6. Tina’s omen
She bobbed her head from side to side, listening to the golden songs Happy Singh played. She mentally made a note of thanking him for making this otherwise boring journey a bit interesting.
She looked at Daaku Mangal Singh and suddenly thought to take her words (in this case thoughts) back. Whom was she kidding? How can her journey be boring when he was around? No one can amuse her as much as Mr. Daaku Mangal Singh did.
Right now, he sat stiff, utterly cautious of the movement of the truck. His posture was so rigid, his spine was so stiff that she was sure he would give a tough competition for any yoga guru. Apparently, he didn’t come out of their little road adventure yet.
“How many years have you been away from India?” he heard her ask him.
She saw his head snap at her direction “How do you know?” he asked suspiciously, knotting his brows.
She wanted to roll her eyes, again. For God’s sake, he was looking at her as if she was a stalker.
“I fell in love with you the first time I saw you and was stalking you ever since, and hence know every minor detail about you” she replied with a hand on her heart, and stared at him with gooey eyes.
She saw him go utterly still for a moment but then she saw his frown go deeper as he asked, “Was that supposed to be a joke?”
“Why? Are you disappointed that it is?” she shot back. She had no idea why, but bullying him was so much fun.
“Stop.Calling.Me.That” she said through gritted teeth.
She saw the corner of his mouth pull down into a small smirk when he replied, “First answer me”
“What? That how I know that you don’t live here?” she asked, with the very amused glint in her eye. “Any person with a head over his neck could guess that. Your actions scream that.”
He pressed his lips to a grim line while he thought of million ways to retort. His accent was a dead giveaway he knew. There was no need for her to behave like a lady Sherlock Holmes, however her so called confidence in herself made him want to play along. “What else do my actions scream?” he asked tilting his head to a side.
“You really want to know?” she said raising her eyebrows and upon his deadpan expression, she dusted her hands and rubbed her palms in glee.
“Okay here you go. You aren’t born and bought up in other country obviously, just left India few years ago and—”
“How come you came to the conclusion?” he asked seriously surprised.
She muffled a laugh at his expression. He would now seriously consider the possibility of her being his stalker. It wasn’t a wonder about her conclusion however, with so many cousins living out of the country, she got a hang of their behavior. Whenever they came to visit them, they behaved in a peculiar manner, finding everything amusing and behaved as if they were from a different planet altogether.
She looked at his face, and saw him waiting for an answer and smiled cheekily at him “I told you I am a stalker”
“Oh yes and I am Prince Williams” he rolled his eyes. “Go on with your so called study about me”
“You’re from London,” she said shrugging.
“This is the limit,” he said gritting his teeth “How the hell do you know”
“Let us just say I am intelligent enough” she said making him scowl.
In the next few minutes that followed, she was being a smug, a very good one at that, while he sat like a petulant child miffed at having taken away his favorite candy.
“Just two random guesses don’t make you any Sherlock Holmes” he said after several minutes.
She gave him a sickly sweet smile “Okay, let’s play a simple game. I will ask you few questions. Try and answer them”
He merely grunted.
“Who’s your favorite actor?”
“How is it relevant?”
“Mr. Relevant Robin hood, can’t you just answer directly”
“What is it with you and thieves?” he asked amused “You love them don’t you?”
“I love to name you after them” she shot back. “Get back to answering my question Mangal Singh”
Godfather? Typical, she thought.
She saw him rub his forefinger on his forehead, which by now she knew was a characteristic of him, especially when he’s in deep thought. She had to admit she is surprised that he was taking so much of time in saying an actress name.
“Audrey Hepburn” he finally said.
He saw her eyebrows shot up for a microsecond before she went back into scowling.
“Stop acting like a Bollywood heroine” she told him miffed.
“Have you ever heard an actress taking her co-actress name and appreciating her, forget claiming to be her favorite? No right? They instead take the name of a yesteryear actress. You are behaving exactly the same way. Isn’t there one single girl of twenty first century who caught your attention? Not even one?”
“Angeline Jolie” his reply was curt, which made her stop babbling.
“There you go!” she said throwing her hands up in air “See Mr. Angrezi babu your list doesn’t have one single Indian actress”
“So, what’s your point?”
“My point is you are typical and it is easy to read you. You think staying elsewhere would make you less Indian. So damned typical”
She saw his nostrils flare and knew he took offense this time. “Can’t it be of a simple reason that I really don’t find any of your so called Indian actress attractive?” he asked challenging her.
He saw her mouth drop—literally.
“You what—” she said in a daze “You even know what our heroines do? They wear short dresses making you wonder if there is a draught for dresses, they romance onscreen with heroes who are double their age, they teach you what dramatics is, they’ll make you understand what over makeup means, they also can give a tough competition for item girls. What do you even know about them?” she puffed a strand of hair off her face, done with her little speech, while he finally gave into the temptation and laughed out loud.
He laughed catching his sides, gasping for air while she looked at him dazed. She never saw anyone’s smile to be so cute. Wait, did she just say cute that too to Daaku Mangal Singh? She gave herself a mental shake. What was she even thinking?
When his laughter subsided, and a small smile was still persistent on his lips, she heard him ask “You do realize with you as a fan they don’t need critics”
Before she could reply to that, he spoke again. “Tell me what your favorite subject is? Dramatics?”
“How do you know?” she asked now, her eyes furrowed.
She saw him give another short laugh before he replied “Intelligent guess”
* * *
She sat with her legs crossed and glared at the poor buffaloes Tina and Meena. Oh yes, she named them just for easy reference. Tina was grazing grass lazily while Meena was lazing around. They went silent after their little exchange and ignored each other like plague. This time while he still had that lingering smile on his face, she wore a deepest darkest scowl on her face. She had no idea what irked her more, his laughing at her or her own wandering thoughts. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. Now she was over reacting. It wasn’t a sin to consider someone’s smile cute, or to sneak glances at the person, now is it? In order to distract herself, she slanted a glance at the very own Devil to see what he was up to.
She looked at him from the corner of her eyes and saw him search for something in his bag for some time, close his eyes, and press his hands across his temple, showing what exactly he felt right now; irritation, and that, for some unknown reason rose her spirits. Opening his eyes, she saw him resume his searching. She saw him frown and after few moments of cussing, he might have finally found what he wanted, as there was this contented look on his face. He opened a small container and took out an apple. He was about to take a bite when, the devil inside her woke up. She imagined two horns growing on the either side of her head as she smirked evilly. She shifted her sides to sit beside him. He was not paying any attention to her thank heavens for that. Just when he was about to take a bite, the truck took a turn, and she took advantage and fell on him, hitting his shoulders with hers, and the apple slipped from his hand and rolled down and ended up in the buffalo’s Dung!
“Oops” she said showing an apologetic face to him, putting a hand across her moth, but in reality not apologetic at all, “I am so sorry” she said giving him a silly smile.
She knew by the look on his face that he knew what she was up to. She saw him meet her gaze, and by the looks of it, he wanted to burst out any moment. But surprising her, he pressed his lips together, and glared at her. She waited for him to yell but he didn’t. He instead laid back on the grass bed as if nothing happened, turned to the other side, showing his back to her.
The smirk on her face washed off as she suddenly was hit with something altogether. Guilt. She suddenly felt as if she crossed her limits. Her father had always taught her to give respect to food. He said food was a form of God, but today she just made a mockery out of it and made a man sleep with empty stomach.
Guilt ate at her as she saw his still form, with regular breathing. She saw two tiny miniscule Siyonas appear at either of her side; one wearing a white long gown, with a wand in her hand, a halo and two white wings on her shoulders, the other one with red tight pants and a sparkling red top, with horns on her head.
“You shouldn’t have done that” said the angel.
“He called for it. He called you Mummy” replied the devil.
“You called him Daaku”
“He started it”
“You didn’t sit quiet. In fact, you emptied his perfume, spoiled his scarf and now didn’t even let him to have his apple. Don’t know how hungry he is”
“You should. You are the one to spoil his apple. He didn’t even say a word”
Siyona closed her eyes helplessly as the battle between her conscience went on, leaving her with a pounding headache. Finally the angel won the battle and both of them vanished as Siyona took her decision.
She opened her bag, took out the chocolate chip cookies, went towards him, and patted him on his shoulder.
He woke up and looked at her with sleepy eyes, and for the first time Siyona realized that he had the most amazing eyes. Oh yes there was also this permanent scowl etched on his face, making her re think about her decision, wondering how much would waking him up would have pissed him off.
“What do you want now?” he asked slightly annoyed.
She looked down, unable to get the words out of her mouth. He thought she was here to disturb his sleep and was about to lay down again but stopped as he heard her say “Sorry”. He snapped his head towards her and saw her closing her eyes tight.
“What did you just say?” he asked dazed.
She fluttered her eyes open and looked at him and said slowly murmured “I’m sorry”
There was guilt written all over her face and he could see that. But he was not ready to let go of this opportunity. After all, it must be a rare scene to watch Miss. Devil-May-Care actually feeling guilty.
“It’s alright” he said, keeping his voice even and soft, “I was not destined to have the apple”, he said shrugging.
Destined? Great! He is now using words taken up from a pathetic chick flick. May be he had overdone? Will she see through his act?
However, she saw her wince at his words and he knew her guilt multiplied. She bought it, whoa!
“I’m so sorry. I… I… didn’t mean to. Promise” She said holding her skin at her neck, and he looked at her amused.
“I even got this for you,” she said extending the chocolate chip cookies.
He was touched by her gesture, but composed himself and said “Sorry I can’t take them”
“Please. For my sake” she said smiling sweetly.
He stared at her for one whole moment. How could he reject that smile, but he couldn’t accept it as well. So, he thought to tell her the reason. “I appreciate it but I don’t eat that”
She frowned at his choice of words. That! Did he just use a mere pronoun to mention her favorite chocolate chip cookies?
“These are my favorite cookies and the delicious ones I’ve ever had” she shot back, in a defensive tone, clutching the container to her heart.
“I” he paused and passed his hand over his jaw. Deciding to be honest, he admitted “I don’t eat cookies. I am a bit health conscious”
She opened her mouth in a wide “O” and she got to her original self.
“You don’t eat cookies? Oh my god how are you surviving?” she asked in utter disbelief.
“On what I believe, a more healthy appetite”
“You mean the usual ghaas phus?” she said raising her eyebrows.
“You’re a vegetarian” it was more of a statement than a question.
“So?” he retorted back with another question, wondering where was this heading.
She eyed him carefully, and though it would have boosted his ego for a girl checking him out in normal circumstances, at this moment, he really felt uncomfortable, for being stared such.
“Okay, you have a decent physique, but well if you alter your so called healthy appetite, you could do better, may be you can even give competition to my Jaan” she said sighing dreamily.
His reactions varied with each word she uttered, ranging from confusion to irritation, back to confusion again. However, her last word irked him. He need not be a genius to know the meaning of the four letter syllable.
“Jaan?” he echoed.
“Oh yeah John Abraham” she grinned. “Have you seen his body, he is oh my god—” she said trailing off, and to his greatest horror, blushing like a new bride.
“Okay please don’t discuss the detailed version of your fantasies,” he begged her. He was better off without knowing girlish fantasies right now. Having an elder sister who is a fan of Hritik Roshan is more than enough for him to get an idea of what idol worshipping, and fan girls meant.
“If you are not aware, even your John Abraham is a vegetarian,” he added just out of habit.
She blinked at him. How come he knew more details about her favorite actor than she does?
“How do you know?” she asked him “I thought you’re not interested in Indian actors?”
“I have a sister” he sighed as if that would explain everything, and sure enough she nodded understandingly.
She stared at her cookie container and suddenly asked him.
“What according to you is a healthy appetite?”
“Alright, this is not manners to say but eww only fruits? You might not have tasted these before. I swear you wouldn’t leave them once you taste them” she shoved the container at his face practically, leaving him no choice but to accept her offer.
“This is not necessary. Seriously, I trust you. These are the bestest cookies ever. Okay?” he said not caring that there’s no such word called bestest.
“You’ve to eat it. That’s it”
“Tell me one reason”
“For our friendship at least?”
“Friendship?” his voice boomed. The last time he checked, she was trying her best to make his life hell. Then when did this happen, that too without his knowledge? “Are we friends?”
“Well,” she paused “Not until now, but” she grinned and extended her arm “Friends?” she asked smiling at him.
He saw her extended hand and looked back at her face, which now held a smile. While she waited for him to make a move, they both heard one of the buffaloes making a weird sound soon enough she said “See even Tina wants us to be friends?”
“Tina who?” he asked perplexed.
“Tina is that buffalo which sat to the extreme left?” she explained sagely.
The expression on his face was priceless. His jaw dropped and his eyebrows shot up, touching his hair.
“Well not my fault I need a name for easy reference and Tina was my batch mate who was a snob so I—” she trailed off as she saw him press his lips tight. She could see the tiny movements at his cheeks and she knew what he was up to.
“You’re laughing” she accused him.
He shook his head, denying, but didn’t dare open his mouth.
“Don’t lie. I know you are” she said, and he burst out laughing, while she looked at his laughing form annoyed and fascinated.
“Please” he said between his laughs “tell me” he said when another wave of laughter hit him, choking him with tiny gasps “that the other buffalo’s name isn’t Meena”
“It—it— how do you know?” she asked him with her hands on her hips.
“Intelligent guess again” he said while he was hit with another fit of laughter. He had to seriously stop doing that, she thought miffed. She can’t even think of a witty comeback when he laughed like that. His laughter distracted her. Wait a minute, shouldn’t it be the other way round? Shouldn’t be a girl’s (her) smile so captivating instead of a guy’s (his)?
She groaned mentally, and looked at him who now had tears in his eyes.
She long back took back her extended arm and crossed it before her chest, forgetting totally about the friendship offer she made to him. However, he surprised her now by extending his arm.
“Friends?” he asked smiling, tilting his head to a side.
She felt her heart did a little flip flop, for what she knew not. Clearing her throat, she announced nonchalantly “I would accept only if you promise me something?” She added immediately “You should accept my cookies”
“Deal” he grinned at her, while she smiled back taking his extended hand in hers.
Pulling her hand back immediately, she thrust a cookie in his hand. “Have one, at least now if you want me to sleep peacefully without any guilt gnawing at me that is”
He shook his head smiling and took a cookie. “Here, happy?”
“Very much” she grinned, and took one for her and popped it in her mouth. “Aww! Bliss” She moaned closing her eyes.
“Eat” she insisted when she noticed him staring at her strangely, with the cookie still half way from his mouth.
He smiled and took a bite. She was indeed true. These were too delicious.
“Good, isn’t it?”
“Told you so” she said smiling victoriously.
“Are these by any chance, your hand made?”
“If they were, you wouldn’t have been alive now. Trust me I cook horrible”
“Does this cookies company belong to you or something like that?”
“Nah. Why are you asking anyway?”
“Then why are you promoting them?” he asked.
“Ta-daa, we are back to our original self” she said throwing her hands in the air “Here I shared my cookies and you are taunting me?” she puffed air and blew some loose strands that fell on her face.
“Ah, well, I was just curious” he smiled at her, but as she looked away, he sighed “Alright. I am sorry” he said holding his ears.
She grinned facing him.
“Apologies accepted” she said, showing her palm to him as if blessing him.
“You’re such a drama queen” he shook his head at her, smiling.
“Took too long for you to figure out” she laughed and winked at him.
Both of them shared a hearty laugh but the moment was short lived as the truck came to a halt the next minute Happy singh called them.
“Kuriye, Bhai saab, Lucknow is here”
Both looked at each other, grabbed their bags, got down, thanked the driver, and waved to him.
Once the truck was out of sight, he turned to her.
“So?” he asked.
“I’ve to catch the next bus to Delhi. And you?”
“Next flight to London” he said.
“Nice meeting you”
“Same here” she said as she smiled warmly.
She thought to give him those cookies, now that they are parting ways, it would be all that she could do to him, as a memory of their little friendship. “Hold it on for a moment,” she hence asked him, thrusting her purse in his hands, as she was busy fishing for her cookie tin in her travel bag.
While she thrust her purse in his hands, he caught it almost reflexively, all the while thinking about something to say to her. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again. In this little time they knew each other, he couldn’t say exactly what it was which made this night memorable, but he was sure that he wouldn’t forget this night or her ever. He heard and said those clichéd words “Nice meeting you” so many times in his life, but this time, he knew he meant it. He decided to ask her, her name at least. He cleared his throat, but soon got distracted as he felt her phone vibrate, which was in the purse.
“I think you are getting a call,” she heard him say.
The sudden mention of her phone ringing made her blood run cold. Bloody hell, did they find her missing already?
“Oops! I forgot to switch it off” she mumbled as she took her purse and grabbed the mobile. She was about to abort the call but stopped as she watched the caller ID. It wasn’t from her home. It was from Varun. And it was one phone call which apparently changed her life…
* * *