Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Part 11 : Chance Encounter

Riddhima tried a couple of times, but when Armaan stubbornly refused answering any of her questions regarding their destination, she gave up. Armaan was driving for about 10 minutes when finally Riddhima could hear the sea. So Armaan was taking her to the beach? Riddhima's face lit up instantly. She loved the sea. Coming from Kolkata which was miles away from the sea, the salty breeze and the sound of the water lashing on the shores was something she adored about Mumbai. She sat up excitedly in her seat,



"Armaan, are we going to the beach?"

"Sort of!"

"What do you mean 'sort of'? I can hear the sea, why can't we go to the beach?"



Armaan had to smile at her childlike enthusiasm. She was such a kid sometime, okay correct that, she was such a kid most of the time! He didn't answer and stopped the car  in front of a large house. The sea was now visible just behind the house. Riddhima stared out of the window, while Armaan packed all the biscuits and cakes in a bag.

"Come on, Riddhima, let's go."

Riddhima got out of the car and looked at Armaan, puzzled, "Why did you stop the car here Armaan? We can't get to the beach from here unless we cut through this house."

"Exactly Riddhima, we are cutting through this house!"



Riddhima gaped in horror as Armaan grabbed her hand and pulled her along the boundary wall of the house. He stopped in front of a tree and pointed behind it. Riddhima stared in disbelief at where Armaan pointed. Some of the bricks had fallen from the wall and formed a very convenient foothold for scaling the wall.



"Armaan, we cannot climb this wall."

"Talk for yourself ," said Armaan and before Riddhima could justify herself, he had used the foothold to climb up the wall. "Come on Riddhima, don't be a sissy, here, take my hand."

"But'."

"No buts, just trust me."

"Riddhima sighed in exasperation and seeing no way out she took the help of the tree and foothold and grabbed Armaan's hand. He pulled her up easily and then both of them jumped inside, onto the soft grass. Riddhima giggled uncontrollably. All the apprehensions and fear of breaking and entering had disappeared and she couldn't deny the heady feeling that came with breaking rules. She tried to remember when she had been more excited and came up blank. She looked at Armaan who was smiling at her and then again collapsed into peals of hushed giggles. Armaan touched her arm and pointed towards the front of the house and she saw that there was a large door and a small side door which directly led to the sea. Riddhima quickly scrambled up in excitement and then both of them raced towards the side door. Thankfully it was locked from the inside and Riddhima was soon on the beach running towards the sea with Armaan close behind her.

After a while of splashing about and throwing water at each other the excitement wore off and it was replaced by pangs of hunger. Armaan longingly remembered the bag of goodies that he had left in the garden and Riddhima and he trudged back to the house. Armaan retrieved the bag of goodies along with Riddhima's purse and holding Riddhima's hand pulled her towards the house.



"Now where are we going Armaan?"

"To the terrace."

"What?" Riddhima shrieked, "We can't go to the terrace."

"Of course, we can."

"No we can't Armaan. This house is private property!"

"I know its private property, it's mine!"



Riddhima stopped in her tracks and stared at Armaan.



"This house is yours?"

"Yep," Armaan nodded, "Actually my grand-parents lived here. After they passed away, I own this place."

"But," Riddhima considered, "But, if you own this place, why did we climb the wall and break in?"

"Because I don't have the keys with me Riddhima! I have scaled that wall a million times in my childhood and I knew entering the grounds won't be a problem.

"But," Riddhima still pondered, "Why didn't you tell me."

"And miss the look on righteous Dr. Riddhima's face when she thinks she is breaking the law! No way!" Armaan laughed, "By the way, I am impressed Dr. Gupta. I hadn't thought of you quite as the breaking and entering types! You surprise me."



"Armaan!" Riddhima sighed exasperatedly, "Armaan you are...."

"Hungry! Now can we please go to terrace and have something or do you want to stand here and chit chat some more?"

"But, Armaan, I thought you didn't have the keys! How do we get to the terrace?" Riddhima suddenly looked around fearfully, "Armaan, you don't expect me to climb a pipe or anything, do you?"

Armaan looked at her panic stricken face and broke out laughing, "No Riddhima, I don't expect you to climb any pipe. I think we have had enough adventure for one night."

Without saying anything more Armaan headed towards the back of the house and Riddhima hesitantly followed. Going around the house Armaan stopped in front of a staircase that led straight up to the terrace.

"This staircase was constructed for me, I used to spend my afternoons here, just sitting and playing with my toys.

"Dolls?" Riddhima teased.

"Cars," Armaan countered, "Now come on!"



Armaan and Riddhima climbed the staircase and went up to the terrace. The terrace commanded a stunning view of the sea and Riddhima drew in a sharp breath as she saw the vast expanse of sea spread in front of her.

"Armaan, this is........... this is gorgeous!"

Armaan smiled, "It gets better doc. Come with me." He held her hand and helped her up to the tank and just as he had promised, the view got even better. As she stood and looked around, it felt like she was standing on an island with the sea all around her. It was a beautiful sight. She was just standing there awestruck when she heard Armaan clearing his throat.



"Erm.. Riddhima? Care to join me?"

Riddhima turned around to find Armaan sitting on the floor chomping on a bar of chocolate. All the food was spread out in front of him. At the sight of all that food, her stomach took over her dazed mind. She quickly grabbed a packet of chips and sat down beside him. Armaan grinned as he saw Riddhima gobbling the chips hungrily. She caught him staring and raised her brows in question.

"What?"

Armaan hurriedly wiped off the grin and shrugged nonchalantly, "Nothing." He looked in the other direction to hide the grin tugging at his lips and was really surprised when he heard Riddhima laughing.

He turned around and inquired, "What's so funny Riddhima?"

"Nothing. It's just, well, it's been a long time since I have had chips for dinner. It reminds me of the time when we were kids and Rahul bhaiyya and I used to sneak up to the terrace to have midnight parties. At one time we tried to cook and we almost set the house on fire."

Riddhima broke into peals of laughter while recounting the story and Armaan couldn't be immune to that infectious laughter for long. He joined in along with her.

"And what did your parents say?"

"Mumma was furious but Papa calmed her down. Bhaiyya took all the blame. He said he was preparing for his class assignment. Some forest fire or something. After that, we learned our lesson and stuck to chips and biscuits for our secret parties."

"You were quite the brat weren't you?"

Riddhima glared at Armaan, "Look who's talking!"

"What? I was a perfectly good boy. Infact I was the definition of a good boy. Every mother wanted a boy like me!"

Riddhima rolled her eyes and snorted, "Good Boy! Right!"

"I was!" Armaan  insisted, "In school I was punished only once, no, actually twice. Once when I poured ink over a classmate by mistake and'."

"By mistake?"

"What?"

"You poured ink over your classmate by 'mistake'?"

"Yeah. He had called my best friend a cow and I don't know how but I had a bottle of ink in my hand and it slipped," Armaan grinned at Riddhima and added, "By mistake!"

Riddhima laughed, "I knew it! Good boy, my foot!"

Riddhima stopped laughing and smiled at Armaan, "So, when was the second time?"

"Huh?"

"The second time you were punished? You said you were punished twice."

Armaan sighed, "The second time? The second time, I punched a guy."

"You punched someone? Why?"

Armaan ran a hand through his hair and didn't answer. Riddhima could feel that he was uncomfortable and didn't want to push him. Instead she tried to change the subject.

"By the way, even I had punched someone in school?"

Armaan looked at her surprised.

"Yeah, it was in the first standard. This guy kept pulling my hair and I got so irritated, I punched him," Riddhima said with a smile and then added, "By mistake."

Armaan and Riddhima looked at each other and broke out laughing.

"Dr. Riddhima Gupta, super woman!" Armaan joked.

Suddenly Riddhima's eyes widened and she stopped munching on her chips. Armaan wondered if he had said something wrong.

"Riddhima, I was just joking, I '"

"Damn, Armaan, I almost forgot. Just a minute." She rummaged through her bag and got out a wrapped packet. "There you go, this is for you."

Armaan took the packet, a bit puzzled. "For me? A gift? I get a gift on Gappu's birthday?"

"Yep, why not?"

"Why not?" Armaan agreed, "But, what is it?

"Open it!"

Armaan still looked reluctant to open the package. He just kept staring at it.

"What? Open it Armaan!"

"Umm'I hate tearing gift wraps. They look so nice."

Riddhima stared at Armaan, "Oh God Armaan! You are so weird. Give it to me, I love opening gifts!"

Armaan grinned as Riddhima snatched the package from him and tried to open it herself. She looked like a 10 year old opening her birthday present. Finally she tore open the package and handed Armaan his gift.

"Here, your gift!"

Armaan's face lit up. "Superman! Wow! Thanks Riddhima!"

"My pleasure!"







Riddhima didn't know for how long they had been sitting on the terrace, sharing packets of chips and occassionaly telling stories from their childhood. Most of the time however they just sat in a comfortable silence, listening to the sea and looking up at the stars.



Armaan watched Riddhima as she sat in silence, staring at the sea. She looked completely relaxed and at peace with the world and Armaan was glad that he had brought her here. This house and this terrace had always been his favourite place in the world. He came here whenever he was happy or whenever he was sad but generally he came here alone. Today however, he really wanted Riddhima to come with him. He wanted to share this place, this feeling of belonging, with her. He didn't know why but he was sure that Riddhima would understand the significance of this place and now as he saw her sigh contentedly, he knew that he was right. He looked at the Superman comics she had given him and smiled.

' She remembered!'

Armaan looked at Riddhima who had a distant look in her eyes and a small smile on her lips and Armaan had an unexplainable urge to know what had brought that smile on her face.



"Riddhima," he spoke softly, "What are you thinking?"

Riddhima turned around, startled.

"Nothing," she replied sheepishly and looked down. Armaan didn't miss her act of fiddling with her dupatta nor the blush creeping up her cheeks. He grinned and continued.

"Come on Riddhima, what is it?"

"Nuh-uh, I'umm'.. I was just'.I was thinking about Gappu."

"Gappu?!" Armaan stared in utter shock for a couple of seconds and then started laughing, "You were thinking of Gappu?"

"Armaan? What's so funny?" Riddhima was baffled, "Why are you laughing?"

"Riddhima, you definitely have to be the most unromantic woman in the world. Here you are sitting on a lonely terrace with a very handsome and very charming man, with nothing but the open sea and the star spangled sky around you, and all you can think of, is Gappu?!"

"But I was just thinking," Riddhima tried to defend herself, "I was just thinking that if Gappu woke up and found that you haven't reached home, he might get worried."

Her defence made Armaan laugh harder,

"Riddhima, he is fast asleep and if he wakes up he can call me, he has my phone number."

Finally running out of arguments, Riddhima frowned, "Okay fine! I was being stupid. But we are not sitting and romancing out here,Armaan,  that I have to come up with romantic dialogues!"

Suddenly Armaan stopped laughing and gazing into her eyes he said, in barely more than a whisper,

"Then what are we doing Riddhima?"





Riddhima didn't know what to say. She tried her best but couldn't tear her eyes away from the intense gaze that held her. What are they doing? She had met Armaan only three times and here they were, sitting on a rooftop, chatting away like old friends. For the first time that evening she wondered why she was so comfortable with Armaan? Why she trusted him so easily? Why she felt so complete, when he was around?

Technically, they were just aquaintances, who met in a chance encounter, but then, why did the bond feel deeper? A bond of friendship? A bond of'?What are we doing Armaan?



Finally Armaan looked away, gazing at the sea and Riddhima felt a very unexpected feeling of loss. She studied his profile as he stared out at the sea and noticed minor details about him. She noticed how a lock of hair came on to his fore head and wanted very much to reach out and fix it in place. She desperately wanted him to look at her again and called tentatively,

 "Armaan?"

"Hmm.." Armaan replied, still not looking at her.

"Armaan, I had a wonderful evening. Here I am, sitting in soiled clothes and having Cheetos at midnight but believe me, I don't know when I have been happier."

At last Armaan looked at her but didn't say anything. So, Riddhima continued,

 "For six months that I have been here, I have made loads of friends, a couple of really good ones but I still missed Kolkata terribly. I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed being myself. After a long time today, I feel completely at home. And do you know the reason?"

"Gappu?" Armaan joked and Riddhima's heart melted at once. She decided that she loved his smile.

"No," Riddhima smiled, "You! Thanks Armaan, thanks for everything. Thanks for bringing me here, it was the best part of the evening."

"Really? You mean, you didn't feel better throwing cake at me?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot. Second best then!"

 The easy camaraderie returned as they both laughed together.



"Armaan," Riddhima said after a while, "It's getting very late, I think I should go home now."

Armaan  made a face but then agreed reluctantly, "Yeah, I guess. Let's go."

He got up and then helped up Riddhima. She took one last look around and then followed Armaan as he held her hand and led her downstairs.





The drive home seemed very short and before she knew it, Armaan had reached her street. Riddhima smiled,

"That's my building.Thanks Armaan." She got off the car and waved, "Bye, good night. Drive safe."

Armaan waved back and as she turned around to go into her building he called,

"Riddhima?"

Riddhima grinned and shook her head. She was getting quite used to him calling her back after they've said good bye. Sort of a post script to a long letter. She turned around to find Armaan leaning against the car with his arms crossed across his chest.

"Armaan, go home!"

"Riddhima, I have to tell you something."

Riddhima's heartbeat doubled and she felt rooted to the spot. She tried to speak but her throat seemed constricted. Finally, after a lot of effort she managed to utter,

"What?"

"Riddhima, the last time I fell sick was two years ago, and that also was just a minor cold. I was fit within a day. "

Riddhima thought she was hallucinating. It was just not possible that Armaan was standing outside her house at 1 am and giving her his medical history. She had a strong urge to pinch herself but controlled it as Armaan continued.

"Gappu is also a fairly healthy boy and now that he has promised you that he won't have bhelpuri, which by the way he confessed today, I don't think he is going to fall sick anytime soon."

The conversation was getting way too weird for Riddhima to contain her curiosity any longer. Armaan seemed completely fine a minute ago, then what is he blabbering about right now.

"Armaan, I don't understand what you are saying."

"I am saying that since both Gappu and me are both exceptionally healthy, there is very little chance of me dragging you out of the hospital on an emergency again. Unless ofcourse the hospital lets you visit healthy patients."

Riddhima was still not comprehending,

"Armaan, but why would you need to drag me out of the hospital?"

"Because that's the only way I can  meet you, since you haven't given me your phone number. Either that or standing outside your apatment building all day long and waiting for you to emerge."



Riddhima stared at Armaan for a couple of seconds and then started laughing,

"I have to confess Armaan, that was the most unique and original way of asking a girl for her phone number. Way to go!"

"Thank you, but it only works on doctors."

"And, how many doctors has it worked on?"

"Just the one."

"It hasn't worked yet."

"It will, I am sure. No girl has ever refused Armaan Mallik."

"Oh God Armaan, how inflated is your ego?"

"Oh God Riddhima, how difficult is it to recite 10 digits?"

Riddhima narrowed her eyes in mock anger but finally relented,

"Fine Armaan, I am giving you my phone number, but aren't you going to write it down?"

"Oh, right. I'll just get my phone and'."

As Armaan turned around to go back to his car, Riddhima held his hand to stop him. She could feel his questioning gaze on her but she didn't dare to look up. A logical part of her brain told her to stop then and there but a very illogical part of her heart urged her on. She stepped closer to Armaan, so close that she could smell his cologne and see the veins in his neck. The whiff of his cologne was vaguely disturbing but she concentrated on what she was about to do. She reached inside her bag and took out her lipstick and reaching up she wrote her phone number on his shirt, just above his heart. She could feel his heart beating under her hand and though she had heard million heart beats through her stethoscope, this time it felt different, very different! She dropped the lipstick back into her bag and was about to step back when Armaan stopped her. She closed her eyes and then opened them slowly looking up at Armaan.

"Armaan, I '"

"Ssshh'"

They stood there just looking at each other and it felt like time had come to a standstill. Armaan raised his hands and cupped her face caressing her cheeks with his thumb and looked deep into her eyes.

"Beep, beep."

The sound of Riddhima's mobile phone jerked them both back to reality. Armaan let go off Riddhima and stepped back reluctantly while Riddhima fished out her mobile phone from her bag.



"1 new message from Nikki."



 Riddhima viewed the message.



"Come upstairs immediately!"



Riddhima looked up at their apartment window but couldn't see anything. She looked at Armaan who was again leaning on his car.



"It's a message from Nikki, my roommate. It's pretty late and she's getting worried. I think, I'd better go."



Armaan nodded and said, "Good night."



"Good night, Armaan."



Armaan watched her walk away and just as she was about to enter the building, she turned and smiled. That smile stole his heart and he couldn't help but smile back. He waved and signaled,

"I'll call you."

Riddhima nodded and as she took a turn, disappeared from view.



All the way up to her apatment Riddhima played scenes of the evening in her head. It was just perfect and she was smiling her brightest as she unlocked the door and entered the apartment.

 Niki was sitting in the couch, and as soon as Riddhima entered, she gave her a scathing look.

Riddhima was a bit taken aback, she had never seen Nikki so angry.

"Hey Nikki, what's wrong?"

"Ridzie, I can't believe you lied to me!"

"Lied to you? I didn't lie to you."

"Oh really? Then who was the man downstairs? Gappu with a growth spurt or Gappu's father straight from LA to drop you back home?"

Even though she knew that she was digging her own grave, by smiling at Niki when she was so angry, Riddhima couldn't stop the grin that spread over her face.

Niki looked flabbergasted,

"And now you are grinning at me! What's wrong with you Riddhima?"

Riddhima laughed and pulled Niki into a hug, "Nothing Niks, I am perfectly alright and that man was Armaan."

Niki pulled back, "Armaan?"

"Yes. He is Gappu's Mama and he came to drop me back home. Very sweet of him."

"Is he married, engaged, or divorced?"

Riddhima laughed, "Atleast get your order correct. And the answer is no, no and no."

Niki looked at her acutely, "Do you like him?"

Riddhima didn't answer. She moved away from Niki and went and sat on the couch. Niki watched her for a couple of seconds and then her face broke into a huge smile.

"Oh My God! You like him! You like him! Ridzie is in love! Ridzie is in love! Ridzie loves Armaan! Why didn't you call him upstairs? I wanted to meet him! I have to call Abhi and tell him. Ridzie is in love!"

Riddhima just about managed to catch Niki before she dialed Abhi's number.

"Niki, wait! Niki, I do like him but I have met him only three times, okay? I don't know if he likes me, heck I don't even know what I am feeling is love or infatuation. I don't know Niki. I simply don't know. I don't want to tell anybody anything,  until I am sure myself. You understand?"

"But'?"

"Please Niki."

Niki finally relented, "Fine. Whatever  you say."

Riddhima smiled and hugged Niki, "Thanks Niki! You are the best!"

"By the way, you have my blessings. The guy has very nice shoulders."

Riddhima looked confused, "Nice shoulders?"

"That's all I could figure out from the window up here. The shoulders and the hair."

Riddhima laughed, "I'll pass on the message."

"You do that and best of luck. I am going to sleep now. Good night."

"Good night."

Niki walked to her room but turned around at the door.

"Ridzie, another thing, explain about your churidaar tomorrow, okay? I am just too tired right now and it seems like a long story!"



Mia

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