Praveena busied herself in her last couple of days packing up all of her possessions, and stuffing them into her old trunk. Her father called, telling her how much he longed to see her. He had a lot of plans to share with her when she came back.
Praveena was getting ready to leave Bangalore in a mix of joy and sorrow. She met her class mates for the last time and promised to keep in touch, quietly acknowledging the empty words. She and Anil had a final meeting in the valley facing the hostel buildings.
He sat waiting for her, a traveling bag by his side. As Praveena walked up to him, his flying hair reminded her of their first weekend in college, when she had first met him on the same valley. Smiling to herself, she sat next to him.
He had been staring at the other side when Praveena sat next to him, but sensing her, “It’s strange, isn’t it?” he said and turned to her with a smile. Seeing Praveena’s perplexity, he added, “that we meet, like this, just before going home?”
Praveena smiled, she could sense the sadness that emanated from him. She could feel it too. For a long time they said nothing. Praveena’s thought back of Niveda and the days they had spent, in this very campus, as “the trio.” She felt hot tears sliding down her cheeks, but made no effort to wipe them, leaving the chill morning breeze to take care of it. The wind ruffled her uncombed hair. Letting it wash over her, she wondered if she would ever have the chance to witness it again.
When it was time to say goodbye, Anil and Praveena stood facing each other. Anil reached out his hand, and Praveena shook it.
“Take care, Anil,” Praveena said, hit by reality all too soon. “Call me whenever you can,” she added.
Anil nodded, smiling. “You too.” he said. They walked together towards the gates. They were just about to part ways when a voice called out from behind.
They turned and saw James, a rucksack on his back, walking towards them with a spring in every step. “Hey,” he panted coming to a halt in front of them. “It was great knowing you guys,” he smiled wide. The duo returned the smile, “Thank you for being a wonderful teacher, Sir” Praveena said as Anil nodded his approval.
“I just played fair for my salary,” he shrugged waving the compliment away. “I just have one last advice for you,” The duo raised their eyebrows in unison at his sudden seriousness, “Enjoy life, you guys.” James said grinning and spreading his arms wide, “After three years here,” he pointed at the dingy college building, “you deserve it!” he winked.
Waving goodbye, he walked towards his motorcycle. With a loving pat on the seat of his gleaming black Bullet, he jumped onto it and rode away, his head held high and pumping his fist in the air.
They stood watching his figure fade as another lecturer, who had come up to them without their knowing it, shook his head, saying “Silly guy, quit his job!” The lecturer walked away, “See you at the convocation,” he patted Anil on the shoulder. Anil mirrored Praveena’s surprise. James quit? They wondered as they heard the final sounds of his motorcycle fade into the distance.
Kamal held Praveena in a long embrace. He didn’t care it was the railway station, he didn’t care loads of people watched them. He was glad to have his daughter back, and he showed it by giving her a warm welcome hug.
“How are you, Pa?”
“I’m good, good,” he waved his hand doing something of a gig. He seemed happy at her return, but Praveena knew there was something huge in his mind. He looked older, with more wrinkles on his face than Praveena remembered. His skin had begun to hang loose. He had lost almost all of his black hair; Praveena saw a lot of greys and even a bald patch forming. But he looked fit. Praveena assumed he still played football in the park with the kids in the neighbourhood.
Once they reached home, Kamal prepared Praveena’s favourite lunch while she bathed. Just the thought of being back home rejuvenated her.
After a heavy meal, Kamal and Praveena sat on the couch to watch television. Praveena realized she hadn’t spoken to her father as much as she had wanted to. She switched the television off. Kamal turned a curious eye at her. She smiled.
“Pa, say something.”
Kamal turned to face her. “Say something?” he repeated incredulous. “What do you want me to say?”
“Something,” Praveena shook her head shrugging. “Anything.”
“Well,” Kamal hesitated, “What do you want to do, now that you’re done with college?”
Praveena raised her eyebrows and told him she had had enough of college, and that she would wait for perhaps a couple of months until she decided what to do next.
“Alright…” Kamal trailed away, “Thing is,” he sighed, rubbing his hands together. Praveena grew impatient, but waited for her father to finish.
“Remember aunty Kameela?”
Praveena remembered her. She had spoken to her at Geetha’s funeral. “You mean the one who told me everything would be alright, and then asked my name?” She didn’t make much of an effort to hide the distaste she felt for her relatives, particularly those who showed up at her mother’s funeral just to display their social status. They had all come only because they hadn’t wanted society to bad-mouth them.
Kamal nodded, now a little uncomfortable.
“What about her?” Praveena became harsh. She wondered if the aunt had died and he wanted her to accompany him to the funeral. She was ready to decline his request, when unexpectedly, he said, “she asked me if you’d marry her son — Prem.”
Praveena was shocked. She stood up, staring at her father. She hadn’t even thought of marriage yet, and yet, here was her father, asking her to marry some random guy whom she had never even met!
“Pa,” she tried to keep her voice low; she hated the idea of shouting at her father. “I don’t want to get married.”
Kamal looked stunned, open-mouthed, “Yet,” she added.
“I need some time, Pa,” she quietly said sitting down again. “to sort out the priorities in my life.”
Kamal said nothing for a while. Though he was mute, she saw he was thinking about something, but looked as if he didn’t want her to know.
“Alright then,” he shrugged at last. “It’s your life, you make your own choices. I’m with you.” He smiled and ruffled her hair.
Praveena looked at him in surprise as he switched on the television again.