Chapter 2

Sandy got off the stinking bus no. 503 and walked at a brisk pace toward her dilapidated college.

“Why did I have to choose a college this far from home?”

It’s not like it was an IIT or anything. Then again, why would anyone want to lose their souls in that veritable robot factory anyway?

This was always an uneventful walk. In through the side gate. Man, those hinges creak.

There he was. Rudra. Dashing. Intellectual. Tolstoy in hand, under the big Peepul tree that seemed to grow a little thicker, a little taller everyday.

Rudra looked up. Eyes intense through thick black-rimmed Punjab Optical glasses. No Ray-Bans for him, Sandy thought fondly.

She quickened her step. Intense. Mesmerized.

A long kiss, a caress.

“Resurrection, I see?”

“Tolstoy is simply too spiritual sometimes. I like strong writing. You know, like Dostoyevsky. Dark.”

“Yeah, dude. Dark vibes are totally your thing, everyone gets that. We’re late for our algorithms class, come on!”

Her eyes were fond even as the words spilling out seemed more rebuke than affection. Together they walked to class, hand-in-hand.

As they took their seats in class, Sandy looked around at her classmates. The people here knew her as Shayoni. “Sandy” would be a fish out of water here. Shayoni was the one that fit in, ace student, active in co-curriculars, prompt to respond in class, aggressively competitive and bull-doggish in her attempt to leave everyone behind. Sandy was the dreamer. The idealist.

Rudra always watched Sandy fight like a queen bee with some amusement. Almost as if mortal desires were too nominal for him. He didn’t jump in and fight her fights. He didn’t seem to fight any fights at all.

Except that one time.

Lunch on the college grounds were always fun. Especially if it was a sunny February day when the sun would peek out from within the fog and Delhi would brighten up almost instantly. As if the city never had a dark underbelly.

Saarika had been sitting smack in the center of the circle, relaying her wonderful experience into the world of Ayn Rand. Then, Oh! for capitalism. I mean, everyone needs to pull their weight. I mean, why should we pay taxes to feed the poor?

Shayoni had found herself transforming into Sandy, spiraling out of control. The worms were wriggling in her head. That always made her angry. Stories were floating in  her head. Voices.

“You should never waste food, my dear!”

“But Baba, why?”

“Millions don’t have food on this planet. I remember growing up watching my mother sacrifice what little food she had for me. I was the son. I had to eat.”

The worms had taken over all of it.

Rage was taking over Sandy’s mind.

Rudra had stepped in. Curt. Short. People who had been born to privilege would never understand the proletariat. Bougies were not worth the effort.

A tug on the hand. Sandy had walked away with Rudra that day. She had welcomed his embrace. She had reveled in his support. She had drawn strength from shared anger.

Sandy had picked out Rudra that day.

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