She doesn’t like loud noises.
She opens the door and smiles breathlessly.She must’ve run to open it.
She doesn’t like to run.
“Hi,” she says, with a quick wave.
My hands were shaking with exuberance. I manage to lift it out of my pocket and wave back.
She likes to wave.
“Hi,” I say, “Am I disturbing you?”
She frowns and shakes her head. “Don’t be silly.”
She opens the door wider, gesturing me to come in. I step inside and find her parents looking at their unexpected guest. They ask me to sit. I oblige.
I look around as she closes the door and joins the three of us awkwardly sitting in the living room. She eases the tension between us by introducing me to them.
So, hey. Uh…” I begin. “This is kind of emergency. You are needed right away.” I cock my head towards the neighbour’s house, which is her best friend’s house, who also happens to be my cousin.
She narrows her eyes and glances towards her phone next to her. ‘She would’ve called me…”
I cut her off. “You know how busy she’s been with the festivities starting tomorrow. She’s pretty exhausted. She wants you to go through everything once.”
Her father asks her, “Is it really important? Can’t it wait till tomorrow? You can leave early.”
“Yes,” she nods seriously.
NO! I want to scream back.
“As if,” she continues, “anyone would be awake that early. It won’t take long, I promise. I’ll call you if I’m spending the night. Just don’t worry, okay? Please?”
They have ‘WORRY’ plastered all over their face. But they give in.
She jumps up in joys and claps. I laugh.
I like that she can make me laugh.
She tells me she’ll just wear a jacket and come downstairs. I tell her I’ll meet her outside. I nod politely to her parents and wish them goodnight, and go outside.
A few moments later, I see her practically jumping off the stairs. It is then in the street light that I register what she’s wearing. A grey hoodie, halfway up her left arm, underneath which she’s wearing a navy blue tank top and white pyjamas with snowflakes print. Quite contradictory to the season, and also to what I’m wearing.
She reaches me and we walk quietly for a while. We pass 4 houses when she finally breaks the silence.
“Oh, my parents are NOT going to like this,” she says with a nervous laughter.
“We can always go back,” I say.
Not going to happen.
She looks at me in absolute disbelief. “Are you kidding me? I don’t know what plans you’ve made but I really hope it’ll be worth all the lying.”
“My plan will be,” I tell her, looking straight ahead. “If only you could lose yourself and try to enjoy, for once.”
She playfully elbow-jabs me in the gut and we laugh. I resist the urge to put my around her and pull her closer to me.
I love that she can’t stay mad for more than two seconds.
I take her to my car parked at the end of the road and it doesn’t take 10 minutes for us to reach the outskirts of the city, near the beach. Her face is flush with excitement when she realizes our destination.
As we get closer, she rolls down her window, and the balmy salty air rushes in. I do the same. She’s resting her elbows in the window and looking outside, breathing it all in. I need to look at her. Right now.
“Hey,” I call out to get her attention. She turns to look at me with a blissful and peaceful look on her face, as if I woke her from a trance.
“What’s your favourite spice?” I ask on an impulse.
“Cinnamon,” she says without thinking. She tilts her head questioningly.
I try to keep a straight face and force myself to look at the road. “They say that a person’s favourite spice tells a lot about their personality.”
She grins. “Is this some sort of an amateur chef pick up line? Is there more?”
I laugh at my feeble attempt.
She laughs, too. “Because that was really lame. Even for you.” She looks outside and adds, “Though it might’ve made me like you a little bit more. Tiniest bit more.”
And I think I like you a whole lot more than I did three seconds ago.
“We’re here.” I announce.
We’re in the middle of a shopping street along the coast and I park opposite to the only store that’s open: my favourite snack place. And even that is dimly lit.
She looks at it for a while and looks back at me, confusion clearly visible on her face. “I have a feeling that someone’s going to get raped tonight.”
I laugh and shake my head. “Come on,” I beckon her forward and we go inside together. I let her open the door. She opens it and gasps.
The party was at full swing. She looks at me with her eyes full of excitement. She grabs my hand and pulls me inside with her.
“What is this place?” She shouts over the music.
I lead her to a quieter place near the counter. I help her up on a high stool and take one myself.
I hand her a menu card. “Do you want to eat dinner? Or a small snack? Maybe like ice cream or juice?”
She goes through the menu card and points at vanilla milkshake. I shake my head and say, “This place is known for its chocolate drinks. And you choose vanilla?”
She rolls her eyes. “I hate chocolate,” Unbelievable. I call over the waiter and shake his hand. He hugs me.
She raises her eyebrow.
“Our grandfathers knew each other,” He says with a grin.
I place our orders, her vanilla milkshake and giving him the opportunity to surprise me. We say we’ll be back after a while. He nods.
I take her back to the party place and I tell her, “This is the coolest party in the whole town. Everyone’s invited secretly during day time, you know proper restaurant timings, and you won’t even know if the person sitting next you is invited.”
“This is amazing!”
We finally reach the dance space, weaving through dancing people, drunk people and people who can’t keep their hands off of each other.
She laughs at every one of them with excitement.
Then, a random guy, someone I’ve never seen before asks her to dance. She looks at me, as if asking is this okay?
I smile and nod, and they dance away almost to the centre of the dance floor. I lean against the wall with a glass of soda in my hand and watch her.
I watch her dance with all she’s got.
I watch her and her complicated braid with an emerald stripe fly around.
I watch her as she takes away a huge part of my heart and fills it with herself.
She comes back to where I’m standing and slides down and sits on the floor. I join her and offer her a drink from my soda. She takes a huge gulp.
“You don’t dance,” she notices.
“Nah. I’m not a dance person. Did you enjoy?” I ask her.
Her eyes gleam when she looks at me. “Did you see me dance?”
I blush and nod.
She shakes her head. “That was the best time I’d had since, like, forever.” She breathes out a strand of hair from her face. I pull at her braid, needing her attention.
“Don’t you want your milkshake?”
She smiles breathlessly, and I am reminded again of how well it suits her.
“Before that, I need to dance with you.” She stands and holds out her palm, indicating me to take it.
I shake my head. “No,” But I’m laughing. She laughs, too and grabs my hand and pulls me up. Strong girl.
We walk to where she was dancing earlier, and starts dancing even before reaching the dance floor. I watch her, mesmerized.
“Dance!” She orders. She puts my hands on her hips, and hers around my neck, just as a slow song starts playing. My hand finds little bare skin of her waist just below her tank top. She feels it, and she seems to enjoy it. And we sway a little, not taking our eyes off of each others.
When the song ends, I take her hand and we walk back to the counter and we are greeted with our drinks. Today, mine is a coffee and chocolate frappe. I love that drink.
He hands me the key to the roof and I thank him. I climb up the stairs first and then unlock the door to the roof. I take her hand and lead her outside on the roof. She sucks in her breath when we reach.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispers. Because, spread below us was the ocean, and above us, the infinite number of stars twinkled in a royal blue sky, with a crescent moon in the midst of it all. She sits on one of the wooden picnic tables, taking it all in. I sit next to her and look at her, taking her all in.
I can’t seem to get enough of her.
Finally, she draws a huge breath and looks at me, her eyes tearful.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
I brush her cheek with the back of my hand. She shivers lightly.
“Your drink’s getting cold,” I say. She laughs.
God, I missed her laugh.
We sit quietly as we watch the ocean and sip our drinks, neither of us offering our drinks to the other.
Se finishes and sets her glass down. I do the same.
“So,” she starts, ” ‘Our Grandfathers knew each other’ ?” She quotes with her fingers.
“Yeah,” I say, “My grandfather and his were best friends. My dad and his didn’t get along all that well, but he and I do.”
“It seems to me that there’s a lot more than just getting along.”
“I work here, actually. Been working here for about eight years now. I just love this place so much that I wanted to show you how beautiful it is. I wanted to share the experience with you.”
“Are you allergic to chocolate?” I ask her out of the blue. Well, not really ‘out of the blue’. I wondered about this ever since she turned down my freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and the chocolate chips were still gooey and warm. They were practically irresistible.
She twists her braid over and over again. It takes a while before she talks again.
“You know why I came here?” She asks me.
“You never told me.”
“Well, okay.” She turns completely towards me. “There were two reasons. One of which I will tell you now. The other… When I know I can trust you enough, you will definitely know.”
Now I’m curious.
“Go on,” I prompt her.
She flashes me another breathless smile.
“Okay,” she begins. “Promise not to interrupt me? Or laugh at me?”
Her emerald-green eyes looks up at me pleadingly. It’s hard to say no to those eyes.
It’s hard to do anything but stare at those beautiful eyes.
I shake my head and say, “Fine.”
She takes a deep breath. “So, one afternoon, my girls and I were returning from our usual brunch. I was driving and we were stopped at this really not-so-crowded rich people’s residential area. I asked the police in the most politest why as to why we were stopped. He simple answered checking. So, I got out of my car with my girls and let the police check it. We were standing in the side-walk, when this car pulled up in front of us. A guy gets out of it, probably a few years older than us, and we knew he was this famous politician’s son. We didn’t mind him. That guy just acted as if he was oh-so-hot and was probably sad that us hotties didn’t even care to look at him.”
She grinned. “There’s more. So the checking didn’t take long, just two mins tops. The police officer gave us this ‘clearance ticket’ and told me that I was to show this to any police officer if I was pulled over for checking. I thanked him and waved at my girls to sit inside. We all sat and my hand just went over to turn on the ignition, when the guy from the car comes up to us. I didn’t want to be rude, so rolled down my glass and asked him what he wanted. As if I couldn’t tell. He had this… ugly lopsided grin, which was so ugly that I wouldn’t be surprised if he started drooling. So he puts his head in my window, and he reeked of cigarettes, so I moved back. He said, “Hello beautiful ladies. I hope you all are old enough to vote. Please vote for my daddy!” We exchanged disgusted looks. He kept rubbing his hands and moistening his lips thinking that one of us would kiss him because he was rich. I got really mad, and I told him to back off because I needed to drive. And then the bastard leaned even more inside and whispered loudly, “Your cleavage is fantastic. I’d love to see what’s after it.” ”
She looks like she was trying hard not to punch anything. Or maybe she is just holding back tears of anger. “I lost it then. I slapped him right across face. His ear started bleeding.”
My mouth hangs open. She has an amusing look on her face, as if she’d enjoyed the experience.
“And then?” I asked.
“And then what?” She said. “He, being who he is, filed a complaint against us. We also did. We fought against him in court but it was ruled out as a “Harmless comment.” In fact, even in the court, he tried to play it off by saying that it was a compliment. But anyway, he got out. You know, the funny thing is, I was wearing a boat neck top and it was NO way near my cleavage. And then the court told us how our inappropriate behaviour and dressing provoked him to do this. We were stuck in the media circus. I got fed up. I had no privacy. In my own city. So I left with my parents and came here. ” She finishes off with a smile.
My mouth is still agape. She reaches over and closes it. “You may swallow a star.”
We sit back and enjoy the company of the stars, while I take in every word she’s just said, wondering why she wasn’t here all these years.
I drop her off at her house. Somehow, her playful mood has subsided and she has a look of sadness on her face. I really, really like her. She’s the first person about whom I’ve ever felt like this . I know why she’s hurting, and why I’m hurting, but I just want to make it all go away.
If she could just be happy, like today. If she would just allow me to help her.
We don’t speak a word on the drive back. She gets out of the car and I follow her. She doesn’t go for the front door; instead she uses the back door.
I take a deep breath and say, “Hey. You were really brave, doing that. You don’t need to be sad for that.” But I know it wasn’t that. I know what’s bothering her. It’s the other story. The one which she’s going to tell me when she trusts me enough. The same one which will reveal her hatred for chocolate.
She looks back, and smiles. “Thanks. My own parents were ashamed of me.”
I don’t know what to say, or if words are even necessary, so I just go up to her, cup her face in my hands, brushed her cheekbones with my thumbs, and kissed her on the forehead. “If I were there, I would be the proudest person.” And I walk back to my cousin’s house, not noticing her wiping a tear with the back of her hand.
“Wait,” She calls out. “There’s something I need to tell you.”