"I will be down in just a min, bhaiya! Yes, I know the Uber pool ride waits for only 2 min. But I had an emergency", I lied blatantly while throwing in my office laptop, glasses, lipstick, pepper spray, novel and earphones in my handbag. "Haan, I know the person sharing the cab would be in a hurry too, 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 for the umpteenth time. I zipped my bag and grabbed my phone. I checked myself one last time in the mirror, ruffled my curly 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. Chill Nyra, it's a common name, I told myself as I hurried downstairs.
I literally ran towards the cab parked outside my building and braced myself for angry reactions from the driver and 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.
"I got so late for an important meeting because of…", said a male voice beside me angrily. I turned to genuinely apologize to him, but then I saw the frustration on his face change to surprise, and then softness.
‘Arjun?!’, I blurted.
My guilt got replaced by bittersweet nostalgia. How could I forget this person? Arjun. My best friend for 10 years at school, my neighbour and my carpool companion. Our fathers used to take turns to drive us to school with the purpose of saving fuel and sharing responsibilities. Through this sharing, we became the best of friends.
Those 10 years came back to me, in that moment. The same back seat of the car. The same Arjun. The unmistakable face, those kind familiar eyes, that mischievous smile. I was speechless. And he seemed even more confounded than me. He tried to speak multiple times and finally said, "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 thought desperately. "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 that believe we had met in a random share cab ride. I mean, what are the odds?
"You look good", Arjun said, giving me one of his award-winning smiles. "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?"
"I left our small little town, came to Mumbai, studied management in finance and now I am working with 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 different, not like the Arjun I knew. But then was I really like my old self either?
"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 - this name had always been super special! I immediately started loosening up a bit.
"You used to hate that name and I used to love teasing you with it."
"That wasn’t funny, Arjun. Half our fights were just because of that! Hehe. And then I would refuse to talk to you on the car trips. You would behave normally for one day and then from the next day onward, you would start irritating me once again. You'd take my novel and threaten to throw it out of the window and I'd shout and cry."
"Madam, you would take all your revenge too", Arjun piped in. "Remember how you would pull out your innocent good girl image and complain to mom about things I didn't do it and then I would be grounded for days?"
"I don’t remember anything like that!", I said, thoroughly enjoying the memory and smiling mischievously. "But 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 saviour, dud. From 1st grade to the 10th, I would have flunked in all exams if not for you. I would irritate you till you would agree to explain all the important questions while going for the tests."
I smiled. "Mumbai has changed you, Mr Arjun. You never really had anything nice to say about me earlier. Or is there someone special in your life who's changed you? made you like this?", I teased him. I always used to tease him with so many girls, not that he needed my effort anyway.
He was the most famous, the most charming and the smartest guy of the school. But to me, he was always the stupid, irritating, hopeless Arjun. I was his wing woman. I used to introduce him to all my girlfriends so that the cool dude could step in and work his magic over them. In turn, he used to act like my bodyguard, protecting me from creepy guys.
He once even got into a physical fight with a boy who used to follow me around during 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 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 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 a time stark opposite to this one. "God, can you both please stop talking for some time?", Dad once shouted at us from the driver's 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 our respective windows. It hadn’t been 2 minutes when Arjun piped up saying, "Nyra, do you know what happened in the computer lab today?’ and I heard dad sigh as we went back to chatting.
I smiled and cringed at the same time, remembering those moments. I wished I could turn back time. And even before I realized it, I got teary-eyed. Too teary to not sniff loudly. I felt so angry at myself for reacting like this. But it was out of my control.
I suddenly seemed to realize how precious his friendship was to me and how it had ended. How strange that right now, in the back seat of the car, we didn’t have anything to speak to each other.
"Nyra", said a soft voice. This was my best friend'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 friendship because of stupid misunderstandings. I don’t know what 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 our small town, small school and the 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 gave in and I 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 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 everything and call you. Remember all the ugly fights we had when I left? We said so many mean things to one another. I wished to wipe off those words and just come back and apologize to you. 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?!’, I said angrily. The tears finally rolled down 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?", he asked. I nodded and looked back at Arjun, still wanting to shout at him, 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 about it", I managed to say, though in my mind I was already 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 an 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. He looked back at me, ready to bid adieu. Then something changed and he got back in the cab with a huge smile. "I have learnt from my mistakes. This time I am not going anywhere.’, he said.
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 on an Uber share ride? Well, I had literally been ‘matched with Arjun’.