"Hi, we are going to party at the Club at 11pm tonight. Haven’t met you for a very long time. Join us if you are free." A message flashed on Ruhani’s mobile.
Ruhani was busy typing a proposal on her laptop when the notification sound of the phone distracted her. Instantly her gaze went towards the table clock kept in front. It was seven in the evening. She had been sitting in that same position for last four hours now! She knew there was a lot pending to be finished, however the notification light of the phone was constantly disturbing her concentration. She picked up the phone and opened that message. The message was from Tracy, her best friend and the closest confidant.
For the next few seconds, Ruhani kept staring at the screen. It had been more than six months that she had gone out to any party with her friends. For the last few years her hectic work life had been keeping her occupied most of the time. But like a loyal friend, Tracy would always send her the invitation for any party she might be going.
With a sigh Ruhani lifted her gaze towards the view in front. She was running out of time but the view was too mesmerising to just not admire it for a few moments. Given a chance she could have spent hours looking at that sight - the Sun setting against the vast ocean horizon. The skyline was a shade of crimson red. A flock of birds were flying homewards. Everything looked so serene and peaceful. Except the road below her building!
Not able to resist any further, holding the mobile in her hand Ruhani got up and walked to the corner of the room. Through the glass partition the city was visible in full glory. From her office on the top floor of a 30-floor high rise she could see the crowd building up on the road below. It was a Friday evening and the whole town seemed to be in a festive mood. Ruhani’s office was in one of the most happening parts of the town and it was like a party destination for the rich and the famous people. Standing there she could see all types of fancy cars stopping on that road and well-groomed young boys and girls coming out of those cars to go on their club hopping journey for the night. Not that Ruhani was unacquainted to such parties. There was a time not so long ago when she was the toast of the town. She was that rich spoiled kid who was to be found at every event worth mentioning. But today it was all different. After college, she had spent the last few years growing her father’s business empire and on most of her weekends she would be tied up with one work or the other.
Ruhani kept thinking. She knew that she was feeling tired of her hectic life and needed a break. “See you at 11.” She impulsively replied to Tracy and went back to finish her work.
Couple of hours later Ruhani was out partying with Tracy and her girls’ gang. All the girls were of similar age group and Ruhani knew most of them through her college days or other social gatherings. After making rounds of a few prominent clubs, they all finally decided to settle down in the bar room of a luxury hotel remembering and talking about the good old times of their college days. In contrast to the loud music at various clubs, the mood at this place was sombre. In that romantic ambiance with dim lights and soft music playing in the background, Ruhani was feeling better after a long time and was glad that she accepted Tracy’s proposal to come out and party.
After a few more rounds of drink, all the girls were feeling a little high and that is when they started playing truth or dare. It was now Ruhani’s turn and Tracy caught her off guard with a truth question.
“There is a rumour floating about you in our college group. Is the rumour true that you slept with one of our college friends?” Tracy asked.
Ruhani smiled. Tracy was her best friend and was aware of most of her secrets but this one Ruhani had not told anyone. But that happened five years ago!
“What is my dare option?” Ruhani asked back.
“Don’t cheat. I know you well. You will try to weasel out of this situation but we are not letting you go.” Tracy winked looking at the other girls sitting with them. All of them burst out laughing.
“Your dare option is that you go and kiss that bellboy.” Megha, one of the group member, gave a wicked smile pointing towards a young bell boy standing at the entrance.
Ruhani knew that it was not an option as the hotel where they were partying was owned by a family friend and any such stunt on her part would be reported to her parents. She knew she could not take that chance to infuriate them. She was the only child and heir apparent of the textile baron of the town. Any bad publicity would have impacted their companies' share performance. She had not been an easy child and had been warned by her parents for any negative publicity which her action could bring for their company. Once she had started working with her father, Ruhani had tried her best to stay away from all publicity.
“All right. I will answer the question. Yes, the rumour is correct.” Ruhani gave a forced smile.
“Oh My God! You never accepted this before. Tell us who he is?” Fatima, another member of the gang, in her excitement almost spilled the drink she was holding in her hand.
“Sorry. That is the second question. It’s not as per the rule of the game.” Now it was Ruhani’s turn to wink. For a moment, there was a tinge of sadness on her face which she quickly wiped off with a fake smile.
But that moment was enough for Tracy to see that sadness. She had known Ruhani since their childhood. Tracy did not push Ruhani further to get an answer to Fatima’s question and quickly diverted the game to the next person in line.
After next few hours and many more rounds of drinks, the other girls left. Now it was only Tracy and Ruhani who were sitting there. That is when Tracy asked, “Now spill the beans.”
“You know what I am asking about? Who is the guy and what happened on that night? I like a stupid always felt that it is just a rumour and never asked you thinking it might embarrass you. But I need all the updates today.”
Ruhani kept looking at Tracy for some time. She knew Tracy was not going to let her go so easily. It was just that she also needed to offload the burden of holding that secret. Tracy’s question had opened that little memory box which she had buried deep within her heart. There was something about that night which she could never realise but would make her uneasy whenever she would think about it. She could vaguely remember that night but the impressions of the next morning were vividly stamped on her memory forever. It was something about his eyes. She could never forget them.
“It was Richard.”
“Richard Fernandes.” Tracy asked with a raised eyebrow. From her expression it was evident that she knew that guy.
Ruhani just nodded affirmatively.
“It was the last day of our college. We all had gone out partying at Karan’s farm house. I do not remember all the details of that night. In fact, there was nothing special about that night. By the time the party got over and everyone left, we both were heavily drunk and one thing led to another and we landed in a one-night stand.” Ruhani paused thinking of the past.
“You were with Richard that night?” Tracy asked with a quivering voice. There was something she wanted to say but could not.
“Honestly, I am not sure if I can give you any more details of the night.” Ruhani chuckled looking at Tracy. “But I can tell you that the next day when I got up early in the morning, he was still in bed. I had a flight to catch in the afternoon to leave for my further studies in the US. I quietly tried to get dressed up. I was about to leave when I saw his reflection in the mirror looking towards me. I turned back and smiled at him. He was constantly smiling looking at me. I had heard in college that he had a crush on me. At that moment, I do not know what it was but there was something in his eyes which made me wish that if he liked me and asked me to stay back, I would.”
“Hold on. You are saying Richard was there with you the next morning after Karan's party.” Tracy’s face was turning pale with each passing moment.
“Of course, that’s what I am saying. Richard was there with me the next morning after Karan's party. Do you want to hear what happened then or not?” Ruhani was irritated with this constant interruption from Tracy. “Also, since I have told you about Richard, I want to ask you something.”
“We need to go home.” Tracy got up hurriedly from her seat. She was shivering standing in her place.
“What happened? Are you feeling all right?” Ruhani got worried for Tracy.
“Yes. I am. Need to urgently go back home.”
“Ok. Let us go.” Ruhani was surprised by Tracy’s abrupt behaviour. She was also slightly disappointed as she was expecting some response from Tracy for her dilemma.
Next day morning, Ruhani was still in her bed when the doorbell rang.
It was Tracy.
A few minutes later, Ruhani brought two cups of coffee and settled down comfortably on the couch in the living room and asked, “What happened to you last night?”. She was still recovering from the hangover of the previous night but was also relieved to see Tracy hail and hearty.
“Ruhani, I want to know everything about you and Richard. What happened on that morning?” Ignoring the coffee brought by Ruhani, Tracy kept pacing in a corner of the room. She was trying her best to keep calm but there was an uneasiness evident on her face.
“Oh, now I understand. Yesterday you were too drunk and did not want to miss any part of the story and hence decided to leave. And today morning rather than checking how I was feeling about such a huge hangover, you want me to tell you about my relationship status.” Ruhani chuckled, pushing the coffee mug towards Tracy.
“Relationship status? What are you talking about? I just want to hear that you lied about that morning with Richard.” Tracy was not able to control her emotions now.
“What happened to you Tracy? I want to tell you about my relationship but not like this. I thought you would be happy for me. In fact, I want your advice about how to take this relationship ahead. I had been waiting for a long time and now I want to take this to the next level.”
“What are you talking about, Ruhani? I beg of you, please don’t joke.” Tracy was in tears.
“Why will I joke about such a serious matter? Ok do not get angry. I will tell you everything. You sit down.” Ruhani was not able to understand Tracy’s emotional outburst and to not upset her any further, quickly continued with telling her memory of that morning.
“Next morning, I saw his reflection in the mirror, he was smiling at me. You should have seen the blushes on my cheek. Somewhere deep down I also had a soft corner for Richard. It is just that we both loved our freedom or it was rebellion of the age but we never confessed to each other. But that day it was all different. We were out of college and we had shared a bed. Now there was no boundary between us. I was still getting dressed up when he got up from the bed and gently walked up to me. He kissed me on my neck. I was trembling with his touch. How I wished that he confessed to me then? At that moment, I would have left the entire world and gone with him anywhere he would have asked me to. But then something unexpected happened. Rather than asking me to stay back, Richard pulled me closer to his chest, kissed me on my cheek and said, “I must go now. Need to find my way. But I will be back one day soon. If you like me, do wait for me. I wish and hope that you will wait for me.” Ruhani paused for a moment before continuing, “The love in his eyes was evident so I thought that he wanted to settle first in his life before proposing to me. Respecting his decision, I simply nodded and told him that I would wait for him. Same day in the afternoon, I left for the US to pursue my master's degree. After that day, I keep getting occasional messages from him asking about my well-being. But there never is any message about our relationship. Whenever I pull that topic, he would not revert. I am now tired of waiting and was thinking of asking him directly. What do you say?”
“Richard. Who else? Are you even listening to what I am saying?” Ruhani was getting impatient with Tracy’s behaviour.
“Enough of your jokes, Ruhani. How will you ask Richard today when Richard was dead on the night of Karan’s party?” Tracy almost howled with tears running down her cheek.
“Tracy, I don’t know what you are trying to do but if for any reason you don’t like our relationship, you may stay away but please don’t talk like that about Richard. He is very much alive and is in touch with me through messages.” Ruhani lost her calm with Tracy’s outburst.
“Is he? Then what is this?” Saying this, Tracy pulled out her phone and opened a news article of five years ago.
"The young scion of the Fernandes family died in a drunk and drive accident.” The headline was screaming.
Ruhani was left dumb stuck for a moment. She quickly scanned the full article. In the early hours of that morning, Richard’s car had hit a divider at full speed and he had died on the spot along with another friend of his.
“I don’t believe this. He is very much alive.” Ruhani was on the verge of tears now.
“Come with me.” Tracy got up and pulled Ruhani holding her hand.
Without saying anything further Ruhani walked out of her house in night dress and got in her car with Tracy on the driver’s seat of the vehicle.
After driving for next few hours, Tracy stopped the car in front of a Graveyard.
“He is here. Right?” Ruhani could not muster the courage to look beyond the gate. The environment around that place looked and sounded eerie. She could only see a few tombstones placed at the entrance. The rest of the place was covered in darkness.
“Yes.” Tracy sympathetically wrapped her hand around her friend. She could not see Ruhani in so much pain. “I was there at his funeral. No one was aware of that day and from where was he coming when he met with the accident. Everyone assumed that after Karan’s party, Richard went to some other party and was coming back when his car hit the road divider. He died on the spot.”
“I still can’t believe this.” Ruhani was in denial.
“Come with me.” Tracy got down from the car and took Ruhani inside the graveyard. There was an eerie silence all around with no sight of any other living soul. Holding Ruhani’s hand, she kept walking till they reached that specific grave and stopped. They were standing now in front of a grave on which Richard’s name was inscribed.
On seeing that name, Ruhani’s legs started trembling. She would have fallen on the ground if Tracy would not have held her. “I don’t understand this.” Ruhani was not able to control herself. She was sobbing uncontrollably.
It was then as if in a flash some further memories of that fateful night started flooding her. Early in the morning Richard had received a call and had got up to leave. When she had asked him to stay, he had replied that he had to drop a friend back home and that he would be back in a few hours. Ruhani had kissed him good night and gone back to sleep. Richard had gone out and was back in the next few hours. Once he was back until next morning, both were cuddled in bed and sleeping together till Ruhani woke up to leave!
“Maybe you were too drunk and it was not Richard but someone else with you that day.” Tracy tried to find a justification.
“No, we are talking about the next morning when the hangover was gone. I remember everything very clearly. It was Richard only. And how do you justify the messages which I have been getting.”
“Show me your phone. It may be an imposter. I have Richard’s number from the college days.” Saying this, Tracy dialled Richard’s old mobile number. “See the announcement on the call says that this number is not valid. Show me the messages.”
“How is that possible? If Richard was dead that night, then how could he be with me the next day morning? I might have been too drunk on that night but the next morning I was completely sober and I would not have made that mistake in identifying the person who was there with me in bed. It was definitely Richard.” Ruhani was too frozen to say anything further. She quietly opened the mobile lock and passed on her phone.
Tracy could see that in the message list there were messages from Richard. “Let us check the number from which you are getting these messages. We can call him and find out who this imposter is.” Saying this she opened the contact list. It was blank. There was no number saved against Richard’s name!
“How is this possible? How are you getting any messages without any phone number marked against that name?” She was wondering when she saw a typing indicator appearing in the mobile against Richard’s name. The person on the other side was typing a message!
“Who is this person?” Tracy wondered.
It was not long before the message appeared on the mobile. Tracy read that message and her voice choked with fear. With trembling hands, she passed on the mobile phone to Ruhani.
Ruhani also read the message and went blank.
The message read, “Hi Ruhani, it’s been some time since you have been waiting for my proposal. I had been tied up with settling here. But all is well now. I believe you have also told your friend about me and known my truth as well. Now is the time for us to get together and forever be together in my new world. I will be coming to you in the next few days. After that we will be together forever. Your love, Richard.”
Issue 103 (May-Jun 2022)