His hair had lost the bounce, she noticed. And there was something different about his smile; like the lips lifted to show that he was cheerful but the eyes begged to differ. There wasn’t that cheekiness in him that she remembered from their years at college.
“So… Marriage, huh?” She asked.
“Yeah..” He said, running his hand through his hair, looking a little surprised himself. “Amazing na?”
“Yeah…” She said faintly and looked into her coffee mug.
He definitely had changed but she couldn’t put a finger on it. His looks were the same yet he wasn’t. She tried to remember him from the laughing, sunfilled days of college. She saw him in her mind’s eye, throwing back his head and laughing at some brainless joke. His eyes alive, sparkling with a light of something she could never figure. His broad, well-built frame easily attractive in a tacky hoody and faded denim. She used to wonder back then about how this handsome guy who was coveted by every girl on the campus was her best friend. The girls would keep telling her that she was lucky to have a chance with him but somehow, she’d never felt like she needed it. He was her best friend and she was happy to keep it that way. They kept asking her, “Are you two in love?” And she’d say “Yes!” because that was what it was. It was a deep love she felt for him and he too loved her. But it wasn’t in the crude, twisted way that the world thought it to be. They were two friends who were deeply in love with each other. She’d told him once how they thought she was going around with him.
“They’re right, aren’t they?” He’d asked, the quizzical, amused look in his eye. “You love me and I love you! So they think right. But who cares what they think? We’re best friends; we don’t owe them an explanation.”
And so the two had breezed, laughing, through the corridors and years of college; as a couple. But only they knew their secret. She’d confide in him about her dream of the perfect guy and he’d tell her about how he’d find himself the ‘right’ girl.
The only problem with those days, he thought, was that they got over. He stole a glance at her sitting across the table, toying with her mug of coffee. She’d changed but he couldn’t say how. She looked just as she did back then; the same deep brown hair flowing down her back, her eyes the same glittering black like two black pearls. Delicately beautiful yet determinedly strong. No, he thought. That was what had changed. She used to hold herself like an Army general, shoulders straight, head high with a hauty tilt to her chin; like she was in command. Her eyes used to glimmer like she did not believe in hurt or tragedies. As he looked at her now, it hit him; her eyes still glimmered but not in defiance of any hurt but like they were shining from unshead tears of a hurt she’d never acknowledge.
“So you still writing that novel?” He had to make conversation. This was his best friend here and talking to her shouldn’t feel like an effort. Yet he was making it.
“No.. Gave it up a year ago. It was no good Harsh. I had to face it.” She smiled at him, a sad, patient smile of someone trying to explain the death of a goldfish to a four-year old.
“Why..?” He asked, bewildered. What had happened to her? Had she too been dragged through rough patches like he had? Had she too been skinned of all those dreams and that enthusiasm like this ruthless world had skinned him? Had she too become a cynic like he had? No, he thought. She hadn’t… she couldn’t have.. he hoped she hadn’t.
She looked up at him, and wished with all her heart that she could have given him a flippant answer, could have offered a carefree yet confident explanation of why she’d chosen to drop it, told him that she had an equally exciting plan in place. She’d have given anything in that moment to face his ‘Why.?’ With an answer that took them both back to the days when every ‘why?’ had a cheerful answer.
She just looked up into the lightless eyes of this young man sitting across the table and sighed wistfully.
“I guess we just had to grow up….”