The theater was dark. Puja was acutely aware of Sahil next to her.
“Ok, Everybody! Enjoy the movie” said Henna sitting next to Puja as the advertisements started and everyone had settled.
“And everything else you do” added Neel.
Lots of giggles.
“Shoo, Be quiet!” said an elderly voice from somewhere behind.
Puja made a face at Neel’s comment.
She looked to her left. There was Henna next to her, her best friend who smiled at her. Puja gave her a frown giving her an indication of her situation. Next to her was Poonam. Next to her was Manav. He did not seem quite comfortable sitting there. Next to him was Rishi.
Puja turned to her right. There was Sahil whispering to Neel and next to him was Aneri and next to her Shaila and in the last two seats were Manish and Nimish.
They were all here to celebrate the success of their food stall at the Annual College Fair. The movie they had all decided upon was ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’. It was a love story as almost all of Hindi movies with romantic songs.
As the trailers unfolded themselves on the screen, Puja had time to think about the situation at hand. The boys were a decent bunch, she had to give that to them. They had never made indecent advances at any of them.
Enjoying her 5-star caramel bar, Puja smiled as she thought about the incident on the 1st of April.
“Neel had an accident today” said Sahil to Puja as soon as she entered college that day. “He is at the hospital”.
“Sure” Puja had smiled “And Henna died today. Happy April Fool’s Day” Did he really think anybody would fall for that? Get serious.
“No, seriously” said Sahil, his face serious. ”It is so sad. Him being full of tricks got hit by a truck today of all days. He was on his scooter. He is at Parle hospital”
He was getting Puja scared now. Puja traced his face for any trace of laughter. None. Puja had excused herself and ran for her accounting class not knowing whether to believe him or not. She took a seat next to Poonam.
“They are just kidding” said Henna sitting up front with Aneri and Shaila. Puja guessed they had been hit with the news too.
“Let’s say we want to go and see him at the hospital” said Aneri. She believed in taking the bull by the horns.
“Yes, good idea” said Poonam “That’ll get the cat out of the hat”
So, after college they went to the hospital. And for sure, Neel was all bandaged and he was outside one of the rooms in a movable stretcher. All the girls felt so bad about not believing and it showed on their faces.
“Hope you feel better” said Puja as she met his eyes. Fortunately his face, or whatever they could see of it was still smiling. It was a subdued group of girls who left the hospital that day.
It was in the evening that he was discharged from the hospital and the girls went to see him at his home. His parents were there.
“It was odd” Puja recalled that they did not seem too serious. And after the girls sat surrounding his bed and had some drinks, a bandaged Neel jumped up and said “April Fool”
Now, sitting over here in the dark in this setup situation Puja evaluated her options here. She liked Sahil but so did she like Anil and Bhavesh. She smiled to herself. She had to face it. She was a flirt. After all there were so many cute faces around. And of course, there was the nameless boy who always made her heart flutter when she passed him. In her heart of hearts she had always hoped he was her secret admirer who sent her roses on Rose Day and lollipops with cute messages on Lollipop day.
Puja did like Sahil. He was a decent boy. But what about him? He had hinted at a picnic that he had a liking for a junior. Her name was Meeta. She was a cute girl with a pleasing personality. Puja sighed. This were the last few years of college and they were all trying to settle down. But she was by no means prepared to commit herself yet. Or was she?
“Popcorn?” She was brought back to reality with Sahil’s soft voice. She took a couple of popcorn from his bag and thanked him. She noticed that he kept his elbow on her side of the chair. With a fluttering heart she could not help but ignore it for the time.
The movie started and the names of the performers were flashing on the screen while her favorite music played on the background. .
A particular talk with her cousin Farina came to Puja’s mind.
“You know Rupal?” Farina had asked when they had settled down to sleep in her tiny bed. Puja had come to stay over with her cousin for the weekend.
“Yesterday, she was crying over my shoulder”
“Huh” Puja waited for her to continue, all attentive now.
“She had been going out with this boy about three years older than her whom she had met at work”. I knew Rupal worked at a travel agency.
“Really! Rupal does not seem like a girl like that” Puja said. Both the girls knew what that meant. In India, where about 95% or more of marriage are arranged. It is very rare that a kid, boy or a girl would go out and date. Puja had been asked a couple of times on dates but she had never had the courage to do it. There was a risk of being noticed by the thousands of relatives you have in the city and once seen with somebody, you better marry that person or your name is doomed. It is O.K. to be seen in a group but with only one guy, you better be sure.
“Well, she really liked the guy. But the guy is now saying that his parents have found another girl for him to marry. And he cannot disobey them” finished Farina.
“What a stupid boy. You know what? Rupal should be glad she did not get stuck with him” Puja had concluded.
That night both the girls had slept pondering over the thought.
At present, that incident played in Puja’s mind. True, with a little bit of provocation from her side, she might have Sahil in her hands and then she could see where this would take her. But is that what she really wanted? True, she dreaded the thought of being shown off to the boys like a showpiece for arranged marriage. She had seen her elder sister going through with it and she knew how dreadful it was specially the rejections.
The starting of the movie bought Puja’s mind back to reality. Puja settled down to enjoy the movie. The heroine was beautiful. The hero was charming and loving. It was the relation of friendship that emerged first, then love. Now that is the kind of love Puja’s innocent mind was waiting for. Does that exist in real life? She meant to find out.
Puja had time. She was not worried. In case she didn’t find the perfect guy herself, she was pretty sure her parents would find an appropriate groom for her. After all, her sister was happily married now. The arranged marriage system usually worked out thanks to the nosey relatives. Anyways, she still had hopes for her secret admirer. She was not ready to take the jump, yet.
From the corner of her eyes, Puja saw Sahil squirm uncomfortably in his seat as if trying to do something that was not comfortable and she saw his elbow move a little bit forward towards her. That was her cue to bend towards Henna.
“Did you see the yellow dress she is wearing” Puja whispered to her. She saw Sahil’s hand withdraw back to its original position.
“I have a good mind to make one like that.” said Henna. She looked at Puja’s face and noticing her friends need to talk continued “And the shoes are not bad either”.
Sahil got the message.
The movie progressed with no more incidents.
At the end of the movie, walking outside Puja felt a sense of freedom. Outside the theater door she fell in line with Poonam.
“So which was your favorite part in the movie” Puja asked her.
In the bright light, she saw that Poonam’s face was flushed.
“Oh, when they met” She said speaking fast, trying to sound normal. .
Puja turned around instinctively and saw Manav and Neel giving a high five to each other.
Puja walked closer to Poonam, as if to give support. Instinctively her fingers crossed. God, please let this work out. Poonam had taken The Jump.