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By Gargi Saxena

It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever. For a moment she dwelled on the time they had spent together, it brought tears to her eyes. And with it, a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach. The room spun around her as she scrambled out of bed hoping to make it to the bathroom in time. The next second, she threw up in the basin, her face was clammy.

If one looked at Ketu’s room it looked like an average Indian teenager’s simple abode. The bed was on the far side of the room, it obstructed the cupboard some – but Ketu liked to wake up and look out the window. At night, Ketu spent a long time curled up on the cushioned window sill with a book or listening to music or just gazing into the darkness. And when she dozed off like that it was easy for Omkar to lift her in his arms and put her to bed without waking her up. The room was always littered, her books, his clothes, headphones and other junk was strewn all over. 

He stretched her lithe body as the cold shower washed over her. “Mother is right.” she thought, “I must get back to college till they decide on something.” As Ketu finished her shower and walked out of the bathroom her eyes fell on a t-shirt on the floor. It was Omkar’s. She held it close, smelling him in the fabric. “Ketu!” called a motherly voice. “Come for breakfast, you’ll be late.” she said. It was her grandmother, better known as Dadi around the house. She was Ketu’s second favorite person, after Omkar or Omi. Dadi was bound to throw the t-shirt away when she began packing. Tucking the t-shirt into a pile of her night things in the cupboard, Ketu pulled on a dress, packed her bag in a flurry and rushed out.

“Good Morning.” she mumbled as she plonked herself into a chair at the dining table. “You’re alright?” asked Dadi. The old woman ambled over and served some upma onto Ketu’s plate. Trying not to look at Dadi, Ketu stuffed her mouth with a toast trying to gulp the tears away with it. Dadi made a feeble attempt to cheer her up. But Ketu kept munching without a word for several minutes and when Dadi busied herself with the milkman – Ketu quietly slinked away.

Reaching the bus stop just in time, Ketu ran to board the 500C, her usual ride to Bannerghatta Road. She ached at the thought that he had stood beside her in this very bus last week. The thought of the bus ride last week, suddenly filled her with dread. She glanced over her shoulder, they had passed the Udupi garden bus stop five minutes ago. There was no sign of anything fishy. Nor any familiar face. She calmed herself, momentarily relieved. 

The morning was packed with lectures. But half way into the day, Ketu was frustrated with her friends. There was no reason to treat her like she was incapable of going about her life. Himani and Anjana even insisted on taking notes for her in Applied Physics. Irritated with them, Ketu left the lecture hall in a huff. It was lunch time but she wasn’t hungry. The break was till four. Finding a quiet table in a corner of the sprawling library Ketu sat down and tried to calm herself. Sighing, she opened her books and decided to spend an hour or two focusing on Basic Electrical Concepts. Ketu loved to immerse herself in her books. 

After about an hour and a half, Ketu closed her books unable to focus. She went to the cafeteria and met her friends again. Thankfully, they did not stop talking when she arrived – it felt more normal. Adit was sketching a caricature of Professor Das on a wall while Sree kept an eye out for teachers. Anjana was buying tea for everyone, Ketu walked to the counter to help her carry the hot paper cups and hand them around. Just then, the group went silent as someone walked into the café. 

Tall and lanky just like his brother, Shiv walked in brushing the rain off his shirt. Omkar’s elder brother and best friend, Shiv looked painfully similar to Omi. Ketu stood up, unsure what to do. Shiv had never even spoken to her before – and yet here he was. “I was… wondering if, I could have a word?” said Shiv.

Ketu nodded and quickly picking up her things, let herself be led out of the café by Shiv. It had stopped drizzling now. As they walked Ketu noticed how grown up and clean he looked. Omi was only nineteen while Shiv had already turned twenty six last February. Dressed formally in shirt and trousers, Shiv looked every bit as mature as Omi would look childlike. The eldest son, Shiv had been the head of the family since he was seventeen when their father passed away. There was something undeniably boyish about him and yet, he was the only father figure Omi had known. 

“I know, Ketu.” he said, looking straight ahead as they walked. She turned to look at his face, stunned. “I’ve always known everything about Omi and you.” He continued. Tears stung her eyes, she tried to blink them away. He put a hesitating hand on her shoulder. “There is nothing wrong about it. That’s not what I’m here to say.” He paused, uncertain.

“I’ve spoken to a lawyer. He says that it’s not a case if you don’t give a statement.” He said. Ketu was sobbing by now. They sat down, he waited for her to calm down.

“Ketu, I know this is hard for you. But I need to know… you’ve not spoken to anyone since that day.” he said, his voice tore at Ketu’s heart. For some time he fiddled with his specs, when Ketu said nothing, he got up to go. “Your parents are insisting on sending you away for some reason I don’t understand. But my old mother needs a closure. She needs to know what went so horribly wrong.” 

The story continued here.......