Neil held her hand before she left as if asking her, ‘what are you up to?’ Alisha just blinked her eyes twice while looking at him and then squeezed his fingers indicating that she knew what she was doing. She also quickly took a few sips of the red wine that Neil was holding. I’ll need this liquid courage, she thought before walking till the stage.
As she walked towards the emcee who was standing on a makeshift podium near the couple, all eyes were on her. A few of them might remember who she was, whereas most of them were clueless about her identity. She stood near the emcee and saw the faces of her target couple. They had paled and were holding hands tightly. It looked like Rohan was pleading her not to say anything that would sabotage their upcoming wedding.
Just then, the emcee said, “I take this as my cue to step down and hand over the mic to this lovely lady.” He smiled at Alisha as he stepped down. Alisha smiled at him too.
She then stepped on the podium, and adjusted the mic. She cleared her throat before saying, “Good evening everyone!” She stopped and looked at her audience for a moment. She spotted Rohan’s parents and a few of his friends whom she had met when they were dating. I doubt they remember me. She mused silently.
She then smiled and continued, “Most of you must be wondering whom am I and what do I have to say about this lovely couple. But believe me, my identity doesn’t matter that much. Nevertheless, I would still like to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Alisha Merchant, an anesthetist by profession and choice.”
She could see admiration for herself in the eyes of a few elderly men and women who she assumed must be the relatives of the couple. She also saw Neil giving her a thumbs up sign, although he was equally clueless. Her heart was hammering in her chest and her palms were sweaty, but she knew she had to continue.
“I’m here before you wonderful people to share a small story about myself. I believed that I was in love with my boyfriend around two years ago. I did everything that I could, along with managing my studies and work, to keep this relationship going. All was well, or that is what I believed. Until one day, I was unceremoniously dumped. No explanation given. I was just told that ‘it’s not working between us anymore.’ And he told me that he was now dating my roommate. I just couldn’t believe it. I never heard from him and my roommate after that.
I never got the chance to know what went wrong, whether we could work out a common solution or no. I was in denial for a long time and was put off by men in general. I found it very difficult to move on as the insults and the humiliation that were thrown at me kept haunting me. I was so irked by the incident that the only thing that mattered to me was my work.
Now you must be all wondering that why am I sharing snippets of my personal life with a bunch of complete strangers? But, believe me, there’s a reason for this.”
She paused and looked at her audience and then at Rohan and Mansi. They were both sitting at the edge of their seats in anticipation. For a moment Alisha felt that she should call out to them and insult them in front of their friends and family. Payback’s a bitch after all. And she was called a bitch by them. But she also did not want to stoop to such low levels. She was going to maintain her dignity.
“With this whole episode I learnt a life lesson. Never to bare your heart out to anyone for it to be trampled and crushed. And I think it’s high time for me to move on and close this chapter of my life permanently. I want to be the bigger person here and I want to forgive them whole heartedly.
Okay, so I really don’t want to bore you guys any more. Just one final thing that I would like to say to this lovely couple out here.” She said gesturing towards Rohan and Mansi. “I forgive you both. Wish you have a happy married life!”
There were collective gasps from the audience and a few even stood up in shock.
Alisha couldn’t stop herself while doing this. She winked at the couple and blew a flying kiss in their direction. Squaring her shoulders and with her head held high, she walked out of the banquet hall towards the lobby. She did not even stop when Neil called out to her.
She stopped when she entered the washroom and released a breath that she was holding. Just then, her phone rang.
“Ma’am, you had booked a taxi? I’m standing near the main gate.”
“Yes, I’ll be there in a minute.” She blinked back the tears and splashed some cold water on her face. After taking a few deep breaths, she left the venue.
Once in the taxi, she heaved a sigh of relief. She finally did what she had wanted to. She patted herself for her presence of mind as well. She had booked a cab just before going on stage. She wasn’t sure of how she herself would react after the little speech that she gave. And she did not have the will power to withstand any more humiliation or insults. She had to rush from the venue as soon as she was done. The cab driver had an impeccable punctuality. And she was proud of herself.
After about an hour, she paid the cab driver outside her building. But, instead of going home, she went towards the sea. She removed a shawl that she had managed to squeeze in her fancy sling bag and she was indeed thankful for that small piece of clothing. It made her a bit less conspicuous on the streets. There were many people around, a few groups of friends, a few couples and a few others who were enjoying their nightly walks. After all, it was just a little over ten pm, and this was the city that never slept.
She sat on the promenade facing the sea and breathed in the salty air. She felt good, like a weight had been lifted off her chest. She felt light and buoyant. What wonders forgiveness can do! She thought. She closed her eyes and found herself relaxing.
She sat staring at the sea for quite some time. When her stomach started rumbling, she realized that she needs to go back home. She was also excited about sharing the details of the little rendezvous that she had, with Minnie. She could only imagine how Minnie would react!
She also felt a little depraved that she had left Neil alone when he had wanted her company for the evening. Sighing, she got up to leave. I have a lot of explaining to do. She thought.
She reached home and was pleasantly surprised to find Neil waiting for her.
“Where have you been?” He asked worriedly. “I have been calling on your phone since when!”
“Umm… just wanted to spend some time by myself. Sorry about the phone though. It was on silent.” She said timidly.
“Great, now that you are back, let’s have dinner. Your place or mine?” He asked. “Wait. I think it’s better we go to your place. You may have to change out of this ensemble. And after that we need to talk!” He said in a gush.
Alisha laughed at his predicament and said, “Relax Neil. I’m not going to go anywhere now. I’m very hungry. Let’s eat something. Then I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. And it’s very sweet of you to get dinner!”
With that she opened the door of her flat and entered inside. After switching on the lights, she flopped down on the sofa. Neil walked in a minute later, carrying two boxes of pizza and some cold drinks.
“Here, take this.” He offered her one and went in to the kitchen to keep the drinks in the fridge.
They enjoyed their dinner in a compatible silence. Each delving into their own thoughts.
“You were great, you know. Back there. I was really stunned for a minute after you left!” Neil explained.
“Frankly Neil, I don’t want to know what happened after I left from the venue.” She said keeping the remaining pizza on the table before her.
“No, you should hear what happened. Wait, are you done with your pizza?”
“Yes, that’s it, I think. Won’t be able to eat more.” She said gesturing towards the leftover pizza.
“I’m done too. I’ll be back with the cold drinks.” Neil got up and took the leftover pizza, kept it on the kitchen table and returned with two bottles of a soft drink. He handed one to Alisha and took a sip from the other.
“So…” He said. “Everyone was really shocked for a few minutes after you left. And they were asking me about you as you were with me. But I was equally clueless.”
“I’m sorry about that. I shouldn’t have left you like that.” Alisha said as she sipped her drink.
“No need to be sorry. Had I known you were going to do something like that, I would have been your personal chauffeur.” He said wiggling his brows.
He looked at her again and said, “That was really brave of you, you know that. And I respect you more now. Which girl would dare to lay her past before a bunch of strangers like that? And you forgive them? Really?”
“Yes, Neil. I do. I have been living with this blanket of self-pity and doubt for two years now. I want to let go of it. I really want to move on. And I can’t do that without closing my past once and for all.”
“I’m really proud of you. Rohan is a foolish guy to let go of you.” Neil said looking into her eyes.
“I don’t know about that. Yes, he has hurt me a lot, but if he is happy with Mansi, then so be it. I’ll be happy for them as well.” She said as she stood up.
“Wait, where are you going?” Neil asked and he stood up as well.
He turned her around to face him, took the bottle from her hand and placed it on the table. He took her hands in his and said, “You are one strong woman. I feel lucky to have you in my life.” He whispered.
Both of them were standing very close to each other and were staring intently in to each other’s eyes.
“I’m lucky too.” Alisha whispered.
Neil pulled her in for a hug and they stayed in each other’s arms for a while. Then, she pulled out of the hug. Neil started to tuck her hair behind her ears, all the while looking into her eyes. Their faces were just a few inches away from each other. He held her face and stepped closer until their bodies were touching.
And then he kissed her.