Of bubble wraps, matrimony and rainbows : Part II – The rock-bottom

Continued from here.

2010 – Noida 

“I am addicted to Toluene”

“What? How do you get it?”

“Thinner? The whitener that you get where the powder and thinner are separate? Most of the stationary shops still keep it for people like us. We throw away the white bottle and inhale the transparent thinner”

“Okay. Why are you telling this to me?”

“Because I like you. And I want to be honest with you.”

“Thank you for that. I think I like you too”

He smiled. I smiled back. It had just been fifteen minutes of our first date after almost a week of texting.

By the time we said goodbye, many hours had passed. I never knew there could be so much to talk with someone on the first meeting. The more I tried to think of his thinner addiction, the more reasons I found to still like him. There was a lot more to him.  

We continued talking for weeks to come and met many times and before we knew it, we started to feel a certain sense of commitment towards each other. Both of us deleted our online profiles and gave up on all the other guys we were talking to. He was intelligent, very compassionate, caring and sarcastic. I had so much to figure out in life and so did he, but it seemed like a good start for both of us.

His mother was in town for a short surprise visit and he insisted that I dropped by to say hello. It seemed like a very harmless idea. And I have always gotten along well with mothers of my friends. He opened the door and whispered in my ears 

“She knows about us”. 

I froze. I was not ready for this. I didn’t move for almost a minute. I even contemplated running away. I wasn’t even ready for my best friends to find out about my sexuality when I was absolutely sure they already knew, let alone the idea of meeting my boyfriend’s mother as her son’s ‘boyfriend’. I felt palpitations building up. I was going to throw up.

“Come on. She is cool. Don’t worry. It will be fine” he assured me and dragged me inside the house. 

“Namaste aunty” I croaked. My tongue had fallen into my stomach. I think my blood had no pressure. I signalled for some water. 

“Namaste beta. He talks so much about you. I am so happy to finally meet you.”

I wasn’t expecting to hear that. There was a lot of calmness and warmth in her voice. It definitely helped me calm down. It seemed like it would be a normal conversation. And it did turn out to be one. The evening went really well. His mom and I got along. We laughed so much over things he had done in his childhood. We even ganged up on him and pulled his leg for a while. I didn’t know I could ever have this. It felt like something I could only have dreamt of. I was chilling with a middle-aged person, aware of not just her son’s or my sexuality but also of the relationship we had. Except I had no one to tell this to. 

2019 

Continued…

“See how happy all your friends are”

I felt that maybe it worked. Maybe she did see how my friends are okay with me being myself. 

“You should also get married to a girl. It will all be fine. It’s just a mental block. You’ll also be as happy as they are”

My heart began racing really fast. I felt a sinking feeling. Just when I thought I have a fairy-tale life with my parents being ok with me being gay, reality hit me hard. Something told me, it was going to be a long and tiring process from here on. And I was right.

“Mummy we have talked about it. I have already told you everything”

“I know you’ve told me everything. But I am telling you it is just a matter of changing your perspective”

“It is a lot more complex than that. It…”

“No, it is not. Just think about it. Get married, have a child then anyway nobody has time for anything else”

“Why are you not understanding that it is not just about me? There is another person involved. How can I ruin a girl’s life?”

“Ruin? Why would you ruin her life? You’re such a good and educated guy. Any girl would be lucky to have you as her husband!”

“That’s not how it works. All these people are happy because they are married to the person they wanted to marry. Not because…”

“I know how it works. You’ll have to get married” she said with a tone of finality and left the room. I had never seen my mother talk so defensively. She didn’t even let me finish my sentence.

I got back to Mumbai and began prep for a web series I was supposed to shoot. My mother and I would talk every few days just to check on each other but nothing more. We had both sort of reduced our interactions to bare formalities and pleasantries. This did not bother me so much at first. Little did I know.

I went to Bangkok for the shoot and was there for over sixty days. Like any other shoot, this too was very hectic with very little time to worry about anything. I had paused everything else going on in my life and just shot for all the days I was there.

I got back to Mumbai mid-July, reached my apartment and passed out. Woke up in the morning to find out my grandfather had passed away. I booked the next flight out back home.

My grandmother suddenly seemed very old and fragile. I sat with her for a very long time as she cried holding on to me tightly. My bua then helped me take her to her room. Everyone else was sad but relieved that my grandfather was free of the pain he had to go through for all these years. And all these years, all our energies at home were centred on taking care of him. Now that he was gone, all of us suddenly realized that my grandmother also needed care and attention. 

“When are you getting your son married?” one of my distant aunts poked my mother as I crossed them unaware of them sitting there. 

“Perfect timing chachi ji” I murmured under my breath. 

“Of course, I will get him married. Very soon in fact. And when I do, you all will get a proper invitation” my mother reassured them all with a lot of pride. I just walked away unsure of how to react. 

“I think he got embarrassed” said the aunt seeing me leave and they all laughed.

I am the only son while my uncle has two sons. One of them is of my age and other one is three years younger. Both are married and the younger one has a daughter. Whenever the whole family gathers, this becomes a major eye sore for everyone that the eldest son of the family is still unmarried. 

Later in the evening, I ran into my sister-in-law.

“Bhaiya can I ask you for a favour? Please don’t say no”

I knew perfectly well what was coming but I had no way to escape.

“Tell me” I said putting up a really fake big smile. 

“I don’t want to be the eldest daughter-in-law. It is too much of responsibility. I want someone to come and take over as the eldest here. Get me a nice and sweet sister-in-law please”

“Yeah I will just order one right away from Amazon. I have prime. Should be here in a day”

“Arey bhaiya! I am not joking. I am telling you seriously. Your mom is so worried about you. Don’t you want to see her smile?”

I found it very difficult to keep my fake smile on. But I didn’t want to continue the conversation. The thought of just lying, laughing and getting away from there asap did cross my mind though. All I had to say was “Oh of course! Just wait and watch. I will find the most beautiful sister-in-law for you” and she would leave my life alone. Except I could not bring myself up to do that. 

I was also scared that my words would be used against me. My mother would straight away get to printing out the wedding cards leaving the details of the girl blank to be filled later just to expediate the process. 

But luck was on my side and she was called by someone from the kitchen. She ran away smiling at me. Again, I understood very well that she was just doing what she has learned from everyone around. Still it was very difficult to stay patient. 

It got very suffocating very soon. No matter where I sat, someone would creep up and start a very innocent conversation about where I was and what was I doing these days jumping straight to when I was getting married. I was running out of excuses to save myself. 

The problem was the sense of ownership they felt. It felt like they all had contributed towards my education or upbringing and now they wanted to exercise their rights as stakeholders.

I decided I had to get away from there. I told my father I had work in Mumbai, and I won’t be able to stay for all the thirteen days. He agreed. I left in four days when all the primary rituals and ceremonies were over. But not without the guilt of leaving behind my parents in such a state. 

2010

“Hello bhai. What are you doing?” said a very chirpy Shruti from the other side. She stayed in Dehradun back then.

“Hi. I want to tell you something important that I haven’t yet told anyone”

“Yes bhai, tell me” 

She had no clue what was coming her way. Nor did I.

I was aimlessly walking around the sector 18 market in Noida just beating around the bush. I was scared out of my wits. The very idea of this going wrong gave me chills. I kept telling myself to have faith in my relationship. After a fierce battle with myself, I blurted it out.  

“That’s cool bhai” is what she had to say. 

I kept quiet. It was not the reaction I was expecting. It was just way too casual. Way too easy. I was prepared for the worst. This was not even a scenario I had rehearsed for. At the same time, it did seem like the ideal response. The one I should be getting. 

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am absolutely sure” 

I just took a very deep breath and slowed down. A smile made its way on my face. I knew this was going to change a lot of things for me. We didn’t mull on it for too long and moved on to talking about the amazing guy I was seeing. She was so thrilled to meet him and happy for me. And life seemed so normal. Every time I spoke to Shruti, I forgot how brutal the world really was. 

It went on to be our secret for many years to come. 

One afternoon, he and I were just lying around lazily in the balcony. The rest of the kids were in college. He took out a small packet from his bag. It had a brand-new iPod Nano. 

“My brother got it for me. I actually don’t listen to music as much. I don’t even know what all to put in this”

“Are you kidding me? Give it to me if you don’t want it. There’s so much music I can add to it”

“Haha oh you wish. Nope. This is a gift. I can’t give it to you. But you can probably add that music for me?”

“Sure. But can I borrow it sometimes?”

“Hmmm let’s see. I think that can be arranged” he said smiling playfully. I couldn’t help but kiss him. 

2019

As time passed, my conversations with my mother got more and more weird. A couple of times she tried to talk about marriage, but I absolutely very firmly just denied it. Henceforth, every time I talked to her, she sounded like she wanted to say something but was not able to. 

“Hello”

“Hello. ummmm ……. how are you?”

“I am fine. What’s happening there?”

“okay………………..are you at home?”

“No, I am out for some work. Will be back in sometime. How’s everyone there?”

“hmmm……………….no, everything is fine here…………………”

“Okay….”

“…………………………. yeah….ok……..*sigh*………finish your work, get back home…………I just thought I would check on you…………”

“okay bye?”

“………………….yeah bye…………”

Cold, dry, devoid of any warmth. Just plain simple words. She always sounded like there was something on her mind and she just did not want to talk about it. She also sounded extremely sad and hopeless.

When it got difficult for me to bear, I called up my father. 

“Is mom ok?”

“I mean you know what’s up with her, don’t you?”

“Yeah I do but…”

“Yeah so it is what it is.”

“Okay but should we talk to her? Explain it to her? I don’t even know what to do at this point”

“Let her take her time.”

And he disconnected the call on the pretext of being busy. Most of my conversations with my father turned out to be exact opposite of those with my mother. They were quick and to the point. Though they too lacked the usual warmth and comfort. 

Slowly this started to bother me more and more. I began dreading calls from home just because I didn’t want to hear my mother sound like that. It began to build up as a constant stress for me. I distracted myself by doing all sorts of things so that I didn’t worry about it but every time I would go to sleep, or would be driving alone, all the conversations and thoughts would come back to me again and again. I would start to feel suffocated like they were real people around me forcing me to get married. I don’t even have a count the number of times I have screamed my lungs out while driving in an attempt to get the voices out of my head. They always got louder than my screams.

Being the only child means your parents are your primary and only support system in the name of family. Everything else, every other relationship builds on that foundation. And I was slowly losing that foundation in my life. I started to feel extremely vulnerable and weak.

I had to go back to Lucknow soon, and it took me a lot of strength to do that. As soon as I reached home, I could smell the stress. I could just see what it must be every evening. My mother sitting blank on the couch while my father busy on his phone. Hours of this and they would go to sleep. My father would go to sleep while my mother stayed awake just thinking and thinking. 

I pulled up all the patience I could gather and tried to get things back to normal by talking like usual, fooling around and just generally appearing cheerful. It helped a bit but was definitely not a solution. Every time I would be alone with my mother, I would feel that she wanted to talk to me. Except she never did. Nor did my father. They talked about everything else but what was bothering them. 

Then one day, my mother decided to say it. 

“Will you do something if I ask you to?” she asked me smiling.

“No, I won’t” I answered with a smile.

“But you didn’t even listen to what I was going to say”

“I know what you were going to say”

“You’re just worrying for no reason. It will all be fine. Trust me”

“You don’t even know what you’re asking of me.”

“I know. You’re a mature and intelligent guy. Try to change yourself. You can do this much for me right?”

“Mummy, it is not something that one can change. It is defined for a person like the height or blood group.”

She kept quiet for some time like she was trying to find a way out of the logical reason I threw at her.

“How about you get married for the sake of everyone and then get divorced? At least I would be able to say that we got him married but it didn’t work out.”

“Are you even listening to yourself? Why would I want to marry just to get divorced? What makes you think divorces are that easy or any less embarrassing than an unmarried son? And I am surprised at the how insensitive you are about the girl who would be caught in all this for no fault of hers?”

She again kept quiet. After sitting and pondering over something for a while, she composed herself again and changed the topic. I wasn’t really interested anymore to pretend nothing happened. I stepped out of the house to go visit my friends. 

Few days later, my cousins Priyanshi, Pratyush and I went to watch a film. 

“Bro. What did you tell your mom? Did you say yes?” Priyanshi asked me very concerned about something.  

“Ahh no. Why would I ever say yes? Why are you saying that?”

“Because I have been asked to send some pictures of yours. Click them or source them. Without your knowledge. She said she spoke to you last night”

I told her about the whole conversation between my mother and I. She was equally surprised at the prospects that were being considered. 

I couldn’t concentrate on the film anymore. Something inside me was boiling. I just had to get back home.

As soon as I got back, I went straight to the bedroom to find my mother doing something. She smiled when she saw me.

“If I am not listening to you, what makes you think Priyanshi can change anything?”

“What happened?”

“You tell me what happened? In our last conversation, did I ever say yes to getting married?”

She kept quiet.

“Did I?”

“No. But what happened?”

“Then why would you ask Priyanshi for my photos. Ask me if you really want my photos.”

She just kept quiet for few minutes then spoke in a very calculated manner.

“I never asked her to send me any photos. You can check my phone. Must have been your grandmother. She was talking about it the other day when Priyanshi had come home”

“No. She specifically said you”

“But I never did. Why would I do that?” and with that her tone changed from guilty to really angry and defensive. Hearing that my father walked into the room. 

“What happened?” asked my father. Both of us stayed quiet. He asked again. 

“I don’t know why she is saying I asked for the photos. I never did. I had just said click some pictures while you guys are out. Just generally”

“Yeah sure”

“But what exactly happened here?” my father asked again shocked to see my mother and I so angry at each other. 

“Alright fine. I will not talk to anyone anymore” my mother screamed and sat on the edge of the bed.

There was a very long and uncomfortable silence in the room. I looked at my father and explained it to him in a very calm and patient tone. 

“All I told her was that if I am not listening to her, then there is no way I would listen to Priyanshi even if she does tell me to get married. She needs to stop asking her for my pictures or anything about my marriage”

My father turned to my mother in an attempt to reason with her. 

“yeah so what’s the problem here?”

“It must have been your mother who asked for the pictures. I never did” 

My father looked at me. It was my turn to be calmed down. 

“Yeah. Amma does that. The other day itself she was talking about it”

I could see how desperately he was just trying calm both of us down. My mother left the room. I kept sitting quietly for some time. I took a deep breath and felt like shit. I didn’t even know what I was angry about anymore. For all of my life, my mother and I have been on the same team always. When I was young, my father had to be away a lot of times. The locality we lived in didn’t have kids of my age to play with. The older ones didn’t want me to play with them. The only option I had was to be home and around my mother. So, I would just sit on the kitchen counter while she cooked and either do my homework or just play with utensils like I was cooking too. For all the years of growing up, my mother was my friend.

This turned into a much a closer deeper bond between us. To the point that whenever either one of us would be low, the other one would call up just to check on the other. There were times when I had called and interrupted arguments between my father and her. I have no memory of ever having any kind of argument or disagreement with her. 

I went to the other room and lay next to her hugging her. She began slowly brushing through my hair. We didn’t say anything and just stayed that way for a long time. Neither of us had anything comforting to say to each other. 

My mother is a very mature, intelligent, patient and compassionate person. She has only helped people all her life. She has been there for everyone in the family. I have never seen her talk ill about anyone no matter what a person had done. 

“A person will have to answer for his/her deeds. We don’t need to spoil our karma by talking about it”

All my life I have always looked up to her wishing that I could be like her. While my father gets excited about little things and gets shattered over small troubles, my mother stays rock solid no matter what comes. We have made through some of the worst times only because my mother had the patience and far sight to keep calm and keep pushing.

I had never seen my mother be so absolutely rigid about anything. And she has visited Deva Shariff (shrine of Haji Waris Ali Shah near Lucknow) with me. Anyone who has known her, would know what a big deal that is. I also never knew something like marriage would become such a deal breaker for her. The person I had grown up with, my best friend whom I could say anything to, seemed to have gotten lost somewhere. I needed to find her again. 

2010

A few days later, I got a text from him. 

“Can you come home today?”

“Yeah sure”

I reached his place and saw two small bottles on the table.

“I need you to do something for me”

“Yes, tell me. I’ll do anything”

“I want you to see me at my worst. If you still feel you love me and want to be with me, I promise I will quit this forever”

“What?”

“Yes. I am going to do it now and I want you to be with me through this”

He opened up one bottle and poured a little bit into a plastic bag. Then he covered his nose and mouth with that bag and began to inhale it. 

“Is it really necessary?” I asked him. I was freaking out. I didn’t know how to stop him. Half of my brain wanted to test this out too, but the other half wanted me to just smash the bottles on the floor. Though I didn’t want to find out what could come next.

He held my hand very firmly. Looked at me while sniffing and I could see his eyes had tears in them. I held his hand back and just sat next to him. I understood I had to do it. I took a deep breath.  

It takes around half an hour to forty minutes to inhale two bottles of thinner. And the high comes almost towards the ends of the second bottle. I think that was because he had been doing this for a very long time now and had built up a great deal of tolerance. 

The high of thinner was nothing like I had ever seen. I knew very well how people could behave once they were piss drunk or high as fuck on weed. But this was something I had never seen. He couldn’t speak any coherent words as such. Was just smiling and holding me. He didn’t even have the strength to get up and walk around. I tried to talk to him, but he just didn’t respond. He continued to blabber gibberish. Though he didn’t leave my hand and I felt he was well aware of me being there. 

Though, just in a few minutes I could see it wear off. Slowly I saw his eyes beginning to focus, his body eased up, clear mucus began to flow out of his nostrils, there was a bit of drool too and he began sweating profusely. 

“I am sorry. I am so sorry. Don’t hate me. Don’t leave me.” He just kept repeating with tears flowing from his eyes as he held on to me tightly. He still wasn’t able to speak very clearly. I held him back and reassured him. I wiped his face over and over again.  

“Don’t worry. I am not going anywhere. I am here. Do you need anything? Water?”

I gave him some water which he gulped down fully. He seemed to gain some more consciousness. 

“What do you need to feel better?” 

“Let me take a shower. I will be fine.”

He slowly walked to his washroom. I just sat in his room and tried to make sense of everything that happened in the last one hour. I stepped outside and called Shruti. Though I realized there was nothing that call would do except get her worried sick. Still, I told her everything. She told me to just be strong, stay put and call her if anything went wrong. I agreed to do that. I got back in the room and he was back from the shower.

His eyes were red, but he was clean, looked fresh, absolutely sober, how I knew him. He dressed up and just sat near me. I held him tightly and we kept sitting like that holding hands for a while. I didn’t know what to say to him. But I sure didn’t want to leave him. 

“Will you promise me you’ll quit this?”

He nodded his head in agreement and buried it in my chest. I had never seen him so weak and helpless. I kissed his forehead. He began to cry again. 

“I am not going anywhere ok? I am here with you and will always be here.”

“I love you”

“I love you too”

2019

That argument left a knot somewhere in my relationship with my mother. I had lost my temper on her for the first time. And it was constantly bothering me. I returned to Mumbai and got on with my usual life except with an extra helping of never-ending anxiety. What scared me the most was a possibility that what if it got to a point where I would have to choose between my mother and my identity. 

“Hello………..where are you?”

“Hello. I am at home. How’s everything there?”

“It’s all good…. what I wanted to ask you is why don’t you at least get your janeyu ceremony done? I mean it was supposed to be done at your wedding, but I don’t know when’s that going to happen”

“What happens in that ceremony?”

“It is almost like wedding. Very similar rituals.”

“I mean if it is absolutely necessary then yeah, we can do it. But I don’t see the point”

“You’re ok doing the ceremony but you don’t want to get married, won’t you?”

“No. It is something that will not change no matter how many times you ask me.”

“Yeah well. I can’t fight my fate. It is what it is. I am just unlucky.”

“Just because I don’t want to get married, now you feel you’ve been unlucky?”

“I mean what’s left anyway. What more could go wrong?”

“So, everything I have been and done so far doesn’t matter because I won’t get married?”

“That’s how it is. That’s how it has always been. Anyway, you go have dinner and sleep.”

And she just disconnected the call. I felt a pang of anxiety build up in me. I could feel my heartrate shooting up. I started to get a tingling feeling in my hands and feet. I took my car out and just drove through the western express highway. I reached worli sea face, parked the car and just walked on the sea face with music blaring through my earphones. 

My head was just flooded with questions. Why was it just so difficult to understand? Why wasn’t my mother even making an attempt to accept it? Why wasn’t my father helping her understand? Why were my relatives so absolutely hell bent on my marriage? Why would they just harass my family all the time about it? Why was everyone talking about the wedding ceremony as marriage and did not give a fuck about the actual life beyond it? 

Having always grown up hearing how lucky my family was to have me, that conversation was like a tight slap that woke me up. A part of me knew very well that it wasn’t exactly what my mother meant. The worst or best part of knowing someone from your first breath is that their words don’t change anything. They sure do hurt though. I was surprised at how blinded she had to be about the social relevance of a wedding ceremony that she just risked damaging my mental space and beliefs. 

What started as a flood of rhetorical questions about things I can’t change eventually lead to questioning my own self. Why did my life have to be so complicated and unusually eventful? Be it my career or my personal life, why did everything have to be an adventure? Having done everything right all my life, why did I still feel I was disappointing my parents? 

I desperately wanted someone to just appear from somewhere, hug me tight and tell me they had convinced my parents and fixed it all. But obviously nobody appeared. I had to do it myself. All the vigorous walking eventually tired me out and made me calm down. I sat there for a couple of hours just listening to the ocean waves. A friend of mine had forwarded me a video of an Indian father giving a speech about how he accepted his son for who he was and what all he went go through. I watched it and imagined that may be one day, something similar could happen in my life too. 

I travelled around for shoots in the coming weeks and my conversation with my parents continued to be mechanical and forced. I was slowly slipping in a pit. I had made it through all my life hiding my identity but was losing my sanity trying to stand up for it. 

End of October, my father was down with dengue and admitted in hospital. I had rushed to Lucknow and used to stay with him during the nights. One afternoon, my mother was there as well along with my cousin. He had shaved after a really long time. My mother was thrilled to see him clean shaved. She immediately began raving about how good he looks clean shaved. He on the contrary was not happy about it and told my parents how his parents didn’t like this look either. He had shaved just because he wanted to feel his face for once. My mother outright revolted against the idea of him keeping a beard. And I for some reason couldn’t see it as just about the beard.

“Let him keep his beard if he wants to and if his parents are ok with it”

“But this looks so good. You don’t need to grow that beard again”

“It is his choice. And if his parents like it, then let him. I am here to listen to you and shave when you want” I almost screamed at that. Yes, my parents hate when I grow a beard. Every time I visit home, I have to shave it off. They somehow don’t want me to look old. They want me to look like how I was when I left home, I guess. Except they also want me to get married, get settled and give them grandchildren to play with. Without looking like my age, which is 32 by the way. No, it’s not confusing at all. 

My father sensed my hostility, and immediately jumped in to balance it out. 

“She also has some right on him being his aunt”

“Of course. It all comes down to YOUR right on people. Their choices have no values. Is it?” I protested but very loudly. 

An eerie uncomfortable silence crept through the ward. My cousin decided to ease it out. He began talking about something else and everyone welcomed the change of topic. I stepped out to catch a breath. 

I was hating myself for always getting so angry so easily. Things that I could handle patiently were making me go absolutely insane. What was bothering me more was that my parents were somehow not addressing this head on. They were being too manipulative about it. Everything they said seemed like an indirect remark to me. Even if they didn’t intend to. I was slowly finding it difficult to differentiate between threats and just plain banter.

It was time for me to leave for Mumbai. I went back home to pack and my mother cornered me again. 

“You didn’t answer my question” she said in a very calm voice which made me very uncomfortable. 

“Why don’t you talk to papa about it?”

“Why should I? Did he give you birth or feed you or took care of you? I did. So, leave him out of this. It’s between us.”

“Mummy how many times will we go through the same conversation again and again? It won’t change the reality or my answer. It is what it is. If you want to understand it, I can help you but if you’re going to be so adamant…” I replied in equally calmly. 

“…I understand it all. And I know what’s right for you. Just…”

“Not going to happen!” I told her very firmly but calmly.

“Then let me make it very clear that ‘you marrying or living with another guy’ is also not going to happen” she closed the conversation and left the room. 

I took a deep breath and continued packing. When I left, I touched her feet and she blessed me like usual, as if nothing happened. I got in the cab and left for the airport a little more broken this time. I was going further and further away from home.

2010 

Nothing was the same again for me. I was scarred forever. I could not get those images out of my head. I still can’t, a decade later. But I had discovered a new strength in me. I had discovered I could still feel love looking at the monster that he had become. I wanted to be with him, but I never wanted to see him or anyone in that state ever again. 

He didn’t inhale thinner after that. I knew because he told me every time, he took it. And I could feel the change in him. Over the period of time, the smell of toluene stays in the person’s breath. And if the person had taken it recently, you can feel it prominently in the breath. 

We never spoke about that day. But we had found a new depth to our relationship. We began spending a lot more time together. We felt a lot more at ease with each other. He seemed much happier and confident. He started spending his time researching for event management courses for himself. He was a hospitality graduate but because of everything he had been through in that industry, he wanted to switch. 

 “I am going home for some time. I need to resolve some things with my family before I can start afresh”

“For how long?”

“I think a month. It may take more. But I will do my best to come back as soon as I can”

“Alright, I guess. Will you promise me you won’t take thinner?”

“Himanshu, the only reason I am going back home is I now have the courage to face my brother, sister-in-law and mother. I have not taken it for the last so many weeks. I am sure I can do without it. I want to straighten things out with them. There are a lot of issues which we as a family have not yet resolved since my father’s death.”

“I understand. I trust you.”

Both of us smiled looking at each other. He reached out for his bag. 

“Here. You can have this while I am gone. But it is still not yours. I will take it back” he told me handing over his iPod.

“Are you sure? You don’t need it while traveling?” 

Even though I asked him that, I didn’t mean it. I just grabbed it like a greedy little kid. 

“Chances are I will lose it. At least it will be safe with you” he told me as I hugged him tight.

The next few weeks went by like a breeze. We kept talking every day. I missed him a lot. He extended his stay beyond a month because it was taking time for him talk it all out. In a really long conversation one evening he told me how he didn’t feel like taking thinner anymore and felt so much better without the dependency on it. He also told me how things were getting better between him and his brother and his sister in law. He wasn’t very sure of how to it was going with his mother though he was adamant he would fix it all. 

From whatever I spoke to his mother, everything seemed fine, but he always told me somewhere deep inside, she believed had he not been gay, he would have had a better life. She believed all the boys he dated just ruined his life. She was happy about me being around, but she didn’t really trust me much yet. Fair enough though. I knew that opinion would change. 

Two days later, at around 2am, my phone rang, and it was his cousin. She always texted or called at weird hours to check on me and just crack really lame jokes. She was the only cousin he was close to and the three of us hung out sometimes. I disconnected her call and went back to sleep. I got a text immediately. 

“Did he speak to you today?”

I opened it with one eye and replied.

“No not today. We spoke day before. Had a long conversation. Why?”

“Himanshu. He passed away this evening.”

To be continued…

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