Priya’s instincts told her to flee, as she entered the Lounge club in Gurgaon. Having fun, seemed no fun without him, and especially so after that call in the morning.
The huge, LED-lit elliptical floor in the centre sizzled with Saturday night dance-fever. The two-tiered dance pub was full of people determined to shed their weeklong stress, an attitude which was at odds with her frame of mind. She just wanted to curl up and sleep at a place where no one could reach her.
Bracing herself for at least a couple of hours of torture, she sighed and inhaled the warm, stale air. Her
head began to throb in rhythm to the music beats and blinking lights, but there was no escape, for Komal and Aditi flanked her on either side, as if she would run away. She regretted telling them about the phone call.
“Bad idea,” she muttered.
“Did you say something?” Komal asked.
She shook her head.
“You two grab a table. I’ll take care of the drinks,” Komal yelled over the loud music.
Aditi nodded and they proceeded to a recently vacated cocktail table nearby.
The heart-sinking phone call continued to haunt her as she mechanically followed Aditi. His phone attended by some other woman! How was that possible? Was he having an affair? How could she even think like that? He loved her.
Yet, she couldn’t digest that it might just be platonic, the husky bedroom voice still echoed in her ears. She had called him and a woman picked up the call by the second ring.
But this could simply mean that the phone was with the lady, and not with him. Perhaps the she hadn’t passed on her message to him. But the woman had dismissed the call so confidently, it seemed he WAS with her – Priya’s mind had been running on these lines since the morning and coming up with all the different inferences and conclusions. If it was innocent, why was his phone switched off and why hadn’t he called?
The whole incident had taken on a dreamlike quality. She pressed her fingers to her temple and checked her phone again for any missed call or message. How could he do this to her? He should have known that she would worry.
“You are being bull-headed, you know.” Aditi nudged Priya to take some interest in the surroundings. “Just chill! For all you know, there might be a logical explanation to all this.”
“What if he comes back and doesn’t find me?”
“He can call you, Priya. Really, you need some distraction to clear your head. Why don’t you forget about everything and enjoy yourself for a while?” She tilted her head. “You’re attracting attention. Look, that guy there is checking you out.”
She turned and noticed a man at the bar, staring at her. She rolled her eyes at Aditi when he made no
move to look away. Aditi grinned.
Abhimanyu felt a jolt pass through him as she looked at him, he just couldn’t take his eyes off her. For the first time in his life, he understood the meaning of heart missing a beat. The girl looked completely out of place with her lost and desolate expression. Her long hair cascaded down on one shoulder, but her eyes were the most arresting features, black eyelashes almost touched her cheeks when she checked the cell phone repeatedly.
“Abhi, we’re starting a new one,” Rahul called him from the table they had for themselves. Keeping the girl in his line of sight, he picked up his drink and moved towards his friends. The guys were boasting of their trysts with female colleagues, in their offices. Although he pretended to listen to them, he tracked her across the hall. She and her friend were waiting for someone at a cocktail table. She appeared distracted and troubled. He had a sudden urge to go to her, smoothen out the worry lines on her forehead and see her smile. The need to look into her eyes again, grew like an alien insidious weed.
Someone tapped his shoulder and he glanced over with an annoyed scowl.
“Chal…” Rahul stood beside him.
“She must be pretty special to get your attention. Let’s go and introduce ourselves.” Rahul tapped his shoulder again.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. They seem to be waiting for someone. She might be with a partner.”
“Well… for you my friend, I’m willing to take the risk.”
He chuckled. “Let it be. You’ll get bashed up without any reason and that too on your birthday.”
“Isn’t that Komal?”
He glanced at the cocktail table again and spotted his cousin talking to Miss-Beautiful-Eyes. “Okay, let’s go… but wait a minute, why do you want to tag along?”
“Why not? Maybe she will like me instead, besides today is my lucky day.” Undeterred, Rahul followed.
“Hey Komal!” he said, keeping his gaze locked on miss-doe-eyes, willing her to look at him. To his annoyance, the cell phone slipped from her fingers and she ducked under the table.
“Abhi bhaiya, fancy seeing you here,” Komal said and grinned. “I thought you were too mature for this kind of place.”
He smiled at Komal and glanced at the girl, putting her phone together, battery, cover and all. It had come apart when it fell.
“His highness has come at my insistence, to grace my birthday party today,” Rahul said. “You ladies can introduce yourselves and wish me ‘happy birthday’ with a kiss. I don’t do presents.”
Komal promptly hugged Rahul and pressed a kiss on his cheek. She introduced them to her friends. Aditi raised her eyebrows, recognizing Abhimanyu, as the one who had been staring at Priya. She threw a knowing smile at him, and wished Rahul. Then she nudged Priya, when there was no response from her.
Priya looked up from the phone, greeted Rahul, gave him a fleeting glance and continued to fiddle with the phone. He frowned. A girl ignoring him was a new experience. Priya… nice name… suited her.
Rahul invited them to join his table, which the girls accepted graciously. They picked up their drinks and shifted to the alcove. Rahul managed to manoeuvre their seating such that Priya was seated next to him, while Rahul manipulated Aditi’s attention.
Abhimanyu, smitten, couldn’t understand his fascination with her. He would have laughed, if someone had told him that one day he would behave like a teenager, in first throes of infatuation. Even at that age of foolish attachments he had never been attracted to anyone at first sight. His school and college friends used to fall for teachers and schoolmates easily, but he had never felt this kind of weird pull.
And yet, here he was – without looking at her, he could describe her right from her black hair secured on one side with some kind of clip, and long earrings, to her lemon yellow dress with fitted sleeves and handkerchief hem.
“Girls, I’m waiting for my birthday present?” Rahul tapped his cheek. Aditi smiled politely and glanced at the dance floor. Priya ignored him and took a sip from her glass.
“Come on… I expected you to come up with something original,” Komal said.
“Well with kiddos like you around, I’ve gotta be a little cautious with my lines.” Rahul winked at him.
“Gimme a break!” Komal waved her hand in the air.
“Shall we dance?” Rahul invited both Komal and Aditi. The three of them moved to the dance floor. His
other friends were already on the dance floor in a tacit agreement to leave him alone with Priya.
Abhimanyu leaned towards her and caught a whiff of her perfume. He couldn’t quite place the smell, subtle fragrance of jasmine, mixed with something else, something alluring. Unmindful to everything around her, she continued to trace the rim of her glass with her index finger.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
She lifted her head, making eye contact at last and shook her head.
His heart missed a beat again. “Where are you studying?”
A trace of a smile touched her lips then vanished. “I’m not a student. I work with Komal.”
“So… what do you work… err… I mean, do?” he said, mesmerized with her moist almond-shaped eyes,as if they were holding unshed tears.
“I’m a software programmer, there are different projects.”
To his frustration, she glanced at the cell phone again. “Now it’s your turn to ask about me.”
Taken aback, she glanced at him again.
He shrugged. “Common courtesy…”
She smiled. His heartbeat took a different rhythm. This time he broke the eye contact and glanced at the dance floor. This was crazy.
It was then, she made the connection and frowned. “Aren’t you the one, who was staring at me earlier?”
Her eyes widened at his quick, honest answer, and he couldn’t help but smile at her surprised reaction.
What did she expect?
“Look, if you are hitting on me, you shouldn’t.”
Taken aback at the bland statement, he frowned, another first for him. But before he could respond, someone increased the volume of the already thundering music. She winced and touched her fingers to her head again. Conversation was absolutely impossible now, that was the reason he hated these kinds of places.
Komal came back from the dance floor frowning and glared at him. She opened her mouth, but her cellphone vibrated and she had to go out to take the call.
“Shall I get a refill?” He tried again, tapping her glass with his own.
She shook her head and clung to the phone, as if it was her lifeline.
Exasperated and jealous of the damn cell phone, he went for direct attack. “Nice model,” he said loudly.
The DJ switched the music, to something with slow beats.
“Thanks, my husband gifted it to me, on our first anniversary,” she said, completely oblivious to the bomb she had dropped on him.
Abhimanyu’s cell phone rang early the next morning. “She’s married.”
He sighed. “Hi, good morning, Komal. I know, she told me.”
“You knew and still…”
“I came to know towards the end of the conversation, and after that you all left.”
“She is very young, younger than me and had to marry. Her husband is a selfish bastard and, I think, is cheating on her.”
“I don’t want to know about her or her marital life. I have no interest in her whatsoever.” His tone must have warned Komal not to push her luck.
“Okay, fine. I called to give you a message from Mom. Whenever you are going to Chandigarh next, she’ll also go with you to spend some time with mamaji and mamiji.”
After exchanging the usual pleasantries, he put the phone down and frowned at the ceiling. He still couldn’t reconcile to the fact that he had hit on a married woman. How was one supposed to know that someone is married these days? No one sported the traditional, hands-off-I-am-married symbols anymore. There should be some rules about that, besides, she looked too young to be married.
His thoughts again went to his bizarre reaction last night… perhaps he should put the blame on the ambience, drinks and to an extent on Rahul. He was always pushing him to hook up with someone or the other.
Abhimanyu was confident, that if he met her next, he would be able to maintain his distance.
Wait a minute, why am I thinking of meeting her again? Goddamn it!
Priya woke up the next morning, without any relief from the night’s headache. She felt wrung out from all the emotions churning in her mind and couldn’t get up. Sameer should be returning from Mumbai today.
They had had a massive argument the night before he was scheduled to go for the audition in Mumbai. As usual the fight was over money, which she didn’t have, and he needed. He had left for the airport the next morning, without their customary goodbye. Even those goodbyes had cooled down considerably, for the past few months.
Despite the cold war between them, she had called him yesterday morning to wish him good luck. And a sleepy, husky female voice had answered the phone. She couldn’t help but recall the conversation.
“Who is this?”
“Who are you?”
“I would like to speak to Sameer? I’m Priya, his wife.”
“Oh… h… Sameer you have become so famous that your female fans are imagining themselves married to you,” said the amused husky voice, and the phone was disconnected.
That was it. Her heart had sunk to her knees for the first few seconds, with the phone glued to her ear. She was able to regain her senses after a few minutes, and had clamped down the dreadful thoughts numbing her
Was Sameer keeping their marriage a secret from everyone?
She got up from the bed. Who was this woman? Jealousy made her turn towards the wardrobe mirror. What did the woman have which she didn’t? She couldn’t come up with any answer. Was she vain? ‘Maybe’, she shrugged.
Her mind refused to consider the possibility of him cheating on her. He was her husband of two years, she knew him. She had married him after going out with him for three years. Granted, he was a little self-absorbed with his looks, clothes and image, but he had always been attentive and caring towards her.
Was she over analysing the whole situation? Was it really worth agonizing over? What if there was a simple explanation? She would look like a conservative, narrow-minded shrew. If she was unable to handle one phone call, how would she handle his co-stars and fans when he would become successful?
Putting her doubts aside, she carried on with her weekend chores. With Sameer shuttling between Delhi and Mumbai, he was unable to contribute much to house-work and everything fell on Priya.
By afternoon, the initial wave of insecurity and worry, turned into boiling hot anger. He must have left the phone somewhere again. If he had lost it, he should have called her from a payphone or a landline. He had always been inconsiderate. Her friends were right, if he didn’t care, why should she spoil her weekend?
She called up Sakshi, her landlady Mrs Bhatia’s daughter and went to see a movie with her.