“Do you love me?” he asked.

“What do you think?” she asked in reply.

“A question can’t be an answer to a question.” he said ruefully.

She laughed out loudly. He couldn’t help but smile. After all this was what he liked the most about her, her carefree and infectious laughter.

“Answer me Mana.” he tried to show irritation but his tone failed him miserably. How can she ever irritate him?

“Stop calling me that. I’ve a name that you forget every time.” She tried to show anger.

“I don’t forget but I like to call you this. What’s wrong with it? That’s my love name for you.” he said teasingly.

“I don’t like nick names. I’ve a name that I love and like to be called by it only.” she answered matter-of-factly. He knew that and also knew why exactly she didn’t like nicknames. They had been childhood buddies.

“Fine Miss Mansi M Agnihotri. From now on I’ll call you by your name. Now can you please answer my question?” He was quick to come back. After all it didn’t matter what he called her. What mattered was to know what she felt about him. Of late he had started getting impatient and insecure. They no longer were kids. They both were well-educated, working adults and he knew that soon their parents would start talking about marriage. He needed to know what she thought. He had been in love with her since 1st year of college. Till then he too was unaware of his feelings for her. It was only when she left to pursue her dream to become an architect did he realize how much he missed being with her and over a period of few months it finally dawned upon him that he was madly and deeply and irrevocably in love with Mana. That silly Mana with whom he was constantly fighting.

“Of course I love you Arnab. You’re my chuddy buddy. How can I not love you? I’ve spent more time with you in my 24 years of existence than my family. You know almost all my secrets.” Finally Mansi said. She had that fond look in her eyes. He was her best friend. Even when she was away at the School of Architecture, it was Arnab who was her confidante and support.

“Almost?” Arnab narrowed his eyes. “What have you kept from me?”

“C’mon Arnab. I am a girl and there are certain things I can’t share with you.” she retorted.

“Fine but you know I am not talking about this friendly love.” He was very serious now. He held both her arms lightly and looked straight in to her eyes “Mansi I love you. I want to spend rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

She didn’t react or move. She kept looking in to his honest and deep eyes. Her face revealed nothing of what was going inside her head and heart. He was getting impatient. He had waited for years to say this. He moved his hands away and lowered his eyes. Why was she taking so much time? Would she say no? Does she have someone else in her life? After all she just said she shared ‘almost’ all her secrets. Has she kept this secret from him? Thousands of thoughts crossed his mind and with each passing moment they were becoming more negative.

That is it. He wouldn’t be able to take it any more. He opened his mouth to say something but stopped immediately. As he looked up he saw tears flowing down her cheeks. Mansi was crying. Why? Has he hurt her? Is she in pain? He didn’t intend to hurt her. Did he say something harsh? Was he not gentle? How can he hurt her? He loved her so much. He could feel panic rising inside him. He was feeling so helpless. He didn’t know what to say or do.

He took a step further towards her and tried to touch her face. She moved back. He could see something on her face but couldn’t understand what. Was it anger or hate? He cursed himself. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her to forget everything. He was feelings so miserable. What if he lost their invaluable friendship too? It had taken everything he had to say this to her and the consequences looked devastating.

And suddenly she came closer to him. She slapped him lightly and he heard something he couldn’t believe. “I hate you Arnab. You took the entire life to finally say this. I have been waiting for this forever. You are so stupid. I had started to feel that you’ll never say it and I’ll have to marry someone else. What took you so long?” And she fell in to his arms. Tears started flowing down his cheeks too. He couldn’t understand if they were tears of joy or relief. Finally he had his Mana.