Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
— Albert Camus
— Albert Camus
Image Courtesy: Google Images
Akriti was bored out of her mind. She was sitting up propelled against the pillows on her bed, busy texting her friends. None of them were willing to leave the comfort of their homes and come out to meet her.
It was six o’clock in the evening and Kolkata had come to its most humid best. Even after sundown, it felt like someone (God, perhaps) wanted to grill the helpless creatures alive. Akriti moodily thought about what the weather had been like two days ago: it was raining so heavily, and the cool, sweet breeze…. She sighed heavily.
Why couldn’t that amazing weather continue for the rest of summer?
“If I stay one more minute in this house, I’ll go crazy,” she muttered to herself as she messaged the only friend who was still texting her: Shweta. The only problem was this friend lived in another state altogether.
I want to have phuckas.
She typed a fresh message and hit send.
Laughing to herself, confident that a reply would not arrive until the next morning, she continued the conversation with Shweta.
1 message received.
1 message received.
Piyush: Do you want to go out and have phuckas? Let’s go out then.
Akriti almost fell out of her bed in shock. Here was the laziest person in the face of the planet up for a random outing with her. Well, she never was the one to say ‘no’ – especially when the outing would involve having phuckas.
One and an half hour later, Piyush and Akriti finally met up in Rashbehari. They had met almost two months ago, when the girl had to literally drag her friend out of his house.
“This is a first,” she commented, as soon as he was in earshot, “you being up for plans made at this short a notice.”
“It is only because I’ve been roaming all over the country for the past few days,” he confessed, “I just got back home this morning. If I stay at home much longer, I’ll become that lazy Piyush again.”
“I know, lazy goose,” Akriti laughed, “by the way, I got your text as I was getting up on the auto. So I couldn’t reply then. What do you need help with in Gariahat?”
“Umm…well,” Piyush said, as they walked towards the auto stand to get to Gariahat, “I need help buying junk jewelry.”
“You need help buying what?” shrieked Akriti and immediately dissolved into convulsions of laughter.
“Laugh all you want,” a disgruntled Piyush replied, “I’ll just wait for you to stop…are you done yet?”
The girl shook her head, still chortling merrily to herself. Passer bys threw them looks of both annoyance and amusement.
“Are you done now?” asked Piyush, pointedly, after a couple of minutes.
“Yes, I am done. So…junk jewelry, huh?” his friend said with just a trace of amusement in her voice.
“It’s not for me. It’s for a friend who wanted it…and well, I forgot to get it on my trip,” he admitted, “Oh c’mon…I ran out of cash,” he defended himself when he saw the disbelieving look on Akriti’s face, “Will you help me or not?” then after a moment’s pause he added, “You do buy junk jewelry, don’t you?”
That stopped Akriti from laughing completely. She narrowed her eyes at him, “Excuse me? What is that supposed to mean?”
“I have never seen you wear junk jewelry,” he said with a shrug.
“Then you must be blind,” muttered Akriti. In a louder voice she said, “I’ll have you know I buy a lot of junk jewelry from Gariahat. I just don’t get around to wearing all of them.”
They found an auto heading to Gariahat from the stand and boarded. As was Akriti’s custom, she became silent as the vehicle drove them to their destination, observing the roads she was passing by.
“Why are you silent?” Piyush asked her, a little annoyed. He clearly didn’t like sitting in silence.
“Err…I am listening to you. You’re the one who went on a trip. Tell me about it?” she said, sweetly. Mentally she added, and I am better at listening to people anyway, rather than talking.
“My trip was amazing. I went to such lovely places, and took pictures with this phone of mine!” he said, with the excitement of child who had been handed a whole box of chocolates.
“I did see the pictures,” said Akriti, still watching the shops that were flashing past. She caught glimpses of the people walking by, people waiting for buses, autos, taxis – people trying to get back home after a long, tiring day at work. “You posted them in Facebook.”
“Yes,” Piyush said. He looked at his smart phone sadly and showed it to Akriti, “look – it fell from my hand!”
There was a crack over the screen of the phone. His new phone had met with an accident. Butter fingers, Akriti thought but she didn’t say it out loud.
“Maybe you can get it repaired? Take to one of the mobile repair centers?” she suggested.
“Gariahat,” the auto driver announced putting an end to their conversation. The auto took an almost U-turn and dropped off his passengers in the middle of the road.
They paid their fare before getting off. As the stood at the crossroads of Gariahat, Piyush looked at Akriti, “Now, what?”
Throughout her college life, Akriti had tried having phuckas from all the stalls she’d come across in Kolkata. She knew three stalls in Gariahat-Golpark itself. Out of these three, there was one which was her favorite and most inconveniently located.
“Ta-da!” she announced happily as they approached the phucka stall located at the end of the Golpark auto stand. People had queued up to get back home. The line of shops which adorned either side of the streets had last minute customers, and impatient owners trying to hurry them up.
“Of all the phucka stalls in the world,” muttered Piyush, rolling his eyes, “this was the one you had to choose?”
Akriti merely shook her head. At least the phuckas had been worth meeting up this randomly so late in the evening. But the stifling heat of the evening refused to go away.
“Oh it’s such a nice pleasant weather in Kolkata, she said. It is much better here, she said,” said Piyush sarcastically, “where is the nice, pleasant weather?”
“It was amazing for the last two days,” said Akriti, “Maybe this is how Kolkata welcomed you back, Piyush Banerjee.” She added wickedly.
“Oh please,” said Piyush, rolling his eyes. He paused for a minute, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if I was called Bruce Wayne?”
“Huh?” asked Akriti, confused. They were walking aimlessly around Golpark now, a little further away from the phucka stall, “You want to be called what?”
“Imagine if I was called Bruce Wayne,” her friend continued, “That would be so cool.”
“Do you know where we are going?” she asked.
“No,” he replied, “but that’s the fun of walking aimlessly. You never know where you’ll land up.”
“You’ll land up near the Café Coffee Day of Golpark,” Akriti informed him, rolling her eyes.
“Hey get up on the sidewalk,” he said.
“Because you’re the one terrified of cars?”
“I am not terrified of cars,” snarled Akriti, though she got up on the sidewalk, “besides, that car was stationary.” She pointed towards the black car parked on the side.
A honk from another car approaching them proved her wrong. Piyush shook his head, “I think you need my glasses.”
They came up near CCD, and peering through the window found a fair few seats empty. In Akriti’s opinion that was definitely a first. She had always found the place to be very crowded.
“Let’s go in,” Piyush said.
“No,” replied Akriti. She never liked this place. It had way too many twisted memories for her. Including one of her friend’s once breaking an ashtray there.
“Why not? There’s a hot girl inside! Let’s go!” said Piyush.
“That is exactly why not,” said Akriti, “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“Why do you keep reminding me of the fact that I have a girlfriend, when even my girlfriend doesn’t do that?” he asked, exasperatedly.
Akriti didn’t know how to argue that point. She simply said, “Let’s just go to the other CCD? Please?”
“You and your bright ideas!” growled Piyush.
The other CCD was overflowing with people on a Tuesday evening. Akriti wanted to kick her luck, she was that annoyed. The only seats remaining were the one on the patio. But it was too hot to sit outside.
“How was I to know that this CCD suddenly gained popularity?” she asked, feeling completely lost.
“Wait,” Piyush said, pulling out his smart phone from his pocket. He typed something but a minute later he laughed.
“What is it?” asked Akriti, wondering what could possibly make her friend laugh at a moment like this.
“Google Maps, look!” he said, shoving the phone right under her nose, “We’re here in Gariahat, and the nearest CCD being shown on my phone is in Lake Town.”
Akriti laughed too. She smiled slowly remembering all the other cafés she’d often come to with her other friends.
“Okay, there are other places too, Piyush. Take your pick: Mrs. Magpie, Wise Owl, Just Baked, Byloom Café.”
“What? My room café?” echoed Piyush, startled.
“My room?” repeated Akriti, blankly, “Huh?”
“You just said: my room café!”
“My room? Why would I take you to my room?” asked Akriti, shocked, “And how is my room a café?”
“I thought you’d take me to your house and cook for me.”
“Dream on,” said Akriti, “Anyway, I know where to go…come on…”
They were walking to length of Gariahat again with Akriti, confidently navigating the way through the throng of people and Piyush, doubtfully walking beside her.
“Umm…Akriti,” he said, slowly, “Please look into my eyes.”
“No seriously…I need you to look right into my eyes and tell me something?”
“And that is?” she said, looking directly into his eyes.
“Tell me you know where we are going?”
“Yes, Piyush, I know exactly where we are going.” Akriti said, with a toss of her head, breaking eye contact with him. She walked a step ahead and turning her head slight to the right said, “What rubbish!”
“Who are you talking to you?” asked a voice from her left.
Akriti almost jumped out of her skin when she realized Piyush was walking with her on her left. She was horrified to realize she must have spat those words at some random stranger.
“Who did you just ‘what rubbish’, Akriti?” laughed Piyush.
“Never mind,” she said, shaking her head, “We’re almost there.”
Finally, the two of them had reached Upper Crust.
“You are not tired from your trip, Piyush?” the boy mimicked Akriti, “wait…let me come up with an ingenious plan to make you very tired.”
“Hey it’s not my fault!” Akriti said, “How was I to know that CCD would become such a crowded place on a Tuesday evening?”
They ended up having chocolate pyramid cake with a couple of soft drinks. As they ate, they spoke nineteen to the dozen, about the time Piyush had not been in Kolkata. How Kolkata had been for Akriti the last few days…and the future.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” said Piyush, slowly, “I am about to leave Kolkata – for a long, long time. And I don’t feel anything. I am not even sad. Is that weird?”
“Why would it be weird?” asked Akriti, “You have been dreaming of leaving for a long time now. You’re just too happy to leave. Besides, no one becomes sad this early. Give it a few more weeks.”
“Damn!” he said, as realization dawned on him, “I won’t be home for at least five years.”
“I think I’ll be married by then,” joked Akriti, biting into her chocolate pyramid. She stopped when she caught the look on her friend’s face, “What?”
“Married? Don’t get married!” he said.
“Ummm…I will be thirty in five year’s time,” she smiled, “it’s kind of obvious to get married by that age.”
“But you really want to be married? Why?” he asked, incredulously.
“Why don’t you want me to get married?” Akriti asked, “Is it because you’re going to miss the food at my wedding?”
“No! No…well that is one of the reasons. But married? Seriously?”
“Get over it,” she said, shaking her head, “Who knows what will happen in five years? I might just go away.”
“Yes! Why don’t you come too?” he asked.
“Because I already am doing something here,” she explained, “I can’t leave this life halfway now, can I?”
“Do you need anything else?” asked the shopkeeper.
“No, we’re fine.” Akriti replied.
“I’ll be closing in five minutes,” he informed.
“We’re about to leave,” Piyush told him.
“Lookout!” shrieked Akriti, pulling Piyush by his t-shirt sleeve, towards the sidewalk. There was bus turning sharply and heading towards the road they’d been standing on.
“Relax, we wouldn’t have died. The bus was too far away,” said Piyush. “You are the kind of person who might worry about a bus falling off the flyover and killing me.”
“Just like they show in the movies?” Akriti joked.
“Yes,” he agreed, “but in those movies, the hero always gets to know when the bus is going to fall off. So I wouldn’t be dying.” Piyush said, confidently.
“I hear you, Bruce Wayne,” the girl said, smiling to herself. “But you really shouldn’t cross the street like you do. You can get yourself killed.”
“Never,” he said, confidently, “I was at the tail end of the crowd. I wouldn’t be the one dying, in case something does happen.”
“Sure. Just get me killed instead,” his friend said, a little mad at him.
“Of course not! I had pulled you away from there too. I wouldn’t let you die, Akriti. What a thing to say.” He pretended to be hurt.
Akriti groaned and then started laughing, “You’re an annoying person. But you’re a fun annoying person.”
“Say it again,” he said, suddenly very happy. “I need to record you saying this. Usually people get mad at me for annoying them so much.”
Akriti laughed at his honest confession.
“But that makes them love me even more.”
She smiled at him, “Oh well. You’re hard not to love.”
“Now that, I definitely need to record.” They laughed again. “But no, honestly…that’s a huge compliment. Thank you.” Piyush said, smiling at her.
She smiled back. Then she raised her hand to hail an empty auto, “hey look! Auto.”
The auto ride back to their meet point was just as pleasant as their whole evening had been. It really was nice to have friends who would be up for last minute random plans.
“I hope you find someone,” Piyush said, “You’re a good person.”
“Thank you. I’ll definitely introduce you guys, if there ever is a person I find.”
“Well I can always kiss her and tell you if she is a good kisser…”
“Wait, why do I have a female lover?”
“Because it’s my convenience over yours…”
“Not funny…but hey, if it’s a guy, you’re free to kiss him too!”
“Shut up, Akriti!” he said, shoving her slightly with shoulder.
“You started it!” Akriti defended herself.
And so they bickered all the way till the both reached Rashbehari and said goodbye to each other.
“This was fun.” Akriti said. “See you soon, Piyush.”
“Yes…we’ll definitely meet up soon. Go home, safely.”
Akriti rolled her eyes at her friend. He smiled, waved at her and went off. She boarded the auto and came back home.
1 Message Received
1 Message Received
Piyush: Thanks for making me walk so much!!! -_-
She laughed, and replied: Just you wait for the next time we meet! ;-)
Author's Note: This story is dedicated to a friend of mine :-)) and to the little boy, Piyush, who I met during my time as a volunteer for Hope Foundation.