48. A Night Like this
Maan looked at her quietly as they were suspended in the air, several metres above the earth, dangling in a car with just the three of them; him, Geet and Rey.
The Giant wheel was filling up one by one, and their cab was on the top, as the lowest cab was filled now.
Maan didn’t tear his gaze away from her, partly because that was what he had been doing all evening; watching both of them and partly because he wanted to see how long she would behave as if he didn’t exist…
She had of course come to the fair, which he was certain of, as it was for Rey.
The happy grin on his nephew’s face was priceless, and he was jumping all way, while Geet had to keep up with the little monster running around the fair, demanding a million things on his way.
Geet and Rey forgot that he came with them, and walked hand in hand, cotton candies in their hands, so huge that it covered their faces, and huge goggles that were far far wider than their faces perched on the bridge of their noses.
They looked so at ease, giggling about as they decided on which ride they were going to take. They settled for Giant wheel.
Maan stood back and watched them from an arm’s length all the time, with some sort of warm sensation in his heart. Amused he was of course, but it took a back seat at that moment, as he saw them laughing about.
He would have stayed in background for longer, but as he saw her nervous gaze towards the Giant Wheel, he thought better of it as he went forward and bought tickets for all of them, leading them towards their car.
It was slightly difficult for her of course, to be stuck in the same car and pretend he never existed, when he was sitting right across her, while she had his nephew in her arms, talking to him, and showing him the view from up above.
Her gaze did skitter around and she bullishly kept her gaze on the top of his head, amusing him to no end.
With his elbow perched on the top of his knee, his face cupped in his palm, he looked at the duo with interest.
He knew him staring at her directly would cause her discomfort, and so with a smile he waited.
He saw her move uncomfortably in her seat, and saw her slightly raise her eyes to pass him a look.
As their cab went down slowly, as the Ferris wheel picked up its speed, had it happened. There were excited as well as scared shouting everywhere. There were screams of fear and joy in equal measure, but everything faded into oblivion as Maan saw the two people before him laugh aloud, hoot and scream at the top of their lungs, the scream half way turning into a bout of laughter.
With her eyes closed, her head falling back, the veil of her dress flying around, she was as carefree as a bird, her laugh as vibrant as the colour of the evening sky. Something nobody was ever privy to… it felt as if she let herself out of all the strings that always held her back, and that moment, Maan knew would stay in his mind’s eye for a longer time to come…
The devious little devil Rey slipped from her hold, and ran straight into Maan’s arms, laughing, as the uncle-nephew duo now faced Geet who was surprised at the sudden turn of events, slightly conscious of being watched so, and also nervous as she suddenly felt alone, as the cab swung in the air, making her look down.
It was a mistake to do so, because, she felt dizzy and hell lot scared about the Ferris wheel that she was enjoying till that moment.
Her body coiled, as she closed her eyes, holding the rod tight. She closed her eyes tighter and whimpered when the cab slightly moved.
She didn’t see it coming at all, when she felt a presence next to her. When she did open her eyes, Maan was sitting next to her, his arm wound over her chair, Rey in his lap, his gaze unwavering and unblinking, looking right at her.
She hoped to see mockery in the eyes, but there wasn’t any. As she saw nothing but sincerity in those eyes, she had to look away, as his presence; close yet far pushed every little doubt of hers, every fear of hers away, overpowering her with nothing but awareness…
Geet sat on the cold rock mystified. The rest of the evening should have gone in a blur. She wished it was. Only that it wasn’t. His presence around them wasn’t as passive as she would have liked.
With Rey’s hands steadily enclosed in his, while the child’s other hands was filled with a dozen balloons, the man walked next to her, unmindful of everything around him, making her feel as if this was natural, as if this wasn’t a misfit…
She had never seen him relax around her, and for the first time when she did see him at ease, his lips as much upturning to a small smile as he spoilt little Rey with an ice cream…
Geet recalled the entire outing and felt herself shiver.
She heard him ask, and looked up at him, who was standing quite few steps away from her, lighting a cigarette.
The dusk was falling now, and they stopped somewhere in the middle of their drive, amongst some rocky place. At first, it might have been an accidental stoppage, but as he got out of the car, taking a sleeping Rey in his arms, and walked few steps away, she had debated with herself for certain amount of time before she got out of the car herself and followed him onto one of the large mountainous rocks, that spread out before her, which overlooked the entire city.
As he didn’t hear her reply, he walked towards her, going on his knee as he faced her, and repeated himself.
“Are you feeling cold?”
“Not much. Thank you”
There was a tone of detachment as much as there is awareness she tried to hide in that answer.
As the violet of the sky darken, she saw his lips curve into one of his lopsided smile.
“Are you always this vicious or am I any special?”
She met his eyes, in the dim light.
“With effort does people bring out the best or worst in a person”
“I bring out the worst in you, you say” he said taking the puff of the smoke and leaving it.
“I would request you to stay away while you smoke, the kid’s sleeping”
Maan put out his cigarette by crushing it against the rock, without an answer.
“I am sorry”
Geet looked at him surprised, on hearing words which she never thought would hear, not from this man’s mouth.
“Thank you” she said, heartfelt. What was it for, she herself didn’t know. Was it for the evening or was it for this gesture, or was it because of what he did in the Ferris wheel. It was hard to say. She never felt anything as inexplicable and as impulsive as she felt for this man. One moment he filled her with anger she never thought she was capable of bearing, another moment he filled he with tenderness.
“Wondering why I bought you here?” his voice disturbed her out of her musings.
This place was a favourite hangout of his few years back. Away from the city, but still showed the major chunk of it, the city lights glinting like diamonds studded in a jewel. This place had seen the best and worst parts of his growing up.
Whenever he needed a break, he was here, either drowning his frustrations with a can of beer, or just sitting at the hill top viewing the blackness of the night. It had been a personal place, and it surprised himself why he got her here, of all the places, but as he sat next to her and faced the far off glinting of city lights, he felt it strangely right to be here, with her.
He met her eyes now, and smiled at the question in her eyes. “You’ll see” he said as he took his sleeping nephew in his arms, waking him up gently.
As the sleepy kid rubbed his eyes groggily, had Geet saw the first set of colourful lights going off in the sky.
One by one, the sky was filled with patterns, as crackers went up in the sky, going off, forming patterns, and lightening up the entire place.
Diwali was over by a couple of days, Geet knew, but at some places the left out crackers go on for the next couple of days.
And at that instant three of them sat there, quite far from the celebrations, yet a part of the festivities lightening up their lives.
Geet felt her heart fill with peace and tranquillity as she felt some of the light crop in, inside her life, without her permission, and in that instant, had she felt his warm hand, slightly resting over hers, and a heartbeat later, felt the hand over hers, turn into a warm grip, lacing her fingers with his, setting out her heart into an erratic beat…