“Here we are!” HK moved aside with a flourish to let the ladies pass first, bowing low. “Our very own 5-star Rocky’s joint. Anytime you are hungry just pop in. It’s a bit far from the boy’s hostel but hardly a 10-min walk from the girl’s hostel. We have our own canteen but this one is the best.” He grinned.
Rajani giggled, Shikha rolled her eyes and urged. “Come on! Let’s eat.”
They went over to check out the faded splotchy cardboard menu card hanging on a convenient tree.
“Forget that,” HK advised, “they serve the best bread pakoras at this time – fresh, hot and crisp.”
The girls swallowed and nodded. They looked around. It wasn’t much to look at – a tiny garishly painted tin shack with tables and chairs scattered around in the open. There was a covered area to one side but it was dark and unoccupied. HK nodded towards it, “That’s the lover’s point.”
Rajani looked scandalized while Shikha tried her best to look blasé.
“So is it really open all night long?” Shikha asked.
“It’s usually open till midnight and then reopens at 9 am – once the hostel mess shuts.”
“Ahh I see,” the girls nodded sagely. “So…”
“So if you miss breakfast, take this route. It’s a bit longer but you can eat on the way. You can maintain your own account with Rocky and pay him on a monthly basis.” He paused, “But he is used to not being paid as well.”
The girls looked at him in shock.
“Oh well, it is bound to happen! I am guessing.” He grinned. “Don’t forget, even I am new here. A fortnight older.”
There was silence as the girls wolfed down a pile of delicious bread pakoras with HK joining them in enthusiastically. “Sorry!” Rajani blushed and wiped her oily fingers on a tissue. “I was starving. Thank you.”
“Your favorite words?”
“Sorry?” Rajani was confused.
“Nothing.” He shook his head, rolling his eyes at a giggling Shikha.
“I am sorry but I really don’t understand,” wailed Rajani.
“There you go again.”
“Oh thank you.” Rajani smiled at the waiter who bought an ice cream for her.
“What!” Rajani couldn’t stamp her feet as she was sitting down but she thumped her fist on the table.
HK sighed. “Sorry. Thank you.”
“Thank you? But for what?”
“Ufff. Your favorite words, what else? We have barely exchanged 5 sentences but I must have heard five million thank yous and sorries.”
“Excuse me Hari,” Shikha interrupted, “don’t exaggerate huh!? Five million is a bit much, maybe a million.”
They burst out laughing whilst Rajani grimaced and huffed, annoyed with them both.
Sated, in fact over-fed, the girls heaved as sigh of relief. “I don’t think I need dinner tonight.” Shikha also nodded.
“Yeah right! Just remember, the canteen is open till midnight…”
“But will the dragon at the gate let us come out?”
“Yeah! I saw on the notice board that you have to be back inside the hostel gate by 10 pm or take a written permission from the warden. So how can the girls have a midnight snack?”
“Even the boys hostel has the same rules. But nobody follows them.” HK waved them away.
Rajani looked at Shikha and frowned primly. Shikha rolled her eyes.
“Now if only we could find Lucky or Mads then we could just go to sleep,” yawned Rajani.
“Go to sleep at 6 in the evening?” HK laughed.
“Oh yes!” Shikha said grimly. “If not at 6 then definitely by 8 pm. Today was one long series of adventures! I can’t wait to go to sleep and wake up to a normal day. And I refuse to go to class without breakfast.” She shot Rajani a darkling look.
Rajani dutifully blushed and rushed to disclaim, “I don’t know what happened today. I have never fainted before. You know that.” She pleaded for understanding.
But Shikha was feeling contrary. “All the more reason I am wondering what exactly happened.” She tapped her cheek thoughtfully and as HK turned away to talk to another, she whispered, “Acting?”
Rajani’s eyes widened in shock, “You think I was acting!” she was terribly hurt and tears pooled in her eyes.
Shikha rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a crybaby.” She hissed. “Do you want to create another scene or what? I was just joking. Oh look there’s Lucky. Hey Lucky!” Shikha dashed over to catch her before she vanished, even though she was clearly coming into the makeshift canteen.
“Hi!” Lucky stopped in surprise, “Umm Shikha?”
“Yes!” Shikha nodded, Rajani too came up, “so glad to see you!”
“Why what happened?”
“We got locked out.” They chorused.
Lucky burst out laughing. The girls were surprised. “What’s so funny?”
“You should have just kicked the door.”
“Kicked the door? I did.” Shikha looked at Rajani who nodded.
“No I mean like at the center of the door, one firm kick. Oh and don’t forget to say – Khul ja sim sim.”
“Really? Or are you just pulling our legs?”
That’s good,” they looked at each other, “and bad. What about our stuff?”
“What about it?”
“People can steal?”
“Nobody steals anything. Besides what have you got that anybody would want to steal. So long as you don’t leave any cash lying around.”
They nodded doubtfully. “I think we should complain to the warden and get the door repaired.” Rajani muttered in an aside to Shikha.
Lucky heard her. “Sure go ahead. It’s true not all doors can be opened by kicking it.” Relieved Rajani smiled. “But since they are the auto locks, it’s very easy to get locked out. Like one girl got locked out of her room in her nightie.”
Horrified, Rajani clapped a hand to her mouth. “Then what did she do?”
Lucky shrugged. “Hung around till her room mate came. Poor thing didn’t even have her mobile with her. She didn’t remember any number so she couldn’t even call her friends to come and save her.”
“Oh that could be a problem!” Shikha was impressed. “So how do the girls manage?”
“Usually they wear the keys on a thread around their necks.”
“Around their necks! No way!”
“Yeah, big pain,” Lucky declared, “and not that these doors are foolproof anyways.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rajani suspiciously.”
“I mean everyone carries bits of X-ray plates in their bags.”
“If you slide an X-ray plate between the door and the lock and jiggle it around, the lock slides open.”
“What!” Their eyes bulged.
Happy to have made the desired impact Lucky continued, “Don’t worry if you don’t have an x ray plate on you.” They stared at her. “Just call any of the mess boys – they are very helpful and keep x-ray plates handy for such occasions.” She looked at them blandly.
Both Rajani and Shikha’s hands flew to their mouths (but to tell the truth, their eyes were more in danger of popping out).
“But…but…” they sputtered. “We will get proper locks put.”
Lucky shrugged. “No point, Mads is a scatterbrain. She will lose the keys the very next day. We can’t keep replacing locks or getting duplicate keys made can we?”
“So what should we do?”
“When in Rome, do as Romans do – kick the door in!” Lucky grabbed a bread pakora and dashed off. “Bye! See you later.”
And she was gone once again leaving Shikha and Rajani out in the cold.
Up next Chapter 75: Day One Ends