1995. Winter drawing to a close.

“Chal jaldi! We’ll miss the train,”.

Palka looked back at the station. A hundred different faces, except the one she hoped to see. 

“Palka, yaar! The train is moving. Chalo bhi!” 

A few more people climbing down the stairs. She spotted a pair of jean-clad legs. Her heart beat faster. 

“Ok, I’m leaving! I don’t want to miss the exam. Tum baithe raho Romeo ke liye,”. 

Not him. Dammit. Dammit.

Palka didn’t notice her friend walk away in a huff. She paid no heed to the Juice Stall man eying her butt with open interest. She didn’t even see the vegetable vendors giving her curious looks as they settled down their laden baskets, hoping the next train would be empty. No, 16-year-old Palka stood half turned, in the middle of the crowd, focused on the broken steps of the busy station. Where could he be? 

The Juice Stall man whistled a catchy tune, breaking her out of a reverie. Glaring at him, she fidgeted with the edge of her dupatta. Two girls nearby were discussing the latest Yash Raj film. Palka rolled her eyes, oblivious that she herself was in the middle of a little love story. (He’s just a friend. Nothing more). And today, she needed to see him.

A long, mournful whistle announced the next train arriving. Around her, the crowd moved, ready to take on another day of soul crushing work. The juice stall man wiped down his counter, swatting away at the lazy morning flies. The vegetable vendors adjusted the little cushions on their heads before donning their baskets of colorful greens. And Palka waited in vain. 

A gusty wind blew across the station as the train slowed to a stop. A little fight broke out in the ladies compartment, as women going in different directions, jostled about madly. Two young men from the adjacent carriage catcalled before catching the eye of the stern female constable on the platform. Palka felt herself getting pushed into the compartment. Dejected and weary, she was almost inside the train, when someone tapped furiously on her shoulder. 

The train screeched its way along the platform as the last stragglers got on board. Then silence for a while before the other side of the platform came to life. 1995. Bigger companies and newer jobs were coming up. Everyone had somewhere to be.

Even the slender girl who stood there, smiling shyly at the tall young man next to her. He apologized for his tardiness. Mentioned something about a devious alarm clock and a broken water heater. But Palka heard none of that. All she wanted to do was stroke his lush, (slightly) long hair and stare into those green eyes. But she didn’t. He was only a friend. 

“Don’t you have an exam today?”

“Yes, in 30 minutes”, she answered dreamily. 

“Oh, you’ll be so late! You’ll miss the start!”

But Palka didn’t worry. Something told her, she would not only get to the exam on time but also ace it. Like she always did. Just as she knew she would one day marry this boy and live the rest of her life with him. The enormity of her emotions caught her by surprise. She wanted to blurt out her heart, shake him as if to say, “Don’t you see how madly I love you? Don’t you see?” 

But she said no such thing. Because it was 1995. And because for now, he was only a friend. A lifelong rule abider, Palka wasn’t yet ready to break the mold. And besides, there was something rather exciting about working up to the moment. 

“Mohit, listen…”.

He looked up, as the late morning sun bounced off her dark hair, before settling into her twinkling eyes. For a second, he felt breathless, as if something large and wonderful was blooming inside. Then he blinked and flew back to the dusty old station with its funny smells and grimy walls. 

“Hey Mohit, I know I’m late. Do you think..?”

That tingling in his heart again. What was going on? Just another day with a childhood buddy. What had changed?

“Yes, Palka?”, he said trying hard to conceal the tremor in his voice.

“Do you think, we have time? For a glass of juice?”

Mohit laughed. The smells and sounds of the station faded as he put his arm around her shoulder and walked to the juice stall.  Not yet, a voice spoke inside him. Soon, but not yet. She was just a friend. Unbeknownst to himself, he hummed a love song from the newest Yash Raj movie. Palka looked up, her heart beating rapidly. Then she ever so slightly leaned into him and grinned a secret smile.

The Summer of 1995. What a time to be in love.

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