...Even the sun held itself back, shyly, behind the curtains that hung in the sky. We were preoccupied by a great dose of nervousness that soon grew contagious to the air surrounding us; anybody in close proximity would have felt it. Nobody spoke. They just bustled into the auditorium, with their long black drapes doing the talking, as they whisked across chairs and other pieces of furniture, trying to find their allocated seating. From where I was sat, I could see Padma and Ruby - both with a glint in their eyes. We exchanged the same thoughts and knew what was missing. They both smiled nevertheless, gesturing a thumbs up. My heart skipped a beat, as I realised that it was not going to be too long till I had to put myself in front of the entire graduand body and present an inauguratory farewell sermon, and immediately went through what I had to say over in my head, trying hard to not let my thoughts wander...
...I barely heard her say my name. In fact, I do not even recall making the effort to walk over to the dais; it was as if a trance had carried me across. I cannot even remember what I said, or how I said it, or if any of it made sense at all. All I know is that I mentioned him. I knew he would have wanted me to. And that Padma cried into her gown, as I narrated the poem that we found he had written. Not an eye moved. Not a whisper was made. They all sat there, listening. Perhaps out of intent. Or perhaps out of a lack of choice. It did not matter. I let out what I had to, whether good or bad - whether true or false.
The auditorium burst into applause the moment I silenced.
He was right - a voice in my mind said. He was always right. As I gazed over the applauding body of people, I went into another flashback. I remembered his words, as if he had said them to me yesterday - and even though everyone had started departing for the exit, I kept repeating them over and over, perhaps to convince myself:
Change is the only constant of life. It will haunt you. Mock you. Make you uncomfortable. Or surprise you. But it will meet you every once in a while. It will meet everybody, whether you prepare for it or not. Kind of like death...
There will be days when it all comes to shambles. There will be days you have to run after the bus. And there will be days when you hang by a thread.
Change is all that and more.
But no matter how much of there is change - it must not stop. It must all go on. From the first musical note to the last, it all has to be there. It does not matter if it is bad or rubbish. It has to be complete. It has to end. Someone has to do it - imagine all the songwriters and musicians and artists of the world facing a writer's block (so to speak) - exactly! There will always be one of them who will finish the song, no matter how many all-nighters he might need to pull. Because he knows, he has to deliver. Not doing so will only leave him behind...
My legs had carried me amid the wave of students out into the lawn of the Grand Hall, where the graduates gathered for the much awaited tossing of the hats. Padma and Ruby caught up with me. We hugged each other with a smile, whispering a congratulations in between.
We missed him - we truly did. After all, we had started this journey together. Even when the road got coarser and narrower and difficult to walk on - we were together. At Padma's wedding and Ruby's oath to the Queen - we were together.
And today, when it all was to end - he was not there.
He was completely right - the ending was not how we quite imagined. But it was an ending, nevertheless. We could either cross the finish line, or be left behind with no one to blame but a series of unfortunate events.
We bustled into one of the photography cubicles.
"All three?" asked the photographer.
"Four, actually," I replied, pulling a hand into my pocket to retrieve a photo of him. "He's the fourth."
The photographer did not ask any further questions, and prepared for the shot.
"For Armaan?" Ruby asked, with a faint smile.
"For Armaan," Padma and I replied, mustering smiles on our faces.
And at that point in time, all four of us were smiling into the photo.
The photo that signified the ending. The photo that concluded it all.