It was one of those beautiful days when you just had to be outdoors. The weather was at its pleasantest best. The breeze was cool and light. The sun was bracing itself to set. We were all sitting on the grass, doing the same things we always did at ‘our spot’. My hair was dancing wildly in the late evening breeze. I was straining my ears, trying to concentrate on the faintly audible chirping sounds coming from the Neem tree.
There are a lot of things about this place that made it ‘our spot’- The dense trees all around, making it almost impossible to guess that it’s just a 10 minute walk from the road. The little brook, which always made a reassuringly soft gushing noise. The vast expanse of non- pricky grass. The beautiful open sky.
I was sitting cross legged on the grass, nibbling at my brownie. Nina was passing around the paneer rolls, and I could hear Nayan groan and complain about the ‘all vegetarian’ menu. Riya was laughing her high pitched laugh, probably at the text that she just got. As usual, the very much in love Drishti and Asif were whispering to each other, giving the air of two people who were up to something fishy.
Everyone seemed comfortable and relaxed. The exams, which seemed to go on forever, were finally over. The summer had just begun and for a whole week, we did nothing other than catching up with all the new movies and simply driving away to the outskirts and lazing around. The Bolero that Nayan got for his 21st birthday was honestly a god-send to all of us! This summer was going to be exciting; everyone had grand plans about how they were going to spend it.
I bit into another brownie and looked at Arnav, who was sitting with his back against the tree trunk. Suddenly, the strange feeling of despair and gloom that I had been feeling all day intensified. His I-pod was on shuffle mode and his eyes were closed. He was swaying his feet slightly to the music. He was leaving for Mumbai the next day. He was the only student from our university to be selected for a prestigious 3 month research program at TIFR. As though sensing my glance, he opened his eyes. He gave me a smile; the same smile that had brightened many of my difficult days; the same smile that was as familiar to me as the back of my hand.
Arnav was really excited about the program. All the hard work that he had put in finally paid off. I remember the sleepless nights he spent before his telephonic interview and the many hours he spent on writing his paper. When he finally got through, we were all so thrilled and extremely proud of him. But the moment he told me it was in Mumbai, I couldn’t fool myself into feeling genuinely happy. I couldn’t really understand why I was reacting the way I was. How could I, his best friend since he was 6 years old, not support him?
I tried to pacify myself by thinking “It’s just a matter of 3 months, not eternity! Riya, Asif and I are going to be busy with our summer internship in Ahmedabad, so I probably won’t even miss him.”
My train of thought was disturbed by Dhrishti, who thrust a bottle of orange juice into my hand and said “Ask Arnav if he wants some”. I turned around and offered it to him. As I looked at him take his characteristic tiny gulps, I realized something. The very prospect of not seeing Arnav throughout the summer wasn’t something I could deal with. We had never been anything more than friends. Yet, this overpowering sensation that engulfed me when I thought about him leaving the next day was something I wasn’t used to.
Nina was planning to throw him a party that night and I couldn’t even bring myself to say I would help with the preparations. The very fact that he seemed so nonchalant about going away was making it even harder for me to accept it. Why couldn’t he just say that he would miss me? Why was that too hard?
Most of the food had disappeared by then. Asif and Riya, the die-hard BBT fans, were playing rock paper scissors lizard spock. Aarnav’s eyes were closed again and he seemed to be lost in a world of his own. Nayan yawned pointedly and checked his watch “It’s getting dark, I think we should head to Nina’s place for dinner.” Everyone mumbled in agreement. Nina had a lot of fun plans for the night. It was going to be the last time we would all be together before the new semester started.
Everyone got up, gathered their stuff and started walking towards the car, which was parked near the road. I looked around and saw that we had left a mess behind. As usual, nobody seemed to bother cleaning it up. I kneeled down and started collecting all the trash and stuffing it into a cover. It was our spot after all.
Drishti seemed to be describing something about her modern art project to the others. I could hear her voice become faint as they walked farther away.
When I was done cleaning up the mess, I got up and picked up my bag. As I slung it on my shoulder, I saw Arnav standing behind, tucking his earphones into his pocket. I thought he had left with the others! He slowly walked towards me. His expression was calm and peaceful. Didn’t it hurt at all to leave? I looked away, silently pleading him to say something. He came closer and gently took my hand and gave it a slight tug, prodding me to start walking. By then, the rest of them had disappeared behind the dense expanse of trees.
He did not say anything, I did not say anything. We just walked on, having a conversation of unsaid things.
When we reached the car, he just let go, looked at me and nodded.
As I got in, Riya looked at me strangely and said "Why are you smiling?"
I just shrugged-"Oh...its nothing! By the way, is it possible the weather became more beautiful since we got here?”