The Proposal

The fifth short story submitted to the TOI Write India competition. For the other stories click here

Author Prompt

“It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.

I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.

I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.”  by Ravinder Singh (For more about the contest/rules click here).

The Proposal

It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.

I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.

I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.

Heart thudding, I ducked to avoid meeting her. After her brutal rejection, it had taken me long to find my balance again. I was in a happy place now, thanks to Avani, my guardian angel. I was finally over Sonia. But going by my current heart rate, I suddenly wasn’t quite so sure.

I took a quick peek ahead. Sonia had reached the counter. Relax Nikhil, I told myself, she might not be going to Bengaluru. Even if she is, so what? Best if you stay away from her, some sane inner voice warned me.

But then when had I ever listened to it. Besides, fate had other plans.

A little girl came toddling forward. She tottered and would have tripped over my suitcase. I swung her away to safety half expecting her to scream blue murder. But she chortled in glee and waved her clenched fists only to hit me squarely in the eye with the toy she was clearly escaping with. “Ouch!” I yelped although I couldn’t help but warm to her infectious joie de vivre.

“Nika!” an all too familiar voice scolded. My heart plummeted to my stomach and I unexpectedly felt bereft as Nika was plucked from my arms. I felt naked and exposed. Myriad emotions assaulted me. I had a desperate irresistible desire run away and hug Sonia at the same time. What if she treated me like a stranger? What if she didn’t? I was terrified of making a fool of myself. With a vague idea of delaying the inevitable, I turned away and focused on rubbing my eye.

“I am sor…Nikkss? Oh Niks is that you? So good to see you!” She slid an arm around me and held me close whilst Nika gurgled in my ear.

With a sense of relief, I gave up avoiding her. “Hi Sonia,” I mumbled awkwardly, not quite the suave confident branch manager that I actually was. I coughed and tried again. “Good to see you too.” I raised an eyebrow. “So what’s Nika short for?” Nobody could fail to admire the pretty picture of mother and daughter. Yet, in her jeans and top, Sonia looked barely old enough to be out of school. She had never been fat but now she was almost painfully thin and fragile. Her eyes, easily her best feature, were still deep and mysterious.

Her tinkling laugh washed over me. “Yeah I still have that habit,” she said with a touch of apology. “Nayanika, say sorry to Niks.” She pressed a kiss on a chubby cheek and gave her a cuddle.

Nika offered the most unrepentant of smiles and lisped, “Shollee Inks.” I fell in love all over again – with Nika and Sonia.

“Hang on a minute will you while I check in? Going to Bengaluru right?” I said.

She nodded. “It’s going to be a pain what with the flight being indefinitely delayed.”

“Let’s grab a coffee shall we? I guess we are on the same flight.” I said as we compared boarding passes.

By the time I had queued up and paid for the coffee, I regretted my impulsiveness. Didn’t I say Sonia was best avoided? The voice growled.

Oh, go take a hike I mumbled silently and strode over to the ladies waiting for me. “Coffee for you and a brownie for Nika.”

“Oh she won’t have.” Sonia broke off a piece and popped it in her mouth.

“I’m guessing she will. Like mother, like daughter,” I said softly. Her gaze skittered away. “Hey Nika,” I said briskly, “do you want to try a brownie?”

“Blownie.” Game, Nika grabbed it and stuffed it on her face. Plastered, she chomped on it happily and slurped. She held out her chocolaty chubby fingers, “Mole!” she demanded imperiously.

I shot Sonia a triumphant look but she returned an exasperated look. “Exactly why I told you not to give it to her. Look that the mess she created.” She grabbed the last piece and ate it all up except for one tiny bit, which she put into Nika’s mouth. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Keep an eye on my stuff.” She walked off to the washroom.

Nika was irritable and cranky by the time she came back. Sonia struggled to calm her down but with little success. I watched helplessly. “She was an angel just a little while ago.”

“She is an angel,” Sonia said. “It’s just that she is hungry. If only she would let me prepare the formula, but,” she shrugged helplessly as Nika clung to her wailing.

“Here, let me try.” I said rather foolhardily. “Nika, come let’s go see airplanes, whoosh!” I didn’t give her a chance to protest as I swung her into my arms and loped off to the huge windows. Luckily a plane had just landed and distracted Nika. “Plane! Whoosh!” she informed me and gazed at it interestedly for a moment or two. “Nonia?” her lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears.

“Yeah, let’s go find Nonia!” I planned on taking a long detour but she cottoned on pretty quickly and switched on the siren. I hurriedly changed directions and peace reigned as I restored her to Sonia.

“Where’s her father?” I asked despite myself. “It’s tough to travel alone with a toddler.”

Sonia’s face clouded over and her throat worked convulsively. “We filed for divorce over irreconcilable differences.”

“I am sorry.” I hated myself for feeling vindicated.

“It’s been awful Niks.” A dam seemed to burst. “Right from very beginning it has been a ghastly never-ending nightmare. Except for Nika. If it weren’t for her, I would have surely jumped off the nearest roof by now.” She shuddered and clutched Nika close.

“Don’t say that!” I was horrified. “Nothing is worth your life.” After all I had learnt that lesson the hard way.

Sonia shook her head. “You have no idea how much I regretted parting ways with you Niks. You have absolutely no idea! I wish I had never given into Dad’s antiquated ideas of caste and status. It’s not fair Niks,” she cried as she turned to me, “what was my fault? All I did was obey my parents and look where it landed me.” A tear rolled down her cheek. She hastily brushed it away.

“Shush Sonia,” I muttered casting a nervous look around, “don’t blame yourself. We have been conditioned to obey to our parents. Besides marriage is a gamble. You win some and lose some.” I shrugged. “Maybe that’s why I never could take the plunge.”

“Lucky you,” she said dully. “Dad is after my life to get married again.” She shook her head. “My divorce hasn’t yet officially come through, and neither have I recovered from the trauma, yet he wants me to jump into the fire once again.”

“Maybe he is just trying to tell you that you should not let this tragic experience sour you. He wants you to get married again and lead a normal happy married life…”

She looked at me, disbelief was written all over her face. “I can’t believe you are defending Dad!” She gently rocked Nika, whose eyes had begun to close. “I have to consider Nika, her safety and well being.” She looked up pleadingly at me. “How can I trust another man? Be sure that he wouldn’t harm Nika in any way – be the right father figure for her?” She smiled wanly. “Unless it’s you of course.”

My heart thumped madly. “Are you proposing to me Sonia?” I asked carefully.

Sonia shrugged. “There is nobody else I trust more in this world.”

“What about your father?”

Sonia flushed. “That’s a low blow,” she mumbled.

“Why hint at things you know are not possible?” Old forgotten emotions flared up suffocating me. “Do you know how long it has taken me to move on? Why are you hell bent upon playing with my…”

“Please Niks.” she put a hand on mine. “I am sorry I hurt you. Can we start all over again? Please?”

“What about your father? His objections? None of it has changed, has it?” I lashed out in bitterness and anger.

“I will convince him.”

“How? You couldn’t convince him four years ago.” I vacillated between hope and despair. Could my wildest dreams actually come true?

“I will convince him,” she insisted. “I was young and foolish then.”

“But what if you can’t?” I persisted. “Whom will you choose this time?”

“I will convince him,” she parroted. She looked around. “Damn it, how delayed is our flight? Here, hold Nika will you? I need to use the washroom.”

Sonia disappeared and as if on cue, Nika began fussing which blew up into a major tantrum. Harried, I walked about trying to distract her but she wasn’t interested, until she caught sight of a little girl eating an ice cream.

“Ice cleam,” she demanded tearfully. Relieved, I purchased one for her. Instantly appeased, she was all delighted smiles and gurgles. She gave it a dainty lick.

“Nika!” Sonia snatched the ice cream from her and threw it in the dustbin. “What the hell Nikhil! Did I say you could give her an ice cream?”

I was aghast. “It was just an ice cream for heaven’s sake! She woke up and was howling so I thought…”

“Next time leave any thinking regarding Nika to me,” her eyes shot daggers at me as she took Nika away, “she is my daughter…”

Blood rushed to my head. “Is this how much you trust me?”

Sonia stilled. She dug out a chocolate from her bag and handed it to Nika. “Sorry Niks. I didn’t mean it that way. Actually Nika has a bad cold…”

“So what exactly did you mean Sonia? That I come a poor third in your life?” Bile rose up and choked me.

Sonia’s wide lustrous eyes filled with tears. She held Nika close. “Please don’t twist my words out of context. I admit I am rather possessive and overprotective about my daughter but…”

My phone rang. It was Avani. “Hello.” I said.

Avani immediately cottoned on. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Our flight has been further delayed by an hour.”

“But that isn’t why you are upset is it?”

“I am not upset.”

“Of course you are.”

I sighed defeated. I never could fool Avani. “Don’t worry, I am fine.” I calmed down and my voice softened. “I’ll speak to you later okay? Bye.”

“Who was that?” Sonia pounced.

“Avani.”

“Avi! That mousy ugly looking nobody?”

“Sonia!” I was taken aback by the vicious attack. “Don’t talk about Avani like that.” I swallowed. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today.” I looked down on my clenched fists and then raised my eyes to look at Sonia bleakly. “When you left me I was completely shattered.” I broke off, unwilling to revisit those agonizing days. “Avani gave me a second chance at life with her unconditional love and support.”

“Avi was always a sucker for sob stories,” Sonia sneered. “Don’t make the mistake of confusing her pity for love.”

I looked at Sonia in sudden dislike and everything fell into place. I felt light and free.

“I would rather take her pity and unquestioning friendship over your selfishness.” I shot back.

“Don’t be an emotional fool Niks.” Sonia’s eyes hardened.

I shook my head. “You mistake Sonia. For once I am being practical. With Avani, I would always come first. But with you, I would never be quite sure.” I paused. “A convenient caretaker perhaps?” I nodded casually and walked off jauntily feeling as if I had been released from prison.

I couldn’t wait to meet Avani.

“Nikhil! You are so late! Are you okay? I have been waiting…”

“Whoa Avani. Relax!” I shrugged off my bag. “I am fine. The flight…”

“Yes,” she brushed me aside impatiently, “but you sounded so upset…”

I held her by the arms. “I was, but now everything is just perfect.” I gave her a warm hug.

She gave me a quizzical look. “Now this is a first!” She dragged me to the sofa. “Tell me all.” She patted the sofa invitingly.

“I met Sonia and her daughter at the airport.”

Avani stiffened and she eyed me warily.

I sighed. “She’s getting a divorce and sort of proposed to me.”

Avani’s eyes widened. “So what did you say?” she seemed to be holding her breath.

For an answer, I went down on one knee and pulled out a ring with a flourish, “Will you marry me?”

Avani clapped a hand to her mouth and stared at me with eyes round with shock. Her face cleared; she clapped her hands. “Oh, is that how you are planning to propose to Sonia? What a beautiful ring!”

“No you silly girl,” I smiled. “I am proposing to you my love.”

“But why?” she gasped, “I thought you…”

I stood up and pulled her into my arms. “I know – I thought so too! But the fact is I love you. Life without you is meaningless…”

“What!” Avani moved away twisting her fingers. “I never thought…I mean I never meant for you to…but I don’t…” she looked at me pleadingly.

“Don’t what Avani?” I asked gently. “Love me?” I looked at her knowingly. “I know you do. But never mind, even if you don’t.” I squeezed her hands. “I have love enough for both of us.” I said grandly. “You have been my pillar of strength. Now it’s payback time…”

She withdrew her hands. “Payback? But for what?” Her voice gentled. “I was just being a good friend Nikhil.” Her soft doe eyes looked at me anxiously. “I am sorry if you got the impression that I love you.”

I stared at her uncomprehendingly.

Avani flushed guiltily and looked away. “Perhaps you remember I had submitted a proposal to Harvard?” She met my eyes. “Well, they liked it and offered me a teaching assistant-ship. I join next month.”

So what did you think? Look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, thoughts  – thanks. Click here for more short stories or here for more about the blog.

 And while you were busy partying over the weekend, I had a little blast of my own and posted another little story Although I did miss the deadline 😦  Anyway since you are here, might as well skim over that as well? What’s a few more words (with a picture to boot) right? 😀 Thanks!

And don’t forget to leave me a note (or two, or three — yea am greedy that way 😀 )

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Dahlia

Email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com or tweet me @mysilverstreaks

10 thoughts on “The Proposal”

  1. In the first half, I was reminded about ‘ oh those silly exes’ comment which got some actors into trouble. A little further on, I was relieved that Nikhil was turning out to be more sensible than I thought. When he proposed to Avani – I did think that he should have slept over his decision – before taking a purely emotional call – influenced by events earlier in the day. And, yes, I love Avani. I loved the end even more!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whatever the case, Sonia read him right…won’t be that rude but yes his decisions are guided by his emotions and quite impulsive too….loved Avani including the name

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An emotional fool, oscillating between yays and nos, rejected twice…. one for very selfish reasons and the other for a valid reason. It took him years to realise the essence of one relationship only to make another blunder on the rebound… will he ever learn???? The premise of his second proposal, “now its payback time” is itself on a flimsy ground. It has been an emotional roller coaster ride for him for so long and yet he has not found his footing.

    You, my dear, is an officially twister 😉 🙂

    Like

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