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A day for love

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When I was a teenager, Valentine’s Day was all about buying a single red rose, a big card from Archies and a packet of Dairy Milk chocolate and asking one of smartest six-year-old in the neighborhood to give your gift to your crush. After receiving the gift, the lady of your dreams would throw away the rose, tear up the card but would take the chocolate. Then she would look around to figure out who the stalker was and, after finding no one, would loudly curse as she went home.

Then, my friends and I would come down from the big tree.  Yes, I was lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with a big tree. We would hang out at the ‘Chautara’ before school, after school and during the holidays. If one of us wanted to smoke a cigarette, then you would climb up the tree and enjoy the nicotine. Sometimes, one of the parents would come looking around for their sons and after not finding the ‘black sheep’ would vent their anger against us by slapping the ‘unlucky’ guy nearest to the angry parent. And then the parent would blame us all for being a bad influence to his or her son.

After the ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’, the guy known as ‘BBC’, would then run around the neighborhood, informing all young and old about what happened. The guy known as ‘the poet’ would pick up the torn up cards and belt out a sad ‘Kishore Kumar’ song. And the messenger would take the rose and run home.

My friends would then hang out at the local tea shop right next to the ‘Chautara’. The tea lady would make special milk tea while everyone would then start making fun of me. What went wrong? I thought she liked me. I used to see her every morning at the bus stop as she waited for her school bus. I would smile at her and she would smile back. Yes, during those days, direct eye contact meant the girl liked you. And if she smiled back then it meant that she was madly in love with you. Yes, those were the days when a girl saying ‘Hello’ meant she was ready to get married to you.

I paid for the tea and then went to the local video store. We didn’t have DVDs then. I asked the guy for the recent Hindi blockbuster. He gave me ‘Darr’, starring Shah Rukh Khan, a movie about at a psycho-stalker who dies in the end. I enjoyed the movie but I was no stalker. The next day, I asked the messenger to ask the girl to give me back my Dairy Milk. A day later, I got back a new packet of Dairy Milk and shared it with the boys.

A year later, the girl who had thrown away my Valentine Day gift eloped with one of her tuition teachers. It took me a week and non-stop listening to tragic Hindi movie love songs to get over her.

A decade later, I was in the West, finishing my college degree. The local bar had organized a ‘Valentine’s Day’ night where you could win a trip to the Bahamas if you won their ‘hot chicken wings’ eating contest. I didn’t go there to win the contest but the bartender was my classmate. She was hot, tall and had a tattoo of a skull on her right arm. Who says only women love bad boys. Even men seem to be attracted to girls who can beat the shit out of any manly man.

I went to the bar and got myself a JD and coke. I don’t know why but Jack Daniels was the drink of choice for me then. The bartender didn’t even take my money. She told me that ‘it was on the house’. Well, it helped as her father owned the bar and she worked holidays and weekends.

There, I was drinking and enjoying the hot wings with my friends and who do I meet in the middle of America – It was the same girl who threw my gift that day and broke my heart when I was twelve. Well, I didn’t realize then that a seventh-grader had near to nil chances of hooking up with a tenth-grader.

There she was, still beautiful as ever, looking like Monica Bellucci. We talked about our neighborhood, about her elopement then divorce and her journey to America. Well, I talked about our neighborhood while she talked about her life after running away.

She was now a PhD student.  I ordered a second drink, still got it for free and now I was in a dilemma. It was Valentine’s Day. Should I ask my classmate and bartender out for an after-hours party or try my luck for the second time by asking the former girl of my dreams for a date. I hesitated, went to the restroom and came back. I asked the PhD Student if she wanted to go out on a date, she declined politely and told me that she was already dating a smart guy who had a dozen of patents in his name.

Then, I asked the bartender if she wanted to join me for an after-hours party at a local club down the road. She wanted to but had to pick up her fiancé from his work and would join me later. Either I was the unluckiest guy on earth or I was good at misreading the signals from the female species. Now, a decade later, I’m happily married to my wife. It’s been three years. Last Valentine’s Day, I gave her a box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses, and a card. I guess some things never change.

A year later, the girl who had thrown away my Valentine Day gift eloped with one of her tuition teachers. It took me a week and non-stop listening to tragic Hindi movie love songs to get over her.

By Kalu Maila

The writer is a house husband who believes in changing, if not the world, the community he lives in one person at a time. He can be reached at kalumaila@gmail.com