Ab thodi baat Anya ki karlein?
Anya, now in class 11, was busy in her own little world of studies, school, exams, friends, coaching with hardly a minute to spare. However, of late, she could be often seen at RM albeit for short visits, with Aisha in tow, to just have a look at Nani, a hug, a kiss and she was off – she needed all the reassurance after that horrifying image of a white ghost like figure of Nani sprawled unconscious on the bathroom floor. She often had nightmares and shuddered to think what could have happened.
Once the summer vacations arrived, Anya made it a point to go over to RM and spend a week with Nani (Chotti and Deva were just icing on the cake). She was of great help to Nani but more than that, Anya’s gesture gladdened an old woman’s heart – Nani was touched to find her so caring and so full of concern. Khushi too was happy to have Anya over for it meant that she and Arnav didn’t have to go over at night every hour or so to check if she were fine (they both were so paranoid that even while Anya was there, they would drop in at least once during the night to check if she were fine, the bathroom light was kept permanently on, the floor checked again and again to see if it was completely dry, hand railings put, locks changed so that it could be opened from outside if needed etc etc).
Reassured and more or less convinced Nani was fine; Anya went back to GM and her studies with a lighter heart. Strangely, these days all she really cared about was studies, she found a crazy sort of a high, a deep sense of satisfaction only by studying and she hardly ever thought of Sherry these days.
Yeah remember Sherry? Well Anya hadn’t really forgotten him, just put him away in some dark deep recesses of her brain (errr heart) and got on with her life – not that she had much choice. Sherry seemed to have suddenly vanished from her circle and while earlier he could be seen at parties, especially those organized by Aisha, nowadays he was mostly absent from such events. Then the text messages too stopped, although she still got a birthday greeting from him each year.
A simple one line email.
She would stare at it, her heart thudding, wondering where he was, why he didn’t call her anymore, why he bothered to send a wish, what was he thinking when he sent it, ohhh drop it Anya! She was disgusted with herself yet unable to resist, she grilled Aisha about his whereabouts.
Aisha looked at her knowingly, “I knew it!” she exclaimed triumphantly, “I knew it, you still have a massive crush on him don’t you?”
Anya shrugged embarrassed at being caught, “Yeah so? Big deal, don’t you have a crush on Yatin?” she made light of it and counter charged Aisha.
Aisha put her hands on her hips and looked at her friend, “Oh puuhleez don’t compare Sherry bhaiyya to Yatin ok?” she showed her hand, “Yatin is 3 years older to me while Bhaiyya is a decade older than you!” she shook her head.
Anya flushed, “Why are you insisting on calling him Bhaiyya, you never call him that do you and he is your cousin’s friend isn’t he? You always call him Sherry don’t you,” she crossed her arms and said rather loftily, “In any case, he is your brother not mine, and puhleeez, let’s not complicate this, I just asked a simple question, if you don’t want to tell faaaaiiinnnn hmpphh,” she was ready to flounce away.
Aisha caught hold of her by the hand and looked up at Anya critically; Anya was a tall, fair slim girl with bright walnut eyes and a mouth that looked ready to smile any minute; a mop of short curly hair framed her delicate face and she had an innocent elfin charm about her that made people warm up to her instantly. She could have had any boy as her friend, and indeed she had a horde of “boy” friends but clearly Sherry was still the gold standard and none had yet matched up with that yardstick.
Aisha sighed, well there was time yet, she was just 17 years of age, but she still felt a bit uneasy and responsible (after all she had introduced her to Sherry), “ Relax,” she said, “Sherry shifted to Singapore some time ago.”
“Singapore!” Anya was surprised and instantly upset, “You knew! And you didn’t tell me!” she accused her friend of deliberately holding back information.
“Well you didn’t ask and how was I to know you are still ‘pining’ for him?” Aisha defended herself and mocked Anya.
Anya flushed, “I am not pining!” she protested, “But you could have told me!”
“If I had known you were so interested, I would have!” shot back Aisha.
“Ok ok fine! Let’s drop this shall we,” Anya was suddenly choked up and emotional, Singapore! So far away and he didn’t even bother to tell her? He could have dropped her line or two? Why wish her on her birthday? Probably on his mailing list, an automated mail or something which he had forgotten to deactivate she thought dully.
Aisha looked at Anya in concern, “Sure! But you don’t seem to have dropped it!” she shook her gently, “Come on Anya think straight, he is 10 years older to you,”
“Look let’s just forget it, I going in for a quick shower before leaving for class ok?” Anya turned away, dismissing Aisha, but then she turned around and said, “Not ten years Aisha, nine years and seven and a half months older,” she banged the washroom door before Aisha could say anything.
Aisha threw up her hands and gave up, oh well what was the point in worrying and fighting about someone who wasn’t even around! How far could a one sided crush go? Her phone beeped, a fatuous smile lit up her face, it was from Yatin. Soon it was time for their evening class and she wisely dropped the topic.
Both girls had enrolled in coaching classes to help them prepare for the competitive exams (yeah wohi purana tradition continued even in 2023 [mostly because I was too lazy to think up something new – but good that I didnt bother then doesnt seem like this is going to change anytime soon]). The classes were held in South extension Part I behind the busy main market, not too far away from home but the crowded gallis packed with shoppers and traders made it a tricky negotiation for the driver. In fact they would both prefer to get down where the venules led into capillaries and walk the rest of the way for it was quicker that way. Their classes would finish by 8 pm and the car would be waiting just outside the narrow lane to pick them both up.
But today, after classes, there was no car waiting for them, but the girls weren’t overly worried even though it was a rarity, they were busy chattering trying to make up for the three hours of zipped lips. But slowly they began fidgeting, hunger making them irritable as well. They tried calling up the driver and then home, but there was no network. They looked around uneasily, the normally overcrowded area was quite deserted and dark, “Wonder what is keeping the driver?” said Anya.
“Must be stuck in traffic,” predicted Aisha quite correctly.
“Haan but why is there no network?” they both switched off and switched off their respective mobiles several times, “What should we do now?”
“What can we do? We have to wait,” shrugged Aisha pragmatically.
“I am hungry!” wailed Anya.
“Yeah me too,” nodded Aisha, “Hey look a chocolate bar,” she dug out it from her bag which they shared.
“But Aisha,” Anya muttered as she chomped hungrily on her share, “Is this place even safe? And why is there no network? Already half an hour since we have been standing and waiting,” she grumbled irritably, “Boy, at home Anjie would be surely throwing a panicky fit,” she rolled her eyes, trying to quell her fears. But it was scary, a bunch of uncouth boys had gathered just a bit ahead, like a pack of hyenas waiting lasciviously to pounce upon them.
Anya clutched Aisha’s hand nervously and whispered, “Maybe we should start walking?” She wondered if her sleeveless Tee shirt was too skimpy, thank God at least she wasn’t wearing a skirt, but then Aisha was. Fear clogged her throat as she wondered if they too would end up as one of the horrifying news headlines“Couple of teenagers tortured and killed”; she shuddered mentally and tried to get a grip on her thoughts.
Aisha too clutched her hand tightly, “But where would we go, do you know the way home? Its dark and what if the driver comes here, the phones aren’t working either, what’s wrong with the phones dammit?” she fretted agitated. “Yatin ko bhi aaj hi absent hona tha!” rued Aisha and shook her head disgustedly at her missing boyfriend, never there when she needed him most, she grumbled to herself. Actually attendance had been rather thin today (it was one of those extremely rare auspicious days where 50,000 weddings were being solemnized in the Capital; the girls had been feeling a bit left out not to have been invited to even one of them – not that they would have gone but still it was the principle of the thing)
Udhar at GM, not only Anjali but Kshitij too was beginning to panic. No doubt the girls should have been home by now, but sometimes they were delayed because of the traffic or even extra long classes. But it was the news on TV had had him really worried. A fuel tanker masquerading as a water tanker had caught fire in the middle of South extension’s main arterial road and it was a chaotic scene. According to the hysterical TV news anchors, the incident was suspected to be an act of deliberate and preplanned sabotage and hence as a preventive measure all networks had been temporarily suspended. With a sinking heart, Khsitij correctly surmised that their driver must be stuck in the middle of a huge jam and the girls stranded near their coaching centre, with no means of contacting him. Khsitij quietly disconnected the cable connection; Anjali didn’t know and that’s how he wanted it, “Anjali,” he called, “The girls are stuck in traffic just a little way ahead, I am going on ahead to bring them back on foot, don’t worry it may take a while,” he disappeared before Anjali could question him further.
Relieved, Anjali waved him away, “Haan yehi theek rahega, I was beginning to panic, phone bhi nahi lag raha, call me when you catch up with them” she called to his retreating back. ‘Uff yeh Khsitij bhi na, pata nahi suna bhi ki nahi?’ She went back to the designs she was screening, trying to push away her worry; Ankit tired out from his football practice, had had an early dinner and was fast asleep.
The pack of hyenas laughed raucously and began shuffling menacingly towards them. The girls clutched each others hands and wondered if it were better to run or stand their ground?
A shadow detached itself from the window of an overlooking swanky office complex and swiftly ran down the stairs, two at a time. He came up to the girls almost at a run and said casually, barely out of breath, “Hello girls, fancy meeting you here.”
The hyenas snarled, disappointed and slunk away, to live another day (actually they ran away mostly because the gun toting security guards upon seeing the normally affable unflappable ‘sahab’ rush down the stairs, they too took off after him – with Diwali baksheesh in mind.)
“Sherry!” Squealed Aisha in relief; Anya’s squeak was buried in Sherry’s coat as she forgot herself so much as to throw herself into his arms (pssst actually just as Aisha was ruing Yatin’s absence, Anya had wished for Sherry to be here and seeing him appear out of the blue like this made her lose her sensibilities and errr to borrow a phrase (much used but which I have staunchly resisted using until now 😀 ) crash into his rock hard chest); he smiled at Aisha and gathered Anya’s slim frame into his arms for an infinitesimal earth shaking moment before putting her away from him and drawling, “And who may you be?” he mocked her.
“Sherry!” scolded Anya thrilled to see him after so long that too when she needed him the most.
Sherry started exaggeratedly, “Kiddo? Is that you? My my, wouldn’t have recognized you,” he said half admiringly, half mockingly, “if it weren’t for Aisha,” he turned to Aisha, “Hello Aisha how are you? And what are you two doing here at this hour?”
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