Written By Sneha Annavarapu
Graphics By Debasmita Das
I rushed into Kitab Khana, drenched to the bone thanks to the sticky wetness of Mumbai’s infamous rains. The blast of the air-conditioner froze me momentarily but the polite reminder of “madam, the store is closing in fifteen minutes” by a gentle cashier snapped me back into life. I had held my pee for far too long, and so I rushed to the toilet at the far end of the quaint bookshop. Small brown footprints followed me closely. On the way to the toilet, I paused and peeked into the coffeeshop. I had spent many a summer afternoon here, a few years ago, when I was in the city for archival research. I could almost taste the sweetness of the chocolate fudge brownie mingling with the sharp saltiness of the sweat on my upper lip. A little crowd of lawyers wearing their quintessential black coats were busy relishing the same fudge brownie. My body warmed up at this nostalgic indulgence, but my bladder reminded me that there were more practical matters that needed my attention.
In the bathroom, I chuckled thinking of my sudden and irrational urge to come to Kitab Khana all the way from Santa Cruz when I knew fully well that I would not be able to spend more than ten minutes in the bookstore.
But allowances had had to be made. This whole one-and-a-half-day trip to Mumbai had been a strange decision, after all. I had no “real” reason to be here. I was simply here to see the city. Something from my last trip here had felt incomplete. Sometimes it felt like I had not bid my long-lost lover a proper goodbye. Sometimes it felt like I had forgotten a part of me behind.
I had spent three months in Mumbai back in 2016 – but I did not do much in terms of getting to know the city. I just loitered aimlessly, pretending to be looking for something interesting to research but I was far too besotted by this city to have any sense of perspective. All I was really doing in Mumbai was falling in love with someone or the other, over and over again. It was liberating to feel absolutely irrelevant.
I picked up six books off the Fiction shelf, quickly took a photograph, and promptly put up a story on Instagram – “reunited with my favorite bookstore!” – and tagged Kitab Khana.
Phone in hand, I hailed a kaali peeli and made my way back to Santa Cruz. Ping! Someone had replied to my Instagram story.
My mouth felt sour as a pang of guilt rang through my cold body. R.
I had ghosted R – seven years ago – and had conveniently forgotten about it. Until this moment. I still remember seeing his text “I am waiting at the bar, drinking a beer. Take your time!”, promptly turning my phone off and going to sleep. I still remember sleeping for 13 hours that day, waking up to 16 missed calls and panicked texts, and not feeling a thing.
I have always been a lover of challenges. Through my high school, my college, all I have truly savored is the adrenalin rush of working hard towards deadlines. Losing sleep, being overcaffeinated, and agonizing over the process has been my fuel. As I grow older, I have unlearned a lot of this but seven years ago, if something came too easily to me, I would abandon it in the pursuit of something more challenging. If it is too easy, is it even worth it? Nah.
In such a context, R arrived in my life and brought with him an effortless, fearless, shameless sort of affection. It was all almost too easy. It was too easy to make him laugh, it was too easy to make him see things from my perspective, it was too easy to make him desire me, it was too easy to make him fall in love with me. It was also so too easy to fall in love with him, with his devilish charm, open laugh, and his crooked little nose.
And, so, I left. Without as much of an explanation, without as much of an apology, I moved to Chicago to chase after a PhD in a university that is known for its toxic academic environment. I was all too eager to indulge my imposter syndrome all the while trying to please all the men who were going to be hard to please. I was going to make them all fall in love with me, I decided. If it is too easy, is it even worth it? Am I?
Now, I suddenly felt very conscious of the number of times I had ranted about how being ghosted sucks and how men who ghost women deserve to rot in hell. All those Instagram stories I had put up about “fuckboys”.
He must have seen those stories and rolled his eyes. He knew I was the biggest fuckboy of them all.
Hesitantly, I opened his text: Hi, saw you at KK and waved at you…was not sure it was you but then I saw the tattoo on your collarbone. You did not wave back, so not sure if you saw me or you don’t want to hear from me. Anyway, it was nice seeing you if only from a distance. Sorry if I am intruding.
Seven years of silence punctuated by a ping. Something salty in my mouth. Sweat. Anticipation. Shame.
I found his phone number buried under the list of contacts I hardly ever looked at. The contact had a picture. R standing against the poster of a film we had gone to watch together. The photograph was grainy, but I could still see the creamy kindness in his soft, brown eyes.
I messaged him.
“I am really sorry!”
“Haha! Sorry? What for?”
“Today. I didn’t see you. Wait, how come you are in Mumbai? Have you moved from Delhi?”
“No. I was here on work. I missed my flight and was very bummed about it, so my friends took me to KK for some fudge brownie. Did you not see us? We were the only ones at the café.”
Oh. The little crowd of lawyer coats. Of course. R was a lawyer now. I knew this. How had I not noticed him or his crooked little nose?
“Shit, no, I didn’t see.”
I saw him type. And then stop.
“Hey, I am so sorry.”
“For seven years of silence. For everything.”
“It’s ok. We were all young.”
This was R. Quick to forgive, always ready with his effortless affection. Easy, easy, too easy…
Stop it. Reply already!
“I think I was destined to be at KK today. I don’t believe in destiny but…”
Why else would anyone take a cab from Santa Cruz to Kitab Khana during rush hour traffic only to reach the store fifteen minutes before it closed for the day? Why else would someone come to Mumbai for a day and a half?
“I think I was destined to miss my flight today. I don’t generally miss important flights but…”
Why else would anyone miss their flight and then come back all the way to Kitab Khana for a fucking brownie?
I looked outside the frosted window of the taxicab. Cars, buildings, flyovers, rain, rain, rain. Rivers of rain had turned the stern metropolitan skyline into a pathetic sludge – and, in a sense, the world outside had begun to resemble the world I carried within me. My brain had been washed away, my heart had most certainly melted into a silty puddle, and I was but a surging ocean of guilt, hope, love, and desire.
It was too easy.
Stop it. Reply!
“Coffee tomorrow? At KK? 4pm?”
“Definitely. But don’t stand me up or disappear on me this time!”
“Never again. Never.”
Sneha Annavarapu is an unapologetic romantic who wants to find love in a hopeless place and will kick your ass at antaakshari.