A party was organized by the community residents of their neighbourhood to welcome a new family who had recently shifted in the block. The house next to Malhotra’s was the residence of Murthy’s and beyond that, two houses left to Murthy’s, was a bungalow vacant for past six months.
It had been in news for quite some time that the owners had sold the property to an Indian family but no one had occupied it, until now. Now, when a new family was shifting, they were going to become the fifth Indian family in the locality and it called for a celebration.
The entire community was at the community center, a small closed hall, extending to an open area adjoining a central garden. This space was dedicated for celebrations, festivals, and parties.
Manik had been on his phone, as the party bored him and a new video game appeared more interesting, keeping him occupied for most of the time. Nandini’s mom, Naina, spotted him and approached him, with a sweet request, “Manik beta, if you don’t mind, can you please call Nandini from our home?”
Manik raised a single brow at that. He was speechless for that one moment. Actually, he shouldn’t have been surprised as he and Nandu had always been close to each other and spent a lot of time hanging out together, including studying and playing tennis and biking. People often found them together. In fact, they associated them with each other so much that one was present at a place, people would automatically ask for the other. Tat included their families. So it was natural for her mom to ask him to find her. Her mother had no idea about their changing equations and her request was an innocent, genuine one.
But at Manik’s end, he felt embarrassed. He lowered his eyes wondering how to refuse her as last evening, Nandini had been very rude to him and he didn’t even know if she would appreciate him going to talk to her. In fact, he had decided that he will keep his distance from her now onwards as maybe Nandu wanted him to stay away from her.
He opened his mouth to refuse, but before that, Naina waved to welcome someone and walked away, telling Manik, “Okay, go fast and see, why she is taking so much time. We are waiting for her.”
Manik thought it would be rude to refuse, so he nodded and headed for the Murthys’ home to call Nandini. As he entered inside the quiet house,he found the Murthys’ maid Nancy aunty on the way. Aunt Nancy knew him since childhood and adored him.
“What do you want Manik baba?”
“Hello, aunty. I’m here to call Nandu. She is late for the party and everybody is waiting for her in the central square.”
“Go upstairs, then. She is getting ready for the party.”
Manik was not sure if Nandini was going to like it that he went to her room but he had no choice. He even thought of calling her on her phone but then he didn’t want to miss the chance of meeting her and talking to her, in case she refused to talk to him or meet him. Going suddenly and surprising her was better as the worst chances were that she will throw him out of her room. And he was fine with that, as long as he saw her face, no matter how irked she was, with him.
He rode the stairs to her room. The door was ajar and he knocked but no one replied. He stepped inside and looked around to find her. A muffled noise from her dressing space told him that she was there.
He walked towards the dressing space, only to find her calling out, “Nancy aunty, please help me with this zip.”
Impulsively, he walked ahead and spotted Nandu in a peach evening gown, with a sequined, lace bodice and a zip-open till her waist. All her hair was drawn towards one of her shoulders and brought back at the front, and her slim, silky back facing him. He walked closer to her and fastened the zip but one touch from him told her that it was Manik, standing behind her and not Nancy aunty. Nandini was startled.
His fingers were still working on her zip so she didn’t move. He could feel that she had stiffened. Without turning towards him, she asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Come on, Nandu. This is not the first time that I have come to your room. So stop pretending like we don’t know each other.”
“You didn’t tell me what brought you here.”
“Your mom asked me to call you as you are late for the party.”
This time she turned to face him and keeping a straight face, once again with no expressions, she said, “I’ll be there in a minute. I’m sorry you were bothered.”
Annoyed, he frowned and said, “Why are you behaving like that? Since yesterday, you are being so rude and unfair to me.”
“Unfair?” She raised a brow, with a sly up twist of her lip.
“We have always talked out our issues. We have shared and sorted out the worst of fall-outs, anger and mistakes. Apologized and forgiven. Isn’t it ‘unfair’ now that you decide to snub me off, behave so distant and refuse to share what happened. Tell me. Did I do something wrong?”
She walked away and sat down on her bed, struggling with the waves of emotions inside her heart. The truth was that even she didn’t know why she was behaving like this, what she wanted from him, and what did she expect from their relationship. It wasn’t Manik’s fault that she was clueless with her own mind and feelings but she couldn’t get a grip over those and felt helpless. She just knew that she loved him. And loved him like crazy. But he didn’t love her. He didn’t want her in his life and wanted to forget the intimate moments they spent with each other.
But didn’t she also want this, before she fell in love with him? She didn’t have any answer to this. The fact was that she had never thought about love so deeply, ever before.
And she hated it. She wanted to get rid of this crazy, silly, stupid feeling called love as soon as possible. And after that, she will never do this mistake again! Period.
She sat on the edge of the bed, thinking about all this, while Manik observed the changing look on her face, with his hands on his hips. She focused on wearing her high heel sandals. Her eyes were cold and her behaviour towards him was indifferent.
“What happened?” He asked, still looking at her and clueless about her frowns and pouts.
“I don’t want to talk to you.”
He stood there for one moment and asked, “Whatever happened between us?”
“Was Wrong! Was Reckless! Was Dirty.” She declared, not looking at him.
“Fine!!” He had no idea what made him so so so furious. Suddenly.
Angry at her words and her behaviour, he turned away, pushed through the door with a bang sound, making her upset too.
The next moment, he was fuming, out of her room and out of her house. He couldn’t accept what she spoke about their secret affair. She was sometimes so heartless. For him, none of what happened between them was dirty or shameful.
For him, it was love all the way.