1st November, 2018, Bangalore
I was falling. Down, down, down, I went into my icy grave. The murky waters around me filled my lungs. My chest should have burst with pain. But strangely, I felt nothing. I saw nothing but his face, beckoning me from below. I wanted to reach him. I wanted to hold him, one last time. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, no matter what. I wanted to ask him, why he had left me alone in the dark. But as I plummeted deeper, I knew that it wouldn’t be possible to talk to him, in this lifetime, again. Maybe another time, in another life, then.....
I woke up, at 3 am, drenched in a cold sweat from head to toe. I felt my arms and legs rapidly, to assure myself that I was indeed, alive. I took deep, loud breaths to ensure that there was no water in my lungs. I looked around my darkened bedroom, disoriented. It had indeed, been a dream. But why did that face seem oddly familiar? Had I seen it before, somewhere, sometime? I suddenly remembered, with a chill, the very last time that I had had this same dream, a little over eight years ago..
15th September, 2008, Bangalore
“Hey, come fast, Mallika! We are going to be late for the lecture!” My bestie Shivani called out, as I ran up the three flights of stairs, panting. I did not want to be seen as tardy, on the very first day of my clinical posting in Paediatrics. Little did I know, that moment, when we ran to catch the very last seats in the classroom (not that we were truants or anything, but we weren’t exactly first-bench material, either), that it would be my chosen speciality, in the years to come. Just as I was about to enter the class, in the mad rush that I was, I failed to see someone emerging out from there. I collided headlong into him, and fell to the cold marble floor, scattering the books in my hand.
“Ouch! Watch where you are going!”
“I am really sorry, I..”
As I tried to look up to see him, my words were cut short by a sudden, blinding light that flashed between us. My head started pounding, as if being hit by a thousand hammers at once, and spinning like crazy. I shut my eyes, held my head in my hands and screamed, trying to block out the images flashing in front of me- a young couple-a proposal-a tragic death.
“Hey, Mallika, are you okay?”
The moment his hands touched my stiff shoulders, I felt a current rip through my entire system, from head to foot. It sent a huge jolt through me, making me open my eyes, to finally see that face.. That perfectly chiselled, milky, boy-next-door face with deep brown eyes and a mop of thick, wavy black hair.. It seemed so comfortingly familiar, especially that perpetual look of pain in his eyes. Despite the fact that I had been the klutz who had caused the accident, he was kind enough to help me to my feet.
“I am sorry, I guess I hit you quite hard!” he continued to look at me, his eyes locked into mine, as I stood against the support of his strong arms. Just as I started wondering, why I was having this sudden, irresistible urge to hold him tight, and beg him not to leave my side,
“Hey, all fine there, Mallika?”
I turned to see my boyfriend, and also my senior by one year, Suraj, staring daggers at the physical proximity between me and another guy. I immediately broke out of his arms and bent down to gather my books.
“I’m okay, Suraj.”, I fumbled, turning a deep red in guilt, as I raised up my face to look at him. What was I feeling so guilty about, anyway? Most of the time, when I faced his accusatory glares, I really wasn’t sure what I had done wrong.
“I am sorry, Suraj, I..”
“Sir, she didn’t do anything wrong here, to be apologizing. It was me who didn’t see her coming, and collided with her.”
I looked gratefully at this guy, who seemed rather surprised at the I-know-what-you-did look from Suraj. But he didn’t know that it was something that so quite common between us, that I had got used to it, by now.
“And who might you be? Whoever you are, stay away from my girl, okay?”, He threatened, as my batchmate Manish Sharma backed away into the classroom, shaking his head in disgust.
Suraj and I had first met on the day I had entered medical school. While all my other batchmates either sang or danced or did some display of their hitherto unknown talents, to appease our seniors, during the first ice-breaking (ragging, in common man’s terms), I had cowered in one corner. It had been Suraj who had saved me from the wrath of his batchmates. He had, for some reason, taken a liking towards this shy, timid, average-looking girl, with hair so tightly pulled back that her face looked even bigger and petrified, than she actually was. Though I had initially felt like I was the luckiest girl alive, to be the ‘chosen one’, for one of the hottest guys on campus, I soon realized that I was a mere addition to his trophy shelf-hot chicks: check, fat chicks: check and dumb, naïve chicks (like me): check. He needed an unquestioning puppy dog whom he could boss around and blame for everything that went wrong in his life. I didn’t know why I always felt responsible for mistakes I hadn’t done. I had this perpetual guilt within me. So, I remained quiet at all the unfair accusations he threw my way. Why on earth was I with someone so toxic, you ask? I didn’t know. I just somehow felt like I deserved it. Moreover, who else would want a duff like me? So, today, when he came at me, like a raging bull, I just stood with my head bowed, ready to be punished.
“What the hell? Why are you throwing yourself like that, at every single guy? Am I not man enough, for you?”
The best response is, many times, no response. He now came closer, his face barely few inches away from my petrified one.
“Meet me today evening, after 4pm, in the parking lot, okay?”
My classes did not finish until 5pm. But I just kept looking down, and nodded. When I went, obediently, I had a shock in store-he wanted to do it, that very same day. I refused and broke away from him, sobbing, as he tried to kiss me.
“Fuck off, I don’t need you. Girls are waiting in queue to get into my pants, silly woman!”, He called out, as I continued to run, blinded by tears. I couldn’t take it, anymore. As I sat by a small water fountain, at the hospital entrance, my tears competing with the streams of water from the small jets, I felt a hand on my shoulder..