Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Part 17 : Chance Encounter

"Armaan!"

"Can you hear me? Armaan?"

Armaan was jerked back to reality with his sister's hysteric screams on the other end of the phone line.

"Yes, Di, I can hear you," he said finally.

"Oh! Thank God!" Anjali sighed softly but was back to screaming the next instant, "What the hell were you thinking. One minute you were talking and the next all I can hear are screeching brakes and car horns. Here I am screaming at the top of my lungs and you don't even bother to answer! Scared the shit out of me!"



"Sorry Anj," Armaan started apologetically, "I was just thinking about something."

"Don't 'Anj' me! And what do you mean you were thinking about something? Since when do you faze out like this? Armaan, are you alright? Tell me you are not into drugs or anything."

"Di! I am fine," Armaan replied sheepishly. He gave one last lingering look at a sea-green churidaar on display, which had triggered his chain of thoughts and then concentrated on the phone call.

"Di, you were saying?"

"I was saying a lot of things," Anjali accused, "But you weren't listening!"

"I said sorry!" Armaan grinned as a new thought struck him, "Anjie.. Anjie, Love you behenji!!"

Anjali smiled inspite of herself, "Oh puh-leez Armaan, not that silly poem of yours again!! I hated it when you made it up and I still hate it! I am NOT a behenji!"

"You are mine! And by the way, you didn't hate my poem," Armaan laughed, "You disliked it. You 'HATED' Atul bhaiya's couplet. Now, what was that? Yeah' ' Anjali' Anjali, Marry me, officially'!"

Anjali cringed audibly but then started laughing, "Don't remind me! I wonder what I did wrong to end up with the two biggest idiots in the world! I guess, Gappu is my consolation prize."

"Don't be too sure," Armaan laughed, "After all, he is Atul bhaiya's son and has now spent 3 months with me without you chaperoning. There's bound to be some new developments."

"Armaan!" Anjali shouted but started laughing herself, "I'll kill you if Gappu comes up with anything that rhymes'no matter how remotely!! And by the way, talking about changes, I've noticed quite a few in the past week! Gappu has become exceptionally truthful, what's with that?"

Armaan shrugged, "Dunno Di, can't be my influence, I still lie through my teeth! Riddhima said....."

"Riddhima," Anjali interrupted, "Yes, question number two. Have been hearing that name quite a lot, from Gappu and occasionally even from you. Hmmm...I think there is something cooking that I am not aware of. What is it, Armaan?"

Armaan bit his lip and cursed himself mentally for blurting stuff out without thinking,

"Umm......how will I know, Di? Mohan bhaiyya does the cooking!"

Anjali snorted, "Don't try to change the topic Armaan. This time, it isn't Mohan bhaiyya but you, who is doing all the cooking!"

Armaan scratched his head and tried desperately for a diversion,

"Di, come on! There's nothing cooking. When does your flight arrive tomorrow? I'll come to pick you guys up!"

Anjali sighed, "Armaan, you know you can't hide anything from me, why do you even try? Anyways, I'll let you off for now, but we are having a long chat tomorrow and then you can tell me everything. By the way, I'd like to meet Riddhima. Invite her for dinner'.will you?"

"But Di," Armaan protested, "She might be busy, umm, she might be unable to come. She.."

"Oh, she'll come," Anjali smiled cheekily, "If you ask, how can she say no?"

"But,Di?"

"No 'buts', it's time you prove the adage that 'no girl can refuse Armaan Mallik'! I'll see you tomorrow and I am meeting Riddhima for dinner! Okay?"

Armaan sighed, "Aye aye captain! Whatever you say!"

"Great," Anjali laughed, "Pick us up at 11, don't be late!"

"Won't be," Armaan smiled, "Am too young to die."

"Okay, bye and drive safe'don't start 'thinking about something' or should I say 'someone'?"

"Bye Di!" Armaan warned.

Anjali laughed, "Bye!"

Armaan disconnected the phone and shook his head smiling,

"Di!" He turned to look at the churidaar in the display window again and smiled, "Dinner tomorrow!" As if by magic, his smile disappeared and was replaced by a look of horror, "Oh no, coffee today! I am late." He jumped out of the car and locking it, ran across the pavement toward the shop.



Riddhima heaved a sigh of relief as she finished checking on her last patient and moved towards the locker room. It was already 6:30pm and Armaan had said that he would pick her up at 7. She smiled and shook her head, "Armaan!"

"Hi, Abhi," Riddhima greeted with a bright smile.

"Hi Riddhima," Abhi replied and then went back to perusing his file.

Riddhima frowned, the greeting could be called 'cold' at its very best.

"Umm.......long day?" She tried again.

This time Abhi just grunted from behind his file, not even bothering to look up.

"Okaaaay!" Riddhima rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, "Mr. Grumpy!"

Riddhima was just about through packing her bag and arranging everything in the locker when Niki huffed into the room. Riddhima was about to greet Niki when she stopped herself seeing the cold look that Abhi and Niki shared. The temperature in the room seemed to drop down a few degrees and Riddhima could have sworn that there was an un-naturally cold wind blowing.

Riddhima smiled, another fight! When will those two learn? She shook her head and decided to play peace maker. She cautiously ventured,

"Niki, could you go home with Abhi today? I have to go somewhere."

"I have work," Abhi shouted.

"I can go home on my own!" Niki shouted back and before Riddhima could say anything more, they both stormed out of the room and moved in different directions. Riddhima watched them go and frowned,

"Must be something bad, Sherlock Holmes and Watson didn't even bother to ask where I was going! Have to find out what it is!"

Riddhima, however, couldn't remain frowning for long, even if she tried. Invariably her thoughts returned to Armaan and she smiled. 'Coffee' he had said, but with him as company, there definitely was going to be more than coffee to look forward to this evening. You could never predict with Armaan but one thing was certain, with him around, there's always going to be a lot of fun! Unplanned, childish but nevertheless, a lot of fun! Riddhima smiled and enunciated his name once more, "Armaan!" She loved his name. 'Armaan', meaning desire or wish, it fit him just perfectly.

"Whoever named him, must have given it a lot of thought," she reflected with a smile.

Suddenly Atif Aslam started singing! Riddhima was jerked out of her reverie and she mentally scolded herself for not having changed her ringtone even after the fiasco the day before. Her thoughts vanished as her eyes fell on the caller's name and she smiled uttering the word that was fast topping her favourites list,

"Armaan!"

"Hey Doc, coffee awaits!"

"Armaan? Where are you?"

"Standing outside Sanjeevani, just like I promised. Now would you care to keep your side of the bargain and emerge from the gates?"

Riddhima laughed, "I am coming!"

"Great, you have 30 seconds!"

"Armaan, I ...."

"Okay, 45, but I want you in front of me before I finish counting. Tick tick..1..tick tick...2..tick tick...3..tick tick.."

"Ahem!"

Armaan turned around when he heard a throat being cleared behind him and there, with an angry glare and a smile which totally contradicted the glare, stood Riddhima.

"Three seconds!" Armaan smirked, "That was fast. I guess it's true what people say!"

"And what is that?" Riddhima asked.

"That, girls sprout wings when it's Armaan Mallik they are going to meet!"

Armaan laughed as Riddhima fumed and tried vainly to come up with a clever retort. He took the chance and added,

"And Doc, would you sit in the car or are you planning to fly the distance to show off your wings?"

"Armaan!" Riddhima finally managed but it was too late. Armaan had already had his laugh and now he opened the passenger door and gestured her to get in with his most charming dimpled smile.

"Please," he added for emphasis with puppy dog eyes.

Riddhima, without saying a word, huffed into the seat with the maximum attitude that she could manage. As Armaan closed the door and moved towards the driver's seat, Riddhima muttered,

"Damn those dimples!"






Riddhima relaxed in her seat and watched Armaan driving with smile on his lips. She confessed grudgingly to herself that after a tiring day at the hospital, this was the best possible treat.

'Would he agree to chauffer me around every day, if I asked sweetly?' Riddhima thought with a grin but it turned into a chuckle which caught Armaan's attention.

"Care to share the joke or am I to guess?"

"Erm...nothing," Riddhima giggled, "Just a flight of fancy!"

Armaan seemed to judge her for a moment and then turned back to the road.

"Armaan? Where are we going?"

The glint in his eyes was back and flashing her, his best smile he shrugged, "Take a guess!"

Riddhima sighed and relaxed back into the seat,

"Fine, why do I even bother to ask? Keep your secrets Mr. Never-tell-people-where-you-are-taking-them! But, listen to me carefully, I am not climbing any walls this time'too tired for any adventure!"

The teasing look was instantly replaced with a look of concern as Armaan reached out to clasp her hand in his for a moment. He let go almost immediately to the totally unexpected but very acute feeling of utter dismay on Riddhima's part . She was still analyzing her feelings when Armaan spoke up.

"Bad day?" Armaan asked and the sincerity in his question melted Riddhima's heart. She awarded him a smile and shook her head,

"No, not too bad. Seen worse! But it would definitely be of great help if I had the 'promised' coffee, right about now!" Riddhima pouted.

Armaan laughed at her pointed accusation,

"Haven't forgotten, Doc.....but have to request a few more minutes of your patience! I assure you the 'promised' coffee will be in your hands soon enough, complimented with the world's best chocolate-chip cookies."

Riddhima rolled her eyes, "Atleast you divulged the 'secret' menu, good sir! Must say, I am flattered!"

Armaan laughed at her sarcasm and then parked the car. As Riddhima got out of the car, a bit surprised at being taken to almost the middle of nowhere, he pointed to a quaint little coffee shop almost at the edge of the beach and bowed,

"At your service, Ma'm!"

Riddhima stared in disbelief, her mouth slightly open.

"Armaan...."

"I know," Armaan interrupted, "It looks quite run down, but I think it adds to the charm of the place. It reminds me of those old fairytale cottages where a grand-mother like figure is always waiting with freshly baked cakes and orange juice. It's lovely. I found this coffee shop a couple of months back, and have been coming here ever since. They serve the most wonderful coffee and delicious cookies. You have to try it."

"But Armaan.."

"And you know what is the most important' positive' aspect of this place?" Armaan interrupted again, with a grin, "Other than the cookies and the homely feel? The fact that it is so out of everybody's way. I mean, very few people know about this place and only regular customers come here. So no chance of bumping into anybody we know. I am tired of sharing you with half a dozen people all the time. Finally I get you totally to myself, without distractions, without interruptions!"

Riddhima was about to say something but Armaan's last comment put her off balance. She lowered her eyes as a shy smile curved the corners of her lips. Armaan grinned and grabbed her hand pulling her towards the coffee shop,

"And if you are lucky Riddhima, you might meet Jam and Jelly!"

"Jam and Jelly?" Riddhima muttered while walking along side Armaan.

Armaan laughed, "I know, interesting names! Twins, a girl and a boy! Their parents own the coffee shop and they are often here. They are just so adorable, but very shy. After weeks of bribing with chocolates, I've finally got them to speak to me. They'll like you, after all you have brought chocolates for them." Armaan said, taking out two chocolates from his jacket pocket with a smirk.

By that time they had reached the entrance of the coffee shop and Armaan held open the door for her. Riddhima, however, seemed a bit hesitant, standing a little away from the door. Armaan shot her a questioning look to which Riddhima replied,

"Armaan,why don't you go in first. Check if there's any empty table. I mean, it might be crowded."

Armaan laughed, "Weren't you listening to me? This place is never crowded and even if it is, I know the owner, she'll get me the reserved table."

Riddhima smiled at his pompous declaration and nodded,

"Okay, I get it.......but why don't you go in first, anyways?"

Armaan frowned and then shrugged, "Okay, whatever you say!"  He entered the shop and greeted in a loud voice,

"Hi Mrs. Braganza! You look lovely today!"

"Ah..Mr. Armaan," the rotund lady at the counter beamed, "So nice to see you! Get you the usual?"

"Yep," Armaan smiled, "But double the order. I have brought a friend. Meet Ri...."

"Riddhima!!!"

Armaan for a second didn't know what happened and wondered if the shrill shriek had emerged from his own throat. He cleared his throat and was about to try again when Mrs. Braganza squealed a second time dispelling his worries!

"Riddhima!! It is you!" she hurried out from behind the counter, pushed past Armaan and pulled Riddhima into a hug, "Oh, I am so glad you came!!"

Riddhima winked at a bewildered Armaan and patted the lady with a big smile,

"Nice to see you too, Pam!! Been a long time! Was missing the chocolate chip cookies!"

Armaan was still reeling from the first shock when he felt the breath knocked out of his body for a second time.....this time literally! He felt a little head dive into his stomach while a few knees knocked with his in their haste. He was trying to figure out what many legged monster was attacking him when he realized belatedly that it was Jam and Jelly making a mad dash towards Riddhima.

"Rids, Rids," They pranced about while Riddhima gave them both a hug one after the other.

"Hey Jam, hey Jelly! Love you guys!"

Armaan goggled at the boisterous reunion while the rest of the party seemed totally oblivious to his presence! He noticed Jam, with his little arms tightly around Riddhima's neck, kissing her cheeks, and a slow unbidden frown appeared on his face. Something urged him to make his presence felt and so quite unnecessarily, he cleared his throat! No response. He attempted a cough but that too went unnoticed in the din of the re-union. Desperate times needed desperate measures. He pasted a sugary smile on his face and barged into the happy circle and purposefully pried Jam off Riddhima. Jam quite voluble about being removed so rudely without his consent, flayed his arms in protest while Riddhima giggled.

"Jam," Armaan tried to placate him, "Rids is not running away anywhere. Let's all sit down first. Right?"

Mrs. Braganza slapped her fore head, "Yes, yes....I am so forgetful. Riddhima, Mr. Armaan why don't you sit down, I'll get the coffee!"

"Thanks Pam," Riddhima smiled sweetly and then turned towards Armaan. It was the same smile apparently but Armaan could sense the new teasing glint hidden in it, especially for him. He narrowed his eyes in response and then curved his lips into a mocking smile. Riddhima threw her head back and laughed and settled herself in one of the couches. Armaan took the couch opposite her, still glaring. Jelly who till now had been the relatively quieter member of the crazy family, plonked herself on Riddhima's lap at once and gave a victorious smile to Jam. That was all the provocation that Jam needed.  He ran towards Riddhima and tried to push his sister off Riddhima's  lap while Jelly tried her best to hold on to her position. A bitter battle ensued that Riddhima was quick enough to stop.

"Jam," She said sweetly, "Why don't you sit with Armaan? He is nice, isn't he?"

Jam seemed to consider the proposition for a moment and before Armaan could protest, Jam had settled himself comfortably on Armaan's lap! He stuck out his tongue at his sister and then grabbed Armaan by the neck for greater emphasis. Armaan threw up his hands in frustration while Riddhima broke down into another fit of giggles!

Armaan's glare become more sinister if possible, "Riddhima, this is not fair! Why didn't you tell me that you know Mrs. Braganza and these little," Armaan looked angrily from Jam to Jelly, "These little monsters! I would have taken you somewhere else, miles away from here."

Riddhima smiled, her tongue firmly in cheek, "I tried Armaan, but do you ever listen?"

As Armaan made a face, Riddhima continued, "And I thought, you said Jam and Jelly were 'adorable'!"

"Appearances can often be deceptive," Armaan grumbled while Riddhima shook with suppressed laughter.



Jam and Jelly feeling left out in the 'adult' sparring now wanted their presence felt. Jam banged his little fists on the table while Jelly bounced on Riddhima's lap trying to get her attention. Riddhima smiled and played with Jelly's hair while Jam frowned, offended. He now twisted himself on Armaan's lap and pulled his cheeks laughing in mirth at Armaan's disgruntled look. Riddhima couldn't resist the urge and smiled naughtily. Armaan noticed the smile and was sure that Riddhima was up to something. He narrowed his eyes trying to gauge her plans when she spoke up,

"Jam, Armaan has chocolates for you guys, check his pockets!"

'Chocolates' acted as a catalyst and even before Armaan could prepare himself for the assault, Jam  searched him all over, patting at all his pockets, driving his little hands into the jacket. In his haste Jam managed to sock Armaan's jaw  and as Armaan rubbed his painful jaw shooting furious glances at Riddhima, Jam finally found the treasure he was looking for. He at once jumped off  Armaan's lap and ran towards the door with Jelly close behind. Halfway to the door, a new thought struck him and he came running back. He scrambled up to Armaan's lap, socking his jaw again in the process and then dropped a very unexpected kiss on Armaan's cheek, before jumping back down and running out of the coffee shop with his sister.

Armaan turned to Riddhima with a wide satisfied smile, still rubbing his jaw and whispered,

"He likes me!"

Riddhima smiled, her heart melting at the boyish smile and nodded, "Yes, he does!"

Armaan smiled for a second and then frowned,

"How do you know Mrs. Braganza?"

"Actually, I met her at the hospital. Jam had a chronic case of jaundice and had to be hospitalized. Jelly wouldn't leave him, you know, the twin thing and all, so we had to keep Jelly in the hospital too and...."

"And Riddhima was a lot of help," Mrs. Braganza interrupted, "It was such trying times and we wouldn't have managed without Riddhima."

"Pam," Riddhima smiled and helped her put the large tray of food items on the table, "I did nothing!"

Pam rubbished her comment immediately, "You did everything. You took such good care of Jam and Jelly. Mr. Armaan, you won't believe how great a doctor she is, and she is such a wonderful person."

Armaan nodded, a smile curving his lips, "Actually I do!"



Riddhima blushed. She knew Armaan's gaze was fixed on her but she daren't look up. As a rule, any kind of flattery or praise embarrassed her but coming from Armaan it spread a glow, a warmth all over her which she couldn't explain. It felt great. She finally looked up at Armaan to find him still looking at her, apparently waiting for her to look at him. He smiled and winked at her before biting into one of the blue berry muffins that Pam had brought for them and then mumbled with his mouth full.

"Yum, Mr. Braganza, this is awesome! You only get me cookies. How come I never tasted these?"

"Because you never ordered them Mr. Armaan," Pam laughed, "These are Riddhima's favourites. Choco-chip cookies come second on her list!"

Armaan pouted while Pam and Riddhima laughed.

"Excuses, Mrs. Braganza. This is just preferential treatment, an ingenious way of keeping innocent people like me away from such delicacies," Armaan said biting into another muffin, " Not fair!"



 The evening passed away talking and laughing. Armaan and Pam, very soon did away with all the Mr.Armaan-Mrs.Braganza formalities and they were laughing and teasing each other like old friends. Jam and Jelly also joined them after having devoured the chocolates. Jam again reclaimed his position on Armaan's lap but in the process covered Armaan's shirt with tiny chocolate finger prints. Armaan calmed an annoyed Pam with the assurance that with Riddhima around he had lost all hopes for his shirts! He winked at an indignant Riddhima and added,

"Maybe I should stop wearing shirts all together. What say, Pam?"

Pam laughed, "Good idea, Armaan. Do remember to come to my cafe after that! Sure it's going to get my sales soaring. But won't Riddhima mind?"

Riddhima blushed crimson while Armaan and Pam burst into laughter.



Soon it was time to take their leave. Armaan smiled at Jam and Jelly who were peacefully sleeping on his lap and then carefully made them lie on the couch. He kissed them on the forehead while Riddhima watched and then hugged Pam,

"Thanks Pam for a wonderful evening. Will be back soon to irritate you some more."

"Anytime Armaan," Pam laughed, "But bring Riddhima with you too."

Armaan laughed and moved towards the door while Riddhima hugged Pam,

"Thanks Pam, take care of yourself."

"You too Riddhima. Armaan and you look very good together."

Riddhima blushed, "Bye Pam!"

"Bye Riddhima."



In the car, Riddhima relaxed into her seat. She smiled recounting the whole evening and was awed at how Armaan turned every situation to his advantage. He was so warm and caring, it was very difficult for someone not to like him. He was also such a thorough gentleman and it amazed her how well he handled the situation with the bill payment. He was very tactful and didn't hurt Pam's feeling one bit. Really, Armaan was one of a kind. She smiled at the thought and turned towards Armaan,

"Armaan."

"Hmm?"

"I had a good time."

"Me too," Armaan smiled, "Definitely not the way I envisioned it, but I had fun."

Riddhima laughed, "Next time tell me where you are taking me or might again bump into people we know."

Armaan laughed, "Lesson learnt!"

"So where are you taking me now?"

"Home," Armaan stated matter of factedly.

Riddhima glanced at her watch and frowned, "But we still have time."

As Armaan cocked an eyebrow and shot her a smug smile, Riddhima realized what she had said,

"I mean, I was, I ...umm...I," Riddhima tried to explain but gave up soon enough.

"Well, well, what have we here? Dr. Riddhima Gupta, does not want to go home. Surprise surprise! So, where do you want to go doc?"

Riddhima felt discomfited under his teasing but unable to come up with a suitable retort, decided to play along,

"I don't know. You tell me."

"Nah, not taking anymore chances! I am not having little monsters jumping over me again tonight." Armaan lifted his palms up as a sign of surrender.

Riddhima laughed, "Okay, umm...let's see. How about the beach? I remember you saying something yesterday about the open sea and the clear sky. Interesting." Riddhima teased quoting Armaan's dialogue.

Suddenly Armaan turned towards Riddhima, dead serious. His eyes glinted and there wasn't a trace of a smile on his face. It was almost as if he had realized a mistake of vital importance and there was no way to undo it. Riddhima was a bit taken aback by his reaction and was wondering what went wrong when Armaan said in a barely audible whisper,

"But I don't have the ring, Riddhima!"


Mia

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