#6 That Fifteen-Minute Silence

11:45 PM

It was the eve of our relationship’s first anniversary. We were fifteen minutes away from being a one-year-old couple. Funny thing, we were also fifteen minutes away from our potential breakup. We were standing near the fence of a rooftop restaurant, overlooking the tiny vehicles moving on the road.

The usually irritating Jaipur traffic was looking beautiful from the top. We were able to hear the distant sound of the horns those vehicles were honking. The soft music beats of the discotheque that we had just come out of, were still audible too. But there was silence between us and we were not looking at each other.

In the next fifteen minutes, Shalini and I had an important decision to make about our relationship. It was either make or break. How did we reach this situation? Well, let’s rewind this a little bit.

9:36 PM

The bouncer put a stamp on our wrists and opened the door to let us in. The loud music and flashy lights hit us when we entered the discotheque lounge.

“There is no place to sit,” Shalini came close to my ear and said.

“The bar seats are empty,” I pointed out.

“You want to spend this special day sitting so uncomfortably?”

“I think it’ll be fun. You remember the first time we met? I was sitting on a bar seat, you came and sat next to me. It’s our chance to relive that moment!” I said excitingly

She sighed.

“Varun, please make the bookings next time we’re celebrating something special,” She said in disappointment and walked off.

09:55 PM

The bartender served us beer.

“Cheers!” We clinked the pint bottles.

After taking a sip we smiled at each other. Her nicely done curly hair, the way she gazed at me in that moment with her lovely eyes and the dim lights that constantly flashed on her sharp-featured face made me skip a heartbeat. The music kept getting wilder and with it the people on the dance floor too.

“You didn’t tell me how was your trip to Indore,” said Shalini.

“It was great! The city has got great food,” I said, “but you know what the best part of the trip was? We went to this inauguration ceremony of a place called Mugs & Guitars Cafebar. A band from Kolkata was playing live music, ambience was amazing and of course great food. More importantly, I discovered something mind blowing over there.”

I pulled out my wallet and drew a visiting card out of it and gave it to Shalini.

“Roohi,” She read out the name on the card and looked at me, “who is she?”

“One of the walls in that place had a huge junk art of a Mug and a Guitar. It was made out of old truck spare parts. This girl is the Junk Artist who made it. I am planning to hire her to make junk arts in all three offices of ours,” I said, “I’ll talk to Dad about it soon.”

“You met her in person?” She asked.

“Yeah. I spoke to her for like two minutes about her work and then she gave me this card, she was quite amazing,” I said.

“Oh, great!” Shalini said and looked away.

10:44 PM

Right after we finished our third beer. I noticed a bunch of guys staring at Shalini. One of them said something in the other’s ear and they laughed. I got up and walked up to them. I stood right in front of them and began staring at them.

“What?” One of them asked.

“You were staring at us. So I thought maybe that’s a fun thing to do. That’s why I am here staring back at you. I want to know how it feels,” I said.

They knew I was pissed. If they had argued with me, I would have surely hit them hard. They walked away silently instead.

“What happened?” Shalini asked when I reached back to the bar counter.

“They were staring at your legs,” I said.

“So you went there to pick a fight?”

“You think I shouldn’t have done that? I should have let them shamelessly run a scan on your body, right?”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said.

“Then what did you mean?” I asked

“You should ignore such people Varun. They’re not worth it.”

“I think they’re worth being shot in the middle of a road, bloody eve teasers!”

“Stop talking nonsense,” she said.

“Nonsense? Of course, everything I say is nonsense. It’s nonsense when I tell you not to wear such short dresses because it violates your ‘rights’. If I repel people who put their lustful eyes at you, then again, it’s nonsense,” I said.

“Please don’t tell me that my dressing sense still bothers you. We’re in a sophisticated lounge. Half the girls here are wearing short skirts,” she said with compressed anger.

“I don’t care about the other girls. I just don’t want guys to look at my girl like that. And if they do, I will do something about it,” I said.

“You’re being a hypocrite,” she said.

“Hypocrite?”

“Yes. The day we met for the first time, I remember wearing a short skirt. You checked me out all the time. Before our relationship, throughout the time we were friends, I always looked and carried myself that way. You found me ‘sexy’, right?”

“Yeah. I did.”

“Then why all of a sudden that same dressing sense, or the way I carry myself is intolerable to you? If not hypocrisy, then what else is it?” She said.

“Shalini, that was in the past. You’re my girlfriend now. The one I love. The girl who I proudly call mine. Besides, we’ve discussed this and I promised to accept you the way you are. When was the last time I told you anything about the dresses you wear?”

“I see the discomfort on your face Varun. That says it all. You know what? It’s not fair. Just. Not. Fair. You fall in love with me for being a certain kind of person. Then you try to mould me into someone else. Either you never loved who I was, or you were not sure what you were getting into,” she said.

“In that case Shalini, you’re no less hypocrite than I am.”

“Really? And how’s that?” She asked.

“You remember on our second or third date, I asked you what was that one reason that made you fall for me, you said that you loved my charm. You loved the way I respected and spoke to women.”

“Yeah.”

“But now, every time we go out with all your friends… when they laugh at my jokes or find me charming, you just can’t take it.”

“Varun, this is ridiculous. How can any girl like the idea of her guy charm other girls so much?”

“Them finding me charming and me getting into their pants are two different things Shalini. I am not trying to woo them. I’ve always been like that with women. And you fell for me for exactly the same reason. Then why this insecurity now?” I said.

“Insecurity? Oh please! It’s nothing even close to that,” she said.

“It is. You told me about the discomfort on my face. I wish I could show you the look you had on your face right now when I mentioned about that junk artist,” I said.

“You said you spoke to her and she was quite amazing.”

“I am just 22, I didn’t mention but Roohi appeared quite older to me. Maybe in her late twenties. I was just appreciating the artist that she was and how cool it would be if she makes junk art for our offices,” I said, “if this is not enough, let me tell you more, she was with some guy that night. They were laughing and having drinks together. Does this information give you assurance?”

“You won’t understand Varun. Forget it,” she said.

“Maybe you think that any random girl could meet me, laugh at my jokes and take me away from you, but that’s not how it works Shalini,” I said.

“In that case, how can a bunch of oglers take me away from you? By just looking at my legs?”

I sighed.

“You know what Shalini? All this was a bad idea. I chose to come here, in this loud discotheque so that we can focus more on our special day and not indulge in our regular bullshit.”

“It’s sad if that was the reason why you chose to bring me here,” she said. I could see tears in her eyes.

“I know. But as it turns out, we both are shouting our lungs out to suppress music, and make sure we argue,” I said and looked away.

We were no longer excited. We finished the beer without exchanging a single word. The music kept playing, we kept looking around for a while. I knew Shalini was crying while scratching the label of the beer bottle.

“Hey... don’t cry,” I got up and held her.

“I want to go outside. Need some fresh air,” she said.

“Alright,” I said and gave her a glass of water.

11:35 PM

We reached outside and stood near the fence of the rooftop restaurant which was right outside the discotheque. After silently looking at the view for a while, Shalini suddenly giggled.

“What?”

“Just recalled something. You know, when I was a little girl. I always used to open my mom’s almirah to steal her makeup kit. I would apply her makeup, lipstick and what not to pose like a supermodel in front of the mirror,” she said.

I smiled.

“She used to scold me for this, but I would never stop. I still haven’t stopped. I love dressing up. I love looking great, feeling attractive and being all sexy. I don’t do it to grab eyeballs, but because I like feeling good about myself,” she said and looked back at me.

“Now that you’ve brought up childhood memories, let me tell you something I feel totally embarrassed about. But you got to promise me that won’t laugh,” I said.

She scoffed.

“Okay, I won’t.”

“When I was young, every Wednesday my mom used to arrange a get together for all the females in the family. My aunts, my father’s sisters and their daughters. They all used to come for lunch and stay till the evening tea. They began the party around the same time I used to return from school. Often, I used to help mom making arrangements and serve everybody. Week after week this kept happening. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have grown up around women. I began enjoying the idea of spending time with them. I understood them better and related to all their gossips about clothes, people and everything else that you can think of. I can be this perfect bitching partner for females, you know.”

She covered her mouth and laughed.

“You told me that you won’t laugh,” I said.

“I am sorry,” She said, suppressing her laughter.

“What I am trying to say is, I like talking to girls because I connect with them better. All my best friends throughout school and college were females. And I never went out with any one of them,” I explained.

She remained silent for a while and then smiled about something she felt.

“Suddenly, I am getting this feeling that in past one year, we haven’t even known each other properly. It was either romance or arguments all this while. We never spoke like friends,” she said and smiled.

“I agree,” I smiled back. I looked up the time in my watch and it was…

11:43 PM

“You know, the way I see it - it’s like our relationship is standing on a cliff, about to fall in a deep landslide to die. It’s our decision. We can push it further to let it die or pull it back to save it.”

“What do you think we should do?” I asked.

“Do you think you can handle me? This bold attitude of mine and the way I carry myself?”

I thought about it for a second

“I don’t know, Shalini. Do you think you can trust me that I’ll be loyal to you, in spite of being good with girls around?”

“I have an idea,” She said, “in the next fifteen minutes, we’ll finish the first year of our relationship. Let’s spend these fifteen minutes looking at this beautiful view and thinking if we can talk through our problems together and accept each other the way we are,” she suggested.

I nodded in agreement.

“If any one of us have slightest of doubts about putting up with the other person, we will hug each other and end this relationship tonight. No grudges. No drama. It will be a mutual decision.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

Which brings us back to 11:45 PM, when our fifteen-minute silence began. The fifteen minutes when our entire relationship flashed in front of me.

12:00 Midnight

We faced each other and looked into each other’s eyes.

“So?”

“So…”

Our worried eyes then looked at each other’s arms. None of us initiated the goodbye hug. Our smiles only got wider as the seconds kept passing.

“We didn’t decide what we’ll do if we chose to pull our relationship off the cliff to save it,” I said.

“I doubt you understand women enough like you mentioned,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

She took a step closer to me. I looked at her beautiful eyes and ran my fingers through her curly hair. I leaned in, extremely close to her face.

“We’ll make it work, Varun,” she said.

I nodded, “we definitely will,” I said.

“Happy Anniversary,” she whispered and closed her eyes.

“Happy Anniversary to you too,” I said and reached her lips through mine.

The silence followed again. Only this time it was due to something else; something that we now recall as, our best kiss ever.

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