I stand at the garage entrance and look at the rain. Raindrops dripping from the shed fall a few inches ahead of my shoes. The first rain of the season can be acidic. I look down, wondering if it will burn my shoes. I scuff my foot on the ground in disdain. I've been a peacock in countless rains like this. Look at me now.
I see Yash, my colleague, running towards me with a hand over his head. Rain has made grey polka dots on his white shirt. He curses the rain after he stops beneath the shed. I offer to drop him in my car. He excuses for some party in the evening and invites me instead. I can see his severe qualms as he awaits my response. He couldn’t even conceal his relief after I decline.
I go to my car once he takes off. As I'm slowly driving it out, I see Yash with his gang, comprising of my other colleagues, whizzing past me on bikes. He is in the pillion seat, face upwards to the rain and running his fingers through his wet hair. I let out a sigh which I had been holding all the while he was doing his masquerade.
I turn off the music to listen to the clatter of the rain on my car. Everything around shimmers as I sped through the golden hue painted all around me by the sunset. The sun rays find their way through the dark clouds and fall over my car’s windshield, and flicker as the wiper sweeps away the blurry coat of rain constantly trying to block them. Traffic is slow, so I let the cityscape entice me.
The taillights of the vehicles ahead sparkling through the droplets on the windshield, hazy colorful signage above the shops, golden lining on the dark clouds in the sky, and the steady patter of rain on the car are undeniably spellbinding. The peacock inside me is unable to keep its grudge on the rain. One beautiful rainy evening and my hard feelings die off.
A car overtakes me and splashes puddles on my car, covering the side window with muddy rainwater. I wonder how a bike will withstand a tide like that.
A call from an unknown number flashes on the car’s stereo screen. I wait for the caller ID to load and show the name. It strikes me when I look at it closely, and a second later it loads up.
Call from Juhi Agarwal.
People separate on good terms and agree to remain friends after that. I find it deplorable. We didn't go through a nasty breakup, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep any contact with her. You have to talk to her like a friend, checking every word that comes out of your mouth to not mean anything awkward. How do you look at the person you love and tell yourself that she’s now just a friend? How something that once made your heart skip a beat becomes something awkward once you’re only friends?
I have no bitterness against her, but I can’t do this friendship thing. I can’t call once in a few months to show that I still care, only as a friend.
The caller ID notification stays on the screen after the call ends, showing her face. It’s the same old profile picture I had taken at the beach. I look away from it, at the road. She had also insisted on adding a profile photo for my caller ID to which I had finally relented.
She giggled at my shyness. The last time I took a picture of myself, it was for my Job profile page. Even my social accounts don’t have a display picture; forget about keeping one for caller ID.
"Look at me. Say Juhiii… ," she said, turning towards me and held her phone camera to my face.
"While I’m driving?"
She leaned back to the side door of the passenger seat to get the angle. She then uploaded it for my caller ID. I removed it right after we broke up. I wonder why she has still kept that same picture for hers. Maybe she has just forgotten about it. It isn't Instagram though.
We have spent most of our time together in my car than anywhere else. I would pick her up from her office and we will go to a cafeteria or a park or sometimes just drive around the city; away from the bustling streets, away from the chaos.
We liked to ride along. That was our getaway. A clear road, something from a roadside food truck, some good music, and we were all set. We found solace in those little things. I once played Stuck On You by Lionel Richie, and we listened to that three-decades-old song on loop for hours. She even changed the ringtone of both our phones to that song. Her idea of romance was spending time together, doing the same things, and enjoying the same things. It was just perfect for me.
I still go on a drive sometimes, but I never quite got away from the chaos. Yes, I changed my ringtone too. I don’t even listen to that song anymore.
I look at her again. Every time I see her I live a lifetime of the happiness we could’ve had together but a part of me wants to turn around and wishes to never see her again. I swipe the notification away.
I stop at the crossing. I hate it when I come across a red light at this particular one. Every time I stop here, I can’t help but remember our first date. On my left is Zaika Restaurant. Juhi and I had decided to meet there on our first date. And it rained heavily that day. Being too drenched for the occasion, we decided to skip it and have tea at a stall across the road, facing the restaurant.
I remember every single detail of that moment; The raindrops on her forehead slowly tracing their way to her eyebrows, her lips that looked like rose petals when she pursed them to gently blow on the hot tea before a sip, her eyes that were deftly noticing my fascination, and a faint smile I could've missed in a blink of an eye, that made me think if I have ever seen a smile like that before.
I look right. Surprisingly, I don’t despise it today.
It isn't the first time she has called and I didn’t answer it. I try to fathom why I feel such a change today. Is it the rain, is it her call or that tea stall, or this whole city or all of them together?
Sometimes I find it hard to not call her. God, I couldn’t even forget her phone number. I haven’t even asked her for once how she was doing. I don’t know how I managed to be so heedless.
Being friends is probably easier than missing her. I try to focus on the road.
The stereo screen rings and lights up with a voice message. I tap it.
'Hey. I’m in town today and I just thought if we can meet... somewhere. Um, how about that Zaika Restaurant, tonight eight o’clock? Or we can go anywhere, and tomorrow if not tonight or… I’m here for four days. So… call me when you get this message.'
I have to meet her, not because I see it as a way to rekindle my relationship with her, but I have spent enough time giving her a cold shoulder and she deserves an apology. I have always left people much sooner than before they give up on me. I can’t be lucky twice to have her in my life, but I am still lucky enough that someone hasn’t given up on me yet.
It hits me. She was my only friend, the only one whom I liked talking to, the only one who listened to me.
I look at the passenger seat beside me. I could envisage her sitting there, her serene face lit up by the golden rays of the sunset, and her eyes gleam as she watches the drizzles.
I take a deep breath and imagine her soft humming. The Jasmine fragrance creeps in and I can feel it in my head. It’s from the air purifier in my car. It’s the first thing I had started keeping since our first date. Also, the first thing I have failed to get rid of. It’s a direct reminder of her, her smell, and her name, Juhi, which means Jasmine.
We should not try to forget the best moments of our lives, because we simply can’t. I have tried and failed. It only clouded my mind. It’s this one thing about these little things; they reside around you and the memories with them are harder to forget.
I park the car in my apartment's garage. I fiddle with my phone thinking about the things to say. I decide to text her instead.
‘Sure. Let’s meet there at eight. Tonight.’
I open the umbrella and place it over my head as I come out of the car. I carefully dodge the puddles and walk hastily towards the restaurant. The doorman holds the glass door open as I enter. I look around for Juhi.
Half of the tables are occupied but I don’t see her anywhere. I’m twenty minutes late myself. I go to the counter and inquire if there’s any reservation for someone named Juhi. There isn’t.
I come outside. I open the umbrella and look around if she is anywhere near. She must be stuck somewhere. I call her.
A feeble song plays amidst the phone rings. I move the phone away from my ear and the song seems to close in from my left. I walk towards it.
From the corner of the building, Juhi emerges looking at her phone. She freezes right in front of me when she looks up. I extend my hand holding the umbrella to make space for her. It’s her ringtone, the same Stuck On You and it continues to play. Neither of us cut the call.
…And the way I feel now I guess I’ll be with you till the end
Guess I’m on my way
I’m mightly glad you stayed…
The music abruptly stops.
She is completely drenched in the rain, exactly like the first time I had seen her. She smiles and contemplates the hug while looking at her wet clothes.
"Come on," I say, stretching my other arm and she grins and almost rushes in.
We break out of it just before it started to feel like an eternity. I think I smelled jasmine for a moment. But it wasn't from the perfume she is wearing. I tell myself it’s probably déjà vu.
"Sorry, I'm late. My umbrella broke and I was stuck looking for a cab," she says, pushing back her wet hair sticking to her face.
"It’s alright. I got here just now."
She looks at the restaurant.
"I can’t go in like this," she says pointing at her soaked dress. "Can we go somewhere else? You haven’t made a reservation yet, right?"
I shake my head. She’s relieved. I look at that tea stall across the road, then at her. She looks at me.
This can’t be happening for real.
We laugh and hold each other’s hands as we cross the road.