I sat down on my bed and looked at the watch. I knew his flight had already landed. I knew he must be getting ready. I looked at myself in the mirror for good five minutes, trying to understand if I had changed.
While my appearance did change I was unable to figure if I was the same person.
I had asked him to meet me near the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. Anyone could find it easily in New York. I stood there patiently waiting. I could hear somewhere someone playing a saxophone. Through the swarm of crowds, I could not figure out who it is was or where the music was playing. That is what I love about New York, beneath the energy of the city, the city can terse time into smaller pieces of melody.
I finally see him heading towards me. I walked towards him and to my relief he hugged me first.
“You have a beard? Part of being a teacher?”
He laughed. The same candid laugh which most have forgotten to express.
“Coffee?” I asked.
“Yes why not?” He answered. He walked confidently while I saw people around him watching intently. He wore a crisp white shirt and Nehru Jacket on it with blue jeans.
As we entered the coffee shop, he asked, “So why have you called me?”
We sat down and I had three version of answers for this question. I took deep breath and finally answered, “Can I answer this later today?”
“I have some news for you. I have got a huge sponsorship and we are opening two schools on Maharashtra and one in Madhya Pradesh. It is a big leap! We will not teach them to become engineers but educate them on village development.”
“That is superb! So you are really making it happen!”
He smiled. He looked content. “Your parents?”
“No they still don’t support this dream. Sometimes I see so many classmates and colleagues travelling and makes me wonder. By the way thanks for sending the one-way ticket!”
That was the thing about us. We never lied. As a struggling grassroots worker I knew he would not have the money to buy two way ticket to New York. He always treated me like an equal and sometimes more.
“I writing a book”
“Finally!” he said enthusiastically. “Wait, what about your job as an analyst?”
“I am doing that. But, I am partying less and finding time to finish my book”
We got out of the coffee shop and went to Bryant Park. While we walked I slid my hand quietly around his. He did not flinch or look narrowly at me.
“So what is this story about?” he asked.
“Friendship of two men, pre-independence era”.
He sighed a deep breath and did not say anything.
“What?” I asked.
“It is going to be a difficult book. A time when we were not born and writing about a gender which you are not.”
“I know. But I thought I should write a story about a pre-independence era because apart from so many stories of struggles and heroism, I wanted to write about what independence meant for common man. It is loosely based on my grandfather.”
It was onset of autumn and leaves had just started changing its colors. We sat silently and looked at the people passing us by. There were so many of them still observing him. I guess he does stand out. I realized that the question why I sent him a ticket here was eating both of us.
“It’s been three years and I can’t seem to fall in love”, I finally blurted out like a little girl.
“You are not dating?” he asked calmly. Being composed was one of his most annoying habits.
“On and off yes. But I can’t seem to fall in love”, I repeated again.
“And I cannot come to New York”.
“You know every autumn I look at the leaves around and pray that one day I will too change my color and shed all the past memories”
He smiled and put his arms around me.
“I am here for ten days. I am staying at my uncle’s house in New Jersey. I can come and stay with you these few days. Post which I am going to Amsterdam. I have booked my flights in a manner so that I can stay with my friend for a week and then I am back”
I looked at him confused.
“I am saying that I can’t seem to fall in love too. If you ask me to stay I would stay. If I ask you today to come back, you will come back. But neither of us will ask. But, we can spend some time here and if your heart wishes spend some time more in Amsterdam.”
“And then?” I asked
“Then we move on. We have to move on. You have to accept the people the way they are. Before you write your book, you need to open up more to let someone open up to you. ”
“And you?” I asked.
“It you start forgetting me and letting me go, maybe I shall forget you too. If you think of me less, I might just start thinking of someone else. If you laugh with someone else, maybe back in our country I might cry with someone else. And when you kiss someone maybe I can sleep in someone’s arms knowing that finally you and me have managed to love each other like no one else ever have”
I finally managed a smile, “Yes maybe.”
“So what will it be?” he asked.
“We are going for a drink and some music,” I said cheerfully. “And then you are coming to my apartment”.
As we got up I saw a leaf falling gracefully on a white chair.