“If he was ‘hot’… then, what am I?”
She smiled lovingly and ran her fingers up his bare chest to caress his pectorals. Leaning towards him, she replied in a careless, sultry, sexy voice, “You are fire!! Hoping to get things heated up somewhere else is so juvenile when I’m hoping to get totally scorched and burnt in ‘this’ fire.”
He didn’t reply to this. Instead, he gave her a really angry stare, squeezing his eyes, looking down at her eyes due to the difference in their heights. She had been clinging to him and held him with her hands, one around his waist and other at his chest, slowly caressing her way up. She had a naughty tease on her lips while he nearly gritted his teeth, making her chuckle more.
For a moment, they didn’t speak anything. She was clearly happy at the small victory and he could read her so well.
“Wowww!! I should be flattered at that!” Finally, he spoke in a sarcastic tone.
She lifted one eyebrow, barely pressing her lips to suppress the smirk, “You should be!!”
“You were trying to make me feel jealous??”
He removed her from him, slightly away, to stand at a distance from him. Her body clinging to him was not the right posture to talk sense. And he was irritated right now, for he hated his emotions to be on display so openly.
Somehow, this girl always knew how to light up all those different kind of emotions inside him, while she watched them play to enjoy at his expense.
He felt bare… exposed… uncomfortable…
jealousy was one such feeling which made him appear so vulnerable and gave her a chance to tease him. Obviously, she was not going to spare any such opportunity.
“Trying??!! No…no…no… I DID make you feel jealous… with a capital and bold J actually!!” She finally let her smirk go off and giggled.
He was embarrassed. And irked too. “Cheeee… Nandu… that was so cheap!”
He had no idea what made him appear cute when he said that. Because, she literally made a loving expression, pulled his cheeks and replied, “Awww!!! Sorry for letting you down, Mr. Classy Husband. But I know only ‘cheap tactics’…”
He rolled his eyes, declaring, “I’m going now!”
“What happened to the snorkeling?”
“Go and find out more cheap tactics. Some may even work.” He walked away, on the hot, burning beach sand. Appearing delectable in just a pair of cotton khaki shorts, reaching till his knees. His shirtless torso was a proof of how finely tuned his muscles were and how he never skipped his gym sessions. He turned once after walking a few steps away from her and found her staring at him with a naughty smirk on her lips.
She had been observing him with her hands folded across her chest and the smirk not leaving her face. He placed his hands on his waist. He shrugged. She tilted her neck and nodded.
“What?” He asked.
“You can’t go!”
“I CAN! And I’m definitely going.”
“Alright! Have a good day!”
She waved towards him confidently and smirked more. In a smooth, careless move, she held the hem of her translucent white shrug and took it away. An act that took his breath away. Since when did she become this bold?!
She chuckled and turned away to go towards the cool blue clear water. Once again, she turned towards him and gave him the warmest smile possible, turning into another beautiful laughter. With that she said, “See, I can’t force you to join me. But I promise that wherever you are going won’t be half as beautiful as the time you are going to spend with me!!”
“Of course!!” He nodded side to side, turned his face away, just once, in frustration, rolled his eyes, rotated his tongue and left a desperate sigh.
She sniggered but didn’t turn away. She was too sure that he will be back with her and join her. Finally, he jogged towards her, “Godddd!!! How much I hate people trying to control me!!!”
“Wives are not counted with ‘other people’, you know!! Wives do what they do! And it is not called ‘controlling someone’…” She giggled so cutely that all his irritation was washed off.
He played along, leaning closer to her to reach the level of her eyes, before he asked in a deep throaty voice, “Then?? What do they call it?”
“Special Privileges!” She giggled with that and held his hand to take him towards the water. “Now if you don’t take me to snorkel with you, you already know that I have a hot company!”
“Shut up!” He glared at her with a roll of his eyes and made her wear the snorkeling gear, the mask, the snorkel, and the swimfins.
They were taken by a boat towards further into the ocean and for the next few hours, Manik became busy with Nandini and the ocean… teaching her how to snorkel, explaining the difference between scuba diving and snorkeling, telling her how to clear the airway and be comfortable in water and all about the safety precautions to be taken.
And when they entered deep inside the water, it was a totally different world on it’s own. Underwater plants, rocks, corals, colourful fishes of several kinds, turtles and several types of shrimps, snails and sea creatures…
When they finally reached the shores back, she was dead tired. She slumped on the beach sand facing the sun. He lay by her side, on his tummy, with his back to the sun and face turned towards her, observing the priceless bliss on her face.
She opened her eyes and smiled, face turned towards him. “What are you looking at?”
He nodded sheepishly, “I was observing a peculiar look on your face…”
“Yeah! The first look of thrill, the bliss, the achievement when you do something new. Innocence is priceless.”
She blushed. But immediately she teased him, “You know… even you have a peculiar look on your face. Always!”
“Yeah. The look that says ‘have-been-there-already-done-that’… I wonder if there is anything you haven’t done or don’t know about. Smugness is also priceless!”
He laughed loudly and turned himself to lie on his back too, facing the sun and the sky with his head supported on his folded hand below it. Fondly, he sighed and turned his face to look into her eyes.
“Do you even know, how amazing you are?!! Here, I’ve always had people either agreeing to me, or sucking up to what I wanted, bowing and nodding to all that I said … or maybe standing quiet before me. Hardly anyone, EVER, counteracted me over anything. And there, I find you entering my life, challenging me about everything damn thing in my life! I mean, look at you, you hardly ever agree to what I say or do… on top of it, you go ahead and make fun of me…”
“And like always, you must be hating that you love it…”
He rolled his eyes, “Ha… Ha… Ha. No way! How overconfident of you!!! Madam, I don’t always love everything you do!!”
“No???” She gave a shocked expression, making him laugh more.
“Okay… okay!! Don’t get soooo upset… I always love everything you do!!! Happy??” He lovingly, blissfully pampered here.
Clearly ecstatic, she nodded like a pretty doll at first. And was back to lying down on the sand, face towards the sky. Then, she stopped smiling. Her heart was pacing hard. After a long moment of silence between them, she asked in a composed voice, “Jokes apart. On a serious note, what if someday you don’t like what I did… Maybe you’ll hate me for some decisions that I take…”
Even he had become sober now. He was not laughing anymore. Calmly and patiently, he replied, “That is not even possible.”
“Do you remember, that day you said that I was allowed to take decisions on behalf of both of us…”
“I stand by my words…”
“But Manik… maybe, my sensibilities and decisions are opposite to what you want… then??”
“Sometimes, it does! In fact, a lot of times, it will happen. We have contrasting opinions. But I don’t mind going by your decisions as I came to this trip just because you wanted it… and then today… for snorkeling… I didn’t want to do it, but you tricked me…”
“Do you regret, for both the times…??”
He played with her curls falling on her face and pushed them behind her ear. “Not for these two times… not for any time… I don’t regret any move when I have gone by your beliefs, your opinions and your wishes…”
“And if something like that happens in the future??”
She had asked with a genuine, stressed look on her face. She was truly worried. Being well aware that she was going against him. She had to take the risk that she had already taken, even if it meant creating a rift between them. It was difficult, it felt pathetic and it was too painful to even think of betraying him…
But if she didn’t do it, there was no end to the madness that had been going on. She had to do something to help him and free him of his demons.
He smiled and shrugged, “I’ll try to understand if anything like that happens.”
She nodded, “No, you won’t!! I know you so well, Manik… you don’t forgive people, that easily! You will not forgive me, na?!”
“Didn’t you say just now that ‘wives-are-not-counted-with-people’… ‘they do what they do’… special privileges, you know!!” He smirked with that.
“Promise me, that you will at least listen to me…”
He promised her and went back to soak in the sun and the pleasant breeze. He closed his eyes, feeling relaxed in the bliss of her company. He could feel the fresh air from the ocean warming up his heart and letting him loosen the burdens he had been carrying till now.
Togetherness could be so beautiful, he had never known before meeting her!
She made him believe that someone could enter and begin to live in his heart like a heartbeat and in his mind, just like crazy thoughts.
In the evening, they went to La Rambla for a long walk and dinner. The crowd, like always, was maddening as they tore through groups of men and women, the vendors selling candies and balloons and the groups of kids playing on the street.
Hardly, they had covered half of the street, when a rogue brushed past Nandini’s shoulder so roughly that she staggered. Manik helped her balance and not fall down when she realised that her purse had been snatched.
“My purse!” She immediately stood up to locate the guy who was running fast, through the crowded road. Manik started following him but Nandini held his hand to stop him, “Manik, please don’t go!”
“One minute!” He assured her and ran to follow the rogue in the heavy crowd on the longest street of the city.
The goon must have been a pro as he ran super fast and could tear through the crowds as well as the shops in between. Manik had to follow him till far to grab him and before he realised it, they were already a long distance away and they had taken a turn towards a small alley.
Nandini was left alone at the middle of the road and initially she tried to walk in the same direction where the goon and Manik had disappeared, but after some time, she lost her way. The crowd was thick and when she turned around, she was at a crossroad with two alleys from the long street and a few buildings in the vicinity. Suddenly, she realised that she didn’t have her phone or her purse. With no money, no phone numbers and no back-up for emergency she became nervous. It was a sickening feel to be left all alone with no way to get back if she was lost.
She positioned herself by a wall and wondered how Manik was going to find her in this heavy crowd and she was not even at the original position where he had left her. She had walked ahead and now trying to go back to that position was going to be futile too as she didn’t remember how far she had walked and will she be able to find her way back.
Her forehead shone with sweat beads, just when a sinking sensation in her heart made it appear heavy. She could clearly hear the sound of her heart beats thumping against her rib cage. A sudden panic attack returned to engulf her. She hugged herself, took a deep breath and tucked herself to the wall behind her, hoping against hope that Manik would locate her in this place, in this humongous lot of crowd of thousands, at a weird location and with no phone with either of them.
Manik dashed back after a while and realised much later that he had ran for a really long stretch for he couldn’t locate, exactly at which place, he had left Nandini. He tried to remember the area and managed to walk a long distance back but couldn’t find Nandu. It was late evening and was about to get dark. The crowd was getting thicker and he didn’t know how to contact her. She had no money and no phone. How was she going to reach the hotel back? He was terribly worried about her. He couldn’t leave her here at any cost, hoping that she’d be back by herself.
He was already panting due to the run and the tussle and the run again, during the return… and now his mind was not working at all… he tried moving away but didn’t know which direction to take… maybe she had followed him, but he was not sure. It was difficult to see anything beyond the mob of people, immediately around him.
Nandini pressed her lips and took a deep breath, trying not to break down due to the worsening panic attack. She was alone. She was lost. She didn’t know where to go to…
Shall I call Cabir?… Call Niki?… Call dadu?… I don’t remember their numbers and I have no money…And even if I manage, what will they do… Manik doesn’t have his phone with him… How should I tell him where I am… I hope he is safe… I hope the goon went away and didn’t harm him… Shall I go to the police? … i know the hotel name… Maybe, I should try and call the hotel that we are staying in… but Manik won’t be there… He will never leave me here… He will keep searching for me… God, he must be worried for me…
People passing by started giving weird looks to her. Tears welled at the brim of her pretty eyes, making them shine like two pools of wine. Her lips trembled, her shoulders stiffened as her spine pained while she kept fiddling with her fingers tangled into each other… her feet found it difficult to stay firm on the ground. She tried hard to stay easy and hopeful.
Taking another deep breath, she squeezed her eyes shut. After a moment, she perceived a shadow right before her, followed by his, “Hey!!”
He was short of breath. His face was burdened with worry, relief, fatigue…
Immediately she hugged him, curling her hands around him, clutching his shirt within the grasp of her fingers, tucking her face to his chest and trying to calm her racing beats. He did the same, trying to catch up on his breath and held her so warmly, so close to him that she could have been crushed at other times. But not today!! His long arms hid her tiny form in their expanse, till her heartbeats calmed down and she stopped shivering.
This wasn’t their first hug but it was going to be the most memorable hug ever. As if the world ceased to exist outside those arms around each other… as if the setting sun and the creeping darkness of the night had no meaning for their sunshine, when they found each other… as if their problems, differences, families, professions, feelings, opinions, and choices were all secondary, meant to stay outside the circle of their love…
After a long moment, he tried to detach her and look at her face but she didn’t relent. She wanted to hold him… for the longest of time… for eternity… She clutched him stronger than before…
“Nandini…” He spoke lovingly, “I’m here…don’t worry…”
She nodded and whispered, “I was so scared…so scared…”
“I know, sweetheart… Trust me… I was as scared as you were! For a moment, it felt as if I had lost you…” He spoke in all honesty, with the most earnest tone to his words.
She slightly separated from him and looked at his face, and replied with a low, meek voice. “Yeah! Me too!!”
“But we found each other. Even in this foreign country, with no phones, no contact, in this alien street with hundreds around us…”
Tears trickled down her face, “Manik, please don’t let me be lost, ever! Sometimes, I may not act sensibly, I may irritate you, hurt you, disappoint you… but, I will keep relying on you… I will always wait for you to come back and find me…”
He held her face and kissed her forehead, with a heartfelt vow, “I will never let you go away from me. If it ever happens, I will come back and find you, wherever you are! And it’s a promise!!”