Sentimental Reconconstructions

This summer Sameer is in love with Carol, and Ayush is in love with Priya. Last summer Sameer and Priya had gone on long drives, and Ayush had kissed Carol on a moonlit beach.
Sameer had etched in his memory the exact moment Carol had let her gaze linger on him, when they were in the arms of their respective lovers on a dance floor. He was seventeen and a purple skirt fluttering around honey-colored calves, delicate eyelids lined with kohl, and slow laughter rising in a throat had engulfed his young heart in the throes of passion. When the one in his arms knew, she had shed copious tears on his handkerchief but recovered surprisingly fast when she learned it was Carol. It took him a week to realize the swapping that had occurred that summer; he had seen Ayush’s arms around Priya on a night he was out with Carol, and wondered whether they had waited for him to confess first.
He has been in love with Carol for four years, two months and six days now. In between classes he waits on a mound of soft grass and waves to Carol as she squints against the sun. They share a strip of mint gum and sit with books on their laps. They go to the theater on Friday evenings and to the beach on Saturday afternoons. They have their Sunday brunch sitting at their favorite table in a dark bistro. They rent a movie on Sunday nights and on the couch she lets his hands roam. They read late into the weeknights over cups of coffee in the college library. He gifts her flowers and non-fiction, she gifts him records and fiction. He makes long phone calls at night; she sends short texts throughout the day. They are used to this predictable companionship, the effortless love devoid of jealousies and mind games and insecurities.
Graduation is over and jobs await them in different time zones. They are anxious about the separation and compare their schedules, install Skype and promise to write or call every day. Sameer watches her hair that falls neatly across her forehead and rests on her jaw replace the messy bun, and the three inch high pumps replace the ballerina shoes. He panics when Carol packs a black dress with sheer sleeves and a low back, pencil skirts and bright cardigans instead of her brown trousers, black sweaters and gray shirts. He doesn’t waste time and proposes marriage that weekend. She has a fit of nervous giggles and waits for him to join in the joke. She had never been able to resist petting stray dogs and babies in strollers; so she extends her hand to watch the rush of relief in his pleading eyes. A glint of a promise to fulfill rests on her finger when Carol boards her flight two days later.
She was browsing magazines at the newsstand when Ayush shouts her name. It makes her happy to see the familiar face from her past in a crowd of strangers. He is taller now, interned at an architecture firm and has an apartment fifteen minutes away from hers. Carol doesn’t want to fan any distance-induced insecurity and avoids mentioning the meeting when Sameer calls her at night. They have worked on re-establishing their predictable companionship across the time zone variance. He slept early and put an alarm for three am to call her up at her bedtime. She inquired about his lunch and the day so far as she flossed her teeth every morning. They used video chat and wrote long emails on weekends.
On evening Ayush invites her to a movie. She shows him the ring and feels stupid when he laughs and assures her that it was just for old time’s sake. They meet every Friday for a movie and later he takes her to eat at quaint little eateries. They talk incessantly about missing homemade food, the work they want to do, the books they read, the movie they just saw and occasionally they talked about love. Priya and his romance had lasted just a summer. She had invited him to her marriage a year ago; her husband is a businessman who looked twice her age. Ayush is dating someone from work and adds with a laugh that it isn’t anything serious. Carol rushes through her conversations with Sameer on Friday nights and wakes up with an inscrutable guilt the following morning.
Priya walks on Manolo Blahnik, lets Versace silhouette her curves and is forever finding her car keys in her pink rose Birkin. She travels abroad every season to attend fine art courses, film appreciation seminars, photography exhibitions, wine tasting events, shopping festivals, international fashion weeks and if she played her cards right, she could get away with spending less than three months every year with her husband who spent his time cooped up in boardrooms and conferences all over the world. She felt flattered by the unwavering love and attention he showered on her and felt affectionate towards him in her own way; she enjoyed the privileges of being his wife.
She had stepped out of her origami class when she sees him smile at her from the opposite sidewalk. He has a beard and wears glasses but she recognizes the boy who pursued her relentlessly for a single date five summers ago, and they hug. She tells him of her husband in a conference somewhere in Seoul now and congratulates him on his engagement to Carol, who she had talked to when she had called up Ayush a month ago. Sameer senses the sudden heaviness in his chest but keeps exchanging banalities with Priya. They promise to meet for dinner the following weekend. That night he confronts Carol about Ayush and couldn’t curb the accusatory tone; she hung up on him. She calls him two days later and explains that Ayush is just a friend who makes her feel at home in this new country. He apologizes and they laugh at their first major argument. He doesn’t mention the dinner he would have with Priya in less than five hours.
They are unsure who started it but in six months Priya’s clothes and shoes occupied three quarters of his wardrobe and an assortment of tubes and jars crowded the cabinet over his bathroom sink. He got used to waiting in a car outside the airport every time she could cook up a suitable excuse for leaving the country. She wore dark glasses and large hats when they went out for a stroll. They avoided restaurants and ordered in food; she was too popular for her own good. She talked to her husband when Sameer was at work, and he talked to Carol from the balcony as Priya slept on his bed. The obligatory night-time calls to Carol wearied him now; a part of him wanted her to detect the love he was faking, but he was scared of the aftermath too. They had been inseparable for six years; he was the one who had proposed marriage, he was the one who had sought constant re-assurance of her love and trust. It broke his heart that his Carol, with her warm smile and her good heart, wasn’t the one he envisioned a future with anymore. He rationalized that destiny had its own ways and meeting Priya after so many years had raked up a lot of dormant feelings. He watches the waif-like creature on his bed and her soft curls fanned out on his pillow and his lips brush the ivory arc of her shoulder. He has an intense desire to protect her from every hurt and sorrow. She had assured him that she would file for divorce soon, but she had to talk it over with her parents, who would be devastated by the news.
She didn’t go home that Christmas; he had sounded a little distant lately and she planned on a surprise visit to cheer up her fiancee. She had dismissed the sense of foreboding when she had heard a woman’s laughter during one of his late night calls. He explained that he had let out his spare room to accommodate his neighbor and his wife who got locked out of their apartment, and they were just enjoying a few drinks. Her worst fears were confirmed in Sameer’s startled eyes when he opened the door on Christmas Eve. She wanted to see the woman but couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it all when she barged in on a flustered Priya sprawled on his bed. She didn’t speak another word, walked into the bathroom and flushed the engagement ring down the pot in front of her bewildered spectators.
On a walk in a moonlit beach seven summers since the day he had first kissed her, he slipped a ring on her finger. She was reluctant but he had persisted. Carol and Ayush got married in an intimate gathering of family and friends later that year. Two months later Priya had mailed him a photo announcing the birth of her baby; Carol noticed a large family huddled around her hospital bed and a bald man, Priya’s husband perhaps, proudly holding the baby.
Years later they meet Sameer in an airport lounge; he has a slight paunch and a wife with a hugely pregnant belly. They exchange few awkward pleasantries before he disappears behind a copy of Fortune. Ayush and their five year old daughter double up with laughter on seeing the enormous bouffant of a lady who sat beside them. As Carol watches them she wonders if Sameer knows about the child born with his dimpled chin and who must be tottering behind his mother’s Manolo Blahnik heels now.
(Note: I read the phrase ‘sentimental reconstruction’ in Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel, ‘The Bad Girl’, and it led me to weave the above story on the sentimental reconstructions of intolerant hearts, passionate hearts, forgetful hearts,malleable hearts and loving hearts.)

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