I reached the bus stop at 8 o’clock in the morning. The roads were empty except for a few joggers and morning walkers. Sudhir uncle had asked me to come by 10 but I couldn’t wait. I was desperate for help. Anjali was with Riya at the hospital and I had to get there soon, but after visiting Sudhir Uncle. He was my only hope.
As I sat there waiting for the bus, a voice said behind me, “Hey, remember me?” I turned around. It was Rohan. After so many years, it was a huge surprise, almost a shock to see him here standing in front of me. And then suddenly, I remembered the last time we had each other. It wasn’t a pleasant memory. I saw flashes of a fight.. and a broken nose. I saw him asking me to stop, asking why I was doing this..I saw myself storming away..
I came back to the present. I was filled with guilt. I was ashamed of the memory. I found it difficult to look into his eyes. “Oh.. er.. hi Rohan!”, I sheepishly replied, “Long time..How are you?” “I’m good”, he replied. “What about you? Navin had told me that you are working here in the same city, but I never expected to run into you. So how have you been?” I was finding it very difficult to answer, and kept looking over his shoulder to see if the bus had come to save me.
“Do you need to be somewhere?” he asked, noticing my restlessness. “What? .. er.. no, not really, just.. you know.. visiting a relative..”, I said. “Listen..If you have time, why don’t you come home with me? I live nearby. Just for a little while, if it’s okay with you”, he offered. “Oh.. I don’t know, Rohan”, I said, once again searching for a bus. “Don’t worry”, he said, “I’ll drop you to your relative’s place. It’s been so long since we have met, Sandeep”. He kept asking me to come, and the bus was nowhere to be seen. So finally I relented, as there were almost 2 hours to go till 10.
We walked to his car and got in. “So, how have you been?” Rohan asked, as he started driving. “I am fine. Just been busy with work, u know..Nice car, by the way”, I said. “Thanks, man”, he said. Even he didn’t seem to be very comfortable, but given our history, I would have been surprised if he was. After a long silence, I asked, “So, how come I have never heard from you since college?”
He looked at me, gave me a quite smile, and then pointing at a scar on his nose, said, “You were the one who ended it, remember?”
It all came flooding back to me..
College time..Sandeep and Rohan. We were an example of friendship in the campus. We were completely unknown to each other till the time we saw our names together under Room number 301 of the Hostel. Within a day of knowing each other, we had hit a common wavelength. From then on, we had become the best of buddies. From assignments, to hanging out, to checking out girls in the campus, we always did everything together.
We were perhaps the most popular guys of our batch. Good at studies, part of the college basketball team, members of the College theatre group. There were always people who were jealous of us, and we had many quarrels and fights with such idiots. I used to get tensed when such things happened. I was the more fragile one, who would get scared, get worked up, get angry very quickly. But whenever such things happened, Rohan would just clap my back and say, “Don’t worry, Sandy boy.. I have your back.” And suddenly, I would feel reassured, confident that we could face anything together.
In second year, I met Neha. I saw her in the canteen, and it was love at first sight. Rohan understood how I felt in a flash and asked me to go and ask her out. “Don’t worry dude, she is not a monster who will eat you.. just go and talk to her.” “But what if..” I started. “Stop worrying, Sandy, my boy, I have your back”, he smiled.
I asked her out and she said NO. And a few other words which weren’t very good to hear. But Rohan made sure that no one in the class brought up the topic in front of me. As he said, he had my back. We never talked about her again and kept our minds on what we were good at; books, basketball etc.
But it was meant to be. Within a couple of months, Neha was my girlfriend. She had come into our classroom one day and apologised to me for her behaviour and asked me if the offer for a date was still good. The word ‘Yes’ automatically popped out of my mouth and we started dating.
And then came the fateful day..
Almost a year had passed. We were in our third year. We had come back to our room after the day’s classes when Rohan said that he had forgotten his notes in the classroom and went back to get it. I lay down on the bed and rang up Neha. She didn’t pick up her phone. Thinking she might be busy, I got up to wash my face when I heard a beep. It was from Rohan’s phone. He had forgotten to take it with him. I picked it up and was surprised to see that the screen read, ‘Text message from Neha’. If she had the phone, why wasn’t she answering my call? I opened the message. It read, ‘Hey, don’t tell Sandy about it ok? I don’t want him to know that it was you all along. See you in your classroom..waiting for you..’
It was as if someone had hit me with an iron rod. Could this be possible?? Could Rohan do this to his best friend?? Flabbergasted, I rushed out of my room and headed for academic block. Neha’s classroom was on the third floor. Hoping..praying that what I was thinking was untrue.. I entered her classroom.
It was as if the whole world came crashing down. Standing at the door, I saw Rohan hugging Neha..My best friend had backstabbed me..All the friendship meant nothing to him. Within seconds, rage had come over me. “You son of a bitch!!” I roared. “I trusted you. You were my best friend. And this is how you repay me?” I had no control over what I was saying. “Sandy, what the hell are you..” “SHUT UP!!” I said and then I lost all control. I was hitting Rohan with all the strength I had. I did not care about friendship anymore. I landed a punch right on his nose and I heard it break. Neha was shouting behind me, trying to stop me, but I wasn’t listening. I was mad at her too. And once I had had my full..I walked out..leaving a bleeding traitor and a shocked cheater in the room.
We had reached Rohan’s home. As we entered, Rohan introduced me to his wife Priyanka. “Rohan has told me so much about you. You star in almost all of his best college experiences,” she said. Hearing that just increased my guilt even more. Rohan asked me to have some breakfast with him. The more I spent time there, the more ashamed I was of myself. It was getting too much for me, just like the way I felt when I had found out the truth.
Rohan wasn’t an affair with Neha. It was he who had talked her into going on a date with me. That’s why she had come to me and apologized. He never told me this and I never even bothered to find out why Neha would so suddenly changed her mind about me. And that day in the classroom, Neha had called Rohan to thank him for convincing her to go out with me. She had called him to tell him that she had started to fall in love with me. Rohan did everything for me.. and in return I had broken his nose and left him bleeding on the floor.
Neha told me all this the day I last spoke to her, when I met her 3 yrs later at a common friend’s wedding. She had come with her husband. That day after the fight, I never talked to Rohan or Neha. Neha left me, actually. I got into some bad company and never paid attention to studies. Rohan got into a big software firm, while I didn’t do well in my final exams and didn’t get a good job. We went our separate ways.
Remembering all this in the house of the person I betrayed was too much for me. I broke down completely, right there at their breakfast table. I couldn’t bear it anymore. “I’m so sorry, Rohan..I’m so sorry for what I did to you..You were my best friend and I treated you like this..I don’t deserve a friend like you..I really don’t..”
“Sandeep,” Rohan said, teary-eyed himself, “That day when you hit me, it wasn’t my nose which hurt me, it was the fact that you never bothered to ask what was happening. I tried to tell you but you never listened. But then, Sandeep, even today you are the best friend that I have ever had..”
I stood up and hugged him. It was the best thing that had happened to me since ages. I silently thanked God for giving me back my friend. It was almost as if a big weight had lifted off my chest.
After a few moments to gather my calm, I requested Rohan if he could drop me at Sudhir Uncle’s house. “In the morning when I saw you, you looked rattled. Is everything okay?” Rohan asked. “My daughter is in hospital,” I replied, struggling to hide the pain in my voice, “She is just two years old, Rohan. How can God do this to a two year old? She has a birth defect in her kidneys. They stopped functioning a week ago. Doctors have said that transplant is the only option. My wife, Anjali is giving her a kidney.”
“Oh my God! If there is anything I can do for you please tell..” Rohan assured me. “No, Rohan,” I interrupted, “You have already gone through a lot because of me. Just drop me at Sudhir uncle’s place. I need to borrow some money from him. Today is the last day to submit the deposit for the transplant. I don’t have much left. I have already sold my car for this operation. But the figure is still a little short. I’ll just collect the money and head to Apollo hospital.”
Rohan dropped me at uncle’s place. “Thank you Rohan,” I said, “Not just for the lift, for everything.” “Come on, Sandeep, ‘you never say thanks’ that was our deal back in college, remember?? And listen, if you need anything, I’m here ok?” And he left. At that particular moment, I remembered God, for the joy he gave me this morning, and also for strength to carry me through the rest of the day.
Sudhir Uncle gave me the 1 lakh rupees that I needed, and I headed to the hospital. Once I reached there, I went to the counter. “I’m here to pay the deposit fees for Riya Gupta’s transplant”, I said. “But the charges have already been paid, sir,” the receptionist replied, a little surprised. “WHAT!?!”, I said, “When? How?? By whom??” I was totally stunned. “Just a short while ago sir,” the receptionist replied, “He said he was a relative. I have his name here.. yes.. Mr Rohan”
I was speechless. He had never stopped being my friend.. even during the moments I was breaking his nose. In a state of trance, I stepped back from the counter and started walking away, when the woman at the counter called me back. “Excuse me Sir,” she called out, “He left a note for you.” She handed me a note. I opened it and read it. There was just a single line, but it brought a tear to my eye..
“Don’t worry Sandy boy.. I have your back..”