They'd been friends in college; an occasional chat here and there at the canteen, but that was about it. She was seeing the student union's president at the time and was looked on with grudging respect. He'd seen her campaign enthusiastically during the elections. The only reason he could even snatch a few moments with her was because they shared the same passion for music and were members of the college cultural club. Wasn't something that people noticed, but he'd rarely shown his admiration for her even otherwise.
Raj climbed the stairs apprehensively. Would she recognize him? 15 years was a long time. He'd gotten her address from a common friend who just happened to know her address. It was pure luck. A lot had happened in between. A million questions in his head.
He rang the door-bell and waited, checking his breath. He'd cut down to a half-pack and on his way to quitting it altogether. But he didn't want to spoil the first impression after so many years. Why was he here at all, he wondered.
A head peeped out. It was dark inside.
"Uh, Mrs. Sandeepa?"
The old man, her father perhaps, opened the door wide and squinted his thick-glassed eyes to study Raj.
"Who are you?"
"Uh..sir, I'm an old friend, college mate? I was in town and I learned..."
"Come in, come in."
Was this really Sandeepa's house? It looked like a stable. There was an unidentifiable stench coming from the far end of the house. Raj squirmed and slowly sat down on the tattered couch.
"Am sorry..this.." the old man looked around.
"Uh, it's ok...sir."
"Sandeepa has gone out. She'll be back soon..uh would you..?"
"No, sir, it's ok."
They sat, neither speaking, for a while. The stench now vanished. Maybe his nose had gotten used to it now. The old clock on the wall tick-tocked the boredom away. He looked around. Sparse, minimalistic furniture. He had a mind to leave. It wasn't worth it maybe. But then, the prospect of meeting Sandeepa after so many years kept him glued.
The door-bell rang. The old man left to answer it. Raj's pulse quickened. He heard them talking. The female voice sounded surprised. Then she walked in.
"Uh..hello..Sandeepa." He rose to greet her.
The sound of traffic below was strangely comforting. They sat sipping tea in the tiny sitout. The lunch was simple, but adequate. He looked at her. Still the same. A few wrinkles perhaps, but the same. She looked at him and smiled.
"You don't believe what I just said, don't you?"
"Hmm? Oh no..no, not at all, I do believe it. I.." Actually he did find it hard to believe it. But as far as he knew her, she wasn't someone to just make something up, not after 15 years at least.
She was dreamy now. "Yes, I met her a few months back and we exchanged addresses. How's she? And how her children have grown, na? Imagine..naughty Neha, with her own naughty ones." They laughed, going back to the college canteen for a few seconds.
He smiled. He wondered if she had any children of her own. This wasn't the time to ask.
"Keep in touch, Raj." Was there a tear in the corner of her eye? Guess not...
"I will. thanks. You too..And take care."
They shook hands. He held her hand for a fleeting second more. She didn't seem to mind.
He nodded gently at her father and started down the wooden stairs. She was leaning on the railing.
He started the car and lit up a cigarette. Then he shook his head, smiled and threw it out.