Sunday, July 15, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 16 - In the Past

Rani Sahiba sat at her desk. Her long nails were tapping on the glass-topped table, a pen held between the first two fingers. She raised her eyes to the man sitting across from her. Shyam Manohar Jha, the man she had had the misfortune to marry when she was but twenty-five years old. He was a weasel; he was weak and a coward. But he was damned good at what he did. What he did best was follow Rani Sahiba’s orders. They made a good team. But there was no doubt who wore the pants in this relationship.

She looked down at the sheet of paper that lay on her desk. The details were all there, the numbers, the address, even the date of birth. How had he found that out? She didn’t want to know because she didn’t need to know. She got up and came around the desk, her sari clearly outlining her svelte figure, the miniscule choli barely covering her breasts. His eyes followed her greedily as she perched on the desk in front of him. She leaned down and stroked his face, ‘Good work. But then, you know I like your work,’ she raised one eyebrow up.

‘Yes, Rani Sahiba. I know.’ He held her wrist, bringing it up to brush it with his lips. She shivered.

‘Patience, my darling. You have to have patience.’

‘How much longer are you going to deny me, Rani Sahiba? I need you now,’ she didn’t miss the signs of his arousal. His eyes glittered. She smiled at him, a cat playing with a mouse. Brushing her fingers along his chest, she brought it down to his crotch. Cupped him.

‘Just a little,’ she whispered.

He groaned. As powerful as he was physically, he was putty in this woman’s hands.

He stood up. ‘Enough, Rani Sahiba,’ he said, pushing her hands away. ‘I’ll do it.’

She smiled up at him. ‘You know you will be rewarded very well.’

He had turned to leave, but he looked back at her. ‘I hope it’s worth it,’ he said.

***

Khushi had finally been hired. She was over the moon about it. While it was not her first choice, Rahul Kaul was still an extremely good start for her. She would make her bones (like in Godfather, she thought) with this company. And then maybe someday she would be able to start her own fashion line. This was what she wanted. She was an artist and she expressed herself through her clothes. She was home alone, when her phone rang. She picked it up automatically, and said, ‘Hello?’

‘Khushi,’ the same whispery voice startled her. She gasped. ‘Khushi, you looked very beautiful today. I just had to call you and tell you that.’ Her eyes grew rounder. ‘Is that one of your own designs?’ She looked down at the ensemble that she had on. ‘It’s beautiful. Just like you.’

Finally breaking free of her frozen state, she hung up. Running to her room, she stripped her clothes off, everything, and threw them on the floor. She stepped under the shower and stood there for a long time. Calmer now, she walked into her room, and picked out the drabbest dress she had and put it on.

Who was it? Why was this person calling her? What did they want with her? The answers were at the back of her brain, but she was not going to deal with them right now. She couldn’t tell her parents, she didn’t want to frighten them. She didn’t know how her father would react. The phone rang again, breaking into her thoughts. She looked at the number this time, and breathed a sigh of relief. Anahita! Thank God!

‘Hey Khushi, did you get the job?’

‘Yah, I did,’ she tried to inject some enthusiasm in her voice.

‘Congratulations! I am soooooo glad for you.’ She smiled, Anahita and her bouncy nature. She wondered if she should confide in her, but decided not to. ‘Listen, Debs was asking if we wanted to go to the mall later this afternoon. About two? We’ll pick you up.’

‘Sure. I can do that. I’ll be ready when you guys show up.’

Feeling much better now, she looked at the clothes littering her floor. She picked them up and put them in the laundry basket and went to get ready.

Malls in Delhi are like malls anywhere. Big, spacious, air-conditioned, and crowded. The three girls walked along, giggling and talking, licking ice cream cones. They’d done a lot of shopping, Khushi especially surprising the others with the amount of stuff she ended up buying. But then isn’t that what retail therapy is? To reduce stress buy useless stuff, get stressed over useless stuff and then go out and buy some more useless stuff. Ah! The vicious life-cycle of consumerism. All done now, they headed outside.

‘Why don’t I bring the car over, and you guys wait here?’ said Debs.

‘Debs, I’ll come with you,’ said Anahita, knowing that the car was parked in a sort of lonely side lane. It wasn’t that safe for a girl to be wandering around alone. ‘Khushi, why don’t you wait for us here with the bags?’ The front of the mall was safer with so many people about.

Khushi nodded, and the two girls walked away. She wandered over to a bench a little away from the entrance, and put her bags down, before sitting down herself. She was engrossed in her ice cream when she noticed two pairs of jeans walking up to her. They stopped about two feet in front of her on either side, effectively blocking her way. She raised up her eyes, and saw two men she had never seen before. They were smirking at her. Her heart beat a little faster. This was not good.

‘Hi’, said one, ‘you look sort of lonely sitting there by yourself.’

‘I think we should join you,’ said the other.

Trying to sound as intimidating as possible, she said curtly, ‘No thanks. Just go away.’

‘Now, now, is that any way to treat someone who wants to be your friend?’

She stood up and immediately realized her mistake. She was much closer to them than she had thought. Their broad shoulders blocked out any view that anyone else might have of her. Where were the girls? she thought despairingly.

‘Get out of my face!’ she said, ‘Or I’ll scream’.

‘Shhhh…’ said the One, as he put his hand across her mouth. She slapped it away. Her heart pounding furiously now, she realized she couldn’t get away from them. The bench had essentially blocked her retreat. She opened her mouth once more, and the hand clamped down on it.

‘Told you, you shouldn’t try it,’ the One said.

The Other put his hand on her shoulder. ‘You’re so feisty. I like feisty, don’t you?’ he asked the One, who nodded enthusiastically.

She tried to pry away the hand on her shoulder, but it was too strong. The One still had her mouth clamped. Tears were starting to fill her eyes.

Two hands clamped down on the shoulders of the men in front of her and spun them around. A fist lashed out catching the One on his cheek. A second blow caught the Other on his shoulder, spinning him around. Khushi stared wide-eyed at her savior.

The two men rushed towards him at the same time. The next thing she knew there was a melee in front of her. The man who’d saved her gave as good as he got. He was powerfully built, a thin shirt stretching across a well-toned body, the six-pack abs visible through the clothes, his muscled forearms bared by the rolled up sleeves. Tight pants outlined his powerful thighs as he kicked one of them to the curb, literally! Finally, the two men backed down, one of them limping, the other holding his jaw.

The man who’d saved her, dusted off his hands, and came across to her. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked gently. She nodded. ‘I’m sorry that you had to face such a thing. It’s not safe for a girl to be alone in a place like this.’

‘Thank you so much!’ she replied. ‘If you hadn’t arrived, I don’t know what would have happened.’

‘Are you alone here?’ he asked

‘No, just waiting for my friends to bring the car around,’ she said.

‘Would you mind if I waited with you till they get here?’ She shook her head, no. ‘You look like you’re not from Delhi,’ he remarked.

‘I’m originally from Lucknow. But we live in Delhi now,’ she responded, and then cursed herself for giving any information to a complete stranger. But then, he had saved her, so it should be okay. She spotted Debs’ car and said, ‘there they are!’

The car drew up. Khushi turned to pick up her bags, but he had already picked them up and handed them to her.

‘Thank you,’ she said. He just nodded. She got into the car and it drove away.

He watched the car leave and stood there for a while. The two men came up to him.

‘Boss, next time try not to hit us so hard,’ said One.

‘You’re paid to do your job. Do it,’ he said harshly. He took out a thick bundle of notes and gave it to them. They took it and left.

Shyam Manohar Jha had stepped into Khushi Kumari Gupta’s life.

In the car, the girls had demanded to know who HE was and what was going on? She gave them the story, as briefly as she could.

‘So what was his name?’ they wanted to know. She had slapped her forehead and said, ‘you know, I never asked him.’

‘Of course, now that destiny has brought you together, you’re going to meet again, for sure,’ said Anahita who firmly believed in all things destiny as shown on TV!

Debs on the other hand was a little more cynical. ‘Yes, of course, Anahita, and there’ll be background music and hair flying in front of hair fans and Rabba Ve,’ this last she sang out loud. They doubled up with laughter. ‘Oh and never mind the eye locks and falling into the hero’s arms,’ she hooted. ‘Did you fall into his arms, Khushi?’

‘No,’ Khushi was spluttering through her giggles. ‘Didn’t get time. Plus I would’ve had to get up on the bench to do that.’ She and Debs high-fived!

‘Well, we’ll see, won’t we?’ said Anahita in a huff.

‘Of course, Anahita,’ the other two said in union.

**

Khushi had started with her new job. It was exciting and demanding and challenging and she was more than up for it. The days were going quickly and she was settling into her rhythm now.

Her cell phone was ringing, but because she was in the office, she’d left it on silent. She didn’t hear it go a second time either.

Her father picked her up every day after work, as it was on his way home as well. That evening, she stood on the sidewalk waiting for him. A sudden vibration in her bag startled her. She opened it and pulled out her phone. Ugh! She had forgotten to set the ringer back on. She turned it up and was rewarded by the chimes again. She answered with her customary, ‘Hello?’

‘Khushi, why didn’t you pick up my calls earlier?’ the whisper was in her ear. She couldn’t believe it! She hung up.

It rang again. This time, she checked the number before answering. It was her father. ‘Khushi, I am tied down with some work today. Can you get a cab and go home?’ he asked.

‘Yes, of course, Dad. Don’t worry. I’ll get home okay,’ she answered.

‘Go carefully. And call me when you get home,’ he said.

‘Yes, Dad, I will.’

Dropping her cell in her bag, she headed to the main street as the offices were on a little side street. She saw a taxi coming and tried to flag it down. It zipped past her. Her lips thinned in frustration. She continued walking when a black car came to a stop right beside her.

‘Hello?’ the voice was familiar.

She turned around. It was the man from the mall! ‘Hi!’ she said, smiling in surprise. ‘What are you doing here?’

He laughed. ‘Driving home,’ he replied. He stopped the car and got out. ‘What about you?’

‘Well, I’m trying to get a cab home as well,’ she replied.

‘Where is home?’

‘Vasant Vihar.’

‘Oh! What a coincidence. I live in Vasant Vihar, too. Can I give you a ride?’ he was still standing by his car.

‘No. No, it’s okay,’ she said. ‘Besides, I don’t even know you…’ her voice trailed off.

‘I’m sorry. I should’ve introduced myself. I’m Shyam Manohar Jha,’ he extended a hand.

‘I’m Khushi, Khushi Kumari Gupta,’ she replied shaking his hand. ‘Mr. Jha, its very ‘-

‘Call me Shyam,’ he interrupted. ‘Then I won’t feel like a stranger’.

He was smooth, she had to give him that. And she had no option but to reciprocate in kind, ‘Then you must call me Khushi,’ she responded.

‘Well, in that case, Khushi, can I still give you a ride?’ he opened the passenger side door.

She looked at it, hesitated, nodded her thanks, and got in. They made small talk as he drove. Coming to Vasant Vihar, she gave him directions to her house. He stopped the car, and as she unbuckled her seat belt, he said, ‘Khushi’.

She looked over at him. He was holding out his business card. ‘My card,’ he said. ‘I’d like to keep in touch, if I may.’ His eyes were searching her face.

She smiled, suddenly very uncomfortable with the situation. ‘Thanks,’ and took the card. ‘Thanks for the ride, too.’ She got out of the car and hurried into her home.

***

Ananhita, Debs and Khushi sat in Khushi’s room, reinforced with plates of chips and cups of tea, while she recounted her second encounter with Shyam two days ago. The pale Delhi sunlight was coming in through the windows casting reflections on the walls and ceiling.

‘Hunh!’ said Debs, ever the practical one. ‘So he just showed up, like that, out of nowhere?’

Khushi nodded.

‘It is destiny, I tell you,’ said Anahita.

‘I don’t like it, Khushi,’ said Debs. She took a sip of coffee and said. ‘It’s like this. I don’t believe in coincidences. This doesn’t happen in real life. There’s something off about this.’

The other two looked at her, their mood suddenly somber. Khushi drew a deep breath and said, ‘I have to tell you guys something’.

They looked at her in alarm. ‘What? What did he do?’

‘No, no, not about him. But what you said, Debs. There IS something off. I don’t know how to deal with it.’ She told them about the phone calls. The listened with open mouths.

Debs: ‘How many calls, Khushi?’

Khushi: ‘About ten. I don’t pick them all up.’

Anahita: ‘Have you told uncle?’

Khushi: ‘No, I haven’t. Just can’t figure out what I am supposed to tell him’, worried.

Debs: ‘Just tell him you get too many prank calls. You need to change your number.’

Khushi: worried nod, ‘Yes. I should tell him.’

Anahita: ‘Is someone following you around?’

Debs and Khushi: ‘What?!’

Anahita: defensive, ‘well, you did say they knew what you were wearing…’ trailing off

Khushi: nod.

Debs: ‘You have a point, Anahita.’ Pause. ‘You might need to go the police.’

Khushi: ‘But I don’t even know if it’s a man or a woman!’

Debs: ‘Ewww…’ shudder. ‘A woman?’

Khushi: ‘No, I mean. The voice is like a whisper. So you can’t make out the VOICE. It’s only a whisper.’

Debs: Thinking, ‘Strange that these two things should be happening at around the same time.’

Anahita: ‘Serendipity. Coincidence.’

Debs: ‘Coincidence my ass!! I wonder if Shyam is linked to the calls.’

Khushi: ‘huh? How can that be? How would he know about the calls?’

Debs: ‘True.’

Anahita: ‘Tell uncle. Just tell uncle everything.’

Debs: ‘Yep. For once, she’s right.’

Khushi: ‘Okay, I’ll do that.’

Later that night, Khushi knocked on her Dad’s study room door. ‘Dad, can I talk to you?’

‘Of course, my child. Come here,’ he said as she walked in.

‘Dad,’ she began and stopped. Drew a deep breath and began all over again. She told him everything, about all the calls, and the Shyam episodes. Her father listened with growing horror to the story, but his face reflected nothing of his inner turmoil. He didn’t want this for his little angel. Like Debs, he too was suspicious of this man who showed up twice within days in his daughter’s life. Especially since it was just after those calls. Or perhaps it WAS just coincidence.

3 comments:

  1. That was a smart move to tell her dad... Parents should always know if anything/ anybody is troubling their children... I have already formulated a theory, not sure, but it involves Gauri... Let's see if it's right!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh dear, initially the rabba ve made me smile, but than I thought thats Arhis tune. Jai ho was shyams. Im glad she has told her dad at least he can be on the look out for her.

    ReplyDelete

Please leave a handle with your comments if you are commenting anonymously.. so that I can thank you, and PM you when I update.