Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't Play with Fire

The stranger in the bus stop turned and smiled at her. Rinku inhaled sharply, stunned at how the curve of his nose looked just like Pratul's.

She looked away, chiding herself for being silly. She was always seeking Pratul in every man she met. Sometimes, even in women. In their smiles. In the colour of their eyes. In the shape of their teeth!

She really must stop this obsession. It was going to drive her insane. If she was not already one, Rinku reminded herself as she hailed an auto and gave directions.

As always, memories of Pratul drove a knife through her heart. She could not forget the pain he had caused her before going so far away that he could never give her any joy any more.

She had known him since childhood. He was a couple of years older, but because they lived next door to each other, it was inevitable that they should meet everyday, several times. They hopped in and out of each other's homes on work, or just like that. They had such a lovely time growing up together. How her friends teased her about him. His friends too, she knew, teased him. A soft smile played on her lips as she recalled those wonderful days.

And then, the dark cloud had cast its shadow. A new neighbour had moved in and their stunning daughter seemed to win everybody's heart, including Pratul's. It was hard to see him smile in a special way every time he saw Mahima cross. Rinku consciously kept her distance, but that was a mistake, she realised later. Because Pratul and Mahima became friends, and since Rinku had been obviously indifferent, she found Pratul dividing time between Rinku and Mahima.

They seemed to have all the fun. They started going out to all fun places while Rinku strove hard to maintain her steady, 'I am waiting for you' image. Either he did not understand or did not care. No, that cannot be true. It was Mahima who did not give him the space or the time to think about her. Rinku's lips pursed in disapproval. Oh, how she hated that girl! Always buzzing around Pratul like a bee around flower.

"We are in love, Rinku. I want you to be the first one to know," Pratul had told her.

She had slapped him affectionately. "Of course I know, you silly," she had chuckled.

"Of course," Pratul had laughed good naturedly. "You know me inside out. Probably you knew before I did that I was in love with Mahima." He had hugged her, not knowing how her world had crumbled.

The auto stopped at the entrance to her home. She looked up sadly.

Life changed after that. It seemed as if happiness forgot her, working full time at Mahima and Pratul's homes. And the worst was being his confidante, seeing his eyes shine thinking of another woman, his lips stretch in a wide smile sharing trivial nonsensical stuff.

How could he not know how her heart burned! Didn't he know her every mood, her every look? Didn't he really not know that she loved him?

"Hey," he slapped her on her back. "You fall in love soon and we can celebrate a double wedding!"

It was an insult to their relationship. She realised that he was blinded by Mahima's physical beauty. What was beauty? Just skin deep. If that vanished...?

But for it to vanish and Pratul to realise the truth, she would have to wait a long time. The more Pratul spoke of Mahima, the more eager she was to shake him up and make him see the truth.

She went out of her way to befriend Mahima. They visited each other. It burned her to have Mahima share intimate moments. She wanted Mahima to burn in pain too.

She invited Mahima to her house for tea one evening. They entered the kitchen with a warm laugh. "Go ahead, you make tea. I am in a mood to be pampered," Rinku gave Mahima way. When her attention was turned, Rinku sneaked up and let Mahima's dupatta catch fire.

Feeling the unnatural heat, Mahima squealed and threw the dupatta with a stronger flame. She threw it mindlessly away from her. It fell on Rinku's kurta and her synthetic top burned faster, the flames reaching up to her face even before a shocked Mahima could help her new-found friend.

"It's a miracle that she survived and her organs are not damaged," the doctor seemed to have assured her family repeatedly.

"Beauty is only skin deep, Rinku, You are my best friend forever," Pratul went out of his way to assure her, sitting with her after every plastic surgery to reconstruct her face.

He waited, he promised her, for her to get back to her feet. And then he married Mahima and left for Canada. Way beyond her reach. Leaving her alone to deal with her scars.
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