They had first met on the rooftop, as toddlers. Both the families had shifted in the newly constructed building, and residents decided to have a ‘know your neighbour’ get together.
Ankush aka Kush, the shy little lad came holding his elder sister, Aparna’s dupatta. Aparna was also barely a teenager, but she was the rebellious one of the two.
Kush’s parents, Kavitha and Ankur were both working parents. They had just shifted to the city due to Ankur’s transfer. They were still looking for a school for their kids, and planned to sort it out soon, As the schools were closed due to summer holidays, they had to wait for a while to get admission in the new academic year.
As they were discussing this with some of the residents, who had already enrolled their kids in the nearby schools, a little girl zoomed past Kavitha to grab a few chips kept on the table. She was just about to stumble, when Kavitha held her and said, “Slow baby slow.”
An adult voice called from behind, “Mili, be careful. Say sorry to aunty.” Kavitha turned to find, Priya, Milli’s mother. Mili was almost the same age as Kush. Kavitha greeted Priya, who was soon joined by her husband, Vivek. They were also new to the city. The conversation started, personal details were shared, worries about new school were exchanged, and new friendship bloomed.
Apart from the adults, two more people became friends for life that day on the rooftop, when Kavitha said, “Kush, come here, see you have a new friend.” All this while, Kush was standing on one corner, sipping his lemonade.
That was the first time that their eyes met, marking the beginning of an incredible journey of friendship, love, care and trust. Their friendship grew like blossoms – full of freshness, and happiness. Everybody in the apartment knew about Kush, Mili and their friendship, and they loved those innocent kids and their ways.
They started going to the same school on the same day. Incidentally, they were placed in the same section.
Over the years, through the innocent and playful school days, through the curious times of adolescence, and through the hide-and-seek moments of teenage, through the being responsible college days, their friendship kept growing, and so did their affection towards each other.
They never knew when friendship and love blended beautifully and a new relationship brewed among the two. And, in all of their interactions, affections, conversations, and calculations, the rooftop played an important role. Their friendship den grew into a lover’s corner. The rooftop witnessed their first spell of love when on a rainy night, emotions were strong and Kush kissed a tearful Mili and hugged her tight.
The rooftop didn’t know the pretext, but surely the loved the context. From that day onwards, the rooftop witnessed more of lovers than just friends, but their friendship never lost its charm.
Everything was going fine, till a time to put their love to test. Mili got a scholarship for a Student Exchange Program in an International University, and she was reluctant to take it. Though, she knew it could be a breakthrough in her future career, she was scared to accept the fact that she had to stay away from Kush for two whole years.
No amount of coaxing from anyone helped, till one evening, Kush took her to the rooftop, kissed on her forehead and said, “Do you love me?”
Mili was slightly annoyed with the question and replied, “Don’t ask such idiotic questions. I am not going anywhere.”
Kush said, “If you love, will you fulfill my dream?” Mili’s expression was obvious.
Kush continued, “Then, I wish you to go the course because I dream to see you at the top, and I know this is important for you.”
Mili interrupted, “But…”
Before, she could speak Kush put his hand on her mouth, and kissed her on her cheek, “Do it for me, for US.”
Tears rolled down on both sides, and they hugged each other tightly. They promised to wait for each other. But, who knew that one of them was going to break that promise.
In a couple of weeks, Mili left, leaving behind a ray of hope that they will meet soon. She took a promise from Kush that he will face chat and call her every day, and visit the rooftop like they did always. Kush obliged.
They spoke every day, and Mili told Kush everything about the day and her activities. Kush also met her new friends, and teased her about a particular boy in her group. Mili also teased Kush in return. But, both of them knew how much they missed each other. Kush kept a calendar in their den on the rooftop, and he used to strike away every passing day. Mili also had one in her bag.
Six months flew away. Suddenly, one day, Mili did not get a call from Kush. She tried frantically reaching him, but no one responded. She called her family, but no one knew where he was. She called his family, and they told her the same thing. She checked with everyone, but Kush was nowhere to be found. Mili started to panic. She told her parents that she is coming home.
That night, she finally got a call from Kush. There was a moment of silence, and Mili knew that something was wrong. Before she could speak, Kush spoke, “Sorry, I have to tell you something.”
Mili’s heart already sank at these words. “Actually, I had an accident yesterday and I fell from the bike, so I was at the hospital, so I could not call you. No one knew so they also could not tell you.”
Mili sat on the bed with a thud. She wanted to ask so much, but her voice choked. Tears rolled down.
Kush could sense her helplessness, and said, “Don’t cry. I am fine now. It is just a minor fracture. I will send you a pic.” And he pretended to fake a laugh, but failed miserably.
Mili spoke up, “Don’t you dare to something like this ever again. I will kill you if I have to.”
She disconnected the call. Kush knew that she was angry, but she was also waiting for the picture. Kush messaged her with a smiley. She sent a smiley back. He knew that things are fine now, and that Milli will be fine the next day.
He also messaged about the guy, who took him to the hospital in time, and how he was suffering from a life threatening condition himself. Mili read it all, and kissed his picture and went to sleep.
On the rooftop, Kush looked up and smiled as if to thank God. Then, immediately, broke into tears. He sat on the rooftop the whole night and wept his heart out. He looked up once again, and said, “Why, God, Why?”
When the truth came, both the families were devastated. It was difficult to cope with, and it was more difficult to let Mili know. But, Kush requested everyone not to tell her till the time was right.
After the accident, Kush was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, and barely had a few more months to live. Soon he had to be admitted to the hospital for therapy, and he was finding it difficult to hide the truth from Mili.
But, still he tried his best to call and video chat every day. He took all the things from their den to the hospital to create a make-believe ambience of the rooftop, so that Mili does not suspect. When his condition worsened, he lied that he is going to a remote place for a couple of days where he cannot do video chat. Everybody helped him keep the secret, but their pain and trauma was immense.
Soon, it was time- both for Mili’s exam, and for Kush to leave, forever. Things worsened a lot one night, and that is when Kush decided to tell Mili after her final day exam. She still had two months to come back due to her practical project, but Kush hardly had time on his hands. It was time to bid the final goodbye.
Kush requested his parents to take him to the rooftop for the last time. He took all the things back and decorated the den just like it used to be. He kept a small gift for Mili. Now, it was time for their usual chat. Today, his hands are trembling, and he was scared to call. He was also not wearing the wig and makeup, which he had been wearing for so long. Someimes, Mili used to ask him about looking pale and tired but he always used to divert the topic.
As Mili came on screen, she got a shock looking at Kush, but jokingly said, “Why do you look like a ghost? Halloween is still far away.” She was all excited to tell Kush about her last exam.
But, Kush could barely smile this time, and over the next few minutes, two people at two extreme corners of the world became numb and paralyzed. Mili just kept listening and could not speak. Gradually, Kush’s voice faded away as the phone kept slipping from her ears. And, after some time, there was silence. Mili had no idea for how long she kept sitting on the bed with tears rolling down her eyes.
She came back to her senses, when her roommate came and found her like that. She jolted her, and Mili broke down like a thunderstorm followed by painful showers. They kept asking her, but she was blank.
After some time, she frantically kept looking for her phone to speak to Kush. She found it with a message flashing, ‘Goodbye, my love. I am leaving something for you, but promise me you will fulfill my dream.’
Mili dialed his number, which kept ringing. She tried again. After several attempts, someone picked up the phone.
And, all she could hear was sobbing and howling sounds from the other side. She knew. She knew that he was no more. She disconnected the call. She kept reading his last message again and again.
It took days and weeks for her to recover. She almost spoke to no one, not even her parents. She was on a mission, a mission to fulfill Kush’s last wish. She had to make him proud. She completed her project, and soon it was time to fly back.
Mili did not inform her family when she was coming back. One day, she just took the flight and landed in India. She took a cab, and reached her apartment. She kept the bags in front of her door, but did not ring the bell. She started scaling the stairs to the rooftop. On the way, she met their old security guard. Their eyes met, and somehow he knew her pain. He took out the terrace keys his pocket and handed them over to Mili because he knew where she was headed. He has seen them grow up in front of his eyes.
Mili went straight to the rooftop and to their den. OMG, it still looks the same as she had left it. She was fighting hard to hold back her tears. Suddenly, she noticed a small gift on one corner. She remembered Kush’s words. Her fingers trembled while opening it. Inside the wrap, there was a small glass box with a smiling heart-shaped toy inside it. As she opened the box, a voice said, “I love you and I will always be there. Be happy and Stay Safe.” It was Kush; he always used to say the last line. Mili was startled, and she looked around. But, no one was there. She opened the box once again, and the smiling heart inside spoke once again. It was his recorded voice, and every time she opened the lid, Kush spoke. She hugged it and sat down with tears in her eyes. She cried like a baby.
Suddenly, she felt someone’s hand on her shoulder. It was her mom. She hugged her and her dad and cried all the more. The rooftop felt different today without Kush – empty and barren. That evening, Mili went to the rooftop at the usual time and stood by the rail, remembering her moments with Kush.
Suddenly, she heard Kavitha’s voice, “I want you to meet someone.” Mili turned around and was surprised to see everyone there – her parents, Kush’s parents, and the old security guard. Next to him, there was a young lad in his teens. He came forward, and took her hand. She felt a bit weird with some unknown guy touching her in front of everyone. He took her hand, and kept it on his chest.
She felt his heartbeat, when he said, “Didi, Kush bhaiya zinda hai (Kush bhaiya lives on).” Mili could not believe what she heard. Kush’s beating heart left so similar, so close and so real. He had done an organ transplant for the security guard’s youngest son, Bholu, who had saved his life in the accident and was suffering from a hole in his heart.
The doctors had done all the tests to ensure that his cancer will not affect Bholu, rather he will get a new life altogether. They blood group and other parameters matched, and Kush couldn’t have been happier. As promised, he left his heart behind.
At that moment, everybody on the rooftop had tears in their eyes – tears of happiness and pain. And, the Mother Nature cried too. The rains started, and the rooftop witnessed the celebration of Life once again, in a new way.
- Debolina Coomar