Friday, 2 November 2018

Part 13 : Chance Encounter



Riddhima was shocked. She was expecting a lot of reactions but definitely not this and it left her speechless.

"What?" She managed atlast.

"Yeah. We got the phone call on Sunday morning. Atul bhaiyya couldn't make it back within a day so I volunteered to help out. Gappu and I left for Delhi in the afternoon flight. I tried to call you but your phone was switched off."

Riddhima remembered that she had got up late and had a seminar on Sunday morning. Her phone was switched off the whole time. She felt like kicking herself. Why did she have to jump to conclusions all the time?! Why couldn't she just think straight for once?! However, along with the feeling of guilt another unexpected feeling of elation fought for prominence.



 'He did call! He did call!'

No matter how happy she was, this time, guilt won the battle. She looked up at Armaan, remorse shinning in her eyes and whispered,

"I am sorry, but why didn't you tell me?"

Armaan smiled, "I tried to, but you didn't give me a chance."

"How is she now?"

"She's fine. Atul Bhaiyya and Di have come down from LA. We were all in Delhi for the past week. I came back to Mumbai about three hours back. Went home, got changed and here I am," Armaan smiled and added softly, "To surprise you!"

Riddhima again doubted her ears but they again proved their competence. Armaan had indeed whispered what she had heard.

"To surprise me?"

Armaan nodded and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ears. That little unconscious action on his part left her breathless but she somehow managed to utter the question that was on the tip of her tongue.

"And what if I hadn't come to the party?"

"Then I would have left the party immediately, drive up to your apartment building and honk the horn until I woke up the neighbourhood!

Riddhima laughed, "Or you could just call me, Mr. Smart guy."

Armaan scrunched up his nose, "Yeah, but that's so boring. My way is much more romantic. Kind of like the 'Pretty Woman' scene. Don't you think?"

Riddhima chose to ignore his comment, at least part of his statement even though her heart seemed to have stopped at that one word, 'romantic'. She looked up at Armaan smiling and then suddenly frowned,

"You could have called me from Delhi, or is that a no phone call zone?"

Armaan sighed, she did have a point.

"I wanted to call, I .."

"Right!" Riddhima pouted.

"Believe me. I know it sounds like an excuse but I really did want to call, but'"

"But?"

"But, I couldn't make myself do it," Armaan finished with a sigh. "Every time I made up my mind to dial your number, something stopped me. I knew somewhere deep in my heart, that if I called you, if I heard your voice, I, I wouldn't be able to stay in Delhi any longer."

Armaan ran a frustrated hand through his hair and looked at Riddhima who stared back at him, wide eyed.

"Riddhima, I don't know how to explain, I, I missed you. I know, we've met only three times but even then, there's something, I feel, I want, I want to talk to you, I want to tell you the silliest and the most inconsequential things and have you laugh at them. I want to hear you talk, I want to fight with you, I want you to get angry with me when I tease you, I want you to screw up your nose and call me insane. I want to climb walls with you, dance in the rain with you, make a total fool of myself. I '

"Armaan'"

"But, most of all, I want you with me, standing right here, in front of me; where I can see you, touch you. Riddhima, I '"

"Armaan, I know."

"Riddhima,I want," Armaan paused at what he was saying, "You know?"

Riddhima nodded and then smiled, "I know. I missed you too!"



Armaan stared at Riddhima for a couple of seconds and then finally smiled,

"Riddhima, I am sorry, I '"

"If I was in Delhi and you were in Mumbai, then probably even I wouldn't have called."

Armaan grinned, "So does that mean that I am forgiven?"

Riddhima smiled, "You are forgiven, at least for not calling me."

Armaan frowned, "At least for not calling you? What other crime did I commit? I am afraid to ask."

"Taani'.," Riddhima blurted out and then bit her tongue. She had no intention of bringing that up but somehow it just slipped out.

Armaan studied her embarrassed face for a couple of seconds and threw his head back and laughed,

"Taani? Oh my God, Riddhima, don't tell me, you got jealous of Taani!"

"I didn't, I was not jealous," Riddhima fumbled, "I was just saying that she is very pretty and'"

Armaan laughed harder, "Yeah, sure you were."

"I was," Riddhima said in a small voice.

"Riddhima, Taani and I have known each other for ages. Our parents were very good friends and we were often thrown together when we were kids. Infact we were even made to share a cot, once in a while."

"Are you trying to appease me?" Riddhima grumbled, "Or trying to get me to hit you?"

"Oh, sorry, wrong example," Armaan shook his head, " Riddhima, I have seen Taani without hair, without teeth. She threw up on me once, in pre-school. You remember I told you that I poured ink over a classmate because he had called my best friend 'a cow'? Well, the friend in question was Taani, and in some bizarre twist in the workings of the world, she is actually getting married to that jerk."

"She's getting married?" Riddhima looked up surprised, not listening to the rest of his comment.

"Yeah, to that dolt who called her a 'cow'! Like I was saying Riddhima, the world is a strange place," Armaan shook his head ruefully, "Here, she actually fell in love with the villain!"

"What?"

"I was her knight in shining armour," Armaan laughed, "But she finds Rohit 'irresistible'.They have been dating for years and now finally they are tying the knot. I plan to give them 'A little book of Insults' as their wedding present. Who would have thought, calling someone 'a cow' could start a romance?"

Riddhima laughed out loud, "Are you serious? Is this true?"

"I am afraid; every word of this sad tale is true."

"Oh my God," Riddhima laughed, "That is the most romantic story I have ever heard."

Armaan grinned as he watched Riddhima laugh. It was a weird felling to stand in front of her and watch her laugh. It was the same feeling you got when you found the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle and put in place, or solved the last clue of a crossword. A feeling of completion, a feeling of contentment. He had been waiting for this moment for seven days and now he felt strangely at peace.



"Armaan? Hellooo, Earth calling Armaan!" Riddhima waved her hands in front of his eyes to get his attention, "What are you thinking?"

 "I was thinking that maybe, I shouldn't have told you that Taani is getting married," Armaan grinned mischievously, "I kind of liked seeing you jealous."

"I was not jealous," Riddhima protested, "It was just that I was mad at you and she appeared in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I even screamed at Abhi and Niki for no reason."

"Hmm, that explains the gloomy faces."

"What?"

"Yeah, I last saw them sitting at a table, drowning their sorrow with fruit punch."

Riddhima clasped a hand over her mouth, "Oh my God! Why didn't you tell me? Poor Niki, I have to go and apologize."

Riddhima tried to move towards the hall at once, but was stopped by Armaan.

"Actually, I have a better idea."

"What?"

"I have read somewhere that 'love blossoms in sundered hearts'. I believe that if we leave the couple together in their heart broken state, comforting each other, it would bring them irrevocably closer, thus ensuring a very happy married life. Trust me, 25 years later, on their Silver Jubilee Wedding anniversary, with a glad heart and tears in their eyes, they will 'Thank' you for your quick temper and hot headedness."

Riddhima gaped at Armaan for a while and then burst out laughing.

"I can't believe you just said that. That is, by far, the crappiest excuse you have come up with, till date!"

Armaan pulled a hurt look, "Crappy? You find an insight into human psychology, crappy? And you call yourself a doctor? Tch."

"I don't 'call' myself a doctor, I have a degree to prove it. Now come on, let's'"

Armaan held her hand before she could go and suddenly pulled her closer.

"Just five minutes Riddhima, I promise, then we will both go and apologize to them, okay?"



With Armaan so close to her, Riddhima could barely think, let alone string words to form a coherent sentence. She chose the safer route and just nodded her head. Armaan smiled in response to her affirmative nod and Riddhima once again was swamped in the warmth of it. She loved his smile, she loved how his eyes twinkled, she loved how he came up with the weirdest of stories to make her laugh, she loved how he made her feel special, she loved'.

"Riddhima?" Armaan said softly, " Phone."

Riddhima shook her head to clear her dazed brain and then looked up at Armaan.

"Umm, Armaan, I told you, it's okay. We got over it, you are forgiven. I am not upset anymore."

Armaan smiled, "I know, I am not talking about that. Your phone is ringing."

"Huh?"

"You have a phone call," Armaan said pointing to her clutch and finally Riddhima heard the shrill ringing of her cell phone. She shot Armaan an apologetic look and fished out her phone from the bag, hoping against hope that it was not a call for some medical emergency.

"Hel..Hello?"

"Riddhima?  Who wrote 'Three Men in a boat'?"

Riddhima decided she had to visit an ENT specialist to get her ears checked out.

"Papa?"

"Yes, Riddhima. Do you remember who wrote, 'Three Men in a Boat'?"

She gazed up at Armaan, her eyes wide with surprise and seeing her surprised look, he raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question.

"Who wrote 'Three Men in a Boat'?" Riddhima mumbled.

Armaan looked clearly surprised, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Jerome K. Jerome, I think."

"Jerome K. Jerome, I think," Riddhima conveyed the message word to word, the incongruity of the situation making her incapable of doing anything much more, "But, why?"

"Jerome K. Jerome," Riddhima heard her father sigh at the other end of the line, "Thanks Riddhima. I couldn't remember and neither could Rahul."

Riddhima shook her head in disbelief, "But why would both of you want to know about the author in the first place?"

"Actually, Rahul was packing and we remembered the story and then we couldn't'"

"Papa," Riddhima interrupted, "Let it be, I really don't want to know!" She looked up to see Armaan laughing silently and she smiled in response. "Papa, why is Bhaiyya packing?"

"Why is Rahul packing? Umm'er..ah.Why are you packing Rahul?"

Riddhima could hear her brother saying something in the background and then it was his voice on the phone.

"Hey Ridzie, what you doing?"

Riddhima ignored the question, it was very difficult to explain what she was doing especially when even she didn't know what she was doing.

"Bhai, why are you packing?"

"Ah, I am leaving Kolkata for a few days. Muskaan and I are going to Hyderabad for a conference."

"Oh, okay. Have fun at the conference."

"We will try to. By the way, wasn't there a party tonight at Sanjeevani?"

"Yeah, I am at the party."

"You are still at the party? It's pretty late, how are you getting home?"

Riddhima rolled her eyes, here comes the 'big brother' lecture.

"Bhai, it's perfectly alright, I can go home on my own."

Riddhima was about to add something more to her defence when suddenly she heard Armaan whispering in her ear,

"Tell him, I'll drop you."

"Armaan will drop me," Riddhima blurted out and then glared at Armaan who was grinning away to glory on successfully putting her in a spot.

"Armaan? Who is Armaan?"

Riddhima closed her eyes and cursed her luck. If Rahul once got started, he wouldn't stop until he knew everything about the guy in question. She wouldn't put it past Rahul asking about the guys' 1st grade score card or how much he got in PhysEd. It was way better she told him in leisure, not here, not like this.

"Armaan? Not Armaan. Abhimaan, I mean Abhimanyu, I mean Abhi. You know Abhi. Abhi, Niki.."

"Oh Abhi? Okay then, take care. Don't stay up too late. Love you."

Riddhima heaved a sigh of relief, "Love you too, Bhai."



Riddhima disconnected the phone and looked up at Armaan, who was frowning.

"Armaan?"

"Why did you lie about me?"

Riddhima sighed, "Armaan, have you gone to jail?"

Armaan might have fallen if he was not holding on to the railing.

"What?"

"Have you gone to jail? Like, have you ever been arrested?" Riddhima repeated her question calmly.

"No, and if that's what's bothering you, then rest assured, I have no criminal record, not even a parking ticket!"

"So you have no idea what a police interrogation feels like?"

"Riddhima," Armaan scratched his forehead as if urging his brain to work properly, "I am sorry, I don't understand. What are you trying to say?"

"I am trying to say, that I just saved you from a far worse ordeal than a police interrogation."

Armaan looked bewildered, "What?"

"Yeah, Rahul bhaiyya'the definition of a 'Big Brother'. He takes this post way too seriously. If I had introduced you, you have no idea what he might have asked. What do you do? What did your parents do? How close you are to your family? What you had for breakfast? Can you cook? What is 17 times 103? Who scored the 5th goal in the FA cup final? Explain Einstein's theory of relativity. Anything and everything under the sun is on his questionnaire. There was this guy in college who liked me and somehow Rahul bhaiyya got to know. Bhaiyya used to throw Anatomy questions at him whenever they came across each other. He was so petrified of being cornered every time he came across bhaiyya in the hospital corridors, he spent most of the 4 years of college cooped up in his hostel room. He never even looked at me after that. Once, I said 'hi' to him and he actually ran away!"



Riddhima stopped her ramblings when she heard Armaan laughing.

"You are laughing Armaan?"

"You have an amazing family Riddhima, I would love to meet your brother."

"You would love to meet my brother? Armaan? Were you even listening to what I was saying?"

"Every word," Armaan smiled, "And I have to meet your brother to thank him!"

"Thank him?"

"Yes, thank him, but that comes later, for the time being I think it is imperative that we say sorry."

"Sorry?"

"Yeah, to Abhi and Niki, or have you forgotten?"

"Oh yeah, let's go."



Riddhima and Armaan entered the hall to find Abhi and Niki sitting at the same table staring at empty glasses, apparentlyout of fruit punch. Riddhima went up to them smiling,

"Hi, guys!"

Both Abhi and Niki turned around, shocked to see her smiling so brightly. They looked at each other and then Abhi sniffed his glass wondering whether anything was mixed in the fruit punch.

Armaan grinned, "Don't fret Abhimaan, I mean Abhimanyu, it is only fruit punch."

"Guys I am sorry, I shouldn't have shouted at you," Riddhima looked ashamed, "I know you guys were only trying to help. I was just a bit frustrated and I took it out on you guys. I am sorry, I shouldn't have done that. You are my best friends and I love you both very much!"

Abhi finally smiled. He hugged Riddhima, "Not a problem Ridzie, what are friends for? Right, Niki?"

Niki still scowled.

"Niki," Riddhima tried again, "Niki, I am sorry!"

"Riddhima, I am deeply hurt."

"I know, I am sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?"

"You can cook."

"What?"

"You will cook breakfast for me the entire month and serve me tea in bed."

"What?"

"Yes, that's the staple punishment for anyone who shouts at me," Niki then look past Riddhima, "Abhi remember that!"

Abhi and Riddhima both looked at each other and shouted in unison, "Corn flakes!"

Niki's face fell, "Corn flakes? Eeeew. Fine, just the tea then." She got up from her seat and hugged Riddhima. "It's okay, Ridzie, you can shout at us, whenever you want."

Riddhima smiled, "Thanks Niki, you are the best!"

"By the way, shouldn't you re-introduce us to Mr. Mallik?"

Abhi rolled his eyes and mumbled, "There she goes again."

Armaan laughed and shook hands with Niki, "Hi Niki, I am Armaan. I am sorry, I didn't call your friend, I was a bit caught up in some family emergency. I promise it won't happen again."

"Hmm'.added to the nice shoulders, you have a nice head as well."

Riddhima stifled a laugh while Armaan looked confused. He touched his left shoulder uncertainly and asked,

"Umm'.nice shoulders?"

"Yeah, didn't Ridzie tell you?"

"Okay," Riddhima interrupted, "Can we please go eat something, I am ravenous!" With that she pulled Niki to the food stall while Abhi and Armaan followed, still looking confused.

Mia

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