“I’m engaged to be married, Pratik.”
Pratik stood there, 3 years her boyfriend, best friend, only friend, confidante, partner in crime, and gaped at the nerve she had. She looked calm and unaffected, as she just sat with her legs bent under her tidily. She had a book in her hand; he could see that she had her finger on the page she had been reading before he reached the Café Coffee Day outlet to meet her.
Her call had sounded strange and slightly alarming. It was early morning, a time when they had both usually just slept off after being on the phone or on Skype all night, gossiping about this and that. Meet me at CCD she had said, without even so much as a good morning. He didn’t have much choice today, just like all those hundreds of other times. Only, other times, he had wanted to go too, no matter where she called him. Megha was spontaneous that way. Maybe it was the early morning fog, or the fact that he hadn’t slept too well that night, or maybe last night’s food hadn’t gone down too well, but today Megha decidedly sounded unpleasantly different. And so he had this nagging sense of foreboding, and for the first time in so many months, he had not wanted to go.
He got ready unhurriedly, taking his time to shave, and contemplate what could possibly have happened. She’d left abruptly after only an hour of chatting last night, giving no explanation. He felt slightly put off, but he had casually brushed it aside. He watched a few episodes of Big Bang Theory, laughed at the same jokes again, and then grudgingly went to bed in the bitter cold. He didn’t sleep well at all, the eerie silence of the night got interwoven with the slight buzz from his laptop, and the image of his Ares downloader got irrevocably intertwined with his fitful nightmares.
He finished bathing, cursing his ineffective water heater, and got into the skimpiest clothes he could dare to. A shirt and a slim-fitting black sweater, and jeans. He went out, caught an auto and forty five minutes of gut-rattling cold breeze later, he reached the Connaught Place CCD.
The inside of the café felt warm even to the eye. The red and orange hues, and the exquisitely lit niches with cookies and biscuits and ten types of coffee were all welcoming. He spotted Megha sitting in a corner couch, with her legs tucked under her, reading another of her fat books. Hard, blank cover, he noted, as he walked into the sweet, arousing coffee aroma. Can’t be that bad, he thought.
She looked fine too, calm and coffee-d. He said hi with the customary hug-and-kiss routine and settled down across from her, as she slowly looked at her page number, tucked it away into a remote but reachable part of her memory, and looked up at him, unsmiling, not speaking. Here we go, said a tiny voice in Pratik’s head.
“I’m engaged to be married, Pratik.”
He would have digested this much easier had he not propositioned her just three weeks ago. He would have digested this much, much easier had she turned him down. She had not. When he had gone down on one knee in the dewy grass of Lodhi garden on a beautiful sunny winter morning, and asked her to marry her in pure Punjabi, she had laughed her most beautiful laugh and jumped into his arms, chanting ‘yes, yes, yes’ as if in a dream. That dream had been his since the day he had first talked to her, and it had come to life that morning. Three weeks of utter bliss had followed; the only specks on the otherwise Teresa-white satin sheets of his recent existence were last night’s Skype session, and a bit of insomnia from the cold.
“What do you mean you’re engaged?”
“I mean my parents have set-me up with a guy, Pratik.”
She was still looking him directly in the eye. He was returning the stare, but he wasn’t really seeing her. His eyes were staring at a Technicolor replay of the entire relationship through her eyes, desperately looking for some hint, some clue that could have pointed him to this utter and sudden devastation. Nothing. He could think of absolutely nothing. Megha had been the only good thing in his entire pathetic life. And now, all of a sudden, it was as if Khaled Hosseini had taken-up the responsibility of writing the climax to his lovely love story.
“What?” was all he could muster. His teeth stayed clenched after he had pronounced the terminal syllable.
She kept silent, just looked at him, uncharacteristically without emotion.
“Are you serious?”
It was taking a while to sink-in.
“But, but … But, who’s the guy? Why didn’t you say anything? I thought you said yes to me! I thought we were going to get married? I thought, we were in love! What happened? Are your parents stupid? I thought they knew about us all along? Don’t they? Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…”
He started shifting in his seat.
“Latte with hazelnut flavor sir?”
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.”
The waiter set his steaming coffee down, pulled a disgusted expression, and left.
Pratik picked his coffee up and downed it in one gulp, hazelnut and all.
“I tried to explain to them Pratik, I’m sorry… They wouldn’t listen. They say they approve of his family, so, they’re giving me no choice. They threatened my education Pratik. They said if I didn’t marry this guy I couldn’t continue my Masters.”
Her tone was so cold, she could just as well have been saying something to the effect of the-terms-of-the-contract-clearly-stated-that blah blah…
“WHAT? Are they fucking crazy! How! Oh my god. Oh my god. I thought I knew your parents. Fucking sonofabitch. Oh my god. But Megha! Shit. Oh crap.”
He broke into a sweat now. And she, well, she looked about as disgruntled as if she had found that her seashell collection was off-white, not cream.
She started fiddling around with her purse, dished out a hundred bucks, put it on the table and started to get up.
“I have to go now Pratik, we’ll talk about this ok? Relax. I’m supposed to meet the guy’s parents now. I’ll explain everything on Skype tonight ok? Take care.”
He got up, mechanically went through with the hug-and-kiss routine without once looking away from some distant spot on a wall, and sat back down with a slump, one hand over his mouth, perfectly stunned.
He therefore didn’t spot the mischievous grin on Megha’s face as she turned around one last time to look at poor Pratik before she pranced out of the café.
“Namaste aunty! Kya haal hai?”
“Theek hai beta, how was it?”, said Pratik’s mom with laughter dancing around in her eyes.
“Awesome! He totally bought it aunty! You wouldn’t believe the look on his face aunty, I just wish I could take a photo or something!”
She took a couple of steps ahead and did an oh-my-god-oh-my-god impression of Pratik. Mother-in-law-to-be laughed heartily, exuding affection, as they both sat on the sofas in Pratik’s living room, waiting for him to return.
“He’s so buddhu beta, had you not told me he proposed I would never have gotten to know only. So scared he is! Just let him come home, this will be hilarious!”
They both just sat there and chit-chatted for an hour or so, about wedding plans, and saree colours, and kids’ names, and many other happy things.
Pratik came home the next morning wrapped in a white cloth, quite still and somber, carried by three police officers. The man in-charge handed the suicide note to a stunned mother and father, and wife-to-be. His father looked from the officer to the body and back to the man in khaki, and started mumbling something that sounded faintly like many oh-my-gods put together.
 “Namaste, how are you aunty?”
 “Fine, daughter …”