Chapter 6 - From the Past (Feb 13)
Zoya breathed warm air in her palms and rubbed them together. Big droplets of water were splotching the windowpane to her right. It had been raining incessantly for a couple of hours now. She pressed the home button of her iPhone.
It showed 11:10pm.
50 minutes to 14th February.
All her planning and running had amounted to nothing. It would have been delightful if she could begin her vacation with Yash from this day. She had tried, though, she assured her self. She had come over her fear of flying, she had held on to dear life when the plane was plummeting, she had tried to board a train, bus, anything yet now, she was stuck- literally stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a grumpy Aditya.
He had reclined his car seat to as far back as it would go and closed his eyes. She couldn't tell if he was sleeping (doubtful) or was just annoyed at everything. He was quite unpredictable. One moment he would argue with her, the next he would give her his sweater without her asking.
Aditya had turned off the engine sometime back. They needed to save fuel if they ever got out of this situation. His grey hoodie was providing her the much-needed warmth. It felt comfortable and had a light fragrance that she couldn't really name but it reminded her of dewy grass in the morning.
She looked at her phone screen again. 11:14pm. Time was crawling by, she could feel each second tick. Sleeping would help pass the time but under stressful situations, sleep always evaded her. And she was hungry. The last meal she had was lunch, many hours ago. Her stomach rumbled letting her know the same.
"You are hungry," came Aditya's voice, which made her turn sideways. She had assumed correctly that he wasn't asleep. He inclined his seat upward.
"I should have something," he informed her and turned on the light above them.
Looking over his shoulder, he dug his hand in the pocket seat and took out a can of Pringles. "This." He shook the can of chips. He tore open the silver seal and took out a handful, offering her the can. Zoya thanked him and took some. Between them, it didn't take more than a few minutes to empty the container. Aditya took out a bottle of water, took a swig and gave it to her.
That was their dinner- chips and water.
"We'll have to leave the car in the morning," Zoya suggested, "even if it is raining."
Aditya responded with a "hmm" sound indicating his agreement.
"This feels like a slasher movie setting," she grinned, "Us being stuck here, like in those films where people get lost in the jungle, or their car wont start or something and there is a killer on the loose."
"Why thank you!" Adtiya narrowed his eyes but there was a smile on his lips, "for that wonderful thought. I can sleep easily now."
Zoya chuckled, "My sister, Noor, she loves those movies. We have spent many weekends watching a ton of those." A pause and then, "I miss her, I miss home... sitting by the fireplace on rainy nights like this and... just talking with her and mom, sometimes with dad."
"They are in Dublin?" he asked, "Is that why you are in a rush to get there?"
Zoya was surprised that he was responding. Till now they had either argued or he had replied with the just necessary words. This was the first time he had shown interest in talking to her. Almost as if he could read her thoughts, he added, "Gonna be sharing this enclosed space for sometime. It gets boring after a point. So."
That is exactly why she had started conversing with him. If time was crawling at a turtle's pace, sleep would never dawn on her and she had nothing to distract herself with, she figured talking would be a good way to pass time.
"No," Zoya responded getting back to his question, "They are in Mussoorie, my hometown, I am actually going to Dublin to meet my boyfriend. Yash."
"Oh," he replied in a monosyllable.
"We were supposed to travel together," she went on, "He had planned this amazing vacation for us but as you know by now how much I hate flying, I cancelled at the last moment."
"Yes, I am aware of your fear of flying. I have marks on my hands to prove that," he teased her.
Zoya scoffed, then laughed, "Don't exaggerate. And that is why I don't have any luggage. I luckily had my wallet and my passport with me. I had applied for a visa earlier when I was planning to travel. So I made a spontaneous decision and came here. I never do things like this. So this is quite an experience for me. It's not going very smoothly but still."
He smiled, and Zoya looked even more surprised. An actual smile from a usually sulking Aditya. She must be doing something right, she thought to herself.
"Anyway," she continued, "I am going to Dublin to surprise him. I just wish I could have been there right now- you know on the eve of Valentine's day. Although I should be there by tomorrow so I will still get to spend the evening with him."
"Sounds like a plan," he responded, stiffly.
"Yeah," she nodded not noticing the shift in his tone, "This trip was his idea and I really felt bad when he came alone. He has family in Dublin whom he had to visit but he had mainly booked this trip, for us. For me."
"So you boyfriend's gift to you was a 9 hour plane journey knowing how scared you are of flying?" he asked, his tone bereft of any emotion.
"What? she uttered though had heard him clearly, "No. What?"
"Well, I am just saying you are scared to death of flying. And your boyfriend knows this?"
Zoya nodded, crinkling her brows trying to catch his train of thoughts.
"Yet, instead of taking you anywhere which didn't require an air trip- maybe a cruise, maybe a train journey, he still planned this as a trip for you?"
"No, he chose Dublin because his family lives there," she tried to justify.
"So then this trip was to meet his family, not a special gift to you, like you claimed?" Aditya's asked.
"No..." she protested. She felt like she was being interrogated, "He said this was for me. I know this was for me."
Aditya scoffed, "Making your girlfriend do something which terrifies her is not romantic."
"What is your problem?" She asked pointedly, "I thought we were having a polite conversation. Why are you suddenly talking like this?"
When Aditya began talking to her, it had surprised the girl. He could see the disbelief in her expressions. So he had clarified why and it was a logical explanation. They were going to spend a good enough of time in the car with the rain pattering outside in the dark. Why not drive the boredom away by chatting?
But beneath this excuse lay a simple truth- as the hour hand of his watch ticked closer to 12, soon indicating the new day- 14th Feb, his mind was slowly being filled with thoughts and memories which he had desperately tried to lock away. Each year, every time, like clockwork- this day would haunt him.
When he was lying on the car seat, with no noise, other than the rain, the thoughts would echo in his head. The only distraction he had was Zoya and so he spoke to her.
Her analogy of their situation with a slasher flick had made him smile. She had begun talking about her family, and her boyfriend for whom she was doing all this- traveling to another country despite her fears with nothing but her purse. He could feel the warmth and joy pouring out of her as she talked of the people close to her.
It was all going fine till she mentioned Valentine's day. And just like that, it all came rushing back. So he did what he does best when confronted with the past. He turned surly and spoke to her bitterly.
He didn't mean to upset her but sometimes, he just couldn't get a hold on himself. So he questioned her about her boyfriend's intention. At first he did it to just vent his annoyance but the more he asked her, the more dumbfounded she was. Her boyfriend's "grand" trip for her didn't make any sense.
What kind of a partner would make his girlfriend go through something she is afraid of? And label it as a gift for her? It didn't add up but Zoya, clearly, was too daft to see that and it annoyed him even more- when people refuse to believe what is plainly obvious.
Just like his mother who refused to see his father's repeated transgressions, his father's mysterious "official" trips when everyone knew that he was banging some other woman.
Aditya was 16 when he had found out. His father had become so casual that he had the audacity of bringing one of his women to their house when they were all away on a tour. He, Arjun who was 11 at that time and his mother had gone to Pune to visit their maternal grandparents. They were supposed to return 3 days later but a last minute change of plans had made them reschedule their journey.
His mother was talking to the staff about carrying their luggage once they had reached home when Aditya, who was walking to his room, heard muffled voices coming from his parents' room. Thinking of it to be a thief (since his father was supposed to be at office), he had opened the door of the room. What he saw next had scarred him for life.
What happened subsequently was nothing short of a joke; a terrible joke. His mother decided to just "forget" about the incident- no fight, no resistance, no struggle. She simply acted like it never happened. Arjun was too young to understand anything but Aditya would always know. He could never forget what he saw.
After that, his father became cautious but those "business trips" never stopped. Since that day, he had lost all respect for his father. But a part of him couldn't forgive his mother's reaction.
On the surface they all acted like a happy family for the society but look deep and they were just a bunch of miserable people stuck together. Though with passing time he had softened towards his mother. She and Arjun were the only reason why he still had ties to that house and his father.
And this was why he couldn't stand to watch the annual Valentine's day party that his parents hosted. It was a sham and he had no interest in being a part of the drama, not anymore. Especially not after her-
"Tell me!" Zoya's shaky voice cut through his thoughts. "I don't know what I have done that you feel the need to talk to me like that?"
He could see her tear up and he knew, this time, he had crossed a line.
"These past few days have been a night mare for me. Running around in a foreign country all alone, lying to my family that I am fine, trying so hard to reach Dublin yet nothing is going as per plan. Nothing!"
She sounded angry and she was shaking, her face turning red as tears swelled up in her eyes, "And you! You talk to me nicely one moment and then you instigate all those horrible things about Yash and mine relationship. You don't know anything about me, okay? I know we are not friends but you can at least be civil to me. But no! You are just a jerk, a miserable jerk who is not happy till everyone around him is unhappy."
A tear rolled down her cheek, she wiped it away immediately, "I am done! I am done playing this passive-aggressive nonsense with you."
She grabbed her handbag and spat the words; "I would rather walk in the rain than spend another minute with you."
She was about to open the car door when Aditya grabbed her arm, "Zoya wait." He exhaled from his mouth, "I didn't mean to..."
She squirmed her arm but he didn't release it, lest she leave the car.
He took a deep breath and spoke earnestly, "I am sorry. I had no intention of hurting you. Just please... don't leave like this."
Zoya's hand left the door handle and Aditya let go of her arm, slowly.
"This day, Valentine's day," he spoke softly, "Just brings up a lot of memories. I am dealing with my own crap and I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I am really sorry about everything I said. It was uncalled for."
His sincere apology seemed to have calmed her down. She slowly let her purse slid to the floor of the vehicle and sighed.
"Are we... okay?" he worded the question cautiously.
"You tell me," she replied icily, "Are you going to mock me again?"
"No," he answered sincerely. "I won't."
"Then we are okay," she responded.
Aditya nodded and reclined on his seat. That was a close call. He shouldn't have pushed her so hard. It wasn't right. If he was dealing with his own problems then so was she. Despite of him being obnoxious around her, she was still trying to make the best of the situation.
A beep sound came from his watch, notifying him that it was 12:00 am.
"For what it's worth," came Zoya's tired voice, "Happy Valentine's day."
Aditya pressed his lips in a thin line. His voice was almost a whisper, "Happy Valentine's day."
Hey dear... Read all the parts in one go..
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