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It’s worth it

I picked the phone up even before the first ring was over. "Hello?" “Well, well, isn't
that such a breathless hello?" teased Aryan's voice from the other side of the line. "Whom were you expecting?"
"Whom could I be expecting?" I smiled.
Aryan laughed out loud. "Let me guess... that guy you've been talking about all the time with your friends, what was his name again, oh... Aryan something?"
It was my turn to laugh. This indescribable feeling run down my spine. What do they call it? Happiness?
"Are you always this big-headed?" I asked.
"Not always, no, but yeah, most of the time," he said playfully.
"So why did you call me up in the middle of this good movie I'm watching?" I asked.
"Well... I don't know. My psychic just told me this amazingly beautiful girl was sitting by the phone waiting for some idiot to call her. So being the chivalrous guy that I am, I decided to end her long wait," he replied.
"Oh, how nice of you. But I'm sorry you're late, Mr. Chivalry. The idiot I have been waiting for already called me half an hour ago." I answered. Will I ever stop smiling like a fool?
"And you two talked for only half an hour? Ditch this guy, he's dead boring! I am better!" he said.
I didn't say anything. Sometimes you just need to take time to realise exactly what you're living through. And sometimes when things are exactly in their places, you don't know what to say. It's too much of a shock.
"Hey... tell me about this great movie you're watching," he pressed.
"You really wanna know?" I asked, surprised.
"No, I couldn't care less but I just want to hear your voice," he said casually.
I laughed again.
"Alright, laughter's good enough," he said.
"Careful there, Aryan. You almost sound romantic!" I warned lovingly.
"Is that what they call us?" he asked.
"No. That's what they call you, not me," I replied.
"Is it fatal?" he asked.
"What?" I asked.
"Whatever it is that I feel. I can't finish three cheese burgers in a row, I can't sleep at night, I can't play the guitar anymore, I'll get kicked out of the band. I haven't shaved in days." he complained.
"Is it very bad?" I asked, faking sympathy.
"Honestly? It's the best thing that has happened to me in the last eighteen years," Aryan answered.
I caught the sigh of happiness before it actually came out.
"My friends think I made you up," I replied. "That you're another one of the characters in my stories."
"Do you think the same?" he laughed. "I know I'm way too good to be true, right?"
"Everything except for the overshadowing bit where you're obsessed with yourself," I said.
"Hey, let me savour it while it lasts. You're starting to take over my self-obsession." he replied in that slow, adorable drawl of his.
"Damn! That must be tough!" I pretended to be concerned.
"Ouch, don't talk about it. The excruciating pain of worshipping someone more than yourself." he said.
"Whoa!" I was genuinely surprised.
"Whoa!" he said, equally taken aback by what he just said.
A blissful silence.
"Aryan?" I said.
"Hmm?" he replied.
"Bye." I smiled.
"Bye?" he asked, shocked.
"Yeah, B-Y-E. It means 'Farewell, I am hanging up now' in phone language," I said.
"Okay, and how do you say 'I'll miss you too much to let you hang up right now' in phone language?" he asked.
"You promise to call back at an appointed time and keep the promise," I answered.
"Isn't there another way? Like coming over to your house in 20 minutes?" he asked innocently.
"You can't say that in phone language," I laughed.
"It's like an embargo in phone language?" he asked.
"It's like an embargo in phone language." I nodded.
"And let me guess, embargoes in phone language have something to do with dads coming home in an hour?" he asked.
"You're close," I answered, "Bye."
"Okay, farewell in phone language." Aryan said.
"Farewell in phone language," I smiled and hung up.


Aryan and I had met in the most 'movie-like way', as he likes to say it. I had gone to a shop at Rifles Square to buy an old Ben Stiller movie. They didn't have it at that shop, it's really old, you see. One of the men at the shop went to some other shop to look for it, so I was just going through some of the latest CDs. Just then, an eighteen-ish guy walked in. Really tall, wire-rimmed glasses, unruly hair badly tamed by a red cap. He wore a half-sleeved army green shirt over his gray full-sleeved T-shirt, with its buttons all open. His T-shirt read Courage the Cowardly Dog, with the picture of my favourite pink dog right underneath. I took all this in, in one single glance. He was good-looking in the most intellectual, careless sort of way. Like he didn't mean to be attractive, like he didn't know he was attractive, but he just was. I took one look at him and I just knew he was a musician. He had it written all over his face.

The guys at the store seemed to know him. They smiled and exchanged pleasantries, while I tried to tear my eyes off his grinning face. Then, I couldn't believe what he just said. He just asked for the same Ben Stiller movie that I had asked for. Then he looked right at me, a little amused at my shameless stare.

Just then the guy who had gone to bring me the movie returned holding the DVD. I complained about the soiled cover and he said, "There's just one in the entire market," he said.

Cap Boy was still looking at me and I felt self-conscious. He came towards the man who was talking to me and asked for one of the same DVD for himself.

The man looked up at him and smiled. "Sorry, Aryan bhai, there's just one. This Apa here asked for it first." Then he left to attend some other customer.

Aryan (I knew his name then) gave me another bemused look, like he found all this terribly funny. I turned around to take a look at the CD rack on the wall. Not that I had music on my mind, it was an excuse to stay a little longer in the shop before I paid for my DVD.
Then a voice from behind me said, "Excuse me?"
I turned around and found Aryan standing there, biting his lips and raising his eyebrows like he wasn't sure of what he was doing.

"Look I'm really sorry, but would you mind if you didn't buy this movie today?" he asked, smiling mischievously.
The nerve, the... NERVE. I found myself stumbling for words. I was outraged. Just because he was good-looking, did he think he could persuade me out of buying the movie? Just because he wanted it, he wouldn't let me buy it even though I came first? Why are the good-looking ones always so selfish?
"Actually..." I sounded colder than I intended.
"Actually, it's my girlfriend's birthday party this evening and I had promised her I'd get this for her. I'm sure she thinks I have forgotten and I almost did but I remembered and... and she'd be REALLY happy if she knew that," he finished, all in one breath.

I was seething with rage by now. I had no wish to listen to stories about him and how much he adored his gf. Who did he think he was?

"I have to buy it," I snapped at him and made my way to the counter. Paying for my purchase, I came out of the shop. All my way down the escalator, I felt myself slip into a bad mood.

Of course, I had to admit that my change of mood was not only due to anger at rude customers in CD shops. It also had something to do with the fact that the rude customer was heart-stoppingly good-looking and clearly in love with his Ben Stiller loving girlfriend and wearing my favourite cartoon on his T-shirt.

That evening, I met Aryan again. It was one of those jokes Fate pulls on you. Aryan turned out to be my cousin's neighbour. My uncle had bought a new flat in Dhanmondi and Aryan lived upstairs. At their housewarming ceremony, Aryan was sitting in a corner, this time without the cap, talking and smiling very politely to one of the older men who was barraging him with endless questions.

"Isn't he cute?" my twenty-three years old cousin asked me.
"Oh my God, I know him!" I exclaimed. I couldn't believe my eyes. A part of me burned with anger from memories of the morning. The other part was still pinching itself, unable to believe how lucky it was.
Aryan seemed to see me right then. He looked surprised for a second, then covered it up with a smooth smile. He got up from his seat and came to us.
"Aryan, meet my cousin," and my cousin introduced us. "She says she knows you."
My cousin talks too much. I gave him a tight-lipped smile.
"Not in the way that I'd like her to," Aryan said.
My cousin and I both looked at him with surprise.
"I mean, I acted like a complete idiot out there. I'm so sorry." he apologised looking directly at me, as I felt self-consciously aware of how tired and under-dressed I looked.
"What about your girlfriend?" I said the words and immediately wanted to slap myself. Why was I talking out loud? That is so unlike me.
"Well... she and I kinda broke it off a few months back. I lied because I thought you'd think I was being a sweet boyfriend and give me the movie."
I laughed, despite the fact that I was shocked at how big-headed this guy sounded.
"What movie?" My cousin asked, her eyes shining.
"So I'll try honesty now, okay? Can I at least borrow it for tonight?" he asked.
I didn't know what to say.
"What movie? Tell me!" my cousin demanded, annoyed that she wasn't included in our conversation.
"Hey look. God really wants me to watch this movie. Or else why do we meet twice on the same day?" he asked.
"Why do you want to watch the movie so badly?" I asked, curiously.
"I don't know, I really don't know why," he shrugged. "But I promise I'll return it in the morning!"
"Well I'm staying over here tonight and watching it with my cousin," I argued, taking pleasure in the fact that I had a good argument against Mr. Charm-My-Way-Out-Of-Hell.
"What movie?" my cousin asked.
"She doesn't even know about the movie," he pointed out. "Watch something else tonight. Why does it matter?"
It didn't matter. In fact, I had no idea why I was being so possessive about the movie. "That's not the point but since you wanna know... I like Ben Stiller... a lot," I admitted.
He gave me a weird look, like I had said something crazy. "As in you think he's good-looking?" he asked.
"May be I do." I replied, annoyed at my invasion of privacy. What did he think? He was the only good-looking guy in the world?
He looked honestly surprised.
"I thought you girls digged the pretty boy types. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and those... I don't know the names," he offered.
"There's no such word called 'digged'. It's dug. The past tense of dig is dug," I snapped.
"But it sounds funny when you say, 'I dug her once upon a time'." he replied. "It sounds like you actually dug someone up from the grave."
"What? No it doesn't." It did. But I couldn't let him be right.
"Well say it. Say, 'I dig you', and 'I digged you' and then say 'I dug you'. It sounds funny." he said.
I looked at him without saying anything.
"Okay, may be not those exact sentences. But try it." he smiled sheepishly.
"Look, all I said was dug is the correct past tense of dig," I replied, heatedly.
"What movie?" my cousin asked again, completely clueless.
"You think I don't know that? What, you think you're the only one who knows English grammar?" he asked.
"Well, it seems like that, doesn't it?" I asked angrily.
"Look, I know English. I said 'digged' because I know 'dug someone' sounds ridiculous," he replied, very amused at my anger.
"Shut up, you two!" my cousin cut in as I gritted my teeth. "What movie?"
He smiled and went away.


I don't know how Aryan got my phone number. I mean, it's easy to guess. He probably charmed it out of my cousin. And I don't know why I wanted him to do exactly that. I don't know why I wanted him to call me. He did call, three days after that.

"Before I start, may I ask if I can use contractions in the conversation we will have over the phone?" he enunciated each word clearly when he called me up the very first time.
I laughed, realising how uptight I must have sounded before.
"You see. I am scared about your issues with improper grammar," he replied.
"You can." I smiled over the phone. Wish he could see the stars in my eyes. I am sure I looked like those lovesick cartoons on TV.
"Thanks," he said, "Phew!"
"I am sorry I was so rude," I said.
"Please don't be. I did my share of inspiring your rudeness," he said.
"Well... if you say so," I said.
"I insist," he said. "So did you watch the movie?"
"You wouldn't believe it," I said.
"Bad print?" he asked.
"Doesn't work. The disc doesn't work!" I replied.
He laughed. Can you capture people's laughter? I don't mean in a video or audio. I mean, can you bottle someone's laughter and open the bottle when you wanted to so that you could hear the exact laughter again and again? Because if you could, I would have bottled his laughter right then and there.
"You cursed it, didn't you?" I laughed and asked.
"You guessed right. Hey, could I have it now that it doesn't work?" he asked confidently.
"Why?" I asked.
"It's a lucky disc. It made us start talking," he said.
"You mean it made us start arguing," I corrected him.
"Whatever, at least we met because of it. I'd like to treasure the damaged disc, as a memento of meeting the most beautiful girl in my eyes." he said.
"Oh please... cut the flattery. It sucks!" I said. It didn't, it was great!
"Oh no, I don't mean you. Don't you remember the stunning girl in the shop who came in just when I did? Black T-shirt? Long hair?" he asked.
I laughed again. "Actually, I would have given you the disc but it's special to me as well."
"Let me guess, now you're gonna say that you met the guy of your dreams on the escalator?" he asked.
"How right you are." I said.
"Sheesh, you girls are all the same. Such jealous creatures." he commented.
"Haha, I will make no comment about that," I said.
"Yeah, don't. I can kill every guy on the escalator next time I am on one," he said. That was the first time he made any direct implication to the fact that he digged me. I mean, that he dug me.


Last night, there was a storm outside and I woke up in the middle of the night. For a few seconds, I had forgotten that I had ever met Aryan, despite the fact that it's been so long now. Then it hit me, like a sudden tidal wave, as the last few months flashed back. And life just wasn't the same anymore. Suddenly, everything felt surreal. My bed, the storm, the coolness of my blanket. I was here and I wasn't. Life felt too short, like the natural life span that I could expect myself to have wasn't enough to accommodate all that I wanted it to. There was so much I wanted with him. Watching Ben Stiller movies, arguing about grammar, taking walks on autumn evenings, watching the northern lights, watching Euro 2004 semi-finals at midnight, fighting, making up, growing old together. I had never felt so comfortingly sure and so terrified at all that I had to lose at the same time. I reached for the cell beside my bed.

"Hey," he answered, his voice calm with no trace of sleep.
"Hey," I whispered. "Aryan, I'm scared."
And I knew he understood what I meant. "Me too." he said. "Me too. But it's all worth it."

By Maliha Bassam


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