It is a beautiful Sunday morning in spring. Most of the Boulderites are enjoying the weather outside. A young girl is busily working in her kitchen. The curious sunbeams peek through the kitchen window to greet this thin girl with curly hair.  Her name is Geeta Kulkarni.


Her new apartment is situated close to her office, making her daily commute very easy. As per the trend in IT industries, she usually works long hours.  Geeta is a software engineer working for Grasshop, a startup telecommunications company in Boulder, Colorado.


She moved to this city six months ago. She has not made any friends here except her colleagues. She is turning twenty-four, tomorrow. The workload is more on Mondays for her. So Monday evening was out of the question, for holding a party. She had decided to call a few co-workers over for lunch and celebrate her birthday a day ahead.


A perfectionist by nature, Geeta sets high goals for herself. She has made elaborate plans to impress her guests with her culinary skills. Now she is racing to finish up, on time. She gobbles her breakfast of milk and cereal in between preparing the various dishes.


Geeta grew up as a shy girl with no siblings. Her parents encouraged her to excel in studies. She completed her engineering degree from a well-known college in southern India. She was on the honors roll in her high school and college.

Her adherence to traditional values has been less of a self-directed effort and more of a ritualistic habit. She is keenly aware of the changing needs of the modern world. She has an open-mind towards new cultures and beliefs. She has been paying attention her communication style, her wardrobe and makeup to put forth a confident look at work. Her sultry eyes and bright smile often belie her insecurities within.


Tears trickle down her cheeks as she chops several red onions into thin slices. Her wheatish complexion compliments her pale yellow dress. The monotonous sound of the knife on the wooden board throws her into a reverie. She is thinking about her prince charming, Mike. After so many crushes that led her to dead ends, she still has not learned the art of seduction.


Mike Cooper is her manager at work. Mike is a brilliant engineer working his way into management at an early stage of his career. He is also an avid biker and works out regularly at Gold’s gym. Geeta’s heart missed a beat when she met him on her first day. Stunned, she dropped her folder with papers. She looked clumsy trying to gather them back. Mike flashed a killer smile before helping her pick up some of them from the floor.


From that day, Geeta was floored. Last month, after discussing her new assignment, she lingered. “Can I ask you a personal question too? ” Geeta asked. “Sure! Get the door if you need to, ” said Mike. After closing the door, the naive girl assumed her innermost thoughts would be understood. Poor Geeta’s imagination sometimes played tricks with her. “Um..I have feelings for you. Do you feel the same way ? ” she blurted out foolishly. She knew that Mike had two toddlers, a two and a four years old, with his current wife. She needed a clear answer from him if he felt the same way. Mike suppressed an instinctive smirk and then put on a serious face. “No, I am married, ” he said simply. Trying her best not to appear upset, she quickly added, “I understand.” She turned around and left to hide her tears.


The next few days were uncomfortable as Mike would not look at her directly. Self-conscious, Geeta struggled with rejection. It made her depressed and uneasy. Slowly it dawned on her that her feelings were irrational.  Even though it was a one-way street, her heart still longed to love him.  Luckily, after about a week, Mike was acting normal. He smiled and even joked about general stuff. Work was busy and challenging and a month went by fast. She forgot about her blunder. It was forgotten just as if it was a bad dream.


Geeta is almost done with her cooking. She is adding some final touches and laying out the table. She has made rice pilaf, mashed eggplant with Indian spices, creamy spinach with paneer and chicken curry. She is placing the warm dishes over bamboo mats and setting plates and utensils for five people.


The guests arrive around 1 pm. Ed arrives with his young wife and kids. The twins are adorable. The little boys get busy with the small things that lay unsuspectingly around her apartment. Geeta understands that her place is far from being baby proof.  Sophia, Ed’s wife is a sweet lady. She has brought a big tray of tiramisu. Within fifteen minutes, Gauri and her boyfriend, Amit arrive at the door, holding hands. They look like they are very much in love. Geeta looks at them and smiles. She cannot help feeling a little jealous. She too wants to be in a relationship. As if to make matters worse, Mike is going on a month-long assignment to Sweden. He has told her last Friday. Geeta is dreading the idea of spending a month without seeing him.


Lunch is soon served. All the dishes smell really delicious. Between eating, they carry out conversation about work and other family stories. Geeta feels she is a good host. After lunch, she suggests they all go to the nearby park. The little kids are getting bored in the small apartment of hers.


At the park, the twin boys are happy. It is a bright summer afternoon. The park has a set of swings, a winding slide in the middle and monkey bars at the other end. The boys run to the slide in excitement. They are coming down on their belly and goofing off. There is a little girl with her parents. The twins make friends with her and play together. The parents start a conversation. Everyone is having a good time. Ed and Sophia are running behind the kids to keep a watch on them and eventually, break away from the group. They are now walking around the park with Ed’s arm across Sophia’s back. It sends a pang of loneliness through her heart. As she carries out small conversation with Gauri and Amit, she can’t help wishing to be with her loved one.


They are all about to leave the park when Geeta’s cell phone starts ringing.”Hello, ” says Geeta. “Hi, Geeta. This is Vanessa from HR,” says the voice at the other end. “We want to inform you that your contract has ended this Saturday,” Vanessa continues. “Please send us your badge via USPS and do not make any further contact with any person in Grasshop anymore,” are her clear instructions. Geeta stands there dumbfounded, hearing the words in disbelief. Seeing her upset, Ed comes and asks ” Is everything alright?” “My contract has ended,” Geeta explains fighting back her tears as best as she can. Her co-workers hug her and wish her well before leaving.  It is late evening and the sky is a riot of colors. The sun rays have sprayed the light gray clouds with pink and orange blotches. The sun is preparing to retire for the day.


Back in her apartment, Geeta starts to sob, uncontrollably. She is overwhelmed with self-pity and buries her face in the pillows. “Am I not an effective worker? Is it wrong to love a married man ?” Most painful to her was the fact that she will never see or talk to Mike again! She calls her parents to tell them about this mishap. “You will find another job very soon,” her Dad says. They are willing to send her money as much as she needs to tide over the situation.


Everything seems to be under control except her broken heart.  Geeta is not able to share this with anyone. Sleeping is hard when negative thoughts are crowding her brain. She takes out her diary and looks through the pages. All this time she has focused on judging herself. A chaos of emotions is raging through her heart. “Why didn’t I foresee this coming? Why am I such a fool ? ” she thinks. ” Did he end my contract because of the question I asked him a month ago? He must have hated me ever since.” she sighs. She runs to the kitchen for a knife. Her left wrist shows a prominent vein. She tries to cut it in haste. As if beyond her control, the knife slips and lands between her feet. “What was that? ” Shocked, Geeta stops.


Suddenly, everything around her seems to change as if she is transported to a different dimension. She does not feel small anymore. Awe and wonder replace fear. An invisible feeling of love surrounds her. “I am here to exist….to experience … to enjoy,“ her heart echoes back.


Slowing coming out of her trance, Geeta goes to the bathroom to wash up. In the mirror, she confronts herself. Her wet eyes are glistening. Her curls fall over her face, naturally. In the midst of the loss and detachment, she discovers a simple beauty about her.


She is living. She is whole. What else is more beautiful than this fact? A confident smile brightens her face. She plays around with her hair and laughs to herself.  She goes to bed, hugging her pillow tightly to her bosom. It is time for a fresh start. Someone cares for her though she cannot see Him. She has found the best birthday gift ever.


Monday morning is unusually lazy, for once. Geeta feels light and carefree. She does not have to join the rat race today. The heavy burdens of judgment and accomplishment have melted into a clear awareness of the reality around her.


The spring sun is perfectly positioned to blast her bedroom with shafts of golden light. Its therapeutic warmth relaxes her under the bedspread. Each breath melts into comfort.


Suddenly, a shrill note pierces the peaceful ambiance. Geeta sits up on her bed with a start at the sound of her cell phone ringing. “Hello,” she answers. “Happy Birthday!! ” greets Amit from the other end.“Thanks for inviting us, yesterday. The food you cooked was absolutely delicious………Geeta!“ There is a slight pause as if Amit is searching for the right words.“I am sorry for how the day ended for you. By the way, Gauri told me that there has been a huge layoff at Grasshop. There were about 50 employees who were laid off. I know this does not help but you were not the only one. Geeta, cheer up! ….I have an opening in our team. Why don’t you apply, today? I will send you the job description via e-mail. Are you available for an interview, later this afternoon ?“


Geeta jumps out of her bed and pulls up the company website on her laptop. After finishing her application, she makes herself some breakfast and takes a warm refreshing shower. Geeta puts on a white shirt and navy slacks. She brushes her hair and ties it in a low bun. She sighs at her reflection in the mirror. Then she immediately knows what she is missing. She pulls her hand over her face and gingerly reveals a happy unstoppable smile.


The interview with Amit and his team goes well. Geeta enjoys meeting smart people and hearing about new products and market challenges.“If nothing else, I had a good day and learned lots of valuable information that I can apply in other interviews in future,“ she reflects.


A week later, Amit calls Geeta again to offer her the job.



One thought on “THE GREATEST GIFT


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