‘Bhairavi’ by Madhumita Prabhakar

Short Story ID- 15/2015

Dear Diary,

I went to school today only by noon because we celebrated Thatha’s Sadabishekam in the morning. I must say, a morning well spent rekindling childhood days with my cousins and eating many, many sweets and savouries. But that’s not what I’m here to write about. And guess what happened? As I entered the school gates, the first thing I noticed was him leaning against the second floor corridor, dressed in whites, our Friday uniform. He seems to have gotten a funny haircut, something like a military cut. But he still looks oh so good! I couldn’t help but stand there and smile all to myself like a fool. What IS this feeling? I don’t get it. Lately, every time I cross him in the corridor, my heart starts racing…I start stuttering…I go weak in my knees. Sometimes, when he is playing with the other boys in the playground, I find myself staring at him unabashedly. I can’t stop thinking about him. All I want to do is talk about him; the way he smiles, the way he talks, the way he behaves around his friends and so much more. Strangely, this kind of yearning feels good. Is this love? Or just an infatuation?

“Bhairavi, why aren’t you asleep yet? It’s 10’ O clock already. It’s school week.”

“Yes Amma, I’ll sleep in a few minutes,” she responded, shifting nervously in her seat.

“Are you okay? Your face is red,” asked her mother, with a concerned look.

“Yes yes,” she gushed, “I…I was…I was just laughing hard at some joke my friend had cracked at school today,” she managed a chuckle.

“I hope you aren’t up to something I won’t want to hear,” she warned suspiciously.

“No Amma! Don’t jump to conclusions, okay?” Bhairavi snapped.

As the doors closed behind her, she shut her book and gazed outside her window. A chill breeze dexterously made its way through the huge mango tree outside her room and ruffled a few strands of her long brown hair. She closed her eyes, raised her chin a little and hummed a song that became her new favourite these days.

This must be an illusion

I know this can’t be real

But right here and right now

This is paradise I feel

Here she was, 15, chubby, short and fanatical about a boy most girls in school would kill to date. He was a charmer, of course. A smooth talker. At most times, he would be found in conversation with a pretty girl or accompanied by one, either one he dated or one he befriended. If that wasn’t enough, he also was a school topper. Now why would he, the school’s heart throb, date a plain Jane like her?

Why won’t he? Unlike those other women he dates, you’re smart, good at heart and don’t look all that bad really, retorted her alter ego.

She heaved a long sigh. Then, turning her back to the window, she let out a shy smile and tucked herself under the sheets. She was looking forward to go to school the next day. In fact, suddenly everything around her seemed so happy, so joyful.

***

“Your lunch is set on the table. Have it when it’s hot,” came her mother’s voice from the kitchen.

Dressed in plaid kurta and pyjama with a dupatta pinned across her chest, Bhairavi stood undecidedly in front of the full length mirror, examining herself from head to toe. Maybe I should go on a diet from tomorrow, she mumbled. Then, slipping her long, plaited hair from one side to another, she added, maybe I should try a different hairstyle too, something that won’t make my face seem too big. Then, leaning closer to the mirror, she ran her slender white fingers across her plain face.

“We seem to have put in some extra effort to dress up today. What’s the occasion?” remarked her Father. Bhairavi jumped at the sound. She was so engrossed in admiring herself that she hadn’t noticed him appear beside her.

“Well…umm…the photographer is coming today to take our class photo. So I thought I’d dress up,” she said and hurriedly dashed out of the room before she would be enquired any further.

It was true though. Bhairavi had just six months left before she would graduate from school and enter University, and the school had organised for a photographer to click the batch’s photograph. In fact, every time she thought about it, she felt her gut slip down a notch. Lately, a little more so because she realised she couldn’t see him every day, like she did now.

As she stepped out of home, the skies turned a dull grey.

That day, even the strictest of teachers couldn’t manage the classroom and the loudest of teachers couldn’t be heard over the thunder and gush of showers. The day was so laid-back and frenzied that at the slightest of opportunity, the students would run out of the classroom and lean against the corridor, some putting out their faces to let the raindrops slide down their cheek, and some stretching their hands out to collect the raindrops in their palms. It was chaotic. At every few feet, there were groups of students huddled together, conversing in animated tones. In one corner of the corridor, so was Bhairavi engaged in a deep conversation with her friends. But not for long; somewhere along the way, she stopped listening to the story of her friend’s cycle brakes failing and turned her attention towards a boy. It was him, standing alone, staring at the empty grounds in front of him. She had a momentary urge to walk up to him and strike a conversation. But her legs failed her. She couldn’t move. She didn’t know how long she stood there, looking at him.

“Are you listening?” One of her friends tugged at her kurta, shaking her off from her reverie.

“Yes…yes I am!” said Bhairavi, with a half smile. By the time she could turn a second time towards where he stood earlier, he was gone.

***

“You’ve been awfully distracted lately. What’s happening?” asked her friend, as she and Bhairavi were cycling back home that evening.

“You do? Nothing is happening. I’m fine really,” muttered Bhairavi.

“You know you can’t lie to me. Let me get to the point. Do you like him?”

“Who?”

“You know who I’m talking about…”

Bhairavi desperately tried to look indifferent about the pointed question, but she gave in almost immediately.

“I don’t know what’s happening to me! I find myself thinking about him all too often nowadays. And it pains to know that I can’t see him in a few months!” she blurted out in a hurry.

Her friend gave a mischievous smile. “I think someone’s in love.”

“Oh come on! Don’t make fun of me!”

“I’m serious. Why don’t you go tell him how you feel about him?” asked her friend.

At first, it seemed incredulous to Bhairavi. She argued until they reached home. But that night, she began to see reason in that idea.

***

“Do it. Do it now!”

“Okay, okay I will…,” she said hesitantly.

Bhairavi pressed the receiver to her ears and twirled the phone’s cable in her fingers tensely. A few rings. Then, a voice.

***

Bhairavi couldn’t believe what she had just done. Her heart was pounding. As minutes passed, she began feeling ever more foolish about this little episode.

“You did the right thing! You called him and asked if he would meet you. Now all you have to do is tell him what you think!” encouraged her friend.

“What do I wear? Should I write down what I want to say? What if he dismisses it? What if he laughs about it?”

Her friend placed her hand on Bhairavi’s and embraced her. “You’ll be fine,” she murmured.

***

It was a perfect evening. Well, almost perfect, had his friend not invited himself to the coffee shop for a chat. Bhairavi wore the best dress she could find in her wardrobe; a plain yellow cotton kurta and white pyjama. She adorned it with a thin gold chain that she was made to wear as soon as she hit puberty, a watch she borrowed from her mother, some strawberry lip balm that her mother bought for her after being begged at the store last week and a small, round bindi. She couldn’t change much of her hairstyle though, for had she let it loose she would be party to a sound hearing from her mother the next day while she untangles her knots.

“Let’s go out for a walk?” he suggested, after making small talk with his friend.

“Yes,” whispered Bhairavi, tickled by the thought.

A few feet off the main road, they had walked into a quiet residential colony, one that was surrounded by tall trees on either side. There was a slight drizzle that evening, leaving the roads mildly wet and nearly empty. At that hour, the only sounds that emerged were from the leaves swaying against the wind, the crows perched on the trees and the plop of their footsteps in puddles. For long, they walked in silence. Neither of them said a word to each other. He was pushing his cycle along and walking, while she clung to her wallet and walked nervously, a little behind him. A while later, it was he who first cut the ice.

“So, how are you?” he asked softly.

She looked up at him, as though she were seeing him for the very first time. With bated breath, she said, “Good…good.” She noticed that his eyes were coffee brown; intense yet deeply comforting. He had worn a light green T-shirt which made his arms seem muscular. She moved a little closer to him, just enough for their hands to brush against each others’. To her surprise, he gently twirled hers into his and held it firmly.

She held her breath. Tell him now Bhairavi, said a voice in her head.

“I…I called you because I wanted to tell you something…something important.”

He remained quiet.

“I don’t know if you are in the same place as I am. I don’t even know how you will take it. But I must tell you, I think I’m in love with you. And…and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”

Bhairavi continued to walk as she spoke these words, too afraid to even look up. Suddenly, he stopped on his tracks. There was an impish grin along one corner of his mouth.

“What if I said I don’t feel the same way?” he asked teasingly.

Her heart sank for a moment. “Oh,” she uttered, “I…I leave it to you,” she added bravely, while in her mind she desperately wished she weren’t there to hear those words.

He remained quiet again for a few seconds. Then, he pulled her closer to him, wrapped his arms around her waist and whispered in her ears, “I do too, Bhairavi. I love you.” She let out a half sigh and a half laugh. She sank in his arms. Then, she looked up at him and frowned, “You scared me for a minute there!”

He chuckled. “I was just playing with you. I wanted to see how you would react!”

After that, for what seemed like hours, they held each others’ hands, talked and laughed, blissfully unaware of the sun setting behind the skies and the street lights shimmering on the roads.

In a matter of time, their lives changed completely.

They had many first kisses; under the sun, in pouring rain, behind the fishermen’s’ boats at the beach, in the quiet corner of a coffee shop, at home, everywhere. They celebrated their birthdays together, gifted each other cards expressing their love, walked endlessly across vast stretches of roads holding each others’ hands, and built castles in the air; about life, staying in the same city after school, spending an entire lifetime in each others’ company, travelling the world, building a family of their own, growing old together and so much more.

I never thought I’d find someone to move me

Someone who could see right through me

You find your way into my head

Where even angels fear to tread

Even at school, in no time they turned from the unlikely couple to the most ideal one. One could almost hear people say, “I never imagined he would change so much” or “I don’t recognise him at all!” or “Not in my wildest dreams did I think he would date her! Have you seen how she looks?” And the two wouldn’t care, for they had each others’ company and that seemed more than enough for them to sail through life like it were crafted just for them.

***

“Mrs. Sampath, it’s time.”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” said Bhairavi, without looking up. She sat still for a moment. Then, she got up from her seat and slowly ambled across the carpet towards the full-length mirror in one corner of the room.

She was wearing a knee-length tailored outfit in beige, which was coupled with a white pearl set. It accentuated her tall, stately figure. Her hair was still long and brown, except now it was blow-dried to perfection with the loose ends of her locks falling in tender curves gently against her back. She leaned closer to the mirror, running her fair, slender, manicured fingers across the length of her face; the mascara made her eyelashes curve towards her brows, her lips glimmered against the light in the room and her cheekbones were highlighted to precision. She looked herself in the eye. Her eyes, though radiant on the periphery, they showed nothing, nothing but vast depths of emptiness.

There was a gentle knock on the door. She immediately turned away and walked out of the door, with the sound from her stilettos trailing behind her.

“Please sign here,” said the lawyer.

As she did, he scanned her from head to toe. How did such a stunning and successful woman like her live with that average man for so long? And they claim to have been together since school, he grunted.

She handed the papers to him and stood up. “Thank you, Mrs. Sampath,” he said, with a sheepish smile.

“I’m just Bhairavi now, you can call me Ms. Bhairavi,” she said in a cold voice and showed him the door.

As she turned away, her eyes fell on the multitude of certificates, medals and news clippings that occupied her living room, each one praising her for her uniqueness, her talent and her ability. Amidst these, on a small teakwood table stood a small frame with a picture of a handsome man and an ordinary looking woman. She was much, much younger, and her eyes spoke of dreams, dreams that she harboured since she was a child, but one she didn’t know would change her life entirely.

This must be an illusion

I know this can’t be real

But right here and right now

This is paradise I feel

She broke down where she stood.

Glossary:

Thatha – Grandfather

Sadabishekam – A function that is celebrated by a couple and their family, when the man turns 80.

Amma – Mother

Kurta – A long, knee-length dress coupled with a trouser.

Pyjama – A trouser usually worn beneath a kurta.

Bindi – A decorative mark worn in the middle of the forehead by Indian women

Madhumita Prabhakar

Author’s Bio: Madhumita Prabhakar lives in Chennai, India and has been working in the media and publishing industry for the last five years. Currently, she works as a senior correspondent at a pan-India entrepreneurship magazine called The Smart CEO, and simultaneously freelances with several South-based retail and lifestyle-based magazines. She is passionate about creative, short story writing, blogs regularly on Medium and her short stories have been published earlier in online magazines such as eFiction India.

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