“Where are you?” Ashi sent a quick message to Rihaan.
Typing…. “On my way”, flashed on the screen.
“Where are we going?” Ashi swiped. Offline. “Arrogant Rude Arse”, Ashi muttered under her breath.
Packing away the things in her handbag, she made a quick mental note to call him as soon as she was out of this place – that made her breath stuck in her lungs. She called her Dad and told him about her after-work-official-meet.
“Done. Now I just have to get out of this place.”
Hanging the handbag on her elbow pit, she pulled the office door behind her only to bump into Ramesh who was about to enter. Ashi could feel his eyes all over her, scanning every detail.
“Goodbye.”Ashi said as she interrupted his racy thoughts.
“Oh yes. Sure. I’ll drop you”, he said as he started walking her out.
“No thanks. I’ll manage.” Ashi said coldly.
“Okay. At least give me the privilege to drop you till the gate.” Ashi climbed into the elevator as she rolled her eyes.
“Jerk”, she murmured with a slight noticeable-to-self sigh.
Soon they were out of the elevator. Ashi dialed Rihaan’s number. The call rang and went directly to his voicemail.
“Boyfriend?” Ramesh asked as they approached the revolving glass doors.
“No”, came the monosyllabic reply.
Ashi didn’t feel the need to explain him anything, rather she felt like strangling him. He was now getting on her nerves with his super active meddling abilities. Ashi thanked the revolving doors as they allowed her to get rid of him for a while. As she stepped out, her eyes caught a glimpse of something so intense that made her to freeze to the floor. Still. Just still. Gawking at it agape. Rihaan’s black, sleaky BMW was standing there proudly, with Rihaan besides it, partially resting on the car’s bonnet, hands neatly folded across his chest, grinning from ear to ear. Unexpectedness is a true bliss. For Ashi, this time it came in the form of Rihaan.
“What happened?” Ramesh asked as he came out and stood besides Ashi. Without answering him, she started walking absentmindedly, minimizing the distance between her and Rihaan. Something in her was still frozen but at the same time something in her told her to keep walking. Ashi’s sight never left Rihaan’s as she approached him. As soon as she reached nigh him, he pulled her into a bearhug and kissed her hair. Not able to understand what’s happening she preferred staying quiet and allowed Rihaan to take a lead.
Letting her loose from his embrace, he kept her at an arm’s length and holding her steady by her shoulders asked, “How are you baby?” (Mental Check) “Baby?” “I missed you so much!” (Mental Check) “Missed me?” Ashi’s mental exclamations made her expressions to go blank just like her mind. Unable to process the bombarding actions, she kept staring at Rihaan. Holding her close by his side, Rihaan turned his attention at Ramesh who was as baffled as Ashi.
“Hey Ramesh. How are you buddy?” Rihaan held out his hand that was briefly accepted and was progressed into a professional handshake.
Although standing by his side, Ashi never ceased looking at Rihaan. All the time he talked to Ramesh, staked out a claim on her, squeezed her shoulders a little, she never stopped looking at him. Their entire conversation didn’t make any sense to her, except the time she heard Rihaan saying, “Ya, she told me, she’s working with you. We’re seeing each other actually. It’s been a while now.” (Mental Check) “Seeing each other?” Rihaan looked at her, smiled and kissed her forehead. “She’s my Sweetheart.” (Mental Check) “Sweet-fucking-heart?” Ashi felt like her brains were so whomped that they had forgotten to process signals and send them to her legs. Ashi felt like her legs would anytime give up on her. If it wasn’t for Rihaan she would have hit the floor.
Rihaan’s words echoed in her conscious and her simmering thoughts twirled and meandered around it.
“Girlfriend! Rihaan’s Girlfriend! Why does he always have to do this?! Shit! Every time I think of something to anchor myself, he drops a nuclear explosive, and then I’m here, suffering this aftermath of his nuclear disasters like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scattered, shattered all over, with these actions affecting my new-born thoughts and thwarting my attempts to produce anymore thoughts – the side effects. Moreover, I even end up finding the fragments of these kinds of disasters in all my new thoughts. Jeesh. This man is going to make me insane. Deducing and assuming his actions has become my full time job, all thanks to him.”
She was so gripped by the intensity of what had happened that she didn’t even remember when Rihaan like a gentleman ushered her into his car and took the driver’s seat. Her senses were only mended when Rihaan said, “Hello Miss Dreamer, just do your seat belt and wave at the idiot who is dreaming like you.”
Ashi’s brain was mechanically following every single thing said without arguing or judging anything. She fastened her seat belt and blankly waved at Ramesh. Rihaan fired the gas and drove off.
“How was your day?” Rihaan asked to avoid the silence that was building up.
Ashi swiveled her neck to look directly at him and asked, “What was that all about Rihaan? When did I agree to this ‘seeing each other’ thing of yours?”
Without looking at her Rihaan sighed and replied casually, “You never did. Nor am I having any such intentions nearby. So, no need to be a volcano of happiness.”
Ashi knitted her brows as she spoke, “So, what was that all about? Why?”
“Because no one dares to touch what’s Rihaan’s. So, I’m just protecting you.”
“Protecting me? And what force on earth whispered in your ears that I need protection, that too from you?”
Ashi’s statement made him to glance at her before he said, “Seriously? Ashi, that man made you restless all this noon and you want me to believe that you can protect yourself from him”, he ended with a chuckle.
“The question is not about protection. The question is why do you feel the need to protect me?”
The moment Ashi spoke out the words, did she sense that Rihaan was deliberately side tracking the discussion. She strongly felt that Rihaan had already understood the question and was just avoiding the topic by veiling his self under the power of ignorance. This sense of revelation about Rihaan’s thoughts gave her the chance to muster her strength and get that thing out of Rihaan.
“Answer”, she said, still looking at him, trying to get hold of his thoughts by his expressions. Rihaan glanced at her once again and she shot her eyebrows at him.
“No answer. Rihaan is speechless. Should I reward myself with a self-pat?” Ashi was back with her senses and her ever present sarcasm.
“Protect you. Well, I took time to answer because I’m just wondering what made you to even think that I ‘care’ about you. You’re just an asset for me. I’m hiring you. Remember? So, I’m just protecting my asset. A trait a good businessman should foster, you see.” Rihaan looked at her and ended with a half-curved smile.
“Smart Arse.” Ashi murmured as she rolled her eyes.
“Did you say anything?”
Rihaan’s tone was an adulterated tease.
“Zilch”, came the reply.
Veiled. Feelings veiled effectively. We humans are excellent deceivers. We deceive and dupe ourselves so well that we ourselves don’t understand when, how and why we did it? We curse people, we curse circumstances; we curse life. A Blame Game – that’s what we play. We interweave things and complicate matters. We fail to communicate where it’s extremely essential. We wait for life to extricate it for us. We live in past. We grow there. We allow it to define us. We’re scared of judgements’ and most importantly rejections, sometimes ego. We encrust ourselves with such emotionless emotions to protect our real emotions. Were Rihaan’s veiled emotions a victim of something from his past?
Rihaan drove his BMW in the entrance of a tall shimmering tower – all lit up. Various hues of blues and purples that lighted the entire tower could be seen from where Rihaan entered. All cars were stopped at the entrance, except Rihaan’s. Ashi wondered what’s happening. Passing the entrance, Rihaan shimmied in the parking lot.
“Where are we going?” Ashi asked as Rihaan parked his car.
“Get down from that side. Don’t wait for some VIP treatment. Ramesh isn’t here to act anymore.”
Ashi looked at him with disgust. “I’m getting down. Jeesh. I would never expect anyone, not even my boyfriend to hold a car’s door open for me. And yes, that’s a gentleman’s trait. A chivalrous move. How can I expect it from a yob like you?”
Saying that, Ashi got down from the car and accompanied Rihaan towards the elevator. Rihaan called the elevator.
“Have heard of Pacific?”
“Yes. That means peaceful.”
Ashi answered without looking at him.
Pacific was a happening, young place. Far from being professional. Classy looking hypocrite crowd crowded the place. White squared stunted tables with big cozy looking white chairs that felt more like sofa chairs were arranged on the glass flooring. There was a bar setup to the right of the entrance. Exotic looking liquor, especially wines, stood high on the stands. The barman smiled and waved at Rihaan. Ashi made a mental note – “Famous Arse”. The white interiors glowed with a turquoise shade that lit up the entire place. Some tables had candles. Ashi deduced that the tables with candles had couples on dates to deal with. Everything was a combination of white and sea green. It reminded Ashi of the oceans. Although it gave a feeling of peace to the eyes, it didn’t serve the same to the ears. The place was more than noisy. Chaotic. Ashi swiveled her neck to look around the place. Almost everyone smiled at Rihaan. Ashi meekly followed Rihaan to a remote, cornered table that gave a visual access to almost the entire place. Rihaan ushered Ashi to one of those huge white sofa chairs.
“Are we on a date?” Ashi teasingly shot her eyebrows at Rihaan as she occupied the seat gingerly.
“I don’t do the date thing. I thought you could have guessed that by now”, Rihaan answered solemnly.
“Well, I wonder what we will discuss in this chaos. People here are talking like they are going to lose their voices tomorrow.”
“I know, but we don’t have much to discuss. This dinner is just a business strategy to seal the deal between me and my client. It’s my technique for maintaining business relationships and loyalty. Strictly professional. After this dinner you’ll think twice before taking up any other assignment, in case it clashes with mine.”
“Well in that case, you’re wasting your valuable hard earned money on this dinner. As I’ve already told you I don’t break my accords may it be virtual or real.”
Ashi ended with a tight lipped smile and a prolonged eye blink.
“Noted and well understood. But the damage is done now. Let’s order something.”
Rihaan said as his eyes fixed on something behind Ashi. That something caused Rihaan’s expressions to change and transform into something flirtatious and roguish. Ashi turned to look behind her and saw a girl – almost half the height of Rihaan with her stilettos on, waving at him with a grin. Perfect stats, with hair that flowed down her waist, she’d a yellowish fair tone that was exposed the maximum in her short blue dress. Till the time Ashi turned back to look at Rihaan, he’d already disappeared, making the opposite huge sofa chair empty. Ashi could hear some giggles and whispered conversations from the same direction where she’d viewed this plastic female a few seconds ago.
Ashi glanced over her shoulders and squinted at them to have a better look. That plastic beauty was talking to Rihaan. Resting her entire weight on her left heel, she dodged her finger-crawling skills between her hair and Rihaan’s. She touched Rihaan wherever it was acceptable to touch in public. His hair, face, neck, chest, forearms.
“Jeesh. PDAs. Bitch. Such PDAs blow the life out of me”, she murmured with disgust.
“Yes, smart mouth what is it with this self-talk? How do you manage this talent of yours?” Rihaan said as he took his place.
“People like these”, she moved her hands animatedly, to show him and the plastic beauty, “Force me to bring out this talent of mine”, Ashi said with a frown.
Rihaan’s ever present iPhone rang. “Excuse me, I’ve to take this call.”
“Sure. Go ahead.” Ashi sighed a little as she said.
Ashi looked around the place. Everyone looked busy in their own world and Ashi was lost in her.
“What a waste of time and energy!”
She could see Rihaan standing in the remote corner of Pacific, talking on phone. His expressions were neutral. Just then someone hugged him from behind. The moment Ashi saw the black strapped stilettos she didn’t even need a mini second to deduce.
Ashi hated the way she trailed her fingers all over Rihaan. Moreover, she hated Rihaan’s response to her actions whenever she did that.
“He’s enjoying it Ashi!”
Her subconscious reminded her something she didn’t wish to remember. This romantic encounter between Rihaan and his girl felt like a drawn out effect.
Ashi’s attention was disrupted by the waiter who placed the order on the table. “Thank you Ma’am”, he said politely, bowed and padded away. Ashi thought of calling and telling him that she didn’t place any order. Giving it a second thought, she thought, Rihaan might have. She continued with her visual stalking. She just couldn’t bear her hands over Rihaan. Ashi’s eyes narrowed and followed them, as she dragged Rihaan in the small passage area behind the bar. No visual access. This no visual access thing made Ashi restless. For an insane moment, she thought to confront them but restored her sane self immediately.
“No. That would be inappropriate.”
“Fuck it”, she said as she curled her fingers into balls of fists and placed them on the table. She needed something to surface her levitating thoughts. Ashi stared at the two snifters kept in front of her and gulped in the intoxicating smelling, bitter tasting fluid straight down her throat, in one swift.