The Internet was slow yesterday, so I couldn’t upload the update at night. In case I don’t upload before 12:00 am IST, please don’t keep waiting and go to sleep. I don’t want you to spoil your schedules for updates. I will post as soon as I get time and the internet.
Right now, I woke up at 4:00 am, only to upload the next update.
Thank you for all the love and appreciation.
‘Can we please start talking again, in real?’
Manasvi winced and kept looking at the phone screen for a long, unsure moment before she sighed and put it back in her handbag.
She couldn’t reply to Anshuman after his last message. She had no reply for him. What could she say, she wondered. Whether she should write – No, we can’t talk. I can’t talk to you without losing a bit of my sanity every time we interact. Or whether it should be – Yes, we could talk. But talk about what? Will you ever solve these puzzles you weave around me every single day? Will you stop avoiding me after that? Or whether you will stop making it difficult for both of us?
Why are you doing this, Anshuman? She wondered.
Manasvi was almost sure that these were damage control measures from Anshuman to get rid of the guilt, if at all he had any, about divorcing her. He wanted to keep doing things for her. To make it easy for her. And now when she had asked him to stay away from her, he was taking extreme measures to ensure that she allowed him to be around her. But how could she do that despite knowing that every time they talked, she lost her heart as well? And not just sanity.
How could she accept him just as a well-wisher and a friend in her life when her feelings were much deeper, much complicated than those simple emotions.
It was better when they were away for last 7 years. Never met. Never expected anything. Destined to separate. It was so easy to bear. But it was not the same anymore. It was different now. Her heart had never been involved before. Previously, it was just gratitude, respect, wishing well for him and worshipping him, before the little part of her soul got entangled with him. The heart doesn’t know any rules. It doesn’t know any limitations. It doesn’t know any borders. You can’t restrict it to feel in a certain way and stop beyond that. The heart defies every frontier to make its own rules and ways.
And, her heart would tell her how she felt about Anshuman – by skipping beats when he was around, by beating loudly when she thought about him, and by feeling a heavy burden on itself when she hoped and wished for more.
She had to do something about it before it was too late and she lost whatever little sense was left with her. She bit her lower lip and thought about it.
Krish looked at her and shrugged to ask if she was fine. She nodded to confirm and paced around the visiting hall of the MEA office.
Azfar’s mother and brother arrived at the MEA office and helped her with the documents that needed local witnesses. Though it was really a heartwarming gesture and Azfar’s mother was a loving woman who hugged Manasvi and treated her kindly, yet it appeared to Manasvi that they had gone out of their way for her. They were nice, warm people, no doubt about that but who does that for an unknown girl. It could have been a security issue. How did they trust her so easily? Somehow, it troubled Manasvi. Did it have something to do with Anshuman? Had he ensured that someone was there for her at MEA? And he was not taking credit for this.
The documents were accepted. Paperwork finished. And major formalities were done. When they returned to Jalalabad, Manasvi said, “Krish, I need to go to the Population Registry office.”
“Why? Is there any formality or document left to be done? You already have your birth certificate.”
“Yeah. It’s not official. It’s personal.”
Krish flicked a single brow and teased her, “You know, I am so envious of you. You have barely entered this country and already promoted yourself from ‘professional’ issues to ‘personal’ matters. Looks like you already know half of Afghanistan and have made relationships too.”
Manasvi chuckled, “Don’t exaggerate. And don’t be jealous.”
She rode the stairs to the Population Registry office and called Azfar to come outside the office. She was apprehensive about creating a scene inside the office. Azfar met her outside the office. He asked, “Hey, is everything fine? I talked to amma. She was so happy to meet you.”
Manasvi smiled, “The pleasure was all mine. She is so loving. Thank you so much, Azfar bhai. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there.”
“Don’t mention that. I already told you that you are like my sis.”
“I have one more request. But I’m not sure how you would react.” Manasvi asked apprehensively.
“Tell me,” Azfar asked.
Manasvi took out a red thread from her bag. In the center of the thread were two beads and a cowrie shell in the center of the thread.
She said, “I had brought this thread to tie it at any place of worship in remembrance of my parents who are no more. Can I tie it around your wrist?” Then she asked hesitatingly, “If you don’t mind…”
Tall and robust, Azfar, with a light complexion and deep brown eyes, and typical Afghan looks, was strong and rough by his appearance but a soft-hearted boy at heart. He became emotional at Manasvi’s request. He was speechless when he raised his wrist. Manasvi tied the thread around his wrist and said, “Thank you for everything.”
Azfar placed his hand over her head and blessed her. “I’ll always be there.”
It was quite late and Krish was famished. But Manasvi didn’t want to go to the Jalalabad town and eat. So they got packed two Kathi rolls to eat.
Krish rolled his eyes when they walked to the bus stand to get a cab., “Don’t you think that you were too filmy, there? What was that scene? Out of a typical Hindi film?”
Manasvi laughed, sheepishly, “Yeah. When it comes to emotions, Hindi films are pretty handy with dialogues and scenes, both.”
“Certainly! They have covered almost everything.” He raised his brows and remarked when they took the cab towards the PBB camp.
“On a serious note, those were my true emotions. I felt deeply grateful to that officer, Azfar Malik. And they treated me like their own. So, I was moved.”
“On another serious note, don’t you find it fishy that his mother came to MEA to help you? Would they do it for every random person coming to their country for documents issues?” Krish asked.
Manasvi became serious, “Even you felt that?”
“Obviously! I mean, people do help strangers but this went too far. Like… you don’t see it everyday… it was so …um…what do we say… ya… It was so strange!.” Krish said.
“Hmm.” Manasvi gave it a long thought, staring in infinity, out of the cab, and nodded to agree.
“Forget it,” Krish didn’t want to see her more troubled so he tried to relax her, “Your work is done and that is more important.”
Manasvi pressed her lips together and nodded once again to agree.
It was almost 9:00 pm by the time they reached PBB camp. Manasvi retired to the tent that she shared with Amanda. Krish went to another tent that he was asked to share with one of the staff at the management section.
“Hey, is your work done?” Amanda asked sweetly, as Manasvi entered the tent. She folded the book that she had been reading to keep it aside to talk to Manasvi.
Manasvi nodded, “Almost. I’ve submitted the papers. Let’s hope for the best.”
“Anshuman didn’t go with you today?” Amanda asked cautiously, despite being aware that Anshuman didn’t go out of the camp for the entire day. But she wanted to know from Manasvi why he didn’t accompany her.
“Err… no, I asked him not to come. I went with my friend.” Manasvi made it clear to her and realized that with Amanda around her and questioning her, she would immediately become defensive and apologetic, even when she had done nothing wrong. Still, clarifying to Amanda and reassuring her that she need not worry about Anshuman’s interest in her became a growing need every time Amanda questioned her. As if that was the only mission left in her life.
Questioning once or twice was fine, but what was it with repeated interrogation? Manasvi couldn’t understand Amanda’s insecurity anymore. ‘What an insecure female? She has the world with her and still, she is so underconfident!’
Amanda was quick to ask, “Your friend? Who was admitted to the male ward after the blast in the city? Is he your boyfriend?”
Manasvi took out her clothes, trying to stay patient. Then she replied, “No, Amanda. He is not my boyfriend. But a dear friend, nevertheless.”
“But he doesn’t love you?”
Baffled, Manasvi winced and nodded vehemently, “Of course, not! He is simply a friend.”
Amanda thought about Anshuman and bit her lower lip as she asked, “But how would you know if someone treats you just like a friend, or loves you?”
“A woman would know that.” Manasvi whispered.
“Really? But how?” Amanda twisted her lips and shrugged, genuinely interested.
“Err…,” Manasvi changed her attire and took some time before replying. She was really not sure what to say to this. She had always believed that a woman would know when a man loves her. The looks, the words, the vibes changed the dynamics of a relationship. But was she sure about it, anymore? Probably not. She was sure about how Krish, Alex, or any random person felt about her. Even Azfar. But why she wasn’t sure about how Anshuman felt about her? Why she wasn’t sure how she felt for him? Why things were blurred when it came to Anshuman and her?
She tried to reply to Amanda, “I’m not sure how, but I am certainly sure that Krish doesn’t think of me as more than a friend. Or else, I would have known.”
Amanda was not happy with the reply. Somewhere, she would have been relieved if Manasvi and Krish were a couple. If they were not, it was implied that Manasvi had every chance to be close to Anshuman. She tried not to be mean about this, but couldn’t help it. Envy spoke more in her words than her true self when she asked, “What about Anshuman? Can you say the same about him, as well?”
Manasvi could hear her heart beating out of her ribcage and drumming over her eardrums when Amanda took ‘his’ name. Once again, she became apprehensive and apologetic, almost ready to clarify that there was nothing between them. She didn’t want to make Amanda insecure and step in between them to destroy a beautiful relationship. But Amanda’s insecurity had started troubling her.
‘Didn’t she trust Anshuman, at all? Why was she always so inquisitive and so worried?’
“What about him?” Manasvi asked in a low voice, making the bed, and dusting the pillow, “I’ve already told you that we don’t even know each other properly. Didn’t you see yesterday that he doesn’t even talk to me properly?”
“Yeah, I did.” Amanda nodded and put her book away. She dusted her pillow as well because, in a camp like this, it was not unusual to find insects, spiders, lizards or scorpions crawling into the bed. Amanda continued, “But then… that’s Anshuman, we are talking about! He doesn’t talk to anyone properly. In fact, he doesn’t talk at all. So no one knows about him much. And it is no big deal that he doesn’t talk to you. He talks to no one.”
“Not even you?” Manasvi lay down on her bed and stretched her legs under the duvet she had, as she closed her eyes.
Amanda replied, “No. Not even me. Not even Alex, or our supervisers, or even our chief. No one knows Anshuman properly. He says that he doesn’t like to talk.”
Manasvi didn’t reply to her.
“Good night.” Amanda closed her eyes after she dimmed the lantern in the room, kept behind her bed.
“Good night.” Manasvi wondered about the last message that she had received on her phone. She picked up the phone kept by her bedside and clicked on the messages section. The last message was from Anshuman. It read –
‘Can we please start talking again, in real?’
Someone who had told people closest to him that he didn’t like to talk, that he didn’t like to share his world with anyone, had asked her to talk to him. Manasvi was restless all over again. The storms inside her heart found a new surge.
What did he want? Why was he playing with her feelings so mercilessly?
For the first time, she felt as if she was helpless before her heart. And before Anshuman, as well. Did he have even an ounce of an idea how much she respected him and considered him a revered part of her life? Did he even know that he was weakening her, instead of strengthening her? He was making it so difficult to let go. So hard to separate.
She shouldn’t be affected by his efforts to be nice to her just because he felt uneasy about what he was doing. She shouldn’t become the reason for him going out of his character, to defy his true self and behave how he would have never behaved in normal circumstances. She should tell him that he didn’t have to talk to her, he didn’t have to make her feel comfortable, to make people march around her and ensure that things go smooth for her, or to be there as a guardian angel even after being asked to stay far away.
Why did he want to talk, now? And what would they talk about? She was an introvert too. Someone, who didn’t really find conversations easy. Wasn’t it weird for them to talk?
And why should they do that?
To become friends?
She frowned. For once, she knew that she hated these complexities. She didn’t want them to become friends, or talk like cordial, friendly people do. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. She would rather take her broken heart somewhere far and nurse it until it healed, instead of becoming a friend to Anshuman and staying in his life, forever. To be hurt and destroyed, over and over again.
No, she didn’t want them to talk. She didn’t want them as friends, ever!
After almost two hours of rolling in bed, fighting her demons – old and new, both – and trying hard to sleep, Manasvi got up and wrapped the dupatta around her. It was too dark outside, except for some lanterns placed at regular intervals along the way towards the main building. It could be dangerous. She decided not to venture far and to return after a stroll towards the cliff. Her mind was too messed up to get some sleep or think in a streamlined manner. Fresh air was all that she needed at this time.
She hadn’t met Anshuman since morning. It felt weird. Someone, she hadn’t talked to in last 7 years. Someone she didn’t know about much, who preferred to remain a mystery, an enigma, had made himself so important that she was counting hours since she had seen him. How pathetic and desperate of her?! She frowned. A man who was someone’s boyfriend, who had told her that he was about to propose marriage to his girlfriend, was on her mind twenty-four-seven and she could do nothing to fight that uncomfortable, shameful, forbidden feeling.
She was about to turn around and go back to the tent when she spotted Anshuman sitting by the cliff. His back towards her and face towards the cliff.
One look at him and all her restlessness, confusion, and questions calmed down. ‘He’ was the breath of fresh air that she had needed. One look at him and the parched pieces of her heart seemed to be sealed by wet cement. As if her storm had found a leash. Her ship had found her anchor.
Why was he sitting there? Alone.
Manasvi didn’t have to decide whether to go back or go towards Anshuman. Her feet took the decision much before she could comprehend. And every last trace of doubt vanished the very next moment. When he perceived the sound of footsteps and realized that someone was walking towards him. When he turned to look at her.
When his eyes met hers…