One and Only – short story

(Words in green are writing prompts provided by Times of India Writing Contest)

 

Rishaan leaned back his head against his seat, basking in the excitement of his friends and their anticipation in their trip to that eternally idyllic haven – Goa. It was the their first outing there, but for Kiara and him, the place had already once bowled them over with its pocket-size charms.

In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan’s right hand more firmly. Rishaan’s other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya’s. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioral dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa.

When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny…his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher.

What was happening to him? Why was he feeling like this? Kiara and he had been in a loving relationship and were happy together since three years. They knew each other inside out. And yet, here he was, starting to feel differently towards someone else. Diya had always been a friend, but it was only lately he had started interacting with her more. They loved the same authors, enjoyed the same kind of movies, they liked doing similar things whenever the group went out on trips together. He had sensed Diya’s feelings towards him change as well, strongly against her will. They had never openly spoken with each other about their feelings, yet he knew she was uncomfortable about the situation. Even now, she had soon removed her hand from his when he had held it.

It was already twilight by the time the group eagerly stepped out of the airport and into the waiting arms of the two hired cars they had arranged for themselves for the trip. The balmy November air, along with the sense of the sea so close, combined invitingly for the bunch of friends, making them long to soak in Goa’s easy mood. On the way to the hotel, they eagerly smelled the air, already imagining to get the whiff of the local spices!

Two people, for whom neither the sights nor smells of Goa could hold any fascination at the moment, were Rishaan and Diya. Their thoughts were too jumbled up than to be consumed by talks of swaying palms and white sands that the others were excitedly talking about. Diya had been avoiding Rishaan’s eyes since getting off the plane and had intentionally sat in the other car. He looked at the Kiara, who was gazing at the sights outside, chatting animatedly with the others, completely clueless about the traitorous thoughts in his mind. She turned to look at him, her eyes softening when they met his. In them, he could see all the excitement that the trip promised her, all the memories of the past dancing in her eyes and just the happiness of being here with him. But unfortunately, he could no longer share her anticipation. Things had changed. He felt now that they were poles apart.  They barely had any common interests. How could they be together in the future, if they didn’t enjoy doing the same things? And the sooner he gets these thoughts off his chest, he thought to himself as Kiara nestled her head on his shoulder, the better.

                       ****
Rishaan quietly led the way towards some rocks, the waves nearby gently ebbing as they neared the rocks themselves. Behind them, a little way back, the bonfire still flamed heartily, even though it was quite a while back since someone had fuelled it. The strains of a guitar came lightly over the breeze with their friends merrily rendering out aloud their version of the Konkani song ‘Juliana.’ The first night of their trip was nearly ending, as Rishaan turned to Kiara, taking her glass of feni and placing it on the sand.

‘Will you tell me now at least what’s the matter?’ Kiara asked him. He nodded. He picked up his cell phone, rang a number and said into it, ‘Diya, could you join us for a moment here, we’re on the rocks nearby.’ Kiara looked at him with surprise. But he didn’t say anything until they heard soft footsteps from behind. Diya walked up slowly to them. She looked apprehensively at Rishaan, but her eyes couldn’t meet Kiara’s.

‘Now that all of us are here… Kee, I wanted to talk to you…’ ‘Rishaan wait!’ Diya interrupted, stunned. ‘Before you say anything, I want to talk to you first.’ ‘Let’s all talk now, Diya, – put everything on the table’. Kiara quietly listened to this exchange. ‘Kee, I’m so sorry, but … I can’t go on like this now. Over the last few months….my feelings towards Diya have been changing.’ He paused. Silence followed this. ‘I’m so sorry for bringing all this on you so suddenly on a holiday trip, but I feel keeping you in the dark longer is much worse. I’ve not spoken about any of this with Diya, but I can see she’s distressed about hurting you, but irrespective what happens now between her and me, it’s not right that I be with you, now that I feel like this. I’m so sorry Kee, for hurting you like this.’

Nothing happened for a while. Then slowly, Kiara stood up, an expressionless look on her face. She turned away and started walking towards their hotel. The other two looked at each other for a long moment. Then Diya turned and walked away as well.

                        ****

‘Kiara is not there in our room. And neither is her luggage.’ Rishaan stared at his friend, who had stormed into the guys’ room late the next morning, to tell him that. ‘We just woke up and saw she’s not there. Her phone is switched off. Looks like she has taken off in one of the cars. What’s been happening?’

Rishaan’s mind was in a whirlpool. He hadn’t expected this. Kiara had always been sensible. But then it’s your selfish behaviour which has led to this, he chastised himself. All the friends had collected around him, demanding to know what had happened. He quickly ordered them to spilt up and search the beach, nearby hotels, the closest railway and bus stations. He then got into the other car. ‘Where are you going?’ Diya asked him, sticking her head by the window. ‘Just following my instincts,’ he replied. ‘I’m coming with you.’ And she got into the passenger seat. He didn’t say anything. His mind was already on the task ahead.

He had thought of taking a look at the places they had visited last time. Just a chance she might have gone to one of them. He drove towards Anjuna Beach. His mind drifted towards the time they had spent there. They had brunched at LaFranza – one of the restaurants there. They had gorged on the food as if it were going out of style! All the fried pomfrets, crabs, kingfish, prawn curry, vindaloos had been quickly whisked off their plates! Kiara had impressively matched him morsel for morsel. In the evening, they had headed towards a full moon party. They had revelled there to trance music but left soon after they felt the party was getting slightly out of hand! They could stroll only a little further when the trance kicked in again and they started dancing then and there! – just the two of them, happily lost to the rest of the world! He smiled slightly at that memory. They had searched the entire beach by now. There was no sign of her.

The Chapora Fort was nearby. They got off the car and started searching the fort area. He frowned now as he recalled how she had managed to climb up the steep slope to the fort. She was not much of a hiker and any sort of climbing or running around normally harassed her greatly, but she knew how much he enjoyed trekking and so had insisted they go to the fort anyway. Descending the fort in the dark had also been difficult for her, but at that time he had just pulled her leg, not realizing until now that she had made the excursion just for him… Diya and he had searched the entire fort by now, but couldn’t spot her. He was really starting to get tensed. Was he being ridiculous to think she would be at one of these places?

Next, they raced towards Arambol Beach, which was a few kilometres away. The beach with its bohemian touch had been a great hit with him. He had enjoyed paragliding and had later gone for a swim in the sea, while Kiara had gamely sat on the beach waiting for him. Later, she had wanted to go poking around in the centuries-old cathedrals, but he had been tired out after his swim and opted to nap on the beach instead. She had then gone alone to look at some handicraft shops nearby. It had been such a small thing, yet it said so much about each of their temperament, he realized now. ‘Keep trying her cell,’ he muttered to Diya, as they sprinted back into the car. She looked at him and nodded.

He remembered suddenly he had missed out searching another fort, where in fact they had spent a very special day. They frantically rushed back towards Fort Aguada. It was late afternoon by now. He reminisced how after exploring the fort, Kiara and he hadn’t been much to do. So they had sat down in a corner in the shade, and they had a long conversation. He didn’t remember how long, but it was late evening by the time they had stood up. It was the first time he had completely bared himself to her, shocking even himself in telling her things about him, he hadn’t meant to tell a soul. And she had listened – patient and understanding.

Suddenly, he stood still. What was he doing? It struck him like a thunderbolt! There was no one else who understood him better than her! He had his strange little whims that only she could appreciate. The jolt hit him further when he realized that she had never tried to change him either. She had accepted him the way he was and loved him. Rather, she used to adjust her ways to indulge his self-interests. It’s so easy to like someone who enjoys the same things as you, but to let go of your own interests and trying to enjoy things that your partner likes doing, says so much more, he realized now. And here he was running away from her only because he felt that they didn’t have anything in common?

Diya had been quietly observing him all the while that she was running around with him. She walked up to him now with a thin smile. He looked at her with unseeing eyes. ‘I can see all your thoughts on your face,’ she said softly. ‘She has loved you like no one can.’ He didn’t say anything. She took a deep breath and said, ‘She had come to talk to me last night.’ He whipped his head towards her in surprise. She nodded. ‘She told me that now would be like a testing time for all of us. She said she would quietly move away to some place nearby. And then we would see the way you dealt with her absence and I could judge what you felt for her. She had a strong feeling that you would personally go in search of her in all the places that you’ll had spent last time at. And you would realize…your real feelings for her which perhaps you had never realized before.’ He looked at her in disbelief. ‘And you did just that, Rishaan,’ she whispered, ‘that too within just few hours’. ‘Her absence has told you things which her presence hadn’t been able to. In fact, told me as well.’ He looked at her. She handed him a small square piece of paper. There was a hotel name and address written on it, in Kiara’s clear handwriting. ‘She’s waiting for you.’ With that, Diya turned away from him and started walking towards their car. At that moment, he felt that the biggest heart in the world had been gifted to him… once again. And this time, he would grab it with both hands.

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