After Twenty Years

She checked her watch. It has been ages since she wore a watch for regular use. Cell phones serve that purpose really well. Suddenly she remembered why she had stopped wearing watches twenty years ago. Just because he never wore them. She was prepared to drift into an ocean of memories right at the moment, but a loud “Excuse Me” dragged her back to the exit door of a Starbucks store. It is only seven in the evening. and the sky is already as dark as night. Very unusual for a Manhattan summer evening. The sky is laden with deep, dark pregnant clouds. She was wondering whether it would start raining before she reached back to the hotel via subway. Debating with herself, she decided to drop the plan for shopping and return to her hotel before dinner. And rain. A subway train carried her to the World Trade Center station. She descended from the train into a sea of people. All she could see were heads – black, blonde, some brunettes too. Lots of desis. She felt so tired all of a sudden, and lonely. Despite that, she started walking. It would take a while to meander through so many people and reach the PATH station for a train to New Jersey. As soon as she punched her ticket card and crossed a gate, something caught her gaze, and she stood there, transfixed. She was looking forward, and she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was him! He was standing only a few feet away, talking to someone on a public phone. She could see him sideways. Time hadn’t changed him much. The same six feet lanky frame, his thin, fair, sinewy hands and wavy hair. She stood there in a freeze shot, almost gaping at him. It was unbelievable, seeing him like this after so many years, that too in New York of all places.

He had finished talking over the phone, and was ready to walk away. He hadn’t seen her, for sure. She felt desperate to talk to him after all these years, though she had thought she would never see him again. He was beginning to fade away into the abyss of crowd. It wouldn’t be long
before she would lose sight of him. She started to run towards him, shoving away people who came in her way. Finally she covered all the distance, and pulled his elbow with a muffled “Hey”, almost losing her breath. He looked at her surprised, probably taking her to be a lost desi lady in need of help.

He said, “Yes?”
She: “Uh…Hi. I’m…..Can you recognize me?”
He: “Well, no ma’am. I’m sorry. I don’t think I know you. Do I?”
She: “You did, once upon a time. Remember university, twenty years ago….a crazy girl…”
He: “Yes….right. You are….?” (said her name)
She: “You still remember my name?”
He: “How are you doing these days?”
She: “Do you have a little time to talk now? Can we have a cup of coffee somewhere?”
He: “Yes, I have about half an hour before I go back.”

They sat face to face in a coffee shop.

She: “So…how are you?”
He: “Good, I guess. and you?”
She: “Yeah..great!”
She: “Do you live here these days?”
He: “Well, not really. Not always. I’m a visiting professor in one of the universities here. I come often, and stay for a month or so. Otherwise, I’m a full-time faculty back home.”
She: “And your family?”
He: “My wife and son stay in Calcutta. Though this time they have come with me for a vacation.”
She: “How old is your son?”
He: “Just fifteen years.”

She smiles a little.

He: “What about you? I haven’t heard from you since ages.”
She: “I’m settled too back home. Working at a Government Research Center there. I’ve come here for a conference.”
He: “And your family?”
She: “Dad expired few years ago. Mom stays with me now. My daughter is ten years old.”
He: “And your husband?”
She: “I never married.”
He: “Oh. Then…the daughter?”
She: “If you remember, I always wanted to adopt a kid when I’m settled in my job. That’s what I did.”
He: “But why didn’t you marry someone? It would be easier to raise a child with a father than without.”
She: “I didn’t find anybody who would marry me.”
He sat quiet for a few moments, pondering over the conversation.

She: “What happened? Are you shocked?”
He: “Kind of. I never thought you were serious when you talked about adoption.”
She: “Why? Because you always considered me immature in all matters?”
He: “Yes, weren’t you immature then?”
She: “I don’t know. May be. But I know one thing that I never regret in my life.”
He: “What?”
She: “That I loved you. And I still do.”
He: “Still? You still think about me?”
She: “Yes. At times when I’m really alone. It reminds me of those college days. Those were the best days of my life.”
He: “But why? Why do you still waste time thinking about those crazy times? You should have moved on in life.”
She: “There are times which can be forgotten and moved on. And there are dreams, which can never be forgotten. Dreams, which never come true.”
He: “What does it mean?”
She: “You were a dream to me, which could never come true. Still, I wanted to give it a try. But you never gave me a chance to be in your life. I stopped expecting anything from you a long ago. I never stopped loving you, though.”
He: “I was in a difficult situation when you came to me. My career was in doldrums. I was very unstable to go into a relationship. And, I couldn’t let you ruin your life over me. I’m sure I took the right decision then.”
She: “I guess so. I guess you were right. You were practical.”

She: “Never mind. It’s good to see you happy, and doing well in your life. I’m happy for you.”
He: “You’re an extraordinary woman. I’m proud of you.”
She: “Can I ask you something?”
He: “Sure.”
She: “Did you ever love me? Even for a moment?”
He: “No. I was affectionate to you only as a friend. Nothing more.”
She: “Right……right. I ought to have known.”

Both keep quiet for a few moments. A waiter brings their cheque.

He: “Shall we leave? I have to go back for dinner. They are waiting.”
She: “Yes. Let’s leave.”
He: “It was nice meeting you again.Take care, and keep well.”
She: “You too. Have a nice life.”

She thought about the meeting, sitting in her train to Hoboken. Was it real? Why did her dream had to end like this? Aeons of sleep were engulfing her gradually. All the noise inside the coach seemed to fade away to the most peaceful sleep she had since ages.

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