also cleared the JEE with flying colours and secured admission in IIT Mumbai. My happiness knew no bounds…finally my best friend would be in Mumbai.
We were both busy with our respective courses but still made it a point to speak regularly and meet up once a month outside my college in a local restaurant or the park. About six months into my FYBSc I met Rajat, who was in the first year of MSc chemistry in the same college. Though I had met many guys before no one ever came close to Nirav in matching my wavelength. But Rajat… he was different. We participated in the college play which won an award and I didn’t know the hows or whens but I started falling for him hook line and stinker. But I shuddered with guilt wondering if I was doing Nirav an injustice… besides I wasn’t sure what I felt as I hardly even knew Rajat. So, I kept things casual with him. Though Rajat didn’t know the dynamics he knew about my friendship with Nirav. He didn’t mind at all and gave me my space…. That’s what I liked about Rajat. I still clearly remember… it was Valentine’s day and I was in my second year of Graduation. Rajat wanted to spend time with me and take me out for a movie…for the first time. But Nirav had wanted to speak something important too and we had agreed to meet that day at another café this time. Rajat only smiled and nodded… I saw the veil of sadness in his pretty eyes, his day-old stubble enhancing his rugged looks. He was a brilliant student as well and already had job offers lined up from some of the top pharmaceutical companies. But he was an epitome of humility and had a great listening ear…especially when I ranted and bitched about something not going my way. This was the first time he had asked me out which was pretty scary for me though he had arranged it with our group. I knew he had done it to make me comfortable but then my only thoughts were on what was Nirav going to tell me…finally. Was he going to propose to me? After all these years…? And …would I say yes…? I wasn’t sure.
I wore my favourite red outfit… a red long gown which accentuated my curves and didn’t bring out my short stature. It was Rajat’s favourite actually. I had seen the appreciative gleam in his eyes when I had worn it for the first time a couple of months ago for a college event and had kept it for Valentine’s day ever since…what was I thinking? Guilt ate me as I waited in the café beautifully decorated with red heart shaped balloons. I felt the pangs of sadness as I saw young couples around… living in their own moments. And I realised I was missing him terribly…I was missing Rajat. I felt for him… I wanted to be with him… I had never felt the kind of pull towards any guy before…not even Nirav. At that moment in the café I realised that I was in love… actually in the true sense of the word… it was way beyond the flutters in my heart or belly. It was a deep-seated connection…a connection of souls. But the very next moment I wondered what would I tell Nirav if he proposed…oh God…would I be breaking his heart…? Would I lose a friend…? Oh God…
Just then Nirav walked in along with another dashing muscular guy…what was with these hunks… Did they have to be so good looking…?
“…Hey Ani…” He gave me a tight hug like we usually did whenever we met, but this time he was visibly happy and chirpy. I hated to break his heart… Oh no.. “…Uh…Ani this is Param and Param… meet my best friend Ani… you may consider her family…”
What …? No…? the moment she was dreading had arrived. Param shook hands with her. “…You are way more beautiful that what Nirav here has been saying. No day goes by when he doesn’t speak about you…”
“…Oh really…? Nirav… I didn’t know you spoke so much… about us…” I jested. At least I tried to but form Nirav’s expression it appeared I had failed. I was lousy at cracking up jokes.
We ordered ice-cream and I could see the time indicated 4PM. Rajat had wanted to take me for the 6PM movie today which I had refused… Would he be going ahead with his movie plans …. What was I doing? I was here with Nirav and thinking about Rajat…I was indeed insane. Param cracked a joke and Nirav laughed out loudly… and I was back here in the café after drifting away.
We both spoke together and chuckled. I indicated that Nirav speak…
“…Uh… Ani there is something I had to tell you… I mean it’s difficult but I couldn’t tell this to anyone else…I have waited for a long time now…”
Oh crap… he was going to say it now… the idiot had got a friend along for giving him the courage… what the hell…was he going to confess his feelings right before the muscular dude? What was wrong with him. But then maybe it was good in a way… given her upcoming answer. He would need someone today and she was glad he had Param in his corner. She smiled and nodded.
“…Ani…I …. I am in love….and …” he rubbed his face and her heart stopped. This was the moment. “…Uh…Ani… I …Love…Param…”
WHAT…? Of all the atrocious things…?
I must have looked stunned. Homosexuality was a relatively new concept and I had only read or heard stories where they were jeered or made fun of. He held my hand across the table. “…I know… it’s a shocker to you…Ani… please… please understand me…. I am… gay… I have been since long… even before I met you…” He looked away and at that instant I got a kick in the gut seeing his vulnerability. Oh God…my best friend suffered alone for years…and here I was busy building castles in air dreaming of my happily ever after. Never once had I guessed this in my wildest of dreams…
“…Nirav… hey… its…its OK… why didn’t you tell me before…? So many years now…I had no clue…” I didn’t know what I was muttering.
“…Uh… It’s looked down upon Ani… my father was furious when I told him last year and hasn’t been talking to me ever since. I… I dint want to lose the relationship I valued most… our friendship Ani…it the most precious one…I mean… I could tell you anything under the sky and you never judged me… I… I couldn’t have gone through XII std after my mom’s death if not for you Ani…I couldn’t lose you over this…”
“…Nirav…” I wiped away my tears extremely angry at myself for not knowing something so important about my friend. “… there is nothing wrong in being gay… I am glad you have decided to come out of the closet… Just… be rest assured, this, changes nothing between us… you are still my best friend whom I can trouble with anything and now… even with guy issues…” She laughed and both Param and Nirav laughed along with her. For once her attempt at humour hadn’t back fired.
“…Actually Ani… Param is my senior in college and we are kind of close… I mean…”
“…Hey… don’t have to justify Nirav… just relax OK…?” I was so happy for him. He wasn’t alone in the true sense of the word.
He nodded smiling and suddenly asked. “…So did Rajat ask you out yet…?” I blushed and nodded remembering to use the public booth right outside the café to make the long due important call. We had our ice-creams and left the café promising to speak and meet at our designated times. Param was a thorough gentleman and I liked him a lot…. The happy relief I felt was unimaginable…
As soon as they left on Param’s bike, I placed a call to my college cafeteria. I knew Rajat would be there at this time. “Hello…?” Rajat’s deep fatigued voice spoke a few seconds later on the other end.
“…Its me… Anisha… the movie program still on cards…?”
Rajat screamed so loudly I thought a few passers-by would have heard him over the phone…
As my cab moved towards my college…I kept thinking of my best friend and tears flew down my cheeks but these were the happy ones.
The doorbell rang and I sighed wiping my tears. DDLJ songs often brought back so many memories. It was the maid for sure given the bell pattern, and as I stood shutting the System and placed the remote on the shelf my eyes fell on my wedding picture clicked twelve years ago. Rajat smiling at me with his eyes full of love. My parents were not happy initially but Nirav played a vital role in convincing them and finally here we are today happily married with two beautiful girls. I saw the next picture of Nirav and Param who are now in the US, married with a baby boy recently delivered via surrogacy. I had done my part along with Rajat to convince Nirav’s father and we still speak every Tuesday without fail.
I know at one time I had loved him… but it took me a while to figure out that was a different kind of love that had I felt for him then. So, the day he had declared his orientation I had frozen my love for him… that love for him remained…it would be so forever.
As I answered the door watching a harried Kusum waltz her way into the kitchen swearing at her drunk husband, I hoped my best friend received all the happiness in the world with his true love…
Author note: Being gay is not a crime or a sin…it’s just there… let’s not use religion or our bigotry beliefs and hold it against them. They deserve a life just like we do and let’s not discriminate! Lets not look for an excuse to hate… life is too precious for wasting time on prejudice and hatred…
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