Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 6

Khushi sat at her desk looking over the final version of her design. It was beautiful. She had no doubt about it. She was putting all of them in her folder when her extension beeped.

‘KKG, can you come to my room, por favor?’ It was Sergio.

She picked up the folder and walked to his cube. He was busy at his desk, but lifted his head at her knock.

‘KKG, have you finished with those designs?’

‘Yes,’ she said, handing over the folder. He looked them over carefully. Each one was scrutinized with several approving hums and haws. She sat there, hands folded waiting on him. He looked at her over his glasses. There was a twinkle in his eye. She silently sighed in relief.

‘These’re good! Very good! You not only have potential, KKG, you have talent perhaps even a touch of genius, and might I add, with me as your mentor you will go far, very far.’ He smiled. She smiled back automatically wondering where this was leading. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. ‘You know this deal that ASR and I are working on?’ She nodded – not that she knew anything about it, but to show that she was following his drift. ‘I think it would be good if you worked with us on it.’ Her eyes popped open. Work with ASR? ‘Yes, I think it would be good exposure for you. And you are after all, Indian. So I think it would help bridge whatever cultural gaps are there…’ he went on and on, completely oblivious to the horrified expression on her face. She focused into the conversation – actually monologue – somewhere around, ‘so next month, we will be going to Delhi.’ He stopped and looked at her expectantly.

‘Delhi?’ she squeaked and then cleared her throat. ‘I mean, Delhi? Why Delhi? Why not Mumbai?’

‘Because the AR offices are located in Delhi. We’ll be there for a month, and travel to the other locations.’

‘Okay,’ she said.

‘I’ll explain the rest to you later.’ She nodded, her face stretched into a grimace that tried to pass as a smile.

That evening as she drove home, she finally allowed herself to think. What would this trip mean to her? She hadn’t picked up a single call marked ‘Unknown’ today. There had been voicemails, and she hadn’t picked up those either. She couldn’t not go to India, but then she couldn’t go to India either. What was she to do? And Arnav Singh Raizada? She didn’t know what to do about him either. Why did she have to DO anything about him anyway? A slow tension headache started to form in her temples.

***

Atlanta had been cooler than he’d expected. Winter was definitely on its way. Arnav sat in the back of the car on the way to the hotel. Thank God he’d decided to get a chauffeur. He’d never have had the patience to deal with the sea of traffic here. Luckily he didn’t have to deal with this every day either. But at least the trip had been as successful as his New York and San Francisco ones had been so far. Now he could enjoy the wedding and his holiday. He looked out the window as the car raced along I-75/85 under the overpasses in the heart of downtown Atlanta. It drew up at the Marriott and the driver got out and opened his door. He strode through the doors, and headed to the scenic elevator in the atrium. He opened the door to his room on the forty-second floor when his phone rang. Sergio. He switched on his Bluetooth. ‘Yeah, Sergio’.

‘Ah, ASR, mi amigo. Como estas?’

‘I’m good,’ having learnt that much Spanish. That reminded him…. He stopped, focusing back on Sergio’s voice.

‘Bueno. Look, I have talked to KKG and she and I will be coming over to Delhi next month.’

His breath stopped for a second. The imp jumped up and down. He caught its collar and shoved it out the door and locked it.

‘Good. That’s good. I’ll make the travel arrangements for you,’ did he just say that? ‘I’ll have Aman send out the itinerary to you before you reach there.’ Much better. Much more professional. He couldn’t help the small smile tugging at his lips. After a few minutes more, he hung up. Tomorrow afternoon he went back to San Francisco. The two-day trip had turned into a three-day one, but he was glad he’d decided to stay the extra day.

He showered, changed, ordered some room service and settled down at his laptop.

Emails. He scrolled through them looking for one particular email from Aman. There it was! He opened it quickly and scanned through it. There was a document attached, the report. He clicked on it to open it. Quickly reading through it, it was pretty much as he expected it to be. Nothing jumped out at him till he got to the last few pages. He sat up and read it through twice. His lips tightened and his nostrils flared as the familiar feeling of anger rose in him. He sat for a while thinking and then clicked Reply.

‘BG check on Shyam Manohar Jha. ASAP (bold, underline, red). Use same parameters. ASR’ – and hit Send.

He was breathing heavily, his brows furrowed. How dared he? How dared this man ….? He, Arnav Singh Raizada was not going to allow this to happen.

***

The flight to San Francisco had been uneventful. He caught up with more emails, replied to some, trashed some and set some by. The limo was waiting for him and he settled himself in, before turning on his laptop once more. After some time, he glanced out of the window. They were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. The imp squeezed in through the door. He remembered something he’d read in the report and tapped on the driver’s window. ‘I’d like to go to Sausalito first, before I go home,’ he told the driver.

‘As you wish, sir,’ the driver answered.

***

Khushi pulled into her driveway and got out. The head ache from two days ago was back. Sergio was getting on her nerves. And then there were the calls. Sometimes she picked them up and other times heard the voicemails. She had told NK about it, and he too, was worried about the frequency of the calls. They were closer now. The police couldn’t do anything about it. The calls originated in India and there was no hard evidence to suggest immediate danger, so they couldn’t bring the Indian police into it either. The jurisdiction was unclear.

As she entered the house, she saw her father coming down the stairs dressed casually in jeans and a plaid shirt.

‘Hello, sweetheart,’ he said, giving her a hug.

‘Dad,’ she hugged him back. ‘Where are you off to?’

‘Your mum and sis have gone over to the Dutt’s. We’re having dinner with them. Your mother said to tell you to come over, too.’

She sighed. ‘Okay, Dad. I’ll be there in half an hour’. She was so looking forward to a long soak in the bath or a swim. But that wasn’t going to happen now. She showered, changed into a pair of culottes and top, and soft flat moccasins. She pulled her hair back from her face with a grip. A light pink lipstick and she was ready. She let herself out, locked the door, and walked over slowly.

The balmy dusk was settling her nerves down when she spotted the limousine turn into the cul-de-sac. It stopped in front of the Dutt’s and Arnav got out. He turned to her almost as if he knew she was there. He’d probably seen her through the window, she thought. The driver pulled out his bags from the trunk and handed them over. He waited for her to reach him and said, ‘Hi’ and smiled.

She smiled back, ‘Hi!’

They walked towards the door together. She rang the bell.

Anjali opened the door when the bell rang. For a moment she looked at the picture in front of her. The tall, dark man and the fair, petite woman slightly in front of him, her head right next to his jawline. They both smiled at her. Khushi raised her right foot and crossed the threshold. He followed her in. Picture perfect! ‘Chotey!’ she said, hugging him. ‘You’re back! You said two days, and then you made it three?’

‘Di, work, remember?’ he protested, although he hugged her right back.

‘How was it?’

‘It was good, Di. I am looking forward to the next few years. But first,’ he gestured at himself. ‘I need a shower and then we’ll talk, okay?’

Khushi watched the brother-sister exchange and noticed how different he looked during it. His face had lightened and the tiredness which she’d noticed in his face seemed to go away a little. She turned towards the living room where she spotted her parents and sister in conversation with the Raizadas and the Dutts. She started moving towards them and then stopped and looked back over her shoulder. He was half way up the stairs where he too had stopped, and looked straight at her. His hooded eyes held hers for a moment, before he turned away and made his way up.

In the living room, the conversation was animated. The women clustered around one end, while the men at the other. But Akash was looking over at Payal. Khushi came in and caught the look. He had a dreamy expression on his face. She grinned. So… Akash was interested in her sister, was he? She’d missed them from the party on Diwali night, and the last few days, she’d been feeling out of sorts and ….. empty. So she hadn’t been as aware as usual. But today, her senses were alert and she was noticing things. The headache was long since gone. She went and stood next to her sister.

‘Jiji,’ she exclaimed. ‘We haven’t had much chance to talk since you got back! Come sit with me.’ She hauled her sister out of her chair and checked to see what Akash was doing. He was suddenly very interested in the ceiling.

‘Khushi!’ Payal hugged her. ‘When did you get back?’ She rose from her chair and followed Khushi onto the deck. ‘How was your day?’

‘Oh passable, sis, the usual. But there are some big plans for me, so I am excited!’ She smiled brightly. From the corner of her eye, she watched Akash wander out on the deck. ‘I’m so glad you could make it out for the wedding.’

‘I know. But Khushi, you’re still working. When are you taking time off? You look so tired.’

‘From tomorrow, Jiji. I am on vacation for a few days.’ She started coughing suddenly.

‘Khushi, are you okay?’ her sister asked anxiously.

‘It’s nothing, jiji. It’s just a dry throat. I’ll get some water,’ and she rushed inside towards the kitchen, grinning mischievously - straight into Arnav’s arms.

He steadied her and then made the mistake of looking into her eyes and couldn’t look away. They were sparkling bright when he saw them and now took on a dreamy look. She blinked once slowly. He still couldn’t look away. For a moment, time stood still and the rest of the house faded away. The imp went Whoot! Whoot! He blinked.

She was disconcerted for a few seconds, and then stepped away from him. He let her arms go. He’d showered and changed into a dark blue casual shirt and khakis. They looked around, at each other and moved away. He was moving towards the deck, when she said, ‘Arnav?’ She had to stop him from going on the deck. By the looks of it, Akash and her sister seemed to be talking and she didn’t want him to interrupt them.

He looked at her, ‘Hmm?’

‘Would you like something to drink?’

‘Khushi!’ NK’s mother called. ‘Are you going to the kitchen, dear?’

‘Yes, aunty I am.’

‘Then could you please put on a pot of coffee for all of us?’

‘Sure. No problem.’

Arnav turned around and headed back to the living room.

In the kitchen, Khushi ground the beans and set the percolator on. She found a tray and placed the cream and sugar on it. She went to get the cups, but the shelf was just out of her reach. She raised herself on tip-toe trying to get to them, when a long arm snaked around her, and started taking the cups down. Caramel eyes looked into hers. ‘How many do you need?’

‘Um….about 8’, she said. He put the cups on the tray and lifted it up. ‘I’ll get it. Can you get the coffee pot?’ She nodded. He took the tray into the living room. She took a mug down and poured some out before carrying it and the pot to the living room. He set the tray down on the center table, turned and found her standing behind him. She held out the mug to him, ‘black’, she said, ‘for you’.

He took the cup, while the imp did a little jig. So she remembers I like my coffee black. So bloody what? He asked the imp.

Nobody noticed this interchange except Anjali. But she was wise enough to keep her mouth shut. It wasn’t yet time. Besides she’d noticed the absent Akash and Payal as well. Oh no! She thought, this is going to be a very interesting trip. First Chotey and now Akash, too? These boys! Now she would have to talk to Naniji about this, too. Perhaps a double-wedding? She mentally shook her head. That was too far away. For now, she let it be.

4 comments:

  1. I am in love with this imp..........who dances at all times.

    And yes i just cant stop reading this..........inspite of the hectic day ahead.

    Liza

    ReplyDelete
  2. So Khushi is to make a trip to Delhi!!! And what was in the report about Shyam Manohar Jha??? Is he the one stalking her??? This Anjali is really astute... She notices things too fast...
    Looks like the air is filling up with music of Jadu Hai Nasha Hai....
    Did I tell u I'm in love with the imp.... I'm in love with him, and I'd like to borrow him, for good...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the fact that he has to menatlly pick up the imp, kick him out the door than lock it for good measure. Its getting hot in here! First Arnav and Khushi, then Akaash and Payal. How about Jamie and NK.. not together of course ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. haha I'm loving this!!
    i knew it would be that creepy shyam...grrrr

    ReplyDelete

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