The deed was done. She was Mrs Rangana Banerjee now, the newly-wed bride of Abir Banerjee. It was a perfect match. He was a software engineer, settled in Chicago, earning in dollars. Her parents were ecstatic. Why couldn't she share their excitement? Maybe because of Subhojeet.
Jeet had been her childhood buddy.. her teenage confidante.. her first love. He was two years older and lived in the house across the road. It had been taken for granted that one day they would marry and live together. She had also believed that.. till Jeet disappeared.
Initially they had thought he had walked out in a huff because his mother refused to let him join the Air Force. He'd be back in a week, they reasoned. A week passed.. then another. A month.. then another. A year.. then another. There had been no word.. no call.
Finally after two years, her parents started groom hunting for her. Rangana had resisted but ultimately had run out of excuses. Abir, everyone agreed, was too good a catch to pass up. So here she was, with a newly registered surname, waiting to take the wedding vows with a perfect stranger.
Her ma had insisted that she rest for a while after she had suffered a dizzy spell from fasting the whole day. It was only 8 p m. The muhurat wasn't till 1 am. She had a long night ahead. Lying on the bed, Rangana wondered once again why Jeet had walked out on her. A soft tapping on the door brought her out of her reverie. It was her mother, looking worried. She barged in, bolted the door and whispered, "Jeet is here."
Just five minutes
Rangana was shocked, "Jeet? Here? Now?" ma nodded miserably, "He says he wants five minutes with you.. alone. He came through the back door, no one has seen him yet."
Rangana knew that ma wanted her to send him away. But she needed to know. "Give us five minutes," she muttered, turning away so she wouldn't see the disapproving look on ma's face.
The door creaked open a second time.. then closed softly. Rangana turned and almost gasped as she came face-to-face with Jeet. He looked dishevelled and down on luck. "You look beautiful," He sighed. 'Just the way I had dreamt. Red always suited you."
Home and away
Rangana shrugged off his compliment impatiently and demanded, "Where have you been?" Jeet muttered, "It's a long story but I'll have to cut it short because your mother insisted I could have only five minutes. I'm dying. I have brain tumour.. it's in the last stage. When my cousin, Tapan, told me that you were getting married, I had to see you, one last time." His words threw Rangana off-balance. Years of anger disappeared in a flash. She stammered, "When.. when did you learn about your ailment?"
Jeet answered with a sad smile, "The morning I went away. I used to have blinding headaches and got a few tests done. I thought it was migrane but the doctors gave me just a year to live. I couldn't stay around and let all of you see me dying.. day by day." He had taken a train to Patna and worked for a year. Then the headaches had got worse.. he started having blackouts. The job was gone now.. so also the money. He was almost on the streets.
Rangana was appalled, "You were going to be an Air Force pilot. I was ready for every eventuality. We could have faced death together."
Jeet shook his head, "I knew you'd say that. But loving you as I do, I couldn't subject you to the torture. It would have been intolerable after a while! I want you to remember me with a smile.. not a sigh." There was a soft knocking on the door. "That's your mother.. my time is up, literally," Jeet said. "Bhalo thekho (stay well), your husband's a good guy. He'll keep you happy. And now that you know the truth, I hope you will remember me as a friend."
He slipped out.. Rangana stood rooted. Ma entered quietly, wiped her tears and said, "It's time to go down and start a new life. Abir is waiting."