-Madhura Mandlik

He smiled as he walked in , waving at his friends standing in a circle. Dressed in a crisp white shirt, tucked into perfection. A few were shocked at the sight of him , perturbed by the fact that he would be here. Why wouldn’t he ? His best friend was getting married. In the era of e-invites he was taken a back when he read her name in his inbox a few weeks ago. With trembling fingers he opened it and an exasperated sigh escaped his lips as read her name with another’s. And as he closed his eyes , taking in a deep breath , he walked down the memory lane.

He remembered the moment he had seen her. Tall with long unruly hair, she sat a few benches ahead of him in class. Her loud , uninhibited laughter was what attracted him towards her. Leela , a beautiful name for a girl with a vibrant personality. He was like a moth attracted to a flame . Unfortunately he could never muster up enough courage to talk to her. But one day during a  practical she asked him to help her , flustered with the whole experiment. He jumped at the opportunity and the ice was broken. 

They became best of friends, companions as she would often call them. She would tell him everything and he would just sit and listen to her blabber.There were instances where she would argue with him, urge him to tell her everything about him. And he opened up without any efforts, owing to her affable persona. As they spent more time with each other , he knew he was in too deep. He knew he had feelings for her. So he did what he knew best, he pushed her away. Well aware of the way he thought , she would always dig her way through his cave. 

“ I know you Arjun, but I’m going to annoy you forever so just deal with it” she would say with a cheeky grin . And all he could do was smile at her silliness. 

One night , after a nice dinner as they were walking , she held his hand. Surprised he looked at her and she smiled at him. “You are home” was all she said as she hooked her arm under his.

“ I know” he said , relieved that he wasn’t alone.

But he knew her fickle mind, it would change with a snap of a finger. In a matter of days they had become very close. They had become real with each other. 

One fine day sitting across him in the college canteen , sipping her tea she had casually said “My parents are hunting for a groom,”trying to laugh it off. 

“ You would be leaving the party too soon if you get married” he said. 

Rolling her eyes at him she said “ Don’t be too sure. Do not to take my presence for granted.”

And he had done that , taken her for granted , with a belief that she would always be there. 

On their graduation day she gave him a warm hug and whispered in his ear “You will always be home Arjun” . He was perplexed. Her words somehow meant a goodbye. 

“Of course I will. Do not worry though I shall come visit you.” He said cheekily. 

Rolling her eyes “I could always see through your lies” she said. 

“Aahhh …. I never lie ,” he argued.

“ And that my friend is the biggest lie ,” she smiled. 

And she was right. He had lied. Time and distance did a toll on the two. And three years later as he read the first few lines of the email she’d sent ,he wiped a stray tear rolling down his cheek. 

People are like chapters of a book. Some are meant to stay till the end , while some just move the plot along. You were one of the best chapters of my life. You could have been my whole book , but we were a little too young , naive and stubborn. You will always be my home and one never really leaves the place they belong to. Maybe in the next lifetime …… our stories will be complete.

With love always

-Leela

And here he stood amongst their friends laughing about the old days , all he could do was look at the beauty in red standing beside a dashing man. Exactly where she belonged. Suddenly as if reading his thoughts , she caught his eye and gave him that smile , that very smile he had fallen for eight years ago. All he could do was smile with sadness as he watched her slip away like tiny grains of sand . 

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