“I didn’t like looking at him and his voice hurt my ears. Just wanted him to leave me alone.” Rancho replies when asked about why he electrocuted the senior last night. It’s one of the first things about himself that Rancho willingly tells his roommates.
Farhan laughs and Raju rolls his eyes.
‘Rancho’, he’d been nicknamed and it felt nice. Probably because it made him feel comfortable in an identity that wasn’t really his.
“If you’d just done as he said he would’ve left you alone anyway. What if he had done something worse later?” Raju asks in an exasperated voice.
“I—it was the first thing that I could’ve think of”, Rancho admits sheepishly and Farhan pats his back while laughing, “you really are one of a kind huh”
Rancho had technically been a lonely child but he wasn’t aware of it until he actually made friends. Rancho never saw people in his future, never felt like any of his relationships would last for a lifetime. When he met Raju and Farhan, he realized that for the first time in his life he felt comfortable with who he was. It wasn’t because he’d changed but because the people around him liked him the way he was.
To Farhan and Raju, Rancho wasn’t an outcast and maybe that’s why even when the lines between his present and future blurred, even on days he couldn’t decide what his real identity was, he could still see the two idiots standing beside him.
His fleeting reality had finally found some semblance of permanence in the friendship he’d formed with the two.
He didn’t know how to feel about that.
“Why do you never look at me?” Farhan is absolutely shit-faced and it’s kind of hilarious to see him this way. God he wishes Raju could see this but the fucker bailed last minute because he had to go to the library.
“hm?” Rancho asks.
“You don’t look people in the eye a lot.” Farhan manages to get the words out after a lot of effort.
There was a time when Rancho’s problems would just disappear if he just averted his eyes. The time he got caught by his school’s principal, the time his classmates looked at him with dubious eyes, the time the kitchen staff at the mansion tried to catch him while messing with the machines there. If he just avoided their eyes, everything would suddenly be okay.
Rancho needs just two seconds now: two seconds away from the problem to think of a way out and sometimes he ends up electrocuting a senior and that is okay. Shit happens.
But he feels like he could avoid Farhan’s eyes forever and he still wouldn’t know how to fix this. He didn’t even know what the problem was, or if there even was one. He could just ask Farhan of course, but his reality was fragile and he didn’t know how many cracks it could handle.
“I just don’t like it? Been like that since forever”
Farhan actually pouts and it makes Rancho feel warm for some reason.
“I wish you would look at me.”
So do I, he thinks.
Rancho doesn’t exactly know when but he lost Farhan somewhere along the way. Not in the way that they weren’t friends anymore but it just felt like there was a piece of himself that Farhan starting holding back. For the life of him he couldn’t figure out what it was and it bothered Rancho more than it should have.
He would look at people and know what they were hiding from themselves. People often get so caught up in trying to hide things from themselves that they end up making it too obvious for the passerby.
He could tell what Farhan was upset about by the way he scribbled on his notebook, he could tell his father had yelled at him through his quiet anger, he could tell when he was happy about something by the way his eyes shined throughout the day. He could tell almost everything about Farhan without even him needing to say anything so yes, not knowing what was wrong, what was missing, bothered him.
But for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to confront Farhan. He had enough confidence to challenge the director of I.C.E and even break into his house to confess to his daughter but there was something deeply scary about the prospect of confronting Farhan. It felt as if he would lose something very important to him if he ever addressed the unexplained tension between them.
For the first time in his life Rancho could clearly see a line drawn by someone else that he wasn’t supposed to cross.
So, he never asked.
It almost felt like it was betraying himself but for once Rancho didn’t actively seek to satiate his curiosity.
And for ten years, he regretted it.
For the first three years he buried himself in his work, trying to hide from the drunk laughter of his idiots, wanting so desperately to disconnect from the sense of belonging he had felt with the two. It was hard but he managed somehow. The next three years were harsher. His loneliness had grown louder as the time marched on and his frown had become almost permanent. Rancho was finding new things about himself each day and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
Life got a little easier when Millimetre showed up at his school, sat in the middle of ten-year-olds giggling at him, smiling at a dumbfounded Rancho.
“I don’t even have to buy a uniform to sneak into this school”
Rancho laughs for the first time in weeks.
The scariest month of his life was when he stopped finding joy in his work. There was no excitement when he heard about a new invention or read a research paper. Teaching didn’t give him any joy either. There was nothing to distract him from the deep pit in his stomach that was growing larger each day.
It was Millimetre who pulled him out of his bed in the mornings and made him breakfast, made sure he showered at least once in three days. At night he would convince Rancho to watch a movie with him before Rancho went back to sleep. Again.
For the most part Rancho remained zoned out during the movies except this one time--
“What is that? What is happening?”
“That’s called kissing, bhaiya.” Millimetre drawled out as if he was teaching a preschooler, “When two people are attracted to each—”
“I know what kissing is!”
Rancho stared at Millimetre. Millimetre stared back.
Millimetre furrowed his brow as he reluctantly asked, “Then?”
“But they’re both girls!”
“With boys too?”
Rancho stared at the screen again.
Boys can kiss boys.
Rancho stays up that night. His journal was beside him, inside it were pictures of places which Rancho told himself weren’t significant.
Everyone insisted he was in love with Pia. He sure was interested in Pia but love? Rancho didn’t know what love was. If everyone said he was in love with Pia then he must’ve been.
But was love really just that? A smart girl he runs into by chance, a drunk yet brave confession and having coffee in the hospital lobby?
But when he flips through his journal he couldn’t help but think,
Was love a little more bitter? A longing for something that you couldn’t articulate into words, a sense of helplessness and a need to go back to the what was instead of what is, a tug at your heart telling you that you were hurting even when you had no right to. A question never asked, frustration never voiced and a thousand promises never made. Was love a little more vicious than the soft tingle of Pia’s earrings? Did love taste more like betraying yourself than a sweet hospital coffee?
When Rancho closes his eyes that night, his world is a bit quieter.
When he sees Pia, dressed in a bridal gown, coming towards him, he is surprised. Not because they found him, of course.
He knew they would come for him.
Rancho liked machines because they were honest. There was an honesty in machines humans never had, when they broke, they didn’t lie, when they worked, they gave it their all. Humans would never be as beautiful as machines, Rancho often thought but as he sat by Chandratal. Even when he was miles away from Delhi and a decent internet connection, with no way for his friends to find him, he still knew that despite all odds they would come for him.
There surrounded by nothing but the silence of the Spiti valley, he finally realizes that humans had a beauty to them that no machine could match.
If he is surprised then it is at his own stupidity and his fear of things falling apart. What was there to fear?
His reality may have been fragile but it was the most honest one he’d built.
When Pia glanced at Farhan’s distant silhouette, Rancho knew all these years he’d spent running, avoiding people’s prying eyes, he had just wanted to be found. He wanted to be more than just that kid who did others’ homework for free or the kid who had no identity.
When Farhan looked at him, past his name and his carefree outlook, he felt real, not a shadow of someone else, not an entrepreneur hiding away in Ladakh, not a child who no one noticed sneaking into the classroom.
He felt seen.
When Farhan slowly walked towards him, the pictures in his journal suddenly made sense.Rampur’s dense forests, Farhan's permanently frizzy hair. Mandi’s unpredictable crowd, his impulsiveness. The cold water of the Giriganga temple, Farhan’s quiet fury. Karsog’s towns tucked away in the valley, a tired Farhan bundling himself up in his blankets. Kangra Fort, the loneliness of a man who had it all and yet nothing. Kumarsain’s disconnection, his ability to capture moments no one else noticed. Chandra and Bhaga flowing into each other, his desire to see his parents happy at war with his desire to not be miserable. Chennab, his ability to persevere despite everything. Finally, Chandratal, a love for everyone and everything pouring life into the barren land around him.
All these years, Rancho had been looking for him without even realizing it.
He knew then that he could finally let his reality tear down to pieces and everything would remain the same.
Rancho awkwardly manages to confess his feelings not expecting much. He steals a peck from Farhan because who knew if he’d ever even get to see the man again, much less kiss him.
But Farhan had other plans. Rancho didn’t ask for anything but Farhan gave him everything he wanted and more.
When he was entangled with Farhan, with his eyes burning in a way Rancho had never seen, a whole new side to the man he thought didn’t keep any secrets from him, he finally knew what was it that Farhan was holding back.
Rancho honestly thought he would melt. He could feel Farhan’s hands all over him, clinging to him, pushing him closer to Farhan. Rancho had been kissed before but never like this, never like…an entire decade worth of unrequited love and frustration was being poured into him, bringing him alive only to kill him again. But for a kiss like this he would gladly die a thousand times over.
Rancho pulled away, panting slightly, trying to discern the way his body still burned with Farhan’s touch--, “uh holy fuck”
“Rise and shine you fucker”, Farhan’s voice, heavy with emotions, tingled against Rancho’s ears, “I’ve been in love with you ever since I saw you”
I know, Rancho thinks. Rancho couldn’t find the words to explain it, so he clung. He clung to the man like he’d fallen for without even realizing it. He sank into his embrace and the two stumbled a little before Farhan stabilized them.
Raju screams something about public decency and Rancho immediately pulls away realizing the two were in public, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. Raju stomps off after Chatur and Rancho can feel Farhan staring at him.
This time Rancho has the strength to meet his eyes.