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Nitin Dikshit

Love in the Time of Pandemic

Love in the time of Pandemic

Manav as usual was sitting on the table next to the large windows overlooking the busy street; looking handsome as always, in a smart sky blue coloured jacket paired with dark shirt and denims. Priya was watching him sitting on her regular table near the entrance, keenly following Manav’s every move. Her mind was working overtime.  Shall I talk to him now? Tell him that I am madly in love with him ? How will he react? Will he be angry? What will happen to her if he rejects her? All these thoughts were crossing her mind.

But this situation was nothing new. Priya had been watching and following Manav for a long long time now but was too shy to approach him. She had first seen him in the same café having lunch with his friends and it was a case of love at first sight. She had fallen madly in love with Manav but could not muster the courage to go upto him and talk to him about her feelings for him. Next day when she went to the same café for her breakfast , she found Manav on the table next to the windows. He was having his breakfast and she could only finish a cup of coffee because most  of her time was spent looking at him. That day also she could not get the confidence to go and talk to Manav. This procrastination was going for more than  a fortnight.

Finally today Priya decided to muster up enough courage and confidence to go and talk to Manav, come what may. Today was the say she decided was the make or break day for her, the day when she would express her feelings to Manav.  She got up from her table and started a brisk walk towards Manav’s table. She reached the table and started to say the words that had been welling up in her heart – I love you Manav” when …….The cacophonic sound of the alarm jolted Priya from her sleep, and shattered the sweet dream that she was having.

Though Priya became despondent, she remembered that she had heard that dreams that one sees during dawn, come true. So she pushed herself out of her bed, looked at the clock and realized that she had very less time to get ready and reach the café. Today she was sure that whatever she saw in her dream she would ensure that it happens in reality also.

It had been almost 6 months that Priya had not seen Manav, in fact she not been out of the house at all , due to the national lockdown announced by the government to maintain social distancing and to combat the virus pandemic. She looked at the clock and it was 8 am. She knew Manav would normally reach the café at 830 and she wanted to reach there before him. She hurriedly got ready, put on her best clothes, light make up. She stepped out of her house on a cold morning. It had been six months since she had last walked on the street without a mask. The feeling was somewhat liberating.

 Not too many people were there on the streets that cold winter morning and the streets looked very eerie compared to normal when there used to be good amount of crowd and vehicles. It was just the first day after lockdown was relaxed and people had still not been able to come out of the lockdown mentality. Priya strode quickly towards the café , almost running at times, hoping the café would be open and Manav would be there at his favourite table.. She was sure that Manav would be there today since he must have missed the café as much as she also had missed the café and of course seeing him. She reached the café at the stroke of 830. She quickly glanced around. The café was almost empty and only 2 tables were occupied. She quickly looked to the tables near the window but Manav had still not come in. She sat on her regular table and ordered her regular Espresso Coffee and waited for Manav to come in. Her heart was beating fast and she had to use both her hands to lift the coffee mug since one hand was shaking with excitement. The excitement that she would be seeing Manav after six months, the excitement that she was today going to finally talk to Manav about her feelings.

The clock slowly turned to 930 but still no sign of Manav. Dejected Priya decided to go home thinking that Manav may not have been able to come today being the first day after lockdown ended. She consoled herself that Manav would surely come the next day, since he used to be a regular at the café before the lockdown was imposed.

Next day Priya reached the café at 800 just in case Manav was coming earlier now. She waited till 930 am, finished more than 3 cups of coffee but no sign of Manav. This continued for 6 days and Priya was beginning to feel despondent.

On the seventh day, Priya was at her table near the entrance which directly faced the windows so that she had a uninterrupted view of the tables near the window. It was almost 9 am now and still no sign of Manav. To while away her time, Priya picked up the day’s newspaper lying on the next table and started casually glancing through the pages, all the while darting her eyes towards the window to check whether Manav had come.

One small news item appearing in the corner of the paper caught her eye because of the headline. She shifted her gaze to the news item and got the shock of her life. Her hands started to shake, she suddenly felt weak in her knees, the coffee mug in her hand fell down on the table.

The photo in the news item appeared very familiar – YES, IT WAS MANAV’S photo. And it was the headline that shocked her like nothing else. It was an Obituary with a photo of a very young and handsome person, though easily recognisable as Manav because she had been so closely looking at him, that she could recognize him even though the photo was of his teenage days. Obituary – of Manav ????  Her mind started spinning and the news paper slipped out of her hand onto the floor. There must be some mistake, this must be some other Manav, she must have made a mistake in reading the name – all these thoughts raced through her mind like a lightning flash.

She quickly knelt down and with trembling hands picked up the paper and opened the page where she had seen the photo that shocked her. She told herself numerous times to think rationally and carefully read through the news. 

Yes, it was Manav for sure, even though it was a photo of his teenage days. The column was an Obitary inserted by college friends for Manav Sharma aged 29, who passed away a month back due to complications arising from getting infected by the virus !!!

Tears started welling up in Priya’s eyes, the paper slipped from her hand, it was as if the world was slipping away from her. She just sat motionless on the chair, eyes shut and letting the news sink in to her. She was not sure for how long she was like this, time as if had stood still and nothing mattered except remembering Manav. She was jolted from her trance by the waiter who asked her if she was ok and whether she wanted some coffee.

She asked for a jar full of strong coffee, took a few large breaths, steadied herself mentally and looked at again at the table by the window, hoping against hope that Manav would be sitting there, and the news item she had just read was about some other person. But there was no Manav at the table infact , she just now realized that the restaurant was empty except for her. She realized it must be close to the closing time which was much earlier due to some restrictions still in place due to the virus pandemic, even though the lockdown had ended.

With heavy feet , Priya slowly trudged towards the door, came to the entrance and glanced back again into the café. Suddenly, as if she had left behind something valuable, she ran towards her table and picked up the newspaper that had fallen from her hand.

Taking the newspaper to her bosom, she hugged Manav’s photo and sobbed inconsolably. Slowly she started to make her way to her apartment. She came and waited at a traffic signal, and was thinking about Manav and cursing her ill luck, when suddenly a loud horn shook her out of her own thoughts. She glanced to her right to see a car stopping a short distance from where she was, the driver shouting and gesturing at her. She looked around and realized that in the trance that she was in thinking about Manav, she had crossed the road  halfway and was standing in the middle of the road. The driver came up to her and held her by the hand and took her to the side of the road, where she collapsed on the pavement.

“Hello Priya, Can you hear me ?” Someone from somewhere far off was asking her. Slowly Priya could manage to open her dazed eyes and slowly the hazy picture in front of her got clearer and she could see her office colleague Shravan standing there. She looked around and was shocked to see herself in a hospital bed. Before she could react and say anything, Shravan explained to her , how he saw her collapsing on the road and then how he got her to the hospital.

“Hello Priya, How are you ?” A motherly voice called out to Priya. And she saw Dr. Natarajan, walk through the door. Dr Natarajan was a Psychiatrist !!!

All things suddenly started to get clearer in Priya’s mind. She had just had one of her hallucinating dreams of a fictitious character named Manav, who she would yearn for in her dreams. This had been going for a long time now and Dr Natarajan was treating her. The Doctor was sure that there was no one named Manav and the character was just in her dreams!! Priya remembered her numerous sessions with Dr Natarajan.

Suddenly a thought crossed her mind. She quickly glanced through her belongings kept on the table beside the bed, found the paper crumpled in her bag, hurriedly opened it and saw the obituary again.

The photo was of Manav for sure– a younger photo of Manav , but an uncanny resemblance to the Manav of her dreams !!! Priya could not understand anything except weep inconsolably. She was  now sure that there was a Manav whom she had seen in a café and with whom she was secretly in love. She looked up to talk to Dr Natarajan and show her the photo and to prove to her that what she was dreaming was a reality she had experienced!!! But there was no one there, all had left because she had gone to sleep.

So all that Priya experienced – was that just a dream or was she really seeing this Manav in the café on daily basis ?? Was the Manav in the photo, the same Manav that Priya saw in her dreams or in the café ???

No one will ever know because Manav is no more now, and no one will believe Priya because she is under psychiatric treatment!!!

Sad end to a love story in the backdrop of a pandemic.

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Robert

I kind of liked the final twist. It would have been too stereotypical if she too died in the end.

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