What if Maya did not reciprocate his feelings? He thought negatively. He had that very special feeling for her. So instead he tried to conceal his feelings by being rather aloof or pre-occupied with his work and other things. He carried this air about him that did not in the slightest way indicate he was in love with anyone, least of all Maya. Pradeep’s office buddy Raja always teased him about finding a girlfriend for him. But Pradeep always dismissed the subject. All he could think about was Maya, her long dark silky hair, beautiful eyes and dainty ways that just swept him off his feet.
She was the secretary at the office and had been working for the last one year now. She had an ill father whom she had to take care of and a huge portion of her income was spent on his medication. Maya loved her father dearly. He had taken care of her since she was two after the death of her mother. He was the only family she had. Maya loved working at the office, apart from enjoying her work she had many friends; everyone was so helpful and nice. But Maya had a secret too. She was in love with Pradeep. She found him attractive and reserved. The kind of husband she desired.
Pradeep and Maya hid their feelings from their friends and more so from each other. They never dated or displayed even eye contact. That whenever they were around each other alone it was awkward. He felt like he could never approach her, the time was not right, that’s what he told himself always. “I shall wait, cause my love is true for her.”
It was the first week in October when she received a call from the neighbor informing her that her father had a stroke and they had to rush him to the hospital. She panicked although she knew that this was not unexpected. It was overwhelming and getting to be so routine… doctor’s visits, medication, bills etc. Her father’s illness demanded all the spare time she had and even more. She dreaded to think of the time when death would take him away from her. Two days later he seemed better but doctors could not guarantee anything. That afternoon her father called her to his side and whispered “Maya, my child, I have given it a lot of thought and decided that you must marry soon. I will not live forever as you can see and I want to die knowing you have someone to care for you, to give you security.” “But papa…” Maya cried, “please don’t say such things.” But her father insisted, as it was his last wish.
It is not uncommon for parents to arrange the marriage of their child in India and Maya came from an orthodox Hindu family and it was customary. The groom was chosen, the auspicious date set and preparations were now in hand. Maya could not tell her father that she was in love with someone else. Besides she was unsure of Pradeep’s feelings since they never expressed any. It would be ridiculous for her to express her feelings. What would he think? Never, besides it was expected that someday her father would arrange her marriage. He was dying and that was all she could do to make him happy.
When the invitation cards were distributed in the office, Pradeep was shocked and he hated himself for being such a coward. He thought that it was too late but deep in his heart he still loved her and could not think of this as an end.
Maya made a beautiful bride.
Pradeep found it even more difficult to work in the same office after her marriage so he decided to resign. Maya’s husband who was from a well to do family did not want her to work. She could spend more time with her father who was growing feeble. This she felt was a good alternative as she could no longer bear to see Pradeep – it pained her. She told herself that it was time to move on with her new life.
Pradeep however, resigned and relocated to another city. He decided to remain the confined bachelor. He did not brood over his love loss but buried himself in his work. He now had a good job and was due a promotion. Four years passed and he was the dedicated employee and his career was at its peak. He now was handling sales and marketing and was asked to go on business trips. He rose steadily in his job. Raja was still his good old buddy and teased him even more about finding a bahu. He loved the traveling his new job brought and it seemed to keep his mind occupied and he now wanted to travel abroad. Especially to France.
One morning as Pradeep was reading the newspaper he was surprised to read that Maya’s husband had died in a car accident. He was horrified. Poor Maya. “She must need moral support at this time”. Maybe I should visit her”, he thought. Suddenly the telephone rang; it was Raja who wanted to share the sad news. The next day they both left for Maya’s house. After all she had worked with them. They found her shattered and pale. They also learnt of her father’s death. She was grateful to see them.
Although she did not love her husband she cared for him. He was a good man. She felt as though God had punished her in some way. She sobbed…. She now had no family, not even a child of her own. Pradeep’s kindness and presence helped. He decided to stay a while and be of some assistance to her.
It was the last evening he had before returning home and he finally gathered up courage to ask Maya out for dinner while they were walking. They had gotten to be close and realized that they still cared for each other. Maya refused at first. What would the neighbors think? “You are now a widow”, Pradeep said. “Let them think anything, we are not doing anything wrong. After a lot of persuasion Maya accepted, much to his relief. “If I don’t ask her now, I will lose my second chance” he thought to himself.
An hour later Maya looked lovely in a silk sari. Pradeep could not help but stare at her. “You look lovely, taking her hand he said “there is something I have been wanting to tell you for a very long time and I now know the time is right. I love you Maya, will you marry me.” He could see the answer in her eyes when she smiled.