Last Time

Updated: Sep 9


This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents in this book are either the product of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Soft sunlight streaked in through the curtains, illuminating the room in a warm glow. Of course, I noticed none of that. The only thing I was aware of was my phone's alarm clock ringing. After drowsily hitting the snooze button, I realized that I had done this twice already, so I started scrolling through the notifications. It was 8:30, and my friends were abuzz with excitement. "Oh! The JEE Advanced results are coming out today!", I suddenly recalled while jumping out of bed, almost falling over in the process.

The next few moments were a blur as I got ready and had breakfast. I had given the JEE Advanced a while back, and was quite sure of a good rank in it. However, my father had fallen ill a few days after we came back from giving the exam. Initially thinking it was COVID, we got an RT-PCR test done, which came out to be negative. We then shrugged it off as a seasonal cold, and dad had been taking antibiotics and paracetamol and keeping well. At 55 years, he was a frail old man by now, and a heart patient, so it really pained my mother to see him ill. He was feeling worse than usual today, so he was not up when I was having breakfast

"Baba kaise hai?" I asked Ma with my mouth stuffed full of paratha

"Kal raat unhe sardard hua tha. Ek aur COVID test karane ki soch rahe hai"

"Accha. Aaj mera result aayega, and friends ke saath baahar party ka plan hai"

"Ok. I would suggest you don't go, because Baba is really not keeping well"

I thought about this for a while. I hadn't seen him, so I couldn't really comment. I was going insane staying inside the house, though. I hadn't been out anywhere after the JEE exams, and (quite obviously) before them as well. I was really aching to see my friends (and my girlfriend :P), and speak to them face to face. The network connection around our house didn't help either, and I couldn't speak to them properly or join the among us sessions that they used to hold regularly post JEE.

"Mumma, I really want to go. Please, bahut bore ho raha hoon ghar pe", I protested.

Ma nodded silently for now. This was a common action for "We'll see", so I stayed quiet for now.

The next hour was spent furiously chatting with my friends over WhatsApp, while the network connection permitted me to do so. All of us discussed our future plans: which IIT we intended to go to and which branch we would prefer. All of us had a fair idea of how our exam went, and most of us were doing quite well. My girlfriend was iffy on her decisions, and said that she would take a final decision only after her rank came out.

Finally, the opportune moment came, and I tensely reloaded the page to see the result portal. With trembling hands, I typed my details in as Ma stood behind me reassuringly. I hesitated for a moment before clicking; should I check someone else's result first so that I can get an idea how mine will be? My parasympathetic nervous system took over, and I pressed the left mouse button. The page took a few seconds to load, and I skimmed through the information to finally come to my rank: 323. "Mixed feelings" would describe how I felt at that time; I wanted to get under 270, which would have gotten me into IITB EE. I doubted I would get CSE at an old 5 IIT with this rank; would probably have to settle for IITD MnC or IITR CSE.

Ma was very happy; she embraced me and congratulated me, and went to tell Baba. I ran to my phone and saw the group; everyone had done slightly worse than they expected, but my girlfriend Swati still hadn't posted her marks. Strange, I thought. I sent her a personal message, which wasn't delivered immediately. Damn this spotty Internet! Slightly dejected, I went to see dad to inform him of the good news. I kept my distance from him, as he had asked me to do so.

"Baba, I got 323"

Even though Ma had already told him the marks, he broke into a huge smile as I said them. He was very happy, happier than I've seen him in quite a long time.

"Shabash bete. You're truly independent now. Where do you plan on going?"

"IIT Delhi Maths and Computing most probably, or IIT Roorkee Computer Science"

"Good, good. No IITB? I think your friends were planning on going there"

"No, no IITB. Listen Baba, mai doston se milne jaa raha hoon ab. Pehle ka hi plan tha, we'll go to pavillion mall. I'll be back by evening most probably"

Baba's face turned slightly pale. "Kidhar mat jaa", he croaked. "I might have COVID, and if I have it, you and your mother have it too. Don't spread it among others"

"Nahi baba, you don't have it. Aaj test karaane kab jaa rahe ho?"

"Right now, by 12"

"Don't worry, COVID nahi hai aapko. It's just some normal sickness and aap kaise bhi thode boodhe ho rahe ho"

He chuckled softly. "Beta sun, don't go anywhere. It's very risky."