If it’s love, it’s never too late…

Note: Based on a true story
There’s something special about it. It’s like a horror movie which gives you butterflies in the stomach, but you enjoy them in certain way. It’s good, it’s scary, it’s attractive, it’s appalling. Ah teenage love! So many colors you have. Today I am able to express what it is like. It was not the case in 2001 when I was 17 and a completely different person than what I am today. Let me tell you straight away – I never went to school. Now you might be wondering how the hell I am writing in English, which is the only criteria for being educated in this country. Well, I will tell you that and more about my life. By the way, my name is Salman.
Neha – my first love and so far the only one. She was beautiful and attractive. I fell for her ever since the first time I saw her. I am sure you’d have felt the same had you seen her then though I would hate if it had happened. I and Neha lived in the old part of the city. Our homes were not that far. I started roaming around her place, sometimes alone, most times with my best friend- Shahbaaz. He was someone I could always rely on. He was the one who told me that what I felt for Neha was love or a true love if I use his words. But he would often discourage me saying, “Bhai, don’t get too serious about her. You-Muslim, she-Hindu, there’s no chance of Band-Baja.”
“I am a Muslim, doesn’t mean I always have to love my first cousins.” I said every time he brought up the religion issue.
Once Neha saw me. I was stalking her and fortunately I was alone that day. Fortunate because if she had seen me with Shahbaaz, she wouldn’t have dared to come and talk to me. But she did.
“Why do you keep following me?” she asked in the highest pitch I had ever heard.
I had no answer. Her eyes were desperately asking for an answer and to be honest there was some corner of my heart already regretting that I liked her.
I looked away pretending that I was not interested in answering her question. Suddenly, I saw a cricket ball flying towards her and I jumped instantly.
Next moment I remember, I was in hospital. I was lying on a bed and my large family was all around me. Next to them was – Shahbaaz. He was smiling. When everyone started enquiring about the injury on my forehead, I never told the truth.
But the accident did more good than harm. Next time I saw Neha outside a Kiryana Store, she passed a smile. I was confused whether to smile back or not. Was she really considerate, or was she trying to mock? In all these confusions, I was standing right next to her.
“You know, you are an idiot.” She said to me.
Before I continue, let me tell you a simple fact about girls. If she calls you her best friend, don’t trust her. Most likely she is going to use you and give expectations of a possible relationship which will never happen. She’ll keep searching for her Mr perfect and will forget you once she finds him. But… But, in case she calls you an idiot – you are her Mr Perfect.
Neha didn’t tell me that she loved me and all. But she left her notebook there intentionally. It was in English and I couldn’t read it. I put in my bag. I ran like anything to Shahbaaz’s place and asked him to read. It took him two hours to read the whole notebook and translate to me. Turned out that it was only last page which was relevant, everything else was her English homework. But that last page was truly special and unforgettable. It said:
Someone who can risk his life to save mine, I owe him the most beautiful gift. And if there exists love in this world, it will be my gift for him.”

Below this, she had written Salman and Neha inside a heart.
I looked at Shahbaaz when he narrated all this and asked him to read it again and again. 25 times, I remember. Later that night, I tried to imagine Neha’s sweet voice saying those words but all I could hear was- Shahbaaz’s harsh voice.
I don’t remember when exactly we started dating but we did. I didn’t even know it was called “dating”, Neha only told me. When I told her that was illiterate, she didn’t look upset or angry as I was expecting. Instead she said I was a better human than most educated people. That comforted me a lot. If her love was blind, mine was insane. Every time she praised me, I started singing and dancing.
November 7, 2001- the day that changed my life. I was on my way to home with Shahbaaz. It was 9:30 pm and was dark, no street lights in that part of the city. Suddenly, two men grasped us from behind and started shouting –“You mother fuckers, we will show you love and aashiqui.”

I was tightly grabbed by that bastard and I couldn’t even move. They started beating us. I heard a shout from Shahbaaz and I really got scared. He sounded in deep pain. I gathered all my strength and lifted my right leg and kicked backwards. It hit that bastard on his balls. His grip loosened and I rushed towards Shahbaaz. I was shocked. The other guy had stabbed knife in his stomach. The blood was flowing out too fast. The guy with the knife turned towards me. I looked down and saw a brick on the ground. I picked it up and smashed it against that bastard’s face like a bang. He fell down. But I kept smashing it until his face ceased to exist. The other bastard ran away holding his balls.
Shahbaaz had lost his conscious. I shouted for help but no one responded. I carried him on my shoulders to the hospital but the only thing that hospital could ensure was – my arrest, not Shahbaaz’s life. When I was taken to the police station, I was charged for killing Shahbaaz and Aakash. Aakash – who was Neha’s elder brother.
The case proceeded while I remained in prison. The slowness in our judiciary proceedings was a relief to me as I was always scared of the verdict. And two years later when it came, I was sentenced for seven years of imprisonment. That was how I entered my twenty’s. We didn’t go to the upper court as my family had already spent all their savings on advocates and all.
I was not too disappointed with the verdict. There was one thing in my mind- to utilize this time in best possible way. I made use of the free education in jail and studied really hard. I was quick in learning and that’s how I learnt English. I read a number of books in the next couple of years and started writing as well. Other prisoners used to call me- Salman Khan and I sort of liked it. That was a good time I spent there.
It was surprising how quickly seven years had passed and I was out again. Although my family didn’t accept me but the jail had given me enough surviving skills than any education system could have.
On the same day I went to Neha’s house but there was no one. The neighbor told me that Neha’s family had left the house few years back. He said that the new family which lived there could tell me where she was. But they had gone somewhere. I decided to wait for them and the wait stretched to 24 hours when they showed up next day. And I finally got Neha’s address. It was of an NGO.
As I reached the place and entered the NGO office, the first person I saw there was Neha. She hadn’t changed much. She was playing with kids when she saw me entering.
“Hello. May I help you?” she asked in amazement.
I kept looking at her unsure about what to say until an old lady behind her asked me to come. I went there and she told me the story. Neha and her family had met with an accident two years back where she lost both her parents and her memory. She didn’t remember a single thing from her previous life. I looked at Neha, laughing with those kids. And I cried.
I went up to her and asked, “Friends?”
February 14, 2012: We got married- A dream which I saw eleven years back. And when I told her the truth and all the series of incidents, she wasn’t angry. She says she loves me even more now. True love comes late, but once it comes it never leaves. 
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