A Not So Cliché Love Story

"Beta, why doesn't Anjali come home nowadays?"

Few years before

She was running towards him as he lent out his hand for her. She was almost there, their hands almost slipping, but he pulled her up.

"Anjali, yaar, I've told you so many times to wake up early for the school bus," scolded Rahul as he dusted his pants off. "Rahul, how many times have I told you not to forget your tiffin? Give Aunty and me a break, man," Anjali snorted back as she slammed the tiffin box against Rahul's chest giving him her signature glare. "Woah, woah, take a chill pill, man," said Rahul as he moved his bag for Anjali, revealing her designated seat right next to him.

"Accha, leave all of that, did you find out more about Arjun?" Anjali asked him in a dreamy daze as she pointed to the guy sitting ahead of them. Rahul's eyes followed her finger and his gaze fell on the awfully good-looking boy seated ahead of them, talking to his friends in an obnoxiously loud voice. "His voice is so... attractive," giggled Anjali, losing herself in a daydream. Rahul's teeth gritted, he wondered what it was that she found even remotely attractive in his voice. Whenever he spoke, it sounded like nails scratching the classroom's blackboard.

"Anyway, Rahul, you're dragging my attention away, did you get information? Bata na!" The lovesick girl whined. "Yeah, he's a year older than us, has a large group of friends and is apparently, a good student," he grumbled. A gasp was heard and suddenly the sound of excited squealing filled their little corner of the bus. He wondered how she managed to keep it quiet. "I'm going to go talk to him now. Yep, I can do this." Anjali exhaled. "What?" Rahul began, but the girl hardly listened to a word he uttered. "No no, you can't... do that," he whispered the last bit to himself.

As the young girl nervously walked up to her crush, the bus lurched and she fell right into his lap. The embarrassment she felt knew no bounds. A deep voice chuckled lightly and hands pulled her to her feet. He stood along with her and that's when she noticed the height difference. It intimidated her. "You okay?" Arjun asked. Wait wait wait. Back up. Arjun, the Arjun, asked her if she was okay? Oh, as if she wasn't already close to fainting. She faintly nodded her head and when he asked her if she wanted to sit with him and his friends, her jaw dropped open. Her response took some time but then, "Yes, yes, yes! Umm, uh, I mean, yeah sure, I'll just go get my bag." She immediately turned around and the smile that spread on her face was bigger than Russia. She soon collected her bag and skipped to Arjun's seat, smiling brightly. All Rahul did was sit in his seat quietly and watch as the scene unfolded before his eyes.

Months had passed and Anjali only got closer to Arjun. It was Rahul's birthday and everybody was excited. He was turning 16! Anjali wanted her best friend's sweet 16 to be absolutely perfect. She had decided everything, successfully becoming the architect of this celebration. As she looked around, ensuring whether everything was placed where it was supposed to be, the mental list in her mind only ticked off point after point as her eyes inspected and her memory recalled. Suddenly, the landline rang. She carelessly picked it up and then immediately turned a bright red as she recognised the caller. Arjun had called! Arjun! Oh, she felt as if she was on cloud nine! Then, Arjun told her why he had called her. He wanted to meet. Well, what the heck was the poor girl to do? On one hand, she needed to be present for her best friend’s birthday, and on the other hand, the person she had crushed on for so many years was finally asking her out. What could she do?

She decided that meeting Arjun wouldn’t hurt anyone. She would just meet him very quickly and then rush to Rahul's party before he cut the cake. Yep, she had it all figured out. She could do it. She gave the decorations a once over and then ran faster than Usain Bolt to get dressed. She hurried out of the house, caught an auto, and was on her way to meet Arjun. After almost half an hour, she reached the cafe he had mentioned when he had called her. She couldn’t see him anywhere, he was probably stuck in traffic or something. She took a seat at an empty table and got her phone out. She scrolled through Instagram, read a couple chapters of a few Wattpad books, yet there was no sign of Arjun. This was the second time the waiter had asked her if she wanted something, and she only responded with a ‘No, I’ll be leaving now. My date didn’t show up.’ Saying this, she left the waiter a tip and vacated the cafe to catch an auto back home.

Her eyes suddenly drifted to her watch, and then time stopped. Her eyes widened as tears wet her eyes. Oh God! What type of a friend was she?! "No, no, no! Shit, shit, shit. I can't believe I missed Rahul’s birthday! And for that idiot?! Ugh! Why didn’t I check the time? Stupid, stupid, STUPID!” Tears of frustration and sadness streamed down her face as she hauled herself into an auto and hurriedly told the driver Rahul’s address. She was feeling so ashamed of herself, how could she not look at her watch once? It was there for a bloody reason! The tears were never-ending and she had to keep swiping her hand over her eyes to stop her vision from blurring. She could not believe that she missed Rahul’s sweet 16 for a guy who didn’t even bother to show up after asking to meet her on such an important day! Ten minutes later, she was in front of his house, watching as the last of the guests laughed and wished him a happy birthday once more and then excused themselves for the night. Was it that late? She didn’t even realise when time passed her by.

Her mother caught sight of her and stormed towards the grief-stricken girl. “Anjali! Where were you? Rahul waited so long for you to come! He cut the cake only when he couldn’t wait any longer.” Tears rolled down Anjali’s cheeks once again. “I’m-I’m so sorry, Ma... I.. I..” The words didn’t make it out of her mouth. She spotted Rahul and ran to him. The moment he noticed, he walked in the other direction. She stumbled and fell, but kept running. It didn’t matter how foolish and comical she looked, she had to catch up to him.

“Rahul, Rahul, please, I’m so sorry... Please Rahul, please listen to me, I didn’t mean to. I- I- I just lost track of time, I didn’t mean to wait so long for Arjun-”

“You were waiting for Arjun? On my birthday?” He in a deathly quiet voice as his steps suddenly halted. “Wow, while I waited for my best friend to show up on my birthday, she was busy waiting for a guy who would never show up. The irony!” Rahul laughed sarcastically. He turned around and her heart broke when he glared at her, with eyes full of hate, contempt and hurt. “I... I..”

“Ain’t it funny, Anjali?” Rahul gritted out.

“I... Rahul-”

“You know what, you can take all of your shit and go to him then. I had told you that he would only break your heart, right? Well, now I can’t care less. He can break your heart or become your best friend. I don’t care.” “Rahul, wait, Rahul- RAHUL!” Alas, her cries were in vain. The inseparable best friends, the duo, the ones who had each other’s back through it all; had separated. Had broken like glass- into tiny, invisible pieces. Anjali only stood there as she digested what he said. Then, as the shock made way for other emotions, all the pain and agony and hurt and grief filtered in.

Tears constantly flowed down her eyes and suddenly, there was a tap on her shoulder. “Hey Anjali, can I talk to you?" said a deep and sincere voice.

"Arjun?" asked Anjali in a broken voice. "What are you doing here?" As drops of rain started to pour, Arjun wrapped his leather jacket around her.

"I'm sorry I stood you up on our date. I... I was very nervous since I had to ask you if you'd want to-" started Arjun but was cut off with a voice from behind. "Anjali, I-" said Rahul as he neared them. “All I wanted to say was, Anjali, I'm not mad at you. How can I ever be mad at my Chikku? I'm so glad to have you in my life. You mean the world to me and I can't imagine a day without you. Will you go on a-" he abruptly stopped as he saw Arjun, his face dawning an expression of realisation. "Oh, sorry for interrupting you two. Please continue." Rahul finished as he walked away one last time.

Present day

"Accha, leave all that, see, her wedding card came! She was such a soni khudi, I don't know

why you drifted away from her," commented his mother.

"Maa, sometimes one gets... intertwined in stories that aren't meant to be theirs. It's always wiser to let them go. The person up there has written a happy ending for everyone; we should not intrude even if it means letting go of our own happiness," said the heartbroken man. He knew what the card said even before he glanced at it.

He smiled as he read the card.

'Anjali Sood Weds Rahul Malhotra'

Authors: Anubhi Srivastava and Saptaparna Chakraborty

Editor: V.R. Kapse

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