“Gooo Open the door!” Vikram said slowly to Aayat.
“Me? No! You go and open it.”
In a baby pink and black combination sari, Aayat looked gorgeous. Black metal earrings hung peacefully in her ears and a black dot bindi rested on her forehead. Her straight and perfectly silky hair were lying unleashed on her back. The left slender wrist carried a fossil watch and a few thin black bangles hung loosely on the other wrist. Wearing 3-inch heels, she looked perfect.
“Madam, What calculations now? Did you get this ready for us? Arey idiot open the door.” Zuly shouted from behind the door.
Ritesh and Hardik were hiding in the other room.
Aayat took baby steps toward the main gate. Nervousness made her cheeks bright red. She had to control her nervousness to finally open the door. And There he was.
Wearing a black shirt below his reckless beard, he was complementing Aayat so well.
“Hii!” Aayat’s squeaky voice oozed out of her throat. The excitement could be heard out loud soon.
“You? Youuuu…You look…beautiful. ” He stammered for seconds before the First sentence escaped his lips. He was smiling insanely. He had never been this surprised in his life. Aayat was blushing over his words.
Gathering all her courage, she moved an inch closer to him and whispered slowly in his ears.
“Guess what! Happy birthday Rishi Gujral.”
The look that was there on his face was of contentment and Happiness. Had he been alone with her, he wouldn’t have thought twice before kissing her. She looked amazing in her innocence wrapped gloriously in a Sari.
Aayat held his arms and brought him inside.
“Happy birthday AaarJaaayyyyyy.” Zuly literally shouted above Aayat’s shoulder.
“Happy birthday Bhaii. ” Now all those who were hiding inside came out and wished him one by one. Vikram hugged Rishi and so did everybody else. Aayat too wished to hug him but she was too shy to take the lead. However, Rishi didn’t take the lead either. Both of them kept glancing at each other with ecstatic expressions yet none could initiate anything.
“What is all this? And how come you all are here !!” Rishi questioned everybody yet his eyes were fixed to Aayat.
“Of course! Why should we all be here? You want only Aayat right?” Zuly chirped from behind.
Everyone burst out in laughter.
“Shut up! Bohot bol Rahi hai tu.
Rishi said while biting his lower lip. He would always do that when he is nervous.
Aayat, on the other hand, went to the kitchen and got a glass of water for him.
“It’s your day, Enjoy,” she said while handing him the glass
“Ohoooooo !!!” Everyone in the room hooted like anything.
“Come on, Now what…It’s just water, I am not serving him wine.”
“I wish,” Rishi said and winked.
“Shut up. It’s Haraam!! Don’t even think about it…” Aayat immediately said being so conscious of his gullible wishes.
“Relax. He’s not asking you to serve him actually!” Hardik said and laughed.
A little later, they all went and settled inside.
The living area was fed with a sofa set and two chairs to accommodate all six people.
“I’m really surprised, I didn’t have a clue you were all up to this.” Rishi looked around to everybody in surprise but from the corner of one eye, he was watching Aayat.
“Well, it was not our plan. This is somebody else’s master plan. We all have just been invited to witness this live.” Hardik reclined to a pillow behind his back while he spoke.
Rishi’s eyes were glued to Aayat. She had never been so conscious about someone’s gaze. With Rishi, she becomes a different girl. She slid her left hand behind her back and brought the drape of her sari back to her lap. The Opposite window where Aayat was seated was kept open. The sun rays fell on her face and it shimmered as the sun would sparkle on the strands of soil in a desert, making it appear like water. In a way, it was very relatable. That sun rays shimmering on the sand appear as water but it isn’t. It’s a mirage. The happiness on her sun-kissed face was indeed a mirage too. The only difference is that she was not aware of it. She was the sand, she was the water. Diving into two existences, she didn’t bother to find out which one’s true. Perhaps because she felt she was happy. She kept her brains away where Rishi was concerned.
After some time, Rishi noticed the photographs that were pasted on to the walls. His eyes roamed around the room and hunted for the pics he shared with Aayat. Aayat, on the other hand, had placed only a few pictures of them. Majorly, the walls were covered with his family photos, his college photographs with his friends, the photographs with his cousins. Everybody resolved for some time to give both of them some separate time alone. All of them sat in the room inside while Rishi and Aayat went for a Lyrical voyage across the living area.
“Only 3 photographs of us?” Rishi said moving his head towards Aayat while Aayat’s head rested on his shoulder and Rishi’s arm was around her waist. His fingers could touch the bare waist and he even tried to slid them smoothly only to give her chills.
“What? Don’t do this!” She looked back in surprise.
“Rishi, Everybody’s inside. They are not nice people. I’m sure they must be spying on us.”
“So what! Let them do. I love you, Aayat Shaikh! This is the best bday of my life.”
Finally, you said it. She couldn’t say that to his face.
“I’m so happy you liked it.”
“I loved it, really. But why have you not placed more pictures of us?”
“I have an answer to this. Only if it means something to you.” Aayat said without looking at him. Instead, she glanced at the photographs at the opposite wall.
“Look Rishi! I wanted to paint these walls with each and every phase of your life. Which does not only have me but other people too. I agree that I am an important part of your life and I am so glad but I also don’t deny the fact that there have been people in your life before me and even after I came into your life, you still have other people. And even if tomorrow, we won’t be together, your life will go on the same way. When I chose the phases I want to depict, your birth, your family, the festivals you shared with your cousins and extended family, your college friends, your college crush, Sneha !! Your struggles with your students who you teach and there were so much more. I wanted to accommodate each and every aspect of your life here so that you can reminisce about old times and feel rejuvenated for the upcoming years. That satisfaction, the happiness and contentment would only come when you would see your entire life as a whole. Your life, you have other relations too apart from me and I know each one is special and important in its own way. I don’t want to rule over those bonds that you already have. And you know that is how I want to be in your life. I don’t want you to run after me or stich your world around me. No !! I live you and that’s all that I can say. And yes I said I live you. It’s more than love. But still, I don’t want your whole life, instead, I just want a small share of it. A tiny part where I know that I exist. I would be so happy. This is a phase Rishi, and I know it’s very special for me. I hope it is for you too. So here I am !! And I just want to say this that in your life, I should be given a small space. And hence my 3 photos with you are in the corner. I hope you let me have that small share ?”
Those words came out from her so naturally. As if she spelt a cast on him, it was magic. She didn’t hesitate even for a second.
As usual, Rishi chose to keep shut. He let his eyes do the talk. Aayat knew he was reciprocating equally because the grip around her just got tightened. He moved his fingers in a thick strand of her hair and tucked it behind her ear.
Meanwhile, when they were engrossed at that moment together, Vikram was hearing everything from a distance. He heard what Aayat said.
Vikram presented himself as a really fun loving and easy going guy but deep inside, he was the most emotional soul that could understand Aayat. Especially where she was right now. However, he couldn’t muster up the courage to tell her the recent happenings. More so because he had commitments. After all, He was a man of promises.
“If this Romance session is over, Let’s cut the cake,” Zuly shouted from inside the room.
“Can we come out now? Is it all fine out there?” She teased even more and finally came out with Hardik and Ritesh.
Zuly plugged in the audio and a beautiful soft Bollywood number played in the background.
Rishi resisted the hug that they had but Aayat had to forcefully break it. She walked inside the kitchen and returned with the cake and knife. As soon as she opened the cake, it read
“Happy birthday Bhondu!!”
Rishi smiled unknowingly while reading that.
“So this Bhondu I guess is you Rishi, right?” Ritesh said while mocking Aayat.
“So intelligent my boy,” Vikram said and laughed.
At the age of 24, it was embarrassing for him to hear the enchantment of “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday To you, Happy Birthday dear Rishi Happy Birthday to you!”
But this didn’t end here, Aayat had to bring in her taste into this too.
“You were born in the Zoo, you were born in the Zoo, With lots of Monkeys and Donkeys like you, Happy Birthday to you!” This time the laughter was even more prominent.
“Aapne party to de di, ab khaana to khila dijye Aayat madam. Hardik said while lying on the pillow inside the room.
Everybody sat there and chatted for a while after the cake cutting.
“Yaa yaa we’ll get it…Let’s go and get the food Vikram.” Rishi kept his phone inside which was beeping insanely from the past 30 mins.
Aayat and Vikram looked at each other and smiled.
“You don’t have to go anywhere. I’ve cooked it. You sit here, I’ll serve it.”
Bang on! This was another surprise for him. He didn’t know about the food that she prepared.
“What are you doing today !? I mean these surprises are coming out layer by layer.”
Aayat got up with a satisfactory smile on her face. She moved towards the kitchen with Zuly to get the lunch served. It was not lunch either. It was almost evening by then.
“Okay, Guys! So before we finally dig into the food here, I want you to guess the menu RJ.” Zuly said placing the last dish on the table.
“Guess? Ammm…How would I know this! Ask your chef !!” He very cleverly subsided himself.
“Idiot !! She obviously knows what she cooked. But I want you to guess what could be that .” Zuly said keeping his hands over the two dishes places right in front of Rishi so that he can’t see them.
“I really don’t know. Seriously .” He replied in a low tone.
Aayat looked at him in anticipation of hearing at least one name of a dish. However, Rishi was busy somewhere else. His phone kept beeping and although he put his cell on vibration, he just couldn’t resist the continuous pinging on it.
“Okayyyy !!! Let’s not waste more time. I need to go back too … You see we’re running short of time. And don’t worry I am not putting you for any test. I’ll tell you what all I cooked okay .” Aayat said tucking her hair behind her ears.
“This is Biryani, Butter Chicken and chocolate mousse,” Aayat said by pulling up the covers over the dishes one by one.
Rishi looked at the food and then at Aayat, mesmerized. He was not amazed by the kind of efforts she had put in but instead, he was more amazed by the choice of her menu. She cooked the dishes which he, at some point or the other, had told her that he loved them. He was amazed to see that how she remembers every little detail about him.
Aayat served him herself while the rest of them helped themselves. The food was perfect, just the way she planned it to be. Everybody appraised her immediately, yet she was to hear it from Rishi. But Rishi was purposely making her wait indefinitely. He was enjoying the look in her when she was waiting for him to speak. He simply loved that.
“How. How’s it?” She finally asked hesitantly, hoping to hear only good things from him.
“It’s really tasty. I didn’t know you were so good at this cooking thing! And honestly, I did not even expect this from you. But seriously, Thank you Aayat .”
Aayat knew whatever he was saying was from the core of his heart. Yet she was missing something in him. Something which was very unique because she had never seen that restlessness on his face. Today his face was restless. She overlooked those thoughts and got busy serving everybody.
It was a great time and they enjoyed it.
It was only after everybody was done with the food did she said she had to leave.
“Hey !! I have to leave now! I got the permission for till 8: 30. It’s 7 already. I think I should change now.” Aayat was speaking for herself now. She wished to spend some time alone with Rishi. And that was why she asked to leave a little early so that she and Rishi can spend some time alone.
“Yaa Your mom is anyways very strict about the timings. You should not be late.” Vikram added and stretched his arms.
Aayat left the eye contact with Rishi and went inside to change. Zuly too accompanied her to help her remove the Sari. Girls!
“I think you all should leave in Vikram’s car. I’ll be going alone. I don’t want anything to go wrong now. If anybody would see us all together, they might suspect. We should all get dissolved and reach separately.”
“Yaaaaa Yaaaa I got it…RJ, drop her back safely Haan.” Zuly hung her side bag on her shoulder and got up to leave.
“You’ll not stop being mischievous right .” Rishi said and smiled.
After a while, everybody got down in Vikram’s car. Rishi too was already gone downstairs to attend some phone call.
Meanwhile, Aayat and Vikram stood outside his house while locking the door.
“I didn’t know you are such a great cook. Hmmmmm …. I’m impressed.” Vikram said and winked. Aayat was on cloud nine. Her face was an epitome of happiness that day. She lived the moments just the way she wanted to.
“Thank you! I wasn’t really sure about the idea but I just knew one thing that I had to do this for him and I did…I’m very happy .”
Vikram could see everything in her eyes. Everything which was there in her heart and the rest of the things too which she was unaware of. Vikram knew everything.
“Well ! You did a great work! And I hope you get your personal time with him. I hope you speak your heart out to him and I wish he does the same too.” Vikram said glancing through her liquid eyes which he knew are so fragile that it can melt anything.
“I always speak my heart out to him.” Aayat said and laughed slowly.
“I know but he doesn’t. I hope he speaks his heart out too. God bless you Aayat .” Vikram said alot of things in those two sentences. It sounded normal but it was not. Maybe something was there which he was trying to tell her. Only if Aayat was smart enough to get the clues.
The evening walk Aayat and Rishi shared, led them to Radheshyam’s tea stall. The first time they came there was when Rishi proposed to Aayat for the first time. After that, they wolere visiting the tea stall for the second time now.
Rishi brought her here when she insisted. The sky was painted with fear that day. There was no sun in the evening, she could only see the blue and black trails of the clouds left behind.
“I’ve got something for you .” Aayat held his wrist and moved closer to him.
“What? Aaj tum kya karke maanogi ! Subha se surprises de Rahi ho .”
“This one’s last! Promise!” Aayat giggled in her childlike voice.
“I don’t know how will you like it. I hope it’s good :’)” Aayat said while opening her black side bag which hung from her right shoulder.
“Here!” She passed him a black File and a small gift wrapped box.
“Wow! What’s this?”
“Open it,” she commanded and like an obedient child, he did what she asked him to do.
“Open the gift first.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Rishi removed the gift wrapping paper and found a Titan wrist watch inside. The constant breeze made it even more difficult for him to open the gift, but with Aayat’s help, he managed to open it.
“It’s so amazing! How do you know I was planning to buy a watch from so long.
“Dil se Dil Ko raah Hoti hai Rishi Sahab. Aap kuch feel karein aur mujhe na pata ho, Aisa to ho hi nahi sakta ” Aayat said and smiled proudly over the choice of gift.
Rishi wore that watch and moved on to open that black file.
“Before you open this let me tell you that this file has a story. I know you don’t like reading but I hope you’ll read this.
It’s a story of You and me and time!”
Rishi kept looking at her face, pokerfaced. He didn’t know how to react. It was happening for the first time in his life that somebody has done something so special for him.
“I want you to read it when you’re alone.”
Rishi read the text on the front page again and again…It read “That Day” by “Aayat Shaikh”. Below it, she wrote “Happy Birthday Bhondu!”
Aayat looked into his eyes to see his reaction, but he had nothing to say. His mind had gone blank.
“I loved it Aayat ! Thank you so much for making the day so memorable for me .”
Aayat blushed for a while before the vibration on Rishi’s phone scared her.
“Ughh! Your phone!”
From one hand, Rishi was holding onto the love that Belonged to Aayat and on the other hand, his phone didn’t stop vibrating. Stuck between Then and Now, Rishi couldn’t even reciprocate to the hug which he was embraced in at that moment.
“I love you Rishi Gujral.”
Rishi couldn’t say anything but kept looking into her eyes. He had questions but no answers. His love was put under the test of time, and he was to pass it without losing himself.
“Mohobbat ki koi rank nahi hua Karti…Aisa nahi hota ki pehli Mohobbat ye thi aur Doosri wo . Mohobbat phir Mohobbat Hoti hai…Yaqeen kar Lene ka ehsaas bhi aur maaf kar dene ka jazba bhi sirf usi ke paas mein hota hai jiska ishq mazboot ho…Jiski Mohobbat mazboot nahi , uska iimaan bhi mukammal nahi hota.”