“What do you mean I’m in love? That is ridiculous!” Tanuj was quick to retaliate. “I admire her for her bravery and strength, that’s all I meant.”
“Okay but I have never heard you speak like this about anyone. Not even once in all these years,” replied Hitesh. “Anyway, that is something we can think about later. I don’t think it is wise to orient your mind towards such things right now. What’s your plan?”
Tanuj took a deep breath and paused for few seconds. He knew that what he was about to say would be a shock to his friend, but he was determined, and didn’t want to be coaxed out of his decision. He only hoped that Hitesh would support him as he had always done.
“When I take Ragini back to Samarganj tomorrow, I want to move there too. Like get all my stuff and start living there.”
“What? Are you crazy?” Hitesh jumped up from his seat. “Where will you live? How will you earn? You come from a city, do you realise how difficult it will be for you to adjust there?”
Tanuj signalled Megha to help him calm Hitesh down, and she went to fetch some lemonade.
“Dude, just listen to me. I know it is difficult, but not impossible, right? Yes I will discard my father’s money, because well, I have no money on my own. But maybe you could support me for a few days before I find a way to sustain myself? Is this too much to ask for?”
Hitesh looked seriously worried, but he listened to his friend patiently. “I appreciate your courage and the fact that you want to be independent, but isn’t this too drastic a step? I mean, you could start a business right here! Why would you want to settle in a village, where you don’t know anyone? And you don’t even know what to do there, where to live! This sounds like such a bad idea. And didn’t you see that the people there are dangerous? If the people who attacked Ragini came to know that you, who saved her, were living there, don’t you think they would do something bad to you?”
“I have measured all possibilities. But I still want to try.” Tanuj tried his best to show Hitesh that his idea wasn’t a preposterous one. “It’s not like I’ll be gone forever you know. Let me try to survive there for few months. Give me three months, say. I want to face life the hard way. I want to rebuild myself out of scratch. If I fail, I will come back, I promise. But if I can do it, these few months will prepare me for dealing with life like never before. After that I can come back to the city and I am sure I will have the guts to do something worthwhile for myself.”
Megha handed over two glasses of lemonade to the boys and said, “I think he has a point, Hitesh. You have made yourself what you wanted, and Tanuj deserves a chance too. Maybe he knows best how he can do that. And since he cannot turn to his parents for advice or even permission, you are the only one who can help him. Be proud of your friend, dear!”
Hitesh didn’t say anything, but walked away and came back few minutes later with his credit card. “I hope this will be enough for now. Let me know when you find a place to stay. Do not forget to call me every day and let me know whatever problems you have. Remember that a rescue mission is always ready for you here.” His face broke into a smile, and Tanuj hugged him more tightly than he had ever done.
“Are you not coming with me tomorrow?” Tanuj asked.
“No my boy. If you’re free, you’re free from this very moment.” Hitesh smiled as his sad eyes twinkled. “Let’s go buy this saree for your girl before the shops get closed.”
“She isn’t my girl, bro!” Tanuj pretended to be angry although he was laughing. “And don’t let go off your girl, Megha. She seems like a gem.” He winked.
The next morning, Tanuj was at the hospital as early as possible. Before leaving his house, he had written an elaborate letter to his parents, not hiding anything from them. He realised that if he wished to be strong, he had to stop lying to himself and to the world. He promised to visit them often and keep in touch so that they don’t come looking for him, and tried his best to assure them that the village girl had not cast a spell on him. Of course he had big doubts as to how they will react to this letter, but he knew he had to do it. At the same time, he could not afford to run away from home, keeping his parents in the dark. That would be too cruel.
Ragini changed into the new blue saree that Megha had particularly picked up. She had said she felt it would look very pretty on Ragini, although she didn’t know how she looked like. Ragini, of course, had refused to accept it in the beginning. But Tanuj insisted and said that it was a gift from a friend, as a token of appreciation for the fights she fought in life.
“I didn’t ask you what happened. All I know is that you are a brave, strong woman. And that it’s a privilege for me to have saved your life,” he said.
Ragini gave out a short laugh, nodded with her head facing down, and reappeared after a few minutes, clad in blue.
“Megha was probably wrong to pick this particular one. Any saree would look beautiful on her.” Tanuj found himself thinking.
(To be continued…)