I was nine and Raj was twelve. Mom and Dad had returned from a dinner party and dad was sodden drunk. They were arguing about something and then I heard the sound of glass shattering. Raj asked me to stay in the room and went out. I peeked from behind the door and saw dad shoving mom to the floor and slapping her. I was horrified to see dad behave like that. I knew that they didn’t get along because Dad always wanted a son but he was stuck with two daughters. Mom had miscarried twice after my birth and that had only strained an already fragile relationship. I was scared of Dad’s volatile temper.
On the contrary, Raj always tried to be the son that dad wanted. She behaved like a boy, dressed like one, but nothing seemed to please dad. We were always ignored by him. As we grew older, the hopes of ever being loved by dad were lost. That day was the last straw. As dad was about to strike mom again, Raj pushed dad who fell to the floor in a drunken stupor.
‘Don’t you dare hit my mother again, or I’ll call the police!’
The next day, dad abandoned us and never came back home. Raj went on to become the man of the house. She had forced herself to become who she was not in the hopes of trying to please the man who could never be pleased. Since she always dressed like a guy and telling her to dress otherwise was a touchy topic, mom let her be.
‘Looks like you are going to pull all my hair out! How long will you keep brushing them?”
I snapped out of my reverie and hurried to help Raj with her makeup. While putting a light coat of gloss on her lips, I asked her, ‘Does he love you too?’
‘Yes, because he told me last night that he loves me. He was a bit tipsy, but you can tell when a guy really means it.’ She smiled and actually blushed.
I bit my tongue before I could probe anymore and bid Raj goodbye. There was no point in digging further. I quickly dressed for the library, a place where I could find a reprieve from my sadness and where the heroine of the books would at least have a happy ending. My love for romance novels had led me to believe that I too would have my fairy tale, but I guess I was mistaken.
As I rushed out of the house, I heard Kabir call out my name. He looked impossibly handsome in a black shirt and ripped jeans. He walked towards me and my heart sank a little more with every step he took. The thought of him as my future brother- in- law was repulsive.
‘Hey Kriti, I need a favour from you, will you help me plan a date?’
I was appalled by his request. Was this some twisted cruel fate at work?
‘Why would you ask me? I have never gone on a date and anyways I’m getting late to go to the library.’
‘Please Kriti, this date is really important to me and I want it to be perfect.’
‘Take her on a bike ride, see a match of WWF and play cricket with her, she’ll like it.’
‘Are you kidding me? This is not a boys’ night out Kriti!’
‘Then buy her candy floss, take her shopping, click a 100 selfies and give her a huge teddy bear.’
I seethed in anger but I tried to keep a straight face.
‘Are you serious or are you pulling my leg? I don’t want her to break up with me before we even begin to date.’
Seeing Kabir irritated was satisfying and for a moment the thought of a disastrous first date was appealing but it involved my sister’s feelings too. No matter how much I hated this situation, these two were the most cherished people of my life. Sighing resignedly, I apologised to Kabir.
‘I don’t know what other girls would like for a first date but for me, a perfect date would be a long drive, having dinner together and then waltzing to romantic songs followed by a stroll down the beach.’ I was so lost in imagining my date that I went on to say, ‘and you have to kiss her goodnight.’
Kabir raised a brow and said, ‘I can handle it from there, I don’t need advice in that department.’
I laughed and made a face at him. He punched me on the arm, thanked me for the advice and sauntered away.
‘What are you going to do Kriti?’ I looked heavenward for an answer and slowly trudged towards the library.
The shadows grew longer, the sun dipped lower and only an hour remained for the library to shut. I was so absorbed in reading Pride and Prejudice that I had skipped lunch. My stomach protested loudly and I decided to grab a quick bite at Tibbs Frankie. Just then a girl of about twelve or thirteen tapped me on the shoulder and I looked up to see an enormous bouquet of sun flowers being thrust into my face. I looked at her perplexed, but she simply smiled, shrugged and left. I found a card nestled deep, between the cheerful yellow flowers.
You are like the sun, warm and beautiful and I, like a sunflower, crave for your warmth and love. I need you like the sunflowers need the sun, and now I can no longer just look at you from afar. I need to catch your hand and call you mine, I need to caress your cheek, hold on to you and never let you go. Will you be my sunshine? I am waiting for you behind bookshelf no. 9
This was surprising. Who was this mystery lover? The last line even rhymed! How cute was that! I climbed the stair case to the first floor and as I neared shelf 9, my heart was beating with nervous anxiety. Was it Nikhil who seemed to have a crush on me and unnerved me with his intense stares? No, he seemed like too much of a coward to confess. Then who could be this secret admirer? He definitely sounded like some Romeo, God I hope it’s not some crazy stalker. I peeked behind the shelf and dropped my book in shock.
He looked embarrassed and ran a hand through his hair, a nervous gesture which I recognized instantly.
‘I know you are probably shocked because I never hinted at anything like this but I had to tell you before I left. I couldn’t hide my feelings any longer. I…. I just needed you to know that I have always loved you.’
I stared at him in bewilderment. What about Raj? Did he even know she loved him? Hadn’t he told her last night that he loved her?
Caught off guard by his sudden confession I walked backwards and rammed into a book shelf. A huge encyclopedia landed on my head. Wincing in pain, I slumped to the floor. I squeezed my eyes shut and rubbed vigorously at my head to numb the ricocheting pain.
Kabir was instantly by my side. He caressed my head and asked me if I was alright. I nodded, almost dumbstruck.
‘Is this so shocking that you rammed into a bookshelf?’ he laughed and pulled me closer.
I looked into his warm brown eyes and for an instant I forgot where I was and simply looked at him, his lips that quirked in an amused smile, his aquiline nose, the light stubble on his jaw, his arched brows and for the first time, I recognized the flare of desire in his eyes.
‘I.. I think this is some huge mistake, Raj loves you.’
‘What?! Raj doesn’t love me, she loves Shiv.’
Shiv was Kabir’s childhood friend, who was back from UK for his vacation. He had spent many summer breaks in Mumbai, playing cricket with Raj and Kabir. Coming to think of it, Raj did look very happy since the day he arrived and he was also at the Holi party. In fact, Rajvi’s confession did seem like an incomplete sentence where she had abruptly trailed off after uttering Kabir’s name. Oh god! Had she meant Kabir’s friend Shiv!
I explained the misunderstanding to Kabir who laughed so hard that the librarian admonished us from the ground floor. I whacked Kabir on the arm and glared at him.
‘Why did you ask me for date ideas? Do you have any idea about the pain I went through while imagining you on a date with Raj?’
Kabir sobered but didn’t stop grinning, ‘I wanted to make sure that it’s a perfect date with everything to your liking. It was a pretty good idea for a fool proof date. Now will you get ready for the date Kriti or do I need to carry you down?’
‘I am not going on a date with this lump on my forehead,’ I sulked and pouted. He laughed and gently kissed my forehead.
‘Ok, then can we fast forward to the goodnight kiss?’
‘Kabir!’ I punched him on the arm and hugged him.
‘Why didn’t you tell me before? I always thought you saw me as a sister, when did you fall in love with me?’
‘Since you turned fifteen, I have never thought of you in a sisterly way, trust me on that’, he laughed, flashing an impish grin and continued, ‘It’s a bro code, never date your friend’s sister and I didn’t know how Raj would take it, but then I had to tell you before I leave next month for my MBA in US.’
I was dismayed by this news, ‘What perfect timing Kabir! Just one month left for you to go.’
‘Hey, two years will be gone like this’, he snapped his fingers, ‘but do you promise to wait for me? He continued in an uncertain voice, ‘Will you be my sunshine?’
I looked at him and smiled. It was so endearing to see him look so nervous. In that bitter sweet moment, I had everything that I had wished for. What was two more years of waiting as compared to the years of loving and waiting for Kabir, thinking that my feelings would never be reciprocated? So I cupped his face with both my hands and with my heart bursting with joy said, ‘I love you Kabir and I’ll be your sunshine forever.’