It was evening time, Snehali had just entered the restaurant. She just took a few moments to find Neerav sitting by one of the tables in the corner. He was wearing a blue checked blazer on a white shirt and jeans. He looked dashing. On the table was lying a big thin rectangular packet covered with brown paper. Near the rectangular packet was kept a big bouquet made up of Snehali’s favourite Orange Daisies.
Neerav had called her in the afternoon when she had just eaten her lunch. He did not tell her anything, just that he was waiting for her at the Taj Hotel. He said it was not urgent but he would appreciate if she could come. He did not tell her anything else. Snehali was thoroughly confused and had got ready in a hurry. She was wearing a baby pink shirt with black pants that she had handy.
Neerav coming to Mumbai and asking her to meet was not something she was expecting. Not now when he had called her after about a month. Yet here he was looking at her with that affectionate smile that always made her forget all the worries.
“Hi Neerav, I am here. Now Please tell me what made you come to Mumbai? Have you just come here to meet me? Is there something I should know? I hope there is nothing I should be worried about?”
Neerav was looking at all the expressions that had flitted across her face in a short span of time, he was taking it all in.
“Yes Snehali, I have called you here to let you know precisely that. But please be patient with me. Give me some time to get my point across to you. I don’t want it to get wrong. I can’t let it go wrong.”
With the last sentence, Neerav looked emotionally vulnerable. Snehali did not remember a time when she had seen him like that. Something was up for sure.
“What is this brown packet for?”
Neerav took in a deep breath and looked up at Snehali with a raised eyebrow, “What do you think it is?”
“Is it a gift for me?”
“You can say so.”
“Why so cryptic Mr Neerav?”
“You will know.”
“Do you want me to open it now?”
“Absolutely, go ahead”
“And these flowers?”
“They are for someone special”
Snehali felt some colour leave her face, she was not expecting that “Oh, is someone else coming here too?”
“You will know.”
“You are doing that again.”
Neerav grinned, “Sorry, I don’t have any other way to say it right now, come on, open the brown packet already”
She unwrapped the brown packet quite quickly. All the mystery was making her anxious. The Brown packet had a photo frame which was visible but the photograph section was again covered with six big sticky notes. It was Snehali’s turn to roll her eyes, “Now, what is this supposed to mean? Are you playing some prank on me?”
“Of course not, why will I travel this distance to play a prank on you?” Neerav looked stressed.
Snehali waved her hands with a grin, “ok, you are right, then please tell me what does this mean?” she was looking at him with slit eyes from an angle as if she was still not sure about this not being a prank. Yes, spending so much time with a prankster brother can do that to people.
“It means that we are going to unwrap this gift in steps,” Neerav said with an indulgent smile.
The sticky notes were numbered from 1 to 6. Snehali looked up at Neerav, “Let’s start with number 1”
He removed the 1st sticky note and behind it was a date and a name. Snehali knew the name Timber, the code name of the project they had worked on together, but the date, she could not place it. And then it hit her, the date that the project had started. She said excitedly “The project Timber, we worked on and is it the date it started?” He nodded, “Wow, you do have a sharp memory Neerav. It took me to some time to guess what it was.” she added.
“Yes, This was the day when this project had started but it was not only the project that started that day. It was also the first opportunity I got to collaborate with someone, the person that has now become the most important part of my life.”
Does he mean me? Can he mean me? and she felt her heart beat quicken
Neerav now removed the second slip without looking at Snehali, as if giving her the time to absorb the moment. It was a photograph of the pantry area of their office. On the side slab of the pantry were 2 filled cups of coffee kept together.
“You remember Snehali, we shared so many coffees here that I have lost count of them. But you know I remember everything we talked about. I remember every expression you made. I remember every conversation that we had to leave midway. Those are the conversations I regret the most. Because I don’t want to leave anything incomplete with you ever.”
Neerav was now looking into Snehal’s eyes one at a time, it was as if they were spell-bound and her eyes could not leave Neerav’s. Without looking away he removed the next sticky note. Snehali peeled her eyes away now to look at the third picture and could not stop herself from laughing. It was a plate full of samosas and one of them was photoshopped to look like a heart.
Neerav looked at Snehali’s laughter with affection in his eyes. He felt the sound of that laughter endearing and satisfying. What would I not give to hear to that sound all my life?
But it was Snehali who knew she was not only laughing, her eyes were welling up too. This was a very intense moment for her. She had read about these in novels and watched in movies but she never imagined she would experience it, for her everything was like a dream and she wanted to hold onto each and every detail of it.
Neerav started when Snehali looked at him again, “I am not sure when I started falling for you but it had happened already around this time. I so wanted to see you happy that I started doing things for you unknowingly. I want you to know, now, that I got these samosas only for you. I was somehow presenting my heart’s feeling to you that way. But I never even told this to myself until I realized what you meant to me.”
He looked at her as if asking for forgiveness and Snehali’s eyes were telling him that it did not matter.
He removed the next note, the 4th one. Snehali was too curious to know what it was, she was already overwhelmed by how Neeerav was opening up to her about his feelings. She felt a tug at her heart, realizing that her heart knew all along that something was there between them but her brain was not deciphering the signals. Or might be her brain did not want to. But now things were getting clear. When she saw what was behind the 4th note, she felt her heart melt.
You feel happy when someone tells you about their feelings but you feel on top of the world when they understand you and your feelings without a doubt. It was that moment for Snehali.
The day when she had brought homemade food for him in a big steel tiffin. He had opened the tiffin, arranged all the bowls neatly on the table and had taken a photograph of it, saying excitedly “I want to savour this food for a few more days at the least.” It was the same picture.
Neerav was not only proclaiming his love for her but was also understanding enough to recognise her feelings and efforts in the relationship they had. She knew she could not ever ask for more.
Snehali’s train of thought was once again halted by Neerav’s voice, to her it seemed like a voice dipped in honey. “Yes, I guess this was the first time when I realized that you cared” Neerav was blinking back tears and looking at her lovingly. Snehali was enjoying the moment but she also knew that there was something more to it. So this time she removed the fifth note.
There they were – standing next to each other, not touching, looking in the camera. There were other people in the photograph too but the chemistry between them was evident. It was Neerav’s last day in their company, the next day he was supposed to work with a new firm. Snehali felt bad. what was this photograph doing here, if he is proposing then why the departing picture.
Neerav cleared his throat, “I know you don’t like it, but it is important for me. If we had stayed together, I am not sure I would have ever realized that we belong together. I was so used to being with you that I did not realise it.”
And he stopped, looking at Snehali, observing each and every expression on her face and trying to understand what was going on in her mind and readying himself. Neerav got up from his chair, walked to Snehali and sat on the floor near Snehali. “That is when I realized I love you Snehali.”
Snehali had understood by now that this was what Neerav had been meaning to say all along. But she felt the true impact of it all at the moment when the words were put in front of her. The words she did not know she wanted to hear so badly. He said it so earnestly that Snehali felt like there was no one else in the restaurant, in the building, or in the world. At that moment, Neerav became everything for her.
He extended his right hand towards her and she automatically put her right hand in his. Neerav enclosed her warm fingers around hers, Snehali felt the warmth spread to her heart. She now knew she had been in love with Neerav all along.
Neerav stood up with her hand and Snehali stood up too. He took her to the terrace facing the sea. The view was spectacular, the sun was about to set, the sky was painted orange, there were birds chirping and returning to their nests, the sea was receding and coming back again to meet the shore. The sound of the crashing waves and the birds chirping and the wind playing with Snehali’s hair was perfectly complementing the moment they were sharing.
Neerav was now looking at her expectantly, in her eyes. He saw something there, something endearing, something he had never seen before. But why was she not speaking. He said it again, “I love you Snehali, I know it has been sudden for you. I took you by surprise.” He then released Snehali’s hand.
Snehali was lost in the beauty of the moment but when she felt his fingers loosening their grip she came back to her senses. She saw doubt in Neerav’s eyes.
“You know if I held your hand, I would never ever loosen my grip, forget about me relinquishing it,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone and held on to his hand tightly that.
They were grinning now. Neerav leaned in towards her forehead. From his left hand he took out his phone, brought the phone in front of them to take a selfie and then said “Say cheese”, Snehali looked towards the phone and Neerav captured the most beautiful moment of their life.
“This photograph goes under the 6th note, on our collage,” Neerav told Snehali.
To be continued…