The stone skipped over the surface of the water as Maya watched it, her sad eyes brimming with tears. “I don’t know what to do. I want to be with you. I don’t know what to do.” Lalit’s words cut through her like daggers. She always knew this would happen. Why did she think it would end any differently? What was she going to do now?
The first time Lalit saw Maya, he knew he was going to spend the rest of his life with her. He told his friends that he was drawn to something far beyond his control. They didn’t quite understand the lure of this person he talked about. No one could. He asked Maya out to coffee, then lunch, then another lunch and soon they were inseparable. She wasn’t sure why she kept saying yes. There was something about his eyes, the way he looked at her, the love she saw in them. Maya was to be betrothed to Deven, her mom’s best friend’s son. It had been decided when they were teenagers and neither of them knew if this was the right thing, just that it would happen and they had consented to it as all obedient children do.
Lalit was relentless. All attempts to thwart him and they were pretty half-hearted to begin with, were to no avail. He would smile his disarming smile and all intent to resist his charm went out the window. Lalit was smitten and Maya basked in his adoration. Slowly but surely, she was starting to fall for him and she knew deep inside that nothing good would come of it, but she still started to dream. They could talk for hours, or just sit by each other and not say a word and still everything seemed just right. They shared the same passions, disliked the same things. He read her thoughts and she completed his sentences. She had read about such things in books growing up, but to experience it unfold first hand and that too in real life, was surreal. She was sure this was too good to be true. She wasn’t too far from it.
Lalit had big plans for his future. He wanted to study languages and travel and he wanted Maya to be his travel and his life companion. “Will your family approve of me?” Maya would often ask him. He would smile and say “Who couldn’t love you?”. She started to believe. It wasn’t going to be all that easy. She had her own situation to deal with at home. Now that she was 25, her mother was starting to plan for her wedding, a piece of jewelry here, a saree there. Soon she would start looking for auspicious dates. Maya needed to talk to her parents. First she needed to talk to Deven. Deven, to her surprise was devastated to hear the news. He loved her in his own way and while it wasn’t as uxorious as Lalit’s, it was just as real. She explained to him that while she loved him too, her heart belonged to another. She wanted to make sure he would be ok but she could clearly see he wasn’t. A pang of guilt hit her hard. If this was Deven’s reaction, she couldn’t even begin to comprehend how her mom would handle this. Maybe this was moving too fast. Why then did it feel so right?
And then it started to unravel. Lalit called her in the middle of the day. “Maya, we need to talk. What time do you get off work? I can pick you up.” Alarms started to go off in her head. “Lalit, what is it?” she asked frantically. “Let’s talk when we see each other.” was his response. They agreed to meet at 5 pm at the coffee shop across from her work. She arrived 5 minutes early with the intent of being there when he walked in. He had beaten her to it. One look at his face and the room began to spin. Everything she had dreaded since day one came crashing down on her. She sat down quickly lest she fall.
“What’s going on, love?” she asked, her voice sounding composed to her ears, while her heart was thudding in her chest. “Maya” his voice choked as he started, “my parents have chosen a girl for me to marry. I’ve known her for years now, but only as a friend. I’ve never loved her but my parents think we are a great fit.” Maya couldn’t breathe. “Did you….did you tell them about me?” she asked stunned. “I couldn’t. Kavita was right there. As were her parents.” The pained look on his face did nothing to soothe Maya’s inner turmoil. The room continued to spin. As she gained her voice back, she asked “So what are you saying?” Lalit shook his head slowly. “I need to talk to Kavita. I need to let her know I love you and that I want to spend my life with you. I will fix this. I just needed to see you.” Maya wasn’t so sure. Lalit wore his heart on his sleeve. He couldn’t hurt a fly. How was he going to break this news to his family and the girl who was apparently dreaming of being his wife? 30 minutes later, Maya walked home, too numb to think, to do anything. That was two months ago.
When Lalit first broke the news to Kavita, she collapsed. She had dreamed of a life with him since she was little. He was the only one she had ever loved. What did he see in Maya that she didn’t have to offer? He’d known her most of his life, Maya was a new comer. Why was it that he couldn’t let go of this girl? She was sure she could make him happy. He just needed to give her a chance. As time passed, Maya watched Lalit begin to crumble. The decision-making was starting to take it’s toll. Fortunately Lalit’s mom was very understanding. “It’s your life. We’ll support you no matter what.” she told him. She only wanted to make sure Kavita would be ok. Kavita was not. Lalit wasn’t doing too well either. He knew he wanted to spend his life with Maya but he didn’t know how to end it with Kavita without destroying her in the process.
Maya was dealing with her own woes. She had let Deven know that she could not marry him. She didn’t love him and it wouldn’t be fair to him if they stayed together. Deven had slowly started to realize that maybe his love was based on the fact that he had known for years that they would be married. He hadn’t given himself a chance to consider anyone else, live a life beyond Maya. They agreed to stay friends. Deven moved to another city, and Maya was now technically single. Maya’s mom refused to speak with her for weeks. She couldn’t understand why her daughter was being like this. Where would she find anyone as good as Deven?
Another month passed by and Lalit had still had no success convincing Kavita. Maya and Lalit continued to meet but the strain in the relationship was palpable. Kavita had forbidden him from meeting Maya, so he was constantly looking over his shoulder. He kept telling Maya that he wanted to be with her but she could see clearly he had no path forward. This was not sustainable. That day as they sat by the lake, skipping stones, she asked him “Do you think you and Kavita have hope?” His answer surprised her “I don’t know. She is a different person than the Kavita I knew before.” That was the moment Maya knew, it was time to let him go. She had been holding onto a dream for too long….grabbing sand and all the time it was slipping through her fingers. It was time for her to extract herself from this equation, if it could be called that.
That evening when she spoke to Lalit, he looked lost. “If you’re not sure, then you need to give it a fair try so you know. For you to know, I need to be out of the picture, else you’ll never be able to give it your 100%. Go be with her.” Those were Maya’s parting words. The next day, she was on a flight to the UK. Her mom’s sister had invited her to come stay for a few months. She was recently widowed and lonely and Maya could use the break. Few months turned into six years. Maya didn’t come home even once in those six years, she couldn’t. Then one day, she couldn’t avoid it anymore. Rajni, her little sister was getting married. She couldn’t hide in the UK anymore. She needed to go home.
Rajni met her at the airport to drive her home. They had stayed in touch over the phone and FaceTime but seeing Rajni in person made Maya realize how long she had been gone. The city around her had changed so much. After some beating around the bush, Maya finally gathered the courage and asked “Do you know how Lalit is doing?” She had avoided asking that for six years, afraid of what she might find out. Today she needed to know. Rajni looked at her with sister. She knew Maya was still in love with him. “Maya, he’s been married to Kavita for five years now. They have a 3-year old son, Yohan.” An hour later, Rajni pulled up across the street from a squat bungalow and rolled down her window. Maya could hear the shrill laughter of a child as his dad picked him up and tossed him in the air. The back of that head….why was it so familiar? And then he turned. It was Lalit! He walked towards a woman (this must be Kavita), pulled her into an embrace and kissed her softly on her lips. The woman looked up at him, smiling warmly and said something that made him laugh. The sound of that laughter cut deep, bringing back memories Maya has buried a long time ago. “Let’s go Rajni” Maya said, “I wish you had warned me you were going to bring me here.” she added a little angry. Rajni started the car back up and eased out into the street. Slowly she placed her hand on Maya’s and said “You did the right thing. He is happy now. I hope you can let go of the past and do the same.” As the car headed in the direction of her parents’ house, Maya thought to herself “Yes, Rajni is right. I need to find what makes me happy, but how do I do that when a piece of me died in this very town six years ago.”