Chapter Twenty Two
Neil felt like he was hit with a ton of bricks with that response from Alisha. He was momentarily stunned and did not know what to say.
“Did you not hear me? I asked you to leave!” Alisha exclaimed.
“Umm… Alisha. Why are you talking like that? I thought we are friends?” Neil almost whispered.
He had never imagined in his wildest dreams that Alisha would react like that. He was expecting that charming dimpled smile of hers that lit up her entire face and also managed to dissipate all his worries as well.
He looked at her in anticipation waiting for some explanation for her blunt response. But he did not get any. She was engrossed in that magazine of hers. Neil couldn’t take this stand offish behavior of hers anymore, so he went towards her and snatched the magazine from her hands.
“What the hell, Neil? Which part of ‘I don’t want to talk you right now’, you don’t understand?”
Neil sighed in exasperation before he said, “Stop acting like a child, Alisha. And talk to me, for God’s sake!” He almost yelled.
Alisha turned to face towards the window, and took in the view. The sun was low across the horizon, about to set in some time, casting an orange-ish hue across the sky. She took a few deep breaths before facing Neil again.
“Neil please. I’ll talk to you when I’m ready. Just not now. Please understand and leave from here.”
“You heard her, Neil.” Minnie stepped in and spoke to Neil. “It’s better if you leave her alone for now.”
Neil raised his hands in surrender and turned towards the door to leave. Just as he was about to walk out, Alisha said, “I’ll text you when I’m ready to talk.”
Neil turned to look at her and gave a subtle nod and said, “I’ll be waiting eagerly for that text of yours.” With that he turned and left.
Alisha sighed in relief and was grateful to Minnie who stepped in just at the right moment.
“Thanks.” She said, looking at Minnie. “I was so shocked at his presence here. And then I was so angry at him that I feared I would say something that I would regret later!”
“Well, he had come in the morning too. But I managed to send him away.”
“What? He had come in the morning? Why didn’t you warn me about his arrival? I would have been better prepared.” She said in an accusing tone.
“Everything in your life will not go as planned, Alisha. I thought you had learnt this long back. You need to face your problems head-on and not bolt in the opposite direction.” Minnie said softly.
“I know, Minnie, I know. But, not right now. I’ll meet him once I feel a little better.” She said and closed her eyes.
She opened her eyes a while later and found that she had slept for a good hour. Tarun and Diya were sitting on the chairs near her bed. Alisha tried to get up, but Diya stopped her.
“Relax, we were just leaving. You looked so peaceful in your sleep that we didn’t have the heart to wake you up.” Diya said smiling at her.
“Err...Thanks a lot. But, I’m much better now and you guys really don’t have to come every day.” Alisha said looking sheepish.
“Oh, but we love to see you. Don’t you dare talk like that!” Tarun joked. “Besides, it’s just a day or two more, then you would be back in the sanctity of your home.” He said.
Just then, the security came to ask them to leave as the visiting hours were over. Both her friends said their good byes and left.
She was grateful for the lovely people she had in her life.
The sun had long set and she could see the night sky with the twinkling stars from the window of her room. She sighed and laid back on the bed thinking about the past few months. Strange that this was the second time she found herself in the hospital in the last six months.
She couldn’t remember what happened that night when she had gotten up to drink water. All she remembered was an excruciating pain that had rattled her to the core.
In the following days, she only found herself drifting in and out of consciousness and vaguely remembered her parents, Aditi maasi and Minnie sitting beside her. It was just two days before when she felt fully awake and found herself in a private room facing the other side of the building. She distinctly remembered the first thing that she asked her mom.
“Mom, where am I?” she had asked.
When her mom had said that she was in this hospital, her next question was, “Is there any room vacant facing the sea? If yes, please shift me there. I’m feeling suffocated in here.” She had pleaded.
The next morning she had found herself here and she was in a happy mood ever since. The sea was cathartic for her. Her mood instantly lifted at the view from her room. Although she still felt considerably weak, she knew it was just a matter of time till she regained her full strength. And the impending conversation with Neil could wait until then.
The next morning she was discharged, much to her surprise as she was not expecting to go home so soon.
“You just need lots of rest and good nutrition and I’m sure you’ll bounce back in no time.” Her doctor had said.
Alisha was really relieved to be back home. She was a little nervous too, as she did not want to bump in to Neil, under current circumstances. But she had no choice. She had to go for one final checkup seven days later and after that she would be free to go out of the city.
The next seven days passed really slowly. Alisha had nothing to do. She was feeling better and was regaining her strength with each passing day, but the lack of physical and mental stimulation had her in a sour mood. Her mom had confiscated her laptop saying that she wouldn’t be reading anything related to academics for some time. She felt like she was under house arrest. Only allowed to use the bathroom and the balcony. She was served food on the bed and was given gossip magazines to read.
She felt good at the royal treatment she was receiving for the first two days. After that she was bored to hell. She wasn’t interested at all in knowing who was dating whom and who signed what film or who was wearing what during what function.
She wanted to go out for a walk desperately. And she knew of only one person who could convince her mom to let her go out. So, she texted that person.
Exactly an hour later, she found herself in the jogging track that her society had, walking slowly with her partner in crime.
“I’m in awe of you Minnie. I really wonder how you managed to convince mom to let me go out.”
“Very simple.” Minnie shrugged. “I just told her that if you did not get some fresh air, you were contemplating jumping out of the balcony!”
“What? Oh my God! You seriously said that?” Alisha couldn’t believe that her cousin had managed to fool her mom about her impending suicide. “And mom believed you? If I told her that I was going to jump out, she would have laughed on my face. She very well knows what a chicken I am!” Alisha said in a surprised tone.
Minnie chucked at that and said, “Huh… She would have laughed at me too, had I said that. But I modified it a bit.”
Alisha gave her a questioning look, to which Minnie continued further, “I told her that I have hired a scaffolding and the guy is on his way here. In case you are not out before he comes, I’ll put the scaffolding up to your balcony and you would be climbing down from there! And maasi very well knows that I’m absolutely capable of doing that. So, she agreed.” Minnie said proudly.
Alisha burst out laughing at that, but had to stop as she felt a slight stretching at the operation site.
“Hey, you alright?” Minnie asked with concern in her voice.
“Yeah. I’m fine. Can’t laugh a lot.” Alisha said softly.
Then, she gave a bright smile to Minnie and said, “Tomorrow, this dressing will be out and so will I.”
“Yes, that’s a good thing actually. It was my mom’s idea. It will be a good break for you too.” Minnie shrugged.
“You are free to come there, you know. It’s your house after all.” Alisha winked as she said that.
“Of course I’m going to be coming to my bungalow in Lonavala almost every other day to meet you and start preparing for my wedding.” Minnie said in a single breath.
Alisha couldn’t believe what she heard. “What? Come again?”
“You heard it right!” Minnie giggled.
“How and when did this happen?” Alisha asked.
Minnie stepped ahead of Alisha and turned around to face Alisha. She then started walking in the reverse direction while talking to Alisha. “Just yesterday. I was planning to come and give you the good news when you texted me.”
“That’s amazing. I’m really happy for you.” Alisha blinked back tears from her eyes.
They both sat on a nearby bench that was just in the vicinity of the play area for kids. They could see the kids bouncing on the see-saw and enjoying the swings and the slides.
“I was overjoyed too! Siddharth is coming back early, so we thought why wait until June. So, we decided to get married on Valentine’s Day!”
“Oh God, Minnie! That’s not even two months from now.” Alisha exclaimed.
“I know. But we are not very keen on a lavish wedding. We are going to keep it simple. And I’m going to need your help and of course maasi’s too.”
“So then, we shouldn’t be going to Lonavala. It would be easier to plan things from here, right?” Alisha said facing Minnie.
“No Alisha. You are not going there forever. It’s just for a month or so. And mom and I plan to camp with you guys every weekend. We’ll have a blast!”
Alisha shared her cousin’s enthusiasm and they both fist bumped each other. After that, they left to go back to their respective homes. Alisha felt refreshed after the impromptu break she just had.
As she entered the lobby, she bumped into Neil. All the color drained from her face. But she knew that she couldn’t avoid him any longer. The sooner she spoke to him, the better it would be for both of them.
Neil smiled at her and she chose to return the gesture. As he walked towards her, she said, “Let’s go out and talk.”
They walked in silence to the same bench which Minnie and she had just vacated and as they sat, Neil asked, “How are you Alisha?”
“I’m much better, Neil. What about you?”
“Yeah. Not very good. But life goes on.” He said. “I really want to know why you are avoiding me Alisha. I thought we are really good friends.” He said sincerely.
Alisha was astounded by the sincerity in his eyes and voice. “That is what I’m angry about Neil. I don’t want to be just friends with you. I want so much more. And after that kiss…”
“That kiss was a mistake Alisha. I don’t know what possessed me to do that… But I’m really sorry about that. You looked so vulnerable that day and I just couldn’t stop myself.” He interrupted.
“But it wasn’t a mistake for me Neil. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.”
“Alisha, but you know that I’m not ready for commitment right now. My career is more important. Please try to understand. You are a wonderful woman.” Neil said softly.
“I know that your career is more important than anything else. But I can’t do this anymore Neil. It’s killing me.”
“What you can’t do anymore?” He asked.
Alisha gestured between the two of them and said, “This. You and me. I can’t pretend to be just friends with you any longer when I want so much more. Hell, I don’t even know whether I’m your type of girl or no, but one thing I know for sure is, if I stay in your company any longer, I’m going to fall in love with you.”
Neil was stunned at her confession and was speechless.
“Let me rephrase that a little. I’m already falling in love with you, and I know I can still save myself before I become too deeply invested in this one sided love.”
Neil was still silent.
“I know that this comes as a shock to you, but believe me Neil, I really liked you right from the very first day when I met you. You were like a breath of fresh air for me in my otherwise boring routine. And when you considered me as your friend, I was over the moon! A good relationship always starts with a good friendship and I was positive that may be someday you would realize that you like me too, much more than just a friend. But I guess I was wrong.” Alisha stood up to leave.
“Alisha, please don’t do this.” Neil pleaded.
“No Neil. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about me. It’s about guarding my heart as well.” Alisha felt really angry at him. Why was he so adamant about their friendship? She failed to understand. And he wasn’t even saying anything. He could at least say that he would try to give their relationship a chance. But no. He’s just sitting as still as a statue. As she had this internal debate with herself, she said, “I really cannot do this anymore. I cannot be just friends with you. It’s like an ‘all or none’ phenomenon. Either I get you in my life as my lover or I don’t want you in my life at all, not even as a friend.”
She turned around to start walking back and after a few steps, again halted and walked towards Neil again. She extended her forearm for a handshake as she said, “It was really nice knowing you, Mr. Neil Basu. Wish you all the best for your future.” Neil shook his hands reluctantly with her.
Alisha turned around, wiped off the stray tear that had fallen off from her eyes and then she left.