I woke up with a start when I heard someone thumping on the door. I rubbed my eyes and tried to recollect what I was doing, sleeping at 6 o’ clock in the evening. I saw my copy of Pigs Have Wings by P.G.Wodehouse next to my pillow, and realized I’d fallen asleep while reading.
I dragged myself out of bed, stifling a yawn, and opened the door. A middle aged woman in a sari stood outside it- the housekeeper.
“You’re being called downstairs for tea,” she said.
“I’ll be right there,” I replied, smiling politely. I closed the door again and walked into the bathroom to freshen up.
It was the month of May. We had gone to Orissa on a family trip and were presently staying over at our relatives’ place in Bhubaneswar. We’d been there for a week and were enjoying ourselves, even though we hadn’t gotten around to much of sight seeing because of the incessant rain.
It was still raining cats and dogs when I went downstairs. I saw everyone gathered around the centre table in the living room: my parents and younger sister, my maternal grandmother, and my maasi along with her young daughter. I took a cup of what I was sure was cardamom tea and sank into an armchair- and yawned widely. I couldn’t help it. I suppose that’s what happens when you get such a long holiday from college or school- you become a little too lazy.
“Wake up, sleepy head. We’re joining friends for dinner tonight,” said Dad, grinning at the way I was curled up in the armchair.
“Hmmm…?” I blinked. “Right. Absolutely.”
I was nodding my head without realizing what was going on around me.
By the time I’d finished with my cup of tea, I was quite awake. But I guess my cousin didn’t think so, because just as I put my cup on the side table, a heavy cushion came flying across the room and hit me on the face.
Brushing my hair out of my eyes, and restraining myself from exploding, I turned to Mum, “Who are we visiting?”
“The Nandas,” she said. “We’ve to reach by eight…you’d better get ready.”
An hour later, my immediate family and I were driving down to the Nandas’ place, which was about twenty minutes way from my maasi’s house. The Nandas had a grand, old mansion. It was beautifully decorated, and the smell of the wooden furniture was making me mouth water.
Mr. and Mrs. Nanda introduced us to their younger son, Ayush. He looked about five years old and was he ADORABLE! I pulled his cheeks and he, thankfully, didn’t seem to mind.
We all began chatting while we started with the appetizers.
“….oh, yes. It IS a wonderful house,” Mrs. Nanda was saying. “And Ayush is particularly fond of the attic…he spends hours playing up there.”
“You have an attic?! Can I check it out? I just love attics!!” I said, immediately excited.
“Why, of course, dear.” She smiled. “Ayush will take you upstairs. We’ll call for you when it’s time for dinner.”
Since my sister was still having her soup, I asked her to join me later and I followed Ayush up to the attic. He unlocked the door with ease, turned on a light bulb and we walked in.
It was beautiful. There were unpacked boxes on a corner; I could see old photo albums on the dusty old rug, there was a comfortable looking couch against one of the walls, and there were toys, crayons and sheets of paper strewn all across the floor- in short, it looked exactly the way an attic should. But I especially loved this one because it had a writing desk with a sturdy chair, facing the window. One could see the grass, in the front lawn, glittering in the moonlight as it rained down hard. I sighed with longing. I wished I had such a heavenly corner to write in.
“This is where I play with my elder brother,” said Ayush.
“Oh, really? That’s nice. But where is he?” I said, tearing my eyes away from the scene outside.
“Right here,” said a husky voice from behind me.
I held my breath and turned around. There stood a tall, dark boy, casually dressed in an untucked white shirt and faded blue jeans. He looked down at me, his gorgeous eyes twinkling, and smiled slyly as though he knew how conscious I was suddenly feeling.
You should pay more attention to your dressing sense, said a voice in my head which sounded a lot like my friend Riana’s. She keeps reprimanding me for not caring much about what I wear. I promised myself that I’ll pay more attention to her fashion advice from then on, instead of tuning her out like I frequently do.
“I’m Anshuman,” said the boy, extending his hand.
“Sneha,” I said.
We shook hands. Or rather, HE shook MY hand. There seemed to be something wrong with my limbs.
We sat down on a clean corner of the rug while Ayush pulled a board game out of the nearest carton and started arranging it. I tried to make small talk but my brain had apparently stopped functioning. What the heck was WRONG with me?!
“So…d’you like the attic?” he finally said.
“Oh, yes. It’s really cool and comfortable up here.”
I reluctantly raised my eyes to meet his. He seemed to hold my gaze for an eternity.
“I really like it up here,” he spoke softly. “Everything stored in this attic has some connection with each member of our family. It helps me connect with what I’ve loved and lost.”
I smiled, unable to look away. “You love your family a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes. There’s so much I want to do for them,” he sighed. “I want them to know how much they’ve meant to me.”
“I’m sure they already know,” I replied.
As though to prove my point, at that very moment, Ayush jumped up and hugged Anshuman, as if being separated from him would be unbearable. With a jolt, I realized that I’d find it hard not to see him too. I saw Anshuman hug his little brother and get him to start the game. We played for about half an hour. I doubt whether I’ve ever enjoyed playing Monopoly this much. It was nearly nine, when I heard my sister calling my name from somewhere downstairs.
“You’d better go down,” said Anshuman. “I’ll help Ayush put the game away.”
“Okay,” I smiled.
I got up, and just as I was about to leave through the door, Anshuman caught hold of my wrist. My heart was racing.
“I want to give you something to remember me by,” he whispered in my ear.
He gently put a pretty bracelet around my wrist.
“Don’t forget me,” he murmured.
I closed my eyes. I mustered up the courage to look into his. They looked sad. But he smiled slightly. I smiled back, and then hurried downstairs.
“I’m coming!” I shouted at my sister, wherever she was.
I saw her waiting in the corridor, one floor down.
“Sorry about the yelling,” said Akriti, “I wasn’t sure which way the attic is.”
“That’s alright,” I grinned, “Sorry we’re late.”
I desperately hoped she wouldn’t notice that I was slightly trembling. We walked downstairs.
“No problem.” She said. “Hey did you hear about Ayush’s elder brother?”
“What about him?” I frowned, as I pushed open the door that led to the dining hall. Everyone was at the far end of the hall, busy collecting their plates and serving themselves.
“The last time the Nandas went down to the beach…he drowned,” she sighed, “It’s been three months since he died…he was only fifteen.”
I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. No, I thought. How can it be?
“Hey, what’s wrong?!” said Akriti, alarmed.
I’d fallen down on my knees. No one else seemed to have noticed “Anshuman…died?”
“Yes…that’s him,” she replied, looking confused. She was pointing at a picture on the wall. It was him.
I could hardly breathe. This is crazy, I thought. Was my mind playing tricks on me? I held my head in my hands, and gasped out loud.
I was still wearing the bracelet.
( by - ARPITA )
PS- thanks pulkit bhaiya, for all the encouragement. i know i'm not perfect, but you have a way of making me feel really special and loved...it means so much to me to know that you understand and care about me just the way i am. your faith and belief in me give me strength and confidence, and i know that with you by my side, i can seek anything...thanks for everything. :) love to you.