I’m 25 now and I think I’m in love…again. After graduation, Rahul and Tanya went to the states for further studies and we drifted apart. I got into one of the best MBA institute’s in the world and had two months to go before the first semester began. My sister Yana, now 18, was adamant that she wanted to go on a trip with her girl pals but dad forbade her from going.
So in a bid to go on the trip, she cooked up a bizarre plan and involved me in it. A cousin of ours, Karan, had just started a travel company that catered only to youngsters and since this was his first year, he was working on a tight budget. My sister convinced him that I would be the tour guide and I would do this for free since I was free for two months and we were after all, family.
Now my dad had no reason to say no to Yana because I was to chaperone my sister and her friends since I would be the tour guide. At first I was annoyed, but the thought of travelling before my first semester would begin was kind of appealing, even though I was an unpaid tour guide. I just had to mug up information about the touristy places in Paris, Venice, Rome and London. So the next week, I found myself at the International airport, as the officially designated nanny to three giggling teenagers.
Everyone had assembled except a passenger named Ayaan. It was getting late and there was no sign of him anywhere. Just then I heard someone shout, “Hey wait up, I’m here!”
I turned around to see a tall and well- built guy, with floppy brown hear falling into his eyes.
“So sorry to keep you’ll waiting, but the traffic was killer, by the way I’m Ayaan.”
He smiled and that’s when the trouble began. I was annoyed and flustered that he could unnerve me with just one smile. To make it worse I could already hear Yana and her two friends sighing and whispering about how handsome Ayaan was. I don’t know why but I noticed things like the colour of his eyes, a warm chocolate brown, the bulging veins on his hands, the tattoo on his right bicep and that strand of silky hair that fell into his eyes that was annoyingly cute. As a result I was harsher than I intended to be and said, “I hope you’ll be on time during the trip, because the next time you’re late, we’ll just leave. “
“Sorry, I’ll be on time,” he mumbled and I don’t know why but I felt like a fool for chiding him.
Though we started on the wrong note, Ayaan thawed my frozen heart with his incessant chatter. I found that I had a lot in common with him. He too loved basketball and was a cricket lover like me. He was buoyant, bursting with energy and as radiant as sunshine in summer. I found myself laughing and smiling more often. This time I didn’t tumble in love, I simply slipped into it and embraced this feeling. I didn’t worry about whether he was gay or not, I was just happy that I could love again and had found something wonderful.
Once I casually told Ayaan how the girls in the tour were crazy about him. He laughed it off and said that was sweet. He was also 25 and that made him almost seven years older to Yana and her friends. I knew he wouldn’t be interested in them but there were other girls closer to his age.
“Aren’t you flattered by all the attention? Why don’t you date somebody?”
“I already have someone I like.”
My heart deflated a bit but I still prodded, “oh! Are you dating then?”
“No. I’m not sure if my feelings are reciprocated.”
“Hey! Why wouldn’t anyone like you?” You’re funny, optimistic and you even look decent.”
He smiled and said, “Thanks.”
It was late evening and we were sitting in the hotel’s garden which was adjacent to the basketball court. Ayaan got up from the lawn and dusted his jeans.
“Wanna play basketball, the loser buys ice cream.”
We played fiercely and it took me back to my college days. The sweat, the challenge and the all too familiar smell of rubber basketball was pure heaven. It was a tough match but I won by one point. Breathless we collapsed on the ground. After some time we both sat up and leaned back on our hands.
“I won, get me ice cream.”
“Here, take the money, you get it.”
“Ayaan, you lost so you go and get it.”
Ayaan shoved me with his shoulder and I shoved him back. Soon we were shoving each other and laughing like school kids. When I was going to ram hard into him, he suddenly moved back and I fell straight into his lap. I looked up at his face and burst out laughing and he looked down at me and laughed.
Suddenly he stopped laughing and looked intently at me. He leaned down and kissed me softly. Just a brush of his lips on mine but my heart thundered and I was sure he could hear it beating wildly. I pushed myself up and looked at him. Ayaan just stared back and then, as if he woke up from a trance, he said sorry and quickly got up.
“Why did you do that?”
“Because I like you.”
I was speechless. Did he just say he liked me? Ayaan sighed and said, “I’m gay and I understand that you are not, but I’ve liked you from the first day when I saw you at the airport glaring at me. Even though you were annoyed with me, I couldn’t stop thinking how wonderful you looked even when you were angry and then when I saw you smile and laugh right now, I was blown away. I just got carried away and I… I completely understand if you say you don’t feel anything for me, but… I hope we’ll remain friends and I’m sorry I kissed you.”
I felt like the last bit of the icy grip on my heart had melted. I realised how truly liberating and wonderful it felt to be loved in return and I started laughing, shaking my head in amazement. Ayaan looked at me perplexed and then I saw confusion tinged with hurt in his eyes, but before he could turn around I hugged him fiercely and ruffled his hair. Grinning like a fool and grateful to God, I whispered in his ears, “Idiot, I like you too.”
The next week was the best week of my life. It was unfortunate that we only had that one week left in Europe. Ayaan and I were inseparable and I didn’t think anymore that calling each other by nicknames was lame. We were in front of the Eiffel Tower and I was talking about it, telling everyone that though there was nothing remotely romantic in the history of the Eiffel Tower it was still the most popular place for lovers to propose and confess their feelings.
I saw Ayaan looking at me with a twinkle in his eye and instantly knew that he was up to something. From the corner of my eye I saw Yana, flanked by her friends making a beeline towards Ayaan, but Ayaan strode purposefully towards me. I panicked and turned around, ready to sprint but he caught my hand, went down on his knee in front of everyone and said, “I love you Yash, will you spend the rest of your life with me?”
I was so shocked that I simply stood there gaping. My face was ablaze with embarrassment and I could feel every pair of eyes burning into my back. I didn’t dare to look up and see their reaction. I looked into Ayaan’s eyes and saw unadulterated love for me and a plea that said trust me, I’ll be there by your side, we’re in this together and I’ll never hurt you. My world had narrowed to his eyes and I found myself kneeling too, so that we were nose to nose, at eyelevel. I hugged him hard and choked back my tears. Despite being overwhelmed, I managed to say in an unwavering voice, “I love you too and I’ll hold on to you forever.”
I didn’t share a word with my sister after that and she avoided all eye contact with me throughout the trip. We reached home and just before I could ring the doorbell, Yana caught my hand and said, “Bhai, I wish you all the happiness in the world and I will always support you.”
I was touched by what she said and her support gave me the courage that I needed. That very night I told my parents that I was gay. My mother was flabbergasted and broke down in tears and after she had calmed, she urged me to visit a psychiatrist. My father was stoically silent. His blank stare was even more hurtful. He was more like a friend than a father and I hoped that he would understand me. Later that night I went into his study and pleaded dad to talk to me. He was facing the window with his back to me and then he said in his quiet voice, “I wish I had the courage to tell my parents what you told me today, I regret not holding onto the man I loved.”
I was shocked into silence. It didn’t make sense. Dad was gay too?
“Yes, I am gay.” He turned around and rubbed his face and he looked utterly tired and sad.
“I pretended to be normal all my life due to parental pressure, dominated all the time by thoughts like what would people say and I’ve been miserable. I don’t want you to bear the burden of hiding your true self. “
“So…. do you regret marrying mom?”
“No. how could I, when this marriage gave me you and Yana?”
I smiled and hugged dad. I went back to my room and thought about calling Ayaan. His parents already knew that he was gay and they had reluctantly accepted this fact. I knew that the road ahead would be tough. We would be ridiculed and ostracised but we would also meet people who would accept us. I was no longer afraid. The world had not changed and perhaps wouldn’t, but love had changed me, given me hope and courage to face the world head on, to be myself and be unapologetic about it. Just them my phone rang, it was Ayaan. I heard his voice and I knew that life was indeed perfect!