Fire & Ice

Finally uploading all stories I wrote for a portfolio.

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“I think I’m going to have to go see him”, said Smriti as she kept the phone down, “He’s in the hospital and it wouldn’t seem nice if we didn’t go”

“Well, okay..how long do you think it will take you to be back?”, I asked.

“By tomorrow morning, I think..do you think you’ll be able to manage?”

I shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Maybe I could go and have a cup of coffee at Vasant Vihar market complex or something”

Suneha Gupta was a simple girl. She liked simple things, and found joy in small achievements. She was a law student, and unlike many others who chose to do it out of compulsion or family pressure, she loved every bit of it. Being good at it came effortlessly to her. Even though she was a second year student at New Law College, Pune, she was more knowledgeable than most of the third year LLB students.

She was in Delhi to visit her friend of 4 years, Smriti. They were both together in school and were great friends. Unfortunately after school, Smriti chose to be in Delhi and Suneha went to Pune. But distance could not dilute their friendship. They continued to be in touch via mail, skype and ofcourse, whatsapp. They also visited each other a couple of times alternatively, and this time it was Suneha’s turn to be in Delhi.

“Okay, cool. You can even watch a movie if you like, you know. Just keep the house keys with you”, said Smriti.

“Arey don’t worry na. I’ll be fine. You go see your uncle. Afterall family is family, and swine flu is a pretty serious condition to be diagnosed with”

Smriti sighed, “Yes, I know…but I still feel bad about leaving you here. I mean, you’re only here for 3 days…”

“Smriti, it’s okay…really. It’s not like you’re going away for days, it’s just one night. I’ll manage just fine”, I said consolingly.

Smriti nodded and smiled, “Yep…so we’ll plan something nice for tomorrow once I’m back, okay?”

“Sure thing”, I replied with a smile.

A while later, Smriti left with her parents for Fortis Hospital, where her uncle had been admitted. I sat down on the sofa in the sitting room and turned on the television, thinking about what I could do. I wasn’t someone who could enjoy on my own, I always preferred company. Every time I had to face the prospect of having a good time alone, time would slow down. I sighed and looked at my watch, it was 7 pm in the evening. I can go and have a cup of coffeestroll a little and be back by 9.

With that thought in mind, I promptly turned the television off and went to fetch my bag and the house keys. I took one last look at myself in the mirror, walked out of the front door and locked it.

The Vasant Vihar market complex wasn’t too far from Smriti’s place. She lived in RK Puram, which was very close by, so I decided to simply walk. Walking was one of my favourite modes of introspection; it gave me a sense of purpose. A lot of things would go through my mind while walking – where I was headed towards in life, past mistakes, relationships, family, finance…the list was endless. I just wished I had as many answers as well.

Passion Tea had always been one of my favourite cafes to be in. Back when I was in Delhi, I hung out at the Saket branch quite often. The one in Vasant Vihar was bigger and more tasteful. I walked inside and found a secluded spot in one corner. It wasn’t too crowded today except of two couples enjoying their tea date and one guy smiling at his smart phone. I placed my order, caramel tea and honey almond cake, and settled down in a cosy armchair. Rummaging through my bag, I found a novel I had bought a while ago, so opened the marked page and started reading.

“The wife is a psychopath, you know…that’s the big mystery”, said a deep voice a while later.

I looked up from my book and saw the guy who was earlier smiling at his smart phone, smiling at me now. For a moment I was taken aback at this unexpected greeting, but then recovered and said, “So you’ve read this book?”

He nodded and said, “Yep, before the movie released actually”

“And why should I believe you? You could just be bluffing”

“Good point. That just depends on your judgement of people then”

“I guess it does”, I said.

“So do you think I’m bluffing?”

I looked at him for a moment and said, “I think I’ll reserve my judgement until later”

He chuckled and said, “Sure”, and after a moment’s pause, “So you like mystery novels?”

“Yes, they keep my brain active. I’m not much into drama or romance”

“Do you mind if I join you? we look weird talking from two tables apart, don’t we?”

I nodded and said, “Why not?”

He got up and walked over to where I was sitting. He’s quite confident, I thought spontaneously as I saw him walk towards me. His smile had a sort of laid back charm about it, and his appearance was casual yet classy. I smiled yet again as he sat down and said, “I’m Abhinav Singh, by the way”

“Suneha Gupta”

“Unusual name. So what do you do Suneha?”

“I’m a second year law student actually, at New law college, Pune. Here to visit a friend for a couple of days”

“Oh, sounds pretty challenging”, said Abhinav in an awed voice.

“Maybe, but I love studying law. I have the aptitude for it, so it never feels like I’m working too hard”, I said.

“That’s good to know. You hardly come across people who love what they do nowadays. Passionate people are hard to find”

“True. No one has any distinct personality. Everyone is a copy of a copy of a copy”

“Wow, that’s deep. Which film?”, said Abhinav with a chortle.

I grinned in response and said, “Fight Club. So what do you do?”

“I’m a third year journalism student at JNU”

“Wow, really? That’s great. I have this notion in my head that journalism students are really smart”

“Well, we are…there’s absolutely no doubt about that”, said Abhinav with a smirk.

“Is that confidence or narcissism?”, I asked with a grin.

“A mixture of both, I would say”

“Hmm, I like your honesty”

“Thankyou, miss. So…do you like Delhi as a place?”

“I do, actually. I may not like the people but I like the place”

“I agree with you on that completely. Have you ever had a chance to explore it at night?”

“Not really. I mean, I used be home by 8 max when I was here so I never really got a chance to go clubbing and all…”

“No I don’t mean clubbing. I mean really exploring the city at night, you know, just driving around to places and just spending time there. There’s really nothing quite like it. Delhi at night is magical”, he paused for a moment and then said, “You wanna come with me today?”

My eyes widened in surprise, followed by an incredulous chuckle, “You can’t be serious! I mean, we hardly know each other – ”

“Well this is the best way to get to know each other”, Abhinav said, interrupting her, “C’mon, what’s really stopping you? Just call your friend and tell her you’ll be back by 11”

“It’s not that. She’s not at home, actually. It’s just -”

“Well then that’s great, isn’t it? You’re not answerable to anyone today except yourself”, he said, his eyes shining with glee.

I stared at him in disbelief. I had just met this stranger half an hour ago, and now it seemed as though he was inviting me out on a date. I had always been taught never to trust unknown people, never to take risks or do anything that you weren’t 100% sure about. I had grown up evaluating the risk factor in every situation before venturing into it. My life so far had been carefully planned and meticulously executed. Would it make a difference if, for once, I listened to my gut instead of my brain?

Pushing all doubts aside, I said, “Where are we going?”

He clapped his hands together and grinned broadly, “Now that’s more like it. How about…India Gate? It’s great when it’s not that crowded. Plus you get the world’s best tea at around 11 there”

His excitement is infectious, I thought to myself. He was the type of person who could be very hard to say no to. Besides, I had never done something like this ever before. I grinned in spite of myself and said, “Sounds good. It’s only 8 right now though, what are we going to do until then?”

“Well we’re going to sit and chat here of course. We’ll leave at around 10:30, what say?”

“Okay, good. That’s done then”

“Yep. So tell me about yourself. What do you like to do?”

It was quite surprising how easy it was to talk to Abhinav. I didn’t know if it was because our wavelengths matched or because he was an outgoing person in general, but I felt like I had known him for years. He loved travelling, and especially adventure sports. He explained to me in detail his experiences with rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding and even sky diving. I listened to him with rapt attention, I had never known someone who acted on 9 out of 10 impulses. He had made his mistakes, but he had no regrets.

I told him about my life as a kid, how my parents had always been overprotective of me, how I made less but long lasting friends, how I always hated mingling with the “bigda hua” crowd in school. The most exciting thing that I had ever done was bunk school with my friends once and gone to watch a film. It had given me a panic attack like no other. I had never attempted a bunk ever again in my life. Abhinav genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say, and unlike many others, didn’t judge me for who I was.

Hours passed swiftly and before we knew it, it was half past ten. Abhinav tapped his watch and said, “We should make a move now, don’t you think?”

“We should…it’ll get too late otherwise”, I replied as we got up.

When we walked into the parking lot, I expected to see a sedan like Chevrolet or Honda city, but instead I found myself walking towards an old Alto. Somehow Abhinav’s grand personality had given me the impression that he must own an expensive car. That, however, was not true, and I was impressed to know that he didn’t care much about latest automobiles. As we settled down in the car, I said, “Do you mind if I play my songs?”

“Go ahead.  Just as long as they’re not EDM or rock music, I’m fine with just about anything”

I grinned and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not a big fan either. My stuff is mostly Bollywood”

I put on my favourite song as he started the car. I couldn’t help but recall my father’s words – Beta, never let someone you don’t trust drive the car…but for the first time in my life, I wasn’t going to let those words overpower my heart. I was thoroughly enjoying not knowing the outcome of a situation for once. Besides, Abhinav was a pretty good driver from what I could see. He didn’t seem like one of those people who learnt how to drive with friends. The fact that he wore his seat belt proved that.

We listened to all sorts of songs ranging from AR Rahman to Ravi Kishen as we drove towards India Gate. I rolled down my window and poked my head out. The first rush of air was so exhilarating that it made me light headed. This is what being high feels like, I thought. Fear, that had dominated my life and decisions for the most part, seemed like a stranger right now. I knew this was transient, but I also knew that it would take a while for any other moment to top this one.

We finally reached India Gate at around 11. It wasn’t as crowded or as noisy as it is in the evening. There were less people around, less hustle bustle and less vendors. It looked beautiful masked in golden light, under the dark sky. Mostly people were quietly strolling down the path, having tea or buying ice cream. Of course, there were some drunk people around showing off in their BMWs, but that didn’t really matter. I felt safe with Abhinav. We bought two cups of tea, chai, as Abhinav liked to call it and settled down on the footpath to watch the traffic drive past. For almost 15 minutes we didn’t say a word to each other. It was oddly calming, just sitting there and watching the world go about its business. For the first time, I wasn’t thinking about anything.

“Why can’t each day be like this?”, I asked, breaking the silence.

“It can be, you need to decide for it to be”, he replied, looking directly into my eyes.

“What if it’s not that simple?”

“It is, actually…just eliminate the things that don’t matter”

I didn’t have any reply. He made it all sound so easy, so natural. Being here was a very inconsequential thing for him, but for me, it took a whole lot of strength.

We sat there until 12 am, mostly in silence but sharing some sparse thoughts in between. We were as different as fire and ice, but surprisingly gelled extremely well with each other. We were both doors to different worlds for each other, a world neither had been exposed to before.

At 12:15 am, I checked my watch and gasped, “Shit! It’s 12:15 am! I was supposed to be at home by 11:30 pm. I think we should leave”

He looked at her and said softly, “C’mon, let’s stay here for another half an hour…your friend’s not at home anyway”

Despite the temptation of his company, I lightly shook my head and said, “No, sorry Abhinav, but I really should get back. I want to spend more time here but it’s getting too late”

He sighed and said, “Alright then”

We drove back in silence, enjoying the music and the wind rushing in through the open windows. I could not have imagined 4 hours ago that I would be having the best experience of my life today. In fact, I had never imagined I would get a taste of a world beyond my own anytime in my life. I was quite overwhelmed by how this attractive stranger had waltzed into my day unexpectedly and made an ordinary day, extra ordinary. I couldn’t help but wish that I could have more days this with him.

“So…”, said Abhinav as he parked outside Smriti’s place in RK Puram.

“So..”, I said, smiling, “It was really nice meeting you, Abhinav. Thanks for this experience”

He smiled and said, “Likewise, Suneha. You’re a very interesting person, I really enjoyed spending time with you”

Maybe I should give him my number, I thought as I started to take my phone out from her bag, “Hey we should keep in -”

At that moment, though, Abhinav’s phone rang. He looked at the screen and smiled widely. Picking up the phone, he said, “Hey baby…how are you? No I was just with a friend right now, we went to India Gate to have chai…”

 

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