Joined: 13 November 2011
He is startled by the cacophony of noises made by watches that covered every available surface of the shop. They varied in size, shape, color and age. It comes as a surprise to him when he is unable to differentiate his heartbeat in his ears from the tick-tock of the watches. One day, this is how I will die, he thinks blearily.
"Well? Why are you still hopping on one foot? Come sit here." He whips his head wildly in the direction of the voice. "Do you need help?" Concern lacing the voice breaks him out of his reverie.
"No, I got it." He hops towards the corner where a figure stands alone with hooded eyes silhouetted by long dark hair. A muffled chuckle gets converted to an embarrassed cough. Arnav smiles inwardly. He counts the steps loudly just to hear the laughter aloud and by the time his heartbeat has found its identity, the woman behind the voice is laughing and the poison in his throat has simmered.
"It must be my lucky day," he begins awkwardly. I meet new people every other hour of the day for fuc*s sake. Why am I being so difficult today? His sadistic mind wanders. He eyes two muscle relaxant sprays laid out in front of him. Narrowing his eyes, he forces a playful tone. "Is that crack in front of your store intentional? There is no possible way you can have these ready so quickly." He gestures to the aerosol cans in front of him.
The response he gets is a snicker and an eye roll. He smiles in response.
"I have a tendency to fall, smack, bump and hurt myself on odd things, flat surfaces and unanticipated curvatures. And by unanticipated I mean totally expected but I am in my own head thus I didn't see where I was going variety," the woman slides in on the other side of the counter.
"A walking disaster then." He teases gently.
She throws her heads back and laughs. "Pretty much all the time." Arnav's smile in response is automatic. He doesn't remember the last time he has smiled this much in a company that didn't involve Aman or Lavanya. It's a high that he is in search of perpetually.
"You own this place?" He asks tentatively.
The woman pushes a sealed bottle of water towards him and nods. "I am a fourth generation watchmaker. I inherited this from my father. My sister does everything non-watch related. Watches are my domain." There is pride in her voice. His heart stupidly gets elated at that. In general, he likes hardworking people. But he loves and absolutely adores those who work with their hands to create new things. He believes his own lack of creative talent makes him even more appreciative of artists in the society.
The silence is companionable as he mechanically removes his shoes and socks to spray some pain killer. The damage is only to his pride which doesn't bother him as much as he thought it would. He tips the bottle in her direction as if to say Cheers! He empties the offered half liter of water in one go. His eyes latch on to the hair band across top of her head - a flash of read with a finish that sparkled brightly under the lights. She is a queen and this is her castle. In here she is indomitable. In here his status in the society will do nothing to her. In this shop, he is a simpleton with nothing to offer because she is the queen and the red hair band is her crown, his pain addled mind narrated unhelpfully. Maybe it the was the low blood sugar that was making him babble in his own mind like a baboon.
"Do you have any chocolate?" He hopes she doesn't classify him as a weirdo. "Low blood sugar," he adds at her surprised expression. She holds his gaze for a second more and gives him a perceptive nod. She walks towards the back end of the shop and opens the door there. Arnav sees a flash of different color, hears whispered words and footfalls made by flip-flops while climbing the stairs. The pain in his ankle is ignorable but the rush in his head isn't. He slowly pulls back his socks and wears his shoes. He rests his arms on the counter and then places his forehead in the crook of his elbows. The brightness of the shop disappears and he is left alone with the darkness that he gladly welcomes.
He wakes up to someone shaking his arm. He sits straight like a soldier and comes face to face with the watchmaker. The frantic beat of his heart matches hers. He doesn't hear hers but he knows it. The watches in the store seem to resonate with the cackle of her heart.
"It's been a long week," he says stupidly.
She thrusts a bar of chocolate in his hands and musters a commanding tone when she says, "Eat. All of it."
"Yes ma'am," he says around mouthful of chocolate. It is too sweet, brittle and tastes cheap. It's the most glorious thing he has ever eaten when his blood sings. He takes another bite of chocolate and glances around the shop.
"Better?" He hears the woman ask.
He shrugs in response. "Another few minutes and I should be good to go." He gratefully accepts another sealed bottle of water.
"Take as much time as you want." Her kindness seems bottomless. He is envious of that for a second.
Sometime between hobbling around the store and cramming chocolate in his mouth, his tie is undone, his jacket is discarded and he has rolled his sleeves to his elbow. It's the least dressed he has been in public in a while and he finds that liberating. And quite snooty, and snobby, and waspishly elitist, he chuckles darkly.
He watches her as she works. It is borderline creepy but he doesn't care. Her shoulder is loose and haunches over her workbench where her hands work delicately on an opened watch, her eyes peering over magnifying glass. A knot unfurls in his stomach as he watches her and the tension that he has carried for weeks starts to dissolve. He rests his elbow on the counter and rests his chin on open palm and stares at her hands. Her hand movement is hypnotic to his eyes and the tiny parts that scatter around her workstation makes a beautiful mural.
It is music in motion, mathematics at heart; it is poetry, it is art and it is the way dreams move and slot into places and make it reality. It is haunting. It is mesmerizing.
He wonders if this is what the name of the shop actually means. He has been Watching and he is now lost.
Either that or it's the low blood sugar, a logical part of his brain kicks back rebelliously.
He is quite past from caring.
Vibrations in his pants pocket breaks the reverie he is in. The woman works undisturbed and he is again, envious of this stranger for the second time that evening. He would kill for such concentration, such focus.
"Yes?" He says without looking at phone display.
"Anjali called and cried. I feel guilty." Lavanya's clipped tone tells him more than she wishes to share. He respects the hell out of Lavanya and the dignified way in which she carries herself.
"You called me and her plan is now complete." He forces humor into his voice. It isn't Lavanya's fault. It isn't his either. But when darkness clouds his mind, he finds himself at fault for the earthquakes caused in the middle of the ocean.
"Let's go." Let's go. Lavanya sighs. Taking a break was completely her idea. He didn't want to admit that he didn't ask her the reason or fight for it. He had simply accepted. That seemed to confirm something Lavanya was searching for as her face fell when he had nodded his consent.
"I will text you a street name. Find me there." He hangs up. They will talk in the car later. It would be wasteful to offer an explanation now.
"Excuse me," he says loudly. The woman looks up and smiles at him. There is pink on the apple of her cheeks, hair wild, red hair band sparkling brightly, eyes shadowed with kohl and unadorned by anything else.
"All set?" She asks, clearly knowing he was going to leave now. A pang strikes his bone raw.
He shrugs. "Can't stay here forever," he replies, borderline flirty. She chuckles, shaking her head.
"Arnav," he says, extending his hand.
"Khushi," she replies just waving hers.
His hand hangs in the mid-air, alone without company. He tries not to take the disappointment personally. He fails spectacularly.
"Thank you," he says drawing his hand back.
"It wasn't much," she shrugs, her lips lifting in response.
"Not for offering me place, food and water." The playfulness in his voice is gone. She is still smiling that small half-smile. She knows. "Thank you for not doing your job. I know you noticed my watch the moment I sat down at the counter."
She shrugs, her smile growing a fraction. "You know where I live." The response is perfect. He grins at her. She waves at him.
He doesn't look back when he walks out of the shop.
"Anjali thinks you broke up with me because of Aman. Or because I cheated on you. Or something else I did." Arnav hands Lavanya a champagne flute. "Technically our hiatus is my fault."
Lavanya looks amused. "Isn't this party supposed to raise money for cow shelter?"
Arnav snorted in dark amusement. "Welcome to the world of jobless snobs who need a sad sounding banner to wine and dine." Lavanya smiled into her glass.
She sobered quickly. "Maybe I should talk to Anjali and tell her the reason why we are on a break. I asked for a break Arnav, not you."
"Don't be stupid. It's best if Anjali and grandma think this is all somehow my fault. You don't want to be at the receiving end of Anjali's pointless snide remarks or in the worst case, create an emotional drama to sway your decision." Arnav adores Lavanya. Maybe one day he will love her as much as she loves him now. He isn't going to let his sister or his grandmother talk her into doing something her heart isn't allowing her to do.
"But you -"
"There you are. I have been wondering where you guys have been all evening." Cheery voices carried Anjali to his bubble.
Arnav emptied an entire glass of champagne in response. Lavanya looked mildly uncomfortable. Anjali barreled on. "It is fantastic to see you here La. I want you to meet some friends of mine. They are looking forward to meet you." Anjali waved her hands at a group of people standing at the back. A few waved back and smiled wanly in return.
Lavanya looked startled at looked at Arnav, desperate for a rescue. They were best friends once. Lavanya could read Arnav like the back of her hand and Arnav knew her better than he knew his own family. Arnav had no idea how the frown line between Lavanya's eyes was formed. He didn't know the reason why she stopped using darker shade eye makeup or wore mostly bold reds and warm browns on her lips. He is sure Lavanya was feeling something similar about alienation with respect to him. They had grown up together and had grown apart together. The dichotomy sliced his ribcage and his chest howled in agony.
Thankfully there were still parts of her that were quite familiar. "Anjali, I am meeting La after weeks and for once I don't have anywhere else to be and neither does she. Tell your friends I refuse to let La out of my sight tonight." The charm was in full force and his eyes were steel.
Anjali, of course, knew. And as usual she pushed his buttons instead of letting things be.
"I am sure Lavanya can exercise her free will and answer for herself." Anjali's voice is sweet and steady. For a moment Arnav is proud of her. Raizadas always know how to hold their ground.
Lavanya linked her hands with Arnav and leaned on him. "Some other time di." Lavanya pulled a pathetic expression that softened Anjali's face.
Anjali stared at the two and sighed. She stood straight and fixed the veil of her sari. "It's nice to be called di again. I wonder why you stopped calling me that chotey?" Anjali left them in the wake of her tinkling anklets, dangling bangles and ruffle of chiffon.
Arnav ignored the ache when he swallowed the bitterness that had swept in his mouth.
Lavanya squeezed their linked hands and pressed her other hand on his chest. "Easy." Her voice coos in his ear. She isn't being the love of his life at the moment but an anchor to the reality that he has come to hate. She is being his friend, the person on whose lap he had laid his head and wept like a child once.
"She will forgive you one day." Lavanya's voice washes over him. "One day the two of you will bury this thing that has consumed your family and move on." He sways on his feet.
"One day you will forgive yourself." Lavanya says softly.
No fuc*ing way,
his heart hammers in response.
To be Continued.
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