She was meeting Zoe tomorrow.
It seemed like they had known each other forever. But she still remembered, with crystal clarity, the day they had first met. She'd been nervous, too nervous to see the exciting side of attending college in a new city. The shyness that had seemed to recede in the last few years of school was back, pressing down on her with renewed force. Her mother had dropped her at the hostel in the morning, trusting her newly turned eighteen daughter to make her own way. She'd been in her room for five hours, putting away her things, arranging her books with extra care. Unable, so far, to pluck up courage to go and talk to any of the other girls. Suddenly, the door had banged open, and in walked a girl with a smile as bright as the sun. Zoe.
She'd been the reluctant friend, at first. But one couldn't resist Zoe's charm for very long. The three years of college were when she'd truly lived, for the very first time. Zoe had blackmailed her into wearing kohl, letting her hair down once in a while, actually wearing the shocking pink jacket her mother had forced on her. They'd called each other Kamla and Bimla, secret names that made their friendship more vital somehow. Bunking classes to discover newer varieties of chaat, sharing the first tentative sip of alcohol on a Friday afternoon in a deserted pub, filling their brains with reams of abstruse information before the examinations... every moment had had its own thrill. Zoe had been a serial dater, stringing along an ever increasing line of boys who seemed to hang on to her every word. She'd never really been one for dating, even though Zoe had coaxed her into a fair few. Zoe's love life, though, had never flagged for an instant. The wining and dining with the endless admirers was a regularly Friday night feature.
It was one such date that had changed everything. On her return, Zoe had been unusually quiet; her eyes filled with a strange new light. For the first time, she'd felt somehow excluded from a secret, somehow distant from Zoe. Soon, Rajiv became the first boy to ever get a third date. She'd been vaguely annoyed at the time, and unable to explain her mood swings. It hadn't mattered; Zoe hadn't cared, or even noticed.
A month later, on one frenetic pre-exam evening, Zoe had turned to her with a sombre look on her face.
"He asked me today. I knew it was coming, but I still wasn't prepared. I couldn't have been prepared for this kind of happiness, could I? We're going ahead with it, sweets.I wasn't supposed to tell, but I couldn't hold it in anymore."
"Going ahead with what?" she'd asked, half willing the answer to never come.
"We're getting married. His family won't approve, so we're having a civil ceremony before we tell them. Bimla, I'm getting married tomorrow! I'm so dizzy, I can barely breathe! Can you believe it?"
But I love you...
Her eyes widened as the unspoken realization sank in. She masked it with a huge smile, hugging Zoe tight, whispering her congratulations. Zoe drew back, looking at her with a half smile and a strange look in her eyes. Her breath caught in her chest. She recognized pity well enough.
(To be continued)