The photograph for a lifetime

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The city was covered in dense fog. A white sedan stopped at the gate of El-Chico restaurant. The back door of the car opened and a man dressed in a navy blue jacket and grey trousers stepped out of the car. He had a round face, turned-up nose, thick lips, wearing rimless glasses and was carrying a laptop bag on his right shoulder. He asked the driver to park the car and moved towards the main door of the restaurant. The durwan had a big smile on his face, welcomed this gentleman, and opened the door. He entered the restaurant and then darted towards the inquiry counter.
‘Excuse me!’ said Arvind.

‘Yes, sir! How can we help you?’ replied the man on the counter.
‘I want a table for two,’ replied Arvind.
‘Sure, sir! Here or upstairs.’
‘Upstairs would be perfect.’

Arvind slowly moved towards the staircase and, with slow steps, reached the second floor. He searched for the big hall and found a vacant table near the window. He then walked towards the vacant table, kept the bag on it, and sat down on the sofa chair. After settling down, he started to look through the window, the outside world, which was a bit slower than the usual because of the fog. With his nimble fingers, he took out a laptop from his bag. He turned it on and began working on it, but once in a while, he would look through the window as if he was trying to find somebody.

Thirty minutes later, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Arvind turned around and found a girl standing behind him. She was dressed in salwar kameez and wore a leather jacket over her kameez. She had a wheatish complexion, a flat nose, and was smiling at Arvind.

‘Oh! I am humbled by your great presence,’ said Arvind as he smiled back at Meenu.
‘Stop being sarcastic! You have not changed an inch,’ said Meenu.
‘Why should I!’ retorted Arvind.
‘I am not going to spoil this visit in mindless blabber. Did you order something?’
‘NOPE! I will now,’ said Arvind in a low tone.

Arvind calls the waiter and after discussing with Meenu orders chocolate pastries and coffee. The waiter then moves towards the kitchen.

‘SO! How are things at your end?’ asked Meenu.
‘Fantastic,’ replied Arvind in a low tone.
‘And you came to Texas, but didn’t bother to visit us.’
‘Who told you this?’
‘Sir!’ said the waiter as he placed the tray loaded with pastries and coffee on the table.
‘Thanks,’ said Meenu.
‘HEY! YOU DIDN’T ANSWER MY QUESTION!’ said Arvind in a loud voice.
‘Your twitter account. You idiot!!’ said Meenu emphasizing the word idiot.
‘How did I forget to deactivate that account !’ responded Arvind as he surveyed his mobile phone. ‘ It was an official trip.’
‘SO! YOU DIDN’T EVEN RING ME. And I am used to your excuses since college,’ said Meenu as she cut her pastry with a spoon.
‘ Not an excuse. Just the truth,’ replied Arvind as he sipped some coffee.
‘So! When am I getting the news of your mmarr….’
‘Stop it. You know the thing,’ intervened Arvind.
‘Arvind! Learn to go with the flow. You should not wait for something that will never come back to you. And believe me, this unnecessary waiting leaves us stranded in the end… We need someone who can give us some wholeness, a sense of belongingness.’

‘ It’s fine, Meenu. I am happy with this lifestyle. Things are sorted. I’m forty, and life is giving me a lot. I can’t complain.’
‘ Right! But someday you will be sixty or more, and you shall not be able to do anything that your mind wants. Then you’ll have to listen to your heart whose voices you were trying to ignore all these years,’ said Meenu.

There was an air of uneasiness in the hall after this. None of them spoke for some time, and then the silence was broken by the waiter.

‘ Anything else, sir?’ asked the waiter.
‘ Two cups of coffee..’ said Arvind, and the waiter moved towards the kitchen.
‘ How is the university?’ asked Meenu.
‘ Doing relatively well,’ replied Arvind.
‘ What do you teach young students?’
‘ Poetry and criticism.’
‘ Poetry! I think you should publish your non-academic writings. I remember you used to send me your works when you were doing your Ph.D. in Delhi,’ said Meenu.
‘ Let it be. Who will publish poetry? said Arvind.
‘ Yati knows people who publish poetry in the U.S.A,’ said Meenu.
‘ Fine! How’s Yati and your son?’
‘They are doing well.’
‘ How’s your dad now? I last met him at the Wheelers book depot.’
‘ He’s weak now and forgets things easily. He’s moving with me to the states. I came to Allahabad to take all his important belongings and thought this was the best chance to meet you. I know you will never tell anyone about your whereabouts.’

‘Yea! It took you 12 years to come back here.’
‘ Coffee,’ said the waiter as he kept the tray on the table.
‘ Kindly get me the bill.’ said Arvind.
The waiter went to the counter and brought the bill in a leather folder.
‘ Let me pay,’ cried Meenu.
‘No! You’ll pay when I am in your town,’ said Arvind as he took out some cash from his wallet, placed it in the leather folder, and left the wallet on the table.

‘ You are coming to Texas!’
‘ Yes! Next April.’ said Arvind as he sipped his coffee.
‘ Wonderful! I hope you keep this promise intact.’
‘ What time is your flight?’
‘ 4:10 p.m.’
‘ It’s 1 already.’
‘ I think we should leave for your uncle’s place.’
‘ After some time.’
‘ Wait!!’ said Meenu as she took out belongings from her bag. ‘ Where is it?’

She was trying to find something. Finally, after much labor and time, she took out a rectangular box covered in a blue sheet of paper.

‘ What is it?’ inquired Arvind.
‘Surprise! said Meenu.
With his thin hands, Arvind removed the blue wrapper and looked at the box.
‘ Ah! A fountain pen,’ said Arvind.
‘ Nice na?’ asked Meenu, and she started keeping all her belongings back in her bag.
‘ Thanks! I think we should move; else, you will miss the flight.’

Arvind then kept his laptop in the bag, hung it on his shoulders, and they both moved downstairs.

They reached the ground floor and moved towards the gate. The durwan opened the gate, and they moved out. He then called the driver, and after 5 minutes, the car came in front of the gate. Arvind opened the back door of the car for Meenu and sat next to her. Meenu gave the driver some idea about their destination, and the car sped off.

‘You still keep her photograph in your wallet?’ asked Meenu.
‘Not anymore!’ replied Arvind in a meek tone.’

Then there was silence. Meenu was admiring the city from her window while Arvind was busy on his phone. The car stopped at her uncle’s place, and they both moved out.

‘Mr. Professor don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s not late; you’ll find someone who’ll suit your temper,’ said Meenu.
‘Surely!’ said Arvind as he sat in his car.

Meenu waved at Arvind, and he waved back at her, and the car moved.
Meenu then proceeded towards the gate of the house. She rang the doorbell. Her aunt opened the doorbell and smiled at her.

‘Be quick, dear! It’s almost time,’ said the aunt. ‘Your uncle must be coming in a taxi at any moment.’
‘Yes, Aunty. Everything is ready, just the final check,’ said Meenu as she climbed the stairs.

Menu entered her room, counted her luggage, and went to the bathroom and stood in the front basin. She turned on the tap, and the chilly water fell on her palms, and with it, she washed her face. She came out of the bathroom and dried her face with a dupatta. She sat down on her bed and opened her bag to keep her passport and visa. While she was keeping the passport in her bag, she noticed that in uttermost, she had kept Arvind’s wallet in her bag. Arvind had kept it on the table after paying the bill. She then picked her mobile and called Arvind, but the network was busy. She then kept the wallet on the table next to her bed. But moments later, she felt the pang of curiosity. She wanted to see the photograph of the girl whom Arvind met in Delhi during his Ph.D., the girl because of whom he never got married. ‘It would be wrong to intrude in someone’s privacy, but Arvind said he does not carry the photograph of the girl,’ she thought. Her curiosity took over her conscience, and she stood up from her bed walked towards the table. She picked up the wallet from the table, opened it, and found herself in the photograph kept in one of the pockets…

The end


Featured Image Credits: Needpix

Ajeet Singh Parihar
Ajeet loves to read and belongs to the historic city of Allahabad. He writes on topics related to Literature.

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