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|| PART 3 ||
PAST: MEETING # 2
Alright Manvi Choudhary, this is it. This is going to decide how your life is going to start - New York - the big apple.
I was looking up the really tall, hundred odd floor skyscraper building, dropping my head back. This is so huge. In my hometown in Illinois, there were not many building above 10 floors, unless we went into the city ofcourse. I feel so intimidated about these huge skyscrapers - there were so many of them; and the pace of the life in this city. Everybody was in a rush - some to catch their subway, some to their work and some to their classes. I suddenly look down at my dress to check if I am dressed appropriately enough. I am wearing a knee length long white flowery dress and a grey suit blazer over it. I am not a corporate person and I hate how all people dress alike in corporate offices. I feel a person's dressing is a statement - for who he/she is and how could it just be all alike and formal? I never conform to these 'rules' so to say - I'd like to do my own thing - I am an artist after all. That and I really do not have the money to invest in a suit.
I walk through the glass doors and enter into the reception area. The windows and the outer face of the building was all in glass and the lady at the front desk looked like a shiny statue of those Egyptian women we used to draw in our art class - perfect grooming and flawless grace.
"Manvi Chaudhary. I am here to join today - creative design intern. I am to meet Mr.Phil Crabbs."
"Just a second Miss." She puts me on hold and presses a button on the intercom.
"Thirtieth floor, left and straight ahead at the elevator, third right, room L43 Ms.Chaudhary. Mr.Crabbs is already there." Egyptian goddess tells me with a perfect and formal smile.
Humphh! Considering that I am the most clumpsy and fumbly person in my class, I am amazed at the sheer perfection with which she is giving me the direction to my room. I am so out of my league here. He is already there, that means I am late. I summon the elevator and reach the 30th floor. The whole area looked extremely polished, grand, expensive looking and well designed but there weren't any kind of art - painting or models anywhere. The walls were umm...different. I cannot really place what was lacking about the area. I adjust my folders for one last time and enter room L43 - as the tag on the side read that, I have managed to successfully arrive at the destination.
I peep in a little as I don't see anyone around - looks like I am not late afterall. It was this long conference room with a large table and a dozen chairs around it. There was a drawing board and a projector and the two sides of the room - facing the road were in complete glass - floor to ceiling. Wow! Look at the View!
I knock the door knowing fully well that there wasn't anyone in there. I just wanted to unload the huge portfolio folder off my hands and I didn't want to be rude entering in without knocking.
I walk in and put my folder neatly on the table and take out my journal and the other material out. If everyone around here is going to be so meticulous and accurate, I better make it a habit to make notes. Oops! There you go, I am at my fumbly best, all my designs and portraits land nicely all over the floor from the folder. I hurriedly scoop down to collect them all.
"Huh! Wishing wells and tinkly bells!!" I hear a voice that I vaguely remember.
I look up and there he was, holding a coffee cup and a curious expression. He was dressed completely different than at the bar - a white designer shirt, black well-maintained and perfectly ironed trousers, silver 'V' cuff-links and a flamboyant smirk. He puts his cup on the table and bends down in front of me neatly gathering my portraits. He looked at each and every sheet as he gathered them all and then at me, with a strange amused gleam in his eyes.
W-What is happening? What is he doing here? Am I dreaming? I maybe, because there were many times during the last one week that I had remembered about him and his flirting, outside the bar. I am not used to such things, considering I am very precocious, quiet and reserved. Swetha tells me I am different. Different, because of my weird crazy philosophies - in her own words.
He passed me back my stuff.
"Thank you." I mumbled as I looked away. I realized I was staring at him. But, how can a girl not stare at him. He looks sooo good. So, so good - undeniably beautiful and flawlessly groomed - very much out of my league. I am short of adjectives. He has the face and physique for a model. Maybe he will let me sketch his perfectly sculptured face? Those intelligent, bright brown eyes spoke volumes. The sketch would definitely get sold, if not for my drawing skill, atleast for the content part. Will I be able to give it away though?
Woah! My head is just spinning!! What all am I thinking?
Guys like that, wouldn't really care to look at me the second time. Egyptian beauty at the reception would be the perfect match though.
We both stood up and I kept looking at the ground nervously. His eyes had the same amused sparks as before and I felt them piercing into my heart. Does he know what I am thinking? I am sure he is amused by me. How is he making me so conscious?
"So, you work here." I asked to cut though the nerve racking silence between us. What am I saying? Why am I assuming he remembers me? I am sure he is just here and saw a silly girl spill her papers all over the place and just being a good Samaritan. I immediately regret the question. I don't think I want him to know that a very good-sized part of my brain kept replaying that little scene in my head over and over. It felt good and I knew I would never see him around - A girl can dream atleast, right?
He doesn't reply, he is just looking at me. And his look is burning me and I feel very, very uncomfortable.
"It is strange." He says, finally.
Strange couldn't begin to even cover it. But, it is good starting point.
"What is?" I ask wanting to know whats running in his head.
"The way this feels." He says contemplatively.
"This?" I ask raising my eyes to him, boldly.
"This" he waves his hand in the space between us. "You, there. You here. You are everywhere. Are you following me?" he asks narrowing his eyebrows. But, there is a hint of a small smile on his to-die-for lips. Don't go throwing money in wells for a kiss, I accept credit!
My face flames.
Oh God! I have lost my marbles!!
Ok! He remembers me, for starters!! But how rude? "I am here as one of the interns for the art designer." I tell him nervously.
"Ah! An artist." Why does he keep staring at me? He extends his right hand and touches my bracelet and holds one of the tiny silver bells that were hanging of it between his thumb and forefinger, rotating it gently. A slight touch on my hand and I feel a delicious shiver shoot up my shoulder and I freeze.
Move your hand away Manvi!
What is he doing?
"What are you doing?" I ask, but I don't move my hand.
"You know, I kept thinking of these bells ever since - that day - I missed them. I didn't know how to get to them, so yesterday I went to find Mr.Wells and gave him a shiny quarter and asked him, nicely, with a pretty please, to show you again -for the bells." There is a kind of strange intensity in his voice.
But, bells and wells? What is he talking about? I wanted to laugh. I did.
He smiles back. His smile is so fresh and innocent - I couldn't say the same about his eyes, they were darting down my face. Whatever is going on between us, the strange little electric sparks, keep erupting colorfully like from the firepot on diwali.
"...and here you are." He finished his story. "...with my tinkly bells." He added with a wink.
"My tinkling bells?" I pull my hand away.
"...my..tinkly ..bells." he repeats grinning.
"You are a really bad flirt."
"Ouch! I have never been accused of that. You see, I have a very good reputation around here but with you, I am having to make up new original lines." He shrugs in a complaining tone.
Huh! How considerate!
We hear couple of other girls walk inside and I look out towards them nervously.
"Good Luck!" he smiles. "Bye, I am sure we will run into each other. And yes, I work here." He says and was walking out.
"Hey, wait up.." I stop him nervously. I didn't want him to leave.
He just turns his face towards me.
"Um, I-I never got your name.."
He smiles the most mischievous smile. "Pretty girls call me - weird stranger on the footpath.." he smiles some more as if relishing a personal joke, and he walks out leaving me blushing all shades of red.
Pretty girls!!!!!!!!!!!! Weird stranger on the footpath. He remembers me and my shiny, tinkly bells. He missed them - such a flirt!
Why does such a small compliment take me to the top of the universe. I am completely sure he is a Casanova sort of a guy - with his looks and charm, he must be anyways. Inspite of that, I feel so pretty all of a sudden. My surroundings are all roses and jasmines and I love this place already!! New York totally rocks!
Later that evening, I was working in the cafeteria at my university. My friend Rinky got me this job. She works with me sometimes and I really enjoy her company. I love the surrounding of this cafeteria - it is all college kids and full of energy. It is open to outside unless the weather gets chilly. But whatever the season, the caf is always full. I am at the register for half the time and the rest of the time I am waiting the tables. I don't mind it at all. It was six in the evening and the caf was bustling with people, the sweet smell of caffeine and Taylor swift in the background - Love story. I was sashaying around humming joyfully, handing out coffee. It was a beautiful day!
Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone
I'll be waiting all there's left to do is run
You'll be the prince and I'll be the princess
It's a love story baby just say yes
"Like I said, you are everywhere.." I hear a voice. I immediately know who it is and flip around the next second, unable to believe my luck.
"Beautiful girl in the caf.." he smiles.
Oh my god!
"Hi! I smile. And it is completely like a reflex. It feels so good to see him.
"Hi!" he tilts his head and smiles back.
We were looking at each other and there was huge line behind him. I don't know what to say. There is a knot in my throat.
"One tall black please.." he saves me just in time, before my manager sees me standing numb and dumb. I really don't want to get fired on my second day of work here.
"Ofcourse." I have done this atleast a hundred times. I calm my excited nerves and try to smother the grin waiting to split my face into two halves. I fetch a cup and fill it up for him.
"Room for cream and sugar?" I ask, like I have been asking everyone else all day.
"No..sugar." he replies staring into my eyes.
Roses and Jasmines!
I know he just meant the sugar in his coffee but I didn't hear it like that. It was like an endearment between lovers. Did he say it like that purposefully? Oh, he is fully capable of it. I hand him his cup and I watch him fish a dollar and twenty five from his pocket. He walks out and settles at the table outside, opening his laptop. I could watch him through the glass. I put the money he gave me in my apron pocket and replace it inside the register with my own cash.
"My latte miss. Hey!!!" an angry customer scowls at me.
"er..I am sorry..coming right up"
Talk about distractions!!
For the next thirty minutes, I am kept busy by the constant stream of in-coming customers. Around five to six in the evening is the busiest time around here. That's when all the classes break and people grab a coffee or muffin on their way home. Some of them stick around for studying and it gets a little quieter around seven. That's when all the group studying sessions start.
I notice with disappointment that that two other people, a guy and a girl joined him and they were in deep discussion about something. I steal a glance at him while refilling the coffee cups around his table through the corner of my eye and I see him look at me. He smiles a mischievous, I know-what-you-have-been-upto smile.
"Would you like some more?" I ask him at his table.
"No. I am good. Thanks." He replies without looking at me and I scuttle away.
What happened to flirty and smily? I pout and go finish up for the day. I get off my shift at eight and I have to go and finish my assignment for my class tomorrow. I need to call my father and Swetha - they must be waiting anxiously for my call.
It was eight and I hand over the charge to Steve, who had just come in and I gather my flip-over shoulder bag and my grey blazer and head home. I couldn't help steal one last glance at Mr.Cryptic's table. It was empty.
Well! What did you expect? I think it is better this way. I wouldn't be able to scratch up to him anyways.
I wave a goodbye to Steve and wander out. Once outside, I lean back on the wall and change my flats to my pumps. I just love my pumps - they can brighten a girl's mood any day. I look at the charms on my anklet and caress the tinkly bells on it. They remind me of him.
"Miss me already?" I hear a voice. I look up and ofcourse, there he was. Leaning against the sidewall in the dark, wearing his laptop bag across his shoulder and one of his hands in his pant pockets.
"You are still here." I squeak trying to tone down the excitement in my voice.
"Is he your boy-friend?"
"Um, no. I just met him actually." I reply, understanding that he was referring to Steve inside the cafe. Why does he care anyways?
"Where are you headed?" he comes and stands in front of me.
"To the dorm. I go to the City college. You?"
"Stony Brook. But, I live by myself. I have an apartment at 90th street."
"Oh? You are studying?"
"Part-time. Why is that surprising?"
"You just looked so professional at work, in the morning. Looked like everybody knew you. So, I assumed you worked full time. Anyways, I better go. I have an assignment to do for tomorrow." I smile.
"Can I walk you?" he asks.
Really? I hope you do. I would love that. "Yes, sure." I smile.
"So, how was first day at work?" he asks as we were walking through the campus.
"It was umm..something. It's nice."
He looks at me curiously and I know I need to explain further.
"Well, they wanted us to remodel a whole floor as our first project but then, we are told exactly what is expected."
"In terms of color and build and art and decoratives. They even told us what wall paper to use. They don't need art majors to do the work, they could easily have it done by employing high school kids."
He is still looking at me with a ' why is that a bad thing?' expression. I explain more.
"For an artist it is hard to conform to somebody else's themes. We are simmering with our own ideas and often times, commercial people like yourself don't like 'creativity'"
He was quiet and I felt like I lost him. I don't know why I was telling him all these things. I am never this forthcoming and talkative. I look at the ground vouching to not say another word more.
After a couple of minutes, he starts "So, I was a weird, soul-less, materialistic flirt and now I am commercial?"
"Aren't you?" I ask.
"You could say that. I just have never been told that to my face. I like your candor."
"What are you studying?" I ask him curiously, trying to get off the awkward topic.
I couldn't help giving him a that-explains-a-lot look.
"There is nothing wrong with wanting to earn money and make yourself powerful. It is one of the basic things that drives the human race."
"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it. I just think that 'being commercial' and 'being creative' are the opposite extremes of the human spectrum."
"I am very creative at being commercial." he states.
"I wish I was commercial at being creative."
"Why do you say that?" he asks. I could say that he was very curious.
"Art doesn't pay bills." I reply.
"Yet, you are working two jobs to pay for your art school?"
"Barely. Wait, how do you know that?"
"I read your file. You applied for scholarship."
"I thought that information is kept private?"
"I work in HR. I am actually all over the place. I do anything and everything at the company. I have free access to most information"
"Must be nice."
"It is nice - to learn everything, quickly. I don't compartmentalize."
That is artistic language. He is a well read guy. Hmmph! And he read my file. Why?
"I do not conform to rules either Manvi Choudhary. It might seem like I do - I conform to small rules to break the bigger ones - effectively. I know what I want in life and I am very artistic in achieving it - if not tenacious."
Wow! Ambitious and smart!
"I wish I had your file to read." I tell him as we were nearing my dorm.
"What do you want to know?" he asks standing in front of me as I stop before the entrance.
"Your name for starters. I know it starts with a V...
He looks at me surprised.
"..Your cuff links." I explain shyly.
"Ah! Keen observation. Is this your dorm?"
He won't tell me. How childish!
"Why won't you tell me your name. You know mine, it's not fair."
"I don't play fair Manvi. Good night!"
"Good night! I can always google you."
"What would you put in the search?"
"That's me! Bye beautiful girl in the bar!" He gives me his million dollar smile and I think it is going to be very hard for me to get this image of him out of my head and focus on my assignment for tomorrow.
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