‘I will be down in just a min, bhaiya! Yes, I know the Uber pool ride waits for only 2 min. But I had sort of…an emergency’, I lied blatantly, while throwing in my office laptop, glasses, lipstick, pepper spray, novel and earphones in my handbag. ‘Haan, I know that the person sharing the cab would be in a hurry, but I will personally apologize to him. Tell him or her I will be down in just a min. Please?!’
Why do I get late every single day, I scolded myself an umpteenth time. I zip closed the bag and grabbed my phone. I checked myself one last time in the mirror, ruffled my curly, mind-of-their-own hair, took a deep breath and rushed down. There starts another busy day. Oh, what is the car number? I opened the Uber app and took a mental note of the number. You’ve been matched with Arjun, the app said. Arjun? Wow! Just a perfect day for this! I rolled my eyes, my sarcasm laughing at me. Chill Nyra, it is a common guy name.
I literally ran towards the cab parked outside my building. Brace yourself for angry reactions from driver and umm..the other person. I got in the cab repeating ‘Very sorry for being late’ on loop. The driver gave me a glare and started driving.
‘Excuse me? I got so late for an important meeting because of…’, said a male voice beside me angrily. I turned to look at him, ready to genuinely apologize. But then something happened… The frustration on his face quickly got replaced by surprise, and then softness.
‘Arjun?!’, I blurted.
My ever-existing sarcasm vanished away and got replaced by bittersweet nostalgia. How could I forget this person, even if I told myself that I had?! Arjun. My best(est) friend for 10 years at school, my neighbor and my secret keeper. And, Arjun, my carpool companion. Well, add an ‘ex’ to all of the above. Our dads used to take turns to drive us to school with the purpose of saving fuel and sharing responsibilities. Through this sharing, we had become the best of friends. I could imagine all those 10 years at that moment. The same back seat of the car. The same Arjun now. The unmistakable face, those kind familiar eyes, that mischievous smile.
I was speechless. And shocked. And he, more of all this than I am. He tried to speak multiple times, and finally managed to say ‘Hi. Nyra! You? Here?’
‘Yeah, I..uh..I got a job here in Mumbai. Shifted just a couple of months back.’
He nodded, a little too vigorously, looked away, then looked back at me. I have to break this awkwardness, I desperately thought. ‘Well, it’s surprising to see the most famous boy of St. John’s school get speechless.’
He didn’t know how to react to this. Same old Arjun. I suppressed a smile and then we both gave up, breaking into relieved laughter. I just could not believe we met in a random share cab ride. I mean, what are the odds?
‘You look good.’, Arjun said, giving one of his award-winning smiles and finally seeming to get back his sanity. ‘How have you been?’
‘Not too bad’, I said, pretending to make it sound cool. ‘I got good grades in 12th and then admission to a college I had wished for, made some life-long friends, got placed in Amazon where I love working, and now I am here in Mumbai. What about you?’
‘Well, I left our small little town, came to Mumbai, studied management in finance, something I always wanted to do, and now I am working in Goldman Sachs. I get to travel around the country and outside. It’s a great life, so happening and eventful!’
‘Wow. Good for you.’, I said, giving a forced smile. He sounded so changed, not the Arjun I knew. But then, was I really like I had projected my life? Carefree, happy, gullible, innocent; the Nyra I knew? Did I tell him the story behind all the ‘good’ and ‘great’ parts?
‘Oh, so you are still Nerdy Nyra, huh?’, he laughed, pointing to the novel on my lap. I rolled my eyes, but felt extremely delighted. And shy for some reason. Nerdy Nyra, the name had always been super special! I immediately started loosening up a bit. Loosening in those wonderful memories!
‘How much you used to hate that name. And how much I loved teasing you by calling that in the middle of the class!’
‘That wasn’t funny, Arjun. Remember half of our fights used to be because of that?! Hehe. Silly us! And then I would refuse to talk to you in the car trips. You would behave normally for one day. And then from the next day, your same irritating self would be back; snatching my novel and threatening to throw it out of the window, and me shouting and crying to give the book.’
‘And madam. You have taken all your revenge.’, Arjun piped in. ‘Remember how you would pull out your innocent goody girl image, go to mom, and complain about things I wouldn’t even have done? And then I would be grounded for days together?’
‘Oh, is it? I don’t remember anything like that!’, I said, thoroughly enjoying the memory and smiling mischievously. ‘Hey, but then I used to make up for it too. I used to complete your homework a LOT of times in the car while going to school.’
Arjun nodded, ‘Can’t deny that. You were my savior, dude! From the 1st grade to the 10th, I would have flunked in all exams if not for you. I used to irritate you till you would agree to explain all the important questions while going for the tests.’
I smiled. ‘Wow. Mumbai has changed you, Mr. Arjun. You have never told anything good about me before. Oh, or is there someone special in your life who made you like this?’, I teased. I always used to tease him with so many girls, not that he needed any of my effort anyway. He was the most famous, most charming and the smartest guy of the school. Well, not to me. He always was the stupid, irritating, hopeless Arjun to me. I used to be his wingwoman. I used to introduce him to all my girlfriends so that the cool dude can step in and work his magic. In turn, he used to be my bodyguard, protecting me from creepy and irritating guys. He once had gone into a physical fight with a boy in the 7th grade, who used to follow me in lunch breaks.
‘We were very different in many ways. You wanted to read romantic fictions all the time while I wanted to discuss football matches all day long. We used to fight every other hour even after we became mature adults. But in the end, we had the most special and deepest friendship! Sigh! I miss those car gossip sessions. And I miss those singing sessions with the car music. And the crazy talks. I missed…you.’, Arjun said, speaking out the line I was avoiding since I first saw him in the car.
I didn’t want to reply to this. He understood and looked away. Suddenly, we had nothing to talk about. The awkwardness had crept back in. I stared down at my novel, debating whether to start reading, or just look out of the window, or think about something else I could talk about. My mind drifted to some stark opposite times. ‘God, can you both please stop talking for some time?’, Dad once shouted from the driver seat on a particularly hot Monday morning. ‘How do you always have things to talk and fight and shout about? No one speaks for the next 5 min. Okay?’ Arjun and I got serious and scooted over to the respective windows. It hadn’t even been 2 minutes when Arjun pipes up, ‘Nyra, do you know what happened in computer lab today?’ I totally forget papa’s scolding and get excited. ‘What, what? Did you get punished again?’ Dad sighed loudly, knowing that we couldn’t be kept quiet, especially in these car journeys.
I smiled and cringed at the same time, remembering those moments. I wished I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. And before I realized, I got teary. Too teary to not sniff loudly. I got so angry on myself for reacting like this. But it was out of my control. I suddenly seemed to realize how precious the friendship was, and how it just finished. Right now, in the back seat of the car, we didn’t have anything to speak to each other!
‘Nyra’, said a soft voice. Now this was my best friend Arjun’s voice. ‘I am sorry, Nyra. I am very sorry.’ His voice trembled and reeked of regret. He had been thinking about the past too. ‘I spoiled everything. I let go of our deep friendship because of stupid misunderstandings. And ego. And immaturity. I don’t know what exactly happened. I don’t know how to explain and where to start from. At some point after 10th standard, I started feeling that I was too cool for the small town, small school and same set of friends. I managed to convince dad to send me to aunt’s place here in Mumbai to study and enjoy the big city life. He had to give in and I happily left for my new, exciting life. I got so lost in the new city life, the cool culture and the modern people, that I started forgetting my old life. And…you.’
‘Only after some time did I realize how worthless all of this is when you don’t have that one close friend to share every single thing with. That one person who you can blindly trust. I missed you, Nyra. I cried a lot in realization. But I couldn’t pick up the phone after all this and call you. Remember all the ugly fights we had when I left? We had told each other things we should have never said. I wished every day that those moments would just be wiped out of history and I could just come back and tell you sorry. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to see you broken and alone.’
‘6.5 years, Arjun. Not a call. Not a text. Not one. Not one, Arjun?!’, spoke the anger in me, openly and loudly. The tears were threatening me now, and finally rolled on my face. Freely. The anger and disappointment, collected and pressed in for 6.5 years, came out. The driver got startled and looked back. ‘All okay, madam?’ How would he expect long lost friends to meet in his share cab? I nodded and looked back at Arjun, still wanting to shout a lot, but not knowing how to tell him how much I missed him. How much I hammered my mind every single day wondering what did I do wrong. How much I hated him every day for going away.
‘Hey Nyra’, he said, wiping off my tears. ‘How about we start again? In this back seat of the car today, I apologize to you sincerely. I was carried away and didn’t realize what I was losing. Will you be my best friend again, Nerdy Nyra?’
‘I will think’, I managed to say, though in my mind, I was flipping with happiness.
The car stopped and we both looked around startled. ‘It’s your stop, sir’, said the driver. In the midst of all this, we had totally forgotten that we were in a Uber share. ‘You will have to get down now, the cab is blocking other vehicles’, he repeated, losing patience.
Arjun took his bag and got out of the cab. And the man with ego disappears once again, I sighed.
He looked back at me, ready to bid adieu. Then something changed his mind and he got back in with a smile. ‘I have learnt from my mistakes. This time I am not going anywhere.’
I could not believe I was smiling widely despite the tears. Years later, we were back together in the backseat of a car with our destination unknown!
The cab moved ahead. Had I got my best friend back in an Uber share ride? Well, I had literally been ‘matched with Arjun’.