Mumbai’s weather was always unpredictable. One can never assume how long a bright sunny day will remain before clouds converge and rains start heavily. Today was such a day. I woke up to the sun’s rays on my face and now it is raining like the sun has gone on vacation since the last few days. Clouds were gathered in the sky and the fragrance of wet mud filled up my nostrils.
In spite of being annoyed by the weather, I decided to enjoy it with a cup of coffee and my favorite book. So I settled down in my balcony with three of my favorite things: books, coffee and music. I am fascinated by rains, because it makes everything look fresh and new. The surroundings become much cleaner and the trees look brighter. The birds come out to sing their melodious tunes once again. I saw a couple trying to shelter themselves from the rain. The whole scene was visible from my balcony and a chill breeze took me down my memory lane.
It was April, 2008. Summer had just started and it was the first rain of the season. No one was prepared for it, not even me. I was just waiting in the bus stop when it started raining heavily. I was getting late for office but there was no sign of any buses about. I was so disturbed and absent-minded that I stepped out of the shelter and got drenched. But I still looked around desperately for any means of public transport.
After a few minutes I realised somebody was watching me. A guy sitting in his Audi and dressed in formals was noting me intently. I shrugged off the discomfort and continued waiting for the buses. But I could not help noticing that he was looking at me unwaveringly with a smile on his face from the other side of the road. I got a strange sense of courage to confront him and walked up to him.
“What is your problem?” I demanded. When he didn’t I answer, I repeated the question angrily.
“No… No… nothing.” He snapped out of his reverie.
“Then why are you staring at me continuously?” I asked, anger fuelling my adrenaline.
“You look very beautiful.”
I wanted to slap him, but he corrected his words urgently. “Sorry! I didn’t mean in the creepy way. No bus, auto or cab will come in the place where you were standing.”
I frowned, completely confused.
He replied as he read my mind. “Didn’t you read today’s newspaper? Today is bandh – strike for all public vehicles. Transport strike. No bus or auto or cab will run today.” He said softly.
My face reddened as I realised he was right. I remembered reading that piece of news in the morning’s newspaper but it had completely slipped my mind due to assignment pressure. I felt very silly.
“I’m here since a long time and I was looking at you. Don’t get me wrong… But why did you step out of the shelter and get so wet?”
“I was… in a hurry and eagerly waiting for the bus.” I said, scoffing at myself.
“If you don’t mind, can I drop you somewhere?” he offered.
“No, I’ll manage.” I said curtly.
He sensed my uneasiness and started convincing me. “Don’t worry. I’m not a bad guy. You can trust me. I won’t hurt you!”
I just shook my head. He then introduced himself. “I’m Akshit.”
I said a customary hello and looked in the other direction. The roads were empty and there weren’t any options to reach office. He went inside his car and I was not very interested in what he was doing. I was desperate to reach my office. He rummaged in his car dash for a moment and emerged with his ID proof and his visiting card. I asked caustically, “Why are you showing me all this?”
He just patiently held them out. I glanced at them and was surprised. I raised my eyebrows and asked, “Are you the Akshit Mehra? Owner of the BuzzWorld advertising company?”
He smiled at me. “Yes. The same.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. He was the same person I wanted to meet for an interview because I was attracted by his work in the advertising industry. I had read about him in the newspaper a few days ago. I was so angry at myself for not making the connection. I wanted to console myself. It was not entirely my mistake. Any girl in my place would have done the same thing. I felt silly, and introduced myself.
“Hi… I’m Shriti Malhotra. I work in print media advertising.”
“Basically a journalist.” He observed.
Things were slightly better between us after I’d introduced myself. He was visibly relaxed. Thankfully I had done damage control before he thought I had low IQ.
“So… now that we know each other… Will you?” He stuck to his original question.
“We know only each other’s names!” I pointed out.
“If you feel unsafe, just take my car for now. I’ll call my driver and he can bring another one for me.” He casually offered.
I felt ashamed by all my refusal by that time. Also bogged down by his generosity. I didn’t have the guts to deny his offer anymore and smiled as I got into the shotgun seat. He got behind the wheel and smiled.
I had to go to the office but by then my wet clothes had made me feel unwell. So I decided.
“I want to go home!”
“I can understand. But I need to know the location to drop you!”
I felt stupid again. I grinned apologetically. “Defence Colony, Modi Road.”
He started driving with a grin. After a while, things became casual. The awkwardness disappeared. While talking, I came to know that he had been admiring me from afar for half an hour before I spoke to him. He called me for a coffee out of the blue. But seeing as it was a treat after the rain and the cold, I accepted. I was also embarrassed about the over reaction so I couldn’t refuse. He drove to the nearest CCD.
I was surprised by his actions. I had heard a lot about him via magazines, newspapers and the internet. All of that had given me the impression that he must be a proud, egoistic, self-centred person. But he broke all of my assumptions and turned out to be the complete opposite of what I had imagined. I also realised that we had a lot of similarities. He had lost his parents in a car accident and was a self-made man. He was a workaholic, he lived alone and cared about traditions, relationships and knew how to respect women. I came to know a lot about him in a very short span of time. It felt like I’d known him for years. My respect for him grew with every passing minute.
After talking about himself for some time, he wanted to know about me.
“I want to know a little more about this beautiful angel sitting next to me, lost in her own world!”
For the first time in my life, I didn’t hesitate to tell everything about myself to a stranger. The way he asked made me fall for him.
I burst out laughing immediately as he asked but I corrected myself immediately. “Sorry. But the way you asked is very cute! Well… there’s nothing very exciting about me. I’m Shriti. I live in Mumbai and…”
He held up a hand to stop me. “I didn’t ask your resume. I want to know you. Up close and personal.”
I looked straight into his eyes, seeing his pupils dilate. “Okay… I’m not a Mumbai girl. I was born and brought up in a small town called Kasauli. It is a beautiful town in the lap of the Himalayas. My parents are no more. I have an elder brother who settled in the US 5 years ago. I came here for my job and fell in love with this city. I have always loved mysteries and unravelling puzzles. So I ended up becoming a journalist.”
I took a deep breath, surprised to note that he had been listening attentively. He surprised me with a totally unpredictable answer.
“You know… when I saw you at the bus stop, I had this weird intuition that you were just like me. You can call me a psychic in that sense. Now, after knowing about you, I believe I’m right.”
I smiled, unsure how to react.
He continued. “And what about your boyfriends?”
I raised my eyebrows and countered, “How many girlfriends do you have?”
“You’re too smart, Shriti.” He smiled and added. “It’s very difficult to trust someone in this city.”
I asked him what he meant but he ignored my question with a shrug. He stuck to his original questions. “I have not found anyone who could make my heart dance and be just like me. Also, I don’t believe in short term relationships.”
I could sense that he was much relaxed after my answer. I didn’t understand then that what was happening was not merely coincidence. Everything was happening for a reason. I had a strong feeling that our meeting and that short journey to my home with him had a much deeper meaning hidden in it. Something I had always been waiting for was about to happen.
For a moment, I thought that the weather reflected my inner turmoil and dilemma because it was raining cats and dogs. We got stuck in a traffic jam, but I was not very worried. I was enjoying Akshit’s company and felt like I was on cloud nine. It was not a secret to me anymore that I had started liking him. I looked at him curiously.
“Why were you admiring me at the bus stop? And why did you say I look beautiful?”
He cleared his throat. “I already told you that. When I first looked at you, I had an intuition that you were just like me.”
“That, I already know.”
“Then what else do you want to know, Shrithi?”
“The answer you’re refusing to give.” I said. But I noticed his eyes shift nervously so I added, “It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me, Akshit. Maybe when you feel comfortable…”
“No… It’s not that. I’ll surely explain. But let me first understand why I reacted that way.” He offered an excuse.
I knew he was hiding something. He was not going to reveal his heart or mind. Suddenly I felt a little uncomfortable. He sensed it immediately.
He held my eyes. “Look, Shriti. I don’t want to tell you something which seems senseless now. Let the perfect time come. I swear I’ll answer your every question.”
And I looked into his eyes, trying to decipher what ‘perfect time’ meant.
“What? Why are you behaving as if we won’t meet each other again? Is it? Will you not meet me again if I call you?” He grinned mischievously.
“No… Obviously we can be friends and meet again. But…”
Akshit forestalled me with a smile. “You have to trust!”
I kept looking at him, confused about everything. What was happening to me? Why did I want to trust someone I had met only a few hours ago? Why did my heart yearn to know more about him? Why did I want him to talk as long as he could so I could listen to his voice? Hours went by. The sun had begun to set but we were still stuck in that never ending jam.
The stars were about to light up the night sky and I got a strange thought. I was going to spend a night with a stranger in his car, away from home! That thought scared me. A certain uneasiness spread inside me. We were helpless as we looked at each other. What else could we do in that condition?
I had always seen Mumbai running 24X7. But that day, the city froze. We both kept talking to each other, sharing a lot of stories about our schools, colleges, crushes and other memories. The sun had set and risen but we hadn’t even moved a kilometre ahead. But it had begun clearing slowly. The rains had stopped and we were relieved. My eyes were getting heavy with sleep. I don’t remember when sleep caught me. When I opened my eyes, we were on our society road. I was surprised. I turned to see Akshit looking at me.
“When did we reach here?”
“Half an hour ago.” He replied.
“God! Why didn’t you wake me up?” I asked, shocked.
“You were sound asleep. I didn’t want to break your dreams.” He replied softly.
“Since yesterday, I’m trying to understand you. Sometimes, when I think I have, you always break my illusions.” I confessed.
“Aren’t you supposed to show me your home?” He avoided my confession too.
I smiled and guided him towards my apartment.
Finally after an entire day, I was back home. Akshit was observing my apartment carefully. Without asking him, I went straight to my kitchen table to make coffee for us. He was sitting in my drawing room, observing my paintings. We sat together and enjoyed our coffee while I answered his questions about my paintings.
After a while, He said, “Shriti, I think I should leave now.” We had been together for the whole day but still my heart wanted to stop him. I couldn’t. Then I bid him goodbye and also apologised for my behaviour.
“Don’t be stupid, Shriti. That jam would’ve happened anyway. Thank god you were there. How would I bear it alone?” He said calmly.
After he left, I felt too good and slightly strange. I looked at my house, and suddenly everything looked new to me. A strange warmth was spreading inside my heart. I was lost in my reverie when I recalled that I had to inform my office about my absence. I informed HR and went straight to my kitchen where I cooked Maggi for myself. I ate some and went straight to my bedroom.
I was asleep within seconds. It was 10 PM when I woke up. I had overslept and my head was spinning. I also had an urge to drink tea. I made some for myself and came out to the terrace, wondering whether or not to call Akshit. My mind refused but heart demanded. Mind won, though. I logged onto the social networking sites and searched for him there. Unfortunately, he was not there. Disappointed, I went to sleep again.
Days went by. Mornings became evenings, teasing me with an uneasy feeling. Every evening, I debated calling him but my mind always won over my heart. I missed him though life was going on the same track. A month had passed. Sometimes I spent whole nights rolling over in my bed, thinking of calling him. But I never did have the courage. Time was running at the usual speed but for me it had stopped. It was a few days later, when I was sitting in my cabin, that I got a call.
“Hey, is this Shriti?” The voice from the other end took my breath away. I kept silent, pretending ignorance.
“Yeah! Who’s this?” I asked firmly
“Akshit. I hope you remember me?” He hesitated.
“Oh Yeah! Of course, I do. How are you?” I replied, faking surprise.
“I’m good. How are you?” He asked with the same politeness.
“I’m good, Thank you.”
“Sorry, I had to rush to US for some urgent work. But I want to meet you. Can you come?” He asked in a single breath.
“I… I am sorry but what is the urgency? Is everything alright?” His eagerness increased my anxiety.
“Please, don’t say no. I’ll answer everything you ever asked me.” He pleaded..
“Okay! I have to check my schedule and confirm.” I tried a false excuse.
“I know you can come. Texting you address details. Please come.” He said in an clear tone.
I was dying to meet him again but I had to maintain some dignity. After a few minutes, he sent me a text with the details. I was wondering. Why had he called me so urgently? Getting no answers, I gave up and checked the message he sent me.
He had invited me to a nice restaurant. I reached there exactly at 7 as he had messaged me. I looked around but found him no-where. I stepped inside the restaurant and was surprised to see that the whole area was decorated nicely. The manager came ahead and asked my name, leading me to a table and informing Akshit will join me shortly. I went to the second table in the middle of the room and waited for Akshit. I was wondering why the whole place was decorated so beautifully. Why was there no one else? Why had Akshit called me here? Did he plan all this for me? I was lost in my thoughts when Akshit joined me. We hugged each other and he drew a chair for me. I couldn’t resist my urge so I asked frankly, “Akshit, why we are here?” I was nervous and he sensed that.
He smiled, “I knew this would be the first question. Believe me I will answer your every question. But before that I want to ask something to you.”
I looked at him steadily as he asked a bunch of questions.
“Would you mind if I ask whether you missed me all these days? Did you also want to call me the day I dropped you? Were you also eager to talk to me, like I was? Did you also want desperately to meet me again, like I did? Did you also feel a strange kind of pain inside your heart whenever you thought of me?”
I looked away from his intense eyes, “What kind of questions are these?”
I was lost. I couldn’t find my words to answer him. I couldn’t admit the answers I knew.
“Shriti… Please, I want to know your answers. Did you? Or did you not?” he pleaded.
I was still resolutely looking away. But he requested me to look at him. I was scared that he’d know my answers if I looked at him one more time. But I turned and our eyes locked. I noticed the pain in those brown eyes, which held me in their manic intensity, speaking a language of their own. As if he got his answer, Akshit got up from his chair and knelt in front of me. He had a ring in his hand.
“I got all my answers in those eyes. Will you marry me, Shriti?”
I was shocked. Tears were streaming down my cheeks.
“Say it, Shriti. Will you?”
“Akshit… What is this? Please stand up. Please. Why are you doing all this?”
But he wanted his answer, and did not budge. I closed my mouth resolutely as he stood up after a few minutes, after repeated pleading.
“What are you doing, Akshit? What do you even know about me? Why do you want to marry me? How do you know whether I love you or not?”
He held my hand gently, looking into my eyes. His replies were patient.
“I’m trying you to convince you to marry me. What I know about you now is enough for me. I want to marry you because I love you and need your presence in my life. Do you remember the day I first saw you and kept looking at you? I fell in love with you straightaway. That was why I complimented you directly. I loved the way you ignored me at first, then started talking with me, and the embarrassment you felt. I love the way you laughed at yourself, I loved how you became comfortable with me and made me feel the same. I loved your eagerness to know me better. I loved watching you sleep. I loved everything about you. I’m just asking you to love me back as much as I love you because I want to spend my whole life with you.”
He paused, out of breath while tears brimmed in my eyes.
“Hey… what happened? Did I say something wrong? Did I hurt you?” he asked, his eyes pained.
“I never had anyone in my life who loved me so much. No one expressed their love for me like you do. I never expected to be loved so deeply by someone. Today, when you confessed those things, I couldn’t believe my destiny.” I stopped, unable to go on.
He wiped my tears away and held me in his embrace.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. My love for you will only increase with each passing day.” He promised and slid that ring onto my finger.
The kiss happened naturally and was heavenly. We sat side by side, chatting for a long time. He dropped me home and I clearly remembered as he said, “Just a few more days, and then we’ll be living together forever, honey!”
Within a few weeks, we got married and I shifted to his house.
So many years have gone by but Akshit has held to his promise. He still remembered his promises to me. In my life experiences, I realised that love just happened. We don’t always need years to know someone. Sometimes, a single moment is all it takes.