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It wasn’t just the beer. There were five people in the living room, and they had a lot to do with the headiness. Aryan lit another cigarette and yawned. It was way past three in the night. He looked around the room, and suppressed an insane urge to laugh.

He had been stuck in a particularly irritating presentation on Best Practices that Wednesday afternoon when he got Sameer’s sms. It simply said-“ Saturday. Beer. Hav surprise. Cal Ishita 2.” The tie-wearing jerk at the podium was continuing to blabber some crap that Aryan couldn’t care about, and the message came as a rather welcome break. Aryan couldn’t wait to get out of the conference room, and when they did break for tea, he sneaked out and made a quick call to Bangalore. At least that’s where he thought Sameer was. He didn’t get much out of the fathead, except, “I am flying down Friday morning. Have news that will blow your brains apart. Just call Ish and tell her she has to come, even if it means leaving her lover boy alone one evening. Tell her she will want to kiss my feet!! Ok-my secretary is waving some awful-looking documents at me. Will hang up. Can’t wait to see you, dude!!”

Ishita was more easily convinced than Aryan had imagined. She just laughed and said, “Gawd! It has been years since I saw you and Sameer in the same room. Cant wait to see you guys going mad together. I’m off beer; it’s making me fat. I’ll bring some Bacardi.”
He had also sweet-talked her into getting her famous Walnut Brownies too, as a special favor. She had agreed, on the condition that he swore to shave for once. That wasn’t too tough, he decided. Anything for those great bits of heaven she used to make way back in school.

Sameer continued to be mysterious all through Friday. He called on Saturday morning to check the address and said he would be on time, as usual. Aryan did stocktaking in the refrigerator and drove out to get more beer. The last time he and Sameer had gotten drunk together seemed eons ago. Seven years, the evening before he had left for IIT Madras and Sameer had moved to BITS. They hadn’t met since then, except once when they both happened to be in Delhi but had had no time for booze. They had stayed in touch like brothers, exchanging mails, chatting as often as they could manage, and lately-smsing like crazy.

Ishita came earlier, to help with the food, she said. Aryan pulled her hair and gave her a huge hug as always. She clicked her tongue and pouted. “You wont ever change, will you? God knows why you have this problem with my hair.” Then she smiled and added, “You look better without that awful beard you were growing. Glad you shaved. How is Aditi?” She winked and walked into the kitchen.

They had just finished arguing on whether they should make sandwiches or order Chinese when the bell rang. Aryan raced to the door and flung it open. He found three people at the doorstep instead of one. Sameer hadn’t changed at all. Still lean and bony-cheeked, curly hair that looked like they hadn’t been combed for centuries and the wicked grin. “Man!! So this was your surprise!! Mansha-you look, mind-blowing!! And – Mihir dude, gimme a five!!”

It was like they were back in school together. Except that Mansha had lost weight and looked half her size, and he couldn’t crack jokes about her braces and fat legs anymore!! For those few hours, they just forgot their humdrum corporate lives and took a U-turn into time. In school, they were a ‘gang’ in their own right. Sameer had been the marks-magnet, but Mihir was the teachers’ pet, with his shy smile and fetching dimples. Ishita had been the Mommy of the group-always the sane one, the mediator, the chocolate-carrying messiah from heaven who had answers to all problems. Mansha and Mihir were famous for their spectacular arguments on Nuclear Physics, the canteen food, F1 races and goodness knows what else. They were the best of friends that snarled and clawed and laughed together on every possible topic under the sun.

Ishita was asking them whether they still hollered at each other when Sameer interrupted her with a sly smile. “People, please sit up and listen, coz I have NEWS! Now, Mihir, don’t even try offering me an explanation. You gotta here this, Ish. And you may wanna kill Mansha in a while. So that knife will come handy!! I had gone one evening to this jazzy little bar in Bangalore with some of my office guys when my roaming eyes happened to fall on a particularly cozy sight. There was this couple on the dance floor; rather lost in each other I would say. The guy looked familiar so I took a closer look. And imagine my complete shock to find its dear old Mihir with a svelte, sans braces Mansha looking absolutely gorgeous!! And …” Mansha didn’t let him continue. She giggled and said, “Mihir was so high that night, he didn’t even realize it was Sameer for ten minutes!! He kept looking at me suspiciously, wondering why I was hugging this other man and jabbering with him. Sameer came and slapped Mihir on the back and yelled so loudly that half the pub turned to stare at us!!”

It all came tumbling out- the details of how two best friends fell in love and were getting married within the next one year. Ishita couldn’t stop beaming; the news seemed to please her the most. “I just knew it would happen!! Remember how I used to tell you that, Mansha. That Mihir has a crush on you, or will eventually have a crush on you. Don’t you remember how pissed he had been when he heard you had sneaked into the girls loo on Annual Day with that asshole Abhinav!” Mansha blushed a bright pink and retorted, “Yeah, yeah- now don’t get me started. Who ended up kissing Ameya the same evening behind the stage and turned beetroot red when I walked in, quite by chance!!”

Seven hours of being back in school again, reliving moments that made their friendship so special. Five people lost in a world that had an innocent charm of its own, they sang their favorite songs, mimicked teachers, recalled fights and realized that time might have changed the lives they led now, but it certainly couldn’t change the bonds they formed in those precious years.

Aryan watched Sameer, very high and happy in life, listening to Pink Floyd in one corner, with Ishita sitting next to him, trying to understand why his hair was still so hopelessly unruly. He soaked in the picture of Mansha and Mihir sitting on the staircase with arms around each other and looking blissfully in love. Life couldn’t get better, he decided. He finished the cigarette and helped himself to a Walnut Brownie.


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The following comments are for "The U-Turn"
by sakshi

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