@All: I know I've been absconding but life was busy as such and then I had been down with flu. But then I am here now and that's what matters.
@Sophie: so glad to see you here darling and loved every bit of what you had to say. that 'hubby'-'wifey' thing cracked me up. too cliche... I know. but then aren't all new marriages super cliche? Trust me I have seen worse than that...
@Flame_of_Forest: thank you for the amazing feedback. it's so good to see people dissecting your work in every possible way to come up with a new perspective. glad to have you here.
@Feynmann: welcome aboard. World Tour is probably just in my bucket list. So am roping in you guys too.
I will get back to the rest of the replies in the next.
you guys are amazing.
"Maan, how are you beta?"
He smiled a little and closed the blinds of his home office barring the light of the morning sun from hitting his eyes, "yeah. Am okay. How are you and Isha?"
"We are fine and we miss you very much. Tu India kab aa raha hai?"
He looked at the time on his wrist watch and waited for the time to pass as quick as possible so that he could just finish the call drive to office and drown himself in his work.
There was a pause on the other side before his mother spoke up, "Are you really alright Maan?"
"Yes maa. I'm okay." He now wanted to end this conversation as soon as possible knowing where all this was heading towards.
"Do you want to talk about anything?" Radhika Khurana knew how to meander the conversation, especially when it came to her children, "The divorce? Do you think you are going to be okay?"
He wanted to end this conversation right there and said whatever he had been saying mechanically all these days, "Yeah. Yeah. I am going to be fine. I just need some time."
"Good." She left it at that, despite being as curious as a cat. She wanted to ask about Geet but then she had two reasons for not doing so. First, she didn't want to bring everything up all over again to trouble her son and second, she was glad that her son was out of a wrong relationship.
The moment the clock struck 8, he finished the call, picked up his car keys and rushed out. A long day awaited and he had to bear with it, somehow.
"Geet, come down for lunch."
She heard her mother from down the stairs and quickly checked the time.
1:00pm it was and time was excruciatingly slow. She had been reading a book and had spaced out in the process. Slipping into her bunny flip flops, she rushed down to find her daddy come home for lunch.
"Daddy?" she was surprised for her father never came home for lunch.
His warm smile and the twinkle in his eyes warmed her heart, "I didn't want to miss out lunch with my Geet. You are home after so long."
He pressed a kiss on her forehead and gestured his wife to serve, "I never thought I will get to see this day again after you left to Sweden."
She sat down and the smell of ghee on hot rice filled her senses.
The smell of home'.
Ohh how much she had missed it all these years.
As the three of them sat and talked over lunch, one thing led to another and another until her daddy dearest suggested they go on some trip.
"where do you want to go? Shimla? No, I think we should venture south, how about Kerela?"
He kept talking and talking leaving his wife amused as his childlike enthusiasm.
"Daddy...it's okay." She smiled and intervened to calm her ever enthusiastic father, "We can slowly plan out everything. It's not like am going away anywhere anymore."
Suddenly, the entire house fell silent in that bright afternoon except for the tick tock of the clock and a cawing of a crow somewhere far away.
Rano glared at her husband and broke the silence, "Geet, have some more paneer."
She tried to fill her bowl but Geet held her hand, "it's okay mama. I am full."
"But you ate so little..."
She stood up, "actually, am sleepy. Didn't sleep well last night. I will probably just go take a nap."
She washed her hands and walked up the stairs when the clock went off striking two. Instinctively, her mind went back to Sweden. It must be 8:30 in the morning back there. He must be driving home...
She halted her thoughts right there and ran to her room. It had become a habit now. Every time she heard the clock chime, her brain would automatically relate it to the time back in Stockholm like it was a default setting in her.
She lied down, pulled the duvet over herself and plugged in her earphones hoping that just in case, music helped her ease up.
He had always hated traffic but he was grateful for it today. It gave him a time of his own. His day was done and he was glad that he could just go home and wallow in his loneliness. The signal turned red once again and he braked hard for a person in bicycle just zoomed past him like a whirlwind.
He wanted to swear at the person for being so reckless but then a billboard caught his attention telling him that he was at Sergelstorg square, the busiest square in the city. Despite not wanting to, his mind went back to that one fine day when she had zoomed past him on a bicycle for the first time just like that.
She's got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I'd hide
And pray for the thunder
And the rain
To quietly pass me by
He tapped on the steering bobbing his head to Guns n' Roses that played on his stereo as he drove towards his workplace. The day was bright and the traffic was at its peak because everyone started for work at this hour.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh Sweet child o' mine Where do we go?..."
He crooned along with Axl Rose as he followed the green signal at the Sergelstorg square when suddenly someone on a bicycle came right in front of him all of a sudden. He braked hard and quick but couldn't avoid the momentum. The car hit the biker and the person fell down.
As much as he hated that person for not following the traffic rules, he knew he had to check on him. He quickly got off the car and rushed out.
"Hey, are you crazy? Who tries to cross a road when it's a green signal at this side?"
The biker looked up with her tearful eyes and he bit back the mean words that he wanted to bestow upon that person.
She took off her helmet and tried to stand up.
That was the first word that came to his mind.
"Are...are you alright Miss?"
She bit her lips and somehow stood up. He helped her pick the bicycle up and raised a brow at her, waiting for her to speak up.
She nodded her head and dusted her torn jeans and the baby pink top.
"did you hurt yourself? Do you want to go to hospital?"
She quickly shook her head for a no and pulled the cycle from his hands.
"Good." He was glad that it wasn't much a hassle, "next time, watch the lights and then cross the road."
He turned to leave when he finally heard her voice.
He stopped short from putting his shades back on and turned back, "did you say something?"
"yeah. Can you please drop me at the Stockholm University?"
She rolled her eyes and gestured him to wait for her. She walked to the side, parked her rented bike there and quickly hopped back to him.
"Yeah. Drop me at the University."
The woman was cute but she was weird.
He put on his shades, "and why would I do that?"
"First thing mister, you hit me."
"Not my fault." He added.
"you should be taking me to the hospital but I let you go hassle-free."
"because you denied"
"the least you can do is drop me." She rested her hands on her waist and tapped her feet impatiently.
"Listen miss, you aren't injured. Well, that's what I get the idea and it was a minor accident. You go your way now and I on mine."
He turned to walk away but she quickly held his hand, "Okay stop."
"please please drop me at the university. It's my first day here and I am new to this city and I am already freakin' late. Please Please...pretty please."
She didn't even give him a chance to talk. She closed her eyes, held his hand and kept chanting please' until he conceded.
"Okay fine. I will drop you only because I don't want to be standing in the middle of the road arguing with a kid."
He swore the smile he saw on her lips was the widest of all the smiles he had seen till date. She hopped on his car and quickly opened the maps for direction.
"I know the way." He shook his head.
"great." Her eyes twinkled, "a little less hassle."
He chose to ignore but she didn't.
"actually, it's my first day at the university and I got lost on the way."
He opened his mouth to say something but she beat him to it.
"actually, no. I mean I did get lost but it all started with me waking up late. It's a bad day I tell you. I was sure my first professor wouldn't have allowed me inside the class but now I think I will be on time thanks to you."
Such a chatty woman!!!
He tried to ignore but she was an endless babbling brook.
"...and after a month or so I think I will shift to a place closer to the University. That would be easy, I guess. My parents were so sceptical about sending me away to a foreign country but..."
"why don't you take the public transport then?" he wanted her to stop. Just once.
"ohh, well, I get confused with the stop names. Weird names they have. On bike, I can open Maps on the phone and follow the direction..."
She went on and on and he cursed himself for having even asked her anything.
The moment they reached the university, he thanked his stars.
"wow. We reached right on time. Thanks a lot umm... Mr..uhh?"
"yeah... Khurana. Thanks a lot for today. Have a great day."
She stormed off like she was never there in the first place. One hell of a morning it was. He let out a long breath and drove back to work, hoping never to see her again.
But he was absolutely wrong.
The next time he saw was again at the same square, the next morning, on the bicycle, waiting for the signal to turn green. He was glad that she didn't notice him at all. He didn't want a headache early morning.
And then he saw her again. It was hard to ignore her when she took the same route as him wearing that blaring yellow helmet that blinded the eyes of the folks.
It becomes a habit, whether we like it or not. The same things happening again and again every single day make us used to it no matter what. He would miss her a few times when she wasn't there and sometimes when she was there, she'd see him, recognize him and wave at him and some days they would just see each other from the far and go on their ways. Some days, they wouldn't see each other at all.
He stopped at the red light again and looked around to see if he could locate her. She wasn't around. He had started late that day and the traffic had gotten thicker. He was sure she'd have left already because it was way past their usual time.
A bicycle rolled in and stopped by his side. He turned on the volume of the stereo and found her beside his car, waiting for the lights to turn green impatiently.
She threw prayers to her lord and pleaded for help until she looked beside and found him looking at her.
"Late?" he mouthed through the closed windows.
She nodded, putting her lips.
He shook his head and waved his hand gesturing her to hop into the car and there went the smile again.
She quickly parked the bike at the stand and ran towards the right just about when the signals turned green.
"uff...thanks again!" she sighed in relief as the cool air of the ac now hit her face.
"late again?" he asked her wondering at the fact that she had not started blabbering yet.
"yeah. Slept very late last night."
It was surprising to him because she was quiet.
She was quiet after just one sentence!!!
He kept stealing glances at her from time to time waiting for her to start the blabbering jet when he found her opening her notebook and going through it.
"Ummm kind of. A test actually."
No wonder she was quiet.
"what are you studying by the way?"
He tapped on the steering, "that's a great..."
"tch...hey shhh shhh Hush!! I am trying to study here mister. Give me a break here, will you?!!!"
She dipped her head back into her notebook leaving him stunned.
...and boy, he was speaking!!!
He stopped in front of the University gates, making sure he didn't not make a sound. When she didn't make a move, he cleared his throat.
"ahem, we're here."
She closed her notebook and left the breath that she was holding back,
She got off the car and walked a few steps ahead.
Not even a thank you? Great!!!
She stopped and quickly traced back.
"uhh thank you so much Mr. Khurana for the help today."
He smiled a little. He could make out her nervousness from her expressions.
"You're welcome. All the best."
She smiled weakly, "Uh, yeah. Thanks."
She turned to leave again but then stopped, "by the way, the name's Geet."
She stretched out her hand and he gently took it for a shake.
"Pleasure to meet you Geet. The name's Maan."
Something in that smile of his made her cheeks warm up. His eyes held a twinkle in them and she couldn't help but smile as she walked inside the gates.
"Maan Khurana... desi hai. Accha hai!!!" she mumbled to herself and then slapped her forehead, "focus on the test Geet."
It was almost a month later that he found her deliberately crashing her bike into his car.
"hey, you gotta pay for the damages!!!"
But she would here none. She quickly got off the bike and rushed to him.
"please please please drop me."
"am I your chauffeur?"
"Please Maan. I am late. I have to submit an assignment in the first class. Professor Fowler is a real dick. Come on, you gotta help me."
Her language, he gauged, was as colourful as her clothes.
"get in now." He couldn't have denied a pretty face with bambi eyes pleading to him in the cutest way possible. he was a man after all.
"ohh you are a savior."
The horns blared bringing him back to reality. People were swearing at him for the lights had turned green. Shaking his head, he quickly turned on the ignition and drove off, not wanting to attract any more attention.
Old habits shall take long to die. He reassured himself and let the time pass, slowly and excruciatingly. It was almost after two months or so that he found himself sitting at the bar with his friends and chit-chatting normally.
"Man, we are so happy to see you." Meera hugged him sideways.
Rajiv patted his back, "man up buddy. You aren't going back sane tonight."
Saying so, he passed on another glass of whiskey to his friend and chugged his own drink down in one go.
He felt a little light headed after a few drinks but it was a good kind of lightheaded-ness. he had avoided his friends like a plague and they had given him that space. He was thankful to them for that. Reconnecting with them now felt good. His heart was still heavy but he knew there was no more reason to mop around.
"Geet Geet wait..." her mother stopped her from behind.
"what mama?" she turned back, slipping into her sandals.
"open your mouth."
"tch. Shut up. Just open your mouth."
She rolled her eyes, "aaa..."
Rano stuffed a spoonful of sweetened curd into her mouth, "for your first day at work."
She hugged her mother and walked out to catch up with her childhood friend Pinky and then they'd leave for work together.
It was a cool morning and she felt a little better in ages. Probably, things would turn out to be better this time.