Ashwin was disappointed. He had hoped that Ritu would come over and spend the night at his house as was the case whenever her parents went out of town.
These were special occasions that he had always looked forward to.
His mother would plan an elaborate menu .Both he and Ritu would help her prepare it. They would then fight for the television remote until his father intervened, giving her the first option to choose a channel. He would pretend to sulk and then proceed to make nasty remarks about the program she had selected until she turned to complain to his mother. As single children both of them were used to having their own way. But on these occasions when she came to stay, Ritu was always the one who got hers.
She used to sleep with his grandmother whenever she stayed over. When he was younger, he had resented the fact that she competed with him for his grandmother’s affection, but as they grew older he used to feel a strange closeness to her whenever lay down together with their heads on his grandmother’s lap listening to her rambling. As children they used to often fall asleep like that. But now that they were older, he had to go back to his room.
But she was not coming this time. Her mother had called to say that Ritu had said she could “manage” alone by herself. She had just requested that Ashwin and his family were to “keep an eye” on her.
And Ashwin was doing just that!
He was on the terrace of his house, his binoculars trained on to a window on the opposite street. There was a small part of him which told him that he was guilty of “spying” on Ritu but he ignored that part. He had convinced himself that he was undertaking protective surveillance for his best friend. He was curious as to why she had wanted to stay by herself. He somehow felt that she was planning to meet this Mihir tonight. He wondered if she was planning to go up to his flat or if he was coming to hers or were they both planning to go out?
The window to her room was open and the curtains were drawn back. The room was lit by the soft glow of a table lamp. This was a room whose every nook and corner he was extremely familiar with. But somehow, from the spot that he was perched on now, it looked different. He did not remember noticing anything other than the study table where they used to often sit and study together, the bookshelf that held all her books, and “Bruno” the huge stuffed dog that sat on her bed. When had she acquired a dressing table with such a fancy mirror he wondered as his glance swept through the room.
Meanwhile, the bathroom door opened and Ritu came into view. She was wrapped in a towel her damp hair trailing water down her back. His breath quickened as he trailed his binoculars towards her. She was standing in front of the mirror applying lotion on her arms and then her legs.
He had never noticed how well formed her arms and legs were.!! He looked again at her legs- there was only one word for them –sexy! Those trousers and salwars that she always wore had never made it possible for the world to see them. And now, here he was finally seeing them…! But was he the first one to have seen them he wondered..What about this Mihir? Had he seen them too?
What she had told him yesterday near the library seemed to indicate that it was not exactly a platonic relationship. He looked into the binoculars again. She had switched off the light and nothing was visible anymore!
He felt a rush on anger..!! Who was this Mihir? He seemed to have come into his world suddenly turning it upside down…!!!
He could not bear it anymore. She had ignored him completely on the bus ride to college. Even at college, rather than listening attentively as she usually did, she seemed to be dreamily staring outside of the window. She would occasionally look at the phone smiling secretly! He wanted to get hold of that phone and smash it!!
He was rather disturbed by the way he was feeling. No, it was not jealousy he told himself. It was just the way she seemed to have excluded him from her life. She no longer came to his table at the canteen and no longer did she give him that secret look whenever Dr. Sharma mispronounced any word during the class. She never replied to his text messages and did not take his calls. It was as if he did not exist.
She smelt different too.. there was a hint of some sort of musky perfume around her. And today she had come to college with a scarf tied around her neck. When he had asked her if it was a new style she had pulled him aside and removing the scarf had whispered into his ears “Mihir gave this to me last night”.
Last night? When? After she had switched off the lights?
He was determined to know more about this mystery man in flat 5 B in her apartment.
He looked around quietly before he entered the lobby of her apartment. He did not want to be observed coming in. He slipped into the lift slowly and pressed the button labeled 5. It seemed like just seconds had passed before the elevator stopped on the fifth floor. He got out and stood facing flat no 5 B. The light below the doorway indicated that someone was in.
He felt a bit uneasy. It had been an impulsive decision. He was not sure what he would say when he faced this Mihir. But his mind was made up. He needed to atleast look at this fellow. May be he would say he was looking for Ritu and see what his reaction was.
He pressed the doorbell with more force than necessary. It seemed like eternity before it was opened. An elderly lady stood at the other side and asked “ Yes. What do you want”? He felt a bit nervous. He had somehow imagined that this Mihir lived alone.
“I am looking for Captain Mihir” he said shuffling on his feet.
“Not Captain Mihir, my boy. I am Air Commodore Mihir. I retired twenty five years ago from the Indian air force ” said a booming voice from behind the bedroom door as an elderly gentleman emerged from inside on a wheel chair. The loud voice was deceptive because the body was frail and small just fitting into the wheel chair.
“ Yes what can I do for you?” he asked.
“ I am sorry.. sir. I think I have the wrong Mihir” he said running out of the door. He did not wait for the lift but ran down the stairs almost slamming into someone on the third floor.
“Ashwin, why are you running like wild dogs are chasing you ?” asked Ritu’s father as he stood by the door.
“ I think he has just come back after visiting Mihir Uncle on the 5th floor. He must have scared him” said Ritu looking at him with a mischievous grin from behind the door.
“Come inside and stay for dinner. I am cooking tonight. Aunty has been held up in the office.” said Ritu’s father pulling him inside their house.
“So how did you like Mihir?” whispered Ritu. He glared at her.
“ Don’t pretend you didn’t go there. You know, I may not have binoculars but I can also spy” she said winking at him.
He could feel his neck and ears flushing. God… she knew !
“How…did you?” he spluttered.
“Have you heard about mirrors? They have a property called reflection” she said with a giggle.
“ Ritu and Ashwin, could you both run down to the shop at the end of the road and get me some cloves and cinnamon? I need them for the curry” said her father coming out of the kitchen.
“ No problem Uncle. I will go” he said trying to use the opportunity to escape.
“Wait Ashwin, I am also coming” she said following him out of the door and into the lift as it stopped on their floor.
Mrs Mihir Roy shifted her husband’s wheel chair inside the lift to make room for them.
“ Hello Uncle. Hello Aunty” said Ritu as she squeezed into the lift.
“ Is this young man your friend?” asked the Air Commodore pointing at Ashwin.
“No .. I don’t know who he is” she said as she bent down and whispered theatrically into the old man’s ears . Both of them burst out laughing
Ashwin shot out of the lift as it reached the ground floor. Ritu ran behind to catch up with him.
“Ash please wait for me” she shouted.
“Tell me why did you do all this”? he asked turning around suddenly to face her!
“ I can’t believe that you don’t know” she said softly.
It seemed like a long time before he replied.“And I am glad that you know what I now know about myself” he said taking a step towards her.
“And what is it that you know about yourself now ” she asked teasing him.
“ Something that we can both tell our children someday ” he replied grinning at her.
“ You can tell your children if you want. I will not tell mine” she said laughing.
“ Too bad my dear because if I tell my children your children are bound to know” he said breaking into a run as Ritu chased him down the lane.
Air Commodore Mihir looked indulgently in their direction as his wife pushed their wheel chair on the driveway.
“It is so nice to be young!” he murmured, turning round to look at his wife with a smile.
( Have a great weekend folks !! 🙂 🙂 )