The Hidden Beauty

by GOKUL GOKULAM

Preface

This story describes about a guy who loses his hope when the girl he immensely loves leaves him. Will there be any other girl that might strike his heartstrings????


short story 3 - THE HIDDEN BEAUTY

-Gokul Vijayan

I was really feeling suffocated among the people who had surrounded from all the sides. I wanted to scream around and stop the ongoing processions that were taking place infront of my eyes. It was a marriage...but of my girlfriend. How painful it is to see the marriage of our love... I was realising it bit by bit. It was as though I was being stabbed from every part of my body.

Among the possible gaps from the crowd who were seated on the benches of the church, I caught the glimpse of her. Even from the back, she was looking stunning in that traditional (marriage) white dress. Things we so better at a time... particularly at that day...

I saw her back. She had reached the lover's point first as usual. I had forgotten to bring roses as usual. She had her long hair opened and her well maintained body sent a shiver to my body. But nevertheless it was her humane side that had made me open the gates of love.

Tiptoeing with my leather shoes, I reached to her and clasped my arms to her waist, lifted her up saying,'Caught you angel!" "Offo! It s a public place! Get me down Shantanu!" she said with a fear hiding her laugh.

"No!" I said to her with a smile.

She too laughed with me and again said,"Get me down now!"

This time her tone was sharp. I got her down.

"Are you nuts?"

"No dear, I've gone mad because of you."

"Hmm.." she said with a satisfaction nod giving away a blushing smile to me.

"So...why are late again today?" she asked me.

"Er Alice...imagine you are dressed in white waiting for your bride. I enter in with a classic black suit and come to you..."

"You are not answering my question Shantanu!"

"And then I will kneel down putting a ring to your finger and then you'll fight back with tears in happiness."

She was coming to say more but hearing my words she stopped all of a sudden. There was silence. She then said after a moment-

"Hmm..then what happens?"

"Then I 'll lift you up and you will rejoice with me just like this." I stopped and again took her up.

"No-no-no-no....noooo Shantanu...not again stupid!"

I came back to my senses as the seated people got up. I too got up wondering what were these up to. All crossed their fingers and began to pray. I joined my palms (as per the traditional Hindu manner) and began to pray-

" God...don't let this marriage happen. I know she still loves me very much and she too doesn't want it to happen!"

Tears came out from my eyes as I recited the same prayer several times in my mind. Just then I noticed a man looking at me in curiosity. Just then I wiped away my tears roughly and crossed my fingers.

The priest had ended his reading from the Bible. He then took a long pause. After then, he approached forward and looking towards Alice asked her-

"Alice George, daughter of George and Cicily, do you accept Matthews as your forever husband?"

"Yes!" she said.

My heart got wrenched as she said it. I grasped for some fresh air and excused myself from the marriage crowd. The priest began performing the final rites of the wedding. There were many happy faces I could see but none were concerned about that single face which was sad...which was of mine! I was about to cry as she had was slowly going away from my hands. My Alice .. the moment had finally dawned up and I stood helplessly not knowing what to do. I took a final look at the angelic bride (of someone else) and ran away from the church.

I love to travel a lot with my bike...but today it had a special purpose. A ride to forget the past! As I rode the bike, I shouted, wept whenever the traffic became light. I called out her name so that I could get her back but the slapping winds were the only reply to my shouts.

***

Days went by... each second seemed to be going very slow. The world seemed to be very dull for me. I couldn't even concentrate for a minute. I closed myself most of the time in my room. I used to go to my gallery (of my mobile) and used to look at her pics....from cutes to heart-throbbing ones.

The oldest (first) pic was my selfie sitting on the bike in the parking area of the college. I had taken it 4-5 years back. I was talking with my friends sitting on the bike when one of them just causally said-

"Buddy looking cool today!"

"Is it Rohan?"

"Hmm." he nodded. The others laughed.

"Then I should take a self-photo ( *selfie word was not popular those days) then!"

And I took the pic.

In the evening as I went to put that selfie as my fb profile pic, I zoomed it just to look at myself in detail. As I scrolled to the left, I saw a girl that made me stare at it for a while; a white girl wearing yellow top and pale blue jeans. She was caught laughing gracefully in the pic.

And that was the start of my love-story!

Then the further pics showed the wonderful days of my life spent with Alice. My birthday...her birthday...our first date..second date...our grid photos..our anniversary photos..her selfies...( for which I had to beg her assuring her that I won't misuse her photos ). Seeing it all for a last time, I deleted all of the pics from the gallery.

****

I came back to the office after a week. My officemates knew the problem of mine but I avoided them saying that I needed some space for myself for a while. The following days at my office were going bad. All miscalculations were taking place in my reports. The boss was bullying me several times but my office mates helped me up with my works risking up their time. Our company was pacing up and luckily had got a collaboration opportunity with one of the multi-national company which would fetch profits in the outcome. For that our company had decided to set up a project named 'A.S.O Project'. It was going to be scheduled within 2-3 months and so the whole companymen were running helter-skelter finishing up the works and add profits to witness a tremendous rise in the performance. I felt so thankful for my officemates who were risking up the time to save me from the boss's bullies but I was so depressed that I couldn't properly thank them.

My group consisted of five including me. There was Sharad who was a recently married buddy of mine, Renuka a bubbly girl whose jokes used to cheer us up at the boring work-hours, Ramanujan, the South Indian guy who used to bring lip-smacking idlis & uttapas for us made by his wife and Asfiya, a god-fearing girl who used to say "Oh Allah !" more than taking breaths and used to bring aromatic biriyani in between.

The clock struck one. It was the lunch break. Sharad stretched out his hands saying-

"Oh my...what a hectic load it is these days, isn't it?'

"Seriously!" Renuka said nodding her head while taking up her tiffin.

"Oh Allah!" Asfiya shouted.

"What happened now?" I asked her.

"Ten more e-mails...ten more tasks. I just can't handle it!'

"You better switch off your pc and come down. We all totally frustrated like you!" Ram said. We had shortened Ramanujan to Ram.

"Hey Shantanu, you aren't coming?" Sharad asked.

"Er..no guys. I'm not feeling good. I'm taking a half-day and leaving."

"Shantanu...such things do happen yaar ...now for God sake just flush off those thoughts from your mind." Renuka said.

"Hm...I know its hard but..its life my boy. You must learn to accept such things from your life!" Ram said to me.

"C'mon man, don't act like a dumbo. Come with us, you'll feel better instead. Asfiya, have you brought biriyani for our Devdas or once again forg...."

"Oh Allah, I've forgotten again. I'm so sorry guys!'

"Don't worry I've brought idlii-chutney !" Ram said out loud.

"Yipee! Let's go then!" Renuka squeaked.

I got up and said," Its ok guys, I'll manage myself! You guys enjoy the lunch. I'm off!" I walked off the cabin while others looked at me in wonder.

****

Luckily getting an exit pass, I got out from my office. I took my bike and got out. My mind told me to go for a ride rather than going to my home and close myself in the room thinking about the hopeless past of mine. I took some new routes and entered the main road. Just then I saw a large garden. It was some sort of picnic spot. I thought to relax here for a while.

Parking my bike, I entered in. The cool breeze welcomed me. This breeze was not new for me. It still whispered the voices of Alice. I saw the wooden bench which was under the tree providing shade. I stopped in between remembering the wonderful moments that I had spent with her at this bench...

I placed my head on her lap. She smiled.

"You're looking beautiful Alice!' I said to her.

"Really! Thank you for the compliment."

"Do you remember that day when I had proposed you?"

She shot a glance at me.

"What?' I asked with a chuckle.

"How can I ever forget about it? The stranger child had come up to me giving me a rose and a card in which it was written with your blood.."

'O you're the one I'm searching for years

Without you I will be in tears..

Can you say a YES to me please?

So that you can be my Alice !'

"Actually it was a red marker!" I said to her and ran away from her.

"You bastard!' she shouted and ran behind me.

She ran behind me for a while. Finally she stopped and she sat down on the grass. Feeling pity for her, I walked to her.

"Come Alice, let's go the bench. Its really hot today!"

"Stupid, I was really touched seeing that. Damn it looked real!"

"I had thought of doing it but actually I didn't have the guts for it...thought if you rejected me den what would have been the use of the stunt!"

"Well..I've accepted your love so what can you do for me?"

"I may write an essay on 'My Alice' with blood!"

"Shantanu..never do such stupid things for me..your love..is what I all need!"

I looked at her. Her eyes were a bit moist.

"Wish our parents could accept our relation!" she said.

"They will Alice...they will..and we'll get married one day and come back here. Its my promise!"

I looked at the grass. I had come back..but alone! Just then I saw a girl sitting next to the bench. Her face was covered with her shiny hair. She had an hour glass figure had worn a blue dress. She had no idea if I was sitting near her. Slowly I sat on the bench and watched the lawns and the other few people who had come to the garden.

Just then she hummed a song. She was singing it very nicely and gracefully. I felt like to congratulate her on her fabulous singing but looking at her odd 'I'm-not-bothered-type' attire, I decided to sit silent. After some time she walked away. I became confused by her manners. The sun had set and I decided to go back to my home.

That night my mother asked why was I depressed from few days. I was not in a mood to reveal the reason behind my sorrow. I lied to her saying that it was because of the hectic load given to me in the office. At night by 11, I rested to my bed. I saw an unusual dream in which the same girl was sitting on the garden bench. Also I was also hearing my own voice that was saying 'Get her..get her!' I got up from my sleep but later discarded the dream from my mind.

The next morning.

"Hey guys!" Renuka said all of a sudden as we were working on our pc's.

"Not a time for joke dear. Today we're really busy!" Ram replied to her.

"No...not a joke."

"Then what a pj?" I asked her.

"No stupid!'

"Then what?" we all said in unison.

"I'm going to be married soon!" she said and gave out a small smile.

"Congrats Renu!" Sharad said. We all got up and went near her asking our set of questions.

"Guuuys, calm down! I will tell you everything."

Our voices fell down. She took a pause and then began-

"Ok...so he's a Chartered accountant. He's 28, a good looking guy from Gujarat. I had met him from the marriage website. He's a good guy and.."

"And?" we again said in unison.

"Today is our first meeting I mean..I mean."

"Date, isn't it?" Asfiya added to it.

"Yes!' she said lowering her face in shyness.

"Guys any tips?" she asked again with an embarrassed expression this time.

"Ha..I know one very important thing that I would like to advise to you."

"What Sharad?" she asked.

"Please don't crack jokes infront of him!"

All laughed. Renuka threw her purse on Sharad which nearly missed his cheek.

"Easy girl...easy!"

"Hey guys boss's comin.." Ram said. We all sat on our respective cabins. I covered my face down as I couldn't control my laughter. Just then I realised that I was laughing...after such a long time.

The rest of the day went well. Everything went well..I mean the office works. I was finding it interesting to work more and more. I was feeling good to reide my bike and listening to the songs played on the radio. The songs came to the end and the Rj Shreyas came on air.

"Hello listeners, you are listening to 96.4 Fun Fm. Its 5: 41 and the office guys must be on their way to home I guess. The weather's a bit cloudy..scattered clouds. Today's topic is "Meeting an unknown!" sounds interesting, isn't it? Well listeners, have you met someone who was a total stranger to you. You might have spent some time and then later you parted. But then later you might get an urge to meet the same person because you may have found the person to be interesting. I'm sure you must have gone through such experiences. If there's one in your mind or such experiences do share with us. Call 2380239 immediately, till then we'll listen to the songs. First song, its..."

I then thought of the girl at the bench. Without thinking anything further, I set my bike to the garden.

The sky was now getting more cloudy. I entered in and walked towards the bench. From a distance, I could see her sitting in the same manner and she was busy reading a book. The next second I stopped myself asking to myself,'Is there any need to go there? Who's she for me? Maybe its right to go there, or is it?'

Just then I saw two guys staring at her. They were casually walking near the bench trying to catch the glimpse of her face. Just then she brushed her hair a little. I saw the two guys. They had their eyes out seeing her face. She suddenly looked up covering her face with long hair. They walked out slowly. Was she so beautiful that the guys had their eyes out? How she must be looking then? My conscience said to back out from the plan. I walked back imagining her face on my assumptions.

****

I was resting on my mother's lap. She was caressing with my hair while I was looking at the rains through the window.

"Shantanu?"

"Yes mother?"

"I've been asking you for many times dear. Why is it that you're sad these days. I know something bad has happened to you; share it beta !"

I got up and looked down thinking of Alice. Exhaling out, I said-

"Mother...its that...you know I had gone recently to attend a marriage.."

"Of your friend.' She added to it.

"Well..mother I was in love with her."

She looked at me with the confused face. I described more about me and Alice. She patiently listened to it. After a while, she put an arm around my shoulders and said-

"God will get you a good girl, I'm sure for that. Maybe she was not the destined one for you. Some one's out waiting for you!"

I looked at her giving a smile. She too smiled.

I lay back to my bed after switching off the lights. I was thinking about the girl. Was she the so called destined girl for me? But why was I waiting for her? What had made me to think of her and come to the garden? It was still raining while I closed my eyes thinking of another rainy day.

The sky was showing the signs that it could rain anytime. I was waiting for her near the wall of a small cricket ground. Things had worsened up as our relationship had reached her home. I told to keep up hope that the good will happen. She had called me up in the morning (after so many days) saying she wanted to meet me. It was two in the afternoon but she still hadn't shown up.

'Where's this girl?" I whispered to myself as I saw her walking towards me. She had worn a green churidar. I smiled to her but her face was normal and pale.

"Hey Alice, are you ok? You seem to have gone weak." I sad and reached for her hand but she merely refused.

"Shantanu, I had called you up to tell you something."

"Leave it aside, are you ok my dear? Don't worry, I'll set up all the things. I just need some time to settle and then..."

"Things have gone too far Shantanu..its too late. Maybe we are not destined for each other."

Just then the rain began to pour. I thought to step in the nearby tree but she stood there in the rain itself. I also couldn't digest the fact which she had said.

"What nonsense are you uttering Alice? Are you giving up so fast? We're been loving each other for years and now when some problem has come up you're trying to back out."

"I tried up a lot but its like my parents won't accept the relation. I had a little hope from my elder brother but I went in shock as he was the angriest among the three."

I began to panic in the rain. I began to feel cold but she was standing intact. I held her shoulders but she stayed silent. I hugged her and said-

"Don't leave me Alice. You can't go away like that. I know you can't leave me like that. I know you still love me. Trust me; we'll live together, its just that we need to struggle up a bit and nothing else. We'll live together.'

The rains poured harsh now. Even from the splattering raindrops, I could hear her cries. She tightly held me and said-

"I love you so much Shantanu...wish we could be together. Maybe next time..." and she loosened her grip. She gave me a card and ran among the rain. She didn't look back even once as I got down to my knees. I looked at her running away from me forever as I held her wedding card.

****

The next day, I went to the garden again. The sky was clear after so many days. The bench was empty. She had not come.

The next day I went to the garden but she had still not come. The same thing occurred the other day. Finally I decided to stop looking out for her. It was a bloody infatuation after all.

Days pass...

Meanwhile mother had discussed the problem to my father. He sensibly understood the problem. He then discussed of my marriage plans to mother and he had also put up a profile of mine in a marriage website just like that of Renuka's. One by one the interests had started to come in but I was not at all interested in them. But one day..

"Shantanu was a good student too. He used to excel in the academics right from the school days. He also gets 'Employee of the month' for most of the time." My mother boasted about me to Mrs. Sharma. Guess what? We had gone to Mr.Sharma's house to meet their daughter. Jelibis, farsan and ladoos and several other food items were on the table.

The other woman nodded and then said," Here comes my daughter Sheetal!". I looked up and saw a girl with a tray along with cups on it. She had worn a red saree. She was looking good. She was far much better from the other girls that I had looked in the website. For some or the other reason, I kept on looking at her.

"Son, take the tea!" my father elbowed me and all laughed. Even she laughed. "Seems interested I guess?" her father joked. "Let's get aside for a while, what say?" my mother added.

"Oh yes sure!" Mrs. Sharma said. All moved out of the hall. She placed the tray on the table and sat adjacent to me but keeping a distance. Neither did I nor did she talked for a while. I was thinking on how to start, on what topic should I start talking but in all, I was nervous.

The fan moved...

Outside the children played and shouted out...

The birds chirped around the windows...

Rest it was utter silence. but just then she broke the silence-

"Er...hii!"

"Hi!" I replied.

Finally with a take-off, the talk started. We quite talked for a while. She seemed a totally freak type person. She liked to hang around with friends, liked to party and secretly used to drink. She was a complete carefree person. Frankly speaking though she looked good but still, I didn't liked her. I told my parents that I hadn't liked the girl but they told her parents that I may need time to say a yes and for that to wait for some time.

"Spend some time with her. You will become more acquainted with her!" my father advised me.

The next day we both went out. It was not a date but a sort of hanging out. We both met at the mall. From a distance, I waved my hand but she knocked into me giving a tight hug. Just then I remembered Alice giving me the last hug in the rains.

"Hey!" I said all of a sudden shaking out from the memory.

"What happened, aren't you my fiancée?'

"Not completely." I said.

"Forget it. You spent a day with me and you'll like me."

I felt like calling her jerk !

"Let's go and shop for a while!" she said and pulled me to the nearest dress store.

It was really awful shopping with her. She was inspecting each dress of each category. She didn't even care for looking at the price tag but kept on looking at the high price dresses. After a long time of her search-

"Looks fine na ?" she asked as she held an orange dress over her body.

"Er yes.."

'And this?' this time she held a black one.

"Not bad!" I suggested.

"And this?"

I looked at her. She held the violet one this time.

"Hmm..fine." I said lazily.

"Which is better?" she asked. I became frustrated by now. The nearby salesgirl had seen the expression in me and controlled her laugh.

"All are good!" I snapped to her.

"Well.." she looked at the salesgirl and said," Pack all three!"

I choked out as she said those words. She smiled back in return saying-

"Well I personally liked the violet one but since you liked all three I ordered all of them!"

I fake-smiled in return.

The rest of the day we went to the hotel and later went for a movie. Sheetal was in her own world concerned only about her things, her life and her desires. In the whole time she hadn't asked a single thing about me. I missed being with Alice. She used to mingle with me every time we went out. Here with Sheetal, I felt as if I was walking alone. Alice was so better than her..so polite!

" But polite are much poisonous!" my conscience said.

By the evening, I left her at the front of her house.

"Bye then Sanjay!"

"Its Shantanu!" I corrected her for the third time.

"Oops sorry Shantanu..bye!" she said and walked away chunking half of my wallet money.

****

"So she's a crack!" Sharad said in a confused tone.

"She's a total jerk!" I corrected him.

"That's sad. Then say a straightforward no." Asfiya said.

"My parents said to wait for some more time. They think that things will get better." I said keeping the records file under the table and took the next file.

"Where you used to go some days back after leaving the office?" Renuka asked me.

"Means?"

"Means did you go somewhere else after taking half-day work? Your mother used to phone me asking your whereabouts."

"Oh...I just went for ride to clear my mind." I said hiding the garden part.

"Hey guys its 6:30; time for departure." Raj said.

"Its been so long that we have gone for a party, isn't it?" Sharad said throwing away the files carelessly in frustration."

"Seriously!" Asfiya said.

"Hey but I had promised my wife for a movie." Ram said.

"Leave it man!" I said to him getting up from my chair.

"Seriously!" Asfiya said again stretching herself in the chair.

"That may be easy for you guys to say, but sorry guys you party. I'm going." He said in a sad tone. Even Ram wanted to party with us.

We got out. Sharad got behind my bike while others got in Asfiya's car.

"Awesome...today we're gonna rock!" Renuka said as we all witnessed the disco crowd.

"Let's dance!" Asfiya said and ran in the crowd pulling Renuka along with her.

"I'm tired." Sharad said.

"Me too. Let's have a drink instead." I said and he nodded.

We went to the drinks session and ordered our drinks. We sat for a while enjoying the drinks and talked about useless things. The d.j was in full swing enjoying in his work. Even the crowd was unusually crazy. Just then I saw Sheetal among the crowd. I thought to meet her.

"I'll be back in a min!" I said to Sharad and walked to her. As I reached towards her, she got in the dancing group. I followed her but got lost her in between. Just then I started to feel dizzy. The drinks had started to take effect. I then drifted to some other memory.

"Woohooo!" Alice shouted with the crowd.

"Easy dear!" I said to her.

"Sorry Shantanu but this is the best day of my life. I didn't think that disco was sooo cool!"

She had totally lost her senses but she was laughing and enjoying. That was enough for me. Half an hour before, she was refusing to come to the disco and now she was enjoying to her extreme.

"Can you get me a drink?" she said.

"Are you serious?" I asked to her flabbergasted. The polite Alice was unleashed into some mad girl.

"Its my birthday dumbo...let me celebrate then!" she said and continued to dance.

I went to the bar and ordered a drink. As I got the glass for us both, she knocked me. A bit of drinks spilled on my dress.

"Oops sorry!" she said and then saw the glass.

"Calm down Alice!" I said.

"Thanks for the drink. I love you so much!" she said snatching the glass from my hands. I began to raise the glass for a toast when she gulped the drink in a single sip. My eyes rolled out in shock.

"Come let's dance!" she said and pulled me in the crowd.

We danced for a while. I had to leave the drink on the table itself. She had begun to lose her senses. In between, she lost her balance and fell on my shoulders.

"Let's better get out!" I said to her and pulled her out to a silent corner. There was a small heighted table. I made to sit on the table. She was finding it hard to sit on the table. I sat next to her and made her head rest to my shoulder. Now I had to find her other friends so that she could be safely reached to her home. I took out her cell and called others but none were interested to take the calls in the party mood. I waited for a while. Alice was muttering something low. I pricked my ears to hear what I she was saying-

"Tod...today is the b-best day..of my li-life. Thank you Shan-tanu. My life..has changed..complte..tely chan..ged because...because...of you. Thn you!"

I looked at her. She too looked at me with a smiling face. She was really happy because of me. I smiled back. But the next second she came near me and kissed me. The poor girl had no idea what she was doing as she always used to refuse to do this act but I too couldn't regret myself from her. It was like I had gone to some other world. This was an unforgettable touch of our love. The touch ended as she felt sleepy and fell on to my shoulders. I wrapped my arm on her and waited for her friends to come.

My search for the jerk girl ended on the same table where I had my tender touch of love. I slowly sat on it. Only two-three people were standing nearby. I thought about Alice. Was she living happily? Was her husband caring enough like me? Did he know her favourite colour was red and her worst green? Did he know she liked chocolate syrup over the vanilla scoop rather than the butterscotch icecream? Did she know that she liked the songs of Westlife rather a slow Beethoven song?

I began to cry in dark as I found helpless. I had lost the precious one from my life. I didn't feel like to live. I wanted to die rather than feeling disappointed. Just then I saw a low shout of a female form the darker side. I looked up. A girl and a man were standing kissing violently. I kept on looking at them for treason.

"You're a good kisser!" she said to the man. I felt anger to them. Was it love?

Just then a laser light beamed on the girl and I saw her face. I went in shock as I saw Sheetal's face.

I was standing on a small bridge. No calls came from my home as I my cell was switched off. I didn't bother saying Sharad and others that I had already left the disco. I looked at the river flowing gracefully under the bridge. The road seemed to be silent. Sheetal found out to be a complete jerk ! There was no girl destined for me. I found the flow of the river interesting. My conscience whispered to me-

"For whom are you living Shantanu? For the girl who left you so easily? Or for the girl whom you found kissing with another man? For whom are you carrying the load and burden? Leave these burdens and sorrows and enter the river; it will lead to the right place...I assure. Go ..the river is awaiting for you. Plunge in and gracefully flow in to the world of paradise!"

I slowly closed my eyes and started walking to the end. As I decided to jump in, someone held my arm.

"Save me!' she said in a quiet but in a panicking manner.

"Excuse me?' I said in confusion.

"Please save me from those brats! Could we escape from here?" she said.

I looked behind her to see two guys loitering around the silent road. I had no idea who the girl was but since she had asked for the help, I decided to help her out.

"Come let's go then!" I said and I got back to my bike. She sat behind me. I was in such a dizzy state that I had no idea whether was she trustworthy enough to be seated behind me? As she had covered her face partly with her shawl, I couldn't trace her face. But still not going for another thought, I started the bike and went forward.

After a minute or so, she said "Thanks for helping me! Or else..."

"Its ok...but what were you doing in this late night?" I asked her as the cold night winds sent a chill around my body.

"Actually I should ask you that question. What were you doing at the edge of the road?"

"I...I..er..that's none of your business!"

"Oh...then same here."

Seems an attitude girl is seated behind me I thought. I asked then-

"By the way, where's your home? Its really late now."

"My home is not here. I live in a rented flat with my cousin. Just 1 kilometre far away." She calmly said.

I let out air in frustration. Now I had to go back again. As I turned the bike backwards, she said out loud in the dark-

"Hey there's a small kiosk! Shall we eat something? I'm really hungry."

She was asking as though I knew her very well from the beginning...as though I was her friend. I had slowly begun to lose temper.

"Let's eat something mister. I'm giving you the treat for saving me."

"Alright." I said and went to the kiosk. I applied the brakes as I reached the kiosk. She got out of it all of a sudden. She asked to the man who was busy making tea.

"O bhaiyaa , what's there for to eat?"

"There's samosa, vada-pav and sandwiches. Plus tea."

"What you'll take?" she asked me as she faced the small bulb light. She was the same girl from the garden. I went dumbfounded for a while.

"Hello?" she said waiving her hands infront of my eyes.

"Huh?' I said slowly.

"What you'll take?" she again asked.

"Er...sandwich and tea." I said. I was seeing her again after so many days.

" Bhaiyaa... 2 sandwiches and tea. Fast!"

"Why have you covered your face with shawl?" I asked. I couldn't still trace her face. It was the beautiful face which had made the jaws drop of the staring guys that day!

"Your chills clearly define my answer." She answered.

"By the way, why were you out?"

"I had gone to a garden. By the time I was coming back, my vehicle stopped in between. Just then those two guys started to follow me."

"Ok..' I said nodding my head. so it was sure it was the same girl whom I was thinking of.

"Did your girlfriend leave you?" she asked me all of a sudden. I rolled out my eyes.

"Er..not exactly."

"I'm sorry for that. It happens..."

How easily she had said those words.. it happens . I was still finding it hard to live without Alice.

"Its not so easy...do you have such an experience?" I countered-asked her.

"Nope."

"Then by what ability can you advise me?" I asked her raising my eyebrow. The next second the kiosk man gave us the sandwich and the tea.

"I know that I have no right to advise you..but still I feel like you need a helping hand. A disappointment occurred in your life and you're giving it up...so easily. Guys like you think that if the person we treasure the most leaves us then what's the need to live further and you suicide...what about those who care for you; your mother..your father..your brother or sister or your friends."

I drank the tea disapproving her teachings. What she knew about pain? 'It hurts so badly' and here she was trying to advise me.

"I too know the pain of losing the loved ones of ours...my father had passed away just a year back. I miss him." she said and took a sip of tea.

"So what should I do then?"

"Move forward my friend. These are the lessons of the life..we humans must be prone to face such difficulties. Learn from them and move forward."

"What can I learn from it?" I said with a chuckle.

"You are destined for someone...not with that girl but with some other girl. And second is that...you can't get all what you desire!"

I looked at her as she stopped eating her sandwich. She was silent for some time and looked at the other side. Even I fell silent trying to be calm. Tea drinking was refreshing.

So...are you still happy with your life?" I asked her after a while taking the last sip.

"Hmm...not so happy but not sad atleast." She said giving a smile. It sparkled.

We kept the cups and I took the bike. While going back we didn't talk much. Finally about fifteen minutes, we reached at her flat.

"Here!" she tapped my shoulder to stop the bike.

I stopped the bike. She got out and looked at me with a smile.

"Hey...thanks for the tea and sandwich Ms.."

"Sandhya." She said and showed her hand.

I too extended my hand saying," Shantanu."

"Thank you Shantanu..once again. Hey can you give your number? If next time I'll be in trouble, I shall call you once again."

We laughed. I gave her the number and she too.

"Ok then Shantanu...it was nice bumping with you at the crucial suicidal time." I smiled thinking what had made to end up my life.

"Bye."

"Bye!" she said and walked in the building. One thing was for sure, she was a good looking girl and had saved me.

"What had made you to think of such an act? We're so much worried! When Sharad said that you had sent the message to him I was feeling unconsciousness." My mother said in a single stretched breath. She was still panicked while my father was sitting in one corner saying to the police that I was back at home. I had no idea what I'd done after leaving the disco. Mother had said that Sharad had got a message from me saying that I was going to end my life to escape the burdens of my life. I was feeling very exhausted to say to them that I was saved by Sandhya."

"She needs rest now dear." My father said to mother.

****

A tight slap fell on my left cheek as the other three looked at me in shock.

"Idiot!" I was so worried after I'd read the message." Sharad shouted.

I was also shocked. I had never seen Sharad go so tempered; even the other guys.

"Next time you message such craps to me, I'll kill you myself!" he said and stormed out of the cabin.

"But who's that girl...any idea?" Renuka asked me.

"No idea. Today I'll go to the garden. Maybe she'll be there."

****

I sat at the bench. There were few children playing with a boomerang. There was no sign of a girl nearby. I waited for a while. It was 5:30 and the winds had started to cool down slowly. The winter had set in.

Just then my cell vibrated. It was a call. It was Sandhya.

"Hello?" I said.

"Seems you're searching for me?" she said to me in a husky voice.

"Er..no..I mean how you...where are you?"

"All I can say is that I can see you." I turned here and there to look at her but she was nowhere in sight.

"Don't look around. You won't see me." she said with a laugh.

"Hey why you don't come. We both could talk for a while."

"Why Shantanu?"

"Why...I mean we're friends..so can't we meet?"

"I know you were staring at me yesterday..."

I bit my tongue in embarrassment. She was really a sharp-watcher!

"Hey no..you must've been mistaken!" I began to say when she interrupted saying-

"You bite your tongue pretty hard!" she joked and laughed. I felt totally ashamed.

"See..you're again biting your tongue!" she said and again laughed.

"Ok..i give up. Yes..I had stared at you inbetween. Ok?'

"Hahaha...I knew you were the guy who used to come in between to look at me.'

I went fully silent.

"Are you trying to date me?" she said.

"No..no..Sandhya. I just wanted to meet you..just like you said I need a helping hand."

She suddenly cut the call.

"Hello, helping hand seeker!" she said.

I turned back and saw Sandhya with her open hair wrapped by her white stole.

"Why you're always wrapping up your head?"

"I don't want my beauty to be eye-cursed..its precious..hence I keep it hidden. Its my hidden beauty!" she remarked.

"Oooho!" I replied to her.

And she laughed.

And that's how our friendship started. The days went by and she guided me in between. She really proved to be a helping hand to me. I could concentrate now, stay calm for more hours and feel lightened rather that feeling silent. My parents had refused the proposal from Sheetal the next day I had told them about her true colours. I could mingle easily with other people and with my office mates. Even they were surprised with my quick change results. I had begun to spend lesser time in the room alone. All was because of her..Sandhya. my friend.

But as days went by, she became more close to me. I felt lightened whenever I chatted with her. She was such a positive person that could brighten the days of others in her presence. I began to feel that she was becoming important in my life. With her, I could witness the magic in my life. I was experiencing the new change from within..it was as though I was reborn again.

Also I had slowly started to forget Alice!

So it was not only friendship. It was something else. A certain liking..neither infatuation nor love..it was crooked and complicated. Still I liked to be around with her. Still the amusing (annoying) part was that she had still not shown her so called hidden-beauty. She had been very keen to her words. All I could do was to keep up patience. Life had taken a complete U-turn for me.

After some days...

"Yahoo!" Asfiya shouted out in happiness. Guess what? The A.S.O meeting was held and the presentation made by our group of five proved to be wonderful. We're successful in the meeting. The company had made its further collaborations with the other mega-companies. The boss was tremendously happy with our hardwork.

"Shall we go the disc...' Ram said when Sharad said in between." Not with Shantanu. I might get another message.'

"Oh..c'mon Sharad its past. Our Shantanu has already changed up a lot!" Renuka said.

"But...'

"Guys..don't fight. I'm off to some other place." I said.

"Seems you're getting too attached to that girl nowadays!" Ram said.

"Hey...its not like that. She's going back to Delhi so a final meet and nothing else."

"She doesn't live here?"

"No..she had come here temporarily."

"Hey guys..I forgot to tell one thing among these tensions the whole day!" Sharad said.

"What is it ?" all asked together.

'I..I'm going to be a father."

"Oh my..that's wonderful!' Renuka said.

We all went to congratulate him.

"So what're we waiting for; let's party.' Asfiya said.

"Come let's go then! You go your way Shantanu!' Sharad added.

I nodded.

I had bought a bouquet of flowers for Sandhya. I wanted to congratulate her for her efforts to change me. Today it was my chance for making out her fun. I hid well among the bushes. Among the small braches, I could see the empty bench. Today unusually there was no one to be seen; even the children. She could be there any time as I had called her to come by.

After a couple of minutes, she had come in and sat on the bench. She had worn a baby blue colour dress. Her usual open hairs were gracefully swaying with the breath. Just then I saw her removing the stole from her face. It was the perfect time to see her face. I slowly walked behind her making sure that no sound was to be made by my shoes. As I reached to her back, I jumped in front of her saying-

"Tadaaa!!" showing her the bouquet of flowers.

And I kept on staring at her. It was hard to take off eyes from her so long hidden beauty.

*****

After three days..

It was 5:40 p.m. I was seated on the bench alone seeing the sun. it was slowly setting. Finally she was going today. She had been a good companion to me. I was totally confused these days..I mean anybody in my place would have been confused. An important decision had to be taken by me. Also the time was going fast.

Finally I took a straightforward decision. Without wasting a single second, I ran out to my bike. I started it and targeted towards the railway station in full acceleration. I recalled the meeting with Santosh, her cousin whom she lived with in the rented flat. We both had met yesterday.

"I knew you would not call her or text again!' he said in a confident tone.

I didn't answer him. I looked down.

"You need not have to be ashamed of it. Its natural..you just did the same thing which 99 percent of the people do!"

"I..I..I actually didn't mean to make her sad..."

"Hey its really ok..she knew you would do the same thing. She's not at all angry at you, trust me."

"But still Santosh, I'm really sorry for that act of mine."

"Everybody does..even I'd done it once in the beginning. But when I heard the reason behind it..I felt pity and sorry for her."

"Story?" I asked.

"Hm..a story behind that wondering factor. It was in her college days when she was pursuing her B.Sc course. One of the guys was madly behind her. He tried a lot but she didn't like him a bit. She had rejected her several times but it was of no use..he tried again and again. But once she exploded to her limits and slapped him infront of everybody. That maniac..that moron gave a cruel reply to her for the simple slap...an acid attack. She was coming back from her tuition classes one day alone when he threw the acid right at her face. By God's grace, her half face was saved while the other couldn't!

She was completely dejected by this incident. She took months to come back to the normal state. But she started her new life with more confidence facing all the back-curses and teasings. It was not easy to face the people. Somtimes she used to run away from the classes during the lectures due to other's laughs. Not a day went by where she used to cry locking herself in her room. In between I came to know about her problem and I helped her out by giving her hopes. I had brought her for a change so that she could feel refreshed. Though she took time but it was for the good. Now she's a complete person. She refers that burn as her 'hidden beauty"! She always says that she loves her ordinary as well as her hidden beauty equally. Whenever someone asks her how it all happened she explains it whole without hesitation and in the end she says-

'That stupid guy..if he had brought a rose instead of the acid I would have told him a yes..I had started to get feelings for him when he himself burned it down.' "

I was speechless. I couldn't find words...what to say to him. what to say about the poor girl. I really felt sorry for her. That night..when she had told- 'you can't get all what you desire' she had stopped to speak. But the thing which had startled me was her positive approach to her problem. How she must have felt when saw her face in the mirror after the operation? Accepting the reality..that her face won't be back again...Acid throw attacks for commoners was a five -minute reading article and nothing else but for people like her..it would be hell! That day when I had saw her face..I went as pale as white! I couldn't believe the other side of the beauty...which had made the two guys in the garden look...in shock!

"She couldn't face you that's why she had sent me to make you understand the things. She says that you're a good guy. She too said that she would pray for you to get you a good girl." Santosh said with a smile while I was still finding it hard it hard to smile in return.

"We're going tomorrow by 6 p.m. It was good meeting you Shantanu!" and we shook hands.

I reached the station. I threw the bike carelessly and ran in. I looked at the large clock at the entrance; it showed 5:58-6:00. I took up more speed and ran inside the platform. Just then I heard the announcement-

".....which has arrived on platform no 3, will shortly leave."

Was it her train or someone else's? Having one option, I ran to the 3 rd platform via steps. In between I knocked several people. As I was descending the stairs, I heard the loud whistle of the train. My heart was pounding faster now...just like the one while standing at the church in Alice's wedding. But this time it was pounding for a different reason!

Luckily I saw Santosh's face among the crowd. I ran to him calling out his name loudly. The train had begun to move slowly. He saw me and asked-

"Wh..what are you doing her.."

"Where is she?"

"She's in the..."

"Bogey?"

"S6.Why?"

I didn't wait further. I ran towards the S6 bogey shouting out-

"Sandhya...Sandhya..Sandhya..."

Just then I saw a pressed face from one of the windows. It was her face.

"Sandhya...come out!"

The next second I hit one of the carriers and fell down with a loud thud. With great difficulty, I got up and ran limping. The nearby people had started to look at me but I didn't care. Just then I saw Sandhya jumping from the door. She safely landed on a group of sacks. I got to her. My legs were paining now.

She was looking at me in confused manner as I approached to her. I came near her and hugged her. We were literally panting. Taking enough breaths I said-

"God has certainly heard your prayers for me..I've got the perfect girl..you..the girl who gave me the second life..the girl who helped me out in all odds. Now its my turn to help you from all odds of your life. Now its my turn to give you a second life..from today onwards you will laugh and enjoy your life. I love you Sandhya..will you marry me?"

"Oh my..thank you Shantanu!" she said and hugged me tighter.

Things which were ended in a tighter hug had once again started from a tighter hug. Sandhya was the destined girl for me.

I can hear her crying. She stammers up and finally says-

"I love you Shantanu!"

And I reply-

"I love you..and that hidden beauty of yours too!"

-Gokul Vijayan

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