Continued from here.
Harsh came out of the shower and checked his phone. There was a missed call from Ravi, one of his pals. They were school friends and they bonded together very well. They lived in the same building when they were kids and they attended the same college. They knew each other’s secrets and they knew how to keep them. Ravi was the first person Harsh had called after Nisha said yes to his marriage proposal. Their friendship became stronger after their marriages as Ravi’s wife was a college friend of Nisha. Both the couples would go on a double date every alternate weekend. When all of them were together, their fun quotient multiplied by four.
Ravi was planning such a date on Sunday. Harsh thought Ravi might have called to discuss about it. He didn’t want to talk about it. He had an appointment that Saturday. He got ready and left his apartment. He checked his whtsapp messages. Ravi had left a message to call him. He didn’t reply and started his car. When Harsh was on his way to his appointment, Ravi called him again. This time he picked up the phone.
“Hey man, what’s up? I called you before and left you a message on whtsapp. You are not replying.”
“Ya I was about to. I woke up late and I got somewhere to go right now. I am driving.”
“Alright. Listen I gotta talk to you . Let’s meet up today 5 pm. We’ll have a few pints of beer. It’s on me. I’ll text you where to meet.”
“Dude, I have some things to do and some people to meet…”
“Screw it. I am not listening to you. Do whatever you gotta do and meet me at 5. It’s important.”
“Okay, bastard. Send me the details.”
Harsh hung up the phone. He parked his car and went inside a building. He was meeting Ishika. Ravi sent Harsh the details of the place where they were supposed to meet. Ravi reached there at 4.55 pm, ordered himself a beer and waited for Harsh to reach. He informed the waiter to serve another beer when his friend would join him. It was around 5.30 pm and Harsh had not reached yet. If Harsh was ever late, he wouldn’t be late than 15 minutes. Ravi called Harsh, but there was no answer. After 10 minutes he saw Harsh entering through the door. They hugged each other and sat at the table.
“Finally, you made it brother. My beer was getting hot and I was getting bored. What happened?”
“Traffic, dude. You know Mumbai, right? I had an appointment and it took longer than I thought.”
The waiter served a beer to Harsh.
“You look tired, Harsh. Drink this and you’ll feel better.”
“So, what’s so important? You sounded eager on the phone. Everything all right?”
Ravi put his hands on the table, looked around, took a sip of beer and after a deep breath he said “Harsh, I need your help. I need 5 crore rupees.” A small pause, another sip and then he said “In cash. By the end of this week.”
Harsh was about to take a sip and he put his glass down. He stared at Ravi for a while and said “What are you talking about? Are you out of your mind? I hope you’re drunk.”
Ravi burst into laughter. He couldn’t control it. Harsh was confused. He was not sure whether Ravi was really serious or he was joking.
“Look at your face. You look so confused and frustrated. I am just kidding, man. I don’t need any money from you.”
“I am not in mood for jokes, Ravi. Look, if you don’t have anything important to say then why did you call me here? For this stupid prank of yours, huh?” Harsh said it angrily. He was about to leave the table when Ravi stopped him.
“Sit down. It’s about your wife. Nisha. I got the news what happened last night.”
“How did you know? Nisha told your wife?”
“No, Nisha called me this morning. My wife doesn’t know it yet. She still thinks we’re on for our date tomorrow night.”
“Why did she call you? What did she say?” he asked curiously.
“Before I tell you that, why don’t you tell me about this Ishika first? Why don’t I know anything about her?”
Harsh ordered a beer pitcher. The waiter filled their mugs. Harsh took a large sip and said “I am a free bird, brother. This pitcher’s on me.”
“I was tired of Nisha. She was a bore. She was so full of love, romance and all that bullshit. I had enough of it. I mean in the beginning it was all good. But, there’s a limit, bro. I had my limit. All that happiness was just on the outside. Inside I felt like choking. There’s this chick in office. That’s Ishika. She was hitting on me and I couldn’t let that opportunity pass. She’s just my type. We’re doing good progress and we’re considering a live in relationship. No other nonsense. Now that Nisha is out of the picture it’s going to be easier. So, cheers to that.” Harsh winked and proposed a toast to Ishika.
They both laughed and drank more beer. Harsh kept babbling about Ishika and how much he was frustrated with Nisha. Ravi intently listened to him. After Harsh was done talking, Ravi looked at him, laughed and said “You are so drunk, Harsh.” Harsh laughed even more and said “Yeah, no shit.” Ravi stopped laughing and he got serious.
“But, I am not too drunk to believe all your bullshit. I can sniff your lies and I know you’re lying right now. Guess what, you ain’t getting any award for this. Now, why don’t you tell me the truth?”
Harsh thought Ravi was joking again so Harsh started laughing more and he started clapping.
“You are a very fine actor, Ravi. I’ll give you that. You should be in Bollywood man. I love your acting. You should…” all of a sudden Ravi slapped him. “How’s this for acting, huh? You feel it?” Harsh was stunned and the people around their table were staring at Ravi. After a moment, everyone went minding their own business.
“What was that for?” Harsh asked.
“You realize what you’ve done? When Nisha called me this morning, I could hear the pain in her voice. You’ve treated her so badly, Harsh. The strange thing is you don’t even feel sorry. What’s the matter with you? Do you have any idea what’s going to happen when my wife will come to know about this? This is so not you and I can’t figure out why. You know what? I found out that there’s no one named Ishika at your office. Now, you better tell me the truth. What the hell is going on?”
Harsh caught the anger in Ravi’s voice. He knew that Ravi was not fooling around. He gathered himself and thought for a while. Ravi snapped him out of his thoughts.
“I can’t talk here, Ravi.”
“Oh yeah? You feel like dancing? Want to go to pub?”
“Look, if you want to hear me then we better get out of here. Let’s go to Marine Drive.”
“You think I am going let myself or you behind a steering wheel after the dose we had?”
“Let’s take a cab. Let’s just go there. I have something to tell you. I wanted to tell you for some time. I gotta get it off my chest. It seems the time has arrived.” Harsh seemed serious.
Ravi paid the bill, tipped the waiter and both of them got into a cab. None of them said a word en route to Marine Drive. The cab reached there and they both walked for a while. Ravi didn’t say anything. He was waiting for Harsh to speak up. After walking for a while, Harsh said “Let’s go and sit there. There aren’t a lot of people there.” Ravi followed Harsh and they sat at a place facing the ocean. Harsh stared at the ocean like he was trying to find something. They both were in a lucid state. The ocean waves crashed into the stones on the shore.
“Ishika is not a real person. She is just a character. Her real name is Suhana. Dr. Suhana. She treats cancer patients. I was diagnosed with lung cancer four months ago. I’ve been visiting her since then.”
“Harsh, what are you talking about? You are not a good actor you know that? Stop fooling around and come to the point.”
Harsh kept staring at the ocean. “Just hear me out. Don’t interrupt in between. I have a lot to say.”
“Alright. Go on. It better be true.”
“I didn’t believe at first, but then my condition was not improving. My lungs were getting weaker. I got tired too soon. I couldn’t even take the stairs. All those years of smoking had gotten me. Nisha rarely saw me smoking and she wanted me to get rid of it. That’s why I never smoked in front of her. You know how much I smoke, right? I tried quitting many times, but I just couldn’t. I could blame it on many things, but it is just my fault. I should have thought about Nisha. Suhana said that I need to give up smoking before it was too late. I told her that I didn’t want my wife to be informed about it. She agreed. I gradually reduced smoking.
One say Suhana called me said that I needed to be hospitalized for a few days. I told Nisha that I was going on a work trip. I was kept under observation that time. They ran some tests and the results were mostly positive. By the time I was discharged, I had a hope of recovering. Suhana said the same thing. I was very happy. I was feeling good. I continued taking all the medicines and almost gave up smoking. I & Nisha were gonna start a family. We were planning for a kid. We talked about it. We even thought of some names. I could see how much Nisha was looking forward to it. It made her so happy.
Days went on and my visits to Suhana’s clinic were decreasing. During one of the checkups she said there was something wrong. She went to the lab to check the results again. I was waiting in her office. She came back with the results and she had a gloomy face. She said that I’d no longer be able to recover. The nicotine level in my lungs had reached to a point from where recovery was not an option. She said I don’t have a lot of time left, but she’d do whatever she could. I just didn’t believe her.
I stopped visiting her for a while and met other doctors. They all said the same thing what Suhana told me. I had only one choice. Wait for death. I couldn’t let Nisha be a part of all that. She already lost her brother to smoking. If she came to know about me, it would just break her apart. I wouldn’t be able to stand that. I decided I’d have to let her go. I thought of an idea. I met Dr. Suhana again and told her the entire situation. I explained her my idea and she agreed. She said she knew someone who could be Ishika. The plan was set in motion.
At first I started behaving oddly. I stopped having lengthy conversations with Nisha. I started doing things she didn’t like. I started making fun of her in front of my friends. Ishika would call me and leave me messages sometime. I’d call her back and make sure Nisha was noticing. Last night she couldn’t handle it. We had a fight and she left this morning. I hope she moves on with her life. She has to be happy and live her life. I don’t need to be a part of it. She doesn’t have to live like a dreaded widow. I won’t allow it.”
A tear fell out of Harsh’s eyes. He wiped it off. Ravi was speechless.
“You got your answers, Ravi?”
“All this time you didn’t even care to inform me. I thought we were brothers. Nisha isn’t the only one you hurt. You hurt me too. You make me feel so irrelevant in your life, Harsh.”
“I was waiting for this period. I was never going to hide it from you. You are like a brother to me and that’s why you will have to carry out the procedures after I am gone.”
“I am going to transfer my belongings to her. All of them. You’ll have to make sure they reach to her properly and you have to make it look like they never came from me. I trust you.”
“I’ll do that. But, you think I won’t tell her the truth? You want me to hide the truth from her? Why?”
“Because I just want it that way. She cannot know about this. At least not right now. When the time is right you can tell her the truth. That’s the way it has to be. You have to promise me. It’s my last wish. It’s the wish of your dying friend. Won’t you fulfill it?”
The ocean waves kept crashing into the stones on the shore.
An ode in the supplement to this fiction is posted here.