As the clock snailed towards midnight, Zoya began the preparations. She lifted the small Black Forest cake from the pack and carefully placed it on the dish on the table. She picked up the numeric blue candles – a one and an eight – that lay propped against her bulky algebra book, and positioned them atop the cake. She put the knife by the dish. The golden party hat was stashed somewhere between the pages of one of her textbooks, which she’d fish out soon. Now all she needed was a matchstick. And the photo frame.
It was raining outside. The icy cold breeze rushed in through the window ventilators, sending shivers to her body with every mild caress. She wrapped a stole around her shoulders, hoping it would comfort her. The symphony of drops beating hard against the earth was both pleasing and saddening. She fished for the matchbox in her drawer, fully aware that she wasn’t going to find it there. She found it in her shoebox eventually, and it was 11:56 pm by then.
She riffled through her coursebooks and found the hat inside the thousand pages long Organic Chemistry tome. It was 11:57 pm.
Neel was the disease of her life. He was a 6 feet tall babe magnet. Charming. Delectable. Incredibly hot. He played basketball. He hated the coursebooks, but never flunked in exams. Girls always had hots for him. They’d kill each other to get the chance to do his assignments. Proposals always flocked at his door. There were nineteen on the Farewell day. He declined all of them. He was a heartbreaker.
The images flashed before her in a reel of sepia. The jaw line, the cheekbones, the smouldering eyes. The wicked smile. The goofy smile. The wry smile. Those eyes that made her weak at the knees. That husky voice. Neel…
Her fingers touched the photo frame. For a moment, she felt the ripples in her heart again. The warm skin of his against her. The heat, the fire, the love. It was 11:58 pm.
She gazed at the picture. The sea looked bright in the background. He stood in checkered shirt and black shorts, holding the blue surfboard in his hand. His grin was so infectious that it almost made her smile. She was lost for a while.
A buzz jolted her from her trance. The screen was lit up with a notification. Birthday – it said. 11:59 pm.
Neel loved surfing. That was the only bad choice he made in life.
“There’s nothing like riding on the waves. “He used to say. “I love the sea more than anything else. ”
And the sea took him last year. It was a windy day, accompanied with bouts of rain. The tides were high. Just before disappearing, he had texted her – On a date with the sea.
The next morning, it was in newspapers. They never found his body. Maybe the sea loved him too.
The phone buzzed again. 12:00 – it showed. She wiped her tears and struck the match. As she lit up the candle, the sea shone in the background. Neel was still there, smiling selfishly. And so, she smiled too.
The rain had slowed down now.