“Hey Rajji pass the acetone beaker will you?” It was Sameer.
Rajani swung around to stare (accusingly) at Shikha – Rajji? she mouthed. Shikha shrugged and then let out a shriek, “Watch out!”
Rajani, up in arms over the familiar use of her pet name, wasn’t very careful with the acetone or its proximity to flames of the Bunsen burner – the flames leaped across and the acetone went up in a flash. Rajani screamed and dropped the beaker, which smashed into a million pieces while the flames continued to burn fiercely. There was uproar and everybody from the highest to the lowest gathered around the spot of the accident trying to add their two bits to the gravity of the situation.
Fortunately for everyone, HK thought on his feet and almost instantly dumped the (handy mandatory) bucket of sand on the fire.
Shikha (and the other girls) tried to calm down a shaken Rajani – she clearly had had a very narrow escape. She was taken away for first aid while the others now crowded Harry congratulating him for his quick reflexes. He shrugged them off modestly, eyes on the retreating figure of Rajani – was she okay?
After a visit to the doctor, some minor first aid (the flames had singed her fingers and scorched the back of her hand but nothing very serious) and an earful from the Sister, the girls were back in hostel by about 5 pm – starving. Dinner was hours away and the measly bread rolls available as snacks with tea were more oil than substance.
Grumbling and bickering (Shikha blamed their near starvation condition squarely on Rajani) they went up to their rooms. “Now what are you waiting for?” Shikha scowled at Rajani who was busy inspecting her hand.
“What?” Rajani was bewildered.
“What, what? Open the door.” Shikha said brusquely.
Rajani opened her eyes wide. “Open the door? Me? But I don’t have the key.”
Shikha stared at her. “But you were the last to leave.”
“Excuse me madam,” Rajani said with awful politeness, “if you remember, you pushed me out and then banged the door shut.”
Shikha’s face was a study. “Great. Now we are not only starving but homeless too.” She gave the door a kick.
“Never mind Shiks,” Rajani consoled, “the other girls will be here soon.”
“But what if they don’t come till late at night? Will we keep hanging around like this?” Shikha snapped. “Oh I want to go home to Mummy. I am staaaarvving!” she flopped down on the stairs and burst into tears.
Rajani sat down beside her and set about soothing her. “Okay, okay. It was my fault. I was the one who was so slow. I messed up. Now don’t cry. Come let’s go out and explore the campus a bit. Maybe we can find something to eat?” She nudged Shikha.
Shikha sniffed and perked up. “Maybe Maggi!”
Rajani hesitated. “Do you think we should ask…?
Shikha frowned. “Ask? Ask whom? Ask what?”
“That if…if it’s okay to go…”
“Go out and eat Maggi?” Shikha was incredulous. “Uff Rajji you are too much. We are in college now not in school!”
“Fine! Call your Mamma to ask.” She mocked.
Rajani brightened. “Yes! I will call Mamma and ask.” She hunted for her mobile.
“Yes and ask her to send a written confirmation.” Rajani glared at Shikha. Shikha glared right back. “And what about Papa dearest? Won’t he get angry for wasting talk time?”
Rajani flushed. “Don’t talk about Papa like that!” she flared up.
“What did I say?” Shikha opened her eyes wide.
Rajani scowled and turned away.
Shikha stood up and dusted herself. “Fine be that way. I am going to get a cold coffee with ice cream as well.”
“In your dreams.” Scoffed Rajani. But she did get up and follow Shikha looking guiltily around. “Hope we don’t get into trouble.”
“Trouble? Trouble for what Budhoo?”
“For leaving without permission.”
“But whom to ask?” Shikha dragged a reluctant Rajani along.
But at the hostel gate, even Shikha’s bravado deserted her. Hearts thumping, they looked guiltily around wondering if there were going to be shouts of Stop Police! Freeze! Chained and thrown into the dark damp dungeons infested with big black rats…
“Shiks,” Rajani began on a pleading note when a couple of girls coolly slipped out of the gate. Relieved, Rajani and Shikha exchanged smiles and casually sauntered towards the gate.
Just then a massive lady emerged from nowhere and hollered at the escaping in an unfamiliar language. Giggling, the girls ran back and signed the register and dashed away again.
After a bit of urgent whispering and wild gesticulations, the girls timidly approached the lady guard and pointed to the register and the gate. She nodded and pushed the register towards them, inspected their ID cards and then waved them away.
Victorious and feeling very adventurous (and a bit as if they were let out of jail) they exited the gate.
Another problem arose. Which way to go? One led to the college – safe tried and tested. Rajani was keen on that. They knew where the canteen was, she argued.
“But what if it is closed? What if some seniors catch hold of us and rags us?”
“What if this other road leads to nowhere?”
“Then we won’t ever go this way again!” Shikha clinched the argument by walking ahead, pulling Rajani along.
“Hey! Wait for me! I am coming!”
They heard him all right but ignored him thinking who on earth would be calling out to them here?
“Are you girls deaf or something?” HK panted as he caught up with them.
“You! What are you doing here?” they were both surprised to see him – Shikha less so. She smirked to herself.
“Yes Me! I was wondering if you were okay?” he pointed to Rajani’s hand.
Rajani blushed and nodded. “Yes. Nothing much happened.” She paused. “Thanks to your quick thinking. Thank you.” She said shyly, formally. “And I am sorry. It was my fault.”
HK waved her apology and thanks away. “You are okay that’s all that matters.”
“No but it could have been so much worse!” Rajani paled as remembered the whole sequence of events. “If you…you…”
“Oh please!” HK’s eyes widened in alarm. He shot Shikha a pleading look. “I hope she isn’t going to faint again?”
“Rajji,” Shikha nudged her and then shrugged, “who knows? Even I might just faint. We are starving. Again. And we got locked out of our rooms. Is there any shop around, biscuits, chocolates, cold drinks?”
“Ask and ye shall get.” HK intoned. “Come on follow me.” He walked on ahead.
The girls looked at each other and shrugged. They fell into step beside him too dazed and hungry to question him.
“How much farther?” moaned Rajani after barely a few minutes or so.
“Just around the corner.” He waved his hand. “Should I help you?” he offered his hand but Rajani stiffened and walked on ahead. HK’s face split into a huge grin. He winked at Shikha and walked along whistling. Shikha smiled sourly to herself and wondered idly – what if I fainted? I bet he would be more worried about Rajji. She giggled to herself – Not even one day and Rajji had already made a conquest.
Unable to resist, Shikha nudged Rajani who looked at her in surprise. Shikha suggestively waggled her eyes – Rajani glared at her and hissed, “Stop it!”
“What?” HK turned around.
“N…Nothing!” Rajani smiled at him. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for taking time to show us where to eat. We really are…”
“Starving? I know,” he grinned, “I didn’t want a morning’s repeat performance so…” he trailed off laughing at Rajani’s chagrined expression.
“I am sorry.” Rajani apologized.
Up next Chapter 74: More of Day One