A single drop of sweat made its way down her back. It trickled down languidly, oblivious to the frenzied pace of the body. She gyrated and swayed seductively, beckoning the imaginary men she saw around her. Slowly, as the articles of clothing came off, the barriers came down too. She started dancing faster and faster. Sweat started dripping down her temples, snaking its way between her breasts.
But, no matter how hard she hoped, the sweat couldn’t mask her tears. A salty concoction of both made tiny rivulets down her cheeks as she gasped for air. For exhaustion or despair, no one could tell.
Spotting her sofa, she gave up the dance and collapsed on top of it. Switching off her music system, she wished she could believe in the lyrics of the song that was thumping through the house.
‘My name is Sheila’ it had said. It also proclaimed that she didn’t need anyone to love her, that she could love herself.
‘But I can’t!’ she mentally screamed.
Exhausted, she fell asleep right there on the couch, sprawled in her underwear, the first real sleep she’d had in days. Looking at her face when she was asleep, you really couldn’t make out the sweat from the tears. Maybe she had achieved what she wanted. Even then, her dreams did not leave her alone, her face knotted and creased with each passing moment of slumber, cursing and moaning, she finally let go of her demons in a few moments and gave in to the Sandman’s calls.
5 years earlier.
Aarushi stretched according to the instructions shouted out periodically by the dance instructor. He made sure everyone reached their absolute limits while putting them through this grind. The lithe ones where forced to work harder than the rest.
Ballet classes had been a marvellous move, she mused. If she hadn’t discovered this on a whim, she wouldn’t have found the wonder dance could take her through. She wouldn’t have realised her passion for the art and her flair for it.
Stretching and bending as much as she could, a bit more than she could, she thought over those days when she stuck to the grind and had become the perfect child and role model her parents had prepped her to be.
“Hi!” A happy greeting broke through her reverie. She snapped around a bit too fast, surprised to hear a male voice among the female melee. Caught in an awkward position, with her leg propped up on the bar, she lost her balance and fell. Her thigh felt like it had been ripped apart in two.
“Oh, crap! I am so so sorry! Are you alright?” the man hurried to Aarushi’s side. Wincing in pain she tried getting up, and as she looked up, she started giggling. Bewildered, he stared at her and raised his eyebrow.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. Equally taken aback by her own behaviour.
“It’s just,” she tried explain herself, holding her comment back.
By now she suspected the man feared concussion in her case, so she completed her sentence.
“You’re, wearing, um, tights. Um,” she tried to justify her giggle.
Instead of being offended, like she expected, the man let out a hearty bark of laughter as he helped her hobble across the room and rest her thigh. He even helped her ice it, which sent little tingles running all up and down her spine, right somewhere between the pain emanating from her leg.
After a trip to the hospital, accompanied by the same man wearing tights, she was told she had pulled her hamstring. High on painkillers and still tickled by the tights, she hobbled all the way back home, giggling and alternately relaying her apologies.
Sometime later, the poor man in the tights became more known to her. He brought her flowers everyday, he helped her exercise whatever little she could, and in general nursed her back to enviable condition. He probably atoned for his sins on the way too.
She on the other hand found out that his name was Navin. He had just joined ballet, and he felt slightly pansy doing those moves, even though, he wasn’t a stranger to dance. Navin had learnt Bharatnatyam as a kid and continued his learning in different styles, finally settling on jazz. He’d been a part of several troops, and now, when he felt stagnated, he decided to join Ballet to ‘get his lines back’.
She giggled every so often at his offhand statements like those and he in turn laughed at her mousey and embarrassed giggles. Well, not so much laughed as let a shout of mirth escape his mouth.
Soon they resumed ballet together and got into the habit of rehearsing their routines together as well. Everyone at the studio thought that they were dating. Everyone decided that it was love at first sight. Everyone also felt that they made a perfect couple and were perfect dancers together.
Everyone had gotten most of their facts right. It was love at first sight, but of a different kind. A spark had ignited, and neither wanted to douse it by putting it through the thing they called ‘love’. A relationship took an unimaginable toll on people and they decided to steer clear of that part.
So they remained friends and made the most of it, enjoying the spark they saw everyday in their eyes as they preened in the mirror, and they spent the day trying to pass the sparkle onto the other’s eyes. A proud relationship of love, but none of its trials.
Navin got several chances to take his dance forward, he was told he could do much better as a student in other schools, where they would gladly take him. He steadily refused, and Aarushi felt she had something to do with that. Aarushi, on the other hand, was neither told that she could be marvellous, nor did she want to be. She was quite satisfied in living each day in the routine she had crafted, going to her office in the day and living her dream in the night. Giving her parent the happiness they wanted, and giving herself the happiness she wanted.
Navin and Aarushi grew closer by the day. Somehow, though, she never really got around to discussing Navin. That was a topic they always glossed over. He’d disappear for days in a row, and she never really found out why. He asked her not too, and she respected what they had a bit too much.
Aarushi knew where he lived, had even met his mother, but never got to know her further. He’d always steer the topic towards herself, and she’d be thoroughly engrossed in herself in a few moments.
Sometimes, though, rare as they were, Navin talked of his fears and he talked about his family. These were precious conversations for Aarushi. And even though she made most of these occasions, she only ever knew the tip of the iceberg, as she realised herself. Somehow, Navin talked of his childhood openly, his future openly, but never his present. And it bothered Aarushi that she couldn’t get past this wall.
Navin knew Aarushi inside out, and he was like a second son to her parents. Her entire family would gather on festivals and poke and prod her about him. They would ask her again and again about that nice boy and what he did, where he lived, who he was. Aarushi could never answer those questions convincingly. Although she knew all those answers, she never knew the reasons.
5 days ago
This had been Navin’s longest disappearing act in some time. He hadn’t called or messaged and been completely out of touch. Aarushi kept checking his Facebook and Twitter streams for movement. It seemed like he’d freaked out about what had happened a few days ago. They had come dangerously close to breaking their pact to remain ‘just friends’.
Even though she understood the logic behind the pact, it did not justify him running away from her like that. Before that day, she’d always suspected he was gay, or maybe he’d had some terrible experience with relationships. But now, she was not so sure. Images of him having a mad wife locked in his house a la Mr. Rochester stormed through her head, driving her absolutely nuts.
Aarushi decided to confront Navin. She decided to ring his door bell, barge inside, and demand he reveal his secrets. And he did.
His room, so neat and white, was not adorned with pictures of dance gurus, or idols of some other kind. There was an oxygen tank and a heart monitor beeping peacefully beside his bed, where he lay. He smiled his usual twinkling smile at her and asked her to come and sit beside him. She obliged, a little too taken aback.
“I thought I’d tell you when the time came, turns out, it never did. Now my time has come.” He smiled. A little too peacefully for a dying man. He held her hand close to his dying heart and pulled her close. She felt his weak breath brush her nose and as they kissed, a slow delicate kiss, she knew she always wanted this. She knew she’d been waiting her life for this. And then, just like that, he said goodbye.
Barely a day later, she’d received a letter from him, explaining all that had happened and why he chose to keep his silence. Understanding his quaint ideas about ‘ruining’ her life and calling a future between them ‘futile’, she decided to snap out of it, just like that, and pick up where she left off.
It was today, a lazy Sunday, a day she’d spend dancing and loving Navin, in any way she could, that it all came crashing down around her. She’d danced in his memory and danced for herself till she could no more, and fell into a deep peaceful slumber on her couch.
Aarushi wakes up from her dream filled sleep. She licked her lips, trying to feel Navin’s last embrace. She wished he hadn’t gone, She wished he’d let her in.
She realised why they had been only friends all this time. But, now that he was gone, she wanted to move on. She made up her mind to honour the love Navin had towards her and to build up her life and keep moving forward to find the man who would kiss her forever, and not quit on her like Navin had.
And just like that, amidst the salty taste on her lips, she tasted the sweetness of a kiss.