It was the first weekend of the month, and that always brought with it the worst mood swings I pushed myself to eventually get accustomed to. I always thought of myself as a toughy-tough powergirl who torpedo-ed her way through every problem that the world dared to throw at her tiny existence on this huge planet that somehow constantly questioned my ability to deal with the lull of short bouts of peacetime. I sat on one of the rock benches by the fence guarding this small clearing the crown jewel of which was a small arcade boasting of the most popular diner-café-restaurant all the kids from my campus flocked at all times. And that’s where I met him first.
I was leagues down in the sea of disappointment over my recent heartbreak and the bloating mess that my pre-menstrual body and mind was. It was sunset and the hills surrounding the clearing lit up in the faint violet and crimson highlights on the brown surface that the dry winter rendered them with. The vibrant mix of old and new friends who had the sad fortune to hang out with me at this point probably cursed their own shadow as my hormone-raged body went on and on about how much I hated the situation I was stuck in and how it could’ve come at the worst possible time. I mean, your boyfriend of six months cheats on you and your body decides to menstruate the same exact weekend? Come on.
I didn’t notice when he came and sat beside me amidst the cackle of laughter and pools of smoke that dissipated after going up the air in circles. Our fingers touched when he passed the joint to me which I didn’t even see him roll. He had big brown eyes, like the ones you’d probably see on baby deers or a cute animated dinosaur in some Disney movie. The sun was setting on the right, and I saw his face half in its purple glow and half drowned in the dark silhouette, separated only by the puffs of smoke that fogged up my sight. I took a few drags, and tried to look cool while pretending to rant more about how my only friend was the snack money I had won about half an hour ago on a bet. With my luck, I knew he wouldn’t be interested in me. But there was something in his eyes, like a kind of madness that I hadn’t felt before.
My good friend Shubho, who had the brilliant idea to drag me out of my hostel room amidst my million agonies a few hours ago, also had the brilliant idea to grab my well-earned snack money out of my loose grip and announce to the public that “Hey! Finder’s keepers!”
Okay, there is one thing that you might want to know about me. I am a huge romantic at heart, and I am always the most peaceful, forgiving and looking-at-the-silver-lining kind of person. But under all of that fun, happy-go-lucky, amateur comedian exterior, I am a huge control freak and a total drama queen softie, and not a good one at that. Usually people riddled with similar predicament either hyperventilate or step right into the process of taking back control. I end up crying.
I hate it when people take things from me without my consent and I hate it more when they parade it in front of people I am afraid to lose face to. Especially when I am present in the situation myself. So I did what I do best and started yelling at my loser friend in front all of our other friends who just started laughing at our stupid fight. So much for being adults working towards a Masters in communication.
“Listen, if you don’t give me my money back I’ll have to go without food for the night. Do you want that?”
“Liar. Slum it and go the mess, like normal people.”
“You know that I have a stomach problem!”
“Yeah, what is it?”
“My stomach doesn’t know how to digest the shitty food they serve in the dining.”
“Well, I’ll give you ten bucks to buy instant noodles for the night. Would that be okay?”
“Motherfucker give my money back or I swear to God I WILL end you right here right now I promise –“
And then he stood up from where he was sitting to my left and stepped out. And then he did what he shouldn’t have.
“Hey, if you really want it”, his eyes sparkling in devilish glory as he raises his arm above his head, “come and get it.”
Roaring laughter of our idiotic friends, some of whose existence I wasn’t even aware of till the morning, echoed through the clearing and probably into the neighboring brown hills I am sure. Funny thing about stoners, if a person is smoking a doobie around you and you want some of that, you just have to ask – and Voila! You’re friends. No stoner will ever refuse you a drag, and that’s how lifelong friendships will have a beginning. You just got to ask, “Hey man, mind if I have a drag?” and BAM! You just won yourself a friend.
But at that moment, I did my best to not let my eyes burst into a fountain of hot tears. That would be too embarrassing in front of these losers, and on top of that I was PMSing. I had a hard fight ahead.
I stood up, and jumped right into the trap he laid out for me. I mean I literally started jumping and trying to grab at his hand, but it kept getting away from me. First of all, a) I was high, and b) He was way taller than my 5 feet long existence.
I was almost on the verge of giving up, accepting my defeat and preparing myself to scream at Shubho that I would complain to his mother and stop talking to him. Right then, something unexpected happened. The mysterious hottie stood up and grabbed it from his hand and looked at me,
“It’s mine now.”
Interesting turn of events. I couldn’t decipher if Shubho’s loss was a win for me, or were these tall boys in cahoots and just loved tormenting helpless short women. Not knowing how to respond, I slumped down my shoulders and took a step back. Looking to the ground, I let out a defeated sigh and replied, “Fine. Whatever.”
Somehow the joint completed the circle and came back to him in the middle of all this stupidity. He took an intense, long drag and looked at me, “Do you not want this?”
“I said, I don’t care.”
In the meantime, the other members in the circle who were till now so deeply invested in the real life sitcom scene of Shubho taunting me had since found their own little topics of interest now that the drama was over. How insanely selfish. Shubho laughed dryly a little bit at Mysterious Man and then looked at me. I did what any dignified woman in my place would do. I made a face and looked away.
Mysterious Man came back and sat beside me. I couldn’t help but notice that the time of death of the public laughter and the Mysterious Man’s blatant stealing of my deservedly legit snack money coincided weirdly. He did have a strong presence, and I wouldn’t lie and say that I didn’t feel a tingle in the sides of my body when he sat down again.
“I won’t ask again, do you want this or not?” he asked in a low, buttery voice.
“I said I don’t care.” I tried to calm my nerves and restrain the side of me that found his voice buttery.
“Okay then,” he replied in the same growly way, “Hey Shubho, take this.”
Startled, I looked up to find that he was only talking about passing the joint ahead in the circle. Of course, I would die before I skipped a round, so I took I took it from his fingers before Shubho could get a chance.
“Hey, Shubho, nevermind.” I took a good, long drag looking at Shubho’s confused face. Befuddled for a few seconds, he looked away before I could. He never let me be the cool one, that idiot.
As I let the smoke go, I instantly felt relaxed. I couldn’t for the life of me, remember why I was so worked up like, a moment ago. I looked at Mysterious Hottie beside me and asked, “Where’d you get this stuff from? It’s good.”
“Thanks, I took it from a friend when he wasn’t looking.” He looked so cute with that mischievous smile on his fat lips.
“Isn’t that called ‘stealing’?” I don’t know why I felt the need to whisper that last word with air quotes.
“Only when you’re caught.” He said in a no-nonsense voice, sliding a bit more towards my side. His eyes got locked with mine for a few seconds, and I felt a bolt of lightning go through me. Like a pulse of madness sending my neurotransmitters in a tizzy.
My eyes started wandering all over his face. He had a fairer wheatish complexion, the kind that Indian mothers would be proud of, his eyebrows were extremely bushy and thick and joined in the middle, and his cheeks celebrated what I could roughly estimate as a two-day sabbatical from the shaving blade. His undyed black hair grew out a little bit in the back, and fell generously on his forehead, making him look younger than he probably was. However, his lower lip got my attention, there was huge pinkish-red gash around the luscious top of it left unattended and I found my mind getting more curious about it the more I looked at it. I mean, I couldn’t look away from it. It couldn’t have been more than a day or two old.
“Bad fight?” I asked half-jokingly, never knowing what to expect.
“Did a round of MD in the morning.” He replied, nonchalantly while looking into my eyes with an ecstatic sparkle in his, turning his whole head towards mine.
“Niiice.” I tried to keep a neutral face while being totally intimidated by both the piece of information and the gesture that just blew my mind.
“Are you on Instagram?” he asked in that low, growling, buttery bass voice of his.
“Yeah, why?” Now comes the part failing which no friendship becomes “socially” initiated. Adding each other on Instagram.
“Give me your phone.”
He takes it without asking. I am shocked but also unable to stop the natural course of whatever this action is.
Like a diligent middle-class wife, I follow.
He types something in my phone, and gives it back to me. “Sent myself a follow request from yours, I hope you’ll accept mine when I return the favour.”
I am in between shocked and appalled, like, who the fuck does he think he is? James Dean? James Franco? God I hope his name isn’t James. Also that was kind of cool in a totally invade-your-privacy-but-look-cute-while-doing-it way. Am I insane?
My phone tings, and before I can look to see what it is, one of the guys I met this morning shouts at us from the cigarette shop a few yards away in the arcade,
“Yo, Rick. You comin’ with me or not?”
I look down my phone, and a message pops up, “rick.the.man.98 has accepted your follow request.”
“Just a minute, start the bike.” He shouts back at his friend, then turns to me with a light in his mad black eyes that I don’t really comprehend.
“I hope you’re the kinda girl who replies to texts.” He smiles, before getting up and gesturing to his friend to bring the vehicle in front of the rock bench we were sitting at.
He winks at me, like in those cheesy 90s romcoms where the good girl falls in love with the bad boy. But its somehow not lame. I smile back at him as he gets on the bike and rides off with his friend.
The sun had already set with its purple hues slowly burning off into the darkness on the other part of the sky. The hills started disappearing in the cold grasp of the night, with only a few sparkling lights twinkling in the far distance, like the dying embers of the joint in my hand.