That One Thing

by Ishani Dash

On February 14th, I woke up to a text from my ex-boyfriend. Turns out, he was getting married. Not to me, of course, but I was invited to the wedding.

They had met through their parents a couple of months earlier. Within a week, they’d decided to get married. It was not an arrangement I understood, but then again, I hadn’t lived in India for a while. I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Five days later, I booked a return ticket to Delhi. I landed in India in May. As usual, Yohan was at the airport to pick me up. Seeing him again after two years, in a white sweater, dark blue jeans and a huge smile, caused an involuntary grin to spread across my face.

“I am so happy to see you!!” I gushed, reaching for a hug. His arms still felt the same; he still smelled the same. He picked up my suitcase and proceeded to put it inside the boot. At thirty-two, he still looked as youthful and jovial as always. Yohan shut the lid of his car trunk and raced to hold the front passenger seat door open for me. I smiled and sat inside. Nothing seemed to have changed, and yet –

“So, you are getting married,” I decided to address the giant elephant in the room.

“Yeah, I am,” he said, strapping his seat belt. “And you my friend, would love Gayatri.”

“Friend? Ouch!”

He laughed. It was an easy laugh, shared between two people who had known each other a long time. Yohan and I had first met thirteen years ago when we studied together at IIT, Roorkee. We had developed an easy rapport in the first month of college itself, and had begun dating by the end of the first semester. Our romance was a slow burn. We were both shy and non-confrontational. Yet, we were open and direct with each other.

“You remember Rafi?” he asked. “He is now a professor at IIT, Delhi. Oh, you’d love the Delhi campus. Let’s plan a visit sometime?”

“That’s… that’s great,” I frowned. “Um, but won’t you be busy with your wedding stuff? You are getting married next week, right? Or did seeing me change your mind?”

“Haha, very funny.”

“I am just saying, it’s not too late,” I teased.

Yohan smiled and continued driving in silence. I fiddled with the music and selected a station playing old Hindi songs. It felt good to be back home. A minute later, Yohan and I started singing along to Jawaani Janemaan by Asha Bhonsle. When the song ended, he turned around to face me and said, “God, I miss this. Singing along to 70s Hindi songs. Gayatri doesn’t like old songs. She finds the background music screechy.”

“What? But the instruments back then were so…”

“I know!”

We both smiled. I didn’t need to complete my sentences around him. He knew what I was thinking when I was thinking it. I had a sudden urge to caress his hair, but I managed to stop my instincts from acting out. This was the second time we were in his car and had not held hands. The first time was nearly two and a half years ago, when I had come to the city briefly for a mutual friend’s wedding. That time though, not holding hands had been difficult for both of us. This time, my yearning was private.

“How’s the dating life going?” Yohan asked.

“Oh, you know, you meet someone and sometimes, it’s great. You end up going on a few dates and…”

“And?”

“And then they say that one thing which ruins it all, and you just know it could never work out.”

“I get it,” he shrugged.

Of course, he did. He always did. We’d been together for ten years. I’d never thought it would end. But one day, I woke up and life didn’t make sense to me anymore. I knew I had been pushing it to the back of my mind, so I decided to come clean to my best friend. I told Yohan that I wanted to pursue a business degree in the US. At the time, he was working as a geoscientist at Schlumberger, and I was an unhappy consultant at Kearney. I was desperate to move abroad, so I applied for masters. When the offers came, Yohan was nothing but supportive. He said he understood I was miserable, but he had already done his masters in geosciences and did not want to leave India anytime soon. I deferred my admission to business school, hoping he would change his mind. Two years later, he had the same answer, and I was still unhappy. So, I took the hardest decision of all: I said yes to Wharton and moved out of our home. Three years later, I was still single, and he was –

“So, we are happy about this, right? Your wedding?” I asked him.

“Yup! I know it was arranged but, I really think she’ll make the right partner,” he said, his eyes on the road.

I wanted to touch his cheek, let him know that I was here, still available. I was happy now, but God, I missed him terribly. Could I do this, though – leave everything behind and move back to the city? What was he doing – my Yohan – marrying someone else? Was this a mistake? Was this the final push we both needed to realize that we belonged together?

“Yohan, I… I think we – ”

“You should have never gone to the US.”

My pulse quickened in anticipation of his next words.

“I’m sorry but, you’re not getting any younger, you know,” he said. “You should just find someone and lock him in. Being single in your thirties is not cute!”

I froze.

There it was, that one thing. He had said it. I nodded and changed the radio channel.

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