Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 7

The day before the sangeet, the young people had decided to go on a day trip to 17-mile drive. There would be three cars and ten people. Arnav had woken up early, completed his jog and was checking through his emails while sipping on his first coffee of the day. He had been looking for this email from Aman. Subject: SMJ. The attachment opened up and he started reading. Ten minutes later, he was sitting staring thoughtfully at his screen. It wasn’t much information. Turning off his laptop he headed out to the deck. His phone lay on the bed.

Akash had been lying on the bed reading the newspaper when he heard Arnav’s phone ring. He looked around, and then picked up the phone. Aman. He answered it.

‘Yes?’ he said.

‘ASR, I just got some news that I think you should have.’

‘Aman, its Akash. ASR has just stepped outside. I can take the message for him.’

‘Er.. No, Akash sir. I’d rather talk to him myself.’

Akash frowned. Being his brother’s right hand man, he was privy to almost any confidential information in the company. Then why was Aman being so cagey with him? What did Arnav have cooking up that he couldn’t tell him? Shrugging, he said, ‘hold on, I’ll get him’. He stepped out on the deck and said, ‘Bro, its Aman. He says he wants to talk to you specifically.’

Arnav frowned and took the phone. ‘Yeah, Aman, talk to me.’

‘Sir, it’s about Shyam Manohar Jha. He’s been missing for the past few days. We’re still trying to find out where he went to, but I thought you should know.’

Arnav’s frown deepened. ‘Thanks, Aman. You did good. Call me when you get an update.’ He paused. ‘And Aman, need I tell you that I want continuous eyes and ears on this. I want everything, and I mean everything.’

‘Yes, sir’, he hung up.

Akash was looking at him. ‘Bro, what was all that about?’

‘Nothing, Akash.’ He paused and said ‘Nothing at all.’

Akash raised his eyebrows at that. He knew how guarded his brother could be, so he wasn’t going to push it. If ASR wanted to tell him about it, he would. With that, he pushed the thought aside and went back to day-dreaming about a lovely young lady in a green saree.

***



They gathered around the Dutt’s driveway debating who should go in which car. Arnav had no hesitation; he knew he couldn’t wait to get the Mustang out on Highway 1, so he headed towards it. Khushi watched him walk over to her and raised her eyebrows inquiringly. ‘I’m driving,’ he stated.

‘No, you’re not. My car, I’m driving,’ Khushi leant back against the driver’s door.

‘Khushi,’ he had no answer to that. It was after all, her car. But he really did want to drive today. He sighed. ‘Look. I know it’s your car. But, just for today, let me drive. Okay?’

She opened her mouth to argue but then she looked up into his eyes. Something was there; she didn’t know what, but she handed over her keys. He walked around and opened the passenger door for her. She was puzzled by his behavior, He wasn’t usually this conciliatory and she had expected an argument. He got in, started it and drove over to the rest of the group who had finally worked out the arrangements and were getting into two cars.

‘NK,’ he called his cousin. ‘We’ll follow you guys and meet up in Monterey near the pier.’

‘Sure, Nannav,’ NK smiled cheerfully although a little puzzled by this driving arrangement.

The cars rolled out, the Mustang at the tail of the convoy. They drove in silence for a while until they reached the 101, then Khushi leaned forward and turned on the music again. This time it was it was country music: Keith Urban – Who wouldn’t wanna be me? The upbeat opening bars, the cool breeze in their hair, the sun on their shoulders, it was a typical Northern California day – and the song embodied it. His lips twitched as he heard the lyrics. 



And the sun is shinin'
This road keeps windin'
Through the prettiest country
From Georgia to Tennessee
And I got the one I love beside me
My troubles behind me
I'm alive and I'm free
Who wouldn't wanna be me



They followed the other cars till they crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Then he swung the car towards the Presidio. She looked at him in surprise.

‘Where are we going?’ she said.

‘To Monterey,’ was his laconic reply.

‘But, the others, they are going on the 101,’ she was looking nervous by the minute.

‘I know. I thought we could cross over and take Highway 1 all the way down,’ he looked over at her. She was agitated, he thought. He placed his hand on hers briefly, and was surprised when she jerked away.

‘Please, can we get back to the 101?’

‘Relax, Khushi. I know where we are and I know my way around San Francisco. Besides Highway 1 on a day like this, in a car like this is perfect. There’s less traffic and I … I need to clear my head a little.’ His voice was even almost like he was explaining something to a little child. Not that he was given to explanations, but somehow he felt he should.

She looked at him, relaxed, one hand on the wheel, the other on the gear shift, and her nervousness eased a little bit. They hit the Pacific Coast Highway and started leaving the city behind. The big car easily handled the up hills and down hills. The road turned into a two-lane one near Half-moon Bay. They could see the ocean on the right. She calmed down even further. He drove like himself, smoothly with no frantic urge to get somewhere, no road rage, no sudden bursts of speed. Just a man driving along a blacktop that rolled into a backdrop of hills and valleys. Keith Urban crooned in the background – Where the blacktop ends!

About half-an-hour later he pulled into a little scenic overlook. She was looking skittish again, he saw. He opened the door, got out and came to the passenger side and opened the door for her. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘Let’s stretch for a bit.’ He had noticed the thermos in the car and said, ‘is that coffee?’

‘Yes,’ she replied, getting out, not sure what this was leading to. He leaned in and got it. He poured a cup, surprised to see it was black. He raised his eyes to her but she was standing with her back to him. He took in the picture she made, loose hair blowing in the wind, sunglasses, cargo shorts that reached just above her knees, a see-through short sleeved shirt over a tank top, and sandals. Yet she looked elegant as always. He mentally shook his head and turned back to the car. He rummaged around and found another cup, poured some more coffee and handed it to her. They stood there companionably on the edge of a cliff, the ocean in front of them, quiet all around, with just the whooshing of tires as other cars passed by, drinking their coffee. Their eyes met, and exchanged a small smile.

‘Feel better?’ he said. She nodded. How did he know that she’d been feeling very nervous when he’d pulled off the 101?

‘Shall we go?’ he asked. They got back in, and this time, Khushi leaned her head against the rest and enjoyed the drive.

They stopped before the entrance to the 17-mile drive at a small side street. Before he could call NK, his phone rang. ‘Hullo.’

‘Nannav, where are you guys? We’re here already.’

‘Where is here, NK?’

‘At the entrance to 17-mile. We’ve been waiting for a half-hour!’

‘We’re just outside. We’ll be there in two-minutes,’ he hung up.

They found the other cars waiting by the side of the road and drove up to them.

The rest of the day passed in typical tourist fashion. Pictures, oohs, aahs at Seal island and Lone Cypress and all the other stops on the drive. They ate near Pebble Beach watching a game of golf.

Akash and Payal kept wandering off together, so everybody’s attention was focused on them. However, Anjali couldn’t help but notice how her brother seemed to be watching or hovering around Khushi every time she looked at him. Not that he was invading her space. He was just there, in the background, keeping an eye on her. And every time she needed something, he was there to hand it to her. The one time she slipped on some stairs, he caught her hand, breaking her fall. Anjali didn’t miss the look that passed between them. Yet they said nothing to each other. Typical of Chotey, she thought. She smiled and thanked God that for whatever reason Chotey had agreed to come out with them on this trip. Perhaps this time …. she hoped.

He stayed at the back of the crowd, keeping a little aloof as he always did. Hands in pocket he followed them around. But he couldn’t help noticing the change in Khushi. She was finally laughing out loud, and it was a joyous laugh. He knew she wasn’t carrying her phone with her. She’d put it in the glove box. There were no shadows in her eyes. And she even broke into a ridiculous impromptu dance at one point. There was a shining naiveté to her that he hadn’t noticed before. She melded so easily into this group. His eyes behind the sun glasses narrowed a little, and the corner of his mouth turned up. He was enjoying himself. Are you, now? Said the imp. He smiled some more.

Tired, hungry and happy, the group headed back home as the sun sank into the Pacific Ocean. He handed her the keys this time and said, ‘You drive.’

There was silence in the car as they drove, Rondo Venezziano this time, just a whisper in the back ground. After about an hour, Khushi wondered why he was so quiet? She looked over at him, and to her surprise found he had fallen asleep. He sleeps like a baby, she thought. Her mouth curled in a smile as she slowed down a little, keeping to only one lane and going smoothly over the bumps on the road.

They reached home and she pulled into the driveway, engine still running. She looked across at him, still asleep; his head turned towards her, mouth pursed and a little frown on his face. Not fighting the urge anymore she leaned across and slowly pushed back the hair that had flopped onto his brow. No gel today, just baby-soft hair. He opened sleepy eyes and looked straight into hers in the dim glow of the dashboard. Her hand stilled in his hair and then she pulled it back. For a long moment, they just looked at each other and then he blinked. They looked away from each other as he unfastened his seat belt, opened the car door and then looked back at her. ‘Good night,’ he said.

‘Good night,’ she said.

5 comments:

  1. i cannot help the awww that comes with reading about her watching him sleep. that was so perfect! just them together, relaxed, on a long road.. beautiful!

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  2. AWWWWW.......... ....so beautifully written such a perfect day in Arshi land.

    Liza

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  3. So whatever he read in her file has made him slow down. Good the imp is keeping him on the straight and narrow. Cant wait to find out the story of her stalker. Smj... like a bad penny alway turns up. How has he found het? Its not like the USA is tiny, maybe gpt some media re her fashion house?

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