I neatly placed my luggage on the rack above my seat and looked at my phone to check time. It was 10:45 am. I was contently peeping through the window when a sudden voice barged in.

“Excuse me, this window seat is …”

He stopped mid-sentence as I turned my face towards him.

As for me, I could not make out if he was real or a hallucination. And after being sure of him, I could not make out my own state of mind- if it was bewildered or bedazzled or simply happy.

“Hi Reva. It’s nice to see you after so long,” Kabir smiled and extended his hand for a handshake.

“Hi Kabir. Same here.” Still spellbound, I smirked and returned the handshake.

“How are you Reva,” Kabir asked gently.

“Am goo..good,” I replied as I tried regaining fluency in my speech.

Kabir again gave a warm but hypnotizing smile. After arranging his stuff on the luggage rack he took the aisle seat next to me.

“So Reva you have hijacked my seat like always.”

“Oh.. I am sorry, I didn’t mean to..”

Kabir grinned heartily. “That’s okay, you can keep it”

“Are you travelling to Shimla?” I asked sheepishly.

“I think that’s where this bus is headed to,” he replied playfully.

‘Silly me’ I thought as I nodded to him in agreement.

The bus started for its four-hour long journey to Shimla.

Kabir and I graduated together from the same engineering college in Delhi 7 years ago.  Our similarities vis a vis the temperaments and aspirations drew us closer and we soon became good friends. On many occasions we would travel back home to Chandigarh together. Back then I used to be the one to initiate most of the discussions and Kabir happily settled for the role of a good listener. But today I was not my usual self or perhaps I was ‘charmed’.

“So you have settled here in Chandigarh?” he asked amiably.

“Yes, settled — with my job, my husband and my 2 year old boy” “How about you?” I replied firmly after having gathered my wits.

“I have shifted to Delhi because of my start-up..”

He was cut short mid-sentence because of my child-like enthusiasm. “Oh yes, you are an entrepreneur now, an achievement indeed. I read about your start-up in facebook posts and newspaper too. You are doing really well”

“Thanks but it’s nothing much,” he replied humbly.

“I read you are working towards reducing carbon footprints.” I was now ready with my volley of questions as my brain transmitted clearer signals.

“We convert waste plastic bottles into fibres. That’s economical and eco-friendly too. I am an eco-child you see,” he replied with a very obvious zeal.

“Yay. So what takes you to Shimla sir?” I enquired.

“A friend’s destination wedding.”

“Hmm.. and I am going to meet my maternal uncle. He stays there and has not been keeping well. So..”  (After a momentary pause)”And yes congratulations Kabir. You guys are expecting your first child, right? Facebook is my source again.” I smirked at my revelation.

“That’s right. Thanks Reva.”

“Uncle and aunty must be very happy. How are they? Have they shifted to Delhi as well?” I asked.

“No they are still here in Chandigarh. They don’t want to leave their home. I had actually come here to pay them a visit.”

“Reva give me a minute please. I need to call Meera. Got to check on her health.”

“Sure”

Kabir plugged in his earphones to call his wife. I rested my head back on the seat and closed my eyes. My heartbeat felt faster than usual. My hands and feet felt colder than usual.

The pictures from past started flocking my mind as if Kabir had set on a camera roll. He was still the same- the same looks and the same aura. Years had not changed him much. A tall and sleek physique complimented by a not so handsome face, he looked just the same. But this average looking man had the demeanour which could intoxicate the air around. His unmatching gleaming eyes, the infectious smile and the sonorous voice could cast spells on people.

A sudden jerk and the bus stopped with a loud thud. The driver and conductor got down to check. Apparently the engine had developed some snag and the conductor was not sure how long it would take to fix. All the passengers began to disembark and dispersed in no time. I and Kabir too got down.

The scenic beauty around was absolutely mesmerizing. As I rested my back against the moss laden mountain, the hues of green filled my eyes. The forest cover looked damp and fresh after the rains. The weather had turned a little cold in the otherwise hot summer month of July. A loud horn from somewhere and my gaze shifted to the coffee stall on the other side of the road where Kabir had gone to fetch coffee for both of us.

“Your coffee.” He offered me the cup.

“I think I better call Varun to arrange a car. He would have reached Shimla by now and can send a car here.” Kabir took out his phone to call his friend.

“Kabir!” I grabbed his hand then instantly held back feeling awkward. “I mean why do you bother your friend. It’s just 2 pm. We have lots of time to reach there.” “And who knows if we are ever going to meet again.” My tone became mellow as I spoke the last sentence.

In a moment I realised my last remark drawing a bizarre glance. Just when Kabir was about to say something I uttered, Can you spare me a moment please? I need to call my husband.”

“Yeah sure, please go ahead’

“Hello Ishaan. How are you and our little bub… The bus has developed some snag… No no don’t worry. I will reach in time… I found a college friend in the bus, Kabir. He is here with me. We plan to wait here with all the passengers for some more time. But if the bus is not up and running in time Kabir’s friend will get a car arranged for us from Shimla…I am fine darling…Yes, I will keep you informed.. Love you too. Take care”

As I turned after apprising Ishaan of my whereabouts, Kabir blurted out, “So what do we do now in the middle of nowhere?”

“What others are doing, whiling away time.  Or do you find my company boring now?” I winked.

“I never found you boring Reva. I thought you would know at least this much.” His face suddenly turned serious.

I blushed as I tried to avoid his gaze and then uttered, “Look at the nature in all its glory. Kabir would you mind taking a stroll in the hills.”

“Not a bad idea.”

As we set our foot on the narrow and curvy mountain roads like wanderers, the silence of the mountains began to fill our hearts. Wordless, we were walking through the clouds on the slippery mountain slopes hand in hand. A sense of déjà vu gripped me as he offered his hand to save me from tripping on the wet road. This is how he had offered his hand when I got drunk in the college party. This is how he walked me all the way to my hostel room. I knew this touch and its warmth.

“Hey let’s sit here. We have been walking for more than an hour and a half and I need rest.” Kabir said pointing to a bench in a tourist shed nearby.” You look so lost and quiet. Are you okay?”

“Yeah absolutely. I am just enjoying it here..the weather, the greenery and …..”

“And ! What ?” He demanded

“Mmm.. nothing..”

“Hmm..I think I should call the driver once” Kabir slid his phone out of his pocket.

“What did he say” I enquired.

“Some more time he said.”

“It has already been close to 3 hours. How much more time is it going to take!” I probed.

“I think I should call Varun to arrange for a car now. It’s going to be 5 o’ clock. We should get out of here before it gets dark. And the car from Shimla will also take an hour to reach here”

Before I could reply, he was already calling his friend.

My gaze shifted to the sun, gradually being gulped by the mountain peak. The dying sun painted the sky orange red with its last strokes of the day. As the time flew the clouds began approaching and soon the sky became overcast. The occasional sounds of forest birds were the only traces of life, as the road slowly turned isolated by the nightfall.

Kabir was sitting right beside me and my instincts made me feel his gaze. Brushing aside the tresses of hair which kept falling on my face due to sharp air, I turned around to face him.

His eyes were totally fixated on me and in a very intense voice he said, “I had been meaning to tell you something. But I am not sure if it’s the right thing to say now.” Having said he shifted his gaze to the ground perhaps in contemplation.

All of a sudden I felt a rush of emotions through my body. The blood starting splashing in my veins. My body became weightless. My mind got flooded with hundred questions and turned blank, all at the same time. ‘He can’t be saying that now.. Years have passed.. Destinies have chalked out our paths and we have reached the places from where there is no looking back… Why does he need to say anything now?’

The perplexed me sat still like a stone intensely gazing at him.

The night had fallen. With darkness came the downpour. Light from a distant lamp post and the fireflies was barely enough to gauge his expressions. The storm, thunder and rain all three together, made me wonder if the nature can replicate emotions.

Kabir shifted his gaze again, this time to stare directly into my eyes. He brought his face closer to mine probably to cast his spell again. He cupped my face in his hands and looked deep in my eyes as if waiting for my consent. In the darkness of night I could feel his lascivious lips almost on mine. The passing moments felt bitter sweet. He raised his face little higher up and kissed my forehead instead. I closed my eyes as tears rolled down my cheeks. Whether the tears expressed remorse or relief, I wasn’t sure. But Kabir was not me. He had always been sure of his limitations and liberties- then and now. As I rested my head on his shoulder, I could feel the heaviness in his breath.

He gently pushed me aside to look at my face and wiping my tears said, “Please don’t cry. I am so sorry, so sorry for bringing you all the pain.” His eyes looked remorseful.

“Why now Kabir?” I asked teary-eyed. “Why now, why not then when we were together. You never expressed yourself. I was never sure of your feelings. You hardly ever called after we passed out of college. I waited for 2 long years before I finally consented to marry Ishaan. Then why today Kabir?” My question was driven more by inquisitiveness rather than regret.

“May be I was a jerk Reva. I never considered myself worthy of you. I always thought you deserved a better man. I possessed neither looks nor money like you.” Kabir was still his usual self – calm, composed and unwavered.

His answer got me a bit irritated. “For heaven’s sake Kabir, who were you to decide the better and best for me? And what in me made you think that I cared for looks or money that much? You sound lame Kabir.”

Kabir’s piercing glance shifted downward ready to break open the earth underneath. In his unwavering voice he uttered, “I know Reva I may sound lame today but back then it mattered, at least to me. So I could never muster up the courage to ask you. And the feelings lay buried deep down somewhere since you got married. But who knew we will ever cross paths again. Today I want you to know this forever.”

Suddenly a huge flash of light from the far end of the road illuminated the street. As the car came closer, I turned my back to wipe the last drops trickling down my cheeks. The earth beneath was absorbing the tears and the rains alike. Kabir walked towards the car to check if it was the one Varun had sent.

We both sat in the car like strangers turning our faces to the windows on either side. Kabir called the bus conductor “Left? When? Our luggage is there in the bus.” “Hmm..Okay thanks”

Kabir gestured the driver to move the car. “Reva” he said, “the bus has left. He said he had so many calls from unknown numbers and could not figure out mine. So I am calling Varun to collect our luggage from the bus stand.”

My head still felt heavy because of the emotional baggage. Kabir got busy calling Varun and texting him the bus and luggage details.

I closed my eyes to the darkness outside and concentrated on the dim light within to sooth my mind. My heartbeat was slowing down to normalcy. My hands and feet started to feel warm again. Neither of us tried to fill the void between us.

The driver turned on the radio possibly to break the monotony of silence. As I started typing in my phone, I could feel Kabir looking at me through the corner of his eye.

A little here and little there

Life was but a lovely affair

Until I met those gleaming eyes

Which could hypnotize and bring me alive

He walked me down the memory lane

Blushes, tickles, laughter and pain

The emotions which lay buried deep

As if had woken from a long sleep

He opened up life’s closed chapter

I let him be that moment’s master

A sudden flash of bright light

Reminded me of who am I

Times change, realities change

Once so simple, now looks strange

What I leave, What I take

Do I live by the choices I make?

_________________________________________________

Written by Riddhi Bhatti

Riddhi Bhatti is a homemaker and caretaker of her li'l one. She is an ardent nature-lover and yoga/dance enthusiastic. She has also spent a couple of years at a renowned MNC as a business analyst. Riddhi: I love to play peek a boo. The stories I write, just read and review. And look for the hidden clue. Find me out once you are through.