The year was coming to an end and there was a festive air at the office. Groups of employees huddled around in bunches discussed the upcoming Christmas party and their plans to welcome in the New year. Team leaders and bosses were also in a mellow mood and considerately looked the other way.
Except for Sheena.
She was in a foul mood and didn’t care who knew it. “What the hell are you guys doing out in the corridor.” She looked at her watch. “There’s still an hour before closing time.”
There was silence.
“Well?” she snapped, her eyes boring into each of them.
Nitin succumbed to the hypnotic glare. “Nothing Ma’am, just…just talking about the party.”
“The party is tomorrow night. If you don’t have any work let me know I can always…” The corridor cleared up in an instant.
Unappeased, Sheena continued her march down the corridor. She halted outside the last door on the right. She burst into Riteish’s office without even bothering to knock.
Riteish, who was busy mumbling sweet-nothings into the phone, looked up in surprise. “Hey T, gotta go. Yeah me too. Bye.” He put down the phone. “And a very good evening to you Shinee.”
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped irritably and prowled the office floor.
Riteish raised an eyebrow. “Ah that time of the…” He coughed to hide his grin.
She stopped in her track and glared at him. “That’s out-dated stuff buddy.”
“Apparently you are not privy to the Whatsapp joke going around.”
Riteish scratched his head. “Err…no what?”
“That time of the month,” hands on her hips, she said with emphasis, “allows women to do once a month what men do the whole month.”
Riteish gave a crack of laughter. “Touché!” He waved a hand. “Please sit. Here,” he got up and pulled a chair for her.
Reluctantly Sheena slid into it. She slipped off her heels and wiggled her toes in relief.
Riteish went back to his seat. “Tea, coffee or…” he grinned engagingly.
Sheena was unmoved. If anything, she was even more cheesed off. “Don’t miss a chance to flirt do you? Even with me? Where neither of us are interested?”
“Habit.” He shrugged. “Besides, practice makes a man perfect.” He looked at her with a lost puppy dog expression.
“Argghh. Men.” Sheena made it sound like an expletive.
“Okay fine.” Riteish held up his hands in surrender. “I guess you are really upset about something. What is it? Is it something related to work, office staff or…”
“Aditya.” Sheena came clean.
Riteish stiffened and looked warily at her. “Aditya? Your husband?”
“No. Aditya, your friend.” Sheena sneered. “How many Adityas do you know?”
“Oh no not again.” Riteish shook his head. “You know Sheena, husband and wife should never work in the same office. Too intrusive, you know, neither gets any space, freedom, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah sure I do,” Sheena said sourly, “and exactly the reason I cannot leave this office. I don’t want to give him his space, his freedom. He can’t control himself while I am here and if I leave, then, oh boy.” Sheena snorted derisively.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh please Riteish. Don’t act so innocent huh? I know all about you men and your rules – you save my back and I will save yours.”
“Don’t talk nonsense Shinee. There is no such rule.”
She looked at him disbelievingly. “Yeah right and the sun rises in the West. Besides, don’t forget, I know Adi. Before we got married, we were colleagues. I know his modus operandi. That helpless dazed look is cultivated with great care and finesse. It is specifically aimed to trap foolish young women…”
“Hey, hey, hold your horses girl! You really have become like the typical suspicious nagging wives. No sooner has a chap talked to a female colleague, bas they are having an affair. Nonsense.”
“Oh really. So are you trying to tell me nothing is going on between Adi and Steina?”
Riteish laughed. “Steina and Adi? Don’t be silly Shinee.”
“Yeah? How about a bet then? One lakh says that they shared the hotel room while they were in Hyderabad?
Riteish stared. “One lakh.” He was taken aback but he recovered quickly. “Come on. That’s taking it a bit too far,” he said. “Have some faith in Aditya. The poor chap is really a good boy. He never looked at a girl, not even in school.” He snickered. “I doubt if he has looked at you properly in the six months or so that you have been married.”
Sheena glared at him. “That woman, Steina,” Sheena said, “is openly declaring to all and sundry that Aditya bought her the bracelet at the Bangalore airport and she is wearing it for a special date tonight! As if I don’t know who that date is!” Sheena fumed. “Very conveniently, Aditya is working late tonight.” Sheena paced the floor restlessly and stopped in front of Riteish’s desk. “Tell me, wouldn’t you be suspicious?”
Riteish seemed to be be wrestling with something. He drummed his fingers on the table. He leaned forward. “Do you know Sheena,” he said as if coming to a decision, “that your husband also asked me the same question about you last week?”
Sheena looked at Riteish blankly. “What question?”
Riteish leaned back and passed a hand over his face. “He asked me if you were having an affair with Sreejit.” His voice was muffled.
“Sreejit!” Sheena jumped off the chair. “Is he crazy or what? Sree and I practically grew up together. We are like siblings.” She shuddered. “How could Aditya even think that Sree and I could ever…” she broke off unable to say it.
Riteish played with the paperweight and avoided meeting Sheena’s eyes.
“But, but why would he think such a thing of me?” Sheena was bewildered. Her temper rose and so did her pitch. “And why the hell would he ask you?” She looked at him suspiciously. “You are lying,” she said flatly.
Riteish looked offended. “Why would I lie? What purpose would it serve?” He raised his hands. “Look, just calm down will you? He asked me because of the same reason you asked me – you are both my friends.”
He paused. “Besides, you have been spending a lot of time with Sree lately. You even flew to meet him in Kolkata last Sunday, stayed overnight at his flat, took a day off from office in the middle of a looming deadline,” he fell silent.
“Oh,” Sheena nodded her head knowingly, “so you also think that – you know what? Forget it.” She grabbed her bag. “I am leaving –“
“Hey, hang on,” Riteish was up in a trice, “I don’t think anything of the sort,” he coughed, “but the facts are pretty damning aren’t they? Honestly I can’t say I blame him for drawing his own conclusions.”
Sheena glared at him, “Sree is having serious issues with his live-in girlfriend and I just went to see if I could sort out things,” she clarified. “But both of you have judged me and condemned me without the courtesy of a fair hearing haven’t you?”
“Aren’t you doing the same to Aditya?” Riteish pointed out gently. “Did you ask him what his relationship with Steina is or what, if anything, is going on between the two?”
“I can’t believe Aditya doubts me over Sree,” muttered Sheena despondently, “I texted him before leaving and even sent him a detailed email from the airport. But that doesn’t justify Aditya’s going around with Steina, giving her expensive gifts.” Sheena’s voice trembled and she turned away.
Riteish sighed and fidgeted before picking up the intercom. “Hi Aditya,” he said casually even as Sheena started hyperventilating, “busy? Can you come over to my office now? Yeah,” he looked at Sheena who was vehemently shaking her head, “you can say it is pretty urgent. Okay then, see you in a bit.” He put down the phone. “He is coming,” he said rather unnecessarily.
“And I am leaving,” Sheena stood up but Riteish blocked her path, “No way Sheena. It’s time you both talked it out, sorted out your differences face to face rather than using me as your punching board.”
“I refuse to talk to someone who discusses his wife with another person,” Sheena said stiffly.
“Unbelievable Sheena, unbelievable,” Riteish shook his head and threw up his hands, “a case of the kettle calling the pot black!”
“What did I do?” Sheena flared up, “I was upset, at my tethers end, I need a friend to talk to. It was either this or jump off the building,” she burst into tears just as Aditya entered the room.
Aditya stopped short. He looked warily at Sheena and then at Riteish, “I…I think I will come back later,” he muttered and hurriedly backed out.
But Riteish was faster, he grabbed his arm and dragged him back, “Oh no, no, neither of you is going anywhere until you have talked it out.” He picked up his bag, “I am leaving, you two talk it out,” he waved his hands, “my office is all yours.”
This time Aditya grabbed Riteish’s arm, “Don’t leave me here alone with her please,” he begged.
“She is your wife dammit!” Riteish was incredulous.
Tears forgotten, Sheena jumped to her feet. “Don’t you dare leave me alone in this room with this…this monster!”
“See?” Aditya said in an aside to Riteish, “See how she screeches? No consideration for the fact that this is an office,” he groaned. He kept his voice low and Sheena had to strain to hear, “It’s impossible to talk to her, she either screams or bursts into tears.”
“Let her,” said Riteish unconcernedly, “it’s way past office closing time and there’s nobody except the guard, and,” he grinned, “he is hard of hearing.”
He patted Aditya, “Listen to me and fight it out right here. No interfering neighbors and I will warn the guard not to let anybody disturb you,” he squeezed Aditya’s shoulder encouragingly, while Sheena muttered in the background, “So I screech is it?”
“Why are you doing this?” Aditya urgently whispered. “Stay, don’t go please.” His voice firmed and he clutched Riteish, “If you leave, I too will leave.” Realizing that he was panicking, he attempted to retrieve his dignity by straightening his coat and pushing back his spectacles.
Riteish looked heavenwards and then at Sheena who was still sniffing, “Look at him, just look at him,” he said. “Do you really think that this man,” he clapped a hearty hand on Aditya’s quivering shoulder, “can actually have an affair with another woman when he is afraid to be in the same room as his wife?”
“Riteish!” Sheena and Aditya chorused in unison. Aditya backed away nervously as Sheena opened her mouth to begin her tirade, “What the hell do you mean Riteish? How dare you speak about my husband like this?” She was furious.
“Sheena, Sheena,” Riteish sank down on the couch, “make up your mind. Are you for him or against him?”
Sheena was stumped, “Oh shut up Riteish!” she looked ready to tear her hair, “you always do this!” She ground her teeth.
Riteish raised an eyebrow.
“Confuse me! I came here to talk about – ” she cast a glance at Aditya and clammed up.
“Go on, spit it out Sheena,” encouraged Riteish, a hard glint in his eye. He kept his eyes firmly focused on Aditya.
She nodded her head grimly and boldly attacked Aditya. “What the hell is going on between you and that woman?”
Aditya stared at her uncomprehendingly. “Me and that woman? Which woman?”
“Hey Shinee, he seems to be having an affair with more than one woman!”
Sheena shot Riteish a darkling look – one that said tere-ko-toh-main-baad-main-dekh-loongi look but refused to be diverted. She focused on Aditya. “Now don’t play the innocent! I know all about your office affair,” she said in an ominous tone. “You and Steina.”
“Steina?” Aditya quavered. He looked towards Riteish, who stared back at him unblinkingly.
“Go on answer that.” Ritesh’s tone was hard and unyielding. This time Sheena shot him a grateful look before attacking Aditya again.
“Yes Steina! And drop that innocent act,” she flapped her arms wildly, “I heard it from the horse’s mouth…” Emotions overcame her.
“Horse’s mouth?” repeated Aditya casting another pleading wild look at Riteish. Just as Sheena looked into her purse hunting for her handkerchief, he clasped his hands together and made begging and throat slashing motions at Riteish.
The grim lines around Riteish’s mouth eased.
She blew her nose. “Yes, I overhead Steina telling whoever cared to listen…”
“That would make it the mare’s mouth,” Riteish interrupted helpfully.
Sheena turned to glare at Riteish who cowered and backed off. But his shoulders shook.
“Yes what was she saying?” an uncharacteristically aggressive Aditya shot back.
“She said that you bought her a 10k diamond bracelet at the Bangalore airport.” Sheena’s voice rose to a crescendo and then choked on a sob.
“Tsk, tsk,” said Riteish.
Aditya threw him a half-reproachful half-pleading glance.
“Yeah, so?” asked Aditya.
“So!” said Sheena, “you wouldn’t be buying her a diamond bracelet unless you were – ,” she dissolved in a fresh storm of tears.
“Tsk, tsk,” went Riteish again.
“Shut up Riteish.” Aditya shook his fist at Riteish, who smothered a laugh.
Riteish turned to Sheena. “Yes, Sheena,” he spoke gently, “I bought Steina a bracelet at the Bangalore airport but only because her credit card wasn’t working. Look,” he pulled out his wallet, “ she paid me the money in cash today. Okay now?”
Stumped, Sheena stared at the wad of notes in Aditya’s wallet.
“But how dare you discuss me with Riteish?” Sheena made a swift recovery.
“Discuss you with Riteish?” the hunted look was back.
“Yes!” she said “Didn’t you say to him that I was having an affair with Sree?” She made a disgusted sound and turned her face away.
Aditya rolled his eyes frantically at Riteish, “When did I ever say such a thing?”
“Yes, you did! Ask Riteish.” They both turned to Riteish. “Tell him,” ordered Sheena.
“Tell him what?” Riteish said mildly.
“That he said to you that I had slept with Sree!” Sheena’s voice hit the roof.
Aditya recoiled in horror. “I never said that! Sree is a great guy, he would never do such a thing.” Aditya vouched for Sree’s character.
“But I would?” pounced Sheena. “Sree is a great guy, he would never do such a thing!” she mimicked him. “But you aren’t so sure about me are you?”
Aditya winced. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he mumbled.
“Then what did you mean?” Sheena cornered her husband.
He caught sight of Riteish clutching his stomach and lolling about on the sofa, “How the hell can I mean anything when I didn’t say anything! Why don’t you ask Riteish?”
Riteish casually got to his feet and stretched lazily. “Gosh! Just look at the time! I better go. You guys carry on. Doing just beautifully. I’ll just get my bag.”
“Wait!” Aditya wore an arrested expression. He caught hold of him by the lapels, “Just what have you been telling Sheena?” he asked dangerously and actually shook him threateningly.
Riteish looked at him reproachfully, “My dear fellow, is this any way to thank your friend?”
Aditya looked at him suspiciously, “And just what do you mean by that? Don’t tell me all this brouhaha is all your doing?”
Riteish scratched his head. “Guilty as charged milord,” he said meekly. “The thing is my dear fellow,” he added hastily as Aditya and Sheena both glared at him, “I was getting tired of playing referee between the two of you. For heaven’s sake, it’s high time you guys started talking to each other instead of always dragging me in the middle. After all, what is my crime?” he asked. “Just that I arranged your marriage?” he held his ears. “Forgive me this one transgression,” he pleaded. “Never again, I promise, never again.”
Riteish put his arm around Sheena. “Aditya was just worried about Sree because you just dashed off to Kolkata. I, err,” he coughed, “I just added some spice to give you a taste of how Aditya feels when you discuss him with me.”
Sheena looked down at her shoes.
“Cheer up Sheena,” Riteish winked at Aditya who had his hands folded and was bowing to him from behind Sheena’s back, “I am sure you know how to make it up to him.”
The door opened and Steina popped her head in.
All three occupants froze.
“Oh hi, there you are,” she simpered to a suddenly wooden Aditya, “I went to your office, aren’t we -,” she clammed up as she caught sight of Sheena.
Aditya frantically rolled his eyes at Riteish who smoothly stepped in. “Hey T. Right on time.” He looked at his watch. “Come, let’s go, otherwise we will be late,” he hustled Steina out. “Bye guys,” he called as he shut the door behind him.
Aditya wiped his forehead and loosened his tie. “I think we better get going too, it is pretty late.” He coughed.
“I am sorry Adi for having doubted you and having discussed you with Riteish.” Sheena was contrite. “I promise I won’t ever do that again.” She slid her arms around him.
Aditya drew her close, relief evident on his face.
“But Adi,” she looked up at him, “does that mean Steina is having an affair with Riteish?”
“Does Bhabhi know?” she said in a hushed whisper.
“Oh no, its nothing like that,” said Aditya in a strangled voice, “it’s a business dinner, with some clients,” he said glibly.
“Okay,” Sheena chewed her fingernail, “but then why did Steina boast about a dinner date?”
“Who knows? Women are impossible.”
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