He looked over his shoulder, as he felt the familiar scent of sandalwood touching him, and of course he found her tapping her feet restlessly, standing on the line behind him waiting for her turn to order.
He was on one of the long lines at MC Donalds, in the mall with her standing just behind him, as he observed now. Rahul and Anjali, he checked on once more, were seated in the food court, and were waiting for him to return.
He saw her meet his gaze at the moment, his gaze swept past her face, her eyes lightening with recognition.
“Hey” she said, her voice soft.
“Are you following me?”
If anything, the small smile on her lips vanished as she looked at him, with creased brow.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name. What is it? Barack Obama, or Bill Gates, or Hritik Roshan?”
His brown eyes were aglow with amusement as the crooked smile of his made its way to his lips.
“Palash. Palash Khurana”
“Bond. James Bond” he heard her add.
He smiled at her narrowed eyes.
“Are you always this cheezed off, or today is anything special?”
She sighed. “Sorry for the tantrum” she said.“It’s just that I’m not in a great mood”
He gave her an understanding nod.
“But hello, not entirely my fault, what do you think you are? Tom Cruise, that I will follow you to secretly strike you when you are least expecting and kidnap you?”
“Doesn’t seem impossible to me” he said but she recognized the crooked smile, and knew he was teasing her. Oh well, two can play the game at a time then.
“Just so as you know, the probability of you being a kidnapper is also there. Who knows, you have a chloroform coated hand kerchief stuffed in your pocket readily”
“You expect me to kidnap you with two kids in tow? Why would I need a third kid to baby sit?”
“Maybe you are hanging out with two kids to show you aren’t that dangerous after all” she said with her hands crossed across her chest, and tilted her head in challenge. A beat later, the latter part of his sentence sunk in and her hands dropped to her sides. “Did you just call me a kid?”
He smiled at her, and turned to the counter, sensing it was his turn, and placed the order, moving aside, letting her to take the honour of ordering.
When she grudgingly placed her order, and moved aside, both waiting for their respective orders, she caught his eye and raised an eyebrow demanding an answer.
Sorry if I mistook your age but the way you got along with my niece and giving competition to her to fight with my nephew, I had no choice not to”
“Anjali is sweet” she said as her defence.
“And what did Rahul do to you?”
“He is a brother. That’s enough for him to get in my bad books.”
Upon the bemusement in his eyes, she explained “Come on I am a tortured soul of a sister, and I vowed to protect every other sister like me, and be mean to every brother on planet earth”
“What’s your age again Miss Nitya?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “You won’t understand it Mr. Khurana”
“For your information, your attempts doesn’t dodge Rahul’s feelings towards you” Palash said in a conspiring tone. “The kid seems to have it bad, for you”
Nitya looked at him, her face scrunched up, and saw a knowing smile on his lips. Looking over towards the seat where the kids sat, she saw Rahul give her a dreamy look, and almost gagged.
“Congratulations Miss Nitya” he said, his voice amused “Or should I say welcome to the family?”
“Oh please,” she said facing him “I can crush his crush in a second. I can give people lessons on how to do that. Dude, it is difficult to have someone fall for you, it is so damn easy to not let them”
Palash just crossed his arms, and raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t believe it, do you?” she said facing him. “Why don’t you bet Mr. Khurana?”
“I can’t see you lose Miss. Nitya”
“Ha ha” she said dryly.“One walnut Brownie please” she said to the girl and faced him. “You’ll pay for it if I win” she said and walked towards the kids, while he stood there watching her back.
“Hi again” she said to the kids, pinched the nose of Anjali playfully, next she went to Rahul, who removed his baseball cap the moment she was close, lest she pull it over his eyes again.
She grinned at him and ruffled his hair, next, she pulled his cheeks, and called him “Cute kid”
After a while, she returned to Palash and said in a breathless whisper “Yoohoo! He hates me”
Despite himself, Palash smiled.
“You don’t have to buy a Walnut Brownie, you need to earn it” she said attempting a deep rumble of a voice, and giggled as their orders arrived.
As Nitya met Palash’s eyes, she saw his gaze stop at her face a moment longer than necessary, and she thought she saw something in his eyes, something strange and magnetic but the moment passed, as soon as it had come. However, that small moment made her smile freeze, as the air around them suddenly seemed strange, tensed.
“Uh” she said trying to pick the conversation they left, while Palash placed the Brownie in her tray, and together they made their way towards the food court.
“It takes more than that for someone to hate you Miss Nitya” he had said, and while she had tried to understand what he meant by the cryptic statement, they already reached the kid’s table. While he placed his tray on the table, Nitya smiled good-naturedly at the kids, and feeling awkward, started to make a move.
“Nitya?” she heard him call, dropping the Miss, he usually used.
Surprised, Nitya turned towards him.
“You can sit with us” Palash said, and for a moment Nitya looked at him, not breaking the gaze, knowing that it wasn’t an order, but an offer.
When she averted her eyes after a moment, she wasn’t sure why she felt her heartbeat pick up speed.
“I would love to” Nitya said avoiding his gaze, strictly looking at a smiling Anjali “But I’m sorry, I am with someone” she said, looking over her shoulder, and soon enough Palash saw the man who came into the washroom talking on phone wave at her.
Palash gave her a nod, while Nitya walked towards her own table.
As they both took their respective places, in their respective tables, they strangely still lived in the conversation that happened a few minutes ago, one of them silently shutting out an inner voice and concentrating on the kids, while the other blocking out the voice of the man before her and slipping into the recent past.