Hari was agitated and his heart pounded louder in direct competition to the noisy exhaust from the kitchen. Mani sat next to him but spoke nothing for some time. Mani signaled Charu to leave and that he would take care of Hari. After some initial reluctance Charu left them alone. She took a few quiet steps and turned back to look at both of them rather suspiciously before turning right towards the hostel block.

I fell from the top floor of a skyscraper. Have you ever dreamt of falling from the sky, a free fall?

“I felt I was being tormented for something I didn’t even understand," said Hari softly.

Mani did not respond but pressed his hand against Hari’s.

“And you were not there for me when I needed you the most," he said and looked at Mani intently.

Mani was quick to retort, “But you were the one who decided to leave Charu and me abruptly. I tried to stop you. In fact I am the one who should be upset."

Hari did not respond, looked the other way but remained silent.

“I fell from the top floor of a skyscraper. Have you ever dreamt of falling from the sky, a free fall?" Hari asked.

“Strong opposing winds ploughed up my face. The heat from the sun was balmy, not hot. I always close my eyes when I fall from the sky. I am afraid of heights," Hari narrated in a monotonous voice. He had reclined against the wall with his eyes closed.

“This has been a recurring dream. I wake up every time afraid of not knowing the end. Maybe I am falling on the ground with my body breaking into million pieces with no one next to me," Hari said.

“Do you day dream Mani?" Hari asked.

“I don’t understand your question. Why are you telling me all this?" Mani questioned anxiously.

“Just answer. Do you day dream?" Hari insisted.

Mani did not reply immediately. He looked at Hari nervously. Hari’s eyes were closed but he looked calm and composed.

“Yes sometimes," he said and continued in a rushed voice, “What is happening? I am worried Hari."

“Have you dreamt of dying?" asked Hari.

“Nope, now you are beginning to frustrate me," Mani answered.

Hari opened his eyes and laughed out loud. His laughter was prolonged, artificial and laced with sadness.

“The truth is, you don’t love me anymore," Hari said and paused.

Mani got up from the place and walked a few steps ahead and stopped. He was visibly irritated, confused and angry. He was not able to make sense of anything that Hari said.

“Cut all the bullshit. Why did you beat up that guy? And what made you agitated?" Mani questioned.

“If you will not be patient with me when I am at my lowest ebb, then perhaps our love for each other is not really worth it. Being there only during happy times, don’t you think that is rather selfish?" Hari asked in a measured voice.

“Day dreaming helps me de-stress. It allows me to transport myself to a land far away where I will not be judged, ridiculed, bullied or abused," said Hari.

“I am sorry," apologised Mani.

“Why are you being apologetic?" said Hari.

Mani was at a loss for words. He did not know how to comfort him or stop his barrage of questions.

“I asked you a question! You are sorry because?" Hari persisted.

“Hari I want you to know that I love you and I will take care of you at all times. And you need to be there for me in my days of anguish and uncertainty," said Mani.

“What about Charu then? Would you have any love left after showering her with it?" Hari retorted.

“What left?" said Mani.

“Anyways leave it, what else?" Hari asked.

“So all this sulking is because of Charu?" Mani said.

“Very immature Hari, so all this is because you felt possessive and jealous? You are such a baby. Though at some level I am happy, don’t you think it is being silly," asked Mani.

“It is not immature, I am just angry. Let me ask you plain and simple. Does she love you? I know you are gay but are you attracted to her too?" asked Hari.

“Hari, listen to this for one final time. I love you but she is my best friend. She saved my life dammit. Stop imagining things," retorted Mani.

“I am sorry," said Hari and looked deeply into Mani’s eyes.

“But, but, but I don’t like you being so close to her," said Hari and pressed Mani’s hands.

Mani smiled and asked, “Will you now tell me what the hell happened?"

Hari breathed a deep sigh and pointed his finger to the painting of the naked headless man juxtaposed between two faces on the opposite wall.

Mani stepped forward to observe the painting closely. He was quick to respond, “Alright, slightly weird. What about this graffiti?"

“Well after I came away from you guys I was distracted by this graffiti. It is disturbing and intensely emotional at the same time, don’t you think?" Hari said and continued.

Why did you get angry with whatever that stranger commented? I am just surprised. Are you ashamed of being gay?

“I was completely engrossed in the painting momentarily but I might have slipped into day dreaming."

“I was falling. From clean balmy air, I was piercing through dusty, prickly heat. I don’t know why I dream of falling all the time."

“My eyes were closed but I could sense light sneaking through the corners. I felt I was inside a super-fast train passing through a tunnel at maximum speed. I did not know how far I was from the ground. My hands and feet began to get numb. I felt I would crash on to the ground."

“Suddenly out of nowhere someone hit me on my head. I was not imagining now. I woke up. A lean guy was standing behind me, here," Hari said and pointed at a place which had become a mess after the duel.

“I was taken aback by the suddenness of reality from the scary dream of crashing down, and he said, ‘dude that’s a painting, the cock is not real, wanna suck mine instead?"

“I do not know what consumed me, I just went ballistic. I might have seriously injured him if you guys did not show up in time. How dare he say that to me?" Hari said very emotionally.

Mani listened to Hari patiently with concern. He did not answer immediately.

“This place really stinks, let’s get walking," Mani replied.

Both of them got up briskly leaving behind a stench of fear hanging in the air.

The afternoon sun heated the air which further inflated the distance that had crept in between them.

“Are you okay?" asked Hari.

“Haan? Yes, yes. I am feeling thirsty; can we stop by the shop for Pepsi?" Mani replied with a haggard face.

“I am sorry if my actions upset you. Really sorry, I didn’t mean to do anything wantonly," said Hari apologetically.

Mani bought a bottle of water and offered it to Hari to clean himself. Mani moved under the shade to escape the harsh afternoon sun and sipped slowly from the Pepsi bottle reminiscing about all the events that had suddenly unfolded earlier.

“Can I have some?" Hari asked.

“Sure, sorry there is only little left. Can I buy you another?" Mani replied.

“No, this is fine," said Hari and stared into Mani’s eyes.

Soon they were on their way towards the hostel block.

“So do you dream about falling consciously, as in you create those images or you get into a hallucination where it is completely unconscious?" asked Mani.

“It’s kind of both. I do imagine how it is to fall from heights, from high-rise buildings, waterfalls, mountain cliffs, but there is an unconscious element to it too. Sometimes the whole scenario changes as things progress and I am completely not in control. I get so engrossed that I stop being aware of my surroundings. I also tend to get into a series of thoughts, which are like a train of unconnected flickering images," said Hari.

“But why?" asked Mani.

“I don’t know. You don’t have daydreams?" Hari asked.

“I get dreams during sleep but many times I don’t recall any of them when I get up. And I tend to slip into a series of random thoughts when I am doing something mechanical, like riding a cycle, cooking, walking or listening to music, but they are random. I sometimes imagine myself giving interviews on television or receiving awards in a public function," replied Mani with a chuckle.

“Why did you get angry with whatever that stranger commented? I am just surprised. Are you ashamed of being gay?" asked Mani.

“I knew you would ask me this, in fact I was surprised at myself," said Hari and continued, “I don’t know why I behaved that way."

“See for me, I have never been attracted to girls ever. I have never been in a relationship with any guy before," Mani said.

“In fact I have never really had great friendships even during school. I was always a loner. I somehow connected with older people much better."

“There was this teacher in my school. Madhavi teacher, she used to teach physics. She was so beautiful that all the boys in my school had the hots for her, but I was her favourite. Besides my mother she is the only other person I truly admire and respect. I found it so easy to share all my problems with her and she would always listen to me with empathy but at the same time would be brutally honest in her advice. She always called a spade a spade."

“There was this one evening I shall never forget. I was in the final year at school and board exams were on. Madhavi teacher was preparing for the practical exams that were scheduled the next day. I was helping her arrange the furniture and writing the roll numbers on the tables. While I was at it, she tapped my shoulder and when I turned around she had a beaming happy smile. She handed over a pretty card. It was her wedding invitation."

“I am getting married and I am giving the first invitation to you, she said. I was surprised, actually felt angry. She was going away with another person."

“Mam congratulations," I said hiding my disappointment, "Stop acting, I know you are upset. It’s written all over your face. I have known Arjun for a while now. He is a major in the army and I love him. It took a while for both of our parents to agree, I have not mentioned about my relationship to anyone. I was not even confident it would even work out. Things all just fell into place suddenly. I am very sad that I have to leave you and this school, but you will write letters to me and we will be in touch, alright? she said."

“My heart shattered just in tune to the thunder outside. ‘Is there any way I could stop you for going away from me?’ I voiced it in my head without mouthing it."

“She touched my shoulder gently and said, ‘There will always be a time when someone whom you truly love, may have to leave you. It is hard; I know how it feels for you now. I am sad too. After school you will meet new friends, you might fall in love and god forbid there might be times you may have to leave the person you loved deeply. But remember this, when you try to possess a person, love evaporates soon. What matters is how much you loved and how much you made yourself vulnerable for the other person to love you. This is true in both love and friendships. When you truly love someone, be it a man or woman, give yourself completely. Allow yourself to be completely consumed by it, but never be selfish, always think of giving first. Let everything else flow naturally, including sex. Just be brutally honest to yourself. If it’s right you will know it,’ she said."

“Hari," Mani held his hands looked into his eyes and said, “I feel right about us."

“I love you both physically and emotionally. If the world wants to label us ‘gay’ it’s their problem not mine. I really don’t want to think anything beyond this," said Mani and stared deeply into Hari’s eyes.

“There are many deep secrets and demons within us that we do not have answers to. Some we might never find. It’s okay. Before we accept each other, it is important to accept ourselves. Accept our feelings, our past, our flaws, our situations. I am not saying this in a defeatist way, but once you begin to accept, you will start appreciating what you have now and be grateful. This way we can be less anxious about life, more secure, so that you can love more," said Mani.

Hari’s eyes smiled while tears crept up at its corners.