She gaped at my eyes. Her lips trembled, and she looked pale and timid, a side of her which I had seen before. But this was the first time she was showing me this today.
“Bannerjee. Yes Rajeev. It was him- Ani.”
I lifted my gaze off her face, my mind wrestling through nostalgia. Anirban? Could he really stoop that low? Yes, he was quite smitten with the girl at school, but so were many other boys. Everyone had given up on her when she started to date Vivek. He was the only one who held on. No wonder she was quite creeped out by him. That guy was a ghastly stalker.
“The day after we passed from school, Ani proposed to me.”
“Yes. Well, he proposed and I rejected. Ofcourse- what would I’d done other than that?”
I felt as if I was floating in mid air. What the hell was she saying?! All these years, I had proclaimed that I knew everything about everyone. Now, this was something that had really missed my eye.
“-But-“she continued in full flow. “What I did not realize then, was that he was not as simple as the other boys I had rejected. He was complex. Complex and immensely difficult to defeat. He couldn’t take it that I had rejected him for the 17th time in a row. So-”
“What did he do?” I paused in my tracks. This was going to be interesting.
“Well-” she sighed. “He asked for my hand from my dad.”
“Yes.” She sighed once again. “I told dad to reject him, but there was just no other option left. My father had taken a loan of Twenty Lakh rupees from Ani’s dad, but couldn’t repay it. We were too poor, and my dad had to marry my sister off. We had no choice. We just had no choice.”
I stared at blank space, visualizing the scene in my mind’s eye. There was I, after my 12th grade, wasting my time and playing PUBg with my gang. And there was she, a girl from my own class, who was fighting for her own independence.
“So- you got married?”
“Would I have been patrolling the streets of Geneva with another name in the librarian’s log book if I had?”
I stared at her curiously. She just smiled and looked away.
“I ran away.” She said.
“You heard me right. I ran away. From his life and mine, to an entirely new world in Geneva. I changed my name and got admitted in a college here. I didn’t have any money, so I borrowed some from Ajay-“
“Wait a second. Ajay knows you’re here?” I said, disturbing her flow. Ajay was my class mate from school and a really good friend of Amaya’s. Rumour is that , she coaxed and cajoled with Ajay’s crush and pleaded her to accept the boy’s proposal. Trisha never saw Ajay as anything more than a friend; but who could deny that with Miss Amaya pleading them, it was impossible to say no to anything? So she agreed, and they got together. Ajay couldn’t be at a greater debt from Amaya! I ate forty five rasgullas at their wedding last year. Trisha was on a verge of tears at Amaya’s disappearance. It was Ajay who controlled her sudden fits and mood swings. Who could’ve thought that he was the mastermind behind it all?
“Yes. He was the one who devised my plan.” She continued. “And it worked perfectly as well, until of course, you dropped in.”
I chuckled amusedly. “So you’ve got a new name now. What is it: something like Ann Chod- isn’t it?”
“It’s Annie Chadwick. Changing my name was essential if I wanted to hide my real identity. But- look at me, just talking about myself. How is life going for you? Any mistress? Kids?”
“Nah. I didn’t get married. What about you?”
“Does my situation really look good enough for some romance to you?” she chuckled amusedly.
I smiled. “Oh- well I thought, maybe you caught up with some American guy in Geneva? Anyway, do you remember Rekha?”
“Rekha? Ah well, how can I forget her? She and Arnab were the cutest couple in our class. I bet they got married.”
“You bet?” I looked at her, my mouth wrestling with itself to stop myself from laughing out loud in front of her.
I nodded in the negative. “ After school, Rekha and Arnab separated ways. Arnab suffered from a massive mental breakdown after his breakup. Had to consult a psychiatrist and all...”
“- but within a period of more or less three years, he was his old merry self again.”
“What about Rekha?”
“Well- she caught up with this college guy two years before. They’re their dating now.”
Beside me, I could feel her panting under the effect of the long walk, and trying her best to keep up with my stride.
Seeing her, I could not help but smile. God, some things never changed!
“So...” she started. “They’re completely separate now? Wow, that’s sad. What about the others?”
I stared at her tanned skin and her gorgeous brown locks, which had indeed lengthened along the years. Along the years. Ten years. Ten long years. Ten longs years, that had flown away like scraps of dried leaves off an autumn tree. We had grown up. We had matured, but some things never changed. They just never changed.
I turned to look at her, my eyes on hers. “I’m sorry Amaya.” I said. “I failed. I failed miserably.
“What are you-?
My eyes darted off to the distant bench placed sideways along the lane. I had to sit down. I had to calm myself. If I was to tell this to her right now, not only me, but she needed to sit down. Because I was afraid that she might collapse after hearing this.
I leaded her up to the bench, then sat down beside her; took her hand in mine and squeezed them, while she looked on with her face brimming with inquisitiveness. After a long pause, I opened my lips to start, but found them closing again. God- why was this so hard? I just had to tell her what happened and get done with it. Yes, that was what I was going to do. I just had to tell her: come on champ, you can do it. You’d dealt with harder stuff in life.
“Amaya-” I said, her hands still in mine. “- Vivek...Vivek got married.”
At that moment, I could see terror personalize itself in the shadow of her countenance. She turned around, as if trying to hide back her tears from the world. I knew what was going on in her mind; I’d told him- I’d told him that, one day, she would return. But he had lost all hope by then; and I couldn’t blame him. All of us considered her to have disappeared without a trace. He had even gone to the length of calling her parents up and asking them about Amaya. But all he had received was silence, and a sound of muffled sobs from the other side. No one knew what happened to them. And, no one knew what happened to Amaya.