She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse!
It was after one such summer weekend that Laxmi Rao and her future better half Raghu Pillai had met for the first time decades ago…
It was the very first day of school after a two month long summer vacation and right on the first day, Laxmi had been punished by Mrs. Thompson for not completing her vacation homework and instructed to leave the class. Nothing could have been more embarrassing and disgusting to be punished right on the first day of school.
Minutes later she was joined by Raghu, the haughty little snob who had joined her class just days before the summer vacations where due to start. His father had to take an urgent transfer to the city and thus, with some persuasion and top level connections, Raghu Pillai had been granted admission at the weirdest time of the school session.
This was a big enough reason for Raghu to flaunt his pompousness. A skinny, short-heighted boy with the ugliest looking, rectangular earlobes Laxmi had ever seen and oil soaked smelly hair, there was nothing praise-worthy about him.
Laxmi had hated Raghu right from his first day at school. Not just because of his pompous and haughty nature, but because of the typical smell of coconut oil enveloping his skinny body that would leave Laxmi sneezing for hours.
Being a short-heighted girl, Laxmi had always been a front bencher. Incidentally, Mrs. Thompson their plump faced, bulky German teacher, seemed to have something against the skinny people so she wanted Raghu to be seated right in front of her prowling eyes.
The pungent smell of coconut oil was a constant irritation for Laxmi’s sensitive nostril hair right from day one and for once she loathed her short height.
Raghu on the other hand would not spare a single moment to flaunt about his dad’s connections and his skinny body, as he conveniently munched on all kinds of fatty foods during lunch. While most girls in the class found Raghu to be really cool and funny, Laxmi could hardly bare even the sight of him.
That day’s punishment seemed to have worsened, with Raghu leaving the class to join Laxmi and few others. For once, Laxmi was feeling relieved for the fact that it was her last few days at the school since, her family would be shifting to a new city soon and she would no more have to share a seat with Raghu.
Though she had tried her best to persuade her father on extending her summer holidays, as they would as it is be shifting to a new city, Laxmi’s father wanted her to continue with the school until he received a final farewell from his office.
Raghu attempted to strike a conversation with Laxmi many times but every time she would twitch her nose to convey that she wasn’t interested. After much persuasion, she started responding but still in monologues. Fortunately the class didn’t last for long and Laxmi was spared from the torturous smell of coconut oil.
Years later, Laxmi was waiting at the platform for Puducherry Express to roll in. It was extremely crowded and suddenly a man pushed by, rocking her completely off her feet. Annoyed and angry, she was about to swear out to the man who had pushed her when a familiar strong smell hit her nostril and she let out an instant sneeze. The process continued for the next five minutes with Laxmi swearing under her breath after every sneeze. It was only when the sneezing finally stopped that she remembered the smell… it was the same year-old typical smell of coconut oil that she had hated so much. She instantly turned to look at the man who had joined the line of passengers trying to board the train.
It was Raghu Pillai! The skinny pompous boy from her good old school days. Though his face hadn’t changed a bit with just the addition of a French beard, Laxmi couldn’t help gawking at his completely transformed, well-toned physique clearly visible under his skin-fit t-shirt.
It was Raghu’s turn to stare back at Laxmi, who immediately climbed up the stairs to board the train. However, before she could realize it, Raghu had made his way through the crowd of boarding passengers to take his place just behind Laxmi.
As the strong smell of coconut oil once again tickled Laxmi’s nostrils, she turned back to look straight into Raghu’s eyes, who had an ear-to-ear smile on his face. His eyes sparkling with genuine pleasure on seeing Laxmi. He had recognized her the moment he saw her.
Sharing a train journey with the boy she hated most that too after so many years, was something Laxmi had never dreamt off even in her wildest dreams. This was definitely not what she had wanted her dream journey to Puducherry to be, but then she didn’t have a choice.
Having met and recognized each other after so many years, it was obvious for the two to exchange some formal I-remember-you conversation. But neither of them realized when the casual conversation started getting personal and it was Raghu’s confession that finally cut them out.
For Raghu, the short heighted girl sitting next to him in school, hating him from the bottom of her heart, had been the first and last crush of his life. He had fallen in love with those big black eyes and long curly hair the moment he had seen her on the first day of school. But the fact that she hated him, had stopped Raghu from ever confessing his love for Laxmi. In fact, he had decided to let her know of his feelings on her last day of school but he could never muster the courage to do so.
Though, a decade had passed since they last met each other, Raghu had preserved the memory of his first love safely in his heart and today, when he saw her on the platform standing so close to him, he couldn’t believe his eyes and luck.
Laxmi who sat dumbstruck at this surprising revelation, could still not believe her ears. How could the boy she hated with all her heart, be in love with her. For once, she felt guilty at her perception of Raghu all these years. The haughty and pompous boy whom her other friends had always admired, was all along in love with her and had kept his feelings burning till date. No one had ever made her feel so special and wanted before.
With the confession made and Laxmi realizing her mistake, it was time for the final showdown!! As soon as the train stopped at the next station and most of the co-passengers had disembarked, Raghu got down on his knees and held out his palm; proposing his long treasured love for Laxmi!
Tears of happiness and surprise rolled down Laxmi’s eyes when she saw the sparkling gold ladies ring on Raghu’s palm.
Seeing the look of surprise in Laxmi’s eyes, Raghu informed her that he had bought the ring from his first salary in the hope that someday he would meet her and present it to her. Ever since, he had carried the ring in his wallet so that he wouldn’t miss the chance, if at all the universe favored him some day and he accidentally came across Laxmi.
That day had finally arrived and there was no way he could have afforded to miss it!
Laxmi immediately pulled Raghu in a tight hug with streams of tears rolling down her cheeks. There couldn’t have been a happier moment in her life. Most importantly, she had never imagined that of all the people in this world, it would be Raghu to bring this special moment in her life.
Though, over the years, many things changed between Laxmi and Raghu, one thing that surprisingly remained constant was coconut oil. With time, Laxmi had become tolerant to the smell of coconut oil to the level that at times, she would even use it to cook some of Raghu’s favorite foods. LOL!
Life moved on smoothly as days turned into months, months into years and years into decades. The love between Laxmi and Raghu grew stronger but their frail bodies started becoming weaker.
Being a childless couple, the two had started spending their post-retirement life raising stray dogs and cats. Every alternate day Raghu would bring home his new finding from the street and together they would take care of them.
One summer weekend, when Laxmi was sitting on the stone steps of their backyard garden busy massaging her now grey and thinning hair with coconut oil, she heard Raghu call out to her from a distance. Seconds later, he rushed into the garden holding the cat he had rescued a couple of months back. He had found the cat in a very grave condition and after months of caregiving, the cat had finally restored some healthy pounds of squirming flesh.
Laxmi turned to look at what Raghu had to show her, but before she could see it, Raghu’s right leg fell on the drops of coconut oil that had accidentally spilled on the stone floor. Before any of them could realize it, Raghu’s frail leg skidded and he fell face down, hitting his head hard on the stone steps, with blood oozing out of his injury. The cat purred and jumped out of his hands from the shock of the incident. Raghu had tried to reach out to Laxmi for support, but his efforts had gone in vain.
Sensing the urgency, Laxmi had also tried to reach out for Raghu’s hand but missed it completely because of her oiled hands and instead she went toppling down the steps head over heal, because of her bulky aging body. A shining white tooth escaped her fake denture as she hit the floor of the garden.
Suddenly, everything became calm and quite.