“10 pm?” Abhi yawned and stretched. “Oh no. I am completely exhausted. I have been up since 4 am and I didn’t sleep well either at the hostel or on the bus. I need to go and crash. And sooner the better.”
“Oh.” Rajani shot Shikha a knowing glance. “Okay Bhai. When are we meeting tomorrow?”
“Not too early. Maybe lunch?”
“Lunch? So late?” Rajani was surprised and disappointed.
“I should have said brunch. I want to leave for Manipal by the afternoon bus, latest by 2 pm. I want to sleep on my bed tonight not on the bus. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
“Oh that’s hardly any time to meet then. And you don’t want to come too early also.” Rajani grumbled.
“Even if I do land up at 7 am, what will we do?”
“I thought we could go to the Bannerghatta National Park.”
“What? Are you 10 years old?”
“Adults don’t go there or what? I wanted to take the Safari trip there.”
“There’s nothing there, just a few emaciated lions…”
“How do you know?” Rajani was quick.
“I have been there, that’s why I know.”
“You were 10 when you went or what?” Rajani and Shikha giggled.
“A bunch of us from Manipal went. I wasn’t too keen but I tagged along.” Abhi was very much on his dignity.
“You could tag along tomorrow as well,” Rajani inserted with a snicker.
“I told you I have to leave early and today I am exhausted and want to sleep in tomorrow. Do you have any idea how tough medical college is? I barely manage to sleep a couple of hours each night and still I have tonnes to study.”
Rajani flushed and then paled. She swallowed. “I am sorry,” she mumbled.
“Okay fine,” Abhi conceded, “we will meet at the mall, have brunch and both of you can watch Partner. Have you seen the movie? Fun movie.” He smiled. “Tickets on me.”
“Thanks Bhai, but there’s no need…”
“Take it as a Rakhi gift from my side.”
“But you already gave na?”
“That was Mom and Dad,” he winked.
Rajani melted. “Aww Bhai, you really aren’t as bad as I remember.”
Abhi promptly reached out and gave her ear a quick tug. “Happy?”
“Ouch!” Rajani scowled at him ferociously. He grinned and gave her a light punch. “Wear the new kurta tomorrow.”
“New kurta? Oh!” Rajani’s hand flew to her mouth her eyes round as saucers. “Oops!” She scrabbled around in her purse and extracted a decorated envelope that was slightly tattered around the edges. She offered it ceremoniously to her brother. “Please wear it on Rakhi which is on Tuesday. Don’t forget.”
Abhi accepted the envelope. “As if Mom would let me forget!”
They laughed and parted ways at the hostel gate on the best of terms.
“It is a pretty kurta isn’t it Shiks?” Rajani said as she modeled in her new dress the next morning.
“Arent you wearing your new one?” She asked. Abhi and Rajani had insisted that Shikha too buy a kurta as a gift from their side. Shikha had of course refused but then Nisha had called up and Shikha had to give in.
Shikha shook her head. “I didn’t want to steal your thunder.”
“As if you could!” Rajani shot back laughing. She went back to preening, “Such a soft color and the design is really cool! I am glad Bhai suggested a full sleeve kurta. This way the ugly scar on my arm doesn’t show up. Maybe I should always wear long sleeves?”
Shikha mumbled a non-committal answer and went about her chores. She finally got why Abhi had suddenly insisted Rajani try a few more dresses. Full sleeved ones. And that had been look of revulsion when he had first spied Rajani’s scar. Shikha had noticed how his eyes were repeatedly drawn to it but it hadn’t really registered. But it all added up – Rajji’s beloved Bhai wasn’t just being over-protective or extra-caring – it was just that he had an aversion for the rather prominent scar on her arm and would prefer to have it hidden away from public view. And he was going to become a doctor! God help his patients Shikha thought fuming.
She was bursting with indignation but she didn’t want to break Rajani’s heart.
“Shall we go?” Shikha began walking.
“Oh Shiks you are such a grump!” Rajani hurried after her grabbing her things on the way. “You didn’t even say how I look. Jealous?”
Shikha rolled her eyes. “Yeah! But of course! Who wouldn’t be jealous of our very own Maharani?”
“I told you to wear your new kurta.”
“But that would have been such a waste!” Shikha said. “After all who would see the plain Jane Shikha in front of such glamor?”
Rajani struck a superior haughty pose before both of them dissolved into laughter.
“Hurry,” admonished Shikha, “otherwise your grumpy brother will have our collective hides!”
To Rajani’s pleasant surprise, Abhi was all praise for her new kurta. “Wow Rani. You are really looking good. So decent and smart too. The color suits you or maybe it’s the cut.” He looked at her critically. “You should wear full sleeves always, now that you have lost weight this design looks good on you.”
“Doing a part time fashion designing course as well or what Bhai?” Shikha could have hugged Rajani. Exactly what she wanted to say but had held back in the interests of peace and consideration for his (well mostly Rajani’s) feelings.
To Abhi’s credit, he took Rajani’s comment in his stride. “Yeah I do have a good eye for such stuff.” He was quite smug about it. “I will have you know at Manipal I am quite sought after during the college fashion shows.”
Stunned, the girls stared at him in silence. “Oh look! The one-eyed king.” Shikha muttered under her breath. Predictably, Rajani had one of her fits causing Abhi to throw up his hands in despair. “Not here, please! Besides what’s so funny?”
But of course there was no answer.
“Oh forget it. Shall we go?” He walked into an elevator and punched the buttons. The girls slipped with Rajani still snickering. Seeing Abhi’s black look, Shikha nudged her and whispered, “Shut up Rajji. Don’t you want to know about his Pink buddy?”
Rajani nodded and attempted to get her wayward emotions under control. “So Bhai what are your plans?” she asked as they sat down at their table in the restaurant.
“Plans?” Abhi looked up from the menu card.
“Yeah,” Rajani waved her hands, “I mean soon you will be a doctor, then what? Marriage?”
Abhi frowned and looked at her suspiciously. “What are you saying? After MBBS do MD what else? Where does marriage fit in and why are you interested all of a sudden?”
“No, was just wondering…”
“Well stop wondering and utilize your time better,” snapped Abhi. “Like choosing what you want to eat.”
Chastened Rajani subsided. Determined to be helpful she began reading out from the menu card.
“Rani, could you please refrain from reading aloud?” Abhi interrupted her recitation. “You are drooling all over the menu card.” It was Abhi’s turn to snicker.
Rajani scowled at Shikha for siding with her brother.
“And Rani, please order only what you will eat not what you think you can eat and expect me to function as your dustbin.”
“But Bhai!” Rajani sat up in dismay, “that isn’t possible. I want to eat so many things! Please share with me. What are you having?”
“What does it matter?”
“How can you say that? Don’t you remember how Mamma used to order for all of us, something for everybody and then share?”
“Oh please Rani, we were kids then…”
“I want to know what you are having,” Rajani put down the menu card.
“Okay fine! I will have a fresh lime soda. Happy?”
Rajani and Shikha looked at each other in surprise. “Are you okay Bhai?” Rajani was instantly worried, “I am sorry. You should have said so. We needn’t have come here…”
“Oh really? And trigger a major earthquake in Chandigarh? Do you know how many times I got an earful for not coming to visit you earlier? Forget it. Just order something for yourselves will you? Let’s get this over with.” He fiddled with his phone.
Up next Chapter 85: Show Time