Priya loves me and I like her back.
When we met, we were both nursing broken hearts (my grandpa had passed away) in the university library. Our remedies matched, as did our demands for Stephen King’s latest.
I’d got one hand on the last copy when she turned the corner into ‘Fiction’, halting just in time to prevent a calamitous introduction between her face and my chest. She was panting, each breath creating a disorderly cadence; her tears were keeping time.
There were no two ways about it (and I’m proud that I knew this): I let her take the book.
She must have smiled; I can’t tell, because I was distracted by a dot of dampness on my right shoulder (residual matter of inertia, no doubt). By the time I looked up, all that was left of her was a lingering fragrance of body lotion and a distant jingling of anklets.
Four days later, she ran into me on the same aisle. She was panting this time as well; but her eyes were smiling.
“Hi! I saw you from over there,” she said, letting her hand finish the sentence.
I took a moment to think about what to say. I wanted to sound smart. It had to be snarky, but something capable of forcing a laugh too. Perhaps even an innocent bit of bungling. But also something dignified; something worthy of how enamouring she was. So — mustering all my tact — I said, “Oh.”
“I wanted to thank you for letting me take the book. That was nice of you. As you could probably tell, I was having a bad day.”
“Oh. No problem.”
“Maybe I can return the favour…buy you lunch some time?”
The following week, we spoke about our first encounter over a lunch I insisted we split the bill for. The reason she was panting was because it was a ritual for her to finish each visit to the library as quick as possible, lest she hang about all day. And the reason she was crying was because her then-boyfriend, Prateek (‘two Ps in a pod’, they joked), had moved to Scotland.
Three years on, and I’m her now-boyfriend. When I return from my morning runs, Priya isn’t around to greet me but there are always three dosas and a full glass of avocado milkshake.
I drive her home from class in the evenings; the passenger seat recline indicator shows 32 degrees and rarely changes, calibrated to perfection for all 5’3″ of her. We don’t have a superficial moniker to joke about and we’re not drawn to documenting our every moment like other couples around us.
In many ways, it is a satisfyingly adult relationship. I just wish I still loved her.
I’m leaning against the staircase railing outside the library right now. Apart from endorsing the winter, the steel is being a conduit for a lawnmower’s low buzzing. I almost miss the vibration in my pocket because of it. It’s a text message. It’s Prateek.
Priya walks out of the library, with trademark long steps. She’s at the bottom of the stairs before I know it and has her arms around me. Her face and my chest have also benefited from that day three years ago.
“Prateek texted, he’s just around the corner.” I’m not too happy about it, and I fear it shows.
But is it really, I want to ask her. Why are we meeting this fellow for the THIRD time this month? Prateek, with his messy hair and his chiselled jaw line, his studly frame and that ridiculous Scottish lilt. Honestly, who acquires a new accent when they’re old enough to marry?
I do not like that he’s just around the corner. He’s always just around the corner, ready to jump us with his smile and his expensive cologne. So is it really that awesome, Priya? For us to have this pretentious friendship with your ex-boyfriend?
As we’re walking to the theatre, I realize her arm is wound around mine but it’s only winter that I’m really feeling. I can’t help but think that the past month is the reason for my dwindling appreciation of Priya.
There was no need to greet him at the airport; in all fairness, if I’d known he’d be such a trespasser, I wouldn’t have gone. But I had to do it under the pretext of politeness, like I’m doing now. For Priya, who I’m so angry with.
“There you are!”
It’s the familiar deep baritone of our antagonist. Priya unwinds her arm and gallops towards him. His arms embrace her. He greets me from above her shoulder with flexed biceps and a broad grin.
I no longer feel the winter; just a pulsating want to take Priya’s place in his arms. Priya, who loves me, but with whom I am only madly in like with; because life has made it so that I will never be attracted to her again. And it’s all Prateek’s fault.
(Winning entry in the writing contest hosted by Sharath Komarraju on his website. The theme: conflict)