Thursday, 25 October 2018

Part 3 & 4 : Chance Encounter

Part 3


Riddhima pulled out the keys of her apartment and tried the lock. She groaned in despair as the lock seemed stuck. She had a splitting head ache and all she wanted to do was to change into her pajamas and get into bed. Finally her lock turned and stepping into the apartment she was greeted with a loud cheer from her colleague-cum-flat mate-cum-best friend Dr. Nikita Malhotra.

"Hey Ridzie! Howdie Ho, fair maiden!"

Riddhima flinched. "Niki, could you not shout early in the morning?"

"Oooh'you seem to be in a good mood," Niki said sarcastically, "What happened? Did Dr. Subhankar keep you locked up in a broom cupboard all night?"

"Ha ha, very funny! Go to work and let me sleep."



"Okies! Sweet dreams, sleeping beauty. Oh, by the way, is there a lot of work in the hospital today?"

"No'not too much. Why?"

"Nothing. Just that'you know..Abhi and I was planning to take a little lunch break today," Niki replied coyly.

Riddhima shook her head and said, "Why don't you guys just get married and get it over with, once and for all?"

"I will, I will,in 5 months time! Let us just enjoy the 'engaged couple' tag for a while!"

"Fine, enjoy the 'tag'! I think Dr. Keerti is on duty today, maybe she will cut 'the engaged couple' some slack."

Niki's smile vanished as if by magic. "Dr. Keerti is on duty today?" She sat down on the couch dejectedly, "Sorry Dr. Abhi ,no lunch break!"

Riddhima grinned, "Maybe you guys could have dinner together? What do you think?"

Niki brightened up at once, "Ridzie, you are a genius! I'll call up Abhi right now and fix a date."

Riddhima smiled at her enthusiasm and said, "You do that. Have fun. I am off to sleep. Good night!"

"Good night! Oh, yeah Ridzie,I made scrambled eggs for breakfast,have them. Okay?"

"Thanks," Riddhima said gratefully as Niki took her bag and while dialing Abhi's number left the apartment.

"cya!"

"cya!"

                                      ----------------------

        Riddhima woke up to the sound of her alarm clock. She reached for it sleepily and saw that it was 3pm. She silenced the alarm and walked groggily to the bathroom to have a long bath. After the sleep and long bath she felt more like herself and not like some zombie walking in a trance. She felt like cooking! Maybe some aloo parathas. She went to their tiny kitchen and rummaged for all the ingredients, all the while humming a little tune to herself. She loved cooking and always cooked when she was happy. However she didn't cook much in Mumbai as there wasn't anyone to cook for. If there was anything she loved more than cooking, it was, to cook for someone! So, as usual, after she was done with her aloo parathas, she started missing her brother terribly.

"Rahul bhaiyya loves aloo parathas," she thought to herself, "I wish he was here."

As if an answer to her prayers her cell phone started ringing. Riddhima reached for it and her eyes lit up as she saw the name on the screen.

"Hello? Rahul bhaiyya? I was just thinking about you?"

"And why is that little sister? Did someone just pull your pigtails or did someone call you 'Monsoon Monkey?"

Riddhima frowned, "First of all bhai, I don't tie my hair into pigtails anymore and secondly why the hell would anyone call me 'Monsoon Monkey? That's not even a proper word."

 "Exactly! It's two words!" Rahul said laughing, "And anyone would call you 'Monsoon Monkey" if they happened to see you dancing in the rain."

"Bhai?" Riddhima said sweetly.

"Yes?"

"Shut up!!"

Rahul laughed, "Okay, sorry. Now tell me why you were missing me?"

"Who ever said I was missing you?" Riddhima replied cheekily, "I just said I was thinking about you. There's a lot of difference."

"Oh really?"

"Yes really!"

There was silence on both sides for a moment and then Riddhima spoke up, "Rahul bhaiyya' I made aloo parathas."

Rahul smiled, "And so you were missing me'..sorry, 'thinking' about me. Right?"

"Bhaiyya? I miss you, I miss Mumma-Papa, I miss Bhabi. I miss you guys a lot."

"I know and we all miss you too. It's not the same without you. Do us all a favour, study hard, finish your post grad and come back to Kolkata as soon as possible. Okay?"

Riddhima sniffled, "Okay!"

"Now, stop crying and courier me some aloo parathas, stat!"

Riddhima laughed, "In your dreams!"

"Aww,there's my little sister! So tell me, what's up!"

"Nothing much. Had night duty yesterday, slept the entire morning , now cooking aloo paratha and planning to make bhelpuri."

"Oooh! Someone's hungry!"

"Bhai! The bhelpuri is not for me, it's for a patient."

"Riddhima did we send you to medical school or catering school? Bhelpuri for a patient? What kind of treatment is that?"

"Are bhai'it's a small boy. I visited him yesterday, he had stomach upset and I promised to get him bhelpuri."

"Wait a minute. The boy had an upset stomach and you are feeding him bhelpuri? Ridz, are you alright?"

"Ufff'bhai! It's not like that. It's..it's complicated!"

"I know..'. I am lost!"

"Bhai,leave it! How's Muskaan bhabi?"

"More like Muskaan 'Surinder Sahani' Gupta. I am so fed up with her 'Hello jee' and 'Kaise ho jee?', I kind of miss the Muskaan 'Rahul- naam to suna hoga' Gupta."

Riddhima burst out laughing. "Serves you right!"

"Yeah' I know'Mumma said the same thing! I wonder why she has to imitate Shahrukh Khan all the time. Sometimes she could maybe, you know, do a Kajol or a Preity Zinta or even a sexy Priyanka Chopra. I wouldn't mind."

"Bhaiyya, you are too much," Riddhima said hiccupping with laughter.

Rahul laughed too. "Okay, chal, gotta go! Talk to you later. Let me know about your Bhelpuri treatment,okay? Bye! Love you!"

"Love you too bhai! Bye!"

Riddhima disconnected the phone and smiled to herself. Then she saw the time and quickly started gathering the ingredients for making bhelpuri.

                              ----------------------------------------------------



         Armaan was in the Sanjeevani parking lot at 5:45pm. He was generally punctual but today, he was not taking any chances. He had to be there at the gates, at 6pm sharp. He was sitting in his car and had a clear view of the Sanjeevani main gate and at about five minutes to six Riddhima appeared. She was wearing a snow white churidar with her hair left open and Armaan couldn't take his eyes off her. She looked amazing. Armaan saw her smiling at acquaintances, hugging a little boy who had just been discharged. He saw her looking at her watch and then looking searchingly at the approaching cars.

"She is waiting for me," Armaan thought, and that thought brought a huge smile on his face. Armaan checked his watch and saw that he had just 1 minute left and decided he should make a move.

  He maneuvered the car out of the parking lot and drove to the main gate and stopped the car right in front of Riddhima. On seeing him, Riddhima smiled and then opening the car door, sat down.



"Right on time, Armaan!" Riddhima said with a grin

"Shouldn't keep a lady waiting!"

Riddhima nodded and settled her bag on her lap. After a few moments she realized that they weren't moving. She looked up at Armaan questioningly and found him staring at her with a stupid grin on his face.

"Armaan?"

"Riddhima! Riddhima, you look"

"Yes?" Riddhima prompted shyly.

"Riddhima you look ......umm.....you look very....you look very fresh!"



Riddhima's face fell. Her mind hit the pause button and then the fast rewind button.

(Did he just tell me that I looked fresh? Fresh, as in, FRESH? Way to go Riddhima, you shampooed your hair, put on make-up and dressed in your favourite churidar all for a lousy 'You look fresh'! Is the guy crazy? Did he think he was talking to vegetables? Or fish? Or laundry?)

Riddhima forced a fake smile and mumbled, "Thank you."



Armaan, on the other hand was mentally kicking himself.

(Dude...what the hell is wrong with you? You are sitting with this amazingly beautiful girl whom can't help staring at and all you come up with, is fresh? FRESH?!! What were you thinking? Say something. Say something fast before she thinks that you are not fit for civilized society. )

"I mean," Armaan fumbled, "I mean, even after a night duty, you look.."

Riddhima was not even looking at him anymore, mentally berating herself for making an effort to look good.

"You look beautiful!" Armaan finished in almost a whisper
 ..................................
Part 4

 Riddhima looked up suddenly and then blushing slightly said, "Thank You!" This time her smile was genuine.

Armaan smiled but didn't take her eyes off her. Riddhima self-consciously put a strand of her hair behind her ears and that little action seemed to deepen Armaan's smile. Riddhima lifted her eyebrows and looked at Armaan pointedly.



"Armaan?"

 "Huh?" Armaan said dreamily.

"Armaan, what are we waiting for?"

        Reality finally began to set in. Armaan shook his head and running his fingers through his hair, smiled. He noticed how self-consciously Riddhima was fiddling with her dupatta and decided to lighten the situation.

"Riddhima, I am waiting for you to compliment me!" Armaan said with a serious face.

"Huh?" Riddhima seemed incredulous.

"I mean, I said you looked beautiful and so, you should say that I look beautiful'.err'.handsome too! That's'that's how it goes right? I compliment you, you compliment me. Vice versa, give and take." Armaan said smugly.

Riddhima blinked at Armaan for a couple of seconds and sitting back straight in the seat said in a huff,

"You are mad!"

Armaan mentally congratulated himself and grinned.

 "That's not really a compliment you know," He said in an offended voice, "But I'll take it anyway."

 "Whatever! Can we go now?"

 Armaan stifled a laugh hearing her irritated tone. She was turning out to be a lot of fun to irritate. More fun than even Gappu. He looked at Riddhima's annoyed expression one last time and then grinning, started the car.

   They were driving for a while in a comfortable silence, often stealing glances at each other and finally Riddhima spoke up.

"Armaan?"

"Hmm?"

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Gappu'.I mean'..Gappu's parents'I didn't see them yesterday."

Armaan glanced at her and smiled, "Anjali di and Atul Bhaiyya are presently in Los Angeles."

"Oh. For a holiday?"

"No, actually, Atul Bhaiyya is a software engineer and he keeps getting transferred every two or three years. He got transferred to LA, a couple of months back. Anjali di didn't want Gappu to miss school and so I jumped at the opportunity. I offered to keep Gappu with me until Di and Atul Bhaiyya settled everything, you know, set up the house, get Gappu admitted to a school and stuff. Besides'this was a great opportunity for me to enjoy a family life in a long time."

"You live alone, Armaan?" Riddhima asked.

"Yeah, for almost 6 years now, after Mom passed away. Di and Atul bhaiyya are my only immediate family and like I told you, they keep shifting. They do visit me quite often and call me all the time, but a couple of visits every year and half dozen phone calls doesn't really constitute a family life," Armaan said with a small smile which accentuated the sadness in his eyes.



"I am sorry." Riddhima truly felt sorry. Growing up in a loud, boisterous family she couldn't imagine what it felt like to return to an empty house everyday, and Armaan had been doing that for the past 6 years. She has been living in Mumbai for only 6 months and still she often felt like leaving everything and running back home. She wondered how Armaan coped with staying alone all the time.



"It's okay, Riddhima. It's not that bad. I have Mohan Bhaiyya and he is almost family," Armaan sought to reassure.

Riddhima still looked bothered, bitting her lower lip and thinking deeply. Suddenly her face cleared and she looked up at Armaan excitedly.

"I know what you should do, Armaan."

"You do?"

"Yeah..absolutely!" Riddhima smiled, proud of herself, "You should move with your sister and her family!"

Armaan looked at Riddhima and asked, "Like, move with them to LA?"

Riddhima nodded vigorously.

Armaan stared at her excited face and burst out laughing.

Riddhima's expression changed, she looked indignant. "What is so funny, Armaan?"

"Nothing," Armaan said while laughing, "It is a brilliant idea. Just that, Di and Atul bhaiyya already have their hands full trying to get Gappu adjusted to the new environment  every time they move, and I think adding me on to the entourage won't help matters much. Besides'I am a big boy now and surely none of the schools in LA will ever admit me."

Riddhima looked put out.

"Riddhima, I have my entire life here. My home, my business, I can't just leave everything and go!"

"Hmm'I hadn't thought about that," Riddhima said with a frown.

Armaan smiled watching Riddhima concentrating hard to find a solution to his problem. He thought, she looked damn cute, her brows crinkled, unconsciously playing with her fingers. He saw Riddhima smile suddenly as a new idea struck her and turn to him eagerly.

"Armaan, I know."

"What?" Armaan smiled indulgently.

"I know what you should do, you should get married and start a family of your own!"

Armaan looked at Riddhima smiling brightly and a slow grin curved his lips. He looked her straight in the eye and whispered,

"Are you proposing, sweetheart?"

Mia

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