She smiled perfectly as she extended her hands for a shake, most likely deciding against the hug.
“Hi Amit, so we are finally on a date. I see you don’t find me attractive.” The perfected smile that would have disarmed the Stoics, made me think if she had been practicing.
“Oh, what makes you say so, I feel you have the perfect smile,” I grinned back, wondering if it looked hideous as usual.
“I see that in your eyes, so why did you ask me to meet,” she asked with more than a hint of mock. “Didnt we decide we hate each other.”
“Yes, but then I thought of you debating as if you wanted to win wars, and all that you said compelled me to prove you were wrong,” I blurted out, which to an extent was the truth. I never like to concede defeat in an argument, no one does.
“Ah that sounds typical, but you should have done that when I was in a mood to argue,” she said with a more natural smile.
“Well..” I paused to find the right words.
“But,” she continued, “you were drunk, all you wanted to do then was kiss me rather than prove me wrong, so not just the rights to kiss but you lost your chance to refute, forever!”.
“Ah, so you remember me trying to kiss and don’t remember us kissing.” I winked, or I think I did as I strained to remember what had really happened.
“Nice try,” she laughed, “I never drink beyond the flirty pegs, but wait, you think I forgot your kiss. Are you that bad?” she said stifling a giggle.
I didn’t actually remember what happened that night, except that I wasn’t really drunk when the discussion and the alleged attempt to kiss ensued. Maybe she looked more attractive than now, but once the girls and their not so girly escorts were gone and so was the booze, we went hunting for more. What follows usually is waking up in a place that’s usually not my bed and with no memory of how I got there.
I realized I was looking up at the poetically azure sky filled with some errant clouds only to find her expecting eyes staring at me.
“Fine, it was lame and I m convinced we didn’t, but I have been honing my skills in that area lately. Why do I feel like you are flirting with me more than I think I must be doing here.” She looked for a second as if to think, and burst out in a hearty laugh.
Just then the phone rang as if coming to rescue her from the conversation. A wave of concern enveloped her comely face, which only rose as the call went on. I sipped my coffee and checked out the people on other tables, the usual ensemble of girls with a guy sprinkled here and there.
“I have to go,” she said snapping me out of my scan, got up and rushed out in a blur.
Besides this conversation and her hearty laugh, now that I am trying to recall what I felt when I saw her for the first time, in sober state, it feels like an event in the haze, one that clouds the northern plains she belonged to. It is the haze in the winter days just after the sun wins over the fog. Her face was like the same sun breaking through the mist that had built up from years of me becoming a virtual recluse, I think it was two years since Kavya broke up to marry a guy from her school days. The painful part of it was that she was not in love with this guy, but she always wanted an arranged marriage for some twisted reason. Whenever I enquired, I got the same answer – “it’s the same twisted reason why I choose to live with you”. But that’s me paraphrasing her answer, hers were more prolific with words, ones that didn’t include the word twisted.
No one could argue with that, and I felt it wise not to engage in an argument with someone you shared the room with. Aditi, the girl I am talking about, was good to argue with, I think she was wearing some nondescript colored clothes, she was neither pretty nor sexy, neither fair-skinned nor dusky, to sum it up there was nothing remarkable about her appearance, except the round face. Her face was a perfect circle, and it was not easy on my part to control the urge to verify this theory. The thing I vividly remember of her appearance was the expression that went over her face as she saw me smiling, or rather as I grinned out of my failure to smile. This expression which made appearance more than once during our talk didn’t last a second, but it’s engraved in my memory. I have tried giving words to the expression, and the best I could come up with is how one feels seeing a piece of cheesecake after one had many rounds of jalebi dipped in thick rabri.
Almost a year later, I was with friends and having jalebi at Haldirams when I saw her, and this time she looked stunning. Maybe she did something about her looks, her dress or it was just me happy to see the familiar round face, the end result was stunning. I started walking towards her with my grin, which is less hideous when I m not on a date, and was just a few steps away when the expression on her face changed from prettiness to a shade of sourly disgust. It then dawned upon me that she was part of a crowd which seemed to be well connected, a connection now enhanced by their common interest at that moment, me. I resumed my approach after a moment of hesitation and asked how she was.
Instead of answering me, she looked around and answered the gathering in general, announcing that I’m an old friend. This made my grin extend a few millimeters because I liked being an old friend of pretty girls. The happiness was short-lived though, like most happy moments, as a taller and good-looking guy came forward with resounding confidence. He grabbed my hand and asked me to join them, an invitation I refused with a blank expression and looked questioningly at Aditi. She appeared to have gone into a standing coma with a weird expression that didn’t suit her face making me realize that it was a cue for me to withdraw.
Next day she called up and asked me to come to the same place we met for our first date, or was it a date I still wonder. In any case I was happy like a bumblebee since it had been a while since I went on a date, I would have said yes to anything. In my excitement and lack of any reasonable purpose in life, I reached the venue much earlier than the appointed time. The crowd looked the usual, girls in pairs or bigger groups, or a guy on date with a talking girl. The only change I noticed was the girls looked fatter and more chirpy. What is it that they talk about incessantly, I was wondering when something hit me on the head. I looked up at the sky in reflex, which looked back at me tranquil if not depressive as it basked in the orange glow of the setting sun.
“Lost in yourself, as always,” she almost screamed in my ears and laughed.
“Are you like this with everyone or do I get the credits of bringing out these brilliant acts,” I said recovering from the auditory assault.
“Don’t be grumpy, no girl would date you besides me. Ruby told me about your breakup and the sad status, but wasn’t that years back?” she winked.
“Yes, women run the society, I know, while we men think we are the superior kind.”
“Ok stop there, I know you will get on one of those philosophical trips of yours, I still remember the night you tried to kiss when you fell short of arguments,” she giggled.
“I am getting married to Akash, remember the guy you shook your syrupy hands with.” She said faster than her usual pace and looked seriously at me, as if expecting a response that she had already accounted for.
I, on my part was disappointed with the news, or maybe at her, or myself. Disappointment though doesn’t care about the people, it is usually more arrogant than failure. She looked the same, unremarkable, like a girl you would skip checking out even when there is not another in sight. At the same time she was one of the few girls with whom I felt a sense of freedom, and for some reason there was always an air of intrigue around her.
“Congrats, the guy is handsome, you deserve better though,” I said after a while, which must have been too long because she looked impatient.
“What do you mean better, and he has asked me to invite you to the wedding,” she still had the foreboding, impatient look.
“Ok, I m good at attending weddings, everyone seems to be getting hitched these days. So, when is it happening?” I tried to look interested.
“Not sure, they are doing the astrology stuff to decide on the dates. I am in no hurry anyways.”
“Ah does that mean I get to meet the prospective bride again?” I attempted a wink, which must have failed miserably because she looked offended.
She kept staring at my face with the straw in her mouth. I stared back to locate a red spot in her eye, a mole on her neck and her not so impressive breasts.
“Stop checking me out!” she was saying.
I grinned, “you didn’t answer.”
“Yes, we can meet but let me tell you about Akash who you clearly seem to be very interested in,” she said looking all serious, and that she did. Girls are taught from birth not to give options to others, there is just one and you have to take it, a theory I have formed based on statistics. She went on and on about his job, how he worked out every day, his family, even the latest movies he liked, and more. I listened and interjected when she was dragging on a point, sometimes its fun to detect run on sentences.
The phone rang, this time mine to save me from the Akash onslaught. I made it look more urgent than what it really was about and left. On the way I realized my knowledge of Akash now surpassed my knowledge of Aditi.
Unlike what we had decided, I didn’t meet her for a few months after that. Then one day coming out of a liquor shop I met Akash. I waved but he just looked through me. I was not to be deterred and went up to him and started introducing myself. He on his part interrupted and said Aditi and he broke up, the marriage never happened. He walked away, deciding against the planned trip to the shop. I called her immediately and heard the familiar high-pitched voice. She didn’t sound gloomy like Akash, and almost ordered me to meet at our familiar date place.
Almost every Saturday afternoon during winter, Nikhil and I would sit in our balcony of the second floor flat we rented and watch the girl with abnormally long hair massacre them. This hair combing ritual had an effect on Nikhil that I am sure he too never figured out, he would sit still with an unblinking eye as if in a trance, not a single muscle of his body moving. He was always treading the line between being crazy and being weird, which made it easy for him to dismiss my questions on the subject with a half-hearted wave of hand. I, on the other hand, was born with a scientific predisposition that made me struggle to find something reasonable about his behavior. To add to my confusion he showed no interest in her if she was found in any other state, which was quite often because we lived next door. I remember talking to the girl, which in my case meant going beyond the smiles and the hellos. I also remember suppressing my urge to ask her if she noticed us watching her comb. I liked this afternoon activity because besides the occasional glimpse of her ample cleavage there was an inherent sensuousness to the scene. As in most cases of sensuous phenomena I could never find the exact reasoning, maybe it was rooted in the length and darkness of hair, the pretty facial features, hair covering part of her face or maybe because of the voyeurism in the act. The nature of sensuousness is that it makes you more aware of yourself, which contradicted with Nikhil’s lost in the scene attitude.
I was thus lost in contemplation and trying to define the differences between sensuousness and eroticism when my phone rang and both of us were wrenched out of our reverie and back to acting like guys who don’t have the appetite to do anything worthwhile after a Saturday lunch. It was Aditi on the phone, which came as a surprise because she never called to just talk. It was always the authoritative tone asking me to meet her at a predestined place at a predetermined time. The surprise factor today was that it was a Saturday and she never went out on weekends, the reason why she wouldn’t go out on weekends was a mystery that I had learnt to live with along with many such peculiarities which I assumed had something to do with being a female of the species.
I took the call after this briefest of pauses and found her in the middle of a sentence, “…you must be with Nikhil watching the hairy one comb,” she sounded irritated as she continued, “get a life, and on that subject meet me tonight at 7 for dinner.”
“Great!” I cut her off, my curiosity taking over the prospects of a Saturday night date, which throughout the history of mankind has always led to progression in intimacy. In our case the next step was a kiss, which evidently never happened in the booze party with which this tale started, or in any of the consecutive dates.
“How come you are asking me out on a Saturday, you must be getting desperate for the kiss. You know the one that lingers in the air, lately, when we are together.” A very smart thing to say I figured to set the mood, and in my little triumph I winked at Nikhil who was staring past me or most likely listening closely. The cigarette in his mouth didn’t seem to be lighted either.
“Cut the small talk and save your kissing bravado for the girls who might fall for such humor,” she said in a flat voice that made the whole kiss joke seem lame. She then proceeded to tell the name of the restaurant and asked me not to worry if I checked out the details of the place since it was her treat.
Before I could ask the occasion she disconnected. It was a mutual agreement, as were all agreements she came up with that I was never to call her up. Unlike the other mutually agreed rules of engagement, this suited me well because I wasn’t obliged to call if she didn’t for days. I never mastered the art of talking on phone, not that I ever tried. Also, the etiquettes of phone calls when you are dating a girl are complex and I had seen Nikhil struggling to figure that out even after a year into a much stable and intimately successful relationship.
“She is using you man!” Nikhil said in the muffled voice he produced with a cigarette in mouth. “You just need to learn to say no,” he continued, “or learn to make her say yes. Learning is important in all aspects of life, but its most essential in a relationship. Otherwise the relationship floats without purpose like a boat in a placid lake.”
“What the fuck, what boat in lake, are you smoking weed?”
“Never mind the boat and lake, you call her up and say you can’t do it tonight,” he said with a finality that was unlike him. He was born a chronic quitter, exemplified by the way he just gave up on his boat in the placid lake.
“No, I am not doing anything of that sort,” I declared, still looking at him with suspicion. “Tonight is the night we are going to kiss, and with the beer or probably wine, she hinted it was an expensive restaurant. So yeah, you never know what will ensue after she experiences my kissing skills.”
“That’s never gonna happen because she is using you. I don’t understand why you can’t see such an obvious thing, you are just a filler till she finds another worthy guy to get married to.” He looked at me for acknowledgement and finding none went on, “Ok don’t say anything to her but don’t go, let her have a taste of what it is like to wait. You are going with me tonight.”
Again, the finality in voice made me realize for the first time since I met Nikhil that he might actually have some ambition in life, unlike me.
“Ok, and what mission have you signed me into,” I asked with my best sarcastic face.
“I am going to dump Priya, and need one more person because I won’t know what I will do if she starts crying, loudly. I have seen her bawl, man! it’s embarrassing.” The cigarette was still not lighted, which now I had figured out was because Nikhil was nervous.
“Oh.. and what the fuck will I do if she starts crying, I am sure you will flee leaving me with her if that happens. But more importantly, why are you dumping her, you guys were like the perfect couple?”
“No couple is perfect, it’s just a facade to keep you from falling in love with more people than you could manage. I realized over time that she is not my type, also I suspect she might be faking it, which makes her a liar.”
“It’s ok, I never judge, but are you sure about this?”
“Never been more sure and thanks for coming,” he concluded the conversation by lighting up the smoke.
I thought over and realized I had never witnessed a guy dumping a girl, my case was in the reverse order. Brilliant that I always have been, I solved both problems and convinced Nikhil to do it in the same restaurant. Aditi would be paying, also he will have a girl to handle his potentially bawling and broken up girlfriend. We could both flee the scene. I marveled at my skills in problem solving after Nikhil agreed to the plan and called up Priya to tell the place and time for dump. For a guy going to dump his girlfriend, he looked calm and composed and sounded the same.
We were getting in the car when Nikhil’s phone buzzed. He looked at the phone for a moment which lasted more than a moment. The call was brief, and as we started Nikhil told that Priya is bringing her friend too and he couldn’t say no, it just had to happen tonight. This made me nervous because now Aditi will have to pay for more people, or maybe she won’t which would only make it worse. Nikhil was mostly silent during the drive and I kept quiet to give him space to practice the dumping routine. For once I was more interested in this event than meeting Aditi on Saturday night, a first of its kind date with her.
I was still parking the car when he shot out of the car and was gone in a blur. As I got out, I saw him with a bunch of people standing at the parking gate. At closer proximity, the bunch turned out to be two girls and a guy. Nikhil seem to be engaged in a heated debate with Priya while the strangers held hands and it looked as if they were squinting into each other’s eyes. Since I didn’t know if Nikhil was already doing it, without wasting a second I walked up to them and said hello. Priya looked jolly, which allayed my fear of losing out on the scene, and introduced her friend and friend’s fiancé, Aditya.
“Sorry for the late intimation, but my dad won’t allow me to go out alone at nights. I could convince him by dragging Aditya along, he is good company.” Priya’s friend answered with a dash of pride to my bewildered look at Aditya, Nikhil and back.
With the introductory issues settled, the five of us entered the restaurant. It looked dark and a woman wearing even more dark popped up from the dark air asking if we had a reservation. When I told we are with Aditi and she made the reservation, our dark dressed woman looked at us with the typical doubt ridden femme eyes and probably approved, because she directed another dark attired but younger woman to escort us to a table. There was music coming from the roof, more beats than music but one can tell bad music from the faintest of the sounds. We were settling in the cozy chairs when Aditi arrived, looked at the crew and looked at me with questioning eyes. I decided against explaining the circumstances that made the two people treat now a six people one and grinned instead. Priya got up and hugged Aditi, which brought back the pleasant smile that always went well with her round face.
Priya went on to explain the presence of her friend in conspiring tone, and the presence of Aditya in louder, announcing tone. I could see Aditi’s eyes light up at the news of the two getting married and she was immediately friends with the duo asking them questions that mostly made more sense than the answers that were offered. I looked at the silently fidgeting Nikhil who caught up with me and directed my attention to Aditi, still engrossed in wedding conversation. Nikhil was bad at doing the “I told you so” look but I got the gist. As a fitting reply I interrupted the talks and announced, “Nikhil has something to say,” I paused for effect, “something to say to Priya.”
Nikhil glared at me and turned to Priya in an extremely slow motion who looked at him confused. In a hushed tone that he wasn’t capable of, he embarked on the speech.
“You have been the best girlfriend any guy could get, you are smart, sexy, intelligent..”
“Wait, are you breaking up with me,” Priya cut him off and looked at him as if he just committed a grave crime.
“Well,” Nikhil fumbled for the right words and said “yes, I was. Stop interrupting me.”
“Oh I see, and you got your friend so he could witness your brave act.”
“No he was invited by Aditi, I thought it a better idea to do it in an expensive place.” Nikhil grinned.
“Ok, but I got my friend along because I wasn’t sure how you would react once I broke up with you tonight. This relationship needs to be aborted right now, stop grinning like an idiot.”
They kept staring at each other for some time, for me it was like a tennis match. The grin on Nikhil’s face was gone and replaced by the straight face mirroring the same look on Priya.
“So, you want to break up too? You could have told me on phone and saved me all the trouble.” It was now Nikhil’s turn to acquire the accusative tone, and he continued, “but wait, what did you think I would do, cry like you?”
Priya laughed, “you never know. Have you ever been dumped?”
“See? This is the problem with you, you are never serious.”
“As if you are,” Priya looked at us and realized there were more people around, and still looking at us said, “we should continue this discussion when there are fewer people.” To which Nikhil gladly agreed. He was still looking at Priya, and I suspect it was with awe.
With the break-up broken up before it matured, my attention found its way back to Aditi who looked happy.
“What’s the occasion, how did you manage saturday night, why such expensive place,” I had many more questions.
“Occasion is I resigned and starting something on my own, will give you details later. It’s such a brilliant idea you will blow out of your mind. Wait, I am upset with you inviting this medley of jokers.”
“I wanted your treat to get bigger, and see it’s a party now,” I grinned, “You are still paying, right?”
Just then the waiter came and we ordered drinks, being last order of happy hours Nikhil and Priya overdid their orders. Priya’s friend and Aditya were discussing the menu still. I went for the same non-alchoholic drink that Aditi ordered. She had quit alcohol. After her wedding was called off and we moved on from coffee joints to pubs, she used to drink like a drunk fish. But then, for no apparent reason one fine day she quit. The reason for my sacrifice of beer was that I still had the kissing thing in mind and didn’t want to risk the smell of beer as a deterrent.
The drinks order was followed by discussion on the music that was playing upstairs, we didn’t see anyone going up the stairs though. So the conclusion was – if there was a party in progress it must have had started much before.
“How’s work, why do you stick to a job you don’t enjoy,” Aditi asked. She was in the mood typical of people who have recently quit their jobs. They tend to question others of their choices, life, universe and almost everything you don’t want to discuss.
“I know it’s pointless, but I don’t care, sometimes it’s nice to go with the flow. But you know that about me.”
“Are you insinuating at our relationship?” Aditi asked with the most solemn face she and continued, “because if you are it’s just too good and precious to me. I don’t want to ruin it by a kiss that supposedly lingers in the air. Also, I know why you are not taking beer.”
More than heartbroken I was curious about the theory. “Why would a kiss ruin our relationship, especially when there isn’t one in the first place to ruin. Most relationships, on the contrary are conceived by a kiss.”
“I meant,” Aditi said with the same serious voice, “let’s not ruin such a friendship over a kiss.”
“A friendship! Ah, Nikhil was saying that you use me as a filler while you wait for a groom charming, is this true?” I never believed in keeping things in the closet, especially when I was desperate.
Aditi looked at Nikhil with cold scrutinizing eyes. “You believe Nikhil, a guy who brings a friend for support to dump his girl. Look at him now, one moment he is doing a shoddy job at breaking up and the next he is serenading to her.”
“It’s not that I am judging your friend, and I never said I wasn’t interested in ruining our friendship, it’s just that I feel I might end up in love.” She said in such a matter of fact tone that I missed the import of the statement.
As the implication dawned upon me it was too late and she was looking at Nikhil and Priya who were engaged in a hushed up conversation and were sitting more close to each other than what the chairs would have possibly allowed. Her friend and Aditya were still discussing menu, most likely the food. I didn’t notice anything romantic about this couple except that they never argued, and arguing, I always felt was one of the most romantic things to do.
My thoughts on the nature of romanticism and future prospects with Aditi were interrupted by a police siren and the restaurant being flooded with cops in a flash. We all looked at each other clueless, yet excited, at least I was.
The cops moved around like a swarm of bees around a disturbed hive. Some went upstairs, a few were crowding the dark dressed lady who looked as calm as she was when we walked into the restaurant. Every table was manned by a cop now and the one who was given the charge of ours seemed to be disappointed in us. He looked around but never said a word. Nikhil however ventured to ask him about the state of affairs, a relevant question in the circumstances but which drew an unabashed and an almost glorious yawn from the guy. I decided to do a better job, driven more by the yawning attitude of the cop than any intention of demystifying the development. I was just opening my mouth to speak when there was a sudden outbreak of commotion upstairs and a barrage of footsteps. The sound of stampede mixed with feminine screaming made it seem more ominous than what we would have wanted to believe.
We were all glued to our seats watching the stairs which now came to hurried life, chased by angry lawmen. The cops standing at the tables, with bellies that would shame even the most conceited pots, now ran to the door in a sprint I never thought they were capable of. Some of the party animals though, wearing clothes that covered the whole spectrum of colors managed to escape. The unlucky ones were held while women from upstairs were as clueless on what action to embark on as were the cops who were all men. So the most reasonable thing the women decided to do was to run randomly among the tables and occasionally scream.
The whole scene, though bizarre, entered a rut and my interest was gradually transitioning from dumbstruck to a stuck-with-the-dumb state. This deadlock was momentarily broken by the arrival of sniffer dogs who instead of being let to sniff were shown the way upstairs by the leash holders. The advent of dogs distracted everyone and the guy held by his collar by our yawning cop shed his collar like a lizard would shed its tail sensing a way out of danger. This brilliant idea of lizard analogy was inspired by the way his eyes bulged from the rest of the face. Bulging, bloodshot but overtly alert, the eyes scanned around for signs of prey only to settle on me. I was midway with my flinching, when the guy moved with alarming speed and grabbed the table knife in his left hand and Aditi in his right.
The knife was pinned to Aditi’s neck making her sit still and like all the others on our table my eyes were switching at a breakneck speed between lizard-eyes, the knife and Aditi. The next best thing to look at in that moment I figured was our cop, who I found holding the shed collar and looking at lizard-eyes with a queer amusement and no inclination in any kind of movement on his part. It was thus my turn to act the hero and save my girl, I could already imagine all the eyes on me. I was the gladiator in the ring, except here it was a table and I was no valiant warrior in disguise. Everyone looked at me as I got up slowly, everyone except Aditi who was trying to look at the knife pressed against her throat. I did the get-up-slowly sequence intending to bring some flair and more importantly because I lacked any plan of action. Help immediately came in the shape of when-in-doubt-punch-the-face strategy and without taking my eyes off lizard-eyes I aimed one on his face with all the force I could muster. The punch would have been an unforgettable achievement in my life if had been successful in finding the intended face. It was lost in thin air though, because at the last moment our villain decided to pass out, the soft sound of his fall was contrasted by the sound of the laughter that escaped Priya. Aditi, who looked flustered and irresolute stood up, looked at Priya with disgust and hugged me. This event propelled Nikhil to burst out laughing, but unlike Priya who was giggling now, he managed to say something, the gist of which was we two are equally hopeless and that lizard-eyes should have gone for the fork instead.
Our yawning cop came to life and asked Aditi if she was ok. He then went on and told the air above us that we were part of a busted rave party. There is nothing to fear from the party people because they are high with chemicals that even the sniffer dogs won’t smell. Even before he ended the denouement, a black canine was sniffing Nikhil’s balls who now had the looks similar to that of a ghost realizing for the first time he is dead. The sniffer dog’s cop then asked Nikhil to empty his pockets bringing relief to Nikhil’s face since he realized the dog wasn’t interested in his nuts. But to our surprise and dismay, out came five joints in perfect condition even after being in his pockets for hours. Nikhil always impressed me with these tricks which I am sure only a few could accomplish.
The ensuing consultation between our benevolent yawning cop and canine wielding cop concluded with exchanges of high-handed smirking. We were informed that we would be accompanying the party people to the police station for further proceeding. Before most of us could comprehend this new development and react, Priya’s friend burst out crying. A cry that was so feral and shrill that I thought it would wake up the still flattened out lizard-eyes on the floor. We all turned in that direction only to find Aditya consoling her, himself in teary eyes. Nikhil though, ignoring the cries started arguing with cops on legality of carrying marijuana when Aditi declared she is calling her dad to sort out the affair.
After a hushed up and a surprisingly quick call she assured us that we are not going to any police station. I had experienced this – being in control, being on top of situation voice of Aditi before, but others on the table looked at her with disbelieving eyes. Nikhil, taking advantage of this confusion, carefully and without attracting attention pocketed back the joints. He looked at me with a mischievous grin and explained the post break up celebratory purpose of the same. Aditi wouldn’t reveal details about her superdad and his plans in rescuing us innocent victims. My question regarding Aditi’s dad were different though, as I wondered if and when we would be able to kiss tonight. Will her dad take her with him or will she go in her own car. These questions remained questions in my head as we heard more sirens outside.
The white kurta clad man who entered looked important, there was an air of confidence mixed with disinterest in that confidence hovering above him. He nodded at Aditi and talked to a cop, one who suddenly started behaving like the leader of the gang. I always marveled at how these seemingly important people spotted their peers instantaneously. After a few minutes of discussion, Aditi’s dad came to our table and asked her about the friend. An awkwardly smiling Aditi pointed at me which he acknowledged with a conspiratorial nod. I was offered an enveloping hand to shake and asked if I would mind leaving the company of my friends for a while. Clueless, I looked around for support but was offered blank faces and the remnants of Aditi’s smile. Having no excuse that would rescue me, I joined kurta-dad on the way out of the restaurant.
“Beta, kyu karte ho ye sab?” he started as soon as we were out of the door. I realized this guy valued time and had none to spare.
“But what did I do,” I uttered confused, only to add a little too late, “sir?”
“Aditi has been telling all good things about you but first time we meet, you are caught with drugs and getting my little girl in trouble.”
“Oh, we were not doing drugs, there was a party upstairs. We were here for dinner.”
“Well that’s not what I was informed by the inspector, who by the way is a very honest cop. If he listens to me, which might happen tonight, it’s because I am an honest man myself.”
“I was not carrying any drugs,” I insisted, not listening to the disclaimers on honesty, “nor did I do drugs, ever. You may ask Aditi.”
“Of course she will support your claim,” he said, the tone now getting edgy. “That is exactly what we need to discuss here, all this boyfriend and dating stuff doesn’t suit a girl from our family. It needs to stop, also she needs to marry Akash.”
“I don’t think she wants to marry Akash, or for that matter anyone as of now,” the mention of Akash brought back the hero again. “Also, we are simply friends, I am not Aditi’s boyfriend.”
“Well that’s great then, let’s cut to the chase. She has been behaving weird since she broke up the marriage, exactly around the time you two started being simply friends. She has quit her job and wants to do something that none in my party understand. So I offer you this deal, the one you must not refuse.”
He looked at me with assessing eyes, and I did spot a wave of doubt pass over his face as he stated the terms of the deal.
“You stop being simply friends with my girl and none of you will be indicted tonight. Alternatively, you may continue messing with my girl’s mind, but only when you are acquitted of the charges for supplying drugs to rave parties.”
I looked at his face for a laugh, or even hints of a mocking smile but he remained as emotionless as a boiled egg.
“It has the sounds of an offer no sane person can refuse,” I said still looking into his eyes, still hopeful. But nothing changed in the firm face, and I gave up.
We shook hands, while his men fetched Aditi who left with a faint wave at me and an apologetic smile that every time I think of, still manages to make me fall in love with her, the girl with the round face.