“You know, if you’d told me I’d be living in Mumbai on my own even a year ago, I would’ve laughed at you,” I told my stepbrother Riley, as we walked the length of Marine Drive, sipping on our chai.
“Hey, one year ago I didn’t believe anything would’ve made you give up your beloved café and your hometown,” he admitted, “But I’m super glad you’re here, sis. I was beginning to feel lonely.”
I linked my arms with his and leaning slightly into him said, “And that is why I decided to give my half of the business back to my mother and make a fresh start.”
It has been widely believed that one can reinvent themselves as many times as there are cities in the world. So when I got tired of the world I had lived in for almost twenty nine years, I decided to give myself a break and start over again. While people romanticise being completely on your own, what they fail to tell you is that sometimes the loneliness gets to you. Sometimes it gets to you in such a way that you tend to fall back into old patterns.
My phone beeped with a new text. I took it out my pocket and checked who it was from.
Zayn Banerjee – Almost Dr.
1 new message
1 new message
“Who’s texting you at midnight?” Riley joked, “Oooooh, Di finally has someone in her life.”
“It’s just Zayn,” I said with a shrug, “He’s just checking in.”
“Why?” asked Riley, genuinely taken aback, “I thought that part of your life was done and dusted.”
“It is,” I agreed, hastily replying to Zayn that I was out with Riley and I’d talk to him later, “But I think sometimes we find comfort in the familiar.”
My stepbrother scoffed. “Please, Di. I think you’re just scared of being hurt. So even if you like someone, you bury those feelings, and you never act on them. I mean…”
“Alright, kiddo,” I said, cutting across him, “We’re not going to talk about how I am incapable of telling someone how I truly feel…out loud. We’re going to walk a little further down, and then cab it back home.”
The truth is, Riley wasn’t wrong. I was scared of being hurt again. I mean, in my experience nothing good ever came from admitting to someone how I feel. This was the reason that despite the fact I had begun crushing on a coworker really hard for the past few weeks, I had kept it to myself. I was hoping the same thing would happen with this crush as it had with my other crushes – I’d eventually forget about them and move on.
In fact, that is what I had prayed would happen when Zayn had come into my life. I had tried my best to deny my feelings completely. But even after our worlds collided and met again, we had finally found our way back to each other. I think it worked because we were long distance friends!
I realized much to my chagrin that it was far more difficult to manage a crush on your co-worker. For one thing even you hoodwinked yourself into believing you were over them, they’d suddenly walk past you or they’d come to you and say ‘hi’…or do one of hundred such mundane activities bringing you back to your knees and whimpering to yourself, “Why can’t I get over you already?”
My fresh start consisted of me moving to Mumbai and deciding to try my hand at writing at one of the many publication houses in the city of dreams. I was forever chasing after stories, trying to get that one perfect pitch, instead of being handed assignments that other people thought up. It was on one such brainstorming session during my first week, when I noticed Kartik, our resident photographer. He was chasing after the editor-in-chief for some reason. I didn’t even realize when my brain had left my body and I was gaping at him slightly.
My phone pinged a message, bringing me out of my reverie. It had been from Zayn. He was checking up on me because he was both thrilled and worried about me beginning to live alone. We had grown into the habit of touching base with each other throughout the day.
What’s up, Akriti?
Nothing much, Zayn. There’s this cute guy at work…and I don’t want to be presumptuous but I think I have a huge crush on him!!!
Please tell me you plan on doing something about it?
Of course. It’s simple – do nothing. This too, shall pass.
Same old Akriti. How much has not doing anything worked out for you in the past, eh?
Oh go away, Zayn. Let me work. I want to pitch a story that they like and I want to write.
I don’t understand why you just won’t start a blog and begin writing the stories your idiot boss keeps shooting down. I’d read them.
Thanks…but I gotta go now. Take care.
And that one slip up of telling Zayn about my crush resulted in disaster. He would annoy me every other day, asking me if I’d even spoken to my crush. I lied to Zayn and said no. I couldn’t bring myself to admit to Zayn that my first interaction with Kartik had been nothing short of embarrassing.
I was a new employee – hence I was being introduced to everyone. Kartik had smiled at me, offered his hand for a shake and said, “Hi Akriti, I am Kartik.”
My brain and my mouth did not communicate well with each other at that point, and I heard myself say, “Hello Kartik, I am dreamy.” I blushed scarlet and tried to cover it, but he had smiled sweetly and walked off.
Zayn’s new text greeted me now.
It’s Valentine’s Week. It’s the perfect time, Aks. DO SOMETHING.
What the hell is Valentine’s Week?
You know…chocolate day, hug day, kiss day, blah blah blah, then Valentine’s Day!
You definitely sound like a guy in a super new relationship, Zayn. Ugh. Is Ruby making you go through all of these days?
Yeah. Why should I suffer alone? Only…I just think it’s a super awesome way of telling your crush you like them.
FAT CHANCE. If I could sleep and wake up to a time when my crush is gone, I would.
Aks – we’ve been friends for a long time now. Trust me this one time, please. Come on…this could be our little experiment.
Of what? Teaching Akriti how to say ‘I Love You’ out loud? *rolls eyes*
LOL. I thought it was a crush…that escalated quickly.
Oh, go away, Zayn.
I will. But that’s because Ruby is getting annoyed. But please – think about what I said. What’s the worst thing that will happen? He’ll say ‘no’, right? Take that risk.
Zayn was wrong.
I shouldn’t have been surprised because it was Zayn. He had seldom ever been right about the matters of the heart. And he should’ve been the last person I took advice on handling crushes.
I found myself plotting to plant three surprises at Kartik’s desk over the course of the week of Valentines. Our office also liked to host a Secret Valentine – in this everyone would write the name of their crushes in a paper, fold it and drop it in a bowl. On Valentine’s Day, all those chits would be given to the person whose name it appeared on. I thought it was a ridiculous idea until I realized I would figure out how many people were crushing on Kartik as well by this little game!
I wanted to have an accomplice in this work but I couldn’t trust anyone. I knew people were dying for a bit of gossip. Asking anyone to plant something at Kartik’s desk would be inviting a downward spiral of my own. So to put my plan into action, I arrived at work bright and early. I casually walked by Kartik’s desk and placed my gift next to his PC.
I walked back to my desk and started working on my stories. I waited…my nerves jangling, for Kartik to come and discover what I’d left on his desk. An hour later I heard his voice.
“Oh c’mon, Tamanna,” he was saying, “Why don’t you admit you left this chocolate and this hilarious card on my desk? I know you have a crush on me.”
“Fuck off,” Tamanna replied, “I think I am one of the few women around here who doesn’t have a crush on you. Also, as cute as this card which by the way says ‘smart cookie’ is – why would I put in so much effort doing this for you?”
“Because you adore me,” Kartik said, matter-of-factly, “Admit it.”
“Self-absorbed jerk,” Tamanna spat and walked off.
Tamanna was one of the video editors. She was stunningly pretty too. Maybe if someone had left a gift on my desk, I’d secretly want it to be from her too. I sighed and cursed myself for ever listening to Zayn. I reminded myself that there were only two more days of torture. After which I could reward myself by telling Zayn, ‘I told you so.’ It was too tempting.
The next day when Kartik discovered his gift, I think the whole office heard him. He yelped in delight when he saw it was a homemade cupcake with a note that said, “I’d CAKE you to be mine!😉” He said as loudly as he could, “Tamanna, I take it back. You would’ve never done something like this for me.”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t,” she agreed, “But someone in this office did. God help the person when they realise they’ve just fallen for a pretty face.”
“Tut, tut, is that all I am to you, woman? Am I of no value around here?” Kartik mocked.
I had to duck down from bursting into laughter from his fake offence speech. Besides, I was so close to my goal now. I did not want to give up. So on Valentine’s Day, when I reached the office, I dropped his gift on his desk without skipping a beat. This time it was chocolate, a single stemmed red rose, and a card that said, ‘CRUSHIN’ SO HARD!’
Kartik was over the moon when he found his gifts on Valentine’s Day. He did not hound Tamanna about them. I watched from a distance and with disappointment, when he was handed around five chits at the end of the day with his name on it. Someone braver, someone who could say ‘I Love You’ out loud could easily sweep in and take credit for all my hard work. As I watched him surrounded by his work friends, talking excitedly about his Valentine’s Day surprises, I found myself fading into the background.
There was no point in hanging around here. I would always watch my crushes from a distance. I’d always tell them how I really felt when they were not listening. The only glimmer of happiness was getting to tell Zayn I knew this would happen all along.
“You know, we should go out tomorrow,” Riley told me when I met him in the evening for coffee, “Everything is crazy expensive today.”
“What is tomorrow anyway?” I asked, shrugging.
“Single’s Awareness Day, apparently,” Riley laughed, “But mostly I want to go out because all chocolates would be at 50% off.”
I laughed too, “Sounds like a plan. Let’s grab brunch someplace nice tomorrow. Only I might have to drop by work in the morning. I left in a hurry today. Forgot my notebook there.”
“Sure, sis,” Riley said.
As I made my way inside the office the next day, my phone began to ring. No surprise – it was Zayn.
“So, how did it go?” Zayn’s voice sounded pretty excited.
“It didn’t go well at all,” I said, letting out a sigh, “And I went through with your ridiculous idea so that I could tell you this – I told you so.”
“Oh c’mon, Akriti,” Zayn said, laughing a little, “Don’t you feel better? You tried something. Who cares if it worked or not?”
“I guess you’re right,” I admitted, sitting down at my desk, “I mean, maybe this is the closest I’m going to get to telling someone ‘I Love You’ out loud.”
“No worries, you will get there,” Zayn said, half-jokingly.
A pen clattering to the floor made me look up. Kartik stood at his desk. His eyes were looking at me expectantly. I looked down and found a Valentine tucked away behind my laptop. I pulled it out. It said, “I am very flattered. Coffee?”
I froze in my seat. Kartik had figured it out. I neither knew nor cared how he did. Heart hammering, I looked up to meet his gaze. He smiled warmly at me when our eyes met. At that moment, we both knew.
“Zayn,” I said softly, “Remember how I said ‘I told you so’? I take it back. You have my permission to say ‘I told you so’ to me instead.”
I hung up on Zayn ignoring his inquiries and indignation. Kartik knew. He knew who’d been leaving him gifts for Valentine’s Day. He had asked me for coffee too. My heart was singing. Is this what it felt like to be over the moon? Words failed me. When the moment came, I didn’t know how to say ‘I Love You’ out loud. Nor did I care.
I simply held my crush’s gaze. And the way he looked back at me, I didn’t think I needed to say it out loud. Not yet anyway.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!
If you enjoyed this story, then do consider gifting yourself or your loved ones one of the many other love stories penned by me: