Around Seema, people bustled, busy with the million details that made weddings such a complicated affair. Her mind, however, was at another, very different wedding: one that belonged to another time and another person.
Zoe's wedding was far from the lavish extravaganza that Seema had always pictured for her friend. Zoe's gloomy prognosis about Rajiv's parents had been correct. For a month after the marriage was registered, they staunchly refused to believe that their son could have taken up with 'such a girl'. It was only the prospect of social humiliation that had prodded them into organizing the world's unhappiest wedding reception for their only child and his wife. Even now, they stood on the sidelines with fixed smiles and hard, flinty eyes that watched as their daughter-in-law effortlessly charmed their extended family and legions of friends.
Seema barely knew how she had managed to get through the last month. With a resolve she barely knew existed, she had called her mother and agreed to consider the colourful brochures her mother had collected, each promising more and more idyllic visions of an education overseas, far away from the pain that kept her awake at night. She had no illusions: this was an escape, a retreat and nothing more. She packed her bags, refusing to give her hostel room the honour of lingering in its memories. The month that she spent at home, she was careful to mask any sign of unhappiness from her mother. The constant strain of watching every word she spoke took its toll. She spent the first twenty hours after her arrival in the US in a deep, dreamless sleep.
But maybe she was built with sterner stuff than she gave herself credit for. She did get out of bed, eventually. She refused campus accommodation and found herself a tiny apartment that was utilitarian enough to discourage any attachment. She enrolled for as many classes as would fill up the day. She barely spoke to anyone. The recluse in her was familiar, safe, a protective blanket that kept her going. Till one day, she looked up from a book she was reading on her bus, and lost her heart to Boston.
It was fall, and the sky was just crisp enough, the colours of the leaves on the trees sharp enough for her to draw her breath with pleasure. She spent hours just walking up and down the streets, looking at the houses with the beautiful shrubs, feeling each crunch of every leaf under her foot, savouring the crisp autumn air as if she were breathing again after a long time. She was helpless against the smile that curved her lips upwards. She didn't even realize she was grinning till she noticed a few people smiling back at her.
She went back home, drew the curtains till all light was vanquished, and got back into bed.