Before Dawn: Winner #1 of Summer 2021 Writing Contest

I met Aarushi in 2007, when I was 21. 

It was the month of December. In Delhi, winters were biting cold, especially as the darkness grew  deeper into a dead night. I was in my room, all warm and cozy with my cat- Momo; snuggled under  my arms. For a while, we were looking at the still city through the hazed window in my room, but got bored too quickly. So, lying flat on my bed, I was reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ while gently stroking Momo on her head. I quickly glanced at the digital clock on the side-table, 8.12 PM – It showed. I  decided to close the book and go downstairs for dinner. Just as I put my hand on the door knob,  mom opened the door from outside and barged in with a big pile of clothes. “Take these to the  drycleaner and get them cleaned and pressed, right now”, she said. My first response was to be as  motionless as a rock, so that she’d take me for an immobile object in the room, but Momo jumped  right out of my hands and curled under my mom’s legs, as if to say that she had switched sides.  Before I could even think of an apt excuse, I found myself outside the gate with a heavy sack in my  hand and off I was sent to the drycleaner. 

The roads were unusually quiet. The distant screech of insects could be heard faintly. The moon  beamed in full brilliance, glowing my way to the store. I shivered as a cold breeze passed through  me, however, I cherished every sight, sound and sense around me. Now, the store was visible at a  distance. As I approached the store, I saw a silhouette under the flickering street light. As I advanced  nearer, it appeared to be more of a woman. From a short distance, I could figure that it indeed was a  woman. She looked no older than me. She was wearing a black trench coat with shiny brown boots.  Of course, I could be wrong; since the lighting wasn’t great, but this is my memory of her. She was  looking at her phone and smiling. I stood frozen to the ground, secretly admiring her. Even in the  dim, flickering street light she emanated the radiance of a beautiful firefly. She took a quick glance at  the store and returned back to her phone. It appeared as if she was waiting for someone. She  pushed her hair back and tied it into a ponytail, while holding the phone at the tip of her mouth.  Now, something must clearly be wrong with me, because, at this point, I still found her gorgeous. An  older woman, who looked like her mother, came out of the store and walked towards her. The two  of them smiled at each other, intertwined their hands and walked together in the opposite direction. I was left in the quiet street, by myself, wondering how someone could effortlessly look so beautiful. 

The next evening, I took Momo out to a park nearby. I wanted a change in surroundings for finishing  my assignments and was too dejected to leave Momo by herself. So, while Momo quietly curled into  a circle and slept, I decided to look for inspiration to finish my assignments. Suddenly, I heard a voice  from behind. “Is that your cat?” it said. I turned to look in the direction of the voice. It was her. I  

I never thought I’d meet her ever again, but there she was, looking like a picturesque scenery. “Oh!  Yes, yes. Meet Momo.” I replied, trying not to make my nervousness obvious. “How adorable! Can I  Pet it?” she asked. “Go ahead, and by the way, it’s a she” I replied. She put on an acknowledging smile  and started stroking Momo gently. In the time that passed, I learnt that her name was Aarushi and  she pursued a final year BA literature from St. Stephen’s college. I learnt that she was from  Maharashtra, but stayed in Delhi all her life. I also learnt that Momo liked her better than me, since  she vigorously dodged all my endeavors and conveniently settled in Aarushi’s arms. That was it. That  day marked the beginning of our beautiful friendship.  

Over the next few months, I got to know her better. I knew her likes and dislikes. She liked reading  Jane Austen with a cup of black coffee in her hand. She loved petting animals on the street. She  woke up before dawn every day just to watch the sun rise. She’d quietly wait every day for the Koehl  to sing. Although, the bird did not sing every day, occasionally when it did, she’d explode with the 

joy of a child who found his Christmas present that he’d been waiting for. She loved the smell of the  earth when it rained and the warmth of a gentle breeze on a dry afternoon. She liked everything  about life in general. She loved living every breath that she inhaled. Meeting her made me enjoy the  simple, mundane occurrences of life like the sunrise and sunset, which I previously took for granted.  And thus, the time ran on. 

In March 2008, one warm and sultry evening, I was waiting at the same park where I first met her,  with Momo. We decided to meet at 5.00pm. It was 5.27pm. I almost gave up and went home, but  suddenly saw her running towards me, like a dash of wind. Before I could even make a fuss about  

anything, she screamed “I GOT ACCEPTED!”. Aarushi had applied to St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai to  pursue her MA literature. I didn’t know if I loved or hated the news, but I decided to share her  excitement at that moment. Momo tried not to bother with us and went chasing after a butterfly. After a while of jumping and screaming together, almost gasping for her breath she said, “The  classes start in 3 weeks.”  

6 months had passed since Aarushi left for Mumbai. As for me, I still stayed in Delhi and took a job as  a Project Manager with the Tata Group. I still took Momo out to the same park in the evenings.  Aarushi and I decided to keep in touch while parting. We often wrote mails to each other. She wrote  about how she was told to make a documentary about Dharavi for college credits, how her friends  thought she was funny, how much she enjoyed having Vada-Pav near India gate and how she fell off  her bike while trying to park it. I wrote about how Momo scratched me in the face for accidentally  touching her tail, how I was famous in the office for bringing good homemade food and how I was  absorbed in my newly found passion- playing the guitar. Although, we mailed each other frequently,  I terribly missed laughing with her.  

One November morning, I woke up to her mail that said: “Hey, why don’t you come down to  Mumbai? You’ll love it here. Come here, I’ll introduce my friends to you. We can have lots of fun like  the old times. PS. How’s Momo?” 

I was on the flight to Mumbai. It had been two days since I received her mail and I booked the next  available flight. My flight was supposed to land on the 26th, at 8.15pm. We decided to watch ‘Rock On’ at  the Metro Cinema, since we both loved that movie. She told me that she’d bring some friends along  and introduce me to them. I decided to take a cab directly to the Theatre, since I didn’t have much  luggage. My flight landed around 9. Delay due to some disturbances in the state, they said. The  moment I landed at the airport the headlines flashed in the Televisions. The headlines read- “Pakistan based terrorists launched coordinated bombings in different locations”. There was an  eerie chaos at the airport. Every other person was calling their friends and families to ensure that  they were safe or to assure that he/she was safe. I looked at the television again, it showed the  bombed locations. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Oberoi Trident, Taj palace and my heart stopped  beating when I read Metro Cinema. A cold chill rushed down my spine. I made frantic calls to her  number, but there was no response. I spent that entire night at the airport crying, praying and  fearing everything. After a week of distraught tracing, I found her family and heard that a few of her  friends escaped, but unfortunately, she didn’t. I went back to Delhi with a bleeding heart.  

It’s been 12 years since that day. Over time, I became numb to the pain. I decided to accept the truth  and live with this scar. Since then, I have woken up before dawn every morning with Momo sleeping in my  arms and sat on the terrace to watch the sun rise. I patiently waited for Koehl to sing. On the  days that it did sing, a gentle smile appeared on my lips. Now, I know why she loved it so much.


Akshara has submitted this amazing short story as her entry to Summer 2021 Writing Contest organised on Unverbalise.

The entry has been posted above as is.

She is the Rank #1.


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