Polo’s parents came over about a week later, and rented a small house in picturesque north Berkeley for themselves and Polo, who got discharged from the hospital about the same time. Ary moved back to his own studio apartment in the more busy and crowded downtown Berkeley but his mind somehow was always in Polo’s new house, where she was slowly recuperating. He was going to the lab everyday and working, going out with labmates for lunch, meeting other friends for drinks in the evenings and even went on a few dates with a law student in the university, but in the back of his mind it was always Polo.
He usually visited her twice a week. Every Saturday afternoon he would go to their house, have chapatis and steaming daal with butter melting inside, made by her mother, sleep over at their place, have Sunday lunch with them where her mom would cook chicken or fish especially for him, and then get back to his own apartment. Then after a couple of days when he had missed her enough, middle of a working day, he would just bike down the hill all the way from his lab on college campus to their house in north Berkeley. The eagerness to meet her was so much that he would bike down really really fast- it was almost as if somebody else was pushing the pedals with great vigor and he was just watching him. The frequency of the soul must be four days- he thought.
But Polo seemed strongly non committal about the relationship. Undoubtedly she considered Ary her best friend and looked forward to him coming over, but she avoided eye contact with him and also avoided too much hugging or touching- things essential for romance. Yet she would throw a fit every time Ary showed the intention of leaving their house early for work. Ary was thoroughly confused about what what was really going on between them. Would being persistent finally make her love him? In fact what was love really? Polo seemed to love him like crazy, her parents loved him like their own son, yet she didn’t seem to have fallen in love with him. Ary was thoroughly confused. To make it worse, he couldn’t share anything about them with his other friends in Berkeley or elsewhere. His other friends were much less closer to him than she was. They were more like acquaintance of a few months. They would not have understood the dynamic of their friendship that had evolved so much and so fast over the last two years and particularly after the accident even if he tried to explain it to them. The presence of her parents around them made it worse. They loved Ary dearly and it would be really awkward if Ary got into a confrontation with Polo in their presence. Ary decided to wait till the parents left.
As she started getting more strength in her right leg and lower back, she started going out on walks on her crutches, accompanied by Ary. It would take a good couple of hours to walk a few blocks around their house. Ary waited patiently as she took several minutes to take a few steps. North Berkeley was as beautiful as ever- clear blue sky, tall pine trees, parks full of greenery and gentle streams and rivulets, fancy little cafes and houses that looked like pictures on postcards. Interestingly Ary had been frequenting the area for the last four years but now, with Polo’s companionship, the exact same landscape looked much prettier than before.
Sometimes they would stop at roadside wooden porches that housed books that the neighbors had left there after they had finished reading them for others to read. They would pick up an interesting book and read sections from it to each other. The rush of Ary’s normal life, the never ending experiments in the laboratory, paper deadlines, the boss’s disapproval, the scathing remarks of their colleagues criticising their work- everything seemed to lose its importance for Ary slowly. All that mattered to him was what Polo thought of him. Every little smile on her face, every little word she uttered in a whisper, every little hand gesture echoed within Ary like nothing had before in his life. Ary had been in love before but this seemed insane, and he had been hanging out with Polo all the time last couple of years, but he never knew he had so much feelings for her. It was as if like the news of her accident had caused a phase transition in his mind, and no matter how much he tried he couldn’t take his mind back to the state it was in before her crash. Meanwhile, she became weirder and weirder. She spoke less and less, whatever she said sounded more cryptic than before, she never used “I” in a sentence, basically she never talked to anybody about what was going on insider her- not even to her mother. Physically she was recuperating and her mind was probably getting more and more into a trance.
But Ary’s obsession with Polo kept growing. The more mysterious she became, the more Ary got into her. By the time Polo’s parents left Berkeley for India, Ary found it difficult to spend even a couple of days not seeing Polo. Probably she couldn’t spend too long without him either, but she was extremely good at disguising her vulnerability. For example, Ary often spent the entire weekend at Polo’s house, now with her parents gone it was just him and her in the house, then he got back to his own apartment Monday morning, tried to keep himself busy with research the next few days and then met her again Thursday afternoon after work. They used to meet at Cafe Strada, a cafe very close to campus, just south of it, and hence diametrically opposite to Polo’s house. Ary used to go to the cafe, order a house coffee and wait at a table. The cafe was full of undergraduate students, who in between their never ending homeworks and quizzes took a break for coffee or desserts and visited the cafe. Unlike the north side of the city next to campus, which was mostly inhabited by graduate students doing research in the university and old white people who moved to Berkeley during the hippie era of the 60s and 70s, the south side was mostly frequented by undergrads, who lived in dorms and played loud music in their rooms till late at night, attended classes from morning to evening during the weekdays, and danced and made out on tiny dance floors in cheap south side clubs. So for Ary and Polo, meeting up in a south side undergrad cafe like Cafe Strada on a Thursday afternoon provided a perfect contrast to how the rest of their weekend would unfold in the calm, quiet and intellectual neighborhood of north Berkeley.
So Ary used to wait at the table, take a sip or two from the cup of coffee in front of him and turn towards the door every time it opened and someone walked in or out. Every second of that wait for Polo felt like an hour. Finally she used show up, either on her crutches or holding a stick, and gave him a hug that lasted for a good minute or two. Then she would say something like “long time” when they hadn’t just seen each other for three days. Yes, those three days felt like eternity to Ary but Polo didn’t seem to share his feelings. Then why would she say “long time”?
Sometimes they sat together quietly at a rooftop bar with pale ales and stared at the stars, and then out of the blue Polo said something strange and cryptic. Once she asked Ary, “What’s the difference between love and lust?” On another occasion she asked Ary, “What did mom tell you at the airport when she left?”. Ary replied, “she asked me to take care of myself and take care of you”. Polo responded to that with a mischievous smile, “That’s like Isac Asimov’s laws of robotics right?” Ary felt disgusted and said, “Yes, and I was thinking of the exact same thing when she told me that.” Polo nonchalantly tried to give him a high five.
Then all of sudden a friend from their past made a comeback in their lives- a forty year old unmarried lady, with the name of Venessa. She used to practice law at some point but currently was unemployed. She was once a housemate with one of the graduate students in Berkeley, and that’s how they knew her. Polo probably still considered her return in their lives a blessing but in Ary’s head it was the arrival of the devil. She neither had a job or a family, and with the year coming to a close, Thanksgiving being over and Christmas and New Year soon approaching, she probably felt more miserable and lonely than ever before. She wanted to go to parties every night, but probably didn’t want to go alone, so she started inviting Polo and Ary everywhere she went and even showed up at their places with her car trying to lure them into the parties. Polo seemed to welcome this sudden buzz in their lives, but Ary simply hated it. Their quiet afternoons on the streets of Berkeley, their evenings full of intellectual discussions at the cafes and their intimate nights in Polo’s house, on the rooftops and in the backyard, playing guitar, smoking spliffs and staring at the moon and the stars, were suddenly replaced with loud hip-hop and electronic music in upscale night clubs of Oakland and San Francisco, dancing and most annoyingly hordes and hordes of people from different walks of life, who were friends with Venessa. Ary absolutely didn’t care about them or felt like talking to them about anything- he found them too dumb for him- but Polo simply couldn’t have enough. She kept making more and more friends in those parties, and tried to immerse herself more in their company.
The most threatening part of it all was Venessa’s continuous attempt to pair Polo up with some guy or the other. Most of these guys were white. They were tall and well built, and had a lot of money. Ary started growing insecure. He didn’t know what would happen to him if Polo started dating one of those guys. He couldn’t spend a couple of days without seeing Polo and yet their relationship had no label for the society. They weren’t married, they weren’t partners, they were just friends.
Ary slept less and less at night. He incessantly thought about himself and Polo. His mind simply refused to shut down when he lay on the bed at night, whether he slept alone in his own apartment or slept with Polo in her house. At some point in the night he passed out but then in a few hours he got up and again, start thinking about the same stuff and couldn’t go to sleep again. Did Polo really love her? Did he have any future with her? Would she abandon him and go to some other man?
One day, Ary couldn’t take it any longer and decided to finally confront Polo about the nature of their relationship. It was now or never for him.
To be continued