Monday, December 23, 2013

The Roommate - Short Story

Three roommates discover the bond of togetherness and learn how things are not always as they seem to be.

published in Woman's Era (May 2015) in slightly different version

I received a friends request on Facebook from my old friend Preet. Life has been busy as we lost touch many years back. I quickly accepted the request as her memories came rolling back to me. Ten years ago, I had moved to a new city to join my first job after graduation. Within a week I had rented a decent apartment through a broker. It was on sharing basis with two other girls Preet and Shefali. We all were new to each other. Preet worked as a content writer in a reputed private firm while Shefali was working as a designer in a big fashion house. In addition to our different professional backgrounds, we belonged to different regions as well. Shefali was a girl from Metro; Preet belonged to a pind (small village in Punjab) and had her education from City University while I was from a small town. Preet was a pretty girl and had a charm of attracting anyone with her smile and chirpy Punjabi nature. On the other hand, I found Shefali to be quite bossy. Preet always made me see the golden heart of Shefali behind her cold attitude. She would resolve conflicts amongst us easily. Within few days, we became close buddies and would love to spend time together after our busy work lives. Each working day we would look forward to return back to our “home” from office.

One lazy Sunday morning while having breakfast, we were reminiscing about our college life and wondering about our different upbringings when suddenly Shefali commented that how initially she often found herself unable to stand Preet and felt that her talks were stupid and overly sentimental. But over days, she has grown fond of Preet’s caring ways. She complimented that Preet is really a mature person and know how to gel with people. I was also in agreement with Shefali. After all, Preet was the life of our group. To this Preet gave a pensive smile and said, “Life has once taught me a lesson over this”. We were puzzled! “What do you mean?” asked Shefali. “There is a story behind my flexible nature. It happened during my 1st year of graduation”, she said. “You sound very serious unlike you, what had happened?” I asked impatiently. Preet continued after a brief pause, “You know I have a large affluent joint family. I have always been surrounded by lots of cousins and friends. When I got admission to the University in the city, though it was all very exciting, in my heart I was not sure how I would like living away from them. I moved to a girl’s hostel in my University. My roommate Charu, who was also my classmate, was from a Metro city”

I took this opportunity to tease Shefali, “Oh, so you took lessons on how to deal with these Metro people from her!” Shefali gave a frown of displeasure. Preet smiled, “How to deal with these Metro people! I too thought like this and got very upset initially. All my cousins told me big city people have this highbrow attitude and do not like mingling with people from small towns. Charu fitted all those descriptions, and so I developed this feeling of hostility towards her right from the beginning. We rarely talked on our first day together and kept ourselves busy in arranging our stuff. On the first day of our class, I made friends in other group of my classmates. We gossiped a lot about the coming days, seniors, guys and almost everything that surrounded us. While Charu, the only Metro student in our class, could be seen as a shade different from others. She was boldly talking but only to guys and greeting everyone with a handshake. For us newly migrated people from small town she immediately became a topic to gossip about; and since she was my roommate everyone was interested in knowing about her from me. And I would be delighted to share slightest of the details about her. We would mostly spend our class breaks gossiping like that.

Charu and I had our separate lives. We did get into small talks with each other in our room a few times. And when I did, I found her to be a very good communicator. I have to admit that I was a bit jealous too. She sounded like a mature, strongly opinionated girl. She would not gossip about anything about guys or teachers like other girls but I reasoned that was more because she had her hands full. She already had a boyfriend in her city as she had told me. Guys of our class were crazy for her. And her bold attitude with them made me conclude that she was a flirtatious person.”

Preet continued, “I'm a little ashamed to say this, I casted severe doubts on her character too. Just few days later her phone would ring every now and then, even at odd hours and I found it hard to study in my own room. It was a big distraction. When one day I couldn’t take it anymore, I simply blurted out my frustrations. We had an argument that turned ugly and we decided that we no longer want to be roommates. We approached our warden who strictly told us that a room change could be attempted only next year. I was disappointed but being a Sardarni, I knew how to live my way. I started calling my friends to my room and made sure she felt out of place. Slowly Charu realized she had no option but to spend most of her time in the common room.

And then news started spreading about Charu’s involvement with one of the faculty in Biotech Department. My doubts on Charu’s character were now confirmed. “I saw Vikram sir sitting cozily with Charu in his car this afternoon. She was resting her head on his chest”, revealed one of my friends. My dislike for Charu grew beyond limits. I felt myself to be trapped with her in that room. Every other day, I would hear some strange news about her.  I remembered her sober looking father and her homely mother on the day of admission. They both had talked to me so nicely. I felt like calling them and telling them about their daughter’s ways. She would come late nights claiming to be studying at library. And next day, we would come to know about her being with Vikram sir in a dark secluded area outside library. News like this soon spread out and all my nice classmates distanced themselves from her. Charu usually sat alone in the class or with the flirtatious and spoilt guys who would specially sit near her. Her performance in studies too visibly went down and the lecturers would often reprimanded her. I really felt very miserable and unlucky to have her as my roommate. Thankfully I had good friends with whom I would spend most of my time.

One late night before our first annual exam, I was in deep slumber after studying hard. Charu had still not returned from her ‘library trip’. Around dawn my sleep was disturbed by faint sound of sobs but I turned to the other side. I heard Charu talking on phone between sobs. “Silly girl, fighting with boyfriend even on night before exam”, I thought in my sleep. The sobs continued to disturb me and I finally got up and switched on the lights angrily. She immediately turned her face away from me but in that fraction of a second, I had a brief glimpse of a traumatic look on her face. She looked stricken with sorrow, tears flowing down her face, disheveled hair. Something inside me said that some terrible thing has happened with this girl. My mind imagined so many horrible incidents which could have happened with her attributing to her erratic attitude and her late night adventures. I could not resist myself and went to her bed.  She had disconnected the call and had put down her cell, so I asked her what happened? It was a long time since I had said something to her. She didn’t reply anything but only sobbed silently looking nowhere. There was so much pain on her face. I asked her again politely, talking to her like this for the first time since our fight. I put my hand on her shoulder. She spoke, “My father died last night from cancer.”

My hands were off her shoulders in shock. I looked at her crying face. And out of compassion hugged her like a child. She was crying incessantly. Her mobile rang. It was Vikram sir. Charu picked up and listened and while putting down said, “Please talk to the Dean and take me home brother”. A sudden pang of guilt cut through me. It was not a time to ask her how this happened! It was a time to be with her like a family and take care of her. I realized how far she is from her family and how alone she was. Everything suddenly became clear. It dawned on me why she was always so cozy with Vikram sir; what was she going through all these days; why her performance in class went down and in that instant I shamefully realized that how pathetic a roommate I was to her. A question aroused in my mind- who am I to judge anyone’s character? A saint or a whore- everyone has free will to make their own choices in life.

Charu skipped exams. She later took admission in some other college in her city to be with her mother. Vikram was her first cousin and later I came to know that her father was diagnosed with cancer six months ago. She met me once before leaving the University. She had coped up well by that time and was soon getting engaged to her boyfriend who supported her and her family a lot during all those tough times. She said she’ll always cherish those few times when we talked and that she was sorry that we had a fight. I could not muster enough courage to even apologize for my gossiping behavior and when she hugged me while leaving; I could feel that she was returning me the same warmth I had given to her that fateful morning. I never tried to be in touch with her again but in my prayers to God I often seek forgiveness for myself and happiness for Charu”, concluded Preet.

Outside the sky was full of darkness and silence and both Shefali and I were misty eyed. We were not just roommates but a family away from our families! Preet gave us a smile and we now knew that it just doesn’t matter from which place people come from or what they do personally, what matters is how much sensitive we are as humans to everyone around us.