The Hardest Kind of Forgiveness
As I sat at the Guwahati airport waiting to board the plane, Chandhni cracked a joke which made absolutely no sense to me and started to laugh. I faked a laugh as I did not want to hurt her sentiments.

This used to be the routine even during my college days. Rong, the girls and I would be walking around the campus singing songs and talking random stuff when Chandhu would crack one of her jokes. It would make sense to none of us, but nonetheless we all laughed together in unison.

We were five of us; all post graduate students at The English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad. Arenla - slim and tall, with her long flowing hair and thick rimmed pink spectacles, who looked like she had stepped out of a Korean Drama, Bursen - athletic, with her curly black hair intertwined with red streaks and a constant “I don’t care” expression on her face, Chandhu - plump, foodie, independent, with a serious case of OCD, Rongmei - short, but handsome and charming, fun loving and loved by all, and myself – a skinny, long-haired half-Mallu-half-Anglo. We were a strange group of five. I often wonder how we found each other. It was meant to be.

Arenla is the one who had to undergo this torture the most since she was Chandhu’s roommate. She would tell me all about it when we went for secret walks without the others during class hours.

Aren and I, we were so comfortable with each other. We could sit under the Breakup Tree and just talk for hours on end. That was our favourite spot; a cemented quadrangle around a huge banyan tree as old as the campus itself. No one knows how the Breakup Tree got its name, but it was apparent that way too many couples had broken up under this very tree. Now it only seems fit that Aren and I were bound to break up.

No one knew about us. May be we even tried to hide it from ourselves. I knew she loved me. And maybe she knew I loved her too.

But we were connected to each other through something that happened to each of us in our childhood.

I was maybe ten years old when it happened. My mom owned a marriage bureau in town; a single room in a rather shoddy complex. Adjacent to this room were an advocate’s office, an astrologer and a recreational institute for the deaf and dumb. My school was only a kilometer away from my mom’s bureau and so I used to go there every evening after school. And so I was well acquainted with the people in the complex.

One day when I came back from school, there was someone at the bureau, talking to my mom; a charming young man in his late twenties. But I could not understand the words that were coming from his mouth. It was only when my mom introduced him to me that I realized that he was deaf. He tried to say something to me through gestures and sounds. But it did not make sense to me. Mom said he had invited me to the recreational institute and asked me to go with him. She did not see the discomfort on my face.

I had never been to the recreational institute unlike the advocate’s office and the astrologers’ that I frequented. It was a shady room much like my mom’s bureau but a little bigger. There was a desktop computer in one corner of the room and a carrom board with four chairs around it sat in the middle of the room. A table with a few board games on it sat in another corner of the room away from outside view.

He lifted me up and placed me in a chair behind the table and sat next to me. He gestured something. I think he was asking me if I was ready to play a game. He then pulled me closer to him and slowly started to unzip my trousers. He placed his hands inside my underwear and smiled at me. I could not understand what was happening. He then unzipped his own trousers and pulled something out. I have no memory of what happened after that.

It took me quite a few years to realize what had happened that day.

I can only imagine the torture Aren had to undergo having to face her rapist every single day. She was only seven then.

We held each other’s secrets as our own.
But no one knew about us; not even Bur, who used to tease Aren all the time talking about me. It would really annoy her.

Everyone knew she had a crush on me. Apparently all she talked about in their hostel room the first time she had met me was about me.

“A for Alex, B for Alex, C for Alex...” Bur would tease, recalling the scene that night in their hostel room.

This was before I told her and the rest of them that I already had a girlfriend. But Bursen never stopped teasing.

It was 11 a.m. right now and the flight was set for departure at 2 p.m. It was a one hour journey from Guwahati to Imphal and we would reach our destination at 3 p.m. That would give us enough time to dress ourselves up for the function at 5 p.m. Chandhu and I picked our luggage and walked towards the boarding area.
As I walked through the metal detector, the alarm went off. It took me a moment before I realized my mistake. I was still wearing the ring that Nimisha had given me. It has been eight years since I started wearing it that it had almost become a part of my body. I had never removed it since the day she had placed it on my finger. In fact Aren decided to let me go over this very ring. I still remember very clearly, the last conversation we had.

“You know what? I feel like a piece of shit!” The words that came from her mouth shattered me.

We had not seen each other for a long time since I was back home working as a lecturer in Calicut and she was continuing her studies in Hyderabad. We had started talking on the phone regularly only after I had left Hyderabad. But she used to send me gifts and letters often.

I had sent her a photo of myself with my under graduate friends from our get together. My intention was to show her that I was wearing the shirt that she had given me. But unfortunately all she saw was the ring on my finger. She knew that it was the ring that Nimisha had given me.
She knew how deeply I loved Nimisha. I used to tell her how she was "The One". In fact she had told me that the way I loved Nimisha and my faithfulness only made her like me even more.

But now she wanted an answer. She wanted me for herself.

I did not have an answer. I was not ready to let go of Nimisha yet. I never could. We hardly talked to each other anymore. But after four years of being together, I could not switch off like a machine that worked at the press of a button. But Aren could not wait for me. She knew me and she knew she could never be with me anymore. That was the last time she ever spoke to me.

When Rong invited me to come for his wedding, I was apprehensive. I was not sure if I should go. But when Chandhu phoned to ask me when I was leaving, I could not find an excuse. How could I tell her that I was not going to attend the marriage of my best friend?

Rongmei and I were like brothers. We were opposites in every sense. He was eccentric, charming and outgoing, while I was a nerdy introvert. But we got along very well. You would rarely find one of us in the campus without the other. We loved having intellectual conversations at Sagar’s Square over a cup of coffee, whenever we could.

The last time I saw him was when he had come over for my sister’s wedding a few summers ago. I was glad that he had come as I was quite distraught due to quite a few reasons.

Being the best man at my sister’s wedding was important for me. Even though I was someone who hated parties, I wanted to be happy on my sister’s wedding day. And so I wanted someone whom I was comfortable with to be the bridesmaid. Aren was supposed to be the bridesmaid but she pulled out at the last moment because of what had happened. I was stuck with my sister’s friend whom I was not comfortable with. Rong’s presence was a relief.

I was not pleased with how everything turned out at the wedding.

Rong and I talked a lot about marriages that night and how we wanted our wedding ceremonies to be. He was never sure whether he wanted to get married. On the other hand I knew I definitely would. If he was to get married, Rong wanted a wedding set in the foothills with a beautiful view of the valley and the sunset providing the perfect backdrop.

That is exactly what we saw when Chandhu and I reached the place. A canopy made out of bamboos, an altar set up in the middle of a garden decorated with flowers and glittering coloured lights, an excited crowd; it looked magical.

The ceremony was about to start. We had made it just in time. We took our seats next to Bur in the second row not too far away from the isle. Rong was already at the altar waiting for his bride. As soon as he saw me he did not even hesitate to come over and welcome me with an embrace even in the middle of all this. He quickly took back his position as the choir started to play the music for the bridal entry.
And slowly from the corner of my eye, I saw Aren walk in, dressed in white, arm-in-arm with her dad. She looked as beautiful as ever. Dressed in the white bridal gown, she shone brighter than the sunshine she was.

As the ceremony progressed, a thought flashed through my mind. That could have been me.

“Do you Rongmei; take Arenla Jamir to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do”

“Do you Arenla; take Hrinatho Rongmei to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do”

“I now pronounce you Man and Wife.”

As a final part of the ceremony the newly married couple released two white doves into the sky symbolizing love and freedom.
The party started as soon as the ceremony was over. It went on till late night until people started to leave one by one and slowly the voices started to die down. The married couple had left and now it was just Chandhu, Bur, Myself and a few others left in the wedding hall. I slowly slipped away and started to walk up hill. I needed some time alone.

It was almost 3 a.m. by now. It was still dark except for the moonlight. I kept walking until I reached a cliff looking on to the vast expanse of the valley downhill. I sat at the edge of the cliff staring into the darkness. The silver ring on my finger with the imprint of two doves on it glittered in the moonlight.

My love was not the fairy tale everyone thought it to be. I had met Nimisha for the first time when I was an under graduate student. I don’t know when I had fallen in love, but it took me a year to express it to her. By that time it was already too late. She was already in a relationship. But I was too much in love to hold back. We grew close; as close as two souls could be. For years I had carried this weight inside me; a feeling that I did not belong anywhere. Finally I had found my home.

He loved her and she loved him too. But he never loved her and understood her like I did. She knew I was the one for her.
But the feeling of having betrayed him haunted her. She could not imagine living a life with me with the thought of having betrayed him. Finally when she started to lose herself, she took the stand to let go of both of us.

I don’t know if it was love or lust. But four years ago, when Aren asked me to come over to Hyderabad, I could not hold back. Her friends from B.Ed were staying in an apartment out of campus and they were going out of town. So she had the apartment to herself for a week.

Everything happened quickly and I was in Hyderabad within two days. And by the time I had reached back home everything that should not have happened, had happened.

I could not believe what I had done. Even though Nimisha had let me go, I hadn’t stopped loving her. And the thought of having betrayed my love for her broke me. I could not forgive myself for what I had done. My love was no longer pure. And there was no going back. It has been haunting me for the past four years.

I sat there on the edge of the cliff; the wind urging me to jump.

Then the sun began to rise. I could see the deep trench below me covered in a blanket of mist and the vast valley spread across and the rows of mountains as far as my eyes could see. Then suddenly two white doves flew over me and into the sunrise. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I realized how tiny I was in the vastness of this universe.

I remembered how Aren always felt she was not good enough. She believed what had happened to her all those years ago had defiled her. This had created guilt in her that she hid deep inside her.

That night in Hyderabad when I held her close, she said to me; “Thank you.”

I closed her mouth with my hands.

“You don’t know what you are worth. You are worth more than you can ever imagine. So never say that again”, I said.

She just smiled.

I slowly removed the ring from my finger and threw it into the deep darkness below.