A mistake is an opportunity you give to life to teach you a lesson. And when even human teachers don’t give lessons for free, Life certainly won’t. It often demands much too high a price. Even if the lesson is just that you are a big fool.
And that is what I learnt about myself, when I took the two pretty ladies shopping.
Or rather, they took me along.
‘Okay, Arsh, let’s take you shopping,’ said Tiya, as we walked up to Sam’s car.
Nirvi stepped up to the driver’s side.
‘Oh, no, no way. No way I’m going to let you drive,’ said Tiya.
‘But you don’t have a licence,’ said Nirvi, discounting me from the available options list.
‘I would much rather risk an arrest than to let you sit behind the wheel. You know, Arsh, she drives so rashly, she almost killed herself twice,’ said Tiya.
‘But now you are with me. I won’t drive rashly,’ said Nirvi, smiling at her friend.
I smiled too seeing Nirvi so relaxed and calm. Tiya always calmed her, I knew. But it pleased me better to think it the effect of Sam’s absence, and a getting used to of my presence.
‘No, no, and no. I’ll drive. Please let me drive. I haven’t driven a car in ages,’ said Tiya, pulling out the car key from Nirvi’s grasp.
‘You don’t have a car?’ I asked.
‘I wish. But you see, I am the only child of my parents. My life is precious. And my parents don’t think I have become old enough yet to be considered responsible for something so precious, especially with regards to things as dangerous as driving a car. But don’t worry, I know how to drive. So come on,’ and she settled herself behind the steering wheel of the car. Nirvi jumped in beside her, leaving me to sit coyly in the back seat.
‘Just show me where I can get good furniture, then I’ll let you two go for your own shopping and not interfere in your fun,’ I said.
‘We don’t want you to interfere either. That’s why we have shifted our shopping to tomorrow. Today, we’ll help the shopkeepers raid your pocket,’ said Tiya.
And believe it or not, that is exactly what the two did.
I was taken to a fancy mall. And I was pushed into even a more fancy furniture store. And then started their help.
And amid lots of ‘Ooohs,’ and ‘Aahs,’ by both of them, and ‘This is so lovely, you must buy it,’ and ‘I love it, you must buy it,’ and ‘that one is cheaper but this one is perfect,’ by Tiya, and a ready seconding of Tiya’s every choice by Nirvi and the abundant display of nothing less than the best and most expensive by the sales man, and by none of them paying any attention to my ‘I don’t need it,’ and ‘It is too big for my room,’ and ‘It is too expensive,’ and ‘Have mercy,’ and ‘For God’s Sake no, not that,’ I ended up buying stuff I didn’t need, at prices I couldn’t afford.
Okay, I might still have managed to hold my ground. But what to do? Tiya was smiling, and I could see a glimmer of fun in my Lemon Girl’s eyes. The laughter in her eyes was genuine. And for once, I did not mind seeing anyone laugh at my expense. And it was good too to hear her say what she liked, instead of what Sam liked.
Nirvi is quite artistic in her tastes. I saw that clearly enough when they forced me into the store selling interior decoration items and paintings. Artistic sculptures, handicraft items and paintings attracted her especially. She touched them with her fingers, praised them with her eyes, and then moved resolutely away.
And then there was that painting that pulled a gasp from her lips and made her ignore everything else.
It showed a path through a wood bathed in moonlight. The whole scene was painted in various shades of darkish blue. Only the narrow path was in white, and the moon, and the face of the girl or the fairy who stared down it. She stood leaning against a leafless tree. Or maybe she was trapped, with her wings caught in its scraggly branches. Something like that. I didn’t look too closely. It all appeared too blue to me.
But Nirvi loved it.
‘How beautiful,’ she murmured, her eyes full of piety as they gazed at it. ‘Isn’t it, Tiya?’
‘Yes, it is lovely, but I’m sure you can paint a better one,’ said Tiya.
‘You are an artist?’ I asked.
‘No, I’m not,’ said Nirvi.
‘Yes, she is, a superb one. Two months ago she did a portrait of me and I tell you it looks gorgeous. Hey, can you paint a picture by seeing a photograph? I was thinking a portrait would be a great birthday gift…’ Tiya said.
‘For whom?’ I asked, with not really a very innocent curiosity.
‘For my brother, cousin brother,’ replied Tiya.
Nirvi stumbled back from her as if Tiya had slapped her, slapped her hard, with her words.
‘Hey, what happened?’ Tiya called out.
Nirvi shook her head but started moving away backwards, her face looking as if an ant had bitten her toe with poison tipped teeth. ‘Nothing, let’s go back. I’m tired,’ said she, still continuing her retreat.
‘But what about this painting? Don’t you want to buy it? It would look great in your room,’ said Tiya, rushing after her friend.
That managed to halt Nirvi’s steps. She turned and once again gazed at the painting.
‘It’s lovely,’ she murmured.
‘Let’s buy it,’ said Tiya.
‘Sam would not like it.’
‘But you like it and…’ I began.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ she cut me short. And then she turned and walked out of the store.
I shrugged my shoulders and followed her.
‘I’ll just be a minute,’ Tiya called out to me and lingered behind.
As Nirvi stepped out of the store, she sort of transformed. It was as if something had turned something on in her.
Her walk, careless till now, became measured and swinging. Her eyes flitted around catching stares, and she repeatedly turned her head with jerky motions to fling her hair this way and that, then to run her well adorned fingers through them and to count the eyes that had followed the motion.
Many did, including mine, as I caught up with her.
She had done nothing new, but still, somehow, she looked more glamorous now than she did a minute ago. Her brows looked more arched, her lips more pouted, her skirt looked shorter and her eyes had dressed themselves up in a different clothing altogether. Something had palled over them, it was dark and ominous, but adorned with a beckoning glitter. It seemed to uncover her in a way, to make her available, ready to be taken by whosoever desired.
And I knew that at that moment at least, the desire that pulled me to her was not a mere curiosity.
I walked on beside her in silence. My steps followed the rhythm of her feet. She was not walking fast, but I still felt a little breathless.
She touched her leg, as if to brush something off. But she failed to brush my gaze off them. She turned a little sideways, towards me and adjusted her T-shirt, and I noticed that there was a little butterfly painted on it. The butterfly had chosen a fine place to rest its blue and yellow wings. Those wings were still, but somehow they managed to raise a flutter in me. Nirvi adjusted her shirt again, pulling it a little lower. The butterfly slid a little lower too.
Ripples of chilled flames shot up in me. I clenched my fists, stowed them deep in my pockets and cursed Sam for existing, cursed him even more for becoming my friend.
And Nirvi strutted on.
Nirvi and I had stepped out of the mall. At a little distance stood two bikes. On those two bikes sat three guys. It took less than two seconds for one girl to force all their six eyes to become focussed on only her.
And then she tripped, uttered a low cry, and fell down on the road, right in front of them.
I can’t say that she did it purposely, because as her steps led her towards them, her eyes seemed to be looking at everything except where she was heading to.
So, it might even have been a genuine fall.
I was just two steps behind her. But before I could reach her, other pairs of hands had crowded up on her. They pulled her up to her feet, they supported her. And laid claim on parts of her in the process. She staggered a little under their weight, they pressed harder, closer.
The dusk had almost spent itself, and Nirvi had fallen down where the deepest shadows lay. Yet there was light enough to show me where the hands lay on her, and where they were moving to.
‘Nirvi!’ that was my voice that shouted the name. And it sounded angry.
‘Hey, Arsh, don’t worry, I’m alright. I just tripped,’ she said. Her voice sounded husky, as if she was drunk. Maybe she was, on something far bitter and inescapable than wine. And then she smiled. As the hands slipped upwards and downwards, she smiled.
And I did not know whether I wanted to shout at her, drag her away, or drag myself away and never look at her again. I did neither. I just stared. Something flicked up in me, and raged through me like molten iron and pins. Yet it was she who was turning into ashes. I just stood, and stared.
Her smile passed into a low, inviting laugh.
I still stared.
I saw the group inching closer to their bikes. Nirvi was moving along with them, towards the bikes.
I knew I had to call her. But at that moment, her name sounded too disgusting to be uttered. And there was no way I was going to stain my Lemon Girl by calling her that.
And the hands groped on.
Her laugh rang no more. Her smile came and went, like a flickering flame unsure of the next moment of its light, yet bent on burning till the last.
One hand slid lower and lower. I saw her stiffening. It stopped, having found its destination. She stilled. I saw her wince.
That was all I could take. I had to pull her away, whether she liked it or not.
I raged up to the group. ‘Come back,’ I called to her, rather, growled to her, I think.
A tumult went through her waning flame. It trembled up, as if under a blast of wind.
‘I…I must go, I must go,’ I heard her.
‘Leave her alone, she is with me,’ I said, stretching out to grasp her arm in mine.
I think I charged at them like a raging bull. Though I had no intention of becoming her hero. Sam was her hero, and just the thought of being like Sam was repulsive to me. But still, I was going to save a girl from three goons. It was heroic, admit it or not. And I already felt proud of myself. That is, till a fist came, took the light out of my left eye, temporarily, and made me eat dust.
It was a mighty fist, I must admit. Any other guy might have fainted under it. But I am too strong to go fainting like that. I would have jumped back on my feet immediately. But while falling, I had also tripped on a loose stone. And my ankle was sprained. Sprains can happen to even the mightiest guys. Wrestlers and other sports guys get sprains too. So it was no big deal.
Only, as I lay there, it was not very pleasant to see them laughing at me. And the handful of loiterers that had gathered around laughed too. I looked at them and knew it was useless to expect any help from them. They were there to watch the show. And I could see a couple of them even putting the camera of their mobiles to use.
And meanwhile, the three goons were once again moving away, with her.
Her flame seemed to have breathed its last. She was quiet. Her eyes stared at me blankly. There was nothing left in them anymore. She was gone. And they were taking her body away.
Before you proceed to the next chapter, here’s something extra!
Excerpt of Dream’s Sake