It was a small lawn on the south of campus, close to Cafe Strada. Polo and Ary were sitting on the grass, smoking a spliff they just made in silence and staring at the night sky. Surprisingly, five years on campus, but they had never been to this law before and weren’t sure which departments the adjacent buildings belonged to. There was something eery about the place despite being right next to familiar buildings and streets and cafes.
As the spliff neared its end, Ary sensed that it was the moment when the cat had to get out of the bag.
“Okay, I need to tell you something, I am here just one more semester, so about six more months. By next summer I am out of here and I am going to the east coast to do postdoc, as you know. Till then we both are in Berkeley. So, until I leave can you please not date any guy?”
Polo seemed to be absorbed in her own thoughts and didn’t react for a while- something very typical of her. Then she took the spliff from Ary, took a deep drag, pointed it at the sky and said, in a whispering voice-
“Fire, earth, water, air. The four elements. Fire is so basic, so elementary, so primal. And it just stays hidden inside matter, it stays latent only to be ignited.”
Then she got up, slowly walked towards a tree next to them and touched the spliff on its bark. The bark caught fire and started burning for a few seconds. And then the flame got extinguished.
Ary felt terrible. How could she be so heartless? Her best friend was going through extreme pain day after day obsessing over her and it didn’t affect her at all! And if she didn’t care about him at all why did she choose to hang out with him all the time? It was she who made him indulge in this relationship for the last several months, came to him all the time for support but when it came to some kind of commitment, she was smartly backing off by giving a mystic spiritual twist to the thing!
Completely frustrated, Ary couldn’t hold back his emotions anymore. He stood up, looked at her straight in the eye and erupted- “Do you realise how hard this is for me? I have the same feelings for you as somebody who is in a sexual relationship with you and you would call your boyfriend has for you? And I hang out with you all the time despite not getting anything that your boyfriend would- simply because I love you and it makes no difference to me that I don’t get those things they will get from you. But the only thing I won’t be able to stand is you going away from me. And if you start dating some guy, that is bound to happen. Can you just not do that? And you don’t have to do it all your life, just six months, can you not give up on your carnal pleasures for six months for my sake? And not go for any other guy? And be with me? After that we live in different cities, you can do whatever you want, I won’t restrain you, but as long as in the same city I don’t want anything to change between us. Just want the thing to stay exactly the same as it is now.”
Polo suddenly pounced on him, grabbed one of his legs to off-balance him and took him down. Then she sat on the top of him and started throwing punches. Ary couldn’t hold back his laughter- “Wait, what do you think you are doing here?”
She suddenly flipped him around, held his ankle tightly and screamed- “ankle lock!”
“Damn, you are hurting me”, Ary said. Even when they were fighting they didn’t forget to have fun.
“Carnal pleasures? Ehh? You don’t want me to have carnal pleasures for six months because it hurts you? What about those broken bones and all the blood and all the pain for months?”
“Yes, the entire time I was with you helping you out, taking care of you” , Ary argued. Even though he made that point, he knew inside of him that during that entire period of her recuperation, she was going through much more pain than him. She was the one whose bones were broken, she was the one who couldn’t really walk all the way to the bathroom from her bed. Compared to that, his pain was really less- just cleaning up her room once in a while, cooking occasionally for her and bringing over the food. In fact he was enjoying every moment of it- her sudden vulnerability, her inability to go anywhere and hence he being able to enjoy her constant company. But he didn’t say that aloud. Yes he could see Polo’s point but he had indulged in their relationship so much that he wanted to win this argument at any cost, and make sure Polo didn’t go out with any other guy. His mind had probably gone through a sequence of irreversible transitions in the last few months and there was no going back now.
They sat there and kept arguing for a long time, neither of them ready to make any compromise on their stand.
“Love cannot be demanded like this, it has to be earned”, Polo said.
“What more can I do to earn your love? I have done everything in my capacity”, Ary said helplessly.
Polo looked at her- a lot of kindness in her eyes, but much to Ary’s dismay, there was no desire. Tearing up, Ary said, “This is a lot of pain. I can’t take this anymore.” She touched him very affectionately.
“You know what, this is a beautiful set of emotions, this is an extremely extraordinary set of events which won’t happen in the lives of most people”, Ary continued, as he tried to stretch out on the grass, “And if I can survive this I will be glad I went through this unique experience. It’s the kind of mental adventure that I always wanted to have, but the question is – can I survive this? I feel like I will have a heart attack.”
“If that happens I will be there for you, deal! “, she said, dishing out a high five. There was an obnoxious amount of nonchalance in her voice. This rapid switching between empathy and carelessness was too much for Ary to handle.
“If we aren’t really dating, if you don’t want to be in a relationship with me, why do you keep coming back to me? Every time I try to cut it off with you, why do you always get back to me? You can’t even stay one week without seeing me and yet you think we are not in a relationship”, Ary screamed.
“Friend is in the same town! Why not meet up!”, she responded, shrugging her shoulders.
Ary ran out of words. Had Polo taken the idea of living in the moment to that extreme? Didn’t their friendship mean anything to her? All those moments, all those feelings! Was everything simply a function of distance to her? The moment he would get out of Berkeley would she forget her and spend time with someone else instead?
Later on, as Ary reflected on this fight with Polo, he realised that at that moment he had won the debate. It was another issue that such a complex situation probably could not be fixed with verbal debates. But when Polo said that she used to meet Ary regularly because they were in the same place, their argument had come a full circle. In an extremely complex debate like what they were having – where there was no clear right and wrong, where both sides had valid points- if one could start the discussion with an argument and lead the whole progression of points and counter-points back to the same argument, that person had probably won the debate. Ary started his argument saying that since they lived in the same place she should not go out with any guy but him. So Polo defending her act of meeting Ary regularly with the excuse that they lived in the same place validated Ary’s argument. The lived in the same city because they did research in the same university, and since neither of them wanted Ary’s career to suffer because of the issues they had between them, Ary wanted to introduce the clause of Polo not going out with anyone in their friendship.
But that beautiful piece of logic eluded Ary’s extremely analytical mind at that moment of heartbreak. He stood on the lawn silently, not knowing where to go or what to do. It was quite late in the night. Polo gave him a tight hug and said, “take care dude”. And then she got on the adjacent street that went downhill towards downtown and started walking in that direction. Ary followed along a little bit but his feet weren’t really moving. He stood still and stared down the empty street as her form grew smaller and smaller with the distance. She wasn’t some stranger whom he had made feel awkward by professing his love towards her. She was her best friend and her biggest support in this land, far away from home. He hoped that she would turn around and walk back to her.
But that night she just walked away.