Of Fear and Pride- An unusual love story

‘Can we please have someone from the audience on the stage’ bellowed the man with the mike. It was a karaoke bar. He expected more participation. The small, low roofed hall was set in the basement of a quaint bar, nestled in a quiet, safe neighbourhood in the suburbs of New Delhi. The place was overflowing with people, they were sitting on the stairs, on the railings, some even on the floor. There was this crazy cacophony in the room but with the general mood of merriment it came wonderfully well together.

Maya had reached the bar with her girl gang from office after many agonizing days preparing the client report on a consulting project.  Before the other girls realized, Maya flew to the stage in an instant as if to oblige the man with the request but she had other plans. Otherwise shy and reticent, she was surprised at her tremendous alacrity to sing with the band. She discussed what to play with them, almost conspiratorially. She then turned to the audience and announced what she would sing, her eyes fixed on the one man in the room for whom she had taken this step in the first place. There was a light applause and a few approving nods. Silence followed. Maya seemed perceptively nervous. It wasn’t the tens of people sitting there, eyes fixed on her. It was that man in the white shirt. After all it had been 10 years since she had seen him.

It was that song he had always loved to hear her sing. As she sang, she noticed that he was looking back at her, as if in a daze, mesmerized, as if he had been transported back in time. Her voice trembled, more so on the higher notes but once it was over, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause. Demands for an encore performance reverberated in the room. They seemed to be impressed but she had no interest in what anybody other than him thought of her. She smiled coyly, shuffling her feet and looking around the room at the approving faces when she glanced back at him. He seemed unaware of anything but her. He sat transfixed, just staring at her and in a moment he was walking towards where she stood on the stage. ‘What was he going to do’ she gasped. She was mumbling incoherently to herself as her heart seemed to beat recklessly.

Finding his way through the crowd, Arjun was moving determinedly towards the stage where Maya stood. He wore a white shirt and stone washed blue jeans. “He had always liked the semi-formal attire’ Maya mused as she found herself wiping her sweaty hands on her well fitted short skirt. In one long athletic leap Arjun climbed the stage, looking deeply into Maya’s eyes. Then with a sudden wink and a mischievous smile he grabbed the mike from her and declared that they were together going to do one English duet. ‘He hasn’t changed a bit. He still does not check with me’ she thought and laughed to herself. Arjun turned to her and smiled that beautiful smile that used to be her comfort and solace long years ago. She snapped herself out of yet another dive into the past and moved closer to him to know his plan. She knew what song he had meant. It was “their” song and even after that fateful morning 10 years ago, there was not a day when she had not heard that song and thought of him. After having made the announcement, he thought fearfully to himself if she had erased all memory of that song. As if reading his thoughts, Maya took the mike back from him and called out the song they would do together. They both looked at each other and smiled. Words seemed inappropriate. The crowd was ecstatic, they seemed to love this impromptu music from seemingly those unknown to each other.

Arjun had a quick word with the band members and took the electric guitar from the tall, brawny, tattooed lead guitarist. The crowd had not anticipated that. There was more boisterous cheering and thumping on the tables. In an absolute professional way, Arjun began strumming the guitar lightly, as he checked the chords and the tuning. “He was now doing the bar chords like a pro” she noticed, recollecting the days when he had just begun to play the guitar. She looked at his long, slender, artistic fingers moving effortlessly on the guitar strings and felt happy that he had ventured into this creative field upon her insistence. “Your beautiful artistic fingers are meant to do creative things, like maybe move on a musical instrument, rather than just churning out dull, boring power point presentations in the office” she had said to him when they were sitting as a young couple on a park bench with interlocked fingers, ruminating about career paths and the course this uncertain life could take.

When he was set, he winked as was his wont, and so began the music. There was no sign of nervousness anymore. She sang as if for him, to him, meaning every word that came out of her mouth. Now there was an air of confidence in her. With the mike in her hand, she moved on the stage, tapping her feet and making some elegant moves with the music, boosting the crowd to join in the chorus. The guitar slung from his shoulder, legs a little apart, back slightly bent backwards, Arjun looked the quintessential guitarist from an A grade rock band. He was focused on her and she on him. She knew where to take the cue and sing and when to stop. From the signals she gave with her hand, he knew when to play soft and when to raise the rhythm. Together they seemed to create magic on the stage. There was palpable chemistry between them. They had instantly turned into rock stars.

They received a standing ovation. People were awed by the performance, the chemistry. Once the cheering was over, most got back to their conversations. Some still looked on at the two who had put together a beautiful rendition of a most romantic, mellifluous song. He held her hand and helped her climb down from the stage. They walked in silence till they reached outside where there was no noise. They were both smiling.

‘You remembered all the lyrics’, Arjun blurted, feeling reassured that he was not the only one.

‘You played the song on the guitar just as well as you used to back then’, Maya said as tears welled up in her eyes. More silence ensued. 

He had always liked her in long hair and now, looking at her chestnut brown waist length hair wondered if she had kept it this way for him. ‘She is still as delicate’ he thought to himself as he looked long and deep into her dark brown eyes. She shifted her glance nervously to the door of the bar, the sky and then to the ground. She didn’t know what was happening. Too much time had passed. She didn’t know what to say. ‘He looks as dashing as he did back then when we were together. His salt and pepper hair now was the only difference’ she mused. ‘Had he done it for her since she had always told him that it would make him look aristocratic’ she wondered.

After a long pregnant silence, she finally managed to ask ‘How have you been?’

‘Not bad’ came his reply ‘And you?’ he inquired.

She shrugged her shoulders and let the question pass.

‘It is so fortuitous that we should meet here after all these years’, he exclaimed, and then dropping his voice to a whisper he said ‘Thank you for singing that song to me.’

She looked at him and said ‘Thank you for doing “our” song with me. It was an unbelievable few minutes.’

They both looked at each other. Sometimes when eyes do the talking, words seem redundant. But a lot had happened in the 10 years. They had no knowledge of each other’s lives. On that horrible morning 10 years ago, they had both left in rage, swearing never to see the other’s face again.

‘If only he had come after me, I would have gone back without a question’ she thought to herself.

‘If only she had not decided to go away in the first place, I would have sorted things out’ he thought to himself.

She was insecure and impulsive and he was proud.

Her phone rang. It was her friends from inside the bar asking to go home.

‘I have to go’ she said, hopeful that we would not let it end this way. He had much to say but then words failed him.

Arjun wanted Maya back in her life. He had waited endlessly. He played their favourite song. Wasn’t that a sign? The looks they exchanged, didn’t that mean anything? Couldn’t she see it in his eyes? He didn’t want to let her go. He looked above hoping for divine intervention. But then what was in his hands he didn’t do. He let the moment pass. On numerous occasions when they were together, she had always taken the first step to put things right between them, their petty quarrels, his short temper and their cold wars. He was aware of that. Yet he didn’t do anything now. He feared rejection. He feared she would say no to him. He was still proud. His pride had always got the better of him. He wouldn’t take the chance because losing her again wasn’t as bad a consequence as his hurt pride.

Uneasy in crowds, yet she went to the stage to sing to him. It was her way of conveying that she had waited for him to come back. She wanted to get back with Arjun since the day they had fought and parted. He had said hurtful things. But she had not been able to move on. For once she wanted him to come after her, to stop her from leaving, to show her that she was worth it. She had always asked him for reassurance of his love. He knew that better than her. Today, she was afraid. She was afraid to ask him because he may have moved on. She stood there in front of him waiting anxiously for him to say those words that would make everything alright.

‘He is quiet. He must have moved on’ she thought to herself, as a tear finally found its way down her cheek, but she didn’t want affirmation from him that it was true. She wanted to treasure this evening. The music they played together, and for each other, she wanted to hold that dearly, making herself believe that he still belonged to her and she to him.