Her breath stopped. There he was, standing in front of her, just the way she had imagined every single time she had thought of the moment they would come face to face. But she had never expected him to show up here, right in front of her university, standing below the stairwell at the entrance. He was standing so casually, as if it was normal for him to be waiting for her, as if it was an everyday thing that he did. She tried to turn and walk away before he noticed her, but it was too late, he had already spotted her and was walking towards her.
She was standing at the top of the steps and just as soon as he reached the stairwell and was about to climb, she spoke, “Just stay there and say what you want to say.”
He looked at her with confusion written across his face. “I need to talk to you and…”
“I don’t want to talk to you”, she interrupted mid sentence, “but if you still insist that you want to do so, then talk here, talk right here in front of all these people, because I don’t trust my tear glands when I am alone with you.”
Hurt flashed across his eyes, but he didn’t retort back because he knew that he was responsible for the current state of their bond, a bond that had started twenty years ago and was about to end a few minutes later. “Okay”, he said, retreating the foot that was on the first step. He looked around and luckily there weren’t many people around. The stairwell that was separating them was outside, in the entrance of the massive building, out of which she had stepped a few seconds ago. The sight of her after so many years had made his heart beat faster than ever and yet not once had any of that excitement been revealed on his face.
She felt a gust of cold wind on her face and shivered slightly. It was supposed to be a sunny day and yet, there was an icy wind blasting around. It was also supposed to be a normal day, like every other day and yet, here he was, standing in front of her. She sighed. She hated creating a scene, but she knew that she couldn’t be alone with him because she would break down and let herself be vulnerable once again. So she had to be here, out in the open, with the cold wind on her face, with people milling about minding their business, she had to be out here, where she was anchored to reality and not in a coffee shop with just him where she knew she would lose herself in a false universe.
Bracing herself for what was about to come, she asked him, “Why are you here?”
“I… I.. I came to say that I’m sorry.” He said, as he looked away, avoiding her eyes, that were filled with pain and made him feel extremely ashamed for being so selfish.
She chuckled, and that made him look at her with amusement. Then he realised that it was a sarcastic chuckle.
“So you are saying that you flew all the way here, just to apologise to me? Right… So what exactly is this apology for?”
“Huh?” He said with confusion.
“What exactly is this apology for? I mean you’re surely not just apologising without knowing what you’re apologising for? What is this apology for? For flushing down sixteen years of our friendship down the drain? Or for being an ignorant friend? Or for pretending not to know about anything? Or for…” She stopped herself and took a deep breath. “I can go on and on about so many things, but I don’t want to. So tell me, what exactly are you sorry for?”
He felt lost. She had never counter-attacked him. She had always nodded her head and accepted whatever he said because that was how much she had trusted him, how much he had meant to her and now he could see the extent of the damage he had done. He sighed. “You know what I’m sorry for. You know….. Please, I need your forgiveness. I need it.” He pleaded.
She cocked her head to one side and looked at him with surprise. Never had he begged her for anything because he had never needed to beg for her anything as he had always had everything. But now seeing him plead for forgiveness stunned her.
“You’re desperate for my forgiveness. That is a first.” She said in a condescending tone. “It’s not even a want. It’s a need. That’s how important my forgiveness is.” She continued. “It’s almost as if you want to let go of your past because you’re…”
Realisation dawned upon her and her eyes widened in response. “Because you’re moving on, because you have a new beginning awaiting you and the only way you can move on to that is if you have a clean slate. A clean slate with no smudges in your past. A clean heart to be more precise, because you’re getting married.”
He head snapped up in bewilderment. How had she even managed to figure that out. “How….. How did…” He stammered. “Yes, I want to get married and the only way I can is if you forgive me. I still haven’t proposed to her, because you’re still… I..”
She shook her head as she looked around trying to get a grip on her emotions. For a split second she had thought that he had showed up because he had genuinely wanted to apologise but she had been wrong, so very wrong. “Okay, I’ll forgive you. I’ll let you move on in life and be happy. But before that just tell me why, why did you break me? Why did you shut me out? Why did you hurt me so much despite knowing very well that you were my everything?”
“You know why…”
“NO! I don’t!” She screeched. “I don’t know why. And I’m not going to continue with these guessing games. Just tell me please. Just stop messing with my head.”
He looked into her eyes and for once he was glad that he was standing down there whilst she was up there because if he had been standing anywhere close to her, he would have lost his sense of self control. “Because I am in love with you and both, you and I know very well that we are not meant for each other, that a “we” can never happen, because of you know what. So I did what I did so that I could get over you. I agree that I never thought about how it would affect you or how it would break you. I agree that I was very selfish. I agree and I know that I don’t even deserve to ask for your forgiveness. I agree that I didn’t consider our history. I agree that I was being a selfish prick. I agree. But I’m desperate and I just want to… I…I love her and I want to marry her, but I cannot, at least not until my conscience is clear….” He trailed off.
“Was”, she said.
“You said I am in love with you, you were supposed to say I was in love with you.” She said as a single tear drop rolled down her cheek, which she swiftly wiped away with the back of hand.
“Oh…” He uttered softly when he realised what he had just said. “Was. I was in love with you”, he repeated after her.
She let her arms hand by her side in resignation, whilst she looked up, towards the sky, in an attempt to stop the tears from rolling down her face. She closed her eyes and felt the cold breeze on her face and inhaled deeply. So many thoughts, so many emotions, her heart and brain were going crazy and yet, amidst all that turmoil she felt a sense of peace because finally she had the answer to what she had always wanted to know and now she knew what was going to happen and though it saddened her, she also felt an immense sense of relief. She finally knew why he did what he did. It was all finally ending, she could finally wipe her slate clean too. She could let go of him and move on as well.
Looking at her with her head raised towards the sky, made him want to run up to her and embrace her in a hug for one last time. But he did no such thing for he couldn’t afford to mess anything further than what he had already done so.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, completely aware of the dull, throbbing sensation in the middle of her chest. “Okay, I forgive you. And no, I’m not being spiteful. I mean it. I forgive you because this way, we both get a clean slate. But do me a favour and never come back into my life ever again. You managed to do that for the past four years and I’m sure you can do it even after this. Just never come back into my life. Go be happy, go fall in love, go get married, just never come back into my life, so that I too can have a new start”
He nodded his head as he felt his eyes filling up with tears. He blinked several times in order to get rid of them. He felt a dull and had throbbing sensation in the middle of his heart and he knew it was time for the final goodbye. He walked up the stairs slowly expecting her to stop him, but she said nothing, instead stood frozen, looking at his face with pain etched across her face. He took off the warm scarf around his neck and wrapped it around her. Made sure to avoid physical contact as much as possible. “Goodbye”, he said as he kissed her on the forehead and turned around to walk away.
He didn’t want to walk away, he wanted to hug her, he wanted to kiss her, he wanted to cry and apologise for everything, but he also knew that he couldn’t do any such thing. He was meant to step into a new life and she had forgiven him just as he had wanted her to do so. It was time for him to leave, it was time for him towel out of her life and stop creating chaos, it was time for him to stop hurting her further.
“Wait”, she said, and he turned around.
She unwrapped the scarf and put it back around his neck. “Clean slate, remember? I cannot afford to have this as a smudge on that.” She said, with a sad smile. “We met when I was three years old, and now we’re seeing each other for the last time when I’m twenty-three.” She closed her eyes and tears rolled down her face. “Goodbye”, she said as she stood on her toes and kissed his right cheek.
He looked at her one last time and turned around walked away, without looking back.
She watched him walk away and with every step he walked away from her, she felt her pain ebb away into her surroundings.
“Someday,” she said to herself, “someday, I will be okay.”