She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his ‘last seen at’ status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn’t stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous.
And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message.
But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn’t know if he was joking or not. What was this?
The two words stared at her from the shiny screen of the iPhone 6S, ‘It is Done.’! Anita was dumbstruck, surely he could have called, if even for a minute or so. He was never the one who would have to fumble for words, in fact he had trouble in containing his loquacious nature and it was Anita’s favorite ploy to mockingly chide him while waiting for his usual rejoinder ‘Ok Ok. I get it, I will not speak anymore’.
Looking askance at the steaming cup of Cappuccino and the barely nibbled strawberry flavored Danishes on her table, Anita put down a 100 Rupee tip beside the plate for Joyeeta, her favorite waitress in Dunkin Donuts. Suddenly she stood up, closed her presentation and packed her laptop. She glanced at the phone once more, but there were no further pings forthcoming.
Brows knitted tightly together and with a scowl on her face, Anita strolled outside to the parking lot in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon. It was 8 am and the persistent honks were already tiring her. With the bag flung over one of her shoulders, she quickly lit her Marlboro and took a deep puff. As she drove hurriedly to her Office, she quickly checked her watch. She still had 2 hours before the presentation to her client. The Director, Corporate Strategy of a pharmaceutical firm is not a man to be disappointed. Any other day and she would have been looking forward to her day, managing clients and deriving satisfaction from closing a deal. However today was different.
A belligerent honk brought her out of her reverie. She suddenly found an Ola Cab in front of her and the driver shaking his fists at her with some choice expletives thrown in for making a point. Anita apologized gruffly with a wave of her hand and stopped at the Security checkpoint in DLF Cyber city. She made a conscious effort to control her mind from wandering. What was more infuriating was the visceral fear which she felt in the pit of her stomach and not knowing why she was over-reacting so much. Her rational mind debated if she had taken the morning dose of Valium. Not able to recollect that either, Anita threw away the cigarette butt out of the window with a vehemence.
It was the hottest day in Kolkata “that” year. The fans and the air conditioners plied all day long. The client office cafeteria was comfortably cool. Anita had barely loaded her food tray with salad and eggs when she almost jumped at somebody exclaiming loudly beside her. Having recovered her poise, she turned around red in face and with a ready rejoinder, when she noticed him, grinning widely from ear to ear with exhilaration writ large on his face. Anita blinked a few times and somehow managed to put on a plastic smile on her still disheveled face, wondering who this guy was, who despite seeming strangely familiar was hard to place in her memory. She did not have to wait long though.
‘Hi, Anita! What a pleasant surprise!’ said the young man in a business suit with impeccably placed tie and cufflinks. He had a faint US accent, which meant either he was here on a business trip or was one of the show-offs whose fake accent persists even long after they are back in India.
Anita replied ‘Sorry, but do I know you?’
‘Of course, Anita. Well it has been a rather long time, 15 years, 220 days to be precise I guess’ said the young man.
Looking at the still bewildered expression on Anita’s face, he sighed and said ‘Well, I am Rakesh, Batch of 2000, Computer Science, JIT Madras’.
With the sudden realization, Anita gasped for breath.
‘Here, let me help you, the temperatures touched 46 degrees today, the last time I heard’, said Rakesh looking intently at Anita whose balance seemed to give away yet again.
Looking sheepish and flustered, Anita mumbled a thank you and sat down with Rakesh at a corner table in the cafeteria.
Once she had managed to rein in the galloping heart beats in her chest, she asked Rakesh if he worked for the client. Rakesh still had the glazed look in his eyes and confirmed that he was indeed working for Deviance Analytics. Anita gobbled her lunch, managed an apology for having a meeting with the client in ten minutes and rushed away after Rakesh had managed to get her phone numbers and a parting promise of meeting the next day for lunch in the cafeteria.
Anita had lied, but she did not have a choice. She walked out to the Smoking Zone and with trembling hands lighted a Marlboro. She could very clearly recollect Rakesh now from her undergraduate days in Chennai. Both of them were in the same class. Looking back now, it was no wonder that she could not recognize him. The man whom she had met just now was athletic, immaculately attired in business formals, with a charming smile and a pleasant and confident demeanor. Anita was surprised that her mind had registered the expensive watch and shoes. Rakesh had done well it seems.
Back in college, Rakesh was a simpleton, who swore by the study material and devoted all his hours to securing the top rank. He was scrawny, with big round spectacles and a sloppy gait which did nothing to improve his defeatist, nerd image amongst the batch mates. However Rakesh did have another passion in his tedious life. He was enamored by Anita’s beauty and intelligence from the first day of college. He nursed a secret ambition of winning Anita from the college loafers by securing the gold medal in the final exams. It was a typical topic in the college canteen and in parties, a fall back option to make fun of for bored minds.
Anita was a free spirited girl, her father was a Colonel in the Army and they had spent many years across North India before her father had decided to settle down in his hometown which was Chennai. Brash that she was, she however did not enjoy discussing Rakesh when the others made fun of him. It was not that she had any empathy towards him, it was just that she did not even want to acknowledge his presence, such an incongruous person in her world.
Days went by, Anita graduated with good marks. Rakesh won the Gold medal, but only in the successive year. Rakesh did not manage to graduate with Anita and her friends. Anita took another puff from her cigarette while she shivered even in the warm afternoon breeze.
Anita remembered only too vividly the honest and naïve proposal by Rakesh just 2 weeks before the final exams. She had not only managed to break his heart but had also made unkind, snide, inopportune remarks which had devastated Rakesh. Mortified, Rakesh could no longer seek refuge in his make believe world where Anita pined for him and was his only true love. Rakesh did the only thing he could, he jumped from the hostel terrace.
Everyone rallied to a general sympathetic wave for him in the college but nobody ever came to know what had instigated the modest kid to attempt something so presumptuous.
Anita remained disturbed throughout the day, with the renewed sense of guilt eating at her conscience after so many years. After reaching the guest house, she clicked on the answering machine. There were the usual calls from her work friends, urging her to join in the weekend fun, there was a call from home, a call from Anish….and a call from Rakesh! Changing her dress in the bedroom, she could clearly hear Rakesh’s rich baritone coming out of the machine. Rakesh had reminded her of their lunch next day.
Soon this became a pattern. Anita worked for an IT vendor in the client office and her project still had 7 odd months to go live. Rakesh or rather this new version of the old loser Rakesh made her life real difficult. He met her daily at the cafeteria, regularly came over to her cubicle much to her chagrin. Anita could already hear the different kind of rumors doing the various rounds. Rakesh was a senior executive in the client organization and Anita was forced to be courteous towards him.
It seemed like Rakesh had undergone a complete overhaul in some fancy medical clinic. It was not only the physicality but the remarkable difference in attitude which frightened Anita. She refused him for dates multiple times. Rakesh continued to be belligerent and plagued her for attention. Anita was forced to change her phone numbers and tried to avoid Rakesh as much as possible. Despite her repeated insistence of having a steady boyfriend, things only got worse. All her objections were met with feral smiles and haughty laughter.
Anita was petrified, her guesthouse security enquired the other day about a non-resident car being noticed almost daily making the rounds. Finding out the guest house address was of course too easy for Rakesh. Anita hung on for the next few months to deliver the critical project and was only too glad when she secured her next project back in Gurgaon. Rakesh however had other ideas; he managed to relocate to the Noida branch of his office and continued his routine of harassment.
Anita finally decided to confide in Anish, her boyfriend. Anish worked for one of the big law firms in Delhi and was a bright, career oriented young man. Anish too was from Chennai and he had been dating Anita for 3 years now. He was a rising star in his law firm, a strongly built, kind, well known and affable soul. Well, it was only a matter of time, before Anish was going to be formally made a partner. Anita was so proud of her fiancé. The one trait she disliked in Anish was his vanity, Anish was known to be ruthless when it came to winning.
Anish took in all the details from Anita over a cup of tea in her apartment near Galleria Market in Gurgaon. He was not his jocular self and was eerily silent, he did not interrupt her narration even once. Anita was unsure if she saw flickers of anger and pain in the deep, dark smoldering eyes. With his jaws tightly set, he asked Anita what she would like to be done in the matter. They could not go to the police, partly because Rakesh seemingly moved in higher echelons of power and had influential friends in the city. Anish could not jeopardize his prospects in the law firm.
When they seemed to be at a loss for ideas, Anita suddenly remembered that Rakesh was going to visit Chennai two weeks later. She thought it might be a good idea to talk to him in the city in which they had all grown up, had bitter sweet memories and families, wherein he might finally be convinced to see sense. Anita knew Rakesh’s family was a well known and widely respected business family with ties to the ruling party. Surely if they could somehow talk to Rakesh’s father, the Industry baron, he might finally be able to rein in the loose cannon, his son.
Anish mulled over the idea and seemed to grudgingly agree. He enquired about Rakesh’s travel plans and opened up the calendar on his phone. He decided to use the Diwali long weekend for a short vacation in Chennai. He said he had some other family matters to tend to anyways and he would also take care of the Rakesh matter in the same trip.
Anish had travelled to Chennai 3 days back and was supposed to be back in Gurgaon tomorrow. Anita had not been able to reach him over the last few days until the message from him today morning. It was already 7 pm when she finally left office. She was feeling sprightly now, the early morning dread had somehow passed over. She made a mental note not to grill Anish about the trip details tomorrow and instead finalize the plans for their impending marriage in a month. On the way home, she bought a few vegetables and fish which Anish loved and planned to look up a few recipes the next day.
She woke up to the alarm early morning next day. Being a Saturday, she did not have office to attend to. Anish’s flight seemed to be on time, so she hurriedly moved out of the comfort of her warm bed and turned off the heater.
An hour later she waited for Anish to show up in the Arrivals section in Indira Gandhi airport. Sipping her favorite coffee, she logged on to the airport wifi network and browsed a Chennai daily’s online version. Suddenly her eyes were glued to a news item in the screen. A dead body had been found in Mahabalipuram beach. The Police was still trying to establish the identity of the badly mutilated body, a male of around 34 years of age, it seemed to be a case of homicide by drowning. Amongst the few details, they had mentioned a mole in the left hand!
The coffee cup smashed to the ground, Anita stood up in a daze to look at the Arrivals section. Rakesh was waltzing over with a trolley and waving his hands. Apparently he had noticed her, standing white faced with a bouquet in her hands……..