The drone of the shehnai music was filling the background.
I could see him standing right before me. The tall, lean physique. Smiling as he always did. With a glint of mischief in his eyes, the sparkle visible even from a distance. My tears instantly dried up at his sight. His smile had always had that effect on me. I had started believing that crying around him was impossible.
My mother pulled me away and I lost sight of him among the throngs of women. They were applying make up on my face and draping my sari. It was all a blur really. I just followed all instructions like a puppet, always keeping a lookout for him. Where did he disappear?
He would always do that. Disappear without notice. Back in college, we had just become friends. His sister was my classmate, and that's how we met. We'd hang out in the canteen, and his resounding laughter would just draw everyone in. He left every girl giggling. The way he imitated the teachers, but never disrespected them. The way he would immediately pull a chair for me when I arrived, as if it was a reflex. I was the quiet one, but he never let me get lost in the crowd. He would pull me into the conversation with a question directed at me. And all so nonchalantly. So effortlessly.
They were pulling at my hair now. Ouch! It hurt. Some pins and flowers being poked in, and the fake bun was too heavy. But I didn't really care much to object. The salon lady asked me if I wanted something specific, and I just pointed to my mum, who was much to eager to provide inputs. Then all I had to do was sit and let them fiddle with me.
Now that I think about it, I always tried to escape making a decision, or forming an opinion. Only he could catch me. He sensed it early on, and never let my sly attempts succeed. He would ask me, "Where do you want to go for dinner tonight?" And my response would always be, "Anywhere is good." But he was relentless, and would bombard me with questions, till he understood what my mood was. "You feel like having Chinese? How about some Bamboo rice? Or you want some parathas? Pasta?" He knew every expression. He was quite different from most guys that way. All my girlfriends would complain how their boyfriends never paid enough attention to the little things, or how they never caught the moods and gestures. With him, he never missed a thing! Maybe it was because he was the only man in the house, with three women.
The women around me were getting noisier. They wanted to sing. I hated all this drama, and singing and dancing.
He loved it. He'd sing to me, and never paid heed to my objections.
Someone knocked on the door to beckon the 'bride'. They ushered me out and towards the mandap. My eyes wandered, and found him. Locked on him. I could sense a smile on my face. How could anyone be so charming?
The pandit began to chant mantras. The fire was too hot. I could feel the burning on my face. I just turned it away and faced him. Nothing mattered when I could see him, and that smile of his.
The way his thick lips gave way to reveal those slightly crooked teeth. The way his eyes turned really small, and his left cheek caved in to form a dimple. When we had first kissed, his thick lips were such a surprise for me. He was a good kisser yes. A really good one. And those hands. It's like they had a mind of his own. Playing with my hair, a finger down my cheeks, fondling my neck, tightly holding my back - so caring and yet so strong. Gentle, yet never clumsy.
My hand was now above the fire. Rice being thrown, and so much of commotion. They asked me to get up for the pheras. I was getting dizzy.
I had never wanted a big wedding. I always told him that I would prefer a court marriage any day. But he would argue, that our parents would be unhappy if we didn't marry according to customs. "A wedding is more for the parents sometimes, than the bride and groom", he would tell me. And the way he coaxed me, how could I ever disagree?
I sat back down. Sindoor was being applied to my forehead. I closed my eyes to avoid getting it in my eyes.
You know, if something ever got into my eye, he'd come real close and softly blow into the eye. Whether the dust particle left the eye or not I don't know, but his hot breath on my face always sent shivers down my spine. He always made me feel like a teenager with a crush. I'd go weak kneed when he'd whisper in my ears. I'd almost let out a giggle when he held my hand on the road. Not that he didn't notice. He knew the effect he had on me very well. And he was pretty happy with himself for that! And just to make me feel better, he'd tell me how much he adored me. I loved his stories of "When I saw you the first time..." and "You look so beautiful when...". He indulged me. The mangalsutra was in my neck now. I was married. And there he was, grinning from ear to ear. I touched the mangalsutra, looked at him, and his smile made me smile too.
They made me get up and sit on a chair. I looked around. I was surrounded by relatives. As I turned back in his direction, he was gone! I looked about frantically, but he was nowhere to be seen. That is when the blood rushed back to my head. He couldn't have been here. It was impossible. It was an illusion. That is when one tear finally escaped my eye and rolled down my cheek. I remembered. He was gone. And, here I was, married to someone else. But I didn't care. I could live all my life with just a memory of those two beautiful years. Live with the pain of the fact that I had lost him. On that fateful day. That he was gone. Forever.