After receiving the Holy Communion at the altar rail, I moved to the bench I was seated. I knelt down, made the sign of the cross on my forehead and rested my head on my hands. Tears rolled down my cheeks, instantly. I tried to control myself as I was in a public place, but to no avail. The anxiety and pain I had been carrying for so long was too overwhelming and I wished the world should end at that hour of the night.
As I felt somebody was gently tapping on my shoulder, I opened my eyes only to be surprised. It was none other than my classmate and newfound friend: Anirudh. He was kneeling down next to me staring at me. Having shocked to find a hardcore atheist like him at the Holy Mass, I began to interrogate him. He didn’t bother answer any of my questions instead pointed his finger towards the door of the church. Since the Eucharistic celebration was officially over, I suddenly moved out of the church so that I could resume questioning Anirudh.
But even before I opened my mouth, he asked, “Are you all right? I just saw the strongest girl who said whatever the circumstances be, she wouldn’t shed tears in a public place, crying her eyes out inside the church. What happened?” Learning Anirudh’s curiousity, I covered up the embarrassing situation with a very convenient “I’m fine” answer and walked off the church premises.
Anirudh walked behind me.
I stopped midway, turned around and said Anirudh to join me as I realized he wouldn’t quit following me.
We began to walk together in dark under the street lights.
“I’ve been regularly coming to church in the evenings and silently following you till your hostel entrance from your way back from the Holy Mass,” blurted out Anirudh.
“Since when..?”, I asked him in a fraction of a second.
“Since the day I heard you saying in our circle that you were stalked by some fellows while you were returning from the church,” he said very firmly.
I recalled casually sharing that incident with my friends once we were discussing safety of women.
I thanked Anirudh for his gentle gesture and stated him I was capable enough to take care of myself.
He again mocked at me for crying inside the church. I wanted to tell him I found him damn boring but didn’t.
Anirudh then went about opening his heart out to me. The regrets of his past and plans about his future were all told to me one by one. Slowly, I understood there was something fishy in his talks.
And I kept mum throughout the conversation.
But I had to break my silence, when Anirudh without hesitation pulled a Valentine’s Day card out of his leather bag and extended towards me.
Having come to terms with the scenario, I politely refused to accept the card and told him:
Didn’t you want to know why I couldn’t hide away my tears?
Because I’ve been going through the darkest hours of my life for almost a year now.
Do you know why I attend Holy Mass regularly although it’s unsafe for women to walk alone in this city at night?
Because I’ve hope in Lord that he would grant my family’s and my Mr. Srivastava’s wishes and dreams come true.
And do you know why I let you walk with me?
Because I take you for a good friend and not anything more.”
(As the name Mr. Srivastava seemed too popular in our class, Anirudh didn’t ask me for further explanation).
Upon hearing my words, Anirudh stopped for a while and without even waving at me disappeared into thin air.
I reached at my hostel and told my roomi; Pinky (who is also my classmate) everything that happened. Pinky criticized me for brushing the heartthrob of our class aside and asked if I was completely out of senses not to accept the proposal of a future IAS officer. Of course, I too knew that the extraordinary candidate Anirudh would ace the upcoming Civil Services Examination and position himself in top 10. Also, the kind-hearted Anirudh was one among my friends who immediately took me to the hospital when my nose started bleeding due to overstress. He helped me with my lessons and clarified every academic doubt of mine. I did owe him for many things.
Pinky further remarked: “Anirudh is handsome, intelligent, richer and smarter than the good-for-nothing Mr. Srivastava who keeps emotionally abusing you. May I know why you turned Anirudh down?”
I answered: “Because in my eyes Anirudh is not superior to Mr. Srivastava.”
Pinky sighed. I smiled.