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Half Girlfriend(2)
Chetan Bhagat

‘Are you okay? Please eat.’

He nodded, His eyes still on the pages of the journal. I decided to eat, since my imposed guest didn’t seem to care for my hospitality.

‘These journals obviously mean a lot to you. But why have you brought them here?’

‘For you to read. Maybe they will be useful to you.’

‘How will they be useful to me?’ I said, my voice firmer with the food inside me. A part of me wanted him out of my room as soon as possible.

‘She used to like your books. We used to read them together,’ he said in a soft voice.‘For me to learn English.’

‘Madhav,’ I said, as calmly as possible, ‘this seems like a sensitive matter. 1 don’t want to get involved. Okay?’

His gaze remained directed at the floor.‘I don’t want the journals either,’ he said after a while.

‘That is for you to decide.'

‘It's too painful for me,’ he said.

'I can imagine.’

He stood up, presumably to leave, He had not touched his sandwich-—-which was okay, because I could eat it after he left, •

‘Thank you for your time. Sorry to have disturbed you.’

‘It’s okay,’ I said.

He scribbled his phone number on a piece of paper and kept it on the table.‘If you are ever in Dumraon and need anything, let me know. It’s unlikely you will ever come, but still...’ He stood up, instantly dwarfing me, and walked to the door. *

‘Madhav,’ I called out after him, ‘you forgot the journals. Please take them with you.’

‘I told you I don’t need them.’

‘So why are you leaving them here?’

‘Because I can’t throw them away. You can.'

Before I could answer, he stepped out, shut the door and left. It took me a few Seconds to realize what had happened.

I picked up the journals and ran out of the room, but the sole working lift had just gone down. I could have taken the stairs and caught him in time but, after a long day, I didn’t have tjie energy to do that.

I came back to my room, irritated by his audacity. Dumping the notebooks and the slip with his phone number in the dustbin, I sat on the bed, a little unsettled,

I can’t let someone I just met get the better of me, I thought, shaking my head. I switched off the lights and lay down. I had to catch an early-morning flight to Mumbai the next day and had a four-hour window of sleep. I couldn’t wait to reach home.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about my encounter with the mysterious Madhav, Who was this guy? The words ‘Dumraon’, ‘Stephen’s’ and ‘Delhi’ floated around in my head. Questions popped up: What the hell is a half-girlfriend? And why do l have a dead girl’s journals in my room?

Eyes wide open, l lay in bed, staring at the little flashing red light from the smoke detector on the ceiling,

The journals bothered me. Sure, they lay in the dustbin. However, something about those torn pages, the dead person and her half-boyfriend, or whoever he was, intrigued me. Don’t go there, I thought, but my mind screamed down its own suggestion: Read just one page.

‘Don’t even think about it,’ I said out loud. But thirty minutes later, I switched on the lights in my room, fished out the journals from the dustbin and opened the first volume. Most pages were too damaged to read. I tried to make sense of what I could.

The first page dated back nine years to 1 November 2002. Riya had written about her fifteenth birthday. One mere page, I kept thinking. I flipped through the pages as I tried to find another readable one. 1 read one more section, and then another. Three hours later, I had read whatever could be read in the entire set.

The room phone rang at 5 a.m., startling me.

‘Your wake-up call, sir,’ the hotel operator said.

‘I am awake, thank you,’ I said, as I’d never slept at all. I called Jet Airways.

‘I’d like to cancel a ticket on the Patna-Mumbai flight this morning.’

Pulling out the slip of paper with Madhav s number from the dustbin, I texted him: We need to talk. Important.

At 6.30 a.m., the tall, lanky man was in my room once more. ‘Make tea for both of us. The kettle is above the minibar.’

He followed my instructions.The early morning sun highlighted his sharp features. He handed me a cup of tea and took a seat diagonally opposite me on the double bed.

‘Should I speak first, or will you?’ I said.

‘About?’

‘Riya.’

He sighed.

‘Do you think you knew her well?’

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