CASTLE OF SAND
“Sameer, I want to introduce you to my colleagues. When are you going to make time for that?” Snigdha and Sameer were waiting at the airport for Sameer’s friend. His flight had already landed.
Sameer was fidgeting excitedly, while Snigdha stood beside him, trying to get his attention. This morning, Sameer had practically dragged her to the airport. He wanted to introduce her to his best friend. She understood his emotions. She felt good to see him getting along with Romita. Of course, he would want her to have a similar bonding with his best friend as well.
Sameer didn’t even seem to hear her. This irritated her. “Are you ignoring me because of another guy?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mini.” Sameer narrowed his eyes in disgust.
Snigdha pinched him hard. “Why did you even bring me here? Obviously, you just want to be with your best friend.”
Right then the passengers started coming out of the terminal. Sameer strode forward excitedly. Snigdha also went forward and stood by Sameer, clutching his arm. Sameer smiled down at her.
Snigdha returned the smile, resting her head on his shoulder. They both stared ahead.
Sameer cried out suddenly, “Hey, there he is!”
Snigdha looked at where Sameer was pointing. And, in an instant the world stopped. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Sameer was waving out to a tall guy. He had the walk of a rockstar. His attitude was enough to set him apart from the rest. His porcelain white skin was glowing. His tapered, black eyes—that could instantly set the hardest of hearts aflutter—were fixed on Snigdha, full of surprise and incredulity. With each passing second, he came nearer and nearer as Snigdha stood clutching Sameer’s arm.
Sameer extended his hand towards his friend with a huge grin on his face. “I can’t believe you actually made it to my wedding.” He took Sameer’s extended hand and shook it, shock written large on his face. He gave a stilted smile and looked at Snigdha questioningly.
Sameer looked at Snigdha lovingly. “Meet my fiancée, Abir. You both know each other, of course. No need of introductions here.” He grinned at the two of them. “Hey, Mini, didn’t I say you will be thrilled to meet my friend. You were the best dance partners, isn’t it?” Sameer mistook the alarm and disbelief on both their faces for surprise. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Snigdha had not expected this bolt out of the blue. Abir was Sameer’s best friend? Abir came back only after she got engaged to somebody else? Why was life so cruel? Snigdha could see the look of revulsion in Abir’s eyes. She couldn’t understand why Abir was so pissed off though. Did Sameer know about their past? Questions ran amok in her mind.
Snigdha noticed Abir’s ears reddening—always a danger sign. Abir said in a strained voice, “Wow! This is unexpected.” Snigdha could tell Abir was as stumped as she was. Abir was looking pointedly at Snigdha. “So, Sam, why didn’t you tell me you are marrying Snigdha?”
Sameer smiled mischievously. “I wanted to surprise both of you.”
Abir said sarcastically, “Yeah, I’m surprised.” Snigdha could detect the revulsion in Abir’s voice, though of course Sameer couldn’t. No one had ever been able to read Abir the way she could.
Sameer said, “Let’s get going then.”
Abir nodded in agreement and the three of them walked out of the airport. Snigdha had not even noticed when she had let go of Sameer’s arm. She was completely unhinged. What was she supposed to do now, she didn’t know.
Sameer hailed a cab for Abir. When Abir’s luggage was loaded in the cab, Sameer instructed the driver to take Abir to the Sinha house. Abir realised Sameer and Snigdha were not coming with him in the cab. He asked, “You two are going somewhere?”
Sameer looked at Snigdha with a lopsided smile. “I have my bike. We’ll catch you at home.” Abir threw a momentary glance at Snigdha’s stony face and got in the cab with a curt nod.
When Sameer and Snigdha were on their way home, weaving through the traffic, Sameer asked, “Why did you fall silent, Mini?”
Snigdha didn’t know what to say. “Nothing Sameer. I’m just a bit nauseous. I didn’t have a proper breakfast today, I guess.” She was indeed nauseous, but for an entirely different reason. She was terrified of Sameer coming to know the truth, since she had lied that she had never had a past relationship. She never wanted to cheat Sameer in any way; she simply never saw any reason to discuss the murky past with anyone. She couldn’t understand how she should behave with Abir now. Could she pull off a neutral behaviour with Abir? Was she really that good an actress? She knew she couldn’t. What was going to happen? It felt like her head would burst with anxiety.
Sameer asked worriedly, “Do you want to grab a bite somewhere? You sound so faint.”
“No, I’m fine. Just take me home.”
Sameer said, “Don’t you want to catch up with Abir? You hardly talked to him. You were always together in college. Now that you are meeting him after so many years, you must have so much to talk about.”
If anything, Sameer’s words were making her feel sicker. How would she avoid Abir now? Did she even want to avoid Abir? No. Her heart was screaming for Abir. But she was in love with Sameer now. She knew that. Then why was Abir still affecting her that strongly? What was Abir so upset about?
Sameer asked, “What do you want to do, Mini? If you are feeling really sick, I’ll drop you at your place.”
Snigdha said thankfully, “Okay.” She wanted to go home at the moment and sort out her head before confronting Abir. She had to talk to Romita.
As Snigdha lay on her bed later that day, still feeling numb with shock, suddenly a new question popped up in her head. Sameer had mentioned some tragedy in Abir’s life. What had happened to Abir? She found herself getting consumed by this question. She had always imagined that Abir was happy, no matter where he was. She had never imagined that Abir was having some sort of crisis in his life.
She had to find out what had happened. Sameer had texted earlier, saying that if she wanted, he could come and pick her up. But the mere thought of being with the two of them together was mortifying.
She wanted Romita’s advice. But she hadn’t been able to get through to her yet.
She seriously considered cancelling the plans Sameer had made, but a very scary thought struck her. What if Abir told Sameer everything? Her heart shrunk at the idea. She had to stop this from happening at any cost. She couldn’t become a liar in Sameer’s eyes. She had to meet Abir and talk to him.
Sameer came to pick her up after getting Snigdha’s message.
Snigdha asked him on the way to his house, “Sameer, what happened to Abir?”
Sameer asked, “What do you mean? He is fine.”
Snigdha said, “No, you told me about some sad incident.”
“Oh, that! I don’t know why but Abir asked me not to tell anyone anything.”
Now she definitely had to know. Snigdha cajoled, “I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”
Sameer gave in when she wouldn’t stop pestering him. “Okay, fine. He was in love with a girl when we were in college. They were crazy for each other. But this girl’s father hated Abir, though the girl didn’t know that. No one told her anything. After graduation, one day Abir went to meet her at her place but she wasn’t there. Her dad insulted Abir because he thought her results were bad because of him. Abir took the plunge and told him about his intention to marry her someday. But her father wanted Abir to leave dancing and join his business instead, since he didn’t think Abir could have a stable life with dancing. Come to think of it, that girl’s father is somewhat orthodox like your father, if I may say so. Of course, Abir refused, and her father threatened him to stay away from the girl. But Abir didn’t listen to him. So, one day her dad called up Abir’s parents, who were in the US, to insult them. He even threatened to get Abir killed if he didn’t back off. That was too much for Abir’s dad. His dad interfered in the matter and things got pretty nasty between Abir and his dad. Abir refused to go to US and stay with them. His dad was already a heart patient and the stress got to him. He had a stroke one night. Abir rushed to the US to meet his dad one last time when the doctors gave up. His mother didn’t let him return after that, and he didn’t want to bring more destruction in his family. Quite natural, since his mother also got ill after his father passed away. He hasn’t forgiven himself for his father’s death. That girl still doesn’t know anything, I guess. Abir loves her though.”
Snigdha was left speechless. Abir still loved her! She could hardly find her voice again. “Who’s the girl, do you know?”
Sameer said broodingly, “I don’t know actually. He never told me. I wish I knew who she is. I would have told her everything and tried to get them back together.” He seemed to think of something. “Hey, don’t you know anything? You were good friends, after all.”
Snigdha’s heart leaped in fear. “No, no. I don’t know anything.” Afraid that her fear would betray her, she tried to speak softly. “What happened after he went to America?”
“He went into a depression. He joined NYU later. We connected on FB while we were doing our masters. A year ago, he shifted to Singapore for his research. Besides, he runs his own dance school now. All his friends and family are trying to get him settled, but he’s not interested. He’s so stubborn.”
Snigdha felt as if someone had hit her with something heavy. All the wind seemed to have been knocked out of her. She couldn’t breathe. What had she done to Abir? Her father? She clutched Sameer’s shoulders tightly for support.
Snigdha asked, “Why didn’t he ever talk to the girl?”
Sameer sighed. “I told him to, but he wouldn’t listen. Says he can’t spoil that girl’s relation with her parents. He ruined his family; doesn’t want to ruin hers as well.”
She wanted to howl now. She didn’t know she had brought on such horrors in Abir’s life.
Shefali welcomed her when they reached Sameer’s house. Snigdha somehow managed to smile when Rimsha came to meet her. All she wanted to do was to talk to Abir. But where was he?
Sameer seemed to ask Shefali on her behalf, “Where’s Abir?”
Shefali said, “In your room, watching all the videos from your engagement ceremony.”
Snigdha was getting impatient to go and meet him. Abir was getting even more hurt to see her with somebody else, she knew. She followed Sameer to his room and there sat Abir, watching Sameer and her close dance in front of all their cousins. Abir had a guarded look on his face when he glanced at her; it sent another blow to her heart.
Sameer said jovially, “Hey, Abir! See who’s here. Your favourite dance partner.”
Abir gave them a tight smile. “Yeah.” His gaze lingered on Snigdha’s face for a moment before flitting back to the TV screen. Now that she was facing Abir, knowing all the truth at last, she didn’t know what to say to him. How could she make his pain vanish? She wanted to wrench out the stupid DVD from the DVD player. Abir didn’t need to see her with Sameer like this.
Sameer flopped down beside Abir and began watching the video with him. Snigdha sat behind Sameer, feeling lost.
Abir asked slowly, “How are you, Snigdha? Sameer said you got sick in the morning.”
How could Abir be concerned for her after everything? Snigdha replied timidly, “I’m good.” Abir was asking her how she was! She wanted to ask him the same question. But she couldn’t have this conversation with Abir in front of anyone. How was she going to get him alone?
Shefali came in and dragged Snigdha out with her to help her choose some clothes online for her fresher’s day function at Jadavpur University. Snigdha couldn’t concentrate on what Shefali was showing her on the computer screen. She managed the situation by nodding along with Shefali and agreeing to whatever she said.
Unable to take in more of Shefali’s blabbering, she went down to the kitchen on the pretext of getting some food. Guilt was eating her up—guilt for having ruined Abir. Rimsha was not there when she went to the kitchen. She stood against the island, twirling a glass of water in her hands. Her throat was completely parched, yet she couldn’t drink the water.
She didn’t notice when Sameer came up behind her silently. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. He said, kissing her neck softly, “What’s wrong with you, love? You look so disturbed.”
Snigdha closed her eyes. Tears silently slid down her cheeks. Sameer felt her body heaving with silent sobs. He made her turn towards him, alarmed. “What’s wrong?”
Snigdha hugged him tightly, trying to stop her sudden tears. She felt a bit better with Sameer’s comforting arms around her. “Had a fight with mom.”
Sameer said sympathetically, “Poor baby! About what?”
Snigdha sniffled. “Something silly.”
Sameer only grabbed her tighter in response. This unspoken gesture of support and understanding calmed her nerves to a certain extent.
They heard someone coming towards the kitchen, but Sameer didn’t let her go. Snigdha raised her head a bit from Sameer’s shoulder to see Abir standing at the doorway, his face looking completely ashen. His fists were clenched tightly at his side. He stood there like a rigid, motionless statue.
Snigdha pushed Sameer away, looking stricken. “Abir!” she breathed in alarm.
Sameer turned around to look at Abir and grinned coyly.
Abir said hastily, looking uncomfortable, “I came for some water. Sorry. Didn’t mean to intrude.”
Sameer gave him the glass kept on the island and then led Abir upstairs. When he noticed that Snigdha wasn’t following them, he looked back at her and said, “Come on, Mini.”
Snigdha shuffled towards him slowly and Sameer held her hand as Abir looked on.