She didn’t like crowds and it was that time of the year when her city almost burst at its seams with people. The roads were packed with traffic, the small, dark by-lanes illuminated by halogens, alleyways where lovers usually met to cop a feel, away from the inquisitive eyes of neighbours and relatives, were suddenly full of light. It was Durga Pujo, a week when the NRIs returned home to sport crisp white dhutis and expensive Dhakai sarees, a week when the band-aid companies make heaps of money as do the fast food vendors. She boarded the bus, headphones plugged in and music blaring in her ears; she wasn’t sure what she was listening to though. Actually, if she was being honest, she wasn’t really listening to it at all. The music was just to drown all the noise outside, to cancel out all the shrill voices planning their next destination and all the excited chatter about tired feet. She had never liked crowds but never before had she found it so hard to get through this week of festivities. Every year she would meet her brother and they would complain about the crowds together and then sneak out into the harsh pelting sun to go pandal hopping, because that was when everyone else was busy eating. This year she was by herself, she stared outside the window and without all the noise she had to admit her city looked beautiful. A tap on the shoulder reminded her that she had finally reached her destination. She got off the bus, braced herself, fixed and adjusted a smile and she was ready, another friend and another couple of hours of smiling and idle chit-chat. She looked across the street and found him waiting and they started walking along the winding alleys flooded with yellow light. She was still lost in her own thoughts as she complained about crowds and social customs, till she stepped out on the terrace. Now she knew why he kept talking about it, the place had a strange sense of calm. No, it wasn’t a terrace with a view; all that you could see was the backs of billboards and the tiled roofs of the slum beside it and new buildings and old buildings. It was beautiful. Faint sounds of a city striving to ride the wave of celebrations besieging it, came floating from a distance and instead of intruding into the shadowy solitude of the terrace it washed over her and for the first time in a long time she was distracted. Later that night she couldn’t really recall what they had spoken about or done for those couple of hours. She remembered that there had been ice-cream and a whole lot of laughter and tiny bit of magic. There on that isolated terrace was the first time this year that she was happy about the chaotic festival outside. Trusting never came easily to her and she always thought it was the most precious thing she could give or receive and in those couple of hours he had made it the easiest thing to share.


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