She still remembered that evening of overcast sky, 15 years ago. She and her friend were returning from their tuition classes, walking hurriedly to reach home before the skies tore open. But their efforts were futile, as the untimely rains left them stranded. They sought shelter beneath a big tree, but the streams of water running down from the leaves left them drenched. Just then a jazzy red Maruti 800 whizzed past them and then immediately went into reverse gear and stopped next to them. The two girls, studying in the 12th grade of the Nainital Public School stared as the window rolled down to reveal a handsome face, which made both the girls go weak in their knees. Those deep-set eyes arrested their focus, as the handsome boy introduced himself. “Hi! I’m Mayank Avasthi. I live in the house next door,” he said, fixing his gaze on Natasha. So he was Sushma Aunty’s son! The one who was studying in Mumbai. Must have come down for his semester break. Gosh! He’s so damn good-looking.
“Why don’t you’ll hop in? I’ll drop you home. Anyways your house is just next to mine,” said Mayank. While the lightning lit up the sky amidst the heavy downpour, Mayank’s statement lit up Natasha’s heart. This handsome guy had already noticed her. And she was not even aware of it. The friends smiled at Mayank and then looked at each other, unsure of their action. “You sit here beside me and show me the way to your friend’s place,” said Mayank looking straight into Natasha’s eyes, as he opened the passenger seat door of the car.
She needed no more persuasion. “Let’s go Rita,” said Natasha, as her friend dutifully occupied the rear seat. “So what is your name?” Mayank asked Natasha. She replied and then introduced her friend. She also added how she has heard a lot about him from Sushma Aunty, to which Mayank laughed and quipped “I hope only good things”. The girls smiled at what they thought was a witty response, from this smart city dweller. Natasha showed him the way to Rita’s house and after dropping her home, it was just Natasha and Mayank in the car.
This was the first time Natasha was sitting next to someone, except her father, in a car. And Bollywood movies (she depended on them for lessons of life) had taught her that if a guy offered the front seat to a girl it could only mean that he had a romantic inclination towards her. The thought of it made Natasha’s cheeks turn crimson and when Mayank intruded her thoughts with a “Nainital is a beautiful place with beautiful people,” Natasha could only give him a bashful smile.
For the first time Natasha was disappointed that the drive from her tutor’s place to her home was so short. “Thank you, Mayank,” said Natasha as she opened the car door, but before she could step out, Mayank seized the opportunity and said, “I want a favour in return. You have to take me around this beautiful place and I’ll be your driver for that day.” Natasha readily agreed, again thinking to herself that their conversation was following the exact route the hero and heroine took in Bollywood cinema. She returned home happy and chirpy and told her Mom about Mayank’s generous gesture of dropping them back home. Her Mom was happy too, so next day when she made ‘gajar ka halwa’ for her family she thought of sharing with their neighbor. On knowing this, Natasha volunteered to take it to Sushma Aunty’s house. How could she miss the chance to see Mayank again? So she took the container from her Mom and went to Sushma Aunty’s house. Mayank opened the door. Uncle and Aunty had gone for an evening walk. He invited Natasha in.
So a cheerful Natasha went into Mayank’s house, but the girl who exited Avasthi house was not the same Natasha at all. While taking the container from her, Mayank’s hand brushed against her and the touch felt deliberate, but it did not stop at that. Mayank stepped closer, pushing her against the wall while she protested, drowning her voice by closing on her mouth with his and violating her with his ‘villainous’ touch. The rough skin on his hand savagely explored the smoothness of her belly, beneath her t-shirt, as it traversed upward and in her defense a helpless Natasha could only manage an aimless kick towards his groin.
As if by divine providence, the doorbell rang just then. At this Mayank’s grip on her loosened and Natasha sprang towards the door to open it. Sushma Aunty stepped in to see a visibly flustered Natasha sobbing, while Mayank stood silently behind her. Before she could say anything the girl hurriedly picked up a container from the center table and handed it over to her saying, “Mom has sent something for you,” before running out of their house. Her idea of first love shattered into pieces as her hero with the deep set eyes turned into a villain.
Now after a decade and a half, as Natasha sat staring into the deep-set eyes of the innocent preschooler sitting comfortably on her grandmother, Sushma Avasthi’s lap, she realized that the wheel of Karma indeed has a cyclic route. Mayank has a daughter! Would it be easier to give him back in the same coin, she thought, as her four-year-old jumped into her lap having just come back from his preschool.
A journalist by heart, not just by profession Sanchita Sen Das enjoys her long term relationship with writing and is currently finding her space in the world of authors. Apart from the numerous bylined articles in newspapers like Deccan Chronicle, MiD DAY and Times Group, her published works include a chapter in ‘Crossed & Knotted’, India’s first omposite novel and another in the yet to be launched ‘Rudraksh’, an anthology in the genre of mythological fiction. Sanchita is a graduate from Presidency College, Kolkata and has pursued her Master’s Degree in Journalism from COMMITS (Convergence Institute of Mass Media and Information Technology Studies), Bengaluru.