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Snigdha was buying jalebis and samosas for Romita from their favourite sweetshop in New Alipore. Romita was coming to their house that day so Srestha had sent Snigdha out to buy all the Bengali snacks that Romita enjoyed eating. They knew how much Romita detested the fact that things like sandesh and rosogollas were not available in Chennai. Srestha herself was busy cooking the dishes that Romita liked. Srestha had always regarded Romita as her own daughter and she was happy about Romita’s upcoming visit.

Snigdha was standing in front of the long glass showcase which displayed all sorts of sweets and snacks, waiting to get the food that she had ordered, all the while trying to suppress the anxiety gripping her. Romita was arriving that afternoon and she still had no idea how to dissuade Romita from taking her to the party. Romita had come to know from her mother that Snigdha had also received her card. Romita being true to her word had spent no time in confirming the invitation on Singha’s behalf.

After paying for the snacks and sweets, Snigdha took an auto to get back home. Snigdha was on autopilot—she was going about her work, but her mind was busy conceiving arguments that would convince Romita against her plan. On returning home, she was put to the task of arranging the guest room for Romita. She knew how nosy her mother was. The moment her mother would get Romita alone, she would force Romita into telling her everything. Snigdha had to prevent this as she didn’t want the past to come out now. She knew how sensitive her parents were and she didn’t want them to get hurt for her mistakes.

Later in the afternoon when the bell rang, Snigdha jumped up in excitement and ran out to open the main gate. Romita was standing outside with her innumerable trolley bags and Snigdha hugged her friend with a huge smile on her face, all the worries forgotten at the sight of her best friend. She took the handle of one of the trolley bags behind Romita and asked in dismay, “Why do you always pack so much stuff?”

Romita said brightly, “Well, everybody can’t be a minimalist like you.”

Snigdha laughed. “Yeah right, me a minimalist! What an incredible thought! When was the last time both of us went out and didn’t end up buying an entire store? Oh God, how I miss our evening-outs! I’m so glad you came. I missed you so much.” Both the friends grabbed each other’s hands and made their way inside, dragging the trolley bags with them.

When they entered the living room, Srestha and Jatin hurried forward to greet their guest. Romita touched their feet and both of them blessed her warmly.

Srestha asked Romita to freshen up, while Snigdha took Romita’s luggage to the guest room. As they sat down for lunch soon, they discussed everything that Romita had been doing lately. Romita told them about the expansion that her father was undertaking in their pharmaceutical company. She regaled them with stories of her visit to London and all the things that she had been learning to help her father. Everyone was very impressed to learn that the chatterbox, happy-go-lucky Romita was shaping up into such a fantastic businesswoman.

When Snigdha and Romita came upstairs after lunch, Romita pulled Snigdha into the guest room and locked the door. Romita brought up the topic that was foremost on both their minds without further ado, “So you are coming, right?”

Having failed to come up with any satisfying argument, Snigdha said morosely, “Mom saw me panic when I got that damned card and she’s definitely going to grill you about it at the first chance she gets. Please, don’t tell her anything. Please, don’t.”

“Oh, well she has a right to know the truth. If you can’t get well on your own then you need your mother’s help,” Romita said like a saint.

Snigdha sneered. “I knew you’ll say this. Do you have any idea how much she will cry, if she finds out I’ve been hiding my tears for so long? You want her to cry with me?” Snigdha asked heatedly.

“No, of course not. I want everyone to be happy. Including you. But if you just keep yourself stuck like this and cut off the rest of the world, how will you be happy?” Romita was exasperated. They were having this argument for the last four years and it never yielded any results.

“I’m happy, okay?”

“Really? So, what’s your happiness? Crying like a moron every night before falling asleep? Not talking to your old friends? Avoiding all your favourite things in the world? Not going to the puja pandals on Durga puja?”

Snigdha sat quietly, with her chin resting on her knees. “I don’t want anything anymore. I’m fine with what I have.”

“Yes, I know how fine you are and that’s why I should tell your mother. She is the only one who can put your head right. Because sadly I have failed,” Romita finished grumpily.

The hands of the clock ticked away as the girls sat silently. It was almost ten minutes later that Srestha came into the room to ask if they wanted tea. The girls denied and Srestha went off to take a nap. But Srestha’s appearance burst the silence between the two girls.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone. Not mom, not dad, not you. No one. If it makes you happy, I’ll come,” Snigdha looked defeated as she said this.

This surprised Romita. In four years, this was the first time Snigdha was relenting. Romita put her hand on Snigdha’s shoulder and said, “Good. I’ll stay with you all night at the party. You don’t have to be alone even for a second. We are going to enjoy, I’m sure. But now we need to get ourselves prepared for the party. Let’s go out and get some cool stuff. And, you need a decent haircut and a spa. This straight hair is plain boring. God, don’t you even look at yourself in the mirror these days? Whatever, we’ll sort you out tonight. All this will take a lot of time, so let’s go out early. No time to waste!”

Snigdha had always liked Romita’s vigour and zest for life. She brightened everything around her, and as she had already signed up for the upcoming torture, she saw no point in resisting. So, with all the plans made, they decided to take some rest before going out in the evening.

In the evening, Snigdha and Romita ended up at the Heritage Mall for their shopping as usual. The two friends were getting to spend time together after a long time, and this fact had both of their excitement levels running high. They picked up whatever clothes and accessories and make up caught their eyes. After trying out lots of different dresses, Snigdha decided on a white sleeveless dress with lace detailings that was cinched at the waist with a broad, dark red belt. It was perfect for the occasion and she decided to get dark red stilettos to go with the dress.

As she was deciding what dress to buy, the only question running through her mind was whether Abir would like her in that dress. Again, she desperately hoped that someday she would be able to stop thinking about Abir all the time. Whenever she lost control, everything became obscured around her and she got sucked in an aching void. This tendency of hers sometimes made her zone out while having conversations with people, and her disinterest offended others. She didn’t want to upset Romita like that, and with all her might, she tried to concentrate on their evening. But with the prospect of seeing Abir again, the conscious effort to push Abir to a corner of her mind was becoming all the more difficult for her.

Romita decided to go traditional for the occasion and chose a red and white anarkali churidar. They also got matching handbags and shoes. After finishing all their shopping, they visited the salon for Snigdha’s haircut. Romita too decided to get a hair spa and facial done. Romita kept Snigdha from lapsing into her silences by chattering nonstop about all the celebrity weddings in 2018. The whole salon got pulled into the discussion quite enthusiastically. All the ladies in the house wanted perfect weddings and perfect husbands like Anushka, Deepika, and Priyanka. Snigdha was the only one who cringed at the whole discussion, though she hid her apathy to keep Romita happy. Two hours later both the friends came out looking radiant in their new looks. They watched a movie at the theatre and had pizzas for dinner before returning home.

That night Srestha and Jatin saw Snigdha and Romita giggling together at silly things, like old times, and poring over all their new buys with enthusiasm. Srestha joined in happily to check if their purchases were good enough. But Jatin looked grumpy to know that Snigdha was going to the party. But in the face of Romita’s overexcitement, he had to accept the whole thing. Snigdha understood her father’s unspoken emotions well and said to him quietly before going to bed that night, “I won’t stay there too long, dad. I’m only doing this for Romita.”

Jatin didn’t look too comfortable and just nodded in silence before wishing her a goodnight and retiring to his room.

No matter how hard Snigdha tried to relax, her decision was making her uncomfortable and restless. She wanted to run as far away as possible from the upcoming party. Despite all the assurances from Romita, she was not at all sure that things would go smoothly in the party. She dreaded any more emotional upheavals.

There was one more day to go for the party and Snigdha knew she would have to steel her nerves before that. She knew she had to be strong. She was not going to let the stability left in her life get ruined. She had to hold on to whatever control she had gained through these years.

The next day passed in a blur of panic and workload and 29th June finally arrived.

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