“Why did you leave town so abruptly?” Sumedha asked Medha as she pulled her long-lost friend away from a particularly vicious wave that could have swept them out to sea.
The question that hung between them was now asked, the thin ice broken.
“You did not feel the need to tell me about the way Mridul was behaving. Souraj told me,” Medha retorted.
Their linked hands formed a 'V' against the setting sun.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
“Did he? He never told me that. What could I say to my best friend, my only friend … that her husband drops in way too often?” Sumedha had tears in her eyes.
“Indeed you should have had the courage to say that to me, your closest friend,” Medha cried. “I was your friend much before I became his wife. That is why I insisted that we shift out, so that I could shield you. I was also ashamed of my husband. I thought we could make a fresh start.
“But do you know, you were only the first one? Wherever we went, Mridul would see something in another woman that he felt I did not have, and begin to chase her.”
“Oh no, my poor Medha,” Sumedha held her friend’s hand tightly. “I hope he has mended his ways by now.”
“I don’t know. I divorced him three years later,” Medha said.
The pain Sumedha felt was about as intense as her friend’s. The salt that the waves splattered across their faces did not sting their eyes as much as the memory of their days together and the long years of separation. The tears flowed freely. They left the loose, wet sand and headed to a bench.
The cool breeze made them shiver as they shook their beach sandals free of the sand.
“So you have been on your own since then?” Sumedha asked.
“No,” came the rueful reply. “ You know me, the ever rebellious Medha.”
Sumedha puckered her brow at that. “You are living with someone, but you are not married,” she stated crisply.
“My, my! Someone’s really up-to-date with trends!” Medha laughed. “Of course you would disapprove of it, though.”
“So you are in a live-in relationship, aren’t you!” Sumedha exclaimed.
“I do live with someone, but our relationship is not a live-in one,” at last her friend laughed, causing the greying bun at the nape of her neck to wobble somewhat. “That someone is a young man who has just completed college. He is my stepson,” said her friend.
Sumedha seemed nettled. “What? Did you marry again?”
“Yes,” Medha said, adding: “I met this widower at a family get-together. Mitull loved sightseeing and he reminded me of you … same serious nature and sermonizing at the first opportunity; a great one to spend time with. He had a four-year-old son and was all at sea about bringing up the child single-handed. So I joined hands with him,” she chuckled.
“But we had not known about his weak heart. He left us all last year suddenly,” she added softly.
“Are you happy at all?” Sumedha put an earnest question to her friend.
“I am at peace and, yes, in many ways, quite happy,” Medha was dead serious now. “My son loves me, he cares if I am down in the dumps, and he sent me here so we could meet.”
“You don’t say! I thought this was just another coincidence, like it was in school,” Sumedha said wonderingly.
“It was well planned and executed, my dear friend. I have known all about you through the years. I know that you changed course and began teaching in a college, that now are a budding educationist in your own right, that Souraj is also a respected academic figure, that you have been lucky to have a husband by your side who gave you free rein … I even know you have two daughters.”
Sumedha was speechless. “You almost shattered my life, walking out without a word, and you have been tracking me all along?” she finally managed to protest.
“I was true to my friend but not to my friendship, I confess,” Medha said. “It would have been too big a strain to try hiding the truth from you, and too uncomfortable for you to be at ease with Mridul around. So I made a clean break. Your hurt healed with time, but the wound I would have given you could have infected your whole life.”
“Make no mistake, the hurt has not healed. And you did not think you needed a friend when you yourself were going through so much?” Sumedha was almost livid, glancing at Medha’s prematurely lined forehead.
“I wanted to pick up the threads after Mridul and I parted ways, but I did not want to upset your life when you were blazing a new trail. I decided to keep tabs on you from a safe distance. I read every word written or spoken about you, online, in newspapers, on television. My son also brags about having such an aunt, so what if he has never met her,” Medha smiled.
“You said your son arranged that we meet?” asked her friend.
“He aspires to be a professor, like you and Souraj. He has set up a Google alert for me so that I do not miss any mention of you. He assiduously follows your programmes on TV as well. In fact, we watch you together,” Medha told her.
Her eyes brimming with tears, Sumedha egged her on. “Just how did you know I would be here?”
“He said you were coming here to deliver a guest lecture. He booked me into the only five-star hotel this town boasts because he was sure you would stay here. He said it was time we reconnected. Was he right?” Medha asked anxiously.
Sumedha was crying once more. “Indeed he was, silly! I can only say you are blessed to have such a child. We must all meet. Souraj will be beside himself with joy. We often talk about you. My daughters too know all about the Aunty they never met … well, at least what I knew of her till she cut me clean out of her life.”
Medha held her till she stopped sobbing. “God has been kind to both of us. He brought us together once. He has done it again, and surely this time it’s for keeps. Come, we have a lot to catch up with,” she stood up, tugging at Sumedha’s hand.
“I have thanked God daily for all he has given me, and always prayed that you were happy wherever you were,” Sumedha said. “I had no friend when you came into my life. You taught me to live, and with dignity. For the first time in years, today I feel God has blessed me with a complete life ... my family, and my true friend.”
As the reunited soulmates walked to their hotel, their linked hands seemed to form a ‘V’ sign against the setting sun.