You Never Know

By Atreya Banerjee

The smell of manure was giving Raina a headache, as her car rolled endlessly through the green fields. This was the first time she had come to Punjab, in a little village at the outskirts of Amritsar. Manpreet came running towards her, hugging Raina as tightly as she could, as soon as she reached the haveli.

“Never doing this again!” said Raina dryly. “It’s only for you that I have agreed to come to a village, out of all places!”

Arre, Kolkata-snob, make at least one sacrifice for your childhood friend!” Manpreet giggled like a fountain. “Especially, when we meet after…”

“Seventeen years!”

“I wish my parents would not have had to shift to Vancouver, leaving our Kolkata house!”

Raina did not wish to continue with that discussion. She had better things to divert Manpreet’s attention to: The latter’s wedding!

Raina Roychoudhuri, the proud city-girl and the well-to-do graphic designer was successfully coaxed by her friend to set foot in a village!

Manpreet Kaur Bhambra and her relatives were scattered all over the world. The entire Bhambra clan was here at present, in this tiny but beautiful Punjabi village, for the auspicious occasion.

It was due to the insistence of Manpreet’s elders that she had agreed to get married in the village. Her parents were themselves surprised, when she agreed to marry whoever they chose for her.

Her fiancée, Imroze, was from London

The pre-wedding ceremonies began from the next morning. Decades after, the whole mansion became alive all of a sudden – with people of all ages, the lavish decoration, and the multiple layers of sounds of activities.

As Raina was sitting with Manpreet in the large hall, she noticed at the back of the blurry crowd, a figure that she had not yet come across. A Sikh man, probably the tallest of all the male members of the Bhambra family. He was laying down a big basket of flowers on the floor. He looked as if he were in his thirties, probably of the same age as Manpreet and herself.

She could not see him anywhere after that brief glimpse, for a long while.

In the evening, Raina strolled alone in the huge field at the back of the mansion, thinking of the man. It had been a long while since a man had given her a jolt from the inside. It was ironic, since Raina used to openly advocate that she did not need a man in her life! She kept thinking of the man’s intense and hypnotic eyes. She wanted to look at them for hours, with admiration. She longed to ask Manpreet who he was, but kept quiet – lest Manpreet made a joke out of it.

She saw him again at dinnertime, late at night. However, there wasn’t a scope for either of them to interact personally. Raina was sure that he had looked at her, this time.

The next day when Raina stood at a distance as Manpreet’s milni ceremony went on, she got a call from Dadu – her grandfather and her only family – from Kolkata. To escape the noise and take the call, she quickly went outside towards the garden.

As she wrapped her call up and started to head back inside, she almost slammed into her mysterious man at the doorway. When the man started to walk away without saying a word, Raina frowned.

“Umm…  Excuse me, there!” She called out to him. Polite but firm.

The man turned around slowly. The kara of his wrist shone, reflecting a blue beam of light on Raina’s face.

They looked at each other for a few seconds.

The wedding fireworks exploded in the sky.

“I’m… Raina. Manpreet’s childhood friend. From Kolkata”

Sat Sri Akal, ji”, the man muttered.

“Sorry… It’s just that I’ve met everybody here. I’ve never had the chance to meet you. It’s been two days and…”

“I’m Amrit”, he cut in. “Manpreet’s cousin. My father and her father are brothers.”

“Great! Never heard of you.”

Amrit gave his first smile. “Kindly excuse me. I have to take care of something, immediately.”

Raina waved at him reluctantly, before going back inside.

It was needless to say that after meeting Amrit, Raina wasn’t really in a state of mind to leave the village. She never expected a situation to crop up. Feeling impossibly drawn towards Amrit, she was losing sleep, realizing that time was running out. Raina realized that she should spend as much time with him as possible.

One day after breakfast, when all were playing antakshari in the hall, Raina exchanged a number of fierce, expressive glances with Amrit, whenever he came inside the mansion to assist the elders. Whenever their eyes met, Raina felt as if she were consumed by fire. She hoped that Amrit felt like that, too. It became necessary for her to settle that strange equation between the both of them.

Later that afternoon while the rest were asleep, Raina overcame her inhibition enough to land outside Amrit’s room.

As she stood outside the locked room she saw from the open window: books, clothes, stacks of paper, old furniture – as disorganized as a bachelor’s room was expected to be.

Just as she was about to leave, something blue caught her attention. A certain kind of blue t-shirt was under the pile of clothes, near that window – That same kind that she herself possessed!

Amrit returned late at night and found Raina standing outside.

“What are you doing here, Raina?”

Raina did not utter a word.

“How did you find my room?”

“It isn’t difficult to get information from the kids.”

Amrit smiled with a visible uneasiness.

“Where were you?”

“Well, my father had asked me to meet with a pesticide-vendor for our fields. Y’know, work cannot stop even during the wedding. The guy lives a little far from here.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that?”

“It’s true, Raina.”

Showing the t-shirt to him, Raina asked, “How did you get this?”

“Let’s talk tomorrow morning?”

Raina retorted with a red face: “No! I won’t find you tomorrow morning. I know. Just like I haven’t been able to speak even a word with you, all this time! How busy could you ever get? It’s your cousin’s freaking wedding at your own home and you’re unavailable? Why do you keep avoiding every single person here? Why do you keep avoiding… Me?”

Amrit tried to say something but was unable to.

Raina continued: “You know that I’ve been trying to speak with you, to get to know you a bit. Maybe trying to be a friend to you… All I want to say is that, there’s no need to be alone, caught up within your own world… I don’t know why I’m saying this, but I want to be there for you. I feel strongly that you are also interested in being friends.”

“Woah… Stop! Who told you that I’m alone? Who gets to decide whether I need friends or not?”

Raina tried her best to regain her composure. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Okay. Hate me all you want to but… Tell me about this t-shirt!”

“It’s mine.”

Visibly dismayed Raina exclaimed, “You’re a Yale Graduate? I would have never guessed! I’m one too! Oh, how come I don’t know about this?”

“I don’t want anyone to know”

“I studied Political Science. You?”

“MBA.”

The next day, Raina was awfully quiet. Her eyes, when they rarely returned Amrit’s steady and passionate gaze, were full of accusations and pain. Raina’s words in their last meeting pierced Amrit from all directions. A lot of them were true. He realized that she was probably the last person who would ever be nice to him and care about him.

His thoughts were confirmed when he found a note from her in his room, in the afternoon:

“Rooftop. 12:00 AM. Won’t hear a NO. –R.”

As Amrit approached Raina at the rooftop, she turned back and tried to leave in a hurry. He gently caught her by the arm.

“Hey, hey! It was you who called me in here. And now you’re leaving?” he said with a smile.

“I can’t do it.”

“You can.”

“Well… Tell me everything about Yale!”

“I… I don’t want to withhold anything from you, Raina,” Amrit said, holding both of her hands, “I joined as an MBA student in Yale. However, what you do not know is that I could not finish the course. I dropped out after the initial year. Certain stuff happened, so I came back.”

“What?”

Amrit continued: “Some girl I became friendly with… She was initially nice, smart and talented. Suddenly, she became psychotic – obsessed with me. I tried my best to move away from her. She would not accept it. Then one day… She…  She took her own life…”

Amrit broke down on the floor, covering his face.

Raina started shivering, as she started to remember –

“Bree! Bree Annable! Are you talking about her?” Raina exclaimed.

Amrit nodded in affirmation.

“She was crazy! Insane!” said Raina, “She used to name random boys and lied that they were her boyfriends… Once she did refer to some ‘hot’ Indian guy she was in a relationship with, shortly before her death. Nobody knew who he was. She was referring to YOU?!”

Amrit kept sitting on the floor, face down, miserable.

As the teary-eyed Raina slowly caressed Amrit’s face, she spoke, “You don’t have to live with this huge guilt, Amrit! You had no fault. Bree was suicidal. She had a medical history.”

“Nobody knows any of this, Raina. Not even my father.”

“All these years, you had been blaming yourself? That too for nothing! You couldn’t move on? You thought that the best way would be to remain stuck in this village?”

“What do I do, Raina?”

“Amrit, whatever happened to Bree… it was an unfortunate event. The poor girl was unlucky. Her father committed suicide two years before her death, and her mother just months before. It’s sad that nobody could help her. Or that family… I’ll show you reports on my phone, tomorrow. It’s all over the web.”

“Not my fault?” Amrit mumbled.

“Of course not! … I guess, all you needed was to tell someone about it, let it out of your system. Get some assurance. Plus, you didn’t even follow the news about that family. If only you had!”

Amrit became pale and still as a stone.

They slowly retired for the rest of the night. Dawn was arriving soon. The morose morning of Raina and the Bhambra clan’s departure from the village finally arrived. In her mind and heart, Raina had still not found enough clarity about where she stood with Amrit. The cars had arrived downstairs to take everybody to the station and the nearest airport. While Raina climbed down the stairs, on the second floor staircase there Amrit was, waiting.

“So?” Amrit’s whispered.

“So what? I’m leaving and you’re just watching me do that.”

“Tell me I’m not guilty. Once more.”

“You are not guilty… Amrit Singh Bhambra!”

Hearing someone call her name, she began walking away. “I don’t know what to say,” she replied.

“Me, neither.”

With much reluctance, Raina left. Since her return from Amritsar two weeks ago, Raina had not heard from Amrit. Although, she and Manpreet have been Instant Messaging each other on their phones every day.

Raina threw herself into work to distract herself and ease the pain.

An IM from Manpreet beeped on her phone: “Just heard: Amrit is organizing some workshop at Amritsar on farming. God knows what that is, but some big company is backing him! Also heard that if the workshop goes well, Amrit would tour other places too! Amrit out of all people? Weird??”

Raina did not know what to reply. However, she smiled, feeling happy for Amrit. He was finally crawling out of the walls that he had created around himself. He was realizing what potential he possessed. Raina hoped that she would find him at her doorstep, someday soon.

About the Author: Atreya Banerjee lives in Kolkata. He comes from a literature background, and is currently writing his doctoral dissertation. He also teaches part-time at a city university. Apart from writing, his interests include film, travelling, long walks and mobile phone photography.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *