“Here’s you go”
Ram placed a glass of rose milk on the stainless steel table. The disposable paper glass had so much rose milk for ten rupees.
The Anna university cafeteria was moderately crowded as it was four-thirty on a Friday.
Every time Kamala and Ram hung out, they walked into the Anna university cafeteria to have rose milk and tea.
It is one of those hidden havens in the city that had a nice walking area, lots of trees, a cool breeze, and cheap food.
They both settled in their seats. Ram looked at her. She wasn’t smiling. And he knew why.
“Dad had decided to sell off our house, Kamu.”
Kamala heard Ram and realized why he hadn’t texted her the previous evening.
Kamala and Ram were more than just close friends. They got to know each other during the first year of college. They went to colleges on the same bus route. Ram studied environmental engineering at Anna University and Kamala studied History at MGR Janaki college. They sat next to each other a couple of times on the bus, started talking, and realized they had more things in common. Since then they spent every day traveling on the same bus. They texted all the time. Hung out on weekends walking the streets of Pondy Bazaar and the sands of Besse Beach. They both had feelings for each other. And, they both knew it. But, being raised in conservative households, they believed getting into relationships or being friends with benefits are bad. They believed that the ‘L’ word was the first step to their life together. But, they never said the ‘L’ word.
It is not like they didn’t want to. They both were from lower-middle-class families and they’d wanted to settle in life. Have a career for themselves before thinking of being in a relationship or getting married. Kamala had recently got a job teaching history at a private school. With her dad retiring in six months, and her mom suffering from diabetes, she was in a position to take care of the household and support her brothers’ education. An aspiring director in her neighborhood was even writing a mega serial with her as the protagonist. But, she didn’t know it. Since her family doesn’t watch a lot of TV, they might never come across the series even if it were to be telecasted. But, at this point, she was worried for Ram – a talented young man who’s yet to find his way.
“I’m sorry, Ramu”
She placed her hands on his.
Ram looked down. Her touch brought out the emotions he’d been holding back since yesterday.
“Hey! Ram….Ramu…Look at me”
Kamala was worried.
Ram looked up. His eyes welled with tears. A drop jumped and landed on his cheeks.
Several years of masculinity education had made him gain his composure and wipe off his tears. Men!
Kamala got up from her seat, walked around the table, and sat beside him. She put her arms on his shoulders and shook him gently.
“Hey! It’s okay! I wouldn’t stop venting out if I were you. It is not an easy thing to go through. And, you’re not venting out to a stranger. It’s me, right?”
“I know, Kamu. It’s just that too many people here. I’m fine”
“Is there any other way we could stop that?”
Ram liked it whenever she said, “we”. It gave him strength.
“No, Kamu. Nothing we can do. Unless a few lakhs magically appear in our bank accounts.”
Kamala stayed silent. She could help. But, she just started earning and money from her would raise unnecessary questions from Ram’s parents. But, she wanted to help.
“I can help, Ram. I don’t have much. But, I can give you some money. Say that you won it in a symposium or something.”
“It’s okay, Kamu. They’ve decided anyway. Today morning my parents had a huge argument over the house. But, they finally agreed that selling the house was the only option. My dad had gone out to talk to a few housing developers for a joint venture. It is our only ticket out of this.”
He was silent for a moment and continued,
“The house is where I grew up, Kamu. It was part of our family.”
Kamala only grew up in rental houses but was able to relate to what Ram was saying. She had visited his house once. It was a small seven hundred square foot house built on a three thousand square foot plot. The entire house was surrounded by mango and coconut trees. It was a great house. It would cost a fortune for anyone to buy a piece of land that big now.
“I understand, Ram.”
Her arms were still around his shoulders.
“Forget everything for a moment. Now, cheer up and drink your tea.”
Ram looked at her. Her smile was refreshing. It was her smile that made him notice her when they met for the first time on the bus.
Ram nodded and tried to squeeze in a smile.
“Are you guys having a moment?” a voice interrupted.
Ram turned and saw Sathish.
“Not anymore” Kamala murmured.
“I heard that, Kams”
“Don’t call me Kams!”
Sathish was Ram’s classmate at B.E. He had higher aspirations. Or at least he thought so. He wanted to do a Master’s in environmental engineering. But, since he realized it was a scam, he decided to do MBA at Anna University. He didn’t want to write CAT because he thought it was a waste of time. “An MBA is an MBA. What difference is it going to make!” he once said to Ram.
“I got your message, machi! Sad shit!”
“If only your dad had saved that money instead of doing business. I told you that photo studio was a bad idea.”
“Sathish! Don’t be insensitive!” Kamala growled at him.
“Hey! Don’t grrrrrr me! It’s the truth.”
Sathish spoke his mind. All the time. The guy never had filters. It was one of the things Ram liked about him. A friend who can be honest. Everyone needs one.
“Think before you speak, Sathish” Kamala tried again.
“Hey! This is how we speak!”
It was true. Kamala had seen them have fierce arguments before. But, she had never seen such close friends either. So, she knew Ram wouldn’t be angry at him.
“I know you’d be upset da. I picked up two ten rupee tickets at Devi Theatre. If we start now, we can have samosas at the Bombay lassi shop and then make it to the movie.”
Ram and Kamala looked at each other.
“In case you both want to go. I am down with anything. I just want to lift his mood.”
“No no! I’m leaving. I’ve had a long day. Who knew teaching school kids would be so draining. Sucks the life out of you.”
“Ram, I’m leaving. You guys have fun. Text me when you get home.”
Ram nodded. He hadn’t spoke much the entire evening.
“Look at me” Kamala lifted his chin with her hands.
Ram saw her smile.
“Things will get better. Trust me.”
“I hope so, Kamu. Thanks.”
“Take care of him, Sathish.”
Kamala gulped the rest of the rose milk and walked out of the cafeteria.
“She didn’t ask me if I want rose milk.”
Ram laughed a bit.
“Do you want one? I’ll get it,” asked Ram.
“No no. Let’s save that space for samosas and lassi.”
“What movie is this anyway! Some action movie, macha. Warriors way I guess.”
“You don’t even know what the movie’s about!”
“Who cares? I’d watch any movie if the ticket is ten rupees.”
“Look at you smiling! That’s the spirit. Now, common! Let’s go”