What a relief it was to be finally back home on a hot summer day. Rina was pleased to have the cool sensation of getting into an air-conditioned house from the furnace that was outside. It was a Friday evening and she had the entire weekend to look forward to now. But more importantly, she was excited about the party that she was hosting that night. A few of her college friends were in town and it was a kind of get together for all of them. It would be great, meeting your friends after 4 long years. How nice it would be to behave like college kids again!
"I am glad you are back. It was getting lonely here." said Rohan from the kitchen.
"Yes, I am back little brother. But we have less time. We need to prepare fast for tonight's party."
"You have to prepare, don't include me."
"Why do you have to behave like an asshole every time Rohan? Try and enjoy yourself for a change. It would be fun, I guarantee you. You will like these people. Even our cousin Atul is coming. And weren't you just saying that you were feeling lonely?"
"You know I don't like meeting people. Why do you always try to force me to? You have a good time with your friends, I will try to enjoy myself in my room." Rohan went into his room and locked the door.
How she wished she could get him out of his shell. Ever since their parents had died in that terrible car crash, Rohan had withdrawn completely from the world. Rina was in her final year of college and the trauma had taken its toll on both of them. She took up a job and along with it the responsibility of caring for her younger brother who would not talk much since. However much she tried, she could not get him to talk about what he was going through. She was suggested to try psychiatric help, but Rohan refused violently and she decided it was best to try herself. With his constantly changing moods, their extended family also kept their distance from them. Even though Rina was protective of her brother and would not abandon him at any cost, she also yearned for a social life outside of the house. She would not date fearing how that would affect Rohan's condition. That was one of the reasons she had organized the party, the other being trying to get Rohan to socialize a bit. The latter part would not be so easy, she realized now.
Everybody came home by 8 pm. Atul had called to inform Rina that he would be a bit late since he was stuck in a traffic jam. Clinton, Samir, Prerna and Tanvi arrived together loaded with booze and snacks and it looked all set to be a great night.
"You have no idea how good it feels to see all of you after so long. Man, we have a lot to catch up on." Rina said, welcoming them into her modest home.
"Anything for some drinks and free food, Rina. Smell's good and my appetite is even better." said Clinton.
"Still the same forever hungry man, eh Clint? Haven't grown up yet?" asked Prerna.
"Why change perfection?" Clinton replied with that mischievous smile.
"Yeah right. An engineering graduate who is now singing full time in city clubs. How perfect is that?" Samir asked.
"At least it is more perfect than doing MBA after engineering and then sitting in a bank counting money."
"Guys, if you are done with your bickering, our host is also present here." Tanvi turned to Rina. "How have you been girl?"
"Not too bad actually. The new job is keeping me a bit busy these days, but things are way better now."
"I remember how bad it was after the accident." Prerna held Rina's hand. "You have come a long way, and you did it all on your own. How about we drink to that now, eh?"
The bottles were popped open and everybody relaxed on the couch and chairs with their glasses.
"Is it just us or are we expecting more people too?" asked Samir.
"Well, its us, and my cousin Atul who stays a few kilometers away. He would be a bit late since he is stuck in a jam. The city traffic is too horrible."
"Remember the time when we were caught riding triple on Prerna's scooty? How innocent we had acted with the cops and got away with just a warning."
"Thats right Tanvi. You girls have an advantage over guys where that is concerned. Just imagine if the same had happened to us. Damn, my guess is we would have to pay double the fine. And they say that women are oppressed in this country."
"Hey you have a brother too right Rina? What is he doing now?"
"What do I know. He has become a recluse since that accident. Right now he is sitting in his room doing God alone knows what. I will try getting him out."
Rina kept her glass on the table and knocked Rohan's door. There was no response.
She opened it and went inside. He was lying on the bed covered in a blanket.
"Hey are you sleeping?" she asked him gently.
"No I am dancing." Rohan snapped back.
"You don't have to be rude every time, you know"
"Why do you ask stupid questions every time?"
"My friends are sitting outside, and they were asking for you, so I just thought I will call you."
"Tell them I am not here."
Atul knocked on the door of Rina's apartment. Not that late, he thought, considering the traffic that he was stuck in. The door was opened by an unfamiliar person.
"Is Rina there?" he asked.
"Yeah, she is inside. You must be Atul right? I am Clinton."
Atul shook hands and entered the house.
"Somebody care to put this ice cream in the freezer? I hope it has not fully melted yet. Horrible jam it was. Nothing moving for miles together."
"Can understand." said Tanvi, taking the ice cream from Atul. "Rina was just telling us that you got delayed because of that."
Why are you hell bent on embarrassing me in front of everybody. Why does it hurt you so much just to come out and say hello?
The sound was coming from inside. Everybody's attention turned to the door.
Why is it that every single time I have to plead and yell my head off trying to convince you and you don't give a damn? I too need a break sometimes. You always think about yourself. Why won't you consider meeting other people, maybe for a few minutes, if it would make me happy and bring a smile on my face?
Atul brushed aside everybody and went to the room. The door was closed.
"Rina open the door. Its me Atul."
"I am sorry for shouting Atul. But Rohan is once again acting like an ass."
"You open the door. I will talk to him."
The door opened and a flustered Rina came out. Her hair was mangled and there were tears all over her face.
"Why does he have to do this everytime, Atul?"
Atul hugged her tight.
"You need to lie down a bit now. Take your pills and sleep. Don't worry about anything. I will take care of your friends. You just rest."
Atul took a sip of the drink. It made him feel warm.
"Whats between Rina and her brother?" Samir asked.
"Its a tough thing to explain. When the past comes to haunt you, its very difficult to identify it. It comes in various forms and you don't know when it hits you."
"I don't get you." Prerna said.
"Let me try to explain. What do you guys know about the accident in which Rina lost her parents?"
"We know that it was a car crash and the fuel tank of their car caught fire and her parents were burnt to death. Rina was in college with us and it was very hard on her."
"Did you also know that her brother, Rohan was in the car with them?"
"What? So that means he survived the crash? He saw his own parents getting burnt?"
"No, he didn't."
"He didn't see his parents burn?"
"No. I mean he did not survive the crash."