Rahul turned 21 today, March 31st. He was in the third year of his Engineering. The sixth semester of his studies was about to end and just a few more days were left for the holidays to begin. Today he took his friends, the only three who knew about his birthday, to the canteen and bought them Chicken Biryani during the afternoon break. He had reached the age where he had started losing interest in celebrating birthdays. All four of them sat in the same row in the classroom and knew more than each other’s birthdays.
At 4:30 pm, he was dropped off by the college bus and he reached home after a 2 minute walk. His was a middle class family. His father was a Sales Tax Clerk. Rahul had got 700 bucks for the birthday expense from his father one week back, and being reminded of his birthday at that time, his mother had eagerly said that she will make Paayasam, a sweet South Indian dish, on his birthday. But everyone had forgotten about the date and the house was functioning as normal. His mother gave him a hot cup of tea and biscuits. He kept his bag in his room, changed to his shorts and T-shirt, switched on the television in the hall and drank the tea sitting on a couch with both his legs placed on the Teapoy. He watched TV till 6 p.m. His mother was getting anxious and urging him to change the channel as the daily serials were about to start. His younger brother was just entering the house after a game of cricket.
Rahul went inside his room, shut the door and switched on the television in his room. Tomorrow was an important day as the revision tests were about to begin. With the TV still on, Rahul took his college bag on to his lap and opened it. He took out a large book on `Advanced Java Programming.’ He put his hand inside the bag for his pen and felt something soft and silky there. He took it out. It was a large bar of chocolate with a violet wrap around it. It was written `Hershey’s Extra Dark Chocolate’ on it, a brand he never knew existed. He realized someone must have hid it inside. He turned it over and more surprise was waiting, there was a small note pinned to it.
It was a pink-colored perfumed note folded in halves. He unfolded the note. It read,
“Happy Birthday Rahul…..and also I wanted to say that I love you from the bottom of my heart. I will be waiting for you tomorrow at 8 a.m. in the classroom.”
A big smile was his immediate reaction. He read it again and again, smelled it again and smiled again. The only time someone could have kept it inside his bag without him knowing, was at the final hour of today’s class when everyone was away at the Computer Lab. So someone must have returned to the class a bit early and placed it in.
Rahul was the typical middle-class good boy who sits in the farthest corner of the second row in a class room and minds his own business. He had only a limited number of friends in college. Among them the only people who knew it was his birthday today were the three guys who Rahul had given a treat today. After lunch, they had Coke, shook his hands and wished him a happy birthday once again and that was the birthday done. For all the three years in college, that was the practice on all their birthdays.
Rahul checked the price of the chocolate. It was 300 Rupees. No way could any one of those three have spent 300 bucks to play a prank, he thought. The note asked him to come one hour early on the next day, as the classes start at 9 a.m. He thought hard again and phoned one by one, all three of them. He just spoke casually to extract something. He asked them about Hershey’s Theorem or Hershey’s Series or Hershey’s Model. All the three genuinely panicked and asked him for page numbers or web links to read about Hershey’s. It was obvious that no one had heard about that brand of chocolate. He called them one by one again and made sure they had not told anybody else about his birthday.
What if this is not a prank, he thought. He started to feel a pleasant wave of happiness now. What if some girl was actually in love with him? He analyzed the note again and the handwriting actually looked like a girl’s; every letter evenly sized and spaced and written in a blue ballpoint pen. Byn any rare chance, if at all it was written by a girl, he deeply contemplated and narrowed down to three girls who could have written it.
There were twenty three girls in his class. Add another four to that, who he spoke to, from other departments. Of those twenty seven, he eliminated all those who did not have a good rapport with him or who were already seeing other boys. And then after more rounds of elimination, he came down to three names confidently. Rekha, Pinky, or Sowmya.
Rekha is the one who Rahul had spoken to most, in three years of his college. She was fair skinned and good looking, a very studious girl, who participated in every kind of event that took place in the college. She sang, danced, and was a quiz wizard. All the four guys sitting in the second row were good friends to her, but she seemed to like Rahul the most. She laughed hysterically over even the slightest attempt of a joke from him. She always complimented him on his dressing sense. She didn’t visit the canteen as she was a pure vegetarian and was totally in the dark about Rahul’s birthday, until today.
The next in the list was Pinky. Pinky was one of the top three most beautiful girls in the college. She was a south-settled North Indian girl. Seniors, juniors, professors, assistant professors, lab assistants – there was no such breed of people left in the college who had not directly or indirectly proposed to her during their engineering tenure. Rahul was left stunned by her beauty, but didn’t have the slightest of courage to talk to her during the first two years. He thought she was totally out of his league. She was a tall girl and sat in the farthest corner of the last row, almost diagonally opposite to where Rahul sat. During breaks, he saw her chatting with different people every time, all the heroes from different departments, blocks, and batches, flaunting gym toned bodies, but Pinky always maintained that invisible wall in between. For the first two years, Rahul and Pinky had never seen each other face to face.
Rahul was a master when it came to computer programming. He knew the network in the Computer Lab like the back of his hand, far ahead than the rest of his classmates and lab assistants. It was the fourth semester practical exam and Pinky was assigned the computer near Rahul. It was a 2-hour test where each one would be given a random problem. They would have to write a program and execute it correctly. One error and the semester was a goner. Pinky got the toughest problem dreaded by the whole class. Rahul had finished his work in less than an hour and was playing games on his system. Suddenly he was startled to hear somebody weeping and it was Pinky. Rahul bent aside and found that Pinky had no clue about her program. Her usually beautiful mascara was flowing down with the tears. He knocked on the desk, gestured her to calm down, and with his expertise with the network, he logged into Pinky’s ID from his system and solved her problem in 30 minutes. It worked. Pinky came out of the computer lab with all smiles. Rahul had left by then. Later in the evening, Rahul received a call from an unknown number. Pinky had called to thank him. Rahul’s delusions surrounding her vanished and she was starting to appear more like a normal next-door girl.
Even the day before yesterday, Rahul was standing on the veranda of his college. He had had a new haircut. Pinky stopped by to compliment him. The other guys were smoking from their ears. She always has a twinkle in her eye when talking to Rahul.
The third name was Sowmya. Sowmya was a fat girl with corrective glasses who was in the other department, one block away. Sowmya and Rahul knew each other from their school days for almost 5 years. Rahul couldn’t say how, but he just knew for sure that she was crazily in love with him. He dreaded every minute for the day when she would come over to say that to him and he would have to break her heart.
Rahul feared it shouldn’t be Sowmya. He was filled with joy at the thought of Pinky. Rahul’s mind started flying everywhere. All the songs from the TV seemed like they were written and composed for him. Time flowed at its own pace. He wanted to call each of the three girls one by one to get some clue, but he thought if it was a prank by someone, he might end up looking damn stupid when the girls realize why he had called them. He went through the girls’ Facebook pages but couldn’t find any clue.
His mom alerted him for dinner. He couldn’t eat a single chapatti. His brother caught him smiling alone at the dining table. He went to bed, but couldn’t sleep until very late. He again went through all the possibilities of it being a prank and vice versa. He set the alarm for very early and dozed off.
He woke up at 5 a.m. and boarded a public bus at 6:30. He reached the front of the gate at 7:15 a.m. and had tea at the bakery in front of the campus. He waited to see who was planning to come at 8 a.m.
The clock struck 7:30….
Nobody went in or out except the watchman. Rahul became restless and he decided to walk in, whatever might happen.
He entered the campus. No one was there. He walked through the veranda and reached the classroom. The door was shut with no lock on. He opened the door and entered the room. It was empty. He sat there alone and whistled. The blackboard was full with previous day’s notes. He took the duster and wiped the blackboard. He took a piece of chalk and was about to write the date. He recollected yesterday’s date. It was March 31st. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe why it didn’t cross his mind. The date was April 1st. Enough to conclude, it was a prank.
Dejected, he stepped back and leaned on the table. He was shaking his head when he heard someone open the door. The clock on the wall gave a ding-dong at 8 and it was Pinky standing there nervously.