They say love comes in all shapes and sizes. I’ve experimented with love and all the associated flutters and feelers by going on everything from blind dates, to a date with a (once) best friend to all other shades of men in between. But the most love I’ve ever felt did not even come to me in the guise of a man. It came to me as a woman.
Think of her as a power pack of energy all crammed into 5 feet 2 inches. She walked into my life in mid-2015, but her reputation had preceded her. The office was, on a daily basis, a bland affair, and she brought it to life.
To be honest, I don’t recall what out first hello was like. Or what the first month of our getting-to-know-each-other entailed. I remember being her coffee break companion, but if there were moments of camaraderie at the time, it escapes my memory. What I do remember is her being bubbly. Boy, could she talk! She was all smiles, for everyone around her, unlike me, who always meant business. And she was high maintenance. She wouldn’t settle for a bulky laptop and had quite a few people in the IT team run around so that they could find the perfectly weighted laptop for her.
The meaty part of our story only started in a city far from home, in September of that year.
My flight touched down in London on a bank holiday. The ride from the airport to the apartment I was supposed to be staying at, had taken me less than an hour. She had already arrived in the city a week before me. I remember her opening the door of the apartment with sleep still clutching her eyelashes. “You’re early”, she said in her way of welcome.
I laughed. I was excited to be in London, a city I have admired from a distance of 7,000 km away, all my life. I wanted to get back to the streets immediately, do some touristy things. I was behaving like a little puppy that wants to go out on his walk. She, always the adult, looked at the watch that said 8.20 am, rolled her eyes, got back into bed and didn’t get up for another hour.
This was typical her. Doing things in her own time, in her own space, but doing them right. In the next fortnight, we discovered how wonderfully we fit into each other’s lives. We seemed to order the same lunch things. Two cappuccinos, two chicken salads, two chocolate muffins. We stood outside Gucci windows admiring the same handbag. “Ooooo… look at the leather on that thing”, we’d say. We looked at theatre listings and exclaimed in the same, high-pitched tone at the same time, “I want to watch that play!” And we worked relentlessly, twelve hours a day, fourteen hours a day, reveling in the thought that we had each other for company, long after the rest of the guys at work had packed up and gone home.
One such weeknight, leaving from office after everyone else was probably already in their pajamas, we treated ourselves to an Italian dinner. And a bottle of wine. Or was it two? I couldn’t remember it the next day. But what I do remember is that night, we established something new between ourselves.
“There’s something about me you should know”, she said, as wine coursed its way through our bloodstream. And she told me, not a secret exactly, but dark, still. I wonder if she expected my eyeballs to pop. Or for my eyebrows to recede into my hairline. Or for me to raise a sympathetic hand and hold hers.
I instead chugged my glass of wine. Wiped off a stray drop from my lips. Cleared my throat. All with a poker face. “I already know”, I said.
Her eyes popped. I think her eyebrows also disappeared into her hairline. She couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe that I had known her for two months, had known her secret for five months before that, and never, not once, hinted at what I knew. I never prodded. Or poked. Or judged.
That moment. That’s what turned us into friends. But the word “friend” doesn’t quite capture the fellowship we established that night, the sisterhood that we formed. Just to dilute the awkwardness, I told her with a wink, “There’s something you should know about me”, and in my usual nonchalant manner, told her of a skeleton in my closet.
That night, I abandoned my 900-page novel, in favor of listening to and sharing real-life stories. Talking about the dramas of almost three decades worth of existence. Of loves had and lost. Of dreams built and shattered. Of victories and disappointments.
During that fortnight, we grew into each other’s lives. There was this one particular weekend when I wanted to go out. She wanted to work on a presentation for Monday instead. So, I sat by myself on the cold, wet balcony of the apartment, watching people walk their dogs, listening to gulls scream at each other, while she sat indoors typing furiously on her laptop. I was lost in my reminisces, trying to compose a verse or two, when she stepped out and asked me if she could make me some coffee. I loved her at that moment. For her looking out for me, even though her time was being occupied more productively and I was merely acting out my artist self and sitting vacant.
Back in India, the subsequent months saw us going together on some more business trips. I remember the time I was down with a bad cold. It worsened during the day, and by evening I was unable to breathe and dizzy enough to pass out. I had lost all ability to think for myself or even remember what medicine I should take. She doctored me. Went and bought medicines. Made me have soup. Tucked me in bed. Slept next to me. In the middle of the night, she checked on me. And then, when a friend of hers called early in the morning, she whispered in her quietest voice, “ABC is not well. She’s sleeping. I can’t talk. It’ll wake her up”. I heard that through my sleep. And I smiled. I loved her at that moment too.
In the nineteen months that I’ve known her since, she has played many different roles in my life – a mentor, a boss babe, a sister, a buddy, a human diary. I have regurgitated information to her effortlessly, not with the intention of gossiping, but simply because she was the perfect sounding board. We have turned up in office in the same outfit, and while she would burst into peals of laughter at the uncanniness of our dressing mood, I’d sigh and say, “Not another uniform day!” We once dressed down for the night, and both our jammies were the same, hers brown, mine blue. “Oh for heaven’s sake! You’ve got to be kidding me!” I’d exclaim. Everyone else would gift me a bunch of roses on my birthday; she was the only one who gave me white lilies. “How did you know?” I’d screech with delight.
There were working nights when I wanted to call it quits at midnight. She would force me to trudge along till 6 in the morning. There were days when I couldn’t have another meal of idli-sambar. She’d find out the best pizza place and order a large chicken pizza with coke for me. There were times when the air conditioning in my room would break down, and she’d let go of her privacy and ask me to bunk in with her in her room.
She made a hustler of me. She fought for me when I wanted to stay quiet and let matters slide. She chiseled a fearless version of me. I enjoyed the days we earned nicknames from our colleagues. The Mafia Gang, The Siamese Twins, The Formidable Female Fighting Force. Each name helped us grow our mettle together. Each name was another feather in our cap. We were told that we were turning into a power couple. We began to derive our energies from each other. We started to pick up on the other’s mood. We began to use a whiteboard to pen in our thoughts – her analytical mind called for targets and plans always meaning business, my creative soul demanded adamantly that I add a whimsical one-liner, just for fun.
We began to create our comfort zones in public places, our “addas”. Mine was Starbucks. Hers was Olive Bistro. My sin was coffee. Hers was a glass of red. I talked about creating pieces of art that I could leave behind as a legacy. She talked about working for the lives of oppressed women. Together, we talked about building our empire some day. And travelling the world together. A #BuckletList was born.
She remains in every way an inspiration to me, every single day. Today, I scan the starlit skies of Mumbai from my rooftop while she luxuriates in the swimming pool in her Pune apartment. But the physical distance has done nothing to diminish our bond. My dreams, my ambitions, my love belong to her. She continues to take pride in every single project I deliver. I continue to act the matchstick to the fuel she carries within her.
I’d follow her anywhere, no matter where she goes. I’d stand up for her no matter how heinous her mistake. Someday, she and I will have our own homes, our own husbands, our own babies. But this love between us? It’s unwavering. It’s unconditional.
If she jumps, I’ll jump.