It is a truth universally acknowledged that any girl of any cast, colour or creed is always an epitome of unpredictability. And Nirvi was no different. She was, in fact, doubly so because she had two different individuals living in one single frame.
I didn’t catch a glimpse of her for the next six days. And then, Saturday morning, she arrived at my door, once again holding a warm lunchbox
‘Hey, what’s up? All well? Where’s Sam?’ I asked her, surprised by her early visit.
‘Sam has gone away with his friends. They had to meet someone about that protest, and finalize a lot of things,’ said Nirvi. But her eyes did not bother to lie. And in the course of the morning, she let it trickle out that Sam’s plan for the day did include a hefty allowance of fun with his friends.
‘See, I brought you something. You haven’t had breakfast yet, have you?’ she asked, coming in.
‘No, and thanks! What have you brought? I have become so sick of breakfasting on cereals or bread and butter. How did you know I felt like eating something special today?’ my words raced out, drooling over the hot lunchbox.
Nirvi lifted her eyes slowly up to me. ‘How did I know what you were feeling?’ she said, coming closer and standing right in front of me, ‘just as you know what I feel. Just as you always know…’
I smiled, feeling at once proud of myself.
The voice she used could never have belonged to my Lemon Girl. But it suited Nirvi well.
Nirvi hadn’t moved her hands. Yet I felt her touch on me warmly enough. Maybe it was her eyes, or her voice, whatever. It was thrilling. I could see she was in a weird mood. But I didn’t really mind. It was her problem. And I felt great.
‘Nice. And hey, what has been decided about those pamphlets?’ I asked. ‘I told Tiya about Sam’s idea and she…’
‘What a mess,’ Nirvi said, ignoring my words and noticing my room instead.
It wasn’t quite so dirty actually, just a couple of things lying out of place. Okay, maybe four or five things, maybe a couple more. These she started putting back in order without losing much time.
Nirvi evidently liked noticing the disorder of my room and putting it back to order. Seeing her do it felt good to me too, in a warm sort of way.
‘There, that’s done. Breakfast now?’ she asked.
‘Sure,’ I said.
She laid the table for me, putting two plates on it this time.
‘You haven’t eaten either?’ I asked.
‘No, Arsh,’ she said, honey dripping in her voice now, ‘I’m as hungry as ever. But I’m sure you won’t let me stay hungry for long, would you?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘So come,’ she called.
And I went.
She pulled her chair closer to mine and took up the role of the most charming hostess. In a minute, I found my plate heaped with creamy pasta, with a smaller heap of chilly potatoes on the side.
The food was delicious, but the conversation that she let flow between us was more so. She smiled, she laughed, she teased, she blushed at my teasing and she turned sober, serious, and emotional by turns. She made fun of her previous boyfriends, and even Sam. She made me give her lessons in mimicry, and used them to give a most hilarious performance, though with very poor mimicry. An hour passed away, the food vanished, but the chatter still continued.
She asked me about my home, my family, seeming most interested in every detail. I indulged her curiosity happily, hoping she would indulge mine as well. But that still didn’t happen. Every time I tried steering her towards her past, she steered towards my future instead.
‘So, when are you starting that blog of yours? I would love to help you decide its look.’ she said.
‘Wouldn’t Sam mind?’ I asked, allowing my special wicked smile on my face.
‘Maybe, but he need not know. And even if he does, maybe I wouldn’t mind his minding so much now,’ she said, looking straight into my eyes.
‘Good for you,’ I said. Okay, I suspected there was some greater meaning in those words, something that asked for a different response. Her eyes seemed to say so. And they looked disappointed when I failed. But I had eaten too much and it seemed like too much trouble to think that deeply. So ‘good for you’ had to suffice. If she had to say anything, she had to say it clear. Making me decipher meaning wasn’t going to help her.
‘I’m not kidding,’ she said. And she did seem serious and earnest all of a sudden. And her eyes dimmed a little. ‘Don’t waste away your dream in being lazy. Dreams are precious, you know, and you are lucky to have a dream. Tiya has many dreams too and a hundred different plans for her future.’
I could not help but smile at that and almost failed to notice the dwindling of Nirvi’s voice.
‘Having a dream must make it easier to look to the future, right?’ she asked.
‘Everybody has dreams and future plans, no big deal in that,’ I shrugged.
‘No, not everyone,’ she said, lowering her eyes.
But those eyes flicked up the very next instant, bright and alert as before. And so was her voice, bright and alert. ‘I mean not everyone can make his dream true. But I’m sure you would,’ she said, her hand reaching out to caress mine. ‘You’d be great blogger. And your blog would become huge success. And we’d become rich, and…’ she continued as her fingers passed through the gaps between my fingers. Her eyes locked onto mine.
‘Hold on, it’s not so easy. There’s lot of competition,’ I tried to reason. I really didn’t do it on purpose, but as I spoke I saw my thumb had started rubbing her fingers. I stopped and stared at our hands, trying to understand how they had come to be so clasped.
And had she said ‘we’? I wasn’t sure. ‘Why would she say we? I must have been mistaken,’ I thought.
But maybe I wasn’t.
‘Don’t you worry, everything will end up great, just as you want it. And what you want might even be yours already. All you have to do is reach out and take it. Whatever it is. All you have to do is try,’ she said, clasping my hands tighter.
Again I felt the weight of some added meaning in those words. But I ignored that and, ‘Thanks,’ I said, making sure to smile as I spoke.
‘For the encouragement.’
‘And…bringing breakfast for me, cleaning my room.’
‘I liked doing that.’
‘You are a great friend,’ I said. I once again tried to smile, but there was something in her eyes and voice that made me want to scowl instead.
‘Friend?’ she laughed at that word. ‘Do you think I go about cooking breakfast and cleaning rooms of all my friends?’ As she spoke, she leaned the elbow of her free hand on the table and rested her chin on her palm. She smiled and her eyes sent a tickle racing through me.
But along with that arose a sense of irritation. My mind was no longer drowsing. Instead, it raced between past and present, unearthing moments, none of which supported the possibility that she was now attesting. And it was too sudden, too sudden to be real. And she was smiling too much. Her voice was too sweet. Her eyes too full of love, love for me? But her eyes did not just drip honey into my eyes, they were intent and observing too, maybe watching to see how eagerly I lapped up the sweetness she offered.
Well, my body declared its willingness pretty clearly to me. But my mind frowned. It would not believe. It could not believe. There was some game she was playing on me. And I hated to be played upon.
‘I thought you loved Sam,’ I said.
‘I thought so too. And I thought he loved me too. But he loves his duties more. His parents, his country….he…’ she silenced herself and looked away. Probably she had said more than she intended.
And I knew now what she was trying to do. She had become insecure of Sam, so she was trying to latch on to me. Maybe she thought me an easy target, and an eager one too. Disgusting!
I hated Nirvi at that moment. She had killed my Lemon Girl and turned her into a parasite. I hated her.
‘But you do care about me, don’t you?’ she continued, after a moment. ‘You are not like Sam. You feel my pain. Only you. And only you know who I really am,’ she said. Her hand reached up to touch my face. ‘And, Arsh, there’s no greater comfort than having someone who knows.’ Her voice became softer and softer. She moved a strand of hair from my forehead. Slowly, her fingers slipped downwards, closing my eyes and moving lower, down to my lips. ‘Because,’ she breathed out, ‘when you are hurting in your heart, it’s no use even if the entire world asks you how you are feeling. All you need is to be held by someone who doesn’t need to ask.’ Her fingers halted a moment, trembling.
I knew I had to push that hand off. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. She had put me above all the world. And her words were like magnets, pulling me to her. And my arms were more than ready to obey her desire. To hold her, to comfort her, to soothe away all her pain.
But I knew it was all a lie. Not her pain. But her act, her words, her looks…An enchanting lie, but a lie.
She brushed my lips with her fingertips. Then her hand moved lower still, caressing my neck. ‘To be held by someone who…’ she continued in a whisper, coming closer, warming my skin with her breath. Her chest heaved, and her lips were just a hair breath away from mine.
I jumped from my chair and moved away. ‘Don’t you dare,’ I threw at her. ‘Have a little respect for me, if you can’t respect yourself!’
She had already made so many dents in my image of the Lemon Girl. But this was one black stroke I could not bear. Irritation rose up to scorch my skin with thousand pulsating sparks. And all I could do was clench my fists and stare at her. Though I do not know what frustrated me more, her efforts, or the responses that rose up in me because of them. Nirvi had never felt more irresistible as she did then. And I had never hated her more.
Her eyes grew wider, and her endeavours suffered an instant’s interruption. That was the only indication to show that my words hadn’t wasted away like water on a slippery stone. They had entered her consciousness, but she still refused to listen to them.
‘I would dare,’ she said, once again plastering a smile on her face, ‘because I know you want me to. Why are you refusing me?’ she asked, still daring to come close to me.
‘I don’t want you. I already have a girlfriend,’ I declared.
‘No need to lie. I know you have nobody,’ she said, smiling at me.
‘Tiya.’ Tiya was the first name that popped into my mind. But it served well.
‘Tiya is your girlfriend?’ Nirvi laughed. ‘But then, you are not the only one who thinks so.’
‘She is my girlfriend and I am her boyfriend. She likes me. And we are going on a date today evening.’
Nirvi’s eyes had remained fixed at mine all this while. Now, they seemed to bore even deeper. I don’t know what she saw in me. But it did manage to make her give up. For an instant, she seemed to shrink into herself. But just for an instant.
Her one act was over. But even if it was a failure, she was trained enough to quickly put on another mask, and skid over to a different play.
A smile had remained hovering on Nirvi’s lips all this while. It stretched out a little more now. The only difference was that instead of seduction, it bore more a shade of mockery. Although, I can’t say whether that grin of hers was mocking me, or herself.
‘Tiya likes you?’ she asked laughing.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘She would have told me.’
‘Maybe she didn’t want to,’ I threw at her.
Nirvi laughed at this and shook her head.
‘Actually,’ she said, winking at me, ‘Tiya did. Yes, she told me that you two were going on a date today.’
She had seen through my game. As I through hers.
I folded my arms, pursed up my lips and stared at her. There were a hundred things that I wanted to shout out to her. But at that time, I didn’t feel like speaking even a syllable. I just wanted her gone.
‘And I came here today to test whether you deserved her or not. Tiya won’t be your girlfriend till she has my approval of you, you know,’ Nirvi continued, looking straight at me as firmly as if what she was saying was the truest truth in the world.
‘If that’s true then I passed your test, didn’t I?’ I asked.
Nirvi stepped up to me, brushed one finger on my forehead, picking up some droplets of sweat from there.
‘Do you think so?’ she said, waving the finger at me.
Had I known how to growl like a grizzly, I would have used that sound at that moment, because words just couldn’t suffice to communicate my feelings. But as that was beyond my powers, I chose to remain silent and let my eyes glare and growl as loudly as they could.
But it mattered little. There was an impervious shield of indifference that she had folded around her. Nothing seemed capable of piercing that shield, nothing seemed capable of affecting her. She was impossible to reach.
She smiled, fluttered her eyes at me, gathered her lunchbox and was gone in a minute. And I remained standing, staring at empty air and zooming in and out of moments past to try and understand them.
One of those moments reminded me that I was going on a date with Tiya that evening. And Tiya still didn’t know.
I took out my mobile and dialled her number.
‘Hey, Arsh. What’s up?’ said Tiya, answering my call.
‘We are going on a date this evening,’ I told her.
‘Didn’t you hear me? We are going on a date this evening.’
‘Wow, you like doing things suddenly, don’t you? But why would I go on a date with you?’
‘Because I said so.’ Because I had told Nirvi I would. Because I had to make Nirvi believe that Tiya was my girlfriend. Because I had to make myself believe that I had no interest in Nirvi other than plain curiosity. I did not want her. I did not care for her. She had some serious problems, and I had no desire of entangling myself in them. I wanted Tiya. Tiya was a good girl. Tiya was sweet, cheerful, happy and pretty. And rich. I wanted Tiya. And I just had to spend some time with her to make myself believe that more.
‘And where do you propose to take me?’ Tiya asked.
‘You choose,’ I said, and cut the call.
Two mistakes. One, being rude to Tiya. Two, letting her choose where she wanted to go. Big mistakes, both of them. And I knew they were going to cost me dear. But I could not go back on my word. And it didn’t matter. Let Tiya rob me if she wanted to, all I wanted was to be on a date with her that evening.
It was nearly midnight when I drove back towards my apartment. And altogether, the time of the evening had passed away so pleasantly that I would have stretched it out further if I could.
When I had asked Tiya for a date, my first thought had been to make true the claim I had made before Nirvi. But of course, the second thought was there too. And the second thought promised that it was going to be a very pleasant evening. After all, Tiya hadn’t refused, had she? Not even after the weird way I had ordered her to be my date. There was something in that, wasn’t there? Something that allowed me to whistle as I got ready, I mean during the moments when I could push the recollections of the morning away and concentrate on the expectations of the evening.
And well, the evening so far fulfilled my expectations and raised so many more that I could very easily whistle back to my home too, feeling merry as a buzzing bee. I had fully enjoyed myself, and I knew my date had enjoyed herself too, after she had compensated for my rudeness by choosing the most expensive restaurant and then helping the waiters rob me almost down to the clothes I wore.
As I drove back home, I could not but consider the day as one of my luckiest. No matter what had followed afterwards, it had been very pleasant breakfasting with Nirvi. And then, no matter what led up to it, it was also very pleasant dining with Tiya. Both pretty girls, capable of making you warm all over just by the look of their eyes.
And yet, how different they were from each other.
Nirvi hid, Tiya shared. Nirvi groped for support, Tiya danced alone and free. Nirvi mystified, Tiya mesmerized. Nirvi seemed to confine herself in the now. Tiya enjoyed the now, loved the past and fantasized about the future. Nirvi was like a candle on a dinner table. Every gleam of her light consumed her own being. And the diners around her didn’t even realize, or barely cared. Tiya, on the other hand, would be the merry hostess serving dinner on that table, illuminating the room with her smiles and cheer and receiving her just reward and gratitude from all delighted guests.
I suppose the choice was easy to make.
Whenever I was with Tiya, I always felt sure of everything. But when I was with Nirvi, she somehow made me feel unsure of even me. And though I would rather have it the other way round, yet somehow, the doubts Nirvi produced lasted much longer than the sense of surety Tiya could give.
However, as I drove back home, my heart was full of surety, surety that Tiya was the best for me. Life with her held very sweet and pleasant promises. And I could make sure her happiness never dwindled either. There was no knowing what anyone else would do to her. But I was sure I would never hurt her one bit. She was a merry little bird. The world was full of hunters. God had chosen me to protect her. God had chosen her to fill my life with happiness and love. End of the story.
There was no reason to think about anything else.
‘Nirvi? What is she doing out so late?’ the words escaped my lips when I caught sight of her slipping along the silent road of our housing society…..