Choices

When Ananya’s parents first started talking about marriage, she was 23. She was young, driven and fresh out of college. She had done her Bachelors in Engineering for her father. But she wanted to be a writer and an artist. Why do you want to be both the things that are utterly useless to make a living at the same time? Her father had asked. She poured her heart into her journals. They held the key to her soul for she poured her soul into it so her words are not for everyone to read. Her art spoke volumes about her emotions. She dreamt about travelling the world with her pen and paint brush. She dreamed of her paintings adorning the walls of great art galleries. But she had always felt trapped in one place where she was constantly pleasing others and acting responsible, making the happiness of her parents a priority. She wanted to run wild, away from her life, away from her parents and chase her dreams and live life the way she wants to. She wants to take the path less travelled, like Meghna.

Her parents though, had a different plan in mind. On the day she decided to tell them that she wants to travel abroad to persuade her studies, her parents showed her the photo of a man. She was not interested in looking at his picture. She did not like the idea of marriage. She was too young to get married. She wants to sort her life first. Make a living of her own where she is not dependent on her parents. She didn’t want to fall out of one trap into another. She just cannot do that. She wants to meet the love of her life before marrying him. She wants to feel the blood thump through her vein to her heart and feel her head going dizzy everytime he saw her. She wants to experience what Meghna did when she met the love of her life. She’s told her everything and from then Ananya couldn’t stop dreaming of those things happening to her.

‘You should consider meeting the boy, Ananya’ told her father. ‘He has excellent academics and Karthik is already a senior manager in a leading IT company. He is only 27.’ Karthik, that was his name. Neither did she look up to make eye contact with her father nor did she take a look at his photo on the matrimonial site. She was contemplating, not if she should marry him or not, but, how she would tell her father that she is not interested in marriage, not now, not ever in the immediate future? As much as she loved her father she was scared of him. He loved her but he decided everything for her from the school she studied to the paint of her room. Their room.

When her father told her that she should be doing her engineering it was her grandmother who told him that Ananya should take up arts. ‘Don’t make her another machine’ was the exact words of her grandmother. She obliged to her father anyhow. She was working in a leading IT company now. Needless to say, she had become a machine. Obviously she cannot turn to her grandmother for this because it’s marriage and everyone in the family wants to see it happen. All they need is a reason to take out their beautiful gold jewellery, silk sarees and show off to each other. All the uncles want to do, is eat delicious food and chat about world politics while she will have to vow to surrender herself and live the rest of her life with a stranger who has suddenly occupied a huge part of her life. Infact, she should even promise to make him the center of her life. His priorities before hers, that’s what her mother told her all the time. It seemed too dramatic. But it was expected of her. Everything that her father spoke was echoing somewhere in the background like a static during an important call. She cannot let him down. She cannot let her parents down especially after what Meghna did to them. But this is so unfair because she had to compensate for her sister, her identical twin who left the family to live her choice of life. Life is being so unfair. But she’s always been the one to oblige.

‘I uuh…’ she hesitated ‘I need some time appa’ she finally managed to churn out the words from her mouth. She never spoke against her father so this was new. He persuaded her and was trying to convince her to say yes. The train of thoughts gave her a throbbing headache. ‘Appa, I need some water first. Please wait’ she interrupted her father mid-sentence much to his surprise.

She went to the kitchen holding her head. She was going to talk to her mother and tell her that she doesn’t want to get married now because she is only 24 and she’s having a live relay of her best friend Shrada’s life after marriage. It is pathetic and she doesn’t want to go through the same. She cannot stand a lousy mother-in-law or a sister-in-law who had to be impressed and pampered every single day of her life. Plus, what about her dreams? What about what she wants to do with her life? Her parents never asked her these things and Meghna was right about them. All they want is money and Social respect. They will throw us into the fire if we even think about hampering their reputation in the society. I am leaving while sit and rot here because I am not ready to rot.

She did not say I am not going to let you rot. She said I AM not ready to rot. She left her. They were twins and they had always been together. Always. But today she was standing alone while her parents had completely forgotten about Meghna even though Ananya should remind them of her every single day.

‘Amma…’ before she could start talking, her mother interrupted her and dumped the coffee mug in her hand.

‘I know what you are going to tell me. I have told the exact same words when I was your age’ she said and smiled at her daughter.

‘Did it work?’ Ananya asked already knowing the answer.

‘Talk to him, see his photo first, he looks good. You will like him. If you don’t like him after you talk to him we can call this off. Nothing has begun anyway. There’s no harm in talking to him, is there dear?’ her mother’s radiant smile and her soft hands on Ananya’s cheeks made her feel better. She still did not like the idea of marrying a stranger but at least her headache was gone.

***

The Delhi cold was biting every part of her skin. Her long, silky hair acted as a shield protecting her a little, only a little to keep her warm. But she loved the cold. They were partying at her favourite pub last night. The kohl in her big beautiful eyes were smudged. She was awake but hungover. She sat on the balcony of her apartment that was in the 12th floor gazing at the first morning light that was slowly burning the enormous darkness that the night had cast on the world. She lit a cigarette and inhaled it deeply and closed her eyes. She wanted to see how it was like to fall off this building. She just wants to fall down like it was a very natural thing to do. She always had this nudging feeling to die. To jump, to fall, to cut herself, these thoughts never left her except for the times she was with the love of her life. She had even tried starving herself to death but it didn’t last long. She ended up eating a village.

Her father, his arrogance and selfishness, her mother who lacked a spine to stand up to herself or her daughters, her sister who was just like her mother drove her away from her family. She ran away from them. She hid from them. She missed her sister, her presence, her voice, her laughter and her company. Just her. She can never explain how hollow she feels without her beside. She can never fill it. She had to leave when her family did not accept her choices which was expected. They cried for days but she did when their college begun. She left her sister behind, she let her rot in that family where Ann will never be happy without her. She is probably succumbing to the orders of their father right now. She still got birthday cards from Ananya every year, new year cards, cards for Diwali, sometimes letters, Meghna never wrote back she just read them and she knew Ann knows why she never writes back. But she did leave her address to Ann when Sakshi moved into this apartment. Meghna had sent a message to Ann. She called immediately but Meg did not pick up. You have the power to make me happy and take it right away. You are awesome! The thought of that message from Ananya made Meghna wince. She took another drag from her cigarette. She does that everyone she loves, hurt them.

Sakshi changed her world. She made the dark thoughts from her head disappear. It was like magic. Like Sakshi cast a spell upon her. Ever since, she did not let her go. She never would, if she ever did, she will fall. She will fall into the blackhole again and be engulfed by depression and then she will fall off a bridge or a cliff and that will be the end of it. The end to all the pain she’s been enduring, running away and hiding from.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She heard a whisper reading out the tattoo she had on her neck as a blanket covered her body and a hug warmed her soul. Smile, ‘Love you’ she turned to look at the most beautiful eyes of Sakshi. Those eyes. Meghna poked her nose and pulled her closer to kiss. Meghna tasted like vanilla, vodka and cigarette. Sakshi took the cigarette from Meghna and threw it in the ashtray nearby.

‘25’ she said.

‘Huh?’ asked Meghna.

‘We have 25 ashtrays around the house. You need to quit smoking, Meg!’ Sakshi hugged her closer.

‘And you need to quit asking me to do that’ Meg lit another cigarette and Sakshi did not protest. She admired her. This woman whom she is madly in love with. The woman who gave up everything that she ever had for her just so she can live with her, love her and make her happy every single day. The woman who sacrificed her passion so she will get a chance to make her legally her wife.

Their relationship did not quite start the way it is now. Meghna was more of a playboy. She juggled around many girls. It’s not her fault. She is gorgeous, cool and too amazing to stick with one person. She is too independent and fierce to be bound in one relationship, to one person. She was the alpha in a relationship and girls loved to be with her. She was almost like a proud possession or like the girls were her proud dog. They stayed with her to show off. Meg didn’t seem to care why the girls were with her. She didn’t seem to love them neither did she seem to care about being in a relationship. She was perfectly fine alone.

My soul is not in my body. It’s constantly floating, flying and I am constantly chasing it. Meg had once told her as she drew circles in her stomach.

Do you ever get tired of chasing? She had asked.

Do you ever get tired of breathing? Meg asked and looked up to see Sakshi’s eyes.

Sakshi knew or at least believed that she is going to get her heartbroken because of Meghna. She knew she is going to suffer and she was preparing herself for it because, she knew Meg didn’t love her when they started going out. She went out with her anyhow. Her sad eyes, the words she wrote, her paintings and how little she spoke about herself and everything drew Sakshi towards her. Meghna was her magnet, her harbor, her adobe when chaos engulfed her. She just had to be with her and everything seemed better. But that one night when Meg confessed that she wants to spend the rest of her life with her, she cried. Sakshi still remembers that night. Am I so horrible that you are crying when I tell you that I want to spend the rest of my life with you? God! Meg asked and lit her cigarette. Sakshi laughed. She pulled the cigarette out of her mouth and kissed her. She was crying because of happiness. That one person whom she was sure will break her heart wanted to live with her for the rest of her life. Can her life get any better?

But things were not easy when she told her parents about their relationship. They were very happy that their daughter was in love but not with the person. Apparently, they had asked her to choose and she made her choice. She was sure she wouldn’t regret it and there cannot be another person who will make her as happy as Meghna did.

‘Ow! Ouch! My leg has slept, babe. I need some coffee’ Sakshi’s train of thoughts were interrupted by Meghna. She got off the parapet and walked in to make herself some coffee.

***

The next day Ananya woke up to her mother’s voice. Inspite of the door being closed, she could hear her mother speak. She sounded euphoric. Half sleepy and still hungover from her sleep Ananya tried to make sense of her mother’s conversation. She opened the door and sneaked outside. They were in the living room. Her mother held the phone in her hand and her father was sitting anxiously next to her. Oh my God! This is really happening. Ananya thought. ‘Yes, we are also excited that the horoscopes match. We cannot wait to meet you and your son” her mother was saying. “Please wait, I am passing over the phone to my husband” she said and passed the phone to her father. They were making plans to make Ananya and Karthik meet. She stealthily closed her door and opened her laptop. She took the wallet out her bag and decided to book a ticket to Delhi, she contemplated texting Meghna before booking the tickets but she knew Meg wouldn’t respond so she booked the tickets anyway. She was leaving to Delhi that evening. She would tell her parents that she was going for training from office and it was unavoidable. She wanted to get out of this wedding and she wants to see Meghna, her reflection, her strength, her soul that would tell her what to do.

***

It was a lazy Saturday morning. Meghna and Sakshi had just woken up. Meghna was sitting on the couch with an unlit cigarette on her mouth, reading the newspaper while Sakshi was getting ready to make brunch.

‘Hun-bun, we have run out of bread’ Sakshi screamed from the kitchen.

‘Make omlette then or whatever with whatever we have’ Meg responded with the unlit cigarette still between her lips.

The doorbell rang. ‘I got it. It’s probably the bread fairy’ Meg said as she got up to walk towards to door.

‘Ha-ha’ Sakshi mocked from the kitchen.

When she opened the door, the cigarette from her mouth fell and she stood there speechless. She stood there motionless for a few seconds just staring at Ananya, eyes glazed with tears. ‘Hi’ Ananya broke the silence.

‘Meg, who is it?’ Sakshi came calling from the kitchen.

‘OH. MY. GOD’ Sakshi kept looking at Ananya and back to Meghna for a while.

‘Babe, just…’ Meg tried to speak.

‘You must be Ananya’ Sakshi exclaimed in happiness.

‘Well!’ Ananya shrugged and turned to Meg, ‘Are you going to let me in or not?’

Meghna just moved out of the way so Ananya could walk in. ‘I waited all night at the airport contemplating. I didn’t know if you even lived here anymore’ Ananya spoke as she walked in heaving her backpack and turned to shrug at Meg.

‘Of course, I live here, Ann. I would let you know if I moved out’ Meghna said, hurt.

‘Well, you don’t bother getting in touch with me, Meg. So I can obviously only assume everything about you. Like you are doing well, you are happy in this plush apartment that’s in the 12th floor and you? You must be the girlfriend that she left me for.’ Ananya said exasperated almost crying. Sakshi looked pained and bit her bottom lip.

‘I didn’t leave you for her and you know that. It’s a lot more complicated than that and you know that too. Don’t make her a part of our mess, Ann. Please don’t!’ Meghna said. She wasn’t crying. Ananya hated to be the one who was weak and still the one who cared, still the one who has come running to her sister when she had to make a big decision.

‘You are not even going to give me a hug?’ Ananya asked and felt like an idiot. ‘Apparently, I feel like an idiot…’ and before she could finish the sentence Meghna took her in her arms. Meghna has always been the strong one, the depressed one, the one who wanted to breakfree and run wild. She did. When she did she hurt Ananya and yet she ran for which she wouldn’t forgive herself. She let Ananya cry and Meghna cried too Sakshi held her hand from behind and smiled at her. ‘God, I missed you so much, Meg!’ Ananya said into her neck. ‘I missed you too’ Meghna pulled her back and kissed her on the forehead. ‘Wow! You are covered in tattoos, Meg!’ she said making both Meghna and Sakshi laughed.

‘I am sorry I spoke to you like that’ she said immediately turning to Sakshi. Sakshi only smiled. ‘Breakfast? I am making something with eggs. Well scrambled actually. Do you like it?’ Ananya hesitated.  ‘or I can make omlette for you, if you want. We also have some meat’ eating is very important to Sakshi. Meg was looking at her in admiration.

‘Babe, no!’ Meg shook her head and guffawed.

‘I don’t eat eggs or meat. We don’t but apparently she does now. What else are you doing now?’ Ananya mockingly asked Meg. Meg shrugged.

‘Oats? I can make oats Kichadi. We love it or…’ Sakshi kept thinking of options. She was very happy to have one of relatives’ home. They had never expected this to happen.

‘hey babe, anything is fine. Stop beating yourself up’ Sakshi almost jumped on her way to the kitchen.

‘She is very cute. I love her pixie cut. Her eyes!’ Ananya said still looking at the kitchen.

‘I know’ Meghna smiled and nodded ‘How are you Ann?’ she finally asked.

‘I am fine. I just missed you so much I thought screw everything I am going to go see her. Here I am!’

‘You were at the airport the entire night contemplating if you should really come here’ Meghna was looking right into her eyes. Ananya fell quiet.

‘Vodka?’ Meg asked already getting up to go get it. They always drank when Meg wanted her to get talking. Meg always made her drink so she could pour herself out. Meg went to the kitchen and took the bottle of vodka out of the fridge. ’10 mins alone with her and you are already making your sister drink’ Sakshi said pointing the knife at Meg. ‘Did I kiss you this morning? Did I? Or didn’t I?’ Meg said grabbing Sakshi by her waist and pulling her towards her. She laughed and tried to get away from Meg but it has never happened so far. Meghna kissed her, deeply and passionately. ‘Sorry’ they heard Ananya. ‘Hey, come on in. This is our kitchen’ Sakshi said with no awkwardness. Like it was a very casual thing to kiss her sister infront of her and Meg handed her the drink. They had breakfast and Ananya had a few more to drink and finally they all settled down on the living room couch to watch a movie. Sakshi in between Meg’s legs leaning on her shoulder, while Meg held her hands and stretching one of the legs and left the other down the couch. They seemed so happy together. Meg kissed Sakshi’s knuckles every now and then and Sakshi smiled. Meghna did not force Ananya to speak. She just let her be.

Ananya spent 2 days with them. They showed her the city around, took her to wild parties which has always been the speciality of Meg. She found that Meg had given up her Fashion designing course, which was her passion to study engineering and joined the IT company of Sakshi’s. She also found that Sakshi had also left her family behind for Meg. But they are happy now. They made their choices. They are a couple. A happy couple, madly in love with each other like every other couple. She adored them. How they casually kissed each other at every chance they get, the sacrifices they have made for each other, she saw the way they looked at each other. She saw how Meg looked at Sakshi, her eyes brimming with love and pride. It was like she’s won the best woman in the world and she was not ashamed to tell the world that she is in love with her. That she is different. This is the type of life she wanted to live, she didn’t want to go back to her life. When she was with Meg and Sakshi she felt like she was in a different world where people did not judge each other but just let the other person live. They lived and they breathed and they were happy. Without discussing about anything with Meg, Ananya knew her answer.

‘Ann, we are planning to move to New York in few months. We have gotten our visas. Everything is in process. I know it’s a long shot but we plan to settle there and I want to marry Sakshi’ Meg told her when they were having their dinner. The dinner before Ananya took off to Chennai. Sakshi leaned on Meg’s shoulder with tears in her eyes.

‘Go on guys, I will follow you to be the best man at your wedding’ Ananya said and held both their hands.

 

 

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