25. ORDERS FROM PAST
"Deepika? Tum yahaan?"
Deepika's face split into a big smile as she saw her best friend.
"Yahi sawaal main tumse pooch sakti hoon Parth."
"Boyfriend kahaan hain?"
Deepika blushed hopelessly. But managing a retort, she said, "Aur tumhari girlfriend kahi nazar nahi aa rahi hain."
"Woh toh pichle dukaan pe sabzi khareed rahi hain." He replied nonchalantly.
Deepika's eyes nearly popped out of her head.
When she leaned past him to look at the shop, there was no one there.
"Stop pulling my leg." She slapped his shoulder.
He smirked. "Coffee?"
"Jaroor." She said happily, eager to meet him after many days. They went off towards the coffee shop on the corner of the market.
Deepika set her heavy bag of vegetables and groceries on the chair beside her. Parth settled down in the chair opposite to her.
Deepika turned towards the attendant.
"Ek cold coffee please. Thodi strong aur shakkar kum dalna. Aur ek glass orange juice. Thanks."
Parth smiled. "Impressive. Tum abhi bhi coffee nahi peeti?"
She nodded her head. "Kabhi kabhi."
"Mujhe laga Aaryan ke saath reh reh ke ye aadat lag jayegi...par nahi...sirf uski rules todne ki aadatein tumne utha li hain."
Deepika glared at him. "Parth, main rules nahi todti, who toh...ek do baar maine Aaryan ke jazbaaton se-"
"Pata hain pata hain." He grinned mischievously. Then added, "Mere coffee ke preferences abhi tak yaad hai?"
"Doston ke likes aur dislikes kabhi bhulaye jaate hain?"
Parth beamed. "Yaad hain, humare University ke caf main hum hamesha order karte the-"
"One coffee, strong, with less sugar-" she began,
"One glass freshly squeezed orange juice-" he added,
"And one glass cold milk with cocoa." They finished together.
26. HISTORY UNBURIED
Deepika's smile faltered, and so did Parth's'.
"Hum waisi order ab kabhi'de nahi payenge Parth'" She said sadly, her eyes shining bright with suppressed emotion.
"Deepika-" he said, taking a deep breath'"Main tumhe kuch batana chahta hoon'."
She swallowed, and a little tear threatened to make its way down her cheek.
"Sushmita ke death ke bare main." He finished.
She winced at his words.
He took out something from his sack. It was a long blue envelope'Deepika felt her heart turn when she saw Sushmita's familiar cursive writing on the top'.
'To Deepika and Parth' it read.
The attendant put a large glass of juice in front of her and a tall glass of coffee in front of Parth.
Her hand shaking, she began to open it'
"I have been carrying this around for the past few days'Lagta that kabhi na kabhi toh tumhe de hi paoonga. Abhi mat kholna Deepika.Ghar jaakar."
Relieved, she placed it silently in her purse and drew the glass towards her.
"I always'wanted to protect you'and I think I have done it for ten yers Deepika'but'"
There were a few minutes of silence.
"That day, you'accused me'."
"I am sorry for-"
He held up his hand, asking her to remain silent.
"Nahi...maafi mat mango'.Mujhe laga ki agar tumhe sacchai ka pata chale toh accha hoga'Main itne dino se ye mere saath lekar ghoomta hoon'hamesha'sochta tha aaj mauka milega'ya kal'par kabhi mila nahi'."
He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. There was silence for some more time'.
He placed his empty glass on the table.
"Par ye yaad rakhna Deepika...I never wanted you to get hurt'"
27. CAFE MOCHA
Rajashree observed herself in the mirror. The black kurti seemed fitting. Her hair was left untouched... just brushed so that the ebony tresses lay like waves on her back.
She looked weary.
"Only in movies the heroines look like they have just stepped out of the shower, even after they have been working nonstop for the past two days."
She muttered to herself, trying to fix her hair and face in an attempt to look presentable.
She examined herself in the mirror once more, before throwing the hair brush, wet tissues and a minimal make up kit back into her large bag.
The decor at Mocha was more than presentable. It was superbly elegant.
She thought she looked out of the place in comparison with the mascara-ed, air brushed stick thin beauties who were lounging on the brown and cream sofas with their respective boyfriends.
She walked out of the restroom and upto the nearest attendant.
"Excuse me..." a voice spoke behind her.
She turned, surprised.
"Rajashree Kulkarni, right?"
She closed her mouth and nodded.
She shook hands with him. As they walked to the partition he had reserved, she could feel the envious gazes fixed upon her.
A slow smile curled up on her lips as she remembered how she had picturised him.
He was miles away from that.
Scratch that. He was aeons away from that.
28. SPECIALSQUAD OVER PARANTHAS
Pankaj sat on the couch in front of her. He was nearly six feet, and seemed fit. And he was one of the most cute guys she had ever encountered.
"What will you have? The Mocha, here is of course very renowned and-"
She turned towards the attendant and said in a firm voice, "A cappuccino with vanilla ice cream."
"I will have a latte, please."
"Anything to ear, sir?"
Pankaj looked at her inquiringly. She smiled back and then siad to the attendant, "Kya milega?"
He looked amused by her direct question.
"We have freshly chopped strawberries with fresh cream and vanilla, or you can have-"
"Kuch khane ko mil sajta hain?" She said, unable to control a smile.
The attendant too seemed to enjoy her attitude. "In that case, madam, may I recommend a parantha?"
"Sure, thank you." She quipped back and then sneaked a peak at Pankaj's face.
He looked a little take aback, but amused.
'Mission One accomplished. But considering the amused smile, might have as well bungled it up!'
"Toh, Rajashree, aapka din kaisa raha?"
"Pretty much normal.Aur aapka?"
"Oh..It was pretty hectic..we had three complications on our hands and it was very-...I am sorry...I tend to over talk about my work. Aap please apne kaam ke bare main kuch batieye.Tum Special Squad main ho na?"
"Haan.Pehle SFATA main thi.ab Special Squad..."
"Oh...Special Squad...is really very hectic. The hours especially are very long and irregular."
"Yeah...does it leave you any time for your family or friends?"
"Yeah, it does mostly. The work atmosphere is really great. We are like one big family...What about yours?"
"Well. I currently work at the JEM, Oyster and Gina hospitals as a visiting consultant, till I set up my own clinic, which will, hopefully be in the course of the next two months."
"Thank you...But I must confess, I find your profession really interesting...I mean, it is full of challenges...and you strike me as a girl who just loves them, right?"
She stared at him, open mouthed for a second or two.
Her phone rang... "Excuse me, sorry."
She moved away from their seats and took the call.
"Kuch madad chahiye?"
"Nahi itna bhi bura nahi hain, Paras. Kaafi accha hain."
"Haan haan. Circumference bada hain?"
"Nahi'Are yaar, ye toh tumse bhi handsome hain."
"Yaani such much bada hi accha hain. Yanni tum keh rahi ho ki main handsome-"
"Bye!" she cut the call before he could respond.
When she returned, her parantha had arrived. As she worked her way through it, they chatted about various subjects.
The talked turned over to work again, above the coffees.
She kept her coffee on the table, and was about to say something, when a person caught her eye.
"Will you excuse me? I think I saw..." she ran off, without even completing the sentence, leaving a confused Pankaj behind.
She saw the person she had spied and walked towards him with long strides, her hair lashing behind her.
"Subroto, yahaan kya kar rahe ho?"
He looked at her impassively.
"Ek dost se milne aaya tha...Par tum bhi yahaan...no problem..main kahin aur bula leta hoon..."
"Meghna naam ki ek collegemate hain."
He looked at her surprised and the razor edge in her voice startled him, as it did her.
"Ek...wo kaun hain?" he asked, looking at Pankaj, who was now busy on his phone, but was often glancing their way.
"Ye wahi ophthalmologist toh nahi?"
She narrowed her eyes towards him. Just then, a petite girl walked up towards them, batting her eyelashes seductively.
"Meghna! Kaisi ho?"
She extended her hand forward to Rajashree. "Meghna Sorcar."
"Hi...I am Rajashree Kulkarni, his...friend." Rajashree extended her hand forward and pumped hers vigorously.
"Oh..." the girl said.
"Bye Rajashree...See you tomorrow." Subroto said, before turning back towards Meghna, and leading her towards the door.
She stood on the spot for a moment or two.
Then with slow light steps, she walked back to the couch.
The rest of the evening passed in a haze, her replies perfunctory, and questions lacking any interest.
A Cafe nearby
She looked at him over the rim of her cup. "Socho college main tumhe mujhpe kiya ehsaan chukka diya."
He looked back into his coffee, smiling at the memory. He had pretended to be her boyfriend to chase away her admirers.
"Kya main pocch sakti hoon ki ye sab kis liye tha?"
When she heard his reply, she hid her smile.
"Mujhe bhi pata nahi."
30. RETORTS AND TALKS
Deepika came in and put her bag on the desk, and then walked towards her corner to offer prayers.
She sat down on her seat, to start working.
Aaryan's seat was still empty.
Pausing for a moment, she brought out the blue envelope from her bag, and for seemingly the hundretdth time, started reading the letter.
When she finished it, she ran a hand across it, smoothing out its creases.
She returned it to its envelope, and then tucked it back in her bag.
As she stared at the screen, the words still rang in her head.
Aaryan came in to find her staring at the screen, unaware of his presence.
He was wearing a light pink shirt and a blue jacket. He was looking bright, freshly showered and, for some strange reason, happy.
He went upto her corner and offered prayers, but she was still lost in her thoughts.
He sat down on his chair, and then took out his files to complete his pending work.
"Deepika? In khayalon main doobi ho?"
"Aaryan! Tum kab aaye?"
She stowed away her feelings deep into the recesses of her mind, and then turned towards the matter at hand.
"Kya hua, aaj bahut khush dikh rahe ho?"
"Bas aise hi...accha din hain..."
She tossed her hair back.
"Tumhara paperwork poora hua?"
"Manjula Sethi ke case ka."
He nodded. "Paperwork bhi poora hua, aur kal raat ghar bhi gaya tha."
She beamed at him.
"Wo kya hain na, toothpaste khatam hui thi...jaana pada."
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31. Of friends and lovers
Aaryan came to the pantry yo find the lunh hour in full swing. Ajay, Neha, Boxer, Zubeen, Junhui and Rajashree were sitting, at a table, eating and chattering away.
Deepika was sitting farther away, moodily picking at her rice. She seemed to be lost in her own world, oblivious to the din in the pantry.
As he came in, she got up, still in a daze and excused herself, brushing past him.
He thought for a moment, debating wether to follow her or not.
As he retraced his steps back to the office, she was nowhere to be seen.
"Subroto…nahi hain?" Rajashree asked, haltingly.
"Maine usse poocha, par use bhook nahi thi…." Ajay replied unconcerned.
"Tum usse fir pooch kar aaogi?" Neha asked her, pushing her specs up her nose.
"Zubeen jao na."
He ignored her point blank.
"Tumhi jao na Rajashree…" Junhui too insisted.
Noticing no other option, she got up, to search for him.
Shotgun was sitting in a chair, noting observations in their report.
"Maine kaha tha na, main khatam kardoongi."
He looked up at her and then back to the folder.
"Mujhe samajh nahi aata hain, tum sab karne ki zid kyun karte ho? Pichle baar tumne hi poora report kar diya tha, maine kaha tha, ki main iss bar karoongi."
She came close to him, and tugged the file out of his hands.
"Main kardoonga, waise bhi tum aaj kal bahut busy rehti ho." He said bitingly, and pulled the folder back.
Surprised by the tone of his voice, and unable to understand him, she let go.
He opened the folder again, and started writing.
"Kya naam hain uska…Haan…Pankaj, right? Wasie bhi yahaan ke timings odd hain…Thoda work load kum ho jaye toh tum usse mil-"
"Mujhe usse fir se milne main koi bhi dilchaspi nahi hain, Samjhe?"
He did not reply.
"Maa kaisi hain?"
"Subroto, main tumse baat kar rahi hoon. Meri taraf toh dekh sakte ho."
He threw the folder on the desk and looked up at her.
"Ye tum itni…."
"Main kya?" she asked dangerously, her plait swinging.
"Nothing….just forget it, okay?"
She tossed her long plait over her shoulder and walked towards the door.
He nodded his head gloomily.
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32. SHOW ME THE MEANING
On a sudden inspiration, Aaryan went up the stairs to the terrace.
There was a slight wind, and the sun was shadowed by clouds.
And right on instinct, he saw a dark figure standing at one corner of the terrace, looking out at the city spread below.
He walked upto her silently.
"Deepika?" he said quietly, placing a hand on her shoulder.
She hurriedly raised her hand to wipe the tears streaming down her cheeks and tried to move away from him.
"Deepika."He repeated quietly, but with firmness.
Unable to control her emotions anymore, she turned around, placed her head on his shoulder and started sobbing inconsolably.
Srprised, he just held onto her, patting her head.
A few minutes later she, extracted herself.
"Aaryan…I am sorry…"
He still held her arms and said firmly, "Are you okay?"
She nodded silently, and said again "Sorry…tumhari shirt…"
He looked down into her eyes. "Deepika. Kya hua?"
"Apne ek dost ke baare main, kuch aisia pata chala…..Jo main soch bhi nahi sakti thi…Do you know the worst part?"
Without waiting for reply, she continued, "Main itne saalon se Parth ko jimmewar thera ti thi…I lost both my friends….One to God and one to mistrust."
"Parth hamesha hain tumhare saath Deepika….jo log jaate hain, wo wapas nahi aate….par umeed hamesha saath rehti hain..Tumhi ne toh kaha tha na Deepika?"
She looked away.
Placing a hand on her shoulder, he said, "Aur main bhi toh hoon na, tumhare saath?"
She rested her head on his shoulder, and they stayed in that position for some time.
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