“Sorry, sir. I am really flattered at this opportunity, but to go to Agra is simply impossible for me. I have some really terrible memories of the City and I wouldn’t want to relive them.”
“Please take a seat, Suman.
I can understand your situation. But all that happened a long time ago. In fact, your refusal to face your past means that you are still living in it. You simply don’t want to let it go. Those memories are not haunting you, rather you are choosing to live in them.”
“Sir, I don’t know what to say. But this shall be really difficult for me.”
“Trust me, Suman, This is going to be a very demanding assignment. Our company is opening its wings to one of India’s most happening Cities and the management has chosen you to be their star campaigner. In fact, it’s me who had recommended your name to the board.
Just do me a favour. Visit Agra for a week. Stay in the best hotel out there and chose the best location that you would want as an office. If after a week, you don’t want to do it. Just let me know. You need not bother about anything else.”
“Okay, sir. I am really grateful to you for this opportunity and would visit Agra as my regards to you for having so much trust in me.”
Home – As She Would Remember It
She recalled this conversation as she stepped out of the airport in her radiant taxi. As the taxi began to traverse the city roads, her memories took on vivid images and floated around her.
“Bhaiyya, please take a round of the city before going to the hotel.”
Agra was her adopted hometown as her parents had settled here, when her father got posted on a government job. She remembered how at her ancestral home in the village, her ageing grandmother would always frown at her for being a girl child and would rather shower all her love at the boys in the family. She remembered playing alone in the muddy courtyard and be a constant target of her taunts and scolding.
After shifting to Agra with her parents, she hardly regretted not visiting her grandparents. Electricity was, at its best, patchy in the village and one would have to spend long hours without it in the scorching summer heat. Though the food was delicious and in plenty, womenfolk and girls of the family would have to wait to eat till the men and the boys had feasted on the delicacies. She never understood this step treatment in her own house.
She adored Agra though. “The City Beautiful” was indeed a place in heaven. One of the well-planned city, Agra exhibited a unique mix of natural beauty and modern day facilities. Be it the Lake, market or the nearby hills, she loved them all. She had a particular affection for Keetham Lake, where she would spend hours during her holidays.
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This was the city where she would meet the love of her life, Steve.
Steve and Suman
The two were poles apart. While Suman was quiet, Steve was boisterous. While she was wheat coloured, Steve’s colour was fair with the dressing style of a dapper.Girls would drool over his looks. She would sing and he would play guitar or keyboard. She was excellent at studies and her teachers at School would encourage her to pursue medical field as a career option. Suman had won countless awards at inter-school competitions in the city and was the envy of the neighbourhood. Steve, on the other hand, barely made it when it came to studying.
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Probably, the differences in their nature brought them close. They would jog along the beautiful Lake and talk endlessly for hours, often marvelling at the beauty of nature. At other times, they would window shop along the market.
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Just then her taxi crossed the market and she had a glimpse of the Malls and other ultra-modern shopping complexes. It must really be difficult for secret dating for the couples of today, with so much crowd everywhere!
Yet, dating in those days had its own share of challenges. Mobile phones were not heard of and love birds could only get together on Sundays or other holidays. Couples hanging out together was almost catastrophic, so most of the meetings were through group hangouts only.
Romancing in the age before mobile phones
Later, they joined the same college. For Steve, Suman was the only reason for joining college as he personally did not have any inclination towards studies. But, he loved writing poems, a secret that even Suman did not have a whiff of for a very long time. When he confessed that he got into poetry to impress her, she literally was on top of the world. Her joy knew no bounds and they embraced heartily. Now, they would regularly meet alone and spend hours together. Their love grew each day and they got closer and closer.
Steve was getting immensely popular in the college for his smartness and his fan base grew each passing day. He would participate in all events and bag multiple laurels at college and inter-college levels. The entire college knew about their pairing and Suman would feel particularly proud of being called his girlfriend. Once, he had to get an application signed from one of class lecturers and guess what the lecturer demanded. She asked him to recite a poem for her right there in the staff room. Silly guy, everyone thought, and one could sense Suman feeling a pang of jealousy for her teacher. She dragged him out of the room with a roar of laughter following them.
First job, engagement and plans for marriage
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After this incident, their families got together and agreed to consummate their young love into the lifelong relationship. They prepared together for their campus interviews and fortunately, got placed in the same company. Soon, they were engaged and the date for their wedding was also finalised. Suman was the happiest girl on the entire earth. Not only was she going to marry her love, she was also going to spend her honeymoon in Switzerland, her most favourite place on the planet. She would spend the entire day planning her marriage and the honeymoon. She personally chose the wedding venue and the decorators.
But Fate had other plans
But fate rather gave a very different twist to her life. Steve had visited a friend’s farmhouse along with three of his friends for a wedding on a fateful day. She had earlier warned him, rather pleaded, to avoided binge drinking. During the return journey, his Car rammed into a truck and all passengers perished, three of them on the spot.
Her entire world crashed at that very second. She did not even utter a single cry and turned into a stone. Her parents took her to scores of doctors but to no avail. They left Agra and settled in South India. Slowly, she returned to her office work and devoted herself to her career. She did not marry anyone. Agra seized to exist for her. Even many years after the accident, she would have nightmares and suddenly wake up in the middle of night. She felt as it Steve was calling out to her, in his moment of deep pain. She would take multiple pills to get to sleep.
The taxi was passing through the area beside Lake. She rolled down the windows and felt the thrust of fresh air onto her face. It still retained its sweet aroma. She stopped the car and went near the lake. She sat on her favourite bench and look at the distance in the darkness. Suddenly, tears started rolling down her eyes and she began to sob uncontrollably.
She stayed there for around half an hour and then, came back to the taxi.
“Driver, take the taxi to the hotel now”.