That Stupid Smile

10, 9, 8, 7, 6… The river of time seemed to have shrunk its customary speed today, giving way for agonizing hours of pure boredom. Diya, her pretty black hair crusted with grime and sweat, and her smooth, shiny braid coming undone in sticky curls, gazed at the dial of her little pink watch in impatience. The needle seemed to be travelling tortuously slowly. She bit her lip, sighing.

“Diya Mehta!” came a loud hiss, and she jerked up in response. She’d have known that sound in a sea of voices. It was him.

Her limbs seemed to be paralysed, her heart pounding in her chest. “Diya?” the voice enquired. A tall, wiry boy with messy black hair was sauntering to her, irritation staring at her fiercely through his hazy exterior. “Are you deaf?”

She straightened up, brushing the hair from her eyes. “Uh, no, Rahul, I’m coming. Give me a sec.” She jerked out of her chair, watching it twirl a little to the left, the dark dent where she’d been sitting springing back into place.

He frowned at her. “Come ON!”

“Yeah.” Her breathing was heavy, her throat dry. This should’ve been the night of her life. She, Diya, was participating in the MUN, something she only could’ve dreamt of before. Her parents had sniffed in disdain. Social night? Boys coming? Ah, no dear, NO! She’d tried reasoning. It was an educational experience! It was- was a place to develop her speaking skills! But they’d always stood firm.

Until today. Her heart was dancing in her chest. She was going, finally going… with him.

He seized her hand and dragged her along. Diya thought she would faint. Rahul, the boy she’d had a crush on her entire life, was holding her hand! She was breathing heavily again. “Rahul…” she whispered to herself dreamily. She could see it in her head. Rahul kissing her, their marriage, the cute kids they’d have-

“Something wrong?” queried Rahul sharply, halting.

“What?” Diya feigned ignorance.

“You were whispering something.”

Diya was saved from answering by a sharp sound. They lurched back together. “What was that?” Shock was written across his face. “Diya!”

She was still staring at him dreamily. “What?”

“I love you” was what she was fantasizing she’d hear. What she really did, however, was a fierce shout “WE’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!”

She was jolted back to reality. The door had crashed shut, darkness falling over them. They were struggling to breathe, pushed together in a rough heap. “Rahul!” she managed, resisting the urge to clutch his shirt and sink into it forever, caressing his messy hair. “The door-” he thrust it open with his leg, sitting up jerkily. Light spilled over the room, making them squint. Diya tried to sit up, but she crashed on top of him instead. He tilted his chin up to gaze at her.

“Diya?” he looked a little distracted. “I-I think we should go…”

For once, he seemed to be a loss of words. Diya was faring no better. Staring into his brown eyes was doing crazy things to her mind.

“What are you idiots doing here?” A stern admonition sounded from the hallway. Diya pulled herself together, peeking through the door. A short girl in a bright pink, sparkly frock, enveloped by a dark grey coat, was glaring angrily at them. Her silver badge read ‘coordinator’.

Diya stood up, embarrassed, dusting her clothes. “You are late.” The girl pursed her lips. “You’ve missed nearly half the MUN!”

“Nobody called us.” protested Rahul, his tone cool. “But anyway, who cares. Come on, Diya.” He strolled out, his hands in his pockets, beckoning for her to come join him.

“As a result, you will not be eligible for any prizes.” The girl smirked. “You care now, don’t you?”

“Whatevs. Diya?” he called again, his eyes searching for her.

“Coming.” she muttered.

She should’ve been grieving, but for the rest of the MUN, she couldn’t wipe that stupid smile off her face.

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