Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Be All

It was a dreary day. Parul was glad when she shut the computer and got up from her place at work.

"Hey Yamuna, how about a cup of coffee?" she asked her colleague on her way out.

Yamuna looked up with tired eyes. "I really have to meet this stupid deadline tonight."

"Come, a coffee can't hurt! You look like you need it too," Parul tried to persuade her colleagye. She herself was not eager to get back to her lonely apartment, though she didn't want to linger in the office either.

But a Yamuna with a deadline was as good as having a monkey for company. She was jumpy, restless and constantly distracted. Well, maybe monkey wasn't the right comparison. They could sit still doing nothing, but not Yamuna with a deadline!

Sighing, Parul decided to take leave. Yamuna too seemed equally pleased to see her go. A chuckle escaped Parul as she realised that just for one moment, both had felt relieved to see the last of the other.

That only redoubled her sense of poignance, reminding her she had no one in this vast city that she had chosen to find work in. What a war she had waged with her mother to win this freedom to pursue her dreams, do her own thing, to make her mother realise that marriage was not the sole purpose of life.

But while work life wasn't bad, she missed her family, her friends, having familiar faces around her. She couldn't face the thought of yet another lonely dinner in her small house she had taken hoping to entertain family and friends. She stopped by a bar and ordered herself a drink and dinner. She shut her eyes to savour the drink, imagine for a second that she had company, and absorb the ambience.

When she opened her eyes, she choked on seeing a man sitting across the table.

"Hi, sorry, didn't mean to startle you! Do you mind if I join?"

She bit back biting words and nodded. "I don't think you gave me a choice there," she took in his appearance. Dressed in cauals, he looked smart. His accent was polished. And though he had taken a seat before seeking her permission, he seemed well behaved.

"I am sorry, I didn't mean to intrude but everybody else seems to be in a group. You are the only one sitting alone and with a chair to spare," he said smiling, taking the sting out of the insinuation that she seemed lonely.

"So are you," she pointed out defensively. "Alone, I mean," she clarified.

"Yes, so I am." He signalled to a waiter and placed his order, graciously asking her if she would like to order anything else. She shook her head. She may have ordered a second round of her drink, but she was not about to take that risk with a stranger sitting across her.

"I am here on business, have a meeting tomorrow," he launched into an explanation, telling her his name, the industry he worked in and the general purpose of his visit. She waved it away. "You are not obliged to explain. I am done anyway and shall leave in a few minutes," she said, trying to act cool.

As he waited to be served, he put her at ease by talking of general things. Soon, she was ordering her second drink and was deep into discussion about the merits and demerits of brands. When he invited her to share the meal, she helped herself to a small part just to keep him company. She didn't mind waiting for him to finish, and when he insisted on paying for her dinner and drinks, she agreed reluctantly.

She was exhilarated as she strolled down the streets aimlessly with him, glad of his amusing company, glad of company, glad to be out with someone other than her colleagues who politely included her in their jaunts during tea breaks but left her alone most evenings to fend for herself.

"You must be late, I am so sorry!" Puneet, that was his name, apologised.

"No, it's ok. I can get back whenever I want," she said.

"No curfew?" he asked with a chuckle.

She looked at him enigmatically, and changed the topic, "I would like to rest my feet a bit."

"I am staying nearby, we could go for coffee at the restaurant there," he offered and she nodded. From there to his room and to his arms...it seemed like natural progression.

Breaking away with great reluctance a little later, some of her loneliness abated, she refused his sleepy offer to spend the rest of the night with him. She stepped out of his room, headed home, shocked but not regretting that one moment!

When she got out of the cab and looked at the dark, silent house she lived in, her desire to run back to the near-stranger was a strong impulse that she fought hard. Those few moments with him had not changed anything for her. It had been at best a diversion, but she was back here, to this lonely place she had chosen.

When she called her mother that morning, she stunned herself as she reluctantly told her mother, "You mentioned there was a boy in this city... I would like to meet him."
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