"The closet" by Anindya Chandra

She turned her gaze up from the pile of books as she momentarily spotted a familiar face in the crowd. She felt a sudden rush of blood into her heart. But she could not locate the face anymore in the throng; it was only for a few fleeting seconds that she thought she saw those penetrating hazel eyes. She brushed aside the thought, picked up a book from the shelf and concentrated on it.

"Amu, do you think you know her?" Anirban spoke softly into her ears.

"Who?" she spoke, still concentrating on the book in her hand.

"Her! I noticed her staring at you a couple of times," he murmured.

She looked up from her book in the direction he was trying to point with his gaze. She saw her. Yes, she was correct; she knew she had seen her. It was not her imagination. Those eyes were not the ones that could be lost even in this crowd. She felt the sudden rush of blood to her heart again.

"Now you have found a new excuse to stare at girls? Huh?" she teased him casually.

"What! Noo! I swear I saw her stare at you. Tell me na, do you know her?" he inquired again.

She kept the book on the shelf, caressed the next one along its spine with her fingers, and said, "She was in my college."

"Wow! What are the odds of bumping into a friend at the book fair?" he chuckled. "You should go and say hello to her."

"No way! We are not friends. We were just at the same college. She won't even recognize me," she retorted. "It's getting late. I think we should leave."

"Too late. She is headed our way," he whispered in her ears.

"What!" she turned around swiftly and saw her approaching. She saw her adjusting the pleats of the yellow saree over her matching sleeveless blouse as she walked towards them.

Her short hair partially covered her forehead and her left eye. Their eyes met.

"Hi, Amu… Amrita! What a nice surprise! Who thought we would meet again?" she greeted with a charming smile.

"Hey, how are you?" smiled Amu.

"I am fine. And who this handsome young man must be with you?" she gave her a charming smile again.

"This is my husband, Anirban," said Amu.

"Ohh, I see. Hi, I am Rini. Rini Chatterjee. Amrita and I were excellent friends in college. She must have told you about me," Rini introduced herself.

He gave a sharp look at Amu through the corner of his eyes. He smiled back and said, "Of course. She did."

"It's getting late. I think its time we got going," Amu tugged slightly at his shirt's sleeve.

"Okay. But I think you should come over to our home someday. I would love to hear more about you and Amu in college," he tried to compensate his wife's lack of politeness.

"Sure. It was nice meeting you both," Rini waved them goodbye.

Rini entered the room, it was dark. She switched on the light, but the single fluorescent bulb did not help much in illuminating the spacious living room. It filled the room with a melancholy hue. She put down the keys and the books she purchased on the center table and went to the kitchen with the other plastic bag she had with her. She pulled out the bottle of whiskey from it and poured herself a drink. She put some daal in the pressure cooker and set it on the oven.

She sat on the couch in the living room, set her glass down, and pulled a cigarette from the pack. She lit it and inhaled deeply as if trying to soak all her brain cells in the inhaled nicotine.

She was thinking about today's encounter. She was thinking of Amrita. Amu. A thousand memories poured into her mind.

They were inseparable in college. Amu was a timid little girl back then. And she was the sharp-tongued rebel. She remembered the time spent in the college's common room, the occasional class bunks to share a bottle of beer behind the campus wall.

She took another drag, trying not to exhale the nicotine-filled smoke.

She remembered their first trip to Gangtok together. She was so excited. But Amu's parents were reluctant to let her go.

'It's not safe for two girls to go alone, betu,' they had said.

They had to eventually lie to her parents about three other girls joining their trip. It was on this trip that she could finally battle her fears and express her feelings towards her. She could finally come out to someone; she could embrace herself and acknowledge who she really was. The passionate kiss in that cold hotel room indicated Amu's acceptance. She felt elated. She was the happiest girl on earth.

The cigarette almost burned down to the filter as she took the final drag. She crushed the butt into the ashtray. She pulled out another from the pack and lit it.

She had known happiness to be ephemeral. She had known Amu's family. She knew well that it would be very difficult for Amu to come out to her parents. She wanted to be by her side when she did. But Amu was adamant that she fought her battles alone. 'I am scared. At the same time, I am excited too!' Amu's last message to her had said.

She had not heard from her since then. Amu had not come to college for several days after that. She felt lost without her. She was ready to do anything just to hear from Amu until she got the news. She was shocked to know that Amu had agreed to marry some guy soon after graduation. She was devastated. How could she do that?

It was the last day of college. She had somehow managed to talk to Amu in private.

"I hope you have heard the news. It would be better for both of us that we never meet after today." She did not look her in her eyes. Rini felt as if a dozen nails had pierced her heart.

"Why did you give in, Amu? How did you lose your battle?" she wanted to ask.

"I should have been by your side all the time. If only I had not been selfish and rushed you for the biggest step of your life," Rini thought.

The shrill whistle of the pressure cooker interrupted her train of thoughts and yanked her back to reality. She finished her drink and got up from the couch. The half-burnt cigarette continued to burn in the ashtray filling the room with an acrid smell of smoke.

Editorial: We all have our own secrets, stored somewhere in a closet, permanently, and while we traverse ahead in life, whilst guarding that closet, unknowingly, we lock ourselves in that same closet, with a stinging fear of the repercussions that would follow once the doors are opened. Anindya’s short fiction explores the fleeting moment in life when the closet finally opens and both the protagonist and the secret springs out in the open.(Som)

Anindya describes himself as an amateur bong, struggling with a pen. He loves to travel, mountains being the favorite. He thinks that a rainy day and a cup of tea are the perfect combinations.