Prashanti looked at the wall clock impatiently and then at her phone. “What’s taking him so long today?” She wondered. That’s when the phone screen flashed the familiar name. She gleefully picked up her phone, winked at her friend, Suma and ran towards the stairs leading to the terrace. “Are you going to come back tonight,” asked Suma as she shook her head with “I know that” smile.
It’s been close to a month since Prashanti has settled in this new routine. Gone are the days when she waited patiently for an empty bus to get to the 1BHK apartment she shared with Suma. Standing tall at 5.7”, Prashanti fit the favourite “slim, tall and fair” requirements in the matrimonial ads. With girl-next-door looks, she was eyed with envy by women in her office and men with admiration for her long silky hair.
Hailing from a village in East Godavari district, Prashanti had an elder brother who stopped studies after 12th and decided to help his father in farming. But she earned a bachelor’s degree in Commerce from a nearby town. Determined to make something out of herself, she stayed back in the town during holidays and picked up additional skills in Computers and Accounting.
She moved to Hyderabad a year back and joined as an Executive Assistant to the MD of a small IT firm located in Khairatabad. That’s where she met Suma, an engineer by profession. They became good friends within no time and rented an apartment together. Prashanti continued to upgrade her skills as she was not planning to be an EA forever. Looking at her perseverance, Suma helped her in improving her communication skills and prepared her for job interviews.
Prasanthi had an aunt in Hyderabad who was given the task of finding her a marriage proposal by her parents. Her aunt gave Prashanti’s photograph and other details to a local matrimonial agency. A month had passed since then and yet no response from the agency. This got her family impatient and then one fine evening, Prasanthi was informed by her aunt to expect a phone call from Bangalore. The guy was working as an F&B manager at a five-star property in Bangalore. Prashanti wasn’t keen on settling into marriage yet but owing to family pressure, she obliged and decided to make the conversation quick and curt.
What was supposed to be a 15-minute call extended to an hour. She felt good, liked his sense of humour and his easy-to-talk-to approach. To her surprise, she was already waiting for his call the next day which he had promised. The phone conversations became longer with each passing day. The families were eagerly waiting for these two to give their final approval so that they can go ahead with other formalities.
October being the peak season for hospitality, his Hyderabad visit kept postponing. Prasanthi had made up her mind already and meeting in person was just a formality.
“Are you sure about him? He is nowhere closer to the kind of person you wanted and he doesn’t earn that well?” Asked Suma looking at his photograph.
“Yeah, he is no way closer to the person I was looking for. But you know, he respects me, my dreams and promised that he would support me in realizing them. What else does a girl need from her partner? Not to stifle her dreams but be the wind beneath her wings, isn’t it?” Prashanti replied.
“And you believed him?” Suma asked; her tone gave away her exasperation.
Prashanti stared at her with an expression of confusion and annoyance.
“Look I am just asking you to be careful,” Suma added and decided not to broach this topic anymore.
Finally, the rendezvous weekend was round the corner.
“You’re going to meet a sleep-deprived and tired person with eye pockets as deep as his jeans’ pockets,” He said.
“Where did you learn to talk like this,” Prashanti asked midst her giggles.
She went to a beauty parlour the previous day and got her already gleaming skin polished.
“This is your fifth dress since morning! I’m getting late,” Suma shouted looking at the closed bedroom door. She was pacing impatiently in the hall looking at the wall clock.
Prashanti came out smiling wearing a pink and blue salwar-kameez. “Why did you take so long to wear the right dress?” Suma said smilingly; her anger vanished in a minute.
“I’ll be late,” She said hugging her friend and rushed towards the door.
The front door was ajar when Suma returned in the evening. She saw Prasanthi staring outside the window in the bedroom with her back towards the door. She was still in the pink and blue dress she wore in the morning.
That evening her phone did not ring.
It’s been ten days since that evening and the two friends had hardly spoken to each other. The chirpiness of the girls, the constant teasing of one another seemed to have lost; replaced with an uneasy silence and formalities.
Suma finally decided to break the status quo and waited for Prasanthi for dinner.
“I can shift to my friend’s house for few days if you need some space,” Suma said at the dining table.
“Did you make the dinner today,” Prashanti asked.
“Yes, the cook didn’t turn up. I could only think of egg bhurji for a quick meal,” replied Suma. “Why is it so difficult for me to talk to you these days? First it was those unending phone calls and now your stoic silence.”
Prashanti stared at Suma and continued eating.
“There’s new restaurant opened at the street corner. How about trying it this weekend?” Suma kept nudging her with talks.
“He was very quiet that morning when I met him. He seemed like a different person from the one I was talking to all these days. I thought he was tired due to the overnight journey. We planned to spend time till lunch and then meet again in the evening. But he excused himself soon after breakfast and left in a hurry,” Prashanti said, her eyes gleaming with unshed tears.
Suma listen without interrupting her. She didn’t reach out to hold Prashanti’s hands when she saw her friend trying to compose herself.
“I waited for him at the theatre for two hours, kept calling him; left him messages but he neither called back nor replied to my messages till now. He just vanished,” she said holding back her humiliation and unyielding anger.
“Why? Did he die?” asked Suma perplexed.
Prashanti shook her head in dismissal staring at her empty plate.
“You know whenever mom ran out of veggies, she would make egg bhurji, rasam and rice. It has always been my favourite combination,” Prashanti said and added, “my aunt called in the evening, it seems his parents’ asked the agency to continue with their search for a bride for their beloved son.”
Though Suma was shocked but skillfully hid her reaction. Prashanti was drawing circles on her plate with her eyes fixed on them. Tears rolled down her cheeks, wetting the parched plate.
She kept looking at her friend concealing her sadness and anger towards the phone guy who was yet to know how to treat people with respect.