Trina first saw him on the day of Holi. Most kids in their society were playing Holi in the ground below, but he was sitting alone on his fourth floor balcony, watching others. He seemed like a shy and reticent boy. He had shifted to her society only a few weeks back and Trina had come to know from her mom that this new family had shifted from the gulf region following the gulf war.
Few days later, she saw him again. He was playing with his remote controlled car. In the 90’s remote controlled car were a novelty owned only by rich kids. Trina presumed that they were indeed rich from those petro-dollars that his father must have earned in the gulf area.
On the day of Rabindra Jayanti, Trina gave a beautiful dance performance to a Tagore song. While dancing she saw him sitting in the audience. His eyes fixed on her. She observed his deep eyes and dark unicorn eyebrows. There was something intense about his eyes. She couldn’t stop thinking about those eyes even when she went to sleep.
After a week Trina went to meet her friend Joy. She and Joy were childhood friends and Joy’s parents were very fond of her. Trina visited their home whenever she felt like. That day, like all other days, she straight went to the kitchen to meet Joy’s Mom. While chatting with Kakima she heard a new voice coming from Joy’s room. She asked Kakima who was there in that room with Joy. Kakima said that a new friend of Joy have come over.
Trina slowly went towards Joy’s room and before she could enter, she saw him in Joy’s room. A butterfly started fluttering rapidly inside her. Joy was playing a board game with him. He was engrossed in the game. Her footsteps made him turn aside and look up. Their eyes met for the first time in a deep gaze. Trina stood transfixed. Joy broke the trance and called out “hey, Trinsy, what you doing there? Come inside”. Joy introduced Trina to his new friend ‘Rustom’. His name resonated for a long time in her mind.
On the day of Dashami, after the immersion procession left, Joy asked Trina to meet him behind the Pandal. Trina went to meet Joy and found Rustom also waiting. She was little surprised as both Joy and Rustom looked nervous. Joy asked Trina to sit on a bench that was lying abandoned behind the pandal stage. Trina sat obediently; Joy sat next to her, while Rustom stood holding his cycle away from them. Joy was trying to say something but was hesitating. Then, Joy took Trina’s hand in his hand and asked very softly with his eyes cast downward “Trina, I love you; I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” After finishing he still kept her hand in his hands, his eyes still downcast.
Trina was numb for a while; she didn’t know how to react. She and Joy have been friends since nursery; she never thought anything about him other than good friends. She took her hand out of Joy’s and looked at Rustom, who was looking in the opposite direction with a faraway detached look, as if he was not a part of all this. Trina got up and looked into Joy’s eyes directly and said “Joy you are a good friend. I never thought you as anything else. So please excuse me, I cannot have anything else with you.” Then she turned her eyes towards Rustom who was still looking in a different direction. Trina continued “Joy, if I have feelings for anyone it is not you but Rustom” she took a pause. Rustom turned towards her with a strange expression of exasperation, surprise, shock, happiness all combined into one. He didn’t find a single word to utter. He stood there for some time searching for words and the only words he could think of was “Please excuse me”. He took his cycle and just left the place.
Joy stood up from the bench. He now had the look of a betrayed person. All of a sudden his world had come crashing down. The love of his life Trina rejected him and confessed her feelings for one of his best friends. Joy realized that he was at the edge of a wretched love triangle. He slowly left for his home, so did Trina.
Few days after Durga Puja winter started crawling into Kolkata. There was a pleasant chill in the wind. However Trina’s mind was chillier. After that day neither Rustom nor Joy spoke to her. She used to meet both on her way to school or tennis but they avoided her. Trina continued her routine life but missed Rustom every single moment.
Rustom had his birthday in November. On that day, Trina thought that she would meet and confront him. On his birthday, in the evening Trina bought a big bar of Cadbury and waited for him in front of his house. She knew he would come out for his evening cycling. She went there 15 minutes before. The moment Rustom came out she went near and gave him the Cadbury and said “happy birthday”. Rustom was not prepared for this surprise, he took the Cadbury and said “thank you”. In his mind he started preparing for the deluge of questions that he knew Trina would ask. However instead of asking anything Trina said “Rustom, I know you were not prepared for what I said that day” she paused and took a small breath and continued “maybe you don’t feel the same way as I feel for you. But that shouldn’t affect our friendship.” She paused again, tears welling in her dark eyes, and then she said “you may not love me but please don’t stop talking”. After saying these words she just ran away from the place, tears streaming down her cheeks. Rustom stood there flabbergasted for some time and then started following Trina on his bicycle. She had not gone very far. He called her name couple of times and Trina stopped, still crying. Rustom got down from his cycle and stood next to her. He said in a very soft tone “Trina, it is not that I don’t like you. Actually everything happened so suddenly that I got confused. It was embarrassing to accept my liking for you in front of Joy. I didn’t want to hurt Joy.” He paused for a while and then continued “Trina, I am going to my Nanis house tomorrow. Will come back in first week of December, will meet you after coming back. Now, I have to go, I am getting late.” He got on his cycle, before starting to paddle he turned back and smiled and said “Thank you for the Cadbury”. He rode away. Trina stood there with a wide grin on her face. All her sadness went away in that moment of bliss.
8 December 1992
It was like any other day. Trina woke up and sat on her study table. Two days back Rustom had come back. The previous evening they met for a brief while.
From the dining hall she heard her parents discussing something in hushed worried voice. She heard words like ‘riot’, ‘murder’. She had never heard her parents discuss these kinds of words before. She tiptoed to the dining hall and saw her father bending over the newspaper and reading something aloud to her mother. Her mother hurriedly went back to the kitchen and loudly said to her father to buy vegetables and groceries because shops might shut down. Trina did not understand why her parents were so tensed and she was scared to ask them. In the evening she wore her floral dress and was just about to go out when her mom stopped her. “Where are you going?” she asked Trina in a stern voice. Trina fumbled for an answer. Her mom said angrily “don’t you know there is curfew all over? Just go inside and study.”
Next Day morning the curfew was lifted for few hours. She thought of leaving the house and meeting Rustom. But Joy came to her house. This was the first time Joy came to her house after that incident. She saw an impish grin on his face. Joy came straight to her room and sat on her bed. He looked very happy. Trina couldn’t understand amidst such chaos why he was so happy. Joy looked at her and with a wide smile said “Rustom and his family are going away from here. They are shifting back to Dubai.”
Trina felt a sudden sharp pain pierce her chest. She stood like a statue. Joy went on “His family is not feeling safe”.
Trina asked softly suppressing her irritation ‘Why?’
Joy made a noise from his mouth and asked flinching his eyes “Now, don’t tell me that you don’t know” he paused for Trina’s response. Trina shrugged her shoulder. Joy now said “Trina, did he never tell you his full name? Don’t tell me you don’t understand why.” Trina suddenly realised that indeed in last so many months she had never asked Rustom his full name. Even he had never asked her full name. Trina almost murmured to herself “what is his full name?” her heart was beating fast. Joy almost jumped with excitement and said “Trina, his full name is Rustom Abbas Khan” He enthusiastically continued “You are such a dumb girl, Trina, after all this you never asked his name”. He started laughing, the cruel laugh of a jilted lover. Joy came closer to her and almost whispered in her ears “Trina, be careful, everywhere riots going on, and if anyone finds out they will kill both of you. They will also kill your families. This is the worst riot, all of you will die. So for the sake of your family, forget him” Joy obviously took a sadistic pleasure in saying all this to Trina.
The day curfew was lifted she desperately went to meet him. He told her that they were shifting back to Dubai. Trina started crying. He asked Trina to write down her postal address. She wrote it on a piece of paper that she found inside her bag. Her hands trembled while she wrote. He promised to write her letters after shifting to Dubai. Few days later Rustom and his family shifted back to Dubai. Trina kept expecting a letter however not a single letter reached her.