Raj was engrossed in his work. He had set to complete his physics assignment before the sun falls down. He had been procrastinating over this for long now, and it finally hit him hard a day before submission. He really didn’t care what his roommates were doing. He just didn’t want to lose this newly found conscience which seemed to have a rather fleeting influence. He was about to finish his first sum when his cell phone rang.
‘Yo! Dude what’s up?’
‘Good man! Why you called up so late?’
‘We out on a stroll man, you wanna pitch in?’
(He took his time. He weighed every option. He knew what could be the only reason his friends had called him up at this hour. He didn’t want to join in. No wait! He did. He didn’t want to be one of those who were left behind for keep-guard and safety purposes. He knew this was his only chance, only chance to feel what it’s like to hang around with them. He wanted to make a statement in his yearbook, anything which didn’t include studying and bicycling. He had made enough small talk and was about to talk when …)
‘Yo man! We are outta here in on 7. Met us at Orems.’
He had a little brainstorming of his own going on in his mind.
(It ain’t bad if it’s once. Nobody is gonna tag me. I am more than free to go. Dad is out for the day and mom is busy shopping. Ummmmmmmmm…….)
He keeps the pen aside his book, changes into a faded blue cargo pants, checks himself out in the mirror, goes back in the room, uses a face wash, carries the home keys and off he goes.
He walks the left side of the aisle with his head bent a little low than usual. There is an impending realization which keeps him on edge. Something gnaws inside of him. He walks at an uncharacteristic pace, turning, not looking back once, avoiding to look up.
He takes a left from the Orem’s corner and enters the shack which leads to a narrow set of stairs underground. The pungent odour of Gin and Vodka with the tobacco smoke made him feel a little queasy. A pair was busy making out on the sofa. So he jogged in and called his friend again.
‘Where the fuck are you guys?’
‘Walk towards the rear of the room, you’ll find us’
He hurried his steps and found himself in a neon lit room where you could paint white clouds.
Amish called him from behind-
‘Hey man, in here’
He couldn’t see the face and started walking in the direction of the voice. Something caught his hand and he jumped in surprise.
‘Relax man, it’s me, Akhilesh.’
Hookah wasn’t something Raj was familiar with. So he was awed at the setup around which his friends had encircled. He sat with Rajesh and decided to observe them. All of them seemed pretty much itself except the way they were talking. They were talking about everything 19 year olds after getting a little high could talk about. It was just that their countenance was so detached from their body language that one of them had stretched his legs over another’s head and he didn’t say a thing.
‘Yo Raj, You want a drag?’
‘Na man, I am good, by the way, what’s up with priya?’
She was the only girl in the group of 7 people and she looked knocked out. She was lying full stretched on the sofa with a pillow under her head. The first image that came to Raj’s mind wasn’t pleasant. Then….
‘She decided to sleep. She didn’t want to join in.’
Raj felt a sigh of relief when he heard that and then smiled abashedly over his own thought.
He went home. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t try it at all. He was not feeling ashamed.
Rather he revelled at his effort of not indulging into a practice which ‘forces’ people to pretend. Pretend only to sacrifice your true self. It’s nothing but a long process of losing yourself.
‘A coloured glass pot with the ancient-Egypt-genie-belly-look with an incredibly large penis, thin as a stick with a funnelled tip, and people sucking smoke instead of you-know-what.’
That’s what he wrote up in his diary the first time he entered a hookah bar.
And thence, he never did enter one.