The alarm went off. Its menacing, periodic, notes impregnated a dark amorphous shell and rudely described its boundary and in an animated terror a beast awoke and as if bound by an invisible net comically reached for the clock. Almost instantly the alarm was silenced and Rajeev was awake. 7:00 AM. He lay there, silent and still, blindfolded by a comfortable cool darkness to listen to the late early morning. At first he did not notice or perhaps he only noticed the heavy impounding silence of his room, trying to enter his skull and awareness. Breathe out. Then slowly he could make out the birdsong, an orchestra –almost – of known and unseen birds. A rhythmic squeaking of the milkman’s peddling (the one who parks at the C wing of the ShantiNiketan Soc.) comes next, after which the far away rattling of the idle chain of another milkman’s bicycle slowly grows as he parks right under the curtained window and goes to work. A brass bell rings shrill and the mist disappears; the sedated awareness of Rajeev shudders back to the reality. This is not his bed; these are cream colored sheets that smell strange. Of course, this is Her place. And he springs up on his elbows and frantically looks for Her, when he hears the clicking of the lighter coming from the kitchen.
She is already up. It is actually around 6:15 AM. A warm feeling of relief floods his body and he feels his heart beating. Smirking, he does a mental inventory of where he might find his things. The shirt is on the chair where he placed it (while She freed her locks), except the business cards and other bookmarks of his routine have fallen onto floor, with only his pen hanging precariously to hem of his breastpocket. Searching for his vest his gaze is directed to the other side of the bed – at the floor and finds it missing; which was thrown there by Her, after She pulled it off of him and he felt Her cool upper bosom and the warm fabric of Her bra contact his blazing chest (which interrupted him as he was kissing Her and undoing the brassiere). Puzzled, his eyes traced along the lines of the wardrobe to find the garment neatly hanging over a slightly open door and farther away on hanger, were his black mixed-fabric pants which he recalled, as She pushed them down along his legs and clutched his upper thigh in the firm, hot grasp of Her crazed, soft, inner thighs (while he vigorously pecked at Her neck, right under Her ear). He falls back on his pillow and smiles, scans with his legs for his undies, under the sheets and after a bit of straining and stretching finds them and after another little round of uncomfortable postures he pulls them up over his pelvis; now he feels a little secure and comfortable to become active.
The sound of approaching footsteps catches his attention and instinctively, he reaches for his shirt. She springs the bedroom door wide open and
“You have to get out now! Hurry!”
“Mom and Dad will be here any minute! Run! Fast!”
Rajeev scrambles for all his belongings at once and before he realizes anything She hurls his hung clothes at his face, pants first. As he wildly gets a hold of himself as he kicks off the sheets. He then straps on the pants, slides inside the vest and flings his shirt over like a robe. He gets off the bed and promptly gathers the contents of his breastpocket that were piled on the floor, these get stuffed in by one hand as the other checks for the purse in the pants.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!!”
He hastily buttons his shirt as he follows her to the living, then near the main door
“Shit, the mobile!”
And he starts to turn.
“Wait here I’ll get it.”
He watches as Her dim figure return to the dark interior, with just a sweater over her lingerie and Her open hair over her bust. The morning air is cold, anxiously he checks the time
“Get the watch too!”
Jittery and jumpy he waits a bit longer, putting his shirt inside his pants. She returns and thrusts his property into his clumsy hands.
“Now leave. Quick!”
“But when will we meet again?”
“Oh! I’ll wait at the stop. OK? Now go!”
She opens the latched doors for him in a moment and in a moment shuts them before he could
The day is dry and hot and even if he had not left his bike at the mechanic’s he would’ve hated to ride in all the dust and smoke on such a day. Another hour and the sunlight starts to slant, then it’ll get better but by that time I’ll be back home, he thinks. Its 3:30 PM. There’s not much crowd at the bus stop either, just some young girls and boys. There’s a middle-aged man with bundles of electrical wires, big heap too, hard work- he thinks. There’s a trio of old ladies dressed like house-helps carrying plastic bags of their own, not heavy – they are chatting away – with worn down faces. There’s just one smartly dressed guy, about his own age, fair, clean shaved, perfect cut hair, clean hand that just holds a cell phone to his ear as he assures the person on the other end that his schedule is crammed and something about a party. Well paying job he must have – a thought crosses his mind as he looks on and catches him stealing a glance at the noisy heard of girls. He smiles and he too resumes caressing with is sight, the contours of a young girl’s clothes as she is animated in a lustful context in his mind. He watches the road especially, the rickshaws, to see if any is vacant. He readjusts to align his eyes and head in the shadow and tidies his shirt and creases. Fifteen minutes, what a bore! He mutters in his head and to move around, turns. There he sees Janvi, at first he not certain. Something about her doesn’t add up it seems but then she lights up a smile. It is her!
Both of them are awestruck and suddenly forget about the heat, listlessness and the time of the day. He points at her
She point at him and exclaims
“O lord you’ve changed, a lot!”
“And look at you!”
“I know, I know. What are you doing here?”
“Going home, what about you? Where do you work?”
“Well I do insurance work at many agencies.”
“Don’t you use a bike? I could really use a lift today!”
“Tell me about it! I decided to do a half day today and left it for servicing.”
“So you’re free now?”
“Alright, it’s my treat.”
“Umm…OK I know a good ice cream parlor near my place.”
“Sure! You definitely look young for our age”
“That’s rude! I have my secrets.”
“So everybody’s still here?”
“No, I live at a new place with PGs, mom and dad moved back to Indore.”
“And what about Ritu?”
“Well she’s gone abroad for her degree.”
“Wow! Meh…she was always bright.”
“Ha ha, ya right.”
They exchanged pleasantries while a feeling of nostalgia descended over Rajeev. Janvi was his childhood darling. He spent almost all the time of the five years his family was in the Government colony, with her, playing, laughing, crying. She was the sweetest thing in his life, even today and now this accident had created a raging storm of emotions, memories and hopes inside him. He was awake again, giggling like the young girls, alive after a very long time. Janvi was his soulmate, his better half! Even when little they always shared a silent understanding, he remembered that if he had her, there was nothing else he needed – just her company. Many times he recalled, they would sit around for hours just sitting there, sometimes talking but mostly just sitting, doing nothing. He remembered how feverish he’d been when Janvi’s spent the summer in Indore and how Janvi spent her holidays with his family. Everyone around then had branded them Man and Wife because of the way they fought among themselves and for one another. Everybody teased and called names that time but secretly they both accepted it too. He often dreams of a future with Janvi, of their offspring, scenes with relatives, with friends. He loved her with all his being and now it was all coming back, that flooded all his senses. He had lost her once, now he has the perfect opportunity, now he’ll never let her go.
The bus arrives and they board, he lets her go first, trying to act like a gentleman and also to get close to her. She had really changed over the years, she is completely new. Her demeanor, the way she walked, dressed, she never wore tank tops and jeans, her hairstyle, it was always a bit short and open and the way she talked, she was very conservative and spoke softly and never laughed loud. They sat and as always she took the window seat while he bought the tickets. He sat cautiously, like her, maintaining fair space between their bodies, although she didn’t grow up like he imagined her in his fantasies, he was aroused by her. Her face had gotten a bit sharper but still delicate in features, her physique he found most exquisite and though she was always a bit taller than him, now he could look down towards her. She wore a light green shirt, dark blue pants and short heel shoes, shining black, office girl she had become. She commented on the hot weather and adjusted her collar, which opened an already loose button. Her hands on the contrary were not as elegant and her eyes, her eyes were brown? As casually as she could she placed her hands on the handles of the next seat in front of her and let her breasts squeeze a bit. He unknowingly leered at her soft, ample bosom and in space between their bodies he could feel the rising sexual tension.
The mounting pressure of the circumstance receded when their stop arrived, where they alighted and made their way through the crowd to the designated parlor. She led him to a cushioned corner where they sat. He ordered strawberry for her and butterscotch for himself.
“You always liked chocolate; I guess you too have changed.”
“Yes, but you didn’t mind the strawberry, so I guess you still the same old Janvi on the inside.”
“Umm…I say you should see for yourself.”
Where she was getting at he couldn’t say. Focus, he thought and gathered his wits and directed the conversation to the most important issue.
“You remember the terrace of the B wing?”
“Oh how I loved it…watching the skyline.”
The ice-cream arrived. She avoided his gaze and single-mindedly ate her ice-cream while he savored the cold, creamy sweetness as slowly as he could as he watched her timid response. None spoke. Janvi finished her ice-cream and was getting a bit awkward of looking into his eyes.
“You have tasted this flavor, butterscotch I mean”
“Uh…ya sure…what kind of a question is that?”
“I mean this here is the best I’ve ever tasted. Here try some.”
And he took a spoonful to her lips, which quivered at first, the parted slightly and delicately pecked the sample. She blushed. He smiled.
“And do you remember how furious you had been when Sandy had pushed me and I hurt my elbow?”
She looked at him and averting her eyes
He looked at her for a while and then
“I’m bored; you said you’re free this evening, so let’s get out of here. What say about dinner?”
It was about 6:00 PM when they left the parlor. He took her around some regular haunts till the evening got along and then they headed to a nice restaurant he knew that had mellow lights and sparse service, which gave them ample privacy. He ordered the dinner.
“So tell me, is there someone special in your life?”
“Uh…well…well about that, there actually is someone.”
His heart froze and his stomach sank into its cavity and all the time she stared right into his eyes, unblinking. He drank some water to calm his nerves and after a few seconds to break the ice
“Well…uff…who’s…uh…the lucky guy?”
“I…I…guess I’ll tell you later.”
That moment he fell back to his chair and sighed
“Oh…alright…whenever you’re comfortable. I mean we’ll be in touch right?”
“Yes, yes, that’s right.”
“So…How’s everything at home again?”
And the tension was relived almost as if nothing had happened, almost. The dinner was served. They ate silently, paid the bill and stepped outside.
“So how are you going home?”
“Yes, about that, I was thinking maybe you could take me to my place…”
“It’s late and it’s kind of a lonely way there and…”
“…my roommates are at their parents’.”
“…don’t worry. Come on, we should find a rickshaw.”
They couldn’t find a rickshaw, so they decided to hire a taxi. The road was long and passed a lonely patch of land illuminated only by the yellow street lights. It was dark and silent in the back seat. He was getting restless again, the pressure had started to build again, the dark still air was tense with anticipation, when he tried to look at her from the corner of his eye, he couldn’t see. Then the pulsating yellow light and dark spoke, into the low humming of the vehicle.
“About, the special person…”
His heart pounded as he listened, a million thoughts assailed his stunned mind only to be brought to the brink of an explosion when she slid close, laid her head upon his shoulder and breathed upon his neck
“It is You.”
For a few seconds he did not dare to stir but as he slowly calmed down, he looked at her and his shaking hand embraced her and said
“It was always you”
They confessed their love as they caressed each other and in their passion, they did not notice that the taxi had passed into the suburbs and the light and the traffic was heavy. He caught the gloating eyes of the driver in the rear-view and slowly pushed her away, brought back to reality. He opened the window and asked the driver to turn off the AC. They stopped near a pharmacy. There was no need to talk; it was like the old days again.
They reached her apartment and as soon as they were inside, he slammed her against the wall and smothered her with kisses smearing her lipstick. She sunk her nails in his back and clutched his hair as she gasped. In the bedroom he was groping her and pinching her through her clothes, finally he threw her on the bed and began to slowly remove his shirt while she was undoing her hair.
Rajeev looked like a bum who had just stolen a watch and a cell phone as he stood perplexed in front of her door around 6:25 AM as shown by his mobile. He sighed and summoned the lift, he got in it lazily and pressed the G. He calmly wore his watch and readjusted his shirt and tried to look as presentable as he could. He smiled as he got out of the lift and made it out of the housing society compound and on the way he double checked to make sure he had everything and kept smiling. He tried not to think, as was his habit while he coolly waited for the first bus to arrive. He was just feeling. Everything was lit up as if it were paradise, the chirping of the birds, the school children, the newspaper vendors, stray dogs and even the filthy beggars seemed joyous to him; he was floating on air and intermittently focused not to think. After a while the bus arrived, it was quite empty since it was a stop or two from the Depot, he got on whistling some easy tune, paid the conductor when he too smiled and joked. It was a new beginning and sunshine was piercing through the cold, chilly air of early morning.
As the bus raced along its career, it stopped for a long time at a crowded stop, all kinds of children and teenagers were getting on which filled the air with commotion. Rajeev there saw, on the opposite side of the road, a hand-cart puller in all his glory starting the day with a slight smile, his eyes followed the laborer’s march when they picked up a rickshaw coming towards the bus on the other side. As it neared the bus it slowed and stopped completely exactly diagonal to Rajeev’s position, a woman got off, paid the driver and started to cross the road to Rajeev’s side, while he looked on. The bus was overcrowded, people spoke in loud voices, the bus’ gear got stuck but Rajeev could not hear a thing! All he could hear was his heartbeat slowing down, feel his chest caving in and as the bus slowly moved on he stared right into the eyes of Janvi! He saw her as clear as he could see the day, she was just like he imagined – tall, slightly oval face, long, slender, ladylike fingers and wearing a traditional salwaar-kameez. And as the bus pulled away-as if to say something, she too stood in the middle of the road, paralyzed and staring with her deep, dark back eyes!