Priya thought about all the things she learnt in college, and concluded that the only lessons she remembered were the ones she hadn’t been taught in class.
She thought about the naïveté and the narcissism, and the belief that the biggest problems were her own. She thought about the money spent on petrol and French fries, and coffee shops that promised air conditioning, bitter coffee, and stale cake. She thought about the boy she’d thought she loved. She thought about all the games of Truth or Dare they had played as a group, and how she’d hoped he would pronounce her name when the bottle came to point at him. She thought about all the places they went to: the leafy avenues of Besant Nagar, the mall near his house, the other beach in the city, the sandwich stall where they ordered bread-omelets, one with cheese and one without.
She had observed every moment, and tucked away the ones she felt were significant:
When his mother told them to not close the door to his room, Priya wondered if she thought they would do something they shouldn’t be doing. Priya wished they would do those very things.
When a friend’s father teased them about showing up together everywhere, she was pleased, even as she wondered why he insisted on denying the charge.
When he came home to study for their end semester exams, she sat next to him and wondered how many more times she could brush against him until he found out she was doing it on purpose.
On the days he didn’t give her a ride back home, he asked her to let him know as soon as she got home, and she wondered if he was as concerned about her as she would like to assume.
When the clerk at the petrol bunk looked at them for a second too long, she wondered if they looked like a couple to him, as she sat on the scooter, her body welded to his back, with her right hand on his right shoulder. Priya could swear the man had looked at them disapprovingly.
“Here’s your change,” he’d thrust at them, not wanting to catch their eyes.
After many months of this, in a moment of weakness, she had called a mutual friend, the one who had picked up on the unspoken words and the awkwardness.
“Something’s always missing,” Priya had complained. “I never feel like I get enough in return.”
This friend had been sympathetic, but not enough. She’d instructed Priya to stop moping around.
“He doesn’t like you like that. He just likes having you around because you make life easier for him.”
That hadn’t deterred Priya though. She’d continued to parse every text message from him, every look, every smile, every inside joke, every secret. Was she the first one he shared this with? Who else did he confide in? They would speak everyday and meet every other day, and still he’d somehow found the time to have a crush on another girl, someone he’d spotted at the dance competition in their college.
“You have to help me,” he’d said one day, as he reached for her lunch box. “Can you talk to her and find out what she likes?”
Priya had waited for him to continue.
“Talk to her about me. Tell her how awesome you think I am. ” And without pausing, “Hey this pulao is good, I should tell your mom next time I come home.”
Now when Priya thought about the college years, filled with laughter and occasionally some tears, she remembered the hours she had waited by the phone, the days she’d felt special because he’d given her his attention, the perfume she’d bought him, the homework she’d done for him, the pining and the wishing. She remembered the beaches and the walks. But she found that these days, she remembered the place more often, and not the person. She didn’t think of the regret, and the possibilities she had to reject, after building them up in her mind. Instead she thought of how selfish she had become in the years that followed.
She never returned to campus, not even for the reunions.
- The first prompt is: your story must include a character whose occupation is a clerk at a gas station.
- The second prompt that your story must contain is this sentence: “Something’s always missing.”
- 750 word limit