He swapped the places with her. He was now facing the man and staring him in the face. The man had not expected this, his next reaction to walk away from there. Before he could do anything, the arrival of the bus created a hustle in the background. The big red bus at that time of the day caught everyone’s attention. Their eyes reverted to the bus. It was more crowded than expected. He wondered whether they should take that bus or wait for another. He diverted his focus towards her. Their eyes met and she seemed to be pleading him to get aboard the bus. He understood the request perfectly.
He took her hand and made a gesture at her to keep walking with him to the entrance of the bus. Amidst the crowd, he managed to get to the door and he slowly helped her get on the bus. He was engrossed in making things perfect for her. Even if that meant, taking the extra step and the extra burden. He was standing too close to her at that moment and looking down at her. She was staring at the ground. This sight made some travelers around them uncomfortable. They started speaking in hushed tones. The ticket conductor noticed this and came to stand near them. He coughed and gestured at them to buy the ticket.
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Manav looked up to face him. He realized the embarrassment he was causing her and to the people around. He moved slightly away from her. He bought the tickets and shifted his gaze around the bus and towards the ladies seat, if he could find any place for her to sit. Suddenly his face lit up and there was a smile on his face from ear to ear. Mehek noticed that expression and was puzzled at this. Then she turned to look in the direction Manav was staring at. His eyes were focusing at the far front area of the bus which contained an empty seat in the overcrowded bus.
She was confused as to why no one had taken that place. She turned to look at him and then followed the direction of his finger which pointed at a scribbling painted in red above the seat. Then she understood the reason of that smile and wondered that how much he cared for her. She had been holding on to tears for long but this time when they made an attempt to leak out of her eyes, she made no attempt to stop them and looked down to avoid having Manas notice them. He again held her hand and tried to wade through the crowd. He wanted to be the first one to reach the seat.
She quietly followed him without looking up. She winced due to the pain which arose suddenly in her ribs but held her free palm against her mouth from crying out aloud. Finally, Mehek heaved a sigh of relief when they arrived at their destination, before the actual destination. He made a gesture towards her to take the seat. She shyly moved across him. Her flowing hair brushed against his face. He couldn’t help but smell the fragrance her hair seem to radiate. For once, he closed his eyes and felt like getting lost in there. But this was not the time. She took the seat and looked up at him to express her gratitude.
He gave her a quick smile and chose to stand close to her. He did not want her to feel uncomfortable due to the crowd around. Now, there was a pin drop silence between them. He just concentrated on her and she seemed to be lost in thought. She was playing with her hair. A strand had fallen off from behind her ear. She was winding circles of it around her little finger. At that moment, he watched her closely. She was stunningly beautiful but the issue had taken a toll on her feeble shoulders. The pain had not disappeared behind those wrinkles which had managed to stay on her cheeks.
She looked tired and defeated fighting the problems and it appeared as if she had given up on her destiny. The burning desire to fight had burned down somewhere. She seemed to have lost the zeal to live. Thoughts from the past started floating in his mind. He thought of the first sight of her. That corridor, where she was walking from opposite direction, lost in her thoughts. She was dressed in a white salwar kameez and her dupatta was flowing down from her neck till her waist. He could not take his eyes off that dream like beauty walking in front of him. Few moments just passed by.
In the meanwhile, she had walked closer to him and he observed her precisely. Manav could not help but gape at the swollen portion of her eyes. This made his thoughts fly in random directions. Was it due to excessive crying or lack of sleep? She had stopped walking suddenly and had turned sideways. His eyes followed the movement of her eyes which were now focused on a board hung outside ‘that’ room. He had kept walking till he moved next to her. She had not moved an inch from outside that room. She just stood staring at that board with watery eyes. He could not fathom the reason of her presence there.
What was she doing there alone? Was it for herself or she was accompanying someone? His mind and heart were not working in sync. He wanted to ditch his eyes and not believe what was happening in front of him. This was the same room from where he had walked out of some minutes ago. The dreaded room and the worst news of his life, he had walked them alone. His heart kept shouting ‘That was not possible’. She could not be there for the same reason, for he was there. Then, he witnessed the worst. There was a stream of tears running down her cheeks. She was sobbing uncontrollably. He went ahead to offer her a tissue. Ma’am, please wipe your tears. Take this napkin, please. ” She looked up to meet his eyes and could not hold herself back. She just held his shoulder and kept crying. Someone had spoken to her so kindly after ages. Else, she had been facing the desertion and discrimination from everyone. He slowly caressed her hair, the touch felt so soft and a fragrance seemed to be radiate from there. Then she said those words he did not want to hear. “Can you please come with me to this section? I am alone and I am afraid to take the step. ” Although, he wanted the words he was hearing to be a lie, but it was the truth.
She was walking down the same lane as he was. They both were sailing in the same boat of life. He took her hand and they both walked inside together. He wondered that such is the irony of life, he did not know her till few minutes back and now, he was accompanying her to that destination which probably held the destiny of both of them. He wanted to know her side of the story although he knew it would resemble his own. In the meanwhile, they had reached the center of ‘that’ room. There was a man dressed in white coat sitting behind the table. He saw the girl and smiled. “Welcome Mehek, How are you now? She tried to force a smile but could only move her lips slightly. She answered feebly “I am feeling weak”. Then the man noticed him, he had just walked out of his office after his own treatment. Now, he was back with his girl. He was helping Mehek to sit on the chair. How did he know her? Brushing aside all his thoughts, the doctor picked up the file. He addressed the girl. “Look Mehek, you have to be strong from inside first. Don’t lose heart and keep the determination going. If you lose your faith, how will we go on with the treatment? Have you been taking the medicines properly? She did not utter a word and just nodded in the answer. He did her check – up and asked her about the food she had been eating. He gave her medicines and asked her to see him again after two days. She just nodded in agreement. Manav had been observing everything in silence. He realized how helpless a human being can be in such circumstances. Again, she had started sobbing and muttering something under her breath which he could not understand. He waited for the doctor to say something but even he seemed confused as to how to respond. He again picked up a tissue from the doctor’s table.
But this time, he wiped her tears. The doctor sat there silently to witness this. Then he understood the relation between them, the biggest relation of all – The humanity. Now, it was Manav’s turn to speak up. He asked the doctor. “Is there any extra precaution or care we need to take for her? ” Doctor smiled, “Just try to keep her happy. ” He held her hand and helped her move out of the room. She kept walking behind him without asking a question. They reached another section of the hospital where a familiar smell hit her nose. She raised her eyes to see where they were.
She saw that he had bought her a sandwich to eat. After few moments of hesitance, she took it and started eating. He sat there watching her eat. Then, she spoke to him directly for the first time. She said, “My name is Mehek. I don’t know how to thank you for all this help when you did not even know me. I really don’t know what you must be thinking about me? All I can say is I am very lonely and shattered at the moment. ” She stopped speaking abruptly after this. Manav said, “I am going through the same phase as you are. So, you do not have to thank me. ” “You must be wondering why did I come here alone.
When my family came to know about it, they told me that I had bought a shame to their name. I was thrown out of my own house in the middle of the night by my family. They do not want to keep any connection with me. They think that I have done something unthinkable to deserve this fate. My sister does try to contact me sometimes, but even she is bound by the rules of the family. People around me treat me as untouchable. ” She could not speak any further. Manav could feel the replay of the entire scene in his mind as if someone was narrating his own story. He kept his hand over hers and said, “Mine is a very similar story.
From today, do not think that you are alone. I am there for you always. I acquired this disease when I went to donate blood in a camp. They used an unsterilized syringe and I was left with an entire lifetime to suffer the consequences of someone else’s mistake. ” Now, he realized that even his eyes were moist. This was Mehek’s turn to be surprised. She recalled the fateful day when she went to donate the blood in the small hospital to save the life of a complete stranger. The mistake on part of the hospital had left her HIV positive. Now, she was struggling to save her own life. Their stories were so similar.
After this revelation, they had become comfortable with each other. They picked up their medicines. He asked her where he could drop her. She said that she had no place to live and had spent the night at one Dharamshala. He smiled and said, “Now, you have a place to live. You are going to stay with me, if you are fine with that. ” Mehek thought how much a stranger was doing for her. That was a start of a new journey for these two complete strangers. The bus came to a screeching halt and he was jolted back to reality. Their destination had arrived or rather they had travelled to their destination.
He helped her wade through the crowd to the exit door of the bus. They slowly walked to their home from the bus stop amidst the total silence. He opened the door. He asked her, “Would you have a cup of coffee? ” She declined and said that she was going to bed to sleep. She moved closer to him and hugged him suddenly very tightly like never before. She wanted to say something, he thought. But she stood there in silence without moving. He touched her hair and caressed her. She then kissed him on his cheek and bade him a good night. They walked to the bedroom together holding each other’s hand. She wanted to sleep on his lap that day.
He loved to see her sleep. He happily obliged the request. Before falling asleep, she said, “Manav, had you not been there, I would not have been able to make this journey. Thanks for everything. I want a promise from you that you will be my fellow star when we will meet in heaven out of this world. ” He smiled at her innocence and said, “Thanks to you also. Without you, nothing would be possible and you have my promise. ” Then he watched her go to sleep. There was a unusual serenity on her face. He started thinking about the journey of fighting the dreaded disease which they had made together.
He admired how they stood as support of each other, when they were deserted by their own family and friends, how perfectly they understood each other, how much little they knew about each other, when they decided to make the journey together. How they had become the ‘Perfect Strangers’ He took her hand which was kept on his thigh and he happened to touch her pulse. He could not believe that there was no pulse at all. Now, he realized why she wanted that promise and why she hugged him. He quietly took her face off his lap and lied down next to her to meet her in the next adventure, where they would shine together forever.