“When are you back?” I asked Advait as I gulped from my second can of beer.

“Two years,” he replied giving a faraway look. For a moment everything fell silent around us as my gaze turned towards the expansive sea, heaving multiple waves in the full moon night.

“That’s a long time,” I said thoughtfully, though I shrugged my shoulders to conceal my misery.

“Yeah,” – nothing more. He said nothing more.

“I’m going to miss hanging out with you, you know.” I took another sip from my can while he picked up his.

“Me too,” he said after a brief silence. He still did not look at me.

This was Advait. A man of few words.

***************************************

Advait and I became friends while in college pursuing our MBBS. He was already in the 4th year while I was in the 2nd when we met at a seminar on Prosthesis and Orthopedic Technology, through a few friends. His quiet, brooding, smouldering temperament was an instant draw.

My inept,  silly, intoned jokes seemingly irritated him, even though they made the others laugh. I noticed how serious he looked. His gaze darting in the direction of activity on the stage, his eyes squinting to concentrate. Possibly towards the end of 4 years, one tends to get as serious, I reckoned. My jokes continued, regardless. Over the duration, I could only manage a faint smile on his face. But once he did smile, I knew I wanted to make him laugh as well and so I stuck around with him- in the canteen, between lectures and seeking counsel on theories and practices that baffled me. In fact, being around him would often make me doubt my decision of taking up medicine, considering that he knew a lot more beyond books and lectures. I, on the other hand, seemed to be simply fulfilling my father’s wish. He wanted me to take up medicine simply because it is one of the most respectable professions, even in this time and age. And believe me, I was trying my best to fulfil his wishes, under the given circumstances.

Ever since my teens, I would often imagine myself holding a snake vertically from the feet upwards that would sink into my skin and slither inside of my body. The hood of the snake would always turn into my head. It was unexplainable. I always wondered if people perceived me walking around holding that snake so close to my body that they used to fear coming close to me. They seemed to look at me in the most peculiar way. Quite early on, I realized I was unlike anyone around me and so my growing years were mostly spent in solitude. Everyone around me wondered if the snakehead would one day consume them, so most of them steered clear. As much as I would wish to shake off that image from my mind, it would never go away. Over these years, I had somehow learned to live with that social seclusion. My single father was unable to understand or accept the monstrosity of the snakehead. Fighting a solitary war against prejudices is a lonely road. One can never be prepared as much to kill the demons- within or without. 

Strange it is – feelings don’t have a shape or size, but they fit right where they need to; where they have to; where they wish to. Advait grew inside me like that feeling. After having him around, the space occupied by the snake inside of my being, slowly but surely, started getting replaced. The slithering body popped out of my skin and the snakehead turned into the most massive smile I had seen on my face, after a very long time. It was like a new lease of life was given to the innumerable years of my solitude. I was in love. 

He wasn’t. Not just yet. Within a few months, over a span of a few days, his stuff started finding its place in my two-bedroom well-groomed apartment, that my father had rented out for me when I moved in the city to pursue the Bachelor degree.  Yellow, my cat, was glad we had company too. Once I would leave for college, I was sure she left the apartment, to wander off on her own adventures, elsewhere in the neighbourhood. Regardless, Yellow was my confidante who knew exactly how I felt about Advait. That she was more interested in licking her ear or purring intermittently,   made me believe that she was least interested in my stories that began and ended with Advait. 

Not much changed in my apartment after I finally realized that Advait and I had been living together for a while now. Well, to be fair, physically nothing changed; between us, everything did.  His constant presence around me was reassuring. Hours of being together- sitting side by side to study well into the wee hours, chilling in front of the TV, movie marathons and crashing on the couch after devouring a crate of beers made for eventful recollection. Yellow was staying at home more often too. Sometimes, she would sit on the backrest of the couch right behind Advait, declaring her fondness for him over me. Silly deserter!         

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, one day, when I was busy preparing for my upcoming semester exams, he sat down to fill out the forms for the rotating internships. Getting work experience was not going to be tough for him either. His parents were established doctors already- his father a  leading Cardiovascular Surgeon and his mother a Celebrity Dermatologist with clientele from the showbiz fraternity. They owned a hospital about 6 hours away and Advait was scheduled to get his experience there before he would set sail to the United Kingdom for his MPhil. Well before I came into the picture, he had charted his future course as far as his career was concerned. 

He had almost finished the academic term and any time now, he would be gone, I was more or less prepared for this. Though, a year of separation was not as challenging as the next two years of him being away from the city would be. His absence was sure to change the dynamics of my life but  I could barely display my irritation. As I looked up from my notes towards him, I wondered if he would miss being around me as much.                             

His multiple puffs on the fag, while he typed spiritedly on his Mac, gave way to my annoyance.“Do you really need to fag as much?” I snapped.
 
“No.” Did he really need any more words, I always wondered.
 
“Then what makes you?” I heard this in my head and pondered why did I have to bring it up now, especially when I knew all along that he smoked.
 
He looked up from his Mac, caught my gaze, drew a long, hard puff and doused the stub on the ashtray, “There!”    
  
I smiled. Yellow winked, or so I thought. Advait returned to his task behind the Mac.             
He had completed his MBBS and was to leave for his Medical Post Graduation in the United Kingdom. In the meantime, he had taken the IELTS, as well, to score the necessary points required for applying at various universities.  Alongside, he was also preparing to take the PLAB-1 at the British Council. There was no stopping him. I couldn’t have, even if I wished to. He wouldn’t have, even if he wanted to.   
 
A few days later, when I returned from college, he announced that his result for the PLAB was out and he would be joining the University of Birmingham to pursue a two-year course- Master of Philosophy. This called for a celebration! Soha, the cook, helped me conjure a graceful dinner for two that we set down to gorge, accompanied by a Montoya Cabernet.
      

Advait, Yellow, and I. We fit in so well. His subtle glances towards me made me feel special in a way that a beautifully cut and shaped diamond necklace does, from behind the glass window. I wanted to break that glass and I, somehow, felt he needed to as much. This evening seemed like the perfect occasion. The many months of waiting to figure out if he really wanted me as much as I did, seemed to be over. Yellow rubbed her back on my foot under the table, or was that a nudge? I got up from my chair and walked towards Advait. He looked up as I moved my fingers below his chin, lifted his face towards me and kissed him. He kissed me back and then froze momentarily.      

          
He swiftly got up from his chair and pushed me back. “Are you out of your mind?” his angst controlled behind his clenched teeth.
 
“I am out of my mind?” I raised my voice… “What’s wrong with you?”
 
“I am a doctor for god’s sake, you moron…” he dashed towards his room and slammed the door shut, behind him.
 
“Exactly!” I raised my voice louder, “you are a doctor, for god’s sake!!” I slapped the closed door hard, walked to the dining table, gulped down the remaining wine from my glass and plonked myself in front of the TV on the couch.   
 
For the next 48 minutes, I kept surfing the channels to look for something, anything, to divert my mind.  Am I hallucinating? Is this for real? He loves me, I know it…he knows it too.
 
After a while, I knocked at the closed door and a brief moment later opened it to walk inside. He stood by the window, looking outside. I paced up towards him, placed my hands on his shoulder and my forehead on his nape.
 
“Stop being so cruel, Advait, to yourself,” I said.                
            
He turned around and collapsed in my arms. He broke down like I would have never imagined him. I did too. I reached out to hold his hands in mine. He jostled, I held. Fingers entwined we sat down on the floor holding each other for the longest time, I recall someone would have held me like that. Silent sobs in the night turned to careful caresses, cautious embraces turned to kisses and we made love.  
        
It was all going to be alright from here on, I believed. I dreamt of him by my side every day for the remaining days of our time. I rolled over to look at him on the other side of the bed, called out his name. My roving eyes stopped at the empty clothes hangers in his hurriedly emptied closet. The sight of that forsaken closet was reflective of how my soul felt. I lay there, between the sheets- naked and vulnerable. If there is indeed something like ripping of the heart, I had experienced it in that one moment. No Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine would have gotten me prepared for such a deep gash. In these few years of studying medicine, I had seen pools of blood, torn off skin, ripped organs, anything that would make one retch but this was incomparable. My throbbing temples gave way to my senses. He seemed to have gone and not just from the apartment.    
 
***************************************
 
He did not call me for the next three weeks. One winter evening when he did, I offered to bring beer cans while he preferred to decide the venue, by the sea. On a full moon night, we sat dangling our feet from the seawall, trying to overcome the initial awkwardness. It got easier with the multiple beers we guzzled. 
 
“When do you leave?” I tossed my empty can of beer in the bin under the tree.
 
“Tomorrow, early morning.”  I thought I heard him sigh. He picked up his beer can that had been idling for a while and got up to leave.      
 
“Advait, before you leave…er… can I….?” I deliberated if my bare vulnerability was exposed. He did not look at me as he walked towards his car and sped away. I knew he was meant to move away from me, but I did not expect us to move apart. Not so soon.
 
How does one say goodbye when they don’t mean it? How does one deride their own feelings that betray them? How does one ignore love when it’s overflowing from every pore of their body? How does one stop wondering if they are good enough or not? 
 
Many such questions kept stirring in my mind. I decided to retrace his steps and get my grades matched so I could apply at the same university, after completing my academic and internship terms. I got myself busy with lectures, notes, and research, like never before. Yellow was vying for my attention more as well, though gradually, she realized that the joy of sneaking out of the window and wandering off had better merit. 
 
I, on the other hand, started staying indoors more often. I was determined to face him, sometime in the near future, with a stance of my own.
 
A goodbye was essential I accede, but getting ‘no goodbye’ meant he was still around. I was not ready to accept that the few moments of oneness that we created between us did not deserve a simple goodbye. I knew this was not how it was meant to end. How could I have my story end in a heartbreak? I had to correct it, somehow.
 
As if ‘The Universe’ was not done with me yet, towards the end of the two years, he wrote me a mail announcing that he was getting engaged to be married. His parents had found a ‘suitable’ match for him and he had to declare his decision soon. I kept contemplating his purpose of sending me a surprise email like this.
 

What was the need to throw fire embers at me now? Wasn’t I burnt enough already? Was he not the one to walk out on me, without a promise of return? What was he expecting me to do now?  

I kept deliberating if he wanted me to talk him out of marriage or whether he wanted me to let go. It had been a few years- was he asking for a release or an embrace? I did not reply to his mail, regardless.      

 A few days later, however, he called.

“Can you come over to my home?” he sounded grim…but yay, he called! I was not just happy, I was ecstatic. 

“It’s a 6-hour drive…” Why did I even bother?!

“Start now!” he ordered.

Who did he think he was? He would make an exit when he wants to, return when he wants and then order me around? I was perplexed. 

I looked at Yellow who seemed as interested in the phone call that had ended so abruptly. She smiled (she really did!). I smiled back, packed my bag quickly and dashed out of the house. Ah! What the heck, he called!!

What was he up to? Should I call him again to find out? He sounded serious. Hope he is fine.Hope he is not already married.

With all these thoughts whizzing through my mind while I scurried through the dense traffic, it was hard to get my hands to dial his number again. I knew I did not want to waste even a single minute simply trying to multitask. He had called me and that’s what mattered the most. I needed to find out what lay ahead of me, beyond these number of hours.             

Six hours hence, I was at his palatial home on the outskirts of the bustling city. As I zoomed my car inside the gate, I saw a scrawny young boy walking towards me, assuring that he would park my car carefully. ‘Ah, one less thing to worry about!’ I thought.                   

I walked into the house and met Advait, who was waiting in the living room, busy on his Mac. As soon as I walked in, he stood up to greet me, with the warmest hug. I was speechless, so was he. I was not expecting a welcome like this. Greeting with high-fives was now a thing of the past, seemingly. I was going to be greeted with hugs from here on, the warmth showered by him made me believe that. He looked at me, his eyes conveying a thousand words- gratitude, absolution, conviction, love. These few moments of silence spoke a thousand words. 
 
Just as I was about to ask him why I was called at such a short notice, his parents walked in from the other room. As if rehearsed, Advait turned to his parents, “Mom-Dad, this is Prabh…Dr. Prabhjyot Walia.”An awkward smile wafted from their being towards me and they looked back at Advait, who continued, “I am in love with Prabh.” 
 
My eyes opened the size of the universe. All these years of pent up dejection, melted in that one moment. All the times when I longed for him to give me just a sign, turned into reality. The bag I was holding, instinctively fell on the ground with a thud. 
 
Apparently, I was not the only one who was as stumped.   
 
His dumbfounded mother could barely muster her words, “But…But…But Advait, he is a boy!”
 
“I know.” He looked at me and smiled. I smiled nervously as well.
 
We held hands.
 
My Advait. A man of few words.