Apologies for making you wait. I was super busy since yesterday!
This is a super lengthy update… of the size of 3 updates…
Thanks to all those who are reading, voting and writing back to me… love you all…}
“I hope the flight gets delayed!” Manik hoped when entering the parking space of Charles de Gaulle airport.
“We are right there, Manik.” Cabir tried to ease him down.
“We need to park the car, then enter the airport and reach the specified Terminal at arrival gates. Do you have any idea how big this airport is??” Manik huffed.
Cabir made a face, “No!! I don’t !! I have NEVER flown out of this country. Come on yaar, don’t get so worked up!”
Manik was not listening to him. He was stressed… He was calculating the distance to the parking level, then the entire scene until they reach the visitors’ lounge to greet the ‘guest’… It was another story that his stress was increased by the fact that they had decided to talk to her in the lounge itself about Harshad and his disinterest in marriage and about her options of going back without suffering the humiliation…How would dadi react? How would everyone feel?? … And, it was yet another story that, for the first time, Manik Malhotra was finding himself out of place of a situation. He hated it when he had no control over the turn of events and he was a mere puppet in hands of circumstances… that was so not Manik Malhotra…
His lack of sleep, lack of proper food, lack of concentration and orientation in last one week got the better of him and he immediately regretted the offer he had made to receive his brother’s fiancee-to-be… Why did he have to complicate things??
He prayed that he didn’t mess up the launch of his prestigious brand in wake of these silly personal issues… things like these were not meant to be given undue importance and that was what they deserved… a quick resolution to go back to work…as efficiently as ever!!
And they were late! For the first time in his life, Manik Malhotra was late. Things were really going wrong…
Manik dropped Cabir at the entrance of the parking level 7. “Cabir, I’ve sent you the flight details, her name and the Terminal no. Get a placard, write her name and stand at the receiving end… at the visitors’ lounge… I’ll park the car and join you!!”
“Okay!” Cabir got down and the car and immediately realized that he didn’t know how Miss Murthy looked like. He called Manik, who was driving towards the parking lot, “Manik, send me her picture. How will I recognize her?”
“Oh Shitt!!! I don’t have it… I had asked Harshad, but he forgot, I guess. And then, I forgot to ask again. Mannn… I was so so so busy!! Wait, I’ll ask him to send me one…”
Cabir nodded and walked towards Terminal 3 for the arrival of the Air India flight from New Delhi to Paris. The flight had already landed and the passengers were coming out after the Immigration check and other formalities.
Cabir called up Manik, “Dude, I hope we are not late. I’m at the arrival gate and the passengers are coming out. I’m nervous now!”
“Don’t get nervous, I’m on my way. Look for an Indian girl…”
“It’s an Air India flight, bro!! From New Delhi to Paris!! More than three-fourths of passengers are Indians.”
“Oopss…!!! Then look for a girl travelling alone…”
“Very funny!! Do you know what you are talking? Do they carry signboards with them that they are travelling alone?”
“Arrey… look for the signs baba… a girl who looks confused and lost…she is travelling to Paris for the first time… if a girl has no one by her side, means she is travelling alone… she might be in a traditional Indian dress, looking like a behenji…”
“Manik!!! That was SO RUDE!!!”
“Err… I’m sorry!!! Really sorry… This is how Harshad, the idiot, described her and I used the same words… I’m an idiot myself… forget it! I’m waiting for Harshad’s message…he is sending the picture…”
“Come down, here. I am looking like an idiot too, holding a placard with Miss Murthy written over it… and no one responding to me… I think most of the passengers have left…”
“Oh shittt!! No way… I’m coming in a moment…” Manik was panic-stricken this time. Dadi was going to kill him if he lost Miss Nandini Murthy at the airport and didn’t receive her properly. He was usually not that irresponsible. Hell!!!! He was NEVER that irresponsible!! Suddenly, he hated being at that place, at that hour, for something so silly that he had left his launch process hanging in between and Alya waiting for this…
He had to rush and be with Cabir to trace the miss who had become Missing Murthy now!! He walked faster and tore through the crowd moving in the opposite direction and simultaneously, he took out his phone to check if Harshad had sent her picture.
The moment he looked into the screen without giving a break to his swift steps, he banged into something soft, smelling like fresh Lavender… Was it a bouquet of flowers? … No, it was a girl!!! Now on the floor, thanks to him.
His phone almost dropped from his hand due to the impact and he lunged ahead to catch it in air, “Whoa! Whoa…!! My phone was just saved from breaking. Get a grip of yourself, lady!”
“I wish to say the same for you! Can’t you see?” A soft, beautiful voice appeared to caress his eardrums when she was supposedly scolding him, looking around for her articles which were on the floor now. She almost whined in frustration, “Aiyappaaa!!!”
Manik was immediately regretful, “I’m…I’m so sorry, Ma’m!!”
“You should be!” She told him, adjusting her skirt which had raised up a bit due to the fall. He bent down and helped her to collect her things while she raised herself to kneel on her knees, stuffing her scarf and wallet in her handbag. Her backpack was taken off her shoulders and she arranged her things in it, while Manik stared at her, almost mesmerized.
She was wearing a printed off-shoulder crop top with a grey denim ankle length skirt. Her hair was long, a shade of deepest brown, thrown in wavy tendrils. Her eyes lined with kohl, were lowered as she focused on her belongings. He could only see her eyelashes fanned on her cheeks. He couldn’t ignore the fact that she smelt heavenly. Her voice was like a beautiful melody in symphony and her plump lips pressed together made him want to pull them out of the torture she was inflicting on them.
‘What are you thinking, Manik? Are you crazy? You are here to receive someone and you are already late!!!’
He was suddenly back to his senses and quickly he helped her collect her articles, her sunglasses, her water bottle, her diary, the Paris map she had been carrying, a few brochures, her passport and id card… He huffed at the treasure she had been balancing in her hands. “You shouldn’t carry so many things in your hands, you know…” He tried to advise her.
But was taken aback by the answer, “Excuse me!! No one tells me what to do… No one!! And who are you, by the way?? You bang into girls out of nowhere, knock them down and then instead of apologising, you are giving me this ‘gyaan’ about how to carry my things…”
He wished he could smirk. But he didn’t! She was scolding him and he was loving it. For the first time, ever… someone…in fact, a petite little girl, almost a feet smaller than him… was scolding Manik Malhotra and he wished he could listen to more of her. It was crazy… but then, this day had been crazy… and then, he remembered that he had to rush.
“I already apologised, Ma’m!” He handed her all the articles as she placed them in her bag one by one and took the rest in her hands, before she lifted her backpack again on her shoulder. He continued, while she adjusted herself, “But, if you are not satisfied, I’ll do that again. I’m really sorry!! Actually, I was in a hurry…and…”
“It’s okay…” She had mellowed down by now and nodded, interrupting him. Again, for the first time, someone had interrupted Manik Malhotra. Surprisingly, he didn’t mind it.
She spoke, “Rushing in a hurry won’t take you towards your correct destination…”
He wished he could ask her – ‘then, what would take me to one…?’ But she had already turned to go away, but not before giving him a warm smile. He checked himself, if he smiled too…for he hardly ever smiled. Not for friends, not for family, not for his staff…and certainly not for strangers!!
It was not that he had never been with girls before. He had girls queued up for his attention all through his life. His incredible tall frame, muscular well toned body, earned as a result of regular exercise, his killer looks and most of all, his riches, his money had made him worthy of millions of smiles from all sorts of girls waiting for his attention. He had seen girls swooning and drooling for him, he had girls like Soha making overt gestures to have him and he had seen models, catwalking around him for all the fashion brands they endorsed as a company. But he was never interested. He didn’t find even one lady worthy enough of his second glance and so he stayed away from girls. He had dated a few girls in college but moved on… never did he ever fall in love…
So it wasn’t like he had never seen a girl, before… It felt, as if he had never seen a girl like HER before!
Like an angel, she came from nowhere, banged into him and knocked him out of his senses, for good!!
“Hey, why are you smiling like an idiot?” Cabir spread his hands in air, one of them holding the ugly placard with Miss Murthy written on it. He was seriously surprised.
“I do smile! I think it’s legal to smile…” Manik smirked.
“Whoa!!! Wait…wait… Manik Malhotra cracking a joke!! Am I dreaming?” Cabir shook him, making him glare at him.
“Yo!! Now you look like Manik Malhotra… The Manik… who hardly ever smiles…!! Now tell me, what happened? You were supposed to rush here.. the flight has deboarded, dude…the passengers have all gone!”
“Oh shittt!!! How are we going to find Miss Murthy now?”
“Exactly!! And there I find you walking leisurely into the lounge, smiling away to glory!”
“Forget it!! Let’s rush… she might not have gone far! Did you observe the girls properly??”
“Yes, and no one did fit in your shitty description degrading Indian girls!” Cabir was angry at him.
Manik patted his back to pacify him, “Sorry again…Blame it on Harshad. Those were His words…You know how messed up I was since evening… and I apologised, already…Gawdd, I’ve been apologising since so long…”
“Who else did you apologise to?” Cabir rested his hands on his hips.
“Let’s walk and try to search Miss Murthy. I’ll tell you about it on the way!”
“Mannn… did we seriously lose her? I mean, I was here when the passengers were coming out and I don’t know if she passed by me, when I was writing that placard…” Cabir couldn’t believe that he missed the girl.
“Relax! It wasn’t your fault.” Manik spoke, looking around one of the busiest and largest airports in Europe. He asked, “Do you think we can still find her?”
“I don’t know…It’s a big airport and it’s so crowded… I think we should go home!” Cabir suggested.
Manik nodded. He didn’t take defeat that easily. Failure was not ‘his’ thing…
“Let’s think!! We should try again…” Manik took fast steps in the opposite direction. “This is the Terminal 3 from where the passengers left… most of the passengers must have departed from the airport too, by now. But she is alone, she has no idea where to go…so she must be lurking around here and there, to find out the way to go, maybe call home, or have a coffee or snack till someone comes to receive her… what do you say?”
“Hmm!!” Cabir nodded, super impressed with Manik, as they walked ahead, looking in all directions for an Indian girl, who looked simple and traditional and was travelling alone… In the meantime, he also told him about the beautiful smash into a walking talking stuffed toy.
“You need some imagination, Mannn!! How stupidly you describe girls!!” Cabir scolded him.
Manik smirked, “I’m sorry! I have less experience there.”
“You are getting engaged to Alya, tomorrow! Don’t forget!”
“I know!!” Manik sighed, “In my defence, I’d say, I didn’t bang into her on purpose. It was an accident. A sweet little accident??!! … Two, I am still not engaged. I’m single… Three, I am not even thinking much into it. It was just a little lovely experience and I don’t why but I felt she was rather cute… I mean… does that count in flirting… I didn’t even flirt with her… I just found her adorable!! That’s it!! I don’t know her name, or number… I didn’t even ask for it and it’s not like I’d ever meet her again!!”
“So, the story ends there!! Smallest story of the world!!”
“Smallest love story of the world!”
“There was no love… it was all sparks…”
“And spice!!!” Manik echoed with him, agreeing to him. They smirked and Manik turned away his face. He didn’t want his best friend to read more into the weird crazy expressions that waltzed their way towards his lips and eyes.
“So this is the nearest sidewalk cafe to the Terminal 3. You can see the entire terminal and this complete block from here. Let’s sit here and think…” Manik decided.
“Dude, let’s go back. Let’s go home!” Cabir suggested.
“No way! Dadi is going to grill me, roast me and eat me up…” Manik frowned. He didn’t want to accept that more than dadi, he was concerned about Miss Murthy, right now. He hoped that she was well and not lost in the crowd at Paris. He was genuinely concerned for her and hated that he had carelessly lost her in the crowd. He hated Harshad for doing this to all of them, when it should have been ‘his’ responsibility to take care of his fiancee-to-be!
“Interesting!! CEO of Zenith International, the multi-millionaire, Manik handsome, is roaming around, knocking his head at every corner of Charles de Gaulle airport, in search of a girl, who is not even HIS girl!! You rockk man!”
“Try to understand, Cabir! We can’t go without her. I’m already feeling bad for her and guilty because of that loser, Harshad. And now, when she is missing, I’m dead worried for her. Hope she is alright.”
“Hmm. You are right. It’s serious…Don’t worry. Let’s plan the next step.”
Manik walked ahead as he spoke seriously, “So we have scanned the area till here. I’m sure she hasn’t left the airport. She must be waiting for Harshad to receive her. She was told that he will be coming. And it hasn’t even been an hour since the passengers came out. That is the usual time people wait before taking the next step.”
“Hmm…” Cabir followed cluelessly, listening to Manik who was moving ahead confidently scanning the surroundings on a war-footing.
“So she must be here… I hope she is, I mean!” He looked around at the phone booth and nodded.
“Washroom?” Cabir suggested.
“Maybe!!” Manik shrugged.
“How does she look like? Did Harshad send her pic??”
“If only, he was a bit responsible… I hate it man, I’m never doing his cover-up again…”
“So let’s cleverly look again… for a single female, Indian, travelling alone, lost and confused… like you specified before…”
They moved around only for a bit, when Manik noticed Nandini perched on a corner table of the cafe, reading from her diary and matching something over the map before her. She sipped from her mug of cappucchino and made circles over the map with her marker pen.
“There she is…” Manik sighed.
“No! The girl I banged into…”
“Ohh!! The perfumery… the flower bouquet… the teddy bear…??”
“Get a life, Mann!!” Manik was not amused and he walked away.
Cabir smirked this time. He loved to tease Manik and get deadly glares from him, for he knew Manik could do nothing other than throw angry stares and dangerous glares. He followed Manik.
“And… why can’t she be Miss Murthy?”
Manik stopped in his tracks and rolled his eyes, thinking hard and hoping against it… he didn’t even know, why!!
“She?? No…no…no…no… She can’t be Miss Murthy!”
“And, pray may I ask… why not?”
“No… I mean… no… nothing…”
“Dude, she is Indian… she is alone… she is searching for something on the map…clues enough?”
“But she is way too smart!… I mean… the way Harshad described her… I don’t know… Did he really describe HER when he used those words? No way!! Look at her dress. She is ultra chic… She is hot…”
“Manik!!” Cabir was staring at Manik, describing the girl.
“Err… I mean… This girl is not even lost or confused. She looks super confident and the way she is sipping her coffee, it appears as if she owns the place. Do you really think, it’s her first time in Paris ? She looks like a pro at travelling to me…”
As if on cue, Nandini raised her eyes and happened to look at them. Manik turned away to avoid her glance and Cabir twitched his lips, looking here and there. They didn’t want to appear that they were talking about her. She was back to her coffee, and her diary and her map, again!
“You are right! Why don’t we just go and ask her?”
“Hmm…maybe… I’m not sure…” Manik hesitated.
“Okay… I’ll do it… it’s not a Manik Malhotra thing to ask girls about their names…”
“I don’t know… I don’t think, it’s going to be appropriate…” Manik was still making sure if it was right to do so, when Cabir walked upto Nandini’s table and cleared his throat. Nandini raised her eyes from the map spread before her, to look at Cabir and glared at him, squeezing her eyes, “Yes??!”
“Ma’m, if you don’t mind me asking you, we are searching for someone…”
Before he could complete the sentence, Cabir, the cool one, was interrupted.
Nandini shut her diary with a snap sound, “I know what you are searching for! Don’t try to act smart with me… You are with that one, the guy in blue blazer, right??”
“What do you guys think of yourself? Greek Gods?? Just because I smiled and excused him for banging into me, he thinks he has a chance on me? Right! And then he doesn’t even have guts to come up to me and ask my name or number. He sends his friend, like a roadside romeo…”
“Roadside romeo?? Excuse me!!”
“How cheap! You guys will never change…whether it is New Delhi, New York or Paris… ” She went on and on… Manik heard each word and wondered if it was right to go and fight for his self respect.
“Ma’m…” Cabir was zapped at the string of allegations and shrugged finding words to counter her but couldn’t find any. “It’s not like that…”
She stared at him and then both of them…then she slowly, subtly placed her handbag near her inner foot by the wall and firmly held her wallet and other things. This was too much!! Manik was irritated and marched towards both of them in anger and frustration and demanded, “What was that gesture? Do you think we are thieves?”
Her face went pale when she saw him approaching them. Somewhere she appeared to have been through the same spell that she had on Manik, just a while ago. He appeared to have affected her too, making her throat go dry. Manik talking to her elicited a totally different response than Cabir talking to her.
Manik stood towering over her table and placed his palms flat on the table to face her. He lowered himself to bend over and question her, with his eyes boring deep into her. She squirmed and stammered to reply, “Err… I… I’m sorry… I have heard that in Paris, thieves are really good looking tall men and they dress up in sophisticated attires to sneak out the belongings in the most discreet manner, especially at airports.”
Cabir couldn’t stop himself at that and burst out laughing, “God!… Now, should I take the first part of your sentence as a compliment or second part as an offence??!…. You are awesome… I prefer the first part…really good looking tall men?? Right??… How about you, Manik??”
He turned to ask Manik who was not amused. He was still angry. Nandini squirmed more with her eyes locked into Manik’s. She shrugged, with a soft whisper on her lips, “Sorry!!”