Although Ram had never disliked the monsoon, there was something about that wretched night that made him miserable throughout the way back home from the cafe. The humid air, the dirty overcast sky, the puddles of chocolaty brown water on the road all came together to create an atmosphere so depressing that Ram felt a lump tighten in his throat.
It had been 97 days since Nila had left for Australia. 97 dark, miserable, lonely days. Ram had never been too enamored of life. For him it was a ceremony, a requirement, something you do just because you have to. And so he indifferently went about the business of living.
Then, he’d met Nila and it was she who had added a little color to his drab life. Ever since she’d entered his life he actually had something to look forward to.
And now she was gone and there was nothing that could fill the hole she’d left behind.
Ram sighed, and just then the electricity went out. He passed Chaman’s tea stall but didn’t notice Sahil, his best friend, in the darkness. Sahil did see him however, and Ram’s reverie was broken by Sahil’s loud, well-humored call.
‘Ram! Come’ he said and motioned him to join at the decrepit bench where he was sitting.
Ram and Sahil had both graduated from the same college. Sahil was the one who’d lightened up Ram’s otherwise bleak and uneventful college life. He had provided the thrill, the fun that makes college bearable. It was beyond Ram to make friends on his own. It was Sahil who’d found him, who’d forced him to go on midnight rides to nowhere, and who’d been his guide to the art of drinking. Together they’d scratched Professor Srivastava’s car when the old man had failed Ram in Medieval History in their second year. While Nila was there as a mirage, as an elusive snowflake; Sahil was actually there in flesh and blood, complete with his mischievous grin.
“Chaman bhai, chai for Ram” Sahil said.
“What’re you doing?” Ram asked.
“What do you think, looking for a job” he said, and continued, “You went to the cafe, didn’t you?”
“Nothing. I’ve applied. But my chances are slim.”
“You’ll get it man. A fully paid scholarship to Australia. How cool is that?” Sahil chirped.
“Abhi Dilli door hai.” Ram said, smiling wryly.
In the flickering light of the sad-looking kerosene lamp, Ram watched the chaiwala drop the thick vada batter into the sizzling hot oil. He watched the vadas frying, turning color. Somewhere a dog howled. A depressing howl that pierced through the dark depressing night.
“Goldflake?” Sahil asked.
“No. I’m going home.”
As he resumed his journey Ram looked back to find Sahil’s cigarette light in the distance. Slowly moving up, momentarily flaring when he put the cigarette in his mouth, going down again. And the chaiwala still making vadas in the light of the kerosene lamp.