Urgent meeting. Report to the headquarter immediately.-Read the whatsapp message.

Aishi looked at the watch. It was almost 10 pm. She needs a strong excuse to go out at this hour. But duty comes first. She started thinking fast.

          *************

10:15pm, Headquarter

“What took you so long commander, when I mentioned this was urgent,” demanded the voice.

“The guard was not easy to persuade. But I managed somehow”, replied a confident Aishi.

“& pray how did you do that?”

“I told, that tomorrow I have an exam and left the important notebook with you.” Aishi replied with a broad smile.

Rhea was already laughing.

“Oh Aishi, you are a sweetheart”.

“All that later. First tell me why did you call me so urgently?”

“I am in love Aishi. And only you can help me out.”

“Not again, Rhea. Virat is already married. You cannot have him. No one can help you now.”

“Oh Aishi, Virat is so yesterday. This is someone else.”

Aishi rolled her eyes but was still curious to know the new story.

Aishi and Rhea are best friends. Class XI student of the same school. Live in the same housing complex. Growing up together they have shared everything with each other. The east side terrace of the building is their headquarter. The duo has all the important discussions of their tiny lives here. Today the situation was serious. 

A week ago new neighbours shifted in the vacant flat right opposite to Rhea’s bedroom. Flat 2B. A middle aged couple in their fifties. Initially they did not interest the girls much for obvious reason. Everyone knew that the flat was inhabited by only the not so young couple. But today, Rhea discovered that they have a son. The most good looking, handsome guy in the universe (in Rhea’s version). And she was absolutely and irrevocably in love with the guy.

            *************

But why haven’t we seen him when his parents were shifting the other morning? He did not come to help his parents in carrying all the heavy luggage. 

Message beeped on Rhea’s mobile. Due to time constraint their meeting in headquarter could not be continued. So they are back on Whatsapp.

Rhea sighed. Aishi is always overtly suspicious about everything. 

May be he was out for some errand. Helping his parents in some other way. Oh, stop judging him already. You are talking about my soul mate. 

Aishi smiled as she read the reply. Rhea is like this only. Mad, hard-core romantic and impractical mostly. But the most innocent at heart.

Ok, we will find about him more tomorrow. Now, Goodnight 😙😙😙😙 Aishi replied back

But for Rhea, sleep today was a distant dream. She kept checking outside her window. But the opposite window did not open. The heavy curtains were still pulled tight. Like the past 7 days.

Dejected, Rhea was back on bed. Rewinding the scene from earlier that day. Like everyday she was sitting by her window, busy with activities like editing and re editing the new selfie, commenting on the FB posts and bitching in the whatsapp groups when suddenly the opposite window opened. And there he was. Standing with open hands, breathing the fresh air, inhaling the evening to the heart’s content. Then for a moment their gazes met. And she found herself drowning fast in his ocean blue eyes. Those were the most mesmerizing eyes, she has ever seen. She could have locked her eyes with him for hours, but suddenly, the guy, as if out of a trance, moved away from the window. Immediately the curtains were pulled and the window was closed. Everything happened so fast that Rhea has not even had a chance to say hi. 

Still regretting the same, Rhea said to herself, “Tomorrow, is a big new day. Aishi will surely find out a way to approach him.” And tried to get some sleep. *****************************

Next day, Rhea and Aishi, dedicated their lunch break to chalk out a full proof plan to talk to the guy. And as decided headed toward flat 2B after school hours. Rhea was literally shaking with excitement. With a trembling heart, she rang the doorbell. To their dismay, the door was opened by the middle-aged lady.

“Yes, what do you want?’

“Aunty, we are planning a Saraswati puja in the complex. So we are just approaching all the youngsters for volunteering. Can we just talk to your son about the same?” Aishi delivered the memorized dialogue in a single breath.

“But we do not have a son. “

Aishi and Rhea looked at each other. Then trying to manage the situation, Aishi said, 

“You can call any youngster, Aunty, who is living with you.”

“In this house, I live alone with my husband. No one else stays with us.” The lady was getting irritated.

“But, Aunty, the other day I saw…” Rhea started to protest but was cut short rudely.

“You have must have made some mistake, dear. It’s only two of us who live here.” Aunty replied sternly and closed the door on their face.

The turn of events left the two girls flabbergasted, as they stood there dumbfounded and confused. 
*************************

Two days have passed since that epic failure. The window never opened again. Aishi also started doubting, if the guy was just a figment of imagination of dreamy Rhea.  And Rhea, still nursing a broken heart, is wondering why did the lady lie and was so rude with them.  If only she could prove Aishi that the guy was for real.

In these two days another interesting thing happened. Mrs. Malhotra of third floor claimed that she spotted some supernatural creature in the afternoon on the terrace, who looked almost like a human being except for the red skin. She described vividly how the creature fled when it saw her chanting Hanuman chalisa. This small incident caused much hubbub in the otherwise mundane life of the complex. 

Then today a miracle happened. It was almost evening. The two girls were busy discussing the recent events on the terrace. Suddenly Rhea felt someone was keeping a watch on them. She turned her neck to find out and it seemed someone moved away quickly. 

“There is someone else on the terrace, Aishi.”

“Rhea, not again.”

“Believe me Aishi.”

They looked everywhere but no one was there. So they started to leave and moved towards the stairs. And just in time caught hold of the silent observer. Rhea’s dream boy, standing on the stairs, all flesh and bone, discarding all the false allegations on Rhea. 

           ***************************

“Why are you hiding here?”

“Because I didn’t want to startle you,” he replied nervously

“Do not worry about us. Why are you so shy to come out?”

“I can’t come out. I am allergic to sun.”

“What?” The two of them asked in unison, looking at each other. 

But he did not wait to answer. In a flash he vanished. Rhea tried to follow, but he was too fast for her.

***********************

He is allergic to the sun. Also he is very fast. Moreover, his parents try to hide his identity. Do you understand what does that mean? The cold one.  Rhea messaged Aishi after much research.

-No Rhea, he is not a vampire. This is real world and vampire do not exist in reality.”

Then give me a good reason why is the lady trying to hide him. And why did he say that he is allergic to sun and so would not come out? 

-I don’t know. Let’s find out

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So here are the two brave ladies today, climbing up the window of flat 2B, breaking all stereotypes, in the middle of the night.

“Rhea, I don’t think this was such a great idea.”

“But it was your idea only to climb up to his window and ask him in person.”

“That was the decision of one hour back. Now I am wiser by an hour”

Dangling on the cornice the two girls were arguing in whispers, experiencing their weirdest adventure ever. 

With trembling legs somehow they managed to reach the window, unsure what awaits before them and knocked on the window softly.

Nothing happened. Nervously, they again knocked on it. A little louder this time. 

On the third knock, the window opened. And as expected it was indeed the room of the mysterious guy. 

He seemed not at all surprised by this sudden venture. He looked at Rhea and gave a smile of acknowledgement. Then softly said, “Come in.”

                      ******************

The room was full of posters of footballers and cricketers. Piles of books heaved on the table, floor rather everywhere. A laptop was open on the bed.

As per books, vampires do not sleep. So what was the bed doing here? And laptop and those posters? Never imagined a vampire can fancy these things. Rhea’s mind was racing fast.

Aishi was the first one to break the silence,

“Are you the red skinned monster who scared Malhotra Aunty the other day?”

Rhea gushed at Aishi’s boldness. And stole a glance at the guy. But he was still smiling.

“Hi, first let me introduce myself. My name is Ravi and you can call it a cruel joke of destiny, I am severely allergic to the sun or any UV rays. And yes I am the one who scared Mrs Malhotra. But believe me, I am not a monster and I had no intention to frighten her.”

How someone could be intimidated by such a lovely face, Rhea was wondering. And his voice. Oh! That was so captivating. Her drooling eyes were giving away her state of mind. Aishi pushed her lightly with elbow and continued to interrogate.

“What is this allergy, which no one knows and for which you can never come out?”

Rhea looked at Aishi sternly. Now she is being rude.

But Ravi started replying calmly without getting offended at all.

“I am suffering from a disease called Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) which is a rare recessive genetic disorder of DNA in which the ability to repair damage caused by UV light is deficient. Since my case is severe, I am forbidden even the slightest exposure to sunlight.”

Ravi paused to breathe. Aishi and Rhea were intrigued by the new discovery.

“I develop spider veins, dilated blood vessel and freckles on slightest exposure to the sun. That day after a long time I braved up to sneak out of my room. And as luck would be, your Malhotra Aunty saw me with all the allergies and termed me a monster. This is the reason my parents hide me always. No one understands that this is a disease and try to tag me as some supernatural being. We have changed house thrice in last 2 years. My parents arranged home schooling for me. Because they are always afraid how the people will behave if I go out in public, I never had any real friends. All my life I am confined to my little bedroom with books and computer. This world is too cruel for people like us.” His helplessness was clearly evident from the voice so Aishi did not probe further. This guy needed help. Rhea’s soulmate or not, he needed friends now. 

“You will not have to change your home any more. We will ensure that.” Aishi promised Ravi. Rhea also nodded, though unsure what may be Aishi’s plan.

Ravi’s eyes were twinkling with glee. Even if they cannot help him, at least he made two friends. The first in his life.

                  ************** 

On the day of Sarasvati Puja, every year the kids and the young ones arrange a cultural programme in the evening. This year everyone was curious as the star dancers Rhea and Aishi decided to give dance a skip and arrange for an educational presentation instead.

“Today we want to spread awareness about a unique disease, a rare genetic disorder, Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), Aishi started the presentation. 

“In this disease all exposures to sunlight must be forbidden, no matter how small; as such, individuals with the disease are often colloquially referred to as “Moon children”. On slightest exposure these unfortunate patients develop allergies all over their body, thus resembling a red monster.”

Aishi paused and looked at Mrs Malhotra for her reaction. Meanwhile Rhea started displaying various slides evidencing the true faces of victims of this rare disorder. And even ran a video of a twin in US who is trying to lead a normal life with the help of family, doctors and friends despite this disease. Their doctor even designed a special suit for them to move freely in public.

As the slideshow ended Aishi took the microphone and continued, “In this disease the victim suffer a lot. But sometimes due to our limited knowledge we add to their misery further. Like we did with Ravi.”

As the people wondered who Ravi may be, the bright lights on the stage were dimmed and Rhea brought Ravi on the stage.

“Ravi is our new neighbour, living in flat 2B, with his parents. He is suffering from this rare disease, ”Aishi continued. “But he is living the life of an exile in our fear. Fear that we will judge him, will call him names, will think him as some unnatural being and not accept his reality.  But we have better judgement, don’t we? Can’t we promise him a safer stay inside our complex, like a free being?” Aishi looked at the audience for reaction. Not everyone was convinced but at least a start was made. Ravi’s parents were wiping tears in a corner.

And Ravi. He was gleaming with happiness as he stood on the stage, holding Rhea’s hand firmly, enjoying the freedom for the moment. May be world isn’t such a bad place after all, when you have friends around.

      -X-

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