The Broken Glass by Ramya Srinivasan
Ramya Srinivasan is a freelance writer from Bengaluru. A BITS Pilani and IIMB graduate, she worked as a techie with Goldman Sachs and Intel for twelve years before becoming a full-time writer. Her short stories have been published in the anthologies Blind Turns, Kintsugi, and Skin, and longlisted in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. Her personal essay, The Dream is Still On, was published in the Chicken Soup for the Indian Entrepreneur’s Soul.
The Broken Glass
The car drive feels like an eternity to me. But it’s an eternity that I’m afraid would end. If it ended, I’d have to face my fears, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to. Even after all these years!
Disappointment and anger shroud my fear, and I can feel my heart thumping. I want to be braver than what I’m feeling at the moment.
Niya looks at me with squinted eyes. “Dada, are you feeling okay?” she asks. I give a slight nod.
“Switch off the AC,” I tell the driver, and I lower the windows to let some air in. I try to breathe in and out just like I’ve seen my yoga instructor do but it only seems to make me panic more. I end up gulping water from the Bisleri bottle popped against the car door.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have taken this drive, Dada,” Niya says. “It’s not even a month since your knee replacement surgery.”
“I’m fine, Niya. It’s just a difficult day,” I try and fake a smile.
“Didn’t know you were close to Saroj aunty, Dada,” she seems surprised by my show of emotion.
“Well, I haven’t spoken to her in almost forty years. So, I can understand why you’d think that. But, she was my best friend during our University days.”
“Oh!” Niya’s eyes are wide now.
“On the very first day of class, I happened to sit next to her. Saroj wasn’t coy like the other girls. She used to crack terrible jokes and laugh loudly as though surprised by her wit.”
I chuckle uncontrollably, remembering one of her silly jokes.
“She sounds really cool,” says Niya.
“Yeah, she was. I was very shy then. Especially because it was my first city experience.”
My mind wanders off thinking about the kind of person I used to be. I wasn’t anything remarkable. If someone had to talk about me in a conversation, they can’t say, do you know that good-looking fellow or smart kid or the guy with glasses, or just anything specific really.
“Everyone at college knew me as the guy who hung around Saroj,” my voice cracks.
“Hmm…how did she die?” Niya asks, bringing me back to the present with a jerk.
We both sit in a few minutes of silence until Niya decides to open the box of aloo parathas wrapped in tin foil. I think of my daughter-in-law who wouldn’t let me travel to the funeral without packing some food first. I think of my son who argued that it’s not safe to drive for eight hours after a surgery, before finally giving in. And, there is Niya, a 20-year-old kid, too stubborn to let her Dada go alone.
I’ve been a widower for more than ten years now, but in the large scheme of things, I realize I’m a lucky person. To have a family, who cares.
“Why weren’t you in touch with Saroj aunty?” Niya asks all of a sudden.
I shrug. I’m not ready yet.
As my mind drifts, I can almost smell wafts of the salivating fish curry that Saroj’s mom used to make. Flashes of me sprawled in a couch in their home with Saroj sitting across and munching potato chips come to mind.
It was unusual for girls and boys to be too friendly in those days. But Saroj and I didn’t care. And surprisingly, neither did her family.
Her dad and I would rent video cassettes of black-and-white movies and watch them together. Her brother, Lal, would join sometimes. He was a gawky but good-looking boy, just a couple of years elder than us.
Lal knew everything about anything. He had a way of telling stories about the world. He could talk about how the universe appeared, why humans are no better than animals or just anything really…and it’d be enthralling to listen.
I may have been his lone audience though. Saroj would shoo him away and he would get annoyed and disappear for a few days, only to return later.
Some of the best friendships are ruined by a single moment. For Saroj and me, that moment was when I received an unexpected gift on my birthday.
A beautiful snow globe.
Its implication scared me to death. I remember dropping it down in utter shock, the globe shattering in the middle of a messy water puddle. And then, making a complete fool of myself by picking the glass pieces from the floor, putting them into my pocket, and running away from her home.
I couldn’t meet her eyes after that day. That was it. The end of something truly special.
Niya taps on my shoulder, signalling that we have reached. As I step inside, I hear the jumbled murmurs of a crowd. I touch my pocket nervously. The broken glasses are still there, well almost!
Today, I’m at my best friend’s funeral, not only to pay my respects to her, but also to meet the man I’ve loved all these years but never had the courage to admit. Our eyes meet as I walk up to him, one step at a time. His face registers shock seeing a kaleidoscope on my outstretched palm. I feel ready to face my fears. Finally.
“Hi Lal,” I begin.
Previously published in Kintsugi, May 2021