He sat across from her, watching her face in the soft light of the glowing charcoal grill. It was his last night in the city, he was moving because of his new job, a job she had helped him get. She talked animatedly about her own life, but he wasn't listening to any of them. His heart was thumping violently and had drowned all sounds, even the live band blaring from the speaker above their heads. The dinner was her idea, it had been for a long time. And he had wanted to meet her ever since she moved into that city. But it were as if destiny was preventing him from meeting her. If it wasn't work, it would be some illness or any other excuse. And when he got free, she'd be out of town. Now that he was leaving, he had to meet her, come what may. And he did. A new job and a new place weren't the only upcoming changes in his life. Something had happened inside him. He realized that he loved her. And he wanted to tell her tonight. Only that his heart kept thumping and she kept talking.
He realized that she had been silent for some time now.
"I have been talking about myself all this time. What's your next plan ?"
She had been waiting for him to reply. She was one of those girls who have a golden heart and just don't know how to use their charms to impress people. They're plain honest, like children. Straightforward, sprightly, full of life. She was simply incapable of seducing anyone. People like her were loved for being themselves, something that rarely happens. Complete honesty seldom gets one true love.
"I like being straightforward. Tell me you love me and I'll clearly let you know whether it's a yes, a no or a let's-consider-it", she had told once. Being straightforward was easy for her, that was the only way she lived, but it was the most difficult thing for him tonight. As if on rescue, the waiter stocked up the grill.
The band began playing a new song. He started serving on her plate, focusing on the food as he spoke.
"There's no great plan. I want to settle down now, I have to. My parents are looking for a match and they'll find someone soon. But they're open to my choice too, you know, if I found someone by myself."
"Yeah?", her eyes bore down at him, but her face was expressionless. He didn't know what the tone meant.
Does she know? His heart beat wilder. He couldn't do it. He would rather do it his way, he just didn't have the courage.
"I love a girl. I have loved her for a while now but I couldn't tell her." He could feel his ears getting hotter, she kept staring at him. The band, his heart, the conversation at the next table, everything got louder. He focused at the steak he was cutting and blurted out the rest of the sentence, partially hoping they get lost in the cacophony. "I am telling this to her, you know, I am sitting in front of her and telling this to her. I hope she feels the same way, maybe the tiniest bit."
Her eyes moved from his face. She nodded thoughtfully, it wasn't a nod of affirmation or acknowledgement, it was a nod of confusion. Gee! What do I say? The waiter approached them and announced that the buffet was ready.
Years had passed since that night. The dinner had gone uneventfully, she had shifted the conversation to another topic and he obliged. His heart was silent, bearing a slight pang. He had left the city the next morning and they had never talked again. Though they updated their numbers to each other, but they barely contacted. Until yesterday, when he received her message that she was in town and if they could catch-up for breakfast.
He sat across from her watching her face as she checked the menu. She was still the same, childishly honest and vulnerable. He saw her hands, no ring. everyone in their circle had got married by now, all except her. His own wife had gone home for her brother's marriage. He was to join her a few days later. But her bare finger awoke the pangs in his heart. Its one thing to see someone you love get married to someone else. Its quite another thing to see them single while you're married yourself.
She'd rather stay single than be with me!
He hoped she'd forgotten that dinner years ago. Or maybe not, maybe that's why she asked him to meet her today. But he knew nothing could be done now.
"Why haven't you married yet?"
"Oh I don't find anyone. I'm so awesome, no one seems to like me", she laughed. "What about you, when did you get married?"
"6 months after I left Delhi"
"You know that dinner we had the night before you left?"
"What about it?"
"The thing you told me"
"Is she the same girl you're telling me about?"
He gaped at her.
"Didn't you tell me you loved some girl and wanted to tell her, then you told her when you were sitting in front of her or something like that?", she raised her eyebrows apologetically. "Gee! I couldn't hear you properly that night, remember how loudly the band was playing? I didn't feel like asking you all the time to repeat yourself so I just pretended to listen. So is she the same girl?"
He kept gaping at her, there were way too many thoughts in his head to respond.