Once in a while, you meet someone online and your heart goes out to her. She says all the right things and she laughs at every comment you make. She is kind and she is warm and has lovely laughing eyes. You know you can’t have her but nevertheless, telling her how you feel about her seems important….
It was now a week since Arjun had unfriended Nandini, a week that felt like a decade.
“I’m unfriending you. You probably would have wanted it that way but had too much of a soft heart to be the one to do it”, his last message had read. Nandini was online at the moment he sent the message and he waited a while after clicking on ‘send’. A check mark appeared almost immediately. He waited some more, but the message board stared back at him, mute.
It had all begun with an impulse and Arjun Das was an impulse-driven man. The things that he did rarely resulted from any big premeditation. He had clicked on ‘add friend’ on Nandini Shyamrao’s profile page, after spotting her on a mutual friend’s list and she had graciously accepted.
Venturing into her wall, Arjun had fallen in love with those lively snippets on her daily routine, her son, hubby, shopping, movies, music, food, recipes and the books she found interesting. Nandini Shyamrao was prolific. That politics, current affairs, science and technology didn’t occupy her timeline became apparent right away. He found that refreshing.
There was something charmingly wholesome and feminine about her wall. Vivacious and well-informed, she had this laugh directed entirely at herself. The links she posted, the videos and photos she uploaded, he found in them all, a feast for the senses. There was melody inside Nandini Shyamrao’s Facebook page.
And now, it was all gone.
“Damn, I blew it,” Arjun muttered, his fingers fidgeting over the keyboard, for once feeling completely lost, drained of all emotion. The horror that there wouldn’t be any more of those sweet messaged updates from her engulfed him and tears sprang into his eyes. “Damn you, Facebook”, he groaned, “You brought me together with such a wonderful human being. And then what do I go and do? I throw it all away”.
What had started as just another Facebook friendship had quickly escalated. On his side only, as far as he could tell. Escalated to this wanting. A yearning that he was sure was asexual, as far as a yearning in a man for a woman could be non-physical. All he felt was an overwhelming sense of caring for her. Or maybe there was more. Maybe he had in fact fallen in love with Nandini. He had no idea. Something had happened within him that had never happened before. He reeled, in shame and confusion.
The meltdown came in what seemed like a flash. Two months into their friendship, she’d expressed that she wanted to talk. He called her up the following weekend. It was to be their one and only phone conversation. And a delightful conversation it had been. He discovered she had this habit of saying, “Me too, Ditto” when she liked what he’d just said, her tiny voice completely blowing him away. Minutes after they had hung up, he’d messaged, “I have this insane desire to hold you in my arms……” A day had passed while he’d waited in tortured silence.
The next evening, her message was waiting. It said, “Mr. Das, unfortunately I do not appreciate the way you are writing to me, I hope you will understand.” Arjun had been shattered, even though she had, in her characteristic warmth, cushioned the blow by continuing on, about her son, Dharam’s class outing to the zoo that day. But he got the message – that she would like their online relationship to chug along, as long as he didn’t step over the line.
Just then Sparsh came skipping down the basement stairs. “I got an A+ in Math!” Arjun tried to look away as his daughter plonked herself down on his lap, held his cheeks in her palms and tried to turn his head toward her.
“What the…your cheeks are wet, JooJoo.” Raising herself on her knees, while still on his lap, she bent over him and saw his teary eyes, “Poor JooJoo. Are you ok?”.
He held her tight against him as he whispered,” Yeah, I’m just fine, darling.”
They held on to each other for what seemed like quite a while before he felt this other presence, just behind. And the quiet voice,” Your Baba is thinking of Didu, sweetheart, it’s mother’s day. Now come on upstairs and help me with the supper.”
He jerked, turned and glanced up. Shalik was standing and staring into the open screen, taking in the last message he’d sent to Nandini and her reply. From her crushed eyes, Arjun knew she’d read through the messages. He just sat there, paralyzed, unable to reach up and log off.
Relieved at the little deception played on Sparsh, he took a deep breath and said to her, “Yes, sweetheart, I was thinking of Didu. But I’m so glad you came down. I’m feeling better already. And bravo for the A+. Now go on upstairs, JooJoo will be up in a moment.”
Mother and daughter left to set the table. Once more alone, Arjun leaned back and stared at the screen. On the right hand, updates flashed by. Polite exchanges, between folk he’d never met. Meaningless snatches of politically correct conversation.
“Supper’s ready!” the sing-song call drifted down the basement stairs and buffeted him back to here and now. “In a minute!” he called back. He closed the browser, lifted himself wearily to his feet and started up the stairs. Sparsh and Shalik were already seated when he arrived at the table. Sparsh had her pink laptop on her left while she spooned soup into her dripping mouth. Shalik looked quiet and grave and studiously stared down at her plate.
Downstairs after supper, Arjun checked his fb updates one last time. There were no new messages. He closed the browser, sighed and trudged upstairs, switching off the basement lights as he went. Upstairs, the hall was dimmed and Sparsh’s bedroom lights were off. He peeked in and saw her still face, angelic in deep restful slumber. He silently drew the door till just a sliver of light passed in. Sparsh liked it that way.
In their master bedroom, Shalik was sitting up, leaning against the headboard. She had her specs on as she threaded a needle and on her lap were his work pants, with the torn pocket. She had grown just a little plump in all these years and the way she stooped forward to concentrate on her sewing, her cheeks drooped just a wee bit. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help thinking how very dear she seemed. She looked up as he entered and then quickly brought her gaze back down to her sewing. Arjun climbed in, stretched out on his back, feet spread apart as he stared up at the ceiling.
“How was your day?” Shalik asked. As she always did, every night.
“Great. And yours?” was his automatic response. He turned away and lay on his side as sleep crept up on him slowly.
The last sensation he had before he fell asleep, was of Shalik’s fingers, running lightly through his hair. As always. Like every other night.