Three years ago this day, it is still clear in her mind, like it was just yesterday. It was almost a year that Rajiv and Nikita had known each other. They both worked in the same department in an IT company. Sitting at the bar at a friend’s club, she watched others dance. Clubs and crowds were not exactly her way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. But then she did not have a Valentine and her colleagues didn't take no for an answer, so here she was.
As the night progressed, the crowd grew bigger and the place got stuffy. She needed some fresh air. It was as if he had read her mind, Rajiv walked up to her and said, “Want to take a walk outside? Take in some fresh air?” She was only happy to oblige.
As they walked, Nikita didn’t realise where he was leading her to till she could see the candles and the balloons. The setting was mesmerising.
But… where was he? He had suddenly disappeared leaving her standing with candles and balloons all around.
And then she saw him, down on one knee, and the single rose. Nothing could have been more perfect than that moment. Her mind was furiously searching for one answer, when had she fallen in love? She wasn’t sure. Somewhere between talking to clients and shared lunches, they had become more than just colleagues, more than just friends.
His voice brought her back, “Will you be my Valentine?”
“Yes, of course”.
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His face was a mix of happiness and surprise. It is true that they have always been great friends, supporting each other through rough times and sharing success and happiness. They had always shared a rare friendship but neither had ever hinted at something more than just friendship. And that is why Nikita’s ready acceptance was a big surprise to Rajiv as his proposal was to her.
Three years later, some 1500km away, Nikita has been waiting for his call for days now. These three years together have had its share of happiness and fights like every other relationship but Rajiv is not the kind of guy to forget special dates and occasions. So how could he forget Valentine’s Day?
Her mind took her to the last couple of weeks. He has been keeping himself scarce lately, pretending to be very busy both at work and home. He has been busy before, stealing a minute or two to call and make sure she has had her lunch or is sleeping on time. So what has changed now?
She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his 'last seen at' status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn't stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn't know if he was joking or not. What was this?
I know I am late but I promise to make it up to you.
But for now, I need you. I need you to come and meet me.
I have very few days left and you are the one
I want beside me when I breathe my last.
I Love You...
Dread took hold of her throat. She felt numb. He definitely can’t be joking. She booked the next flight to Mumbai. She didn’t even have the time to let her parents know that she is coming home.
As she fastened her seat belt getting ready for the 90mins flight, a million questions hovered in her mind. But she would not have answers to any of them till she met him. What has actually happened? When did all this happen? And why hadn’t he told her? Is that why he has been keeping his distance lately?
A lot might have changed in these three years, but their love had only grown stronger. She expected to be his pillar of strength, to stand by him whenever he needed. Today, whatever card destiny deals her, she will stand by him.
As soon as she arrived in Mumbai, she booked a cab and headed straight to his place. She called her Dad on the way to let him know that she is back in town and will be coming home later in the evening.
She felt restless as she anticipated the unknown. She tried to predict what he might tell her but her imagination failed her.
She has been to his house before but she had never dreaded going in. She stood frozen willing her hands to knock. Just then someone opened the door and saw her standing there.
“Namaste, Uncle. I am here to see Rajiv.” She heard herself say.
“Yes beta, Come in.”
As she stepped in, she saw Riddhi, Rajiv’s younger sister. Riddhi is almost Nikita’s age and they have been close friends ever since. Riddhi walked up to her and gave her a tight hug. No words were needed. That one gesture said a million things.
“I need to see him.” Riddhi nodded and led the way.
Riddhi stopped in front of his room and pushed open the door. She gestured for her to enter but Nikita hesitated for a moment before stepping in.
She felt every ounce of blood drain from her face. He lay there as pale as the bed sheet. He has become a bag of bones. His eyes were closed so Nikita took a moment to study him. This is the person she loved. This is the person she was soon going to marry. How destiny has turned the tables on them.
Even though his eyes were closed, he could feel her watching him. He knew she would come, knew he would have to face her and he was being a coward by keeping his eyes closed. He couldn’t find the courage to tell her what took him days to accept himself. He heard her take the seat next to his bed. He slowly opened his eyes. There were tears in her eyes; it almost killed him to know that he put it there.
“Hi…” she whispered.
“Hi… you came”, his voice was calm.
She couldn’t get herself to ask the next question. She sat there just looking at him, willing him to decipher the question in her head.
“Blood cancer, advanced stage,” he finally said. He waited for her to react but minutes ticked by and she only staring.
Nikita finally found her voice, “How long have you known?”
“About two weeks now.”
“And you are telling me now?” He could hear the hurt in her voice.
“It took me so long to accept it myself. And then it took me the immense courage to tell you. I couldn’t bear to see tears in your eyes”
He could almost see the wheels in her head turning as she combed her fingers through his hair and stared into space.
He broke the silence, “A penny for your thoughts, Nikita”
She slowly went down on one knee and asked, “Rajiv Saxena, Will you marry me?”
He turned as white as chalk. Has she lost her mind? Maybe is the shock of the moment. She needs time to recover.
“Look, Nikita, I know you are shocked and……”
“I don’t expect you to answer immediately.” She cut him short.
“Think about it carefully” she continued “and remind yourself of all the promises you have made. I will come back for an answer tomorrow. Good night Rajiv.” She kissed his forehead and walked out without giving him a chance to say anything but think.
By the time she reached home, her mind was composed and she was determined to convince her parents. She went in to find her parents eagerly waiting for her. She touched their feet for their blessing. Today she needed it the most, she needed them to understand.
“Ma, Baba… I need to talk to you. I need both of you to help me make the right decision.”
She sat opposite them on the sofa and took the time to choose her words carefully.
“I came to Mumbai today because of Rajiv. He has been diagnosed with Blood Cancer, advanced stage. He says he has very few days left. I want to get married as soon as possible.”
She saw the shock and disbelief in their faces. She waited for them to think it through before adding, “I have thought about it and I need you both to support my decision, please”
They were silent for what seemed like very long minutes before her father finally said, “Give me and your ma sometime to think. We will discuss this in the morning, but for now, I am hungry.”
Nikita had to smile. Her parents have always been there for her. She will ever be grateful to them for making her the person she is today.
They sat together for dinner. It felt comforting just to have both of them next to her. They have always trusted her to take the right decisions. She just hoped with all her heart that they support her in this big decision of her life.
Beams of sun tickled till she opened her eyes. It was a new day to begin working on her plan. Nikita picked up her phone and typed;
“Good morning…J Have your breakfast. I will be there later in the day. Hope you have had enough time to think about my question!”
And sent it.
She got ready and went to the kitchen. Her parents were just finishing their first cup of tea. She took a cup, poured herself some tea from the flask and sat down opposite to her father at the table. Her mother got up to clear the table.
Her father put his hands on hers and looked at her. She could feel the tension building on her shoulders. Her mother came back and took her seat. It frustrated her that his face didn’t give away anything that was in his mind.
“I must tell you how proud your mother and I are. Not only for the decision you have taken but for the person you are. I will be honest, it took us some time to accept your decision and see clearly. But once we did we understood how important you both have become for each other.” Her mother only nodded her acceptance. She could see her mother’s emotions churning.
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Will you both speak to his parents?”
“Yes, we will. What are you planning to do?” her father asked.
“I have to convince the groom to come for the wedding. Baba, I’m going to Rajiv’s place. I will wait for both of you there.”
As she left, she felt stronger now that her parents are backing her. She will not listen to any kind of refusal from him. Love was what mattered, rest she will leave to destiny.
As she walked to Rajiv’s house from the bus stop she met Riddhi. They simply walked side by side. Both were at a loss for words. They were almost at the house when Riddhi broke the silence, “Is it true that you are planning to marry him?”
“Why do you find it difficult to believe?” Nikita countered. “The answer is simple, I love him.”
Once they were at the house Nikita headed for the kitchen. She saw Rajiv’s mother making soup for him while his father was nursing a cup of cold tea with the newspaper in hand. She walked across the kitchen and bent down to touch his feet. “Namaste Uncle.”
“May the Lord always keep you happy.” he blessed her.
She touched his mother’s feet, “Always be happy.”
“Aunty, Uncle, my parents will be here, they would like to speak to you.”
They both nodded. Something in their silence told Nikita that Rajiv has already told them about her proposal. “May I meet Rajiv?”
“Yes, of course.”
Today she saw him sitting on a chair next to the window staring into nowhere in particular.
“You did not reply to my message. I came from Bangalore to Mumbai in half a day’s notice, the least you could do is type out a reply.”
He slowly turned his head and looked at her over his shoulders. She was unique and that is why he loved her. “I was too busy deciding if your brains have been damaged or you are being plain stupid.”
And that was the beginning of an hour of arguments. He was not ready to let her ruin her life while she did not find life worth living if she was not his.
Their argument was interrupted by a knock at the door. Nikita opened the door to their parents. They could see the distress on her face. Her efforts to convince him were going fruitless. Nikita’s dad took a seat opposite Rajiv, touched his hand and said, “Do you love my daughter?”
“Yes, Uncle I do. But….”
“Do you want to keep her happy?” he interrupted with the next question.
“Yes I do, Uncle. But….”
“With you is where her happiness lies, don’t refuse her proposal. It will hurt both of you.”
Rajiv did not have an answer to that because he knew her father was right.
“Uncle, Aunty, I cannot believe that you are all letting her do this.”
Nikita’s mother came forward and put her hand on his head, “Beta, she is our only child. We will not deprive her of any happiness. And this is what she wants.”
Rajiv slowly got up and went to Nikita. He took both her hands in his and looked into her eyes. “Yes, I will”. There were tears in her eyes. These were tears of joy.
The family priest was invited and the wedding date was fixed. It was a small and simple wedding ceremony and the couple was blessed by the elders of both families. It was a perfect wedding.
Nikita took care of her husband and made each day memorable. Because she knew that later, it will be these memories that will be her support. It will be these memories that will help her go through the rest of her life. She intends to enjoy every minute with her husband.
Two months later, when Rajiv breathed his last, he knew he had made the right decision agreeing to marry Nikita. She lived her entire life in the two months they were together. He will eventually make her sad but for now, she was happy. She had made a promise not to cry when he left. But he knew it is a promise she will eventually break.