Amit watched every step of Rhea as she walked towards the class. This girl is my ‘Dream Girl’, he muttered to himself. At sixteen she looked like a bud about to bloom and truly defined the phrase ‘Sweet Sixteen’. I have got to get to know her, he thought. He had been following her movements from the day she had joined college. But there was no one known to him who was also friends with Rhea. In fact she looked more like a loner. Sometimes he saw her with another girl from her class. Rhea did not even look at him and probably was totally unaware of his existence.
Amit decided to use the old trick. He started to speak to her friend Shehnaz by asking her for her notes. Soon he got introduced to Rhea. But she was very shy and did not speak much and mostly avoided him. Every day at the college Amit tried his best to speak to Rhea but always met a dead-end.
“This envelope is for you from that Romeo!” Shehnaz handed over an envelope to Rhea. Rhea’s heart began to beat fast. It was a two page letter written in beautiful hand-writing. It ended with the words “Irrespective of what you feel about me, I will love you Rhea …forever, Sealed with a loving kiss”. Rhea was sweating all over. A mixture of fright and excitement was what she was feeling. She quickly kept the letter away in a safe place in her bookshelf after she had re-read it almost ten times over.
“What did he say in the letter?” Shehnaz could not help but ask Rhea. “The usual stuff,” she smiled but her face blushed and Shehnaz knew what it must have said.
“Can I join you?” the familiar voice of Amit brought Rhea out of her trance at the college canteen. “Sure” Shehnaz replied without any hesitation. They chatted for sometime but Amit could not get many words out of Rhea. He was keen to know her reaction to his love letter. “A letter must be replied!” he whispered just while leaving for his class. Rhea’s heart began to beat fast.
Days turned into months and Rhea and Amit came to know each other better. Shehnaz would give them time alone to speak at times. “Tomorrow is my birthday and I would like both of you to come to my house.” Amit told them. “Pleee..aa..se, I will be waiting for you” He said that and went away without waiting for a reply.
Shehnaz and Rhea were climbing the stairs of Amit’s building. Both held their hands tight and looked frightened. “I am not sure we should do this, let’s go back” Rhea kept on telling Shehnaz. “Hi, I’ve been waiting for you both since morning. Please come in. These are my very good friends Rhea and Shehnaz.” He said while introducing them to his parents. Shehnaz handed over a gift to Amit and wished him.
When they were settled, Amit’s Dad asked Rhea, “So where does your Dad work?” This was a question Rhea hated. “My parents are divorced. My dad has married again and lives in another town.” Rhea was almost in tears when she said that. “You are Amit’s friends and we are always careful to find out who he is friends with. These days there are so many things happening…” Rhea felt like walking away. She had switched off her mind and did not hear what Amit’s parents were saying. Why do families and relationships come in between friendship she often wondered. Amit was angry at the way his parents had behaved with his friends, and while coming out to see them off, he profusely apologised to Rhea. “I am really sorry!” Rhea could not hold her tears any more and began to sob. “Why do I have to always be questioned about something I am not at all responsible for? I hate myself for it.” Amit put his arm around Rhea and said, “I love you no less, your parents, or your past life does not hold any importance for me.”
Almost a decade later….
“In India Cricket is not a game; it is a religion!” Rhea was explaining to Jonathan. The famous India Pakistan match was being aired on TV and the entire family was glued to the television. Loud Ooh’s and Ahh’s were heard every time there was a catch dropped and loud shouts and screeches when there was a batsman out from the Pakistan side. Jonathan was amused to see the excitement and joined in. At dinner Jonathan’s face turned red. “I love Indian food; just that I am still to get used to the chillies” he said wiping his nose with the tissue which now looked like a tiny tomato.
The IT boom had caught on, and Indians were all over United States of America. Jonathan was from the company for whom Rhea’s company was implementing a project. In a way he was a customer. He was on a business trip and wanted to see what an Indian family is like. He had been in touch with Rhea on net meetings, chats, mails and over the phone. Initially Jonathan had prejudices about India and Indian people. All he had heard was that India was a country where poverty and snake charmers were prominent. But when he started to interact with Rhea, he found her intelligent and smart. He was very excited when he was chosen to travel to India to assess the progress of their project. It meant he could meet Rhea in person.
The first day he met Rhea at the office he was awestruck. She is ‘Beauty with Brains’ was his first thought. Rhea appeared to be was very professional but there was warmth about her which drew him close to her and made him want to spend more time with her. When they left in the evening he asked her if she would join him for coffee. “Sure!” she said with a smile and they headed for the cafeteria. Over a cup of coffee, Jonathan realised that they had both shared a lot of personal details with each other. He had his share of relationships in his life but there was something too magical about this one. He felt he was ‘head over heels’ in love with Rhea. He was not able to hide his feelings for her. Rhea enjoyed the attention but did not think seriously about it. She was a professional at heart and love did not have much importance in her life.
A month just flew and it was time for Jonathan to return. He decided to ask Rhea upfront what she felt about him. She just said, “I consider you a very good friend and enjoyed working with you very much. But I cannot be in a relationship with you.” Jonathan felt dejected and left for the US with a heavy heart. Ever since Amit had left her without a trace, love did not feature in her life. She firmly believed that like her father and Amit, all men are the same: they leave without a reason.
Jonathan is online Rhea’s computer screen was blinking. Should she ping him, she thought. Then she decided not to do it as she did not want to hurt him. She just closed the chat window. Ever since Jonathan had left for the US she was very confused about her feelings for him. She felt she missed him. His thoughts, his smile, his gestures, she just could not get him out of his mind. Time is a good healer she thought. I should just ‘let it be’.
“This is a very prestigious customer for us. I don’t want anything to go wrong and you must ensure that you get a letter of closure from the customer with good references for us.” Rhea was hearing her boss Sharma repeating the same thing again and again. Though she had worked with a lot of overseas clients, it was the first time she was travelling abroad.
The aeroplane landed at Chiacago airport. She was exhausted with the flight. The first thing she did was switch on her mobile phone to see if there were any messages. But there were none. She called her home to tell her mother that she had reached safely. She felt the same feelings of fear and excitement she had felt when Amit had given her the first love letter. “Hi there, how was the flight?” a voice startled her. “Good..,” she could barely murmur. “Your hotel is a little away but close to our office. Please let me know if you need anything.” Jonathan was behaving very formally with her. It made her feel uncomfortable. But then she could not complain, she knew she had been mean with him.
The week flew away very quickly. Rhea had not seen much of Jonathan. The project assessment had gone well and Rhea had a closing meeting with the Directors of the company in a few days.
Rhea would walk from the office to her hotel. One day, as she was walking on the pathway, Jonathan arrived on a bicycle. “Hi Rhea, How is it going?” “Pretty good,” she replied. “Tomorrow is Sunday, we don’t work, can I spend the day showing you around?” he asked. “Sure…” Rhea replied.
The day had been hectic. Jonathan took a lot of care to show Rhea around. Rhea was downloading the pictures from her camera on to her laptop. She suddenly stopped at one picture of Jonathan and herself. He had his arms around her shoulder and they looked like a cute couple. She smiled. “See you at eight for dinner. My driver will bring you there!” Jonathan had said before leaving for his home. The dinner was at an Indian Restaurant. The décor was that of an Indian village. She was surprised to see Jonathan in Indian attire. “Hi, please don’t laugh. I have been waiting for an occasion to wear this outfit for almost a year. I hope I don’t look too weird.” Rhea smiled, “You look handsome. A real Desi dude”, she said. Rhea enjoyed the food as it was almost a week since she had eaten spicy food. She was tired of eating bread and jams. There were Indian folk songs being sung by some artists. Jonathan came and sat with her. In the black evening gown Rhea looked stunningly beautiful. “You look gorgeous today,” He held her hand gently and kissed it. “Please don’t blame me if I am not able to be on good behaviour!” Rhea laughed at his remark. She felt happy and it showed on her face. On her way back to the hotel, Jonathan could not but stop himself from stealing a kiss. “Sorry but I just could not resist it!” he smiled and went away. Rhea stood dumbfounded for a moment. How could she let this happen? But once in her room she realized, it felt nice. She was truly enjoying herself in the company of Jonathan.
“Good Morning, time to wake up!” it was the first time she had made a call to Jonathan from her room. It was the last day of her stay. “Wow, today must be a lucky day” said Jonathan, “See you after your meeting.”
“How did the meeting with the Directors go?” Jonathan and Rhea were seated at the office cafeteria. “Good, they have given me a completion letter and you know what? A new contract as well!” Jonathan loved the smile on Rhea’s face. “Oh, that’s great, do they know I want to meet you ever so much?” he said jokingly. It was then that it dawned upon Rhea, that Jonathan had done this.
“My mother is very upset with me.” He suddenly sprung a surprise at Rhea. “Oh, why?” she said. “She had found a match for me and I refused” he said fidgeting a bit. Because when I returned from India, I realized I cannot live without you. I realised I cannot accept anyone other than you as my wife.” Rhea gave him a puzzled look.
“Welcome to Chattrapati Shivaji Airport. The temperature outside is 36 deg C. Have a good stay and hope to be able to fly you again.” The stewardess’ voice brought Rhea out of her day dreaming. As soon as she switched on her cell phone there was a message,
My very dear Rhea,
Much as I wanted to see you off when you left for India, I just could not bring myself to do it, as I did not want to be rejected again. While there is no doubt in my mind that whoever gets your hand in marriage will be the luckiest person on this planet, and I am still hopeful I can be that one. I don’t know what I should do to make you believe in my love. I love you very much.
And yes, please remember all men are not the same.
It is said that ‘love is the only truth in the universe, everything else is an illusion’. I have found my truth in loving you.
Irrespective of what you feel about me, I will always love you Rhea …forever, Sealed with a loving kiss. Jonathan.
The message hit her like a jolt. The last lines were the same as in Amit’s letter many years ago.
Rhea’s eyes were moist. Her phone rang, “I love you too….” She said in a broken voice.