“Do you really have to go?” she asked as they walked back towards the hostels. Exams were on and she had just finished the one in the afternoon shift. As she’d walked out of the examination hall, she’d found him waiting there. “You know I wouldn’t go if it weren’t necessary. I’ll be back as soon as I can, I promise.” “Yeah I know, it’s just that you’ll be finishing college soon and I feel like I’m being robbed off the little time that I have left with you”, she said, the sadness clear in her voice. “I understand, and I’m sorry for making you feel that way. Alright, how about I go home now and get everything done and be back by tomorrow evening?” “Tomorrow evening? Are you sure?” she asked sceptically. “I can’t promise, but I’ll try my best. So cheer up now, you’re not gonna send me off with that gloomy face, are you?” She gave a half smile. They had reached the main auditorium building by now and he said he better leave or else he’ll miss the bus, so they said goodbye and she started walking towards her hostel.
‘So you’re not coming back today, right?’ She texted him at around five in the evening the next day. She knew he’d said that he’ll be back in a day only to cheer her up, but she hoped for some miracle.
‘Really sorry. Everything’s in a mess here. Been running around since the moment I came.’ His reply came.
‘It’s okay. I understand. You do your work, and be back when you can. I miss you. Take care.’ She replied with a sigh, getting up from her bed and walked to Sara’s room.
“Oye, let’s go to the cafeteria today. It’s been so long since the six of us went together”, she said walking into Sara’s room. Sara was bent over her phone as usual. “Okay, but only if you’re paying!” “Yeah fine. Anyway, I’m supposed to treat you guys.” “Yes!” Sara said excitedly. “Get ready, I’ll call the others”, she said walking out of her room. On her way back to her room, she stopped by Shalvi’s and asked her to get ready too and then called Amit, explaining to him the plan for the evening. “Get Alok and Anish as well and be there in fifteen minutes”, she said as she kept down the phone.
The six of them were sitting in the cafeteria and their order had just arrived, when her phone rang. It was Armaan. “Hey, what’s up?” “Hey, are you in the hostel?” he asked. “No, I’m in the cafeteria with my friends. Why? What happened?” “Actually, I’ve sent something for you with a guy who lives close by. He’ll be reaching the campus anytime now. I’ve told him to meet you in front of the main auditorium, so you just go there when I call you.” “Wait, which guy? And why did you have to send something? I wanted ‘you’ to come back, not some ‘thing’!” she said. “Arrey yaar, just do me a favour and go there when I tell you to, please?” “Okaaaay, I’ll go”, she said in a sing song voice.
Ten minutes later, her phone rang again. “Yeah, is he here?” she asked picking up. “Yes he is. Call me back when you see him”, Armaan said. She told her friends she’ll be back in a minute and walked out of the cafeteria. It was dark outside the auditorium building and she couldn’t see properly from that distance. She quickened her pace. On reaching the front of the building, she still couldn’t see anybody around so she called him. “Yeah I’m outside the auditorium, but no one’s here.” “What? Are you sure? Did you look around properly?” he asked. “Yes I did. Seems like I’m the only one here right now”, she said looking around. “Well then, why don’t you turn around?” “Turn around? But why…” she stopped mid-sentence as she turned and saw him walking towards her from the side of the building, grinning from ear to ear. “Surprise!” he said as he finally reached her. “What the… How did you…? I mean…” she was still dumbfounded. “God, you are so easy to fool!” he was really enjoying, as clearly his plan had worked. The two of them broke in to laughter as she realized who the ‘delivery guy’ really was.
“Arzu, Arzu! Wake up!” her mother said shaking her lightly. “Your phone’s ringing”, she said handing her the phone. She rejected the call without even glancing at the screen. She was in no mood to talk to anybody right now. ‘I wish you’d come back for another surprise!’
The phone showed an unknown number calling, as she sleepily answered it. “Hello?” “Hello, is this Arzu?” “Uhh… Haan... Aap kaun?” “Haan ka matlab kya? Maine English mein pucha hai, jawab bhi English mein hi do.” “Okay… yes, this is Arzu. May I know who’s speaking?” “Akash here…” Her heartbeat fastened as she replied, “Oh Akash bhaiya. Hi.” “Hi, what are you doing?” “Nothing really, just idling around.” “So, you’re free right now? I mean I’m not disturbing or anything, right?” “No, no. Not at all”, she was quick in her response. “Can you come to the cafeteria then? We are celebrating Vaishu’s birthday.” “What? Like, right now?” “Yes, obviously, right now. Can you come?” “Ummm… okay, I’ll be there in ten minutes”, she replied feeling a little nervous. “Alright, come straight to the first floor. We are waiting for you. See ya!” She kept the phone and jumped out of the bed. Her mind was racing, ‘Oh my God! Vaishali Di’s birthday party! I don’t even have anything to gift her. And what the hell do I wear? Everybody’s gonna be there, all his friends, how in the world am I going to face them all? It’s gonna be so damn awkward. What do I do? What do I do?’ she glanced at her table clock, two minutes had already passed. She grabbed her face wash and ran to the bathroom. In the next five minutes she had washed her face, combed her hair and after staring at her wardrobe for a mere ten seconds, had changed into her favourite purple hoodie and blue jeans. She stopped in front of the mirror in the corridor, on her way out of the hostel, satisfied with her appearance, she kept walking as she plugged in her earphones and put on her favourite track.
A million thoughts had popped up in her head by the time she walked past the Kaveri Girls Hostel and then the main auditorium. She was almost in front of the cafeteria when she first spotted him, in his same old light grey hoodie, hands in the pockets. It looked like he was waiting outside for her. Akash was standing right next to him. She quickened her pace, butterflies doing somersault in her stomach. Together they walked in to the dimly lit cafeteria and climbed up the left stairs to the first floor. There was a little crowd around the second table- Vaishali, Pragati, Shakir, Ravi, Sahil, Ashu, Mohit, Rishabh and one girl she didn’t recognize. ‘Oh God, I can’t do this’, she thought to herself. Praying that they wouldn’t notice her, she quietly found the darkest corner and sat. It was only a few minutes later that she mustered up the courage to walk up to Vaishali and wish her a happy birthday. Thankfully, everyone was busy decorating, putting up the cake, lighting the candles. Armaan and Akash had gone back downstairs to place orders for everyone at the counter.
The celebration went on smoothly for the next twenty minutes or so without anybody mentioning anything about her or Armaan, and she relaxed a bit. After the ceremonial ‘cake cutting’ was over, Akash took a huge piece and one by one offered everyone. When he came to her he asked, “You don’t mind eating from the same piece right?” “No, of course not”, she said taking a small bite. “And anyway, Armaan ate from the other corner”, he said as he moved on to the next person. ‘Crap! Here we go!’ She prayed nobody else had heard it in all the chaos, glancing around uneasily. But things weren’t going to be so easy as the next second, Sahil who was standing a little distance away on her left, walked up to her and asked, “What was Akash saying?” “N… Nothing, he didn’t say anything!” she replied, a drop of sweat breaking from her forehead. “Something about Armaan… What was it?” Sahil had that wicked smile on. “Nothing, I swear…” she was looking around for an escape, just as Ashu joined the conversation, “Bhai, this girl is very smart. I heard it myself. Akash did say something. Now c’mon tell us, quickly”, they were really enjoying this. “Arrey bhaiya I’m telling you na… He did not say anything”, she was clearly blushing by now. “Fine then, if you won’t tell us, we’ll ask Akash ourselves. AKA.…”, Sahil called out. “No no no, I’ll tell you. Please don’t call him!” “Yes??” “Wo… He said… He said I could eat the cake from this side because Armaan sir had eaten from the other side…” she said, looking down. “Oooooh…” both said in unison. Then trying to sound as innocent as he could, Ashu asked, “But why did he say that? I mean what does it have to do with Armaan?” Her face had turned red by now, “I don’t know that. Ask him”, she said slowly trying her best to hide the smile that was playing on her lips.
And with that she woke up. She hardly ever slept these days and every time that she did fall asleep, she’d have one of those dreams. Tears trickled down her face as she smiled to herself, remembering the rest of the evening that she had just been dreaming about.