Chapter 18 - Of Texts (Feb-March)
By Sunday afternoon, Wasim and Roshana had landed in Mumbai and were swiftly taken to the Hooda mansion where Zoya along with Aditya and Anjana were waiting for them. The Siddiquis were overjoyed and relieved to see that their daughter was fine.
Zoya had told Aditya in the morning that her parents didn't know much about her break-up with Yash- mainly the reason, and she requested Aditya to not tell them anything. He understood where she was coming from and had instantly agreed.
The Siddiquis retired to another guest bedroom that Anjana had asked the staff to set up. Later they met the remaining Hoodas- Harsh and Arjun, for dinner. Aditya was surprised to see his father getting along quite well with Wasim. Wasim Siddiqui owned some luxury resorts/hotel chain in Mussoorie and nearby hilly towns and was very active in local politics. Since the Hoodas too were hoteliers, Aditya assumed that would have been a common topic among them.
Anjana and Roshana too got along quite well. Roshana was inviting Anjana and the family to come and stay in Mussoorie during summers when Mumbai was hot and humid. She was also telling about her younger daughter and Zoya's sister Noor, who after finishing her graduation, had joined her father's hotel business. Arjun, the ever-polite brother, entertained both Anjana and Roshana by joining in the conversation.
There was a different vibe around the table, Aditya mulled, a lot of positivity. Everyone, including his father, looked as if they were having a good time. Sometime after the main-course was over and before desserts were served, Zoya let Aditya know her news.
"You're going back tomorrow?" he asked, surprised.
She nodded, "Ammi and Abbu have left the entire house and business to Noor and she is still learning. They can't stay away for long. And I need to go- sooner or later."
Their conversation was interspersed with the staff serving a slice of blueberry cheesecake.
"That's... right," Aditya replied; the buoyant feeling that he had earlier was replaced by a sinking sensation. She had to leave someday. What else was he expecting?
Aditya spent the night- sleepless and restless. Come morning, she would go back home and who knew when they would meet again. In these past couple of weeks, he had gotten used to her continuous presence. Her abrupt departure would lead to some sort of a void.
He thought of last night- exactly 24 hours back when they were dancing and enjoying at the charity ball. Those few hours of them grooving to the beat, forgetting everything else, was pure joy. Tomorrow, at this time, she would be gone.
Come morning, Aditya was fatigued. He had gotten a couple of hours of sleep at max. He took a cold shower (despite the weather) and it did wake him up. He was on his fourth cup of coffee that morning when Wasim and Roshana made their way to the drawing room, with a staff behind carrying their small bags.
It was time for them to leave. His family was bidding them goodbyes with Roshana inviting them over. Aditya noticed Zoya had still not come down from her room. Seeing this as his only chance to talk to her alone, he left the room inconspicuously and ascended the stairs to her guest-room.
A knock on the door caught Zoya's attention. On seeing him she smiled and picked up her handbag. "I was coming downstairs. Almost done." She said.
Aditya had sneaked off to talk to her but now that he was with her, he didn't really know what to say. So he stood still, near the door.
"Aditya," she broke the silence, "I just wanted to thank you, like really thank you, for everything," she emphasized on the last word, "that you've done for me. From the moment we met on the flight till now."
"You don't have to thank me," he said, waving his hand, "I am just glad that I met you..."
The words he uttered took her by surprise.
"I met you... and we became friends," he added, "I am happy about that." He tried to do some damage control.
"Friends." She repeated the word, "Right."
Great going, he chided himself. Why was it so difficult to tell her his true feelings? To say what he had been repeating in his mind for the past few days- he liked her, he didn't intend to fall for her but somehow he couldn't stop himself. And now that she was leaving, he would miss her terribly.
He never acted upon his feelings earlier or made her aware because that would have been a dead end. She was with Yash and he wasn't the kind of guy who would sabotage someone's relationship. Now, she no longer was engaged with anyone.
Yet, he felt like he would be putting her in a spot if he confessed. She was just reeling from a broken heart and now wasn't a good time to pile on. If she didn't reciprocate his feelings (and Aditya was more or less convinced that she didn't) it would just put them both in an awkward situation. He might lose his friendship. That wasn't a risk he was willing to take.
"Well..." Zoya cut in the silence again as she dragged her bag and walked towards him. She stopped when she was at a feet's distance from him. She raised her eyes slightly to look at him, "This is it, I guess. This is... goodbye."
The sinking feeling returned at her words. "You make it sound like we'll never meet again." The words struggled to come out of his mouth.
She gave a small smile. "I hope we do meet again."
Zoya ingested the anxiety pill, Aditya had bought for her in Dublin airport and relaxed in the comfortable recliner of her business class seat. The flight from Mumbai to Dehradoon would take off any minute now. Her mother was sitting on the window seat adjacent to her and her father had an aisle seat 2 rows ahead.
She had this weird, unsettling feeling at the pit of her stomach. She told herself that it was due to her fear of flying. The med would calm down her nerves. But today, there was something different swirling in her mind. The anticipation of flying accented the feeling but was not the primary cause of it.
What was it?
Was it because she was leaving Mumbai... and Aditya? Was it because she had already started to miss him while still being in his city? Was it because when bidding farewells, she could tell that he wanted to say something to her but refrained? She sensed it. The words were right at the tip of his tongue yet he hadn't spoken then out loud. What was she expecting to hear?
Or, another voice in her head reasoned, it was nothing. He had simply come to say goodbye. That was it. Everything else was her imagination running amok. Maybe she had misjudged his words, his actions. Maybe he did like her only as a friend. Nothing more.
Somehow, that thought made her more disturbed than before. Did she want him to like her? Could it have been that she was falling for him?
No! She shut her eyes at the thought. It couldn't be. She was not falling for Aditya.
Yet, something about him made her heart beat faster.
"Argh!" she groaned aloud. This was so confusing! Did he like her? Did she like him? It felt like a massive debate was going on in her head. She pressed her palms on her face to shut her mind out.
"What happened?" Roshana asked, worried.
"I don't know," Zoya blabbered. "I really don't know what's happening. Do I want it to happen? Does he? If he does then why didn't he say anything? Or maybe I was wrong. Nothing was happening and I made it up in my mind!"
"Huh?" Roshana mumbled. "What are you talking about?"
Zoya shook her head, "Nothing, Ammi."
Roshana narrowed her eyes at Zoya's weird outburst but luckily for Zoya, she didn't press the matter anymore.
It wasn't that complicated, Zoya explained to herself. Aditya wasn't harboring any feelings for her, like she had assumed. Else he would have said something. And she... She considered him a friend and was genuinely grateful to him. Nothing more. The anxiety, the stress, the drama- of the past few days had befuddled her mind. She would think more clearly once she was back in Mussoorie, back to her life.
2 weeks had passed by since he came back from Mumbai and Zoya had acclimated to her normal life yet thoughts about someone had made a permanent place in her mind. And try as hard as she might, she couldn't stop thinking about him.
After Zoya left, Aditya had dived into work- the only way he thought would keep his mind off her. He decided to go back to Ireland. The weather in March in Ireland was similar to February. The difference was minuscule but at least the thunderstorms, that had caused his flight last month to be diverted, had mitigated.
Anjana was not happy with the development since Aditya was barely at home. Arjun, who was mature beyond his years, had teased him by saying that running away wouldn't help him get over his crush on Zoya. Aditya responded by throwing a pillow on Arjun's face.
"Real mature, bhai," Arjun had commented, rolling his eyes.
Aditya had to get back to Limerick for the project that he had left pending a month back. Deciding that getting away from India and getting busy in the project here in Ireland would help him, he had straightaway packed his bag and left.
That was a big mistake. He was trying to get Zoya out of his mind and he came to the one place in the entire world, which was chock-full with her memories and of the time they spent together. When he boarded the flight from Mumbai to Dublin, it reminded him of meeting Zoya. When he rented a car to drive to Limerick, after landing at Dublin, his mind straightaway thought of the time they had gotten lost and had to spent a night in the car.
Each and everything in this country sparked his memory with her thoughts, the sort of adventure that they had had, driving around the breadth of the country..
He smiled, feeling nostalgic and realized he was a lost cause. Zoya had completely taken over his mind.
After Zoya's return from Mumbai, she realized she wanted to be more active in her life. She wanted to take up responsibility and accountability. Her father was beyond happy when Zoya expressed her desire to help him in running his hotels.
Wasim wanted to immerse himself fully in politics and hence was molding Noor to take his place. With Zoya's interest in chipping in, he welcomed her decision wholeheartedly. Noor had been training with him for a couple of years now and had become almost adept at managing the business. Wasim could now focus on his political career since Noor would have Zoya for assistance.
Noor showed her around the Mussoorie resort, explained her the basic chain of management and how everything functioned over a course of weeks. Zoya was impressed with how independent and responsible Noor was. Although Zoya was elder but she had no qualms about learning from her younger sister.
A month had passed since Zoya returned from Mumbai- a month of working with Noor, getting acquainted with the family business and understanding it; also a month of being in constant touch with Aditya via messages.
The messages had begun the day she returned home. It had started with a simple generic question from him-
-----24 Feb, 2018-----
Aditya, 9:10pm || How was the flight? Any anxiety issue?
She replied in an equally generic manner-
Zoya, 9:11pm || Good. Just reached home. Your med worked again. Thanks!
Aditya, 9:11pm || You really need to stop thanking me.
Aditya, 9:12pm || You must be tired.
Zoya, 9:12pm || Yeah. I've had a long day.
Aditya, 9:13pm || I'll text tomorrow. Goodnight.
Zoya, 9:13pm || Goodnight :)
He texted the next day and; the day after that. It had become a ritual for them. The first thing she saw when she woke up was a Good-morning from him and the last a Goodnight.
Zoya let him know of her plans of joining the family hotel business and he was happy for her. A few days later, he told her that he was going to Ireland to finish his pending work. During those days, the texting had slowed down- due to the time difference and because both were immersed in work.
Yet, they would always find sometime to catch up- to tell the other about their day- no matter how monotonous it was. They had spoken over the phone a few times but it was always an awkward conversation. The call would be loaded with long drawn pauses. So, she decided she would stick to texts.
One Sunday evening, while eating at a restaurant with her family, Zoya had ordered a chicken dish, which tasted almost like the one Aditya had cooked on Valentine's Day in the b&b at Kanturck.
-------25th March, 2018------
Zoya, 8:35pm || I am at this restaurant eating a chicken main-course and it tastes just like the one you made. Made me think of you.
Aditya, 8:37pm || You think of me?
The text made her cheeks go warm. She bit her lip thinking she shouldn't have said the last part. She quickly composed another message.
Zoya, 8:37pm || Made me think of your cooking. I realized I sent you a half-sentence. :D :D :D
She over compensated by sending laughing emoticons, more than needed. To her that sounded reasonable. She hoped he didn't focus much on it.
Aditya, 8:38pm || I was just kidding. :)
Zoya sighed in relief before reading the next message.
Aditya, 8:39pm || I think of you.
Zoya breath caught in her throat. She stared at the screen, at the words he had just sent. Three dots occurred on the screen, indicating that he was typing something.
Aditya, 8:39pm || I mean I am in Dublin now and it reminded me the last time I was here, with you.
She felt like she was playing a game, like tennis. One moment the ball would be in her court, the next moment in his. She wanted to tell him that she missed him, that she thought of him yet when texting, she couldn't bring herself to it.
She also thought he wanted to say something to her too always refrained. She wasn't sure of it but had a slight inkling. Something in her gut told her she was right. Yet there was a big chance that she could be mistaken so she treaded carefully.
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