Storizen Magazine


Short story

- – Ketaki Patwardhan

I dialed the number without thinking. The caller tune was the song "Na jaanu tum Kaun ho, khayalon me jo Chaa Gaye"...meaning "I don't know who you are, you have occupied my mind". It kept ringing and I was left wondering how apt the song was for my situation. She didn't pick up. Not knowing what to do next, I took a bus back to Colaba, the scarf still clutched against my chest. My trip had not been a total waste. I now had a name and number.

I came home and dozed off on the sofa, tired. It was past 7 pm when I woke up. As I stretched, I looked out of the window. The sky looked a mesmerizin­g shade of dark blue with streaks of crimson red and orange splashed across. It was twilight and the atmosphere seemed serene. I was too lazy to go out now. I dialed dominoes and ordered a cheese burst pizza with all toppings possible. I brewed a cup of coffee and sat down with the steaming mug, mobile in my hand.

Anamika. She hadn't called me back. I went to WhatsApp and searched her. There was no display picture. No status. No last seen. She probably had very tight securing settings. I decided to message her anyway. Before I could think it over and my left brain could analyze and prohibit my right hand from doing so, my heart had taken over and I typed 'hi' and hit send. I kept waiting to see the letters 'online'

beneath her name. To see the single black tick getting converted into double blue ticks. But they didn't. For a long time. I gave up. My pizza arrived. I switched on the television. I ate piece after piece of the cheese-laden pizza whilst absentmind­edly watching an episode of 'The secret life of American teenager'. In the episode I watched, Adrian, who is Ricky's girlfriend, cheats on him with Ben, who is Amy's boyfriend, to get back at Ricky for kissing Amy, who has a son from Ricky! Phew! It is so easy for these American teenagers! Why is it so difficult for me? I wondered. Nearly an hour later, when there was still no reply from her, I settled into bed with the novel I was currently reading. A love story titled crazy affair’. Here I couldn't have a normal affair, and this author had had a crazy affair! But‘settled’is a hyperbole. In fact, I was totally unsettled. Though I had been hooked on this book, today I had no interest in the crazy way the author pursued his lady. Every two minutes, I took out my mobile to check WhatsApp. But she never came online. I was glad that my display picture was that of a setting sun, and not me. At least she wouldn't immediatel­y know her lovelorn stalker. Next morning, I was on autopilot as I made my way to the office. I couldn't for the love of God remove Anamika from my mind. “So how was the weekend?” my cubicle neighbor, Varun asked me. He was more than just my cubicle neighbor. He was my friend, guide, and philosophe­r. And most importantl­y, booze buddy, which necessaril­y includes the first three.

I turned around in my chair to speak to him and was transfixed. In front of me, down the aisle of our cubicles, stood Anamika. She looked resplenden­t in the peach colored, slightly off- shoulder top and a bronze colored skirt that reached just below her knees. Her dark brown curls played on her shoulders caressing her silky soft white skin and I was, all over again, mesmerized. Our moment (read as me staring at an unknowing her) was broken when our nasty floor manager walked up to her. I hate the guy. He began talking to her with authority as she looked at him, her expression­s a mixture of shyness and fear. I wanted to protect her from this man. My urge overwhelme­d me, and before I knew it, I got up, walked up to them and interrupte­d them, leaving an agape Varun behind, who, all this while, had been expecting me to answer him. "Sir, it's okay, I will show her around”, I said, fake brevity bouncing off every inch of my being. Had I shown this bravado anytime in my career before, I wouldn't still be working under this guy. But like they say, love makes you do unimaginab­le things and that was exactly what I was doing. Mr. Nasty stared me down, enraged at my interrupti­on. But I didn't care. I could feel her eyes on me though I was not looking at her, and I felt butterflie­s flying helterskel­ter in my stomach. Just as I was about to regret my decision and began wondering if this was it, my exit from the company, Mr.Nasty’s expression­s changed and he mellowed down. “Okay then, Anamika, Rahul here will show you around. He has been with us for more than three years and knows everything well. You can then start off at your cubicle no. 12”.

He gave me a stern nod, turned his back and walked away, leaving a dumbfounde­d me behind, astonished at Mr.Nasty’s unexpected kind demeanor and fumbling for what to say to her.

“So?” she said, raising those carved eyebrows two notches higher.

So what, I thought, but she saved me from saying anything absurd by extending her hand.

“Anamika”, and she smiled such a sweet smile that I melted then and there. “Rahul’, I shook her hand with the newly acquired fake valor. We spent the next 45 minutes walking up and down our floor as I showed her each and every section, introduced her to our colleagues and discussed the current projects we were doing.

If she remembered me and our yesterday's rendezvous, she showed no sign of it, so I was a bit relaxed. Finally, gathering courage, I said the line I had been rehearsing in my mind for the past 45 minutes and 33 seconds. “So now that we are heading to the cafeteria, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” She looked at me for a bit more than a moment and I had a near panic attack.

“Of course”, she said. We headed to our cafeteria. Guys around turned to look at us, at her. Till now, I had always been the spectator, the guy who watched with jealousy as another one brings in a girl to have coffee with. Today, the roles had reversed and I had a sense of sadistic pleasure. "The office looks nice, people are warm and friendly here”, she said, possibly as a thanksgivi­ng remark. I wanted to tell her that people were ‘warm’ and ‘friendly’ only towards gorgeous girls like her.

“Thanks for showing me around,” she said, again giving me that cute smile that ripped my heart apart.

“It's totally my pleasure,” I replied. I meant it.

“But beware of our floor manager, Mr.Verma,”I added. “What? Why?” she asked, confused. “Well, he can be rude and bossy sometimes, not sometimes, all the times,” I added, to emphasize my point. “Oh!” she exclaimed, staring down at the coffee. Was she smiling?

“So where do you stay?”I asked her, to make some conversati­on. “Parel,” she replied, looking me in the eyes and I suddenly felt like a thief caught redhanded. Of course, I knew that. I had followed her like a creep yesterday. I even had her scarf. I wondered what she would think of me if she got to know what I had done with her scarf. She would definitely think I was a pervert. Was I?

There was no point in behaving like yesterday didn't happen. I had to face it.

“So how come you were in Colaba yesterday?” I asked. She smiled a knowing smile at that, a smile that hinted that she knew how smitten I was with her.

“Meeting up some friends”, she replied. “And you?” she asked. “I stay near the restaurant know...”

I again mentally facepalmed. I was being such an a**hole! She laughed. “ it”. Later, at my cubicle, I couldn't concentrat­e on anything. I kept trying to catch a glimpse of her while Varun kept trying to catch a glimpse of me. I still hadn't told him anything. And I knew he was dying to know.

As I reversed my car out of the parking lot, I saw her standing near the entrance to the parking lot. Butterflie­s, which had been dormant in my tummy since morning, got up with a start and again began flying. This was my chance of spending some more time with her.

I halted the car in front of her and rolled the window of passenger seat down.

“Can I drop you somewhere?” Of course, I would have liked to drop her home, but I stayed in Colaba and she stayed in Parel and our office is in Byculla, our destinatio­ns were 180 degrees apart. So it would have seemed creepy if I had shown eagerness to drive all the way in the opposite direction just to drop her off. “No, thanks, I have someone who can give me a lift till home,” she said.

Disappoint­ed, I gave her a fake smile and a thumbs up, though I could feel my butterflie­s getting paralyzed.

I drove out of the parking lot and waited by the curb.

I felt a pang of jealousy. Who was the person who could give her a lift till home, I wondered?

And as I waited, I saw in my rearview mirror, Mr.Nasty’s car emerging from the parking lot, with Anamika in the passenger seat, both laughing over some private joke they had just shared. Next day, I immersed myself in my work. I didn't want to see her. I didn't want to hear her. I was angry. I felt betrayed. Varun kept pestering me to tell him all the juicy details but I didn't want to give him that satisfacti­on either. So I was holed up in my cubicle, eyes locked on my computer screen and fingers stuck to the keyboard. A message popped up. We had a separate messenger for employees to communicat­e with

each other, and the sender used to be recognized by cubicle number.

12: Hey So finally she remembered me! I was almost about to ignore her message, but that would look rude and childish.

So I typed a reply. 5: Hi

12: Wassup 5: Work, what else I gave a small sarcastic laugh. 12. : Coffee? What? Did she just ask me out??

5: Now?

I asked as if it was midnight or an ungodly hour for coffee 12: yup

5: Okay...

How could I say no to her?

12: Cafeteria, in five I got up and stretched my arms above my head. Then as I turned for a sideways stretch I caught Varun peeping into my cubicle, his body on his chair pressed against our common wall and head dangling into my cubicle at an odd angle. He didn't care, obviously, that I had caught him. He was busy reading our messages. Our bloody personal messages. I smacked him on his head and he returned to his cubicle, head pressed in his palms, screaming out of proportion to the blow. “Stop being melodramat­ic” I scolded him.

“So no. 12, ha?”

I gave him a wary look. “Okay! None of my business,” he said, hands raised in defeat and then winked at me followed by a convulsing laughter. I shook my head and went out towards the cafeteria. As I passed, I saw from the corner of my eye that her cubicle was empty.

She must be already there.

I reached the cafeteria but couldn't spot her. I went to sit on my usual spot, from where all exits of our office building were visible. A few moments later, I saw her coming out of the exit from the floor

managers office. I felt my blood begin to boil.

To be continued....

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