AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER – XII

It was a Sunday at last. Radha slept in till late, and Pragya was up and about like a paradox. Radha smiled; she knew why. Sunday meant Pragya’s boyfriend Samay, will come to spend the day with her. He was an army officer and drove all the way from place to Pragya’s place religiously on Sundays.

Radha buried her face in her fluffy pillow and called out to Pragya, “He’s coming?”

Pragya, who was brushing her frizzy hair straight said, “Yesss!”, Radha could hear her happiness in her voice. The seductive smell of her alluring perfume permeated the bedroom’s air.

Radha chuckled and tossed in her bed; she lay facing Pragya, witnessing the glow in her face. What was it about this man that made her so ecstatic, that made her wait desperately for Sundays? All her new dresses, new shoes, new makeup was saved for Sundays. She meticulously planned for Sundays, painstakingly shortlisting the things she wanted to try with Samay. She emancipated a radiant luminosity of love for the next six days until Sunday. ‘Can the presence of a man make so much difference in one’s life?’ she questioned herself and got the answer from within, ‘No, it wasn’t the presence of a man, it was the presence of love.’

Pragya checked her wristwatch, and just then the doorbell rang, she rushed to answer it. Radha heard Samay’s voice boom in the corridor and then all she heard was Pragya talk nonstop like a chatterbox. A few minutes later, Pragya appeared in the bedroom, bouncing with excitement. She held Radha by her shoulder and made her sit.

“Rads Rads Rads, I have something to ask you,” Pragya said brimming with charged energy.

Radha pushed her hair out of her eyes and tied them in a ponytail. “What is it, mad mademoiselle?” she asked.

Pragya softly slapped Radha’s cheeks to shrug the sleep from her eyes and Radha screeched. “I need this apartment to myself till night; Samay just surprised me,” Pragya said flashing a gold pendant in her chain, “It is exactly one year since we met, I forgot, but he remembered. I wanna do something special for him too, I wanna prepare Samay an awesome romantic candlelit dinner,” Pragya announced.

“What?” Radha asked startled, “and where will I go?” she asked.

Pragya made a cute puppy face, “Please Babe, just for today. Dekh, you have only been shuttling between work and home for months now. You need to go out and have some fresh air” She cringed her nose and joined her hands like a good disciple.

Radha huffed and sighed. “Theek hai. FINE!!!” she said, getting up from bed, “but you will reimburse all my bills.” Radha made her way to the washroom, and Pragya jumped on her back, hugged her from behind and kissed her cheek, “Thank you, Babe, Thank you so much, you are a Lifesaver.”

A few minutes later she heard the main door shut close and she knew Pragya and Samay were gone. She filled the tub, adding bath salts to the water and lowered herself in the water, having a long leisurely bath. Later she made herself a heavy brunch and then decided to pamper herself to a massage and some facial. Her favourite spa was overcrowded, but she managed to get a spot with her beautician. The massage was relaxing and soothing, rubbing the stress and fatigue out of her tension points. But she ended up spending more than she intended in the salon, a trick her beautician often played on her by coaxing her into Detan Face Mask.

Three hours later she was back home and decided to go for shopping, a movie, dinner and have some ME time. She picked her handbag, her wallet, her phone, and set out to her favourite mall, The Ambience Mall.

She roamed in hallways lined with hundreds of different stores, teeming with teenagers in ripped jeans and overpriced tees. She had no list in mind and was window shopping when she came across a mobile store and decided to check for a new mobile for herself, the one she had was severely outdated. The man behind the counter was determined to make a sale as he showed her an array of newly launched mobiles when a man came and stood next to her, looking at the display of phones. She was standing face to face with none other than Dr Akash Verma. She took in a sharp breath and excused herself from the shop. The salesman gave Akash a hidden look of contempt as if it was his fault he lost Radha’a sale. Radha was halfway down the corridor when he heard someone call her name.

“Miss….excuse me Miss, Miss Radha, here please.” She stopped in her tracks and saw Akash calling after her. He ran to her, “I need to speak to you.” he rushed.

“But I don’t wanna speak to you, besides,” she looked at her watch, “I am getting late for somewhere.” She lied.

“Just a few minutes, just one coffee, Please, I am requesting.”, he said and Radha sensed a desperate earnestness in his voice. She nodded with a sombre look. They descended the escalators to CCD and ordered two Mochaccinos.

Radha leaned forward, folded her arms on the table and asked, “So what is it you wanna talk about, what can I do for you?”

Akash gave a furtive look to the crowd around; it was apparent he was feeling conscious of himself.

He began, “I just wanna tell you that though I know you think I am an unworthy son and a good for nothing human being, I was bound by the choices life gave me.”

“Oh? Like deserting, your old father or…maybe like coming back to check on him years later?” her tone acidic.

“I went to the US, yes, that was years ago. I got a job in the USA; it was a dream come true for me. There was no one to take care of my father here, so I put him in one of the best old age homes and used to send money regularly. I met Rachel there and fell in love with her, married her, became a US citizen, and we had three children. She didn’t want my father to join us in the USA, neither she wanted my children to visit India. I did everything to make her happy, but six months ago she divorced me and…” he choked before continuing, “and the custody of all my three children went to her, all I am left with are visitation rights.” he rubbed his eyes with his handkerchief, and a waitstaff brought their coffee.

“I felt the pain of a father, the pain of separation and instantly repented the wrong I did to my father. I flew to India to apologise to him, take him back with me. But now I know absolution doesn’t come easy. It will take time and patience to earn his trust and his love once again.” He finished. There was silence as they both finished their coffee. He paid the bill, and they got up to leave.

Radha picked up her handbag and said, “I am sorry, but I shouldn’t have been so judgemental, you have had your share of problems, you know what best you could do, I have no right to arbitrate. Hope you are successful in your mission.” With these words, she extended her hand and Akash shook it.

Radha was walking away when a sudden urge came over her, and she turned, “I have two passes for a movie, would you like to come?” The words were out of her mouth before she could contain them. Akash looked abashed, but he was smiling all the same.

“I would love that, besides I have nothing to do till I go to meet Dad again tomorrow morning,” he said and followed her to the theatre in the mall. Radha couldn’t believe her stupidity; she was never this reckless, always prudent, vigilant, then what made her so whimsical today she wondered. The next three hours went in a blink of an eye. The movie was value for money and Akash was a great company. Radha couldn’t help but feel relaxed and comfortable in his company. He insisted on getting popcorn and soft drinks in the interval, and she felt like this was their routine.

Radha felt Akash needed a break too; he needed a break from all the guilt and stress of his life. He was feasting on her company like a man starving for air, talking nonstop.
“I would have shown you pictures of my kids, but my phone got stolen.” He said.

Radha swallowed, ” Actually, I too need to buy a new phone, shall we?” She offered another impulsive decision.

He nodded, and they went back to the same store where they met, and both ended up buying Oneplus Seven. Akash opened his Google Drive and showed her his family pictures. He had beautiful children, and each picture screamed of his love for his kids. She told him about her life, her work, her childhood, about Pragya, sharing things with him didn’t feel unnatural, though the voice in her head kept repeating, ‘He’s a stranger.’ but for once she let her heart rule over her head.

They had dinner in a Mexican restaurant and chatted about their hobbies over tacos and burritos. She came to know that apart from being an Orthopedic, he was also a sketch artist and loved to sketch whenever he had free time on his hands. He showed her some of his sketches and Radha was amazed to see he had drawn Meena Kumari and Madhu Bala instead of Madonna. The night was coming to a close, but Radha didn’t want this day to come to an end. She was having a very good time after a very long time. They had the grand finale with Sundaes and boarded a cab to Akash’s hotel. He got down when and Radha saw his back recede in the hotel.

“Take me to Green Palms apartments please,” she told the cab driver as the cool night breeze caressed her face. The song on the radio made her smile with her eyes closed, lulling her to sleep.

“Chup tum raho chup hum rahe
Chup tum raho chup hum rahe
Khamoshi ko khamoshi se
Zindagi ko zindagi se baat karne do
Chup tum raho chup hum rahe
Chup tum raho chup hum rahe
Khamoshi ko khamoshi se
Zindagi ko zindagi se baat karne do
Chup tum raho chup hum rahe
Chup tum raho”

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