(I wrote this story a long time back. It is the first story I wrote. Reposting)
“Who is Sneha?” Kavita asked with her usual calm and composed manner but with a tone of interrogation. Her question stunned me. I never mentioned Sneha in 19 years of our marriage. An important name of my innermost self surfaced in my external life. It is not a word that, I would use in my conversations. How does she know about Sneha? What happened recently? For last seven days, high fever kept me home. People who called never heard about Sneha. Local family friends don’t know her. Then how does Kavita know about Sneha. Since morning, I felt sad for no apparent reason. I thought it was my weak body that made me sad. But, it seems like revelation of Sneha was it.
“No but she cannot know her. There is no way for her to know Sneha. It is some other Sneha.” I thought
“Sneha, I don’t know any Sneha. Probably she is one of your new friends.” I replied pretending to ignore the interrogation.
“Are you lying to me?” she said.
“Why would I lie to you?”
“You are hiding something from me.” She announced with conviction while maintaining her calm. It is a trick she learnt in her job and uses effectively at home.
“Do you plan to start weekend with a fight? I resumed work today so that I can relax over the weekend before a full week. I am not hiding anything from you. You know I tell you everything. We had a long week. Why don’t we check out new restaurant? ”
“Are you sure you don’t know any Sneha?” Annoyed by lack of clear answer, she changed her tone slightly.
“Why are you asking it again? Who is Sneha? What happened to you today?” I snapped back.
“Do you know Sneha or not? Yes or No.”, she asserted.
“What exactly do you want to know?” I was not prepared to reveal that I kept for 19 years, unless I know her source.
“Which Sneha you were talking with on the Monday night?” she said
“Monday night, I don’t remember anything of Monday. You know I could not even talk with 106F body temperature”
“Exactly! But you were talking with an Sneha in your sleep”, she declared.
Completely taken aback by the disclosure of her source, I had to think hard for a plausible explanation. It was 22 years back I met Sneha last time. But I still think about her several times in a day. Whenever I listen to a romantic song, I think about her. I still try to figure out what she might be doing. All the places I travel, I wish for an unexpected surprise to meet her. I see her in different faces. I imagine walking with her in the art galleries, in the museums and in the historical places. I speak to her in my thoughts. Probably I was babbling her name in my subconscious sleep under high fever. I am not surprised I did that.
“May be it is character in the book that I read recently,” I tried a feeble reason in an unconvincing manner.
“You don’t MISS a book character. Tell me the truth,” She said emphasizing ‘miss’,
Before I could answer our 18 years old daughter Amy walked out of upstairs study into lobby and almost shouted “Dad your phone on cell. Your phone been ringing forever so I picked it”
I saw an opening. I got up from the reclining chair. But Kavita asked “Who is it?”
“I don’t know. Someone called Rajeev Sharma. It is from out of state,” Amy replied.
My mind stopped working. Why did Rajeev call me? Rajeev is the last person; I want to speak in the middle of conversation about Sneha.
“Amy, tell him I will call back in an hour” I started sitting down.
“I did already. But he says it is really urgent. It is about Sneha,” Amy replied in a neutral tone not knowing anything about Kavita’s grilling.
This time, both Kavita and I got up and like a small child caught stealing, I rushed to my cell phone avoiding any eye contact. I had to speak with Rajeev if it is about Sneha. After 22 years, I heard my name in Rajeev’s voice. The moment I heard his voice, I knew something is terribly wrong. His voice was clear but he seemed distressed which is not part of his character.
“Can you come to Atlanta to meet us?” Rajeev said
“Why now - after so many years?”
“Sneha wants to meet you. I also want you to come. ”
“What is wrong Rajeev? You sound different.”
“Sneha is in hospital. She is not well. “Rajeev paused.
“She is in hospital. What happened to her?”
“Look. She is critical. If you want to meet her, you need to come tonight otherwise…” Rajeev almost whispered and could not complete his sentence.
“She is critical and you are telling me today”
“Sneha forced me to wait till Friday. Kamal took her to ER on Monday. When you come, I will explain. I am sending you an SMS with the address of the hospital. I have to attend to something urgent. Call me if you need directions.” Rajeev ended the sentence clearly implying end of the phone conversation.
“I will see if I can come tonight”
Kavita still astonished at the phone call walked into the study.
“Where are we going?” Kavita asked
“What is going on, who is Rajeev, and who is Sneha?” Kavita asked
“I will tell you everything. But first we need to start driving now to Atlanta.”
“Who is going to drive for 8 hours to Atlanta? You are still weak. And, what is so important that you have to go now? You don’t drive to downtown Raleigh because it is far.” Kavita clearly irritated. It is true. I don’t like long boring drives. When I come home from work, I lock the car keys, sit back, and relax.
“Dad, do you want to drive in this pouring rain? You are scared of driving in storms. Are you sure about it?” Amy joined her mom in protest.
“Kavita, it is important for me. Do you trust me? I will tell you everything. Can we start now?” I said firmly
“I want to trust you but not sure anymore. Why are we going? Who are these people?”
“Rajeev and Sneha were my neighbors in South Extension. Rajeev is Sneha’s younger brother and we studied together in same school and same college. He was my best friend in college”
“How come you never told me about him? I know all your friends.”
With Amy ordered to go downstairs and watch TV, Kavita locked us in the master bedroom to know everything. I told her everything about Sneha and Rajeev.
I recollected all my childhood. Rajeev and I always played together. We studied in the same school, prepared together for all exams, and studied engineering in the same college. His house was like mine and my house was like his. Sneha, Rajeev’s elder sister was like an angel.
God heard Sneha’s parents’ prayers and Sneha was born with the blessings of the saints after five years of wait for their first child. With green hazel eyes, sharp features, fair skin with smiling oval face she looked like an angel and was the darling of the house. With firm belief in the God, she had special connection with Him. She had time and energy for everything in the world. She had time to complete her medical school studies, watch all new and old movies, paint authentic portraits, listen music, play badminton, and shop for latest fashion cloths. She was always in designer’s wear with either a thick medicine book or a paintbrush in hand and music in the background. She talked with me for hours. She always considered me her friends and confidant. I confided everything with her. She was the most intelligent person I had ever met. She had the simplicity to solve every problem at heartbeat. We went to different schools but I was with her when at home, or at movies, theaters, picnics, art shows, and festivals. With being two years younger than her and Rajeev’s pal, parents, friends, neighbors thought of us as good friends. But I knew that we were more than friends.
Good times always seem to last for very short period. Sneha finished her medical school and the world around me changed. God had a different path for all of us. Her dad’s friend appeared from the dreamland of opportunities with a suitable match for Sneha. The boy’s parents, settled in the USA, came to India with their handsome physician son looking for a doctor girl. Kamal was born and brought up in the USA but with strong Indian traditions and values. His physician wealthy parents used their money wisely to provide the best education to their two sons. Kamal, their younger son, was completing his residency in Neurology. For Sneha’s parents, it was the prefect match. Several years of family friendship, well settled boy, same profession of perspective spouses, opportunities for Sneha to pursue higher education in the USA and approval from the family spiritual guru made it a match written in heaven.
It was time to act. Still in the Engineering school, being younger than her and a perfect match for her did not help my case with my own brothers and mom. I needed help and only Sneha could help me. Sneha could fix everything at a heartbeat and she resolved this dilemma. But her solution almost stopped my heartbeat. With her firm belief in fate and God, her solution was very simple. There had to be someone else for me. There had to be someone better for me. She pleaded me to complete my Engineering and in the due course, God would connect me with the right girl. Her parents were fixed on the marriage and even Sneha could not change their mind anyway. Rajeev was hurt with the revelation about my true intent. Accused of betrayal, I could not face him again. Rajeev and I did not speak again. Both of us finished school and took different paths.
Kavita sighed “Sneha did the right thing.”
After dropping Kavita and Amy in a motel on I85, I used the caller id on my cell phone to call Rajeev. Rajeev met me at the reception of Georgia Hospital.
“How did you get my cell number?” I tempted to ask
But before I could ask he started “I called your South Extension home to get your number. Sneha is on Cardiac Life Support. She has been fighting Leukemia and it does not seem like she will make it this time. She thought you might want to meet her one last time. “
“Why did not you call me earlier?”
“I don’t know. She asked me to call you on Friday.” Rajeev replied with honesty
Inside the Intensive Care Unit, the sight of a weak, frail Sneha with several machines around her was frightening. But she still looked beautiful and she still looked like an angel. She still seemed usual happy and with a smile on her face. I kept looking at her for several minutes without saying a single word. My feet were frozen on the ground, hands were cold, eyes stopped blinking, and lips could not move. I kept looking at her eyes, waiting for her to open them. After a long time, she opened them momentary and looked at me. She could not speak and I could not utter a single word either. Words were not necessary. Her expression in the eyes and smile told me everything. This one small split second was the happiest and the saddest moment of my life. Her unsaid words confirmed my doubt that she also wanted the same but could not help. I knew I would remember this moment for ever in my life.
Driving back home, Kavita asked “Don’t you think you should forget all about her?”
“Do I have to?”
“If I say you have to” she asked
“I don’t think I have any control over it”
“Dad, we drove in sickness and in storm for a short 20 minute visit to the hospital. Was she your girl friend in school?” Oblivious to reality, Amy tried to get the clarification in black and white.
“No she was just a friend in the neighborhood,” Kavita snapped back before I could reply.
Judging the seriousness of the situation, Amy did not ask any more questions and picked up my I-Phone and connected to the car stereo “Dad, can I play your favorite song to cheer you up?”. Without waiting for a reply, she played the first song from ‘My Favorite’ folder of my I-Phone.
Sneha’s favorite romantic song track filled the car and I kept thinking, “Was Sneha a friend, girl friend, or my first love?”