“Oh!” managed Gautham, finally.
“Yes.” I agreed, secretly joyful to see Gautham utterly mortified. It was a feeling that even surpassed the relief of being able to scratch a persistent itch in an inaccessible place along the spine.
The rain poured down, heedless of the worldly knowledge being shared in the middle of a deserted road, God knew where. Gautham ran his fingers through his wet hair, slicking it back from his forehead. I shivered more in response to the sight of his chiselled face, than the cold precipitation all around. I turned hastily and proceeded to walk off from the place, determined to stop only when the stairway of my apartment complex came into view; I promised myself that I would take the elevator from there.
“Hey, where are you going?” he called out from behind me.
“I am going home. And I’m not coming with you on the bike.” I offered in rejoinder, without turning around.
Gautham sprinted after me, “Oh, no. You’re coming with me. You’re not walking home in this weather.”
I stopped for a fleeting moment and gave him an ugly look.
“Watch me.” I murmured caustically and resumed my walk. The hemline of my expensive saree trailed miserably along in the dirty puddle on the road and I pledged retribution.
Gautham jogged forward, darted into my path and successfully stilled me with his solid presence.
“What?” I protested, extremely annoyed with his attitude.
“You’re not going anywhere. At least, not without me.”
On a whim, I pushed past him and trudged on, splashing water in all directions.
Suddenly, he caught hold of my hand and twisted me around. To my chagrin, I found myself nose to nose with him.
“You’re not going anywhere without me.” he repeated silkily, with a steely gaze.
And that was precisely what undid me.
With a superhuman effort, I pulled my hand free from his grip and pushed him backwards with all the force I could gather. Taken off guard, he fell down on his posterior end, and sat there for a second on the road, too stunned to react.
“How dare you handle me like that?” I hollered, indignant at being treated like a second-class donkey. In an attempt to reinforce my question, I quickly fell to my knees, felt around and located several numbers of what I wanted.
Aiming carefully, I sent one small pebble flying through the sheet of rain. It plonked on his head.
“Yeooww!” Gautham cried, rubbing on the sore spot, “What the heck are you doing?”
“You think you are God, don’t you. Let me clear matters for you. You are not God, alright?” I growled and threw one more stone at him.
Gautham had managed to haul himself up by that time and the small rock got him in his solar plexus.
“Aowww! You crazy fool. Are you trying to kill me? Stop it!!”
“STOP WITH THIS NONSENSE!!” Gautham bellowed, having had enough of it. He deftly caught the last of my geological missiles halfway through its trajectory and thundered again, “I SAID, STOP!!!”
Lightning streaked across the sky at that moment and lit up the whole street in a surreal fashion. A sinusoidal wave of luminosity flashed through, and illuminated Gautham in its wake. I stared, rapt with attention, as he stood, with the rain pouring down, his clothes plastered to his well toned body like a second skin, one hand held high in the sky with a stone clutched within its fist. It was the expression on his face that churned my insides and made the hairs on my nape stand up. It was a countenance that embroiled a mixture of infuriation, titanic rage and umbrage. His eyes held an unholy emotion and for a split second, I couldn’t recognize Gautham.
That Greek God…
Thunder clapped an opus of a high tenor in the skies and cognizance seized me instinctively.
Of all the things that complete a Greek God’s wardrobe- thunderbolts, tridents, spears, winged sandals, sickles, blah blah, mine had to have a stone for a divine weapon in his hand. A Stone, I thought wryly.
Gautham dropped the stone in disgust and moved toward me, “What the hell were you thinking? You lost your mind!”
“Don’t come any further. Or I will…I…will..” I stammered in fright.
He rose to the challenge in the blink of an eye.
“Or you will? What? What will you do?” he smirked.
“I will… I will tell Jahnavi that her boyfriend misbehaved with me.” I replied in a rush, heady with an unknown fear.
“Her boyfriend? Jahnavi, what?” he stuttered, confused. He halted midway and watched me warily as I bit my lip, willing myself not to cry. I brushed a lock of wet hair off my face and sniffled desolately.
“You’re in a relationship with Jahnavi. I know everything.”
“I am in a relationship with Jahnavi?” he echoed.
“Yes. You are.”
Gautham chose to remain silent and continued regarding me in an unnerving way.
“What?” I asked, uncomfortably.
“Tell me. What?”
“Well, it’s just that I am no more in love with Jahnavi than you are in love with Karthik!”
“You’re not in love with Jahnavi?” I confirmed stupidly.
He pursed his lips and shook his head in negation. I gaped at him, waiting for the sudden feeling of emptiness to fill my heart, the same nothingness that I felt for Karthik when he had validated about the non-existence of his love life.
I felt nothing… nothing at all… nothing…
…BUT an incredible feeling of elation and absolute liberation. I panted for breath as a thousand different species of butterflies flew around inside me, casting light spells of exultation and thrills of joy. Helpless and at a loss to understand any of the emotions, I burst into tears abruptly, startling both Gautham and myself.
“Damn, are you okay? What happened?” Gautham enquired, shocked and bewildered.
I shook my head and sobbed louder.
“Hell! Okay listen, yes… I’m not in love with Jahnavi. Please don’t cry. Please. But… but if it makes you feel any better, I’m in love with you!” he admitted sincerely, hoping to calm me down.
I stopped, gazed at him incredulously and then burst into a fresh batch of tears.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…” I howled to the heavens, not quite recognizing all the alien sentiments enveloping us both in a thick Scotch mist.
“What happened? Please don’t cry. I really don’t know how to handle it.”
“It’s raining all around me,” I bawled and panted for breath, “My face is probably streaked with water-proof mascara. My saree is ruined and my shoes are drenched. And you tell me you love me? How can you be such an insensitive jerk?”
“Anu, I really am in love with you. I wasn’t kidding.” he confessed earnestly.
I peered into his eyes and saw his trademark honesty. He had not been teasing me at all.
I sniffled morosely and glanced at the ground. The rain was relentless; it was as if someone had forgotten to shut off some water faucets high above.
“Well?” Gautham pursued hesitantly.
I looked up at him and wiped my eyes with the backs of my hands.
“So, you are not going to say anything?”
“Should I say something?” I asked lightly.
“Anu…” he warned.
“Alright! Yes, I love you back.” I shrieked ecstatically. That was the first time, I had even admitted it to myself, and it felt amazing to be able to share it with him.
As Gautham wrapped his arms around me in a monumental hug, I sighed and revelled in the moment. I had been friendless, boyfriendless, soggy, tired, tearful and angry with the whole wide world a few minutes earlier. And then my best friend (okay, ex-best friend) deemed it necessary to change his position in my life. In his arms, I felt a sense of insanity which struck me as absolutely perfect. I was in the safest haven, a truly astounding place to stay. Explanations could wait until later…
“Wait a minute! Where’s Jahnavi by the way?” I gazed at him curiously and then realization dawned on me, “Did she plan this rendezvous?”
“In a way, yes,” he said mischievously and continued, “She knew how I felt about you right from the beginning and wanted to help me out. She’s in an important meeting with Veerappan right now.”
“Yes...” Gautham agreed and dropped a light kiss on my head. I snuggled further into his sopping wet arms and closed my eyes contentedly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In Some Other Dry Part Of The City…
Veerappan shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other not knowing how to explain to Jahnavi. She leaned on the ledge wall and stifled a yawn surreptitiously.
“I don’t know how you will take this, Jahnavi.” he ventured timidly.
Jahnavi rolled her eyes and then twisted around to face him.
“What are you talking about, Veerappan?” she asked, coating her stance generously with a faint twinge of alarm.
“Jahnavi, I know how much you like me.”
She sighed theatrically and clasped her hands under her chin, “Yes, Veerappan, yes. I like you so much. I am glad you understood that.”
“I am under an obligation to marry someone from my own town. She’s my relative.”
Jahnavi cuffed a hand to her forehead in a dramatic pose and groaned regretfully, “Oh, Veerappan, Whatte Kodumai. I had dreamed so many dreams, of us together, of our wedding and our life.”
“I know. I know. But I am obligated to marry this girl.” he lamented.
“Veerappan, I have an idea,” she snapped her fingers mock-excitedly, “Let’s elope. We will get married and meet your parents. They cannot do anything after that.”
He appeared so scandalized and petrified that Jahnavi nearly felt sorry for him. Swallowing down a sudden burst of hysterical laughter, she batted her eyes and looked expectantly at Veerappan.
“Jahnavi, I really cannot do that. They are my parents. Such things are possible only in movies. Not in reality.”
She gazed at him, pretending to understand and blew her nose exaggeratedly into her handkerchief.
“I understand, Veerappan. Sacrifices are important for the perfect love story. I will always remember you here.” she patted sadly on her heart and tapped on her temple with a finger, “And here.”
Veerappan’s relief was profoundly tangible. Jahnavi could almost see it develop tiny wings and fly around victoriously.
“Jahnavi, can I leave now? I have an early morning bus to catch tomorrow.”
“Yes, of course.”
He got on to his two-wheeler and kick started the engine.
“Veerappan, can I ask you just one thing? Please do not say no.”
“Yes, go ahead.” he croaked nervously.
“What’s her name? The one you are going to marry.”
He declared it quite proudly, “Oh! Her name is Kothamalli.”
That was the last straw. Jahnavi choked on her laughter and somehow managed to convert it into fits of coughing.
“Please say hello to the future Mrs. Kothamalli Veerappan, on my behalf” she said, wiping the tears off her face.
Veerappan nodded and hastily made his exit.
Jahnavi watched on until he was out of sight and then gave in to the cackles of laughter. After effectively convincing the startled crows around, that she had indeed lost her mind nevertheless, Jahnavi started walking toward the main road.
She mentally blew a kiss to Reverse Psychology.
Five minutes down the road, a car pulled to a stop next to her and a young man stepped out.
She looked at him, puzzled, and waited for him to say something.
“Hi. I am sorry I had to barge in on your thoughts like this. You don’t know me. But I know you.”
“Yes. I know this might sound like a cheesy pick-up line, but I have seen you before.”
“Okay, that definitely did sound like a cheesy pick-up line.” Jahnavi said scornfully.
“I am sorry,” he laughed self-derisively and smiled into her eyes, “I have seen you yell at a guy some months back. I assume it must have been some random stalker. This was near T. Nagar, I guess. I don’t even know if you remember it.”
That was the Veerappan episode, right after the Diwali shopping trip.
“Yes, I kinda remember it now. So… what’s this about?” Jahnavi posed curiously.
“Oh, well, I actually admired your guts, the other day. But I didn’t get a chance to talk to you about it.”
“Okay…” she urged him to continue.
“Umm… I know this might sound like another cheesy pick-up line. Would you like to have coffee with me sometime?” he put forth, hopefully and smiled again.
“Hmmm… so what’s your name again?”
“Oh, yeah. I totally forgot. My name’s Bhargav. Hi, pleased to meet you… err...”
“Jahnavi.” she supplied helpfully.
“Ah Jahnavi, nice name. Umm, about that coffee…?”
“Let me see… Unless you have a ready-made fiancée named Karuvepellai?”