Ru was just beginning to brush his teeth when his ringtone blared through the dusky afternoon disrupting his wildly romanticised imagination. Why is that thing not on vibrate, he causally wondered, heading to his bed.
He swiped to check the time, his brows perking in surprise. His lips twisting somewhere between a grimace and a grin, he pressed green and went back to the bathroom.
"Arister! You know one pm is not my strongest hour," he said.
Her figure shifted. She was leaning against the wall with a mug of what he assumed was tea, shadowed and eerily still. "Ru, you remember Adil?" she questioned, without any greeting.
His mouth filled with pasty foam, he managed to grunt a yes, instead of the snarky how can I not.
"So, the project I'm working on requires a lot of money. I have been saving up for the next five years, considering the progress we've made. You know how hard I've been working for this and how much it means to me, yea? Sometimes, the stress makes me a little cuckoo and I have this intense feeling in my belly of falling, like a vacuum tugging at me. But I've never questioned what I'm doing. This is all for my end game, you know that. And of course, I'm not all clean in this either and as a sane person, should also be regretful of some actions... "
Ru was back on his bed by now.
"I just woke up," he mumbled. "Get to the point."
"Ok." Giant intake of breath. "Adil steals it. All of it! He trashes my apartment. And when I come back from wherever, it is all gone. And that feeling of vacuum hit me like a rock. You... Y-you have no idea..."
Now this had him wide awake. "WHAT?" he shouts out, just as she whispers, "It was soo scary. I was crying, crying, CRYING and I couldn’t stop. My arms went numb and all I could do was collapse on to the ground."
"Shhh! It's okay. It's okay." He was shitting his pants. Why was he shitting his pants? "Umm... we can get it back. Don't worry, we'll catch him. Get the police involved..."
He was pacing. She was pacing. His hands kept roving through his hair. He couldn't think. Why was she talking to him and not the police?
"I don't know what I have to do. Maybe this is like, my deepest fear. My subconscious mind really needs to stop giving me these scares sometimes," she continued, her hands enacting out her agitation. "One day. Seriously. Just one day, I would like to go without getting attacked mentally and emotionally. It is so tiring.”
Ru stopped in his tracks. “What in hell are you raving about, lady?”
Her eyes snapped up to his. "Ru." She said, looking at him steadily. “It was one of my worst nightmares. I’m too upset to function today. I just need to talk and let it out.”
His face split into a robotic grin. Of course. Let me just jump in a well and call it a day. “So, your ex is still your ex and no, he hasn’t stolen your money?”
“In my dream he did! It’s a sign! I told you I had a bad feeling about him. This is it. Now, I know why! The question is what am I going to do about this?”
“Do something about him not actually trashing your place and stealing your hard-earned money?”
“I shall ignore your blatant use of sarcasm, mon ami.” She paused, contemplatively. “Should I off him?”
Ru almost choked on his own spit. “What?”
“If I have to kill him in order to keep my work safe, will you help me? Will you keep me safe from the police and support me?”
This definitely is a joke, right? But knowing his friend might actually be serious, he decided to be neutral. “Mhm…”
“But! No…” Ari shook her head a little. “That is clear motive. It is too obvious. I can’t do it. If it comes down to it, will you do it for me?”
“Ok. That went right out my ears. Listen, you little poop. It is just a dream. Why do you think that it is going to happen in real life?”
Ari’s glares were cute like a cotton ball. All he did was roll his eyes as she shot him one from across the state. “I have told you this! He never supported my project! What, with all his ethics and standards. He was always against it and I don’t put it past him to do this.”
“But it is not morally sound. You have agreed on that.”
“It is SCIENCE, people! Not a cosmetic line. Such hypocrites and tender-hearted fools. Where do you think medicines came from? All the drugs that cure your headaches and kidney problems? The vaccines and anti-bodies? All distributed only after animal testing! So what? You’ll advocate for dogs and cows, but just because it is a rat or a guinea pig, you don’t feel bad? You don’t feel bad that your life is prolonged another 10 years because of the drugs that were first tested on those tiny animals? Hellooo? Necessary evil.”
Ru always wondered how he became friends with Aria. Although normal in most ways, some conversations did shove her under the category of ‘slightly crazy’. But then again, she was just brutally honest. Haven’t we all thought of running someone over at some point, even if it was for a millisecond? Even if none of us have, she definitely has.
“Okay, stop! Again! I just woke up. And I get your scientific point of view. But you should also accept why certain people might be against it.”
She swore. “I don’t mind him being against it,” she gritted out. “As long as he doesn’t disrupt others with it. But I do mind him messing with my work!”
“And he didn’t. It was dream, for gods’ sake!”
“He hasn’t yet. And no… Dreams have meaning, Ru.”
“I wonder how Adil managed to be with you,” Ru snapped.
“Well, it was the Love of the Flower Picking kind,” she replied immediately with such a straight face, he was sure she played poker on the side regularly. Well, adding that on to the list of her other bad habits, like disrupting her friend’s bright and sunny morning.
“The what kind now?” He muttered, deciding to make himself some brunch with coffee.
“You know, you see the flower and pick it because you ‘love’ it and not let it thrive and grow in its environment like in true love? He wanted to pluck me; unlike some people I know.” She gave him a look.
“Yes, Ari. I support and trust all your darkest fantasies.” He couldn’t think of Ari being normal. Ever. “Did you talk to your parents?”
Ari’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth, paused and then licked her lips preparing for a retort. “Did you break up with your third romantic adventure of the month?”
He almost regretted bringing this up. “No… And we’re doing fine. No break-ups looming in the horizon. But unlike me, you haven’t had any good human contact in almost six months. Humans are social creatures.”
“I am talking to you, aren’t I? And I know you really don’t get it when I say that I hate my parents.” She frowned down at her feet. “They don’t accept me as I am, so there is nothing I owe them. I can be single as long as I want to. I can do side projects and roam the world instead of having a desk job and being tied down to a place. I don’t need their daily emotional blackmail along with the daily morning news. So, yes. I would rather not talk to them. This is me after trying to compromise. Don’t I get to be happy?”
He placed his steaming cup of coffee on the counter and leaned forward on his elbows. “Yes, you should be happy. But from where I am standing, you don’t look it.” He put his hand up and started counting off his fingers. “You absolutely can’t make friends, except for me, and that is probably because I put fifty percent more effort for your lack of trying. You don’t get along with any of your colleagues, not to mention the glassware-throwing war you got into with Mary, in public. You have nightmares frequently. And I am a hundred percent sure if you walk into a psychiatrist’s office, you will be diagnosed with anxiety, OCD and various other conditions. Maybe something like paranoia?”
She waved her hands, muttering. “Stop narrowing those eyes. That is all nothing. I thought you were on my side.”
“I am. Hence, why I am bringing this up. If that was all nothing and I know you don’t like talking about this, but what about cutting? You keep saying you don’t do it anymore but how can I trust you when you downplay most things?”
“I know it isn’t a good thing, or so people say. But everyone around me used to be doing it when we were in school! It wasn’t anything shocking. Then shouldn’t you also question why so many teenagers are cutting themselves nowadays? Maybe we have all softened; become weak. Maybe we are all too emotional and are unable to handle even a tiny slap. Again. Not like I advocate for violence, but I feel like if one beating is too much to handle and the media is all against it, doesn’t that wreck the person who is going through it? Like as if somehow, they are damaged because their fate didn’t live up to the measurements set by humans who have no clue about it. Instead of ‘sexually abused? Oo, too bad’ and ‘abused by your parents? Oo, too bad’ condemning the act itself, we should uplift the victims through tough love. Like ‘this is life and it is fine. You’ll be fine’ and ‘there is worse out there to face, so chin up hon; you can get through this’. So, maybe if people had told me what I am going through is normal and nothing to be emotionally butthurt over, I wouldn’t have resorted to the things normal people look down upon.”
Ru opened his mouth but nothing came out. His head was spinning.
There it was again, the cotton-ball glare. “I am not done!” she huffed. “And not everyone is special and meant to succeed. I mean, what is success anyway? For some, like many of us Indians, it could be having three children and happily marrying them off. To others, it could be buying that car or house they always dreamed of, or even the perfect wedding. But now according to popular opinion, it is either being famous or rich. That is why we are all unhappy. None of us have realistic dreams anymore. Even me. I want to travel the world? Pfft. I am lucky if I am alive to see seventy and probably visit Bali once. Not all of us are beautiful. Not all of us are special with brains like Einstein to push humans forward by a leap. Not all of us will end up happy. And that is okay. It is okay to not be perfect. I’m talking about you, Ru. It is okay if you stay single for at least month, wow! You don’t need to have a pretty girlfriend and post cute pix on the net, babe. If it is meant to happen, it will.”
“I know I don’t need to, but looking at everyone else with their perfect relationships just makes me feel less sometimes,” he admitted, reddening in the face. “Plus, that is such backward thinking, Ari. If you don’t aim high to begin with, you don’t even have a chance of ending up there. You are okay with settling for less? To not even try?”
“It is not settling. It is called being happy. Wanting less and achieving the small goal you have set will satisfy you and keep you happy. I have seen it in some people, Ru. It surprises me,” she continues, her eyes far away and shining. “Because I have not been taught like that. We all have been taught to shoot for the stars. But maybe we should be fine making a camp down here on earth. Don’t they say ‘even the poor are happier than the rich’? What is the worst that could happen? All of us are going to be eaten up by worms anyway.”
That’s golden, he thought to himself, discarding his tepid drink down the drain. “Okay, got to dash now. Have some calls pending. You alright?”
Two minutes later, his laptop was booted and his Swiggy order was ten minutes away as he opened his email. He groaned, throwing his head back and pinching the bridge of his nose.
Ruel Kingston couldn’t stop replaying her last words. It was like ten books were open in front of him and singing aloud the words written in them. All of us are going to be eaten up by worms anyway.
He has known Aria PVP all through college. He still remembers the day he met her late at night, a corner round the cafeteria. She was fighting with a guy, both talking loudly when her friend had caught hold of her neck and slammed her against the wall. She hadn’t bothered struggling, instead just calmly choked away. His own blood had been pumping hard as he let out a shout and started running towards them. The guy had immediately dropped his hands and fled without looking back.
As she had been gagging on the ground, he reached her all out of breath and asked the first thing that came to his mind. “Are you okay?” As he helped her up and placed her against that same wall, she spit at the ground and cleared her throat. “Are you?” She had shot right back, not missing a beat. When his jaw dropped, she gave him a small smile and a slight shake of her head. “There is so much worse that could have happened. Thank you, I guess.”
His phone pinged and he opened his eyes back to reality. Why is he so worried about her anyway? She has an income, a roof over her head and food to keep her alive day by day. She is doing fine. He doesn’t have to compare her life with what he considered normal. And she might be a little crazy, but it’s not harmful to anybody. She was a bit suicidal back then but he knows that is not the case now. She doesn’t think anything is wrong with her or her life at all. She is fine with who she is, then why should he be disturbed?