“I will say that…”
“We were busy?”
She replied with a mysterious grin and raised her brows to add to the effect, making him frown in anxiety, before he stopped her. Immediately he stretched his hand, held her elbow to bring her back from her track. Astounded all over again, gritting his teeth and glaring at her, he hissed, “Busy??? Busy doing what… Are you insane?”
“Come’on Manik…be a sport!” She giggled and whispered again.
“Shut up!”He whispered, frowning at her angrily.
She argued, still whispering, “Let me open the door…or they will keep knocking…”
“Let them knock. And, you are too much! I never knew you were this naughty…” He rolled his eyes. Their voices reached outside the door as muffled whispers, making Gaurvi and Meera giggle.
Meera ordered them with another subtle knock and a tease, “Manik, Nandini… we understand if you can’t open the door. But you have 15 minutes to be ready and come out.”
Manik tilted his neck and rolled his tongue inside his mouth in anger. He left her hand with that. Leaning his back by the wall near the door, he used both his hands and signalled her to proceed and open the door. Nandini made a teasing pout and leaned by the wall on the other side of the door.
“You started it… last night!” She raised one shoulder in a half shrug.
“I’m sorry… leave me now!” He touched his ears and scrunched his nose for a second to apologise. She chuckled at that. He folded his hands again and sighed, “And here I was thinking that I could make ‘you’ apologise!”
“No one messes with Nandini Murthy…okay?”
“Malhotra…” He corrected her.
“I’m not changing my surname…” She declared and twisted her lips and opened the door slightly, to peep her neck outside through the open space. In a complaining tone, she spoke to Meera, “Masi, Manik is in the washroom. I’ve been waiting since ages!”
“Phew! And we thought something else!” Masi winked. Nandini blushed and lowered her eyes.
“Hurry up, okay!!” Gaurvi said.
“We’ll be there soon…” Nandini assured them.
“In the banquet hall… You have half an hour!” Gaurvi gave her the ultimatum. Nandini nodded like a disciplined kid. Gaurvi left with masi and Nandini closed the door behind them. She leaned her back at the closed door, enjoying his helpless face.
Manik smirked and used his hands in opposite direction to show her the way towards the washroom door, in a silent request to get ready.
She smiled and walked away, opened her luggage to take out a sea green saree to be worn for the day, as per the instructions by her in-laws.
“Thank you.” He spoke, examining his luggage and taking out his clothes.
“For what?” She turned with a subtle flip of her hair, right before the washroom door.
He zipped his aviators and chargers in a small bag as he replied, “For finally sparing me… for not making a joke of that issue that Cabir mentioned…”
“I’m not a monster. I know when to stop.” She smirked, making him grin too.
“I’ll remember that…”
Right before entering inside, with her hand on the washroom door knob, she turned again and gave him a piece of philosophy. “This marriage is a two way street, mister. You tease me, I tease you. You are good to me, I’ll be good to you. You turn nasty… I…”
He interrupted her. “Urmmm… I will try not to be nasty. I’ve had a taste of your medicine, doctor.”
“I like that!” She laughed and pushed through the washroom door.
Even after she had gone… almost after few seconds, he realised that he was standing there, watching the closed washroom door and smiling like an idiot!
Quickly he cleared his throat and turned around to gather his personal stuff.
After 15 minutes, she walked out of the washroom, wearing a long satin overcoat, with flaring sleeves, double wrapped neckline and long edges, tied with a sash at the front.
He picked up his towel, tossed it around his neck and crossed her to go inside the washroom, when she requested him in a soft tone, “Can you please try, not to step out for another ten minutes?? I mean, I need to wear the saree… and get ready…actually…”
He spoke before she finished, “I understand.”
“Of course! I’ve spent last four years with models, shooting for ad campaigns and ramp walks. Moreover, a guy who has two sisters at home, knows that girls need privacy…”
She smiled, “Interesting!”
He walked away and before entering the washroom, he called her, “By the way…”
She turned to face him, shaking her half wet hair with fingers combing inside them, a sight so attractive to him that he had to concentrate what he was going to say. Waiting for him to speak, she wiggled her brows, “Manik… you were saying somethin??”
“Err…yeah…” He continued, “I was saying that men need privacy too. Do you mind, walking out to the front part of the suite and wait there till I get ready and join you.”
She smiled widely, “I don’t mind. I’ll get ready and watch TV till I wait for you.”
He went inside the washroom and shut the door behind him, wondering why his heart behaved in a stupid way making him grin when she smiled. He usually never apologised to people. but he apologised to her to ask her to spare him the tease. He hated when people teased him or made him the scapegoat for their fun. Cabir could do that, but only upto a limit.
And here… This girl… she had met him just 3 weeks back and their relationship was all about 3 meets and few phone calls… and she thought it was so cool to tease him… challenge him…
“Pheww!” He left a deep breath and placed his towel in the rack provided for the same. Contrary to her, he didn’t mind using the washroom after she had used it.
This happened last night too. She left the used washroom in such a beautiful state that it was a pleasure to be here ‘after’ her… It was cleansed and arranged neatly after she had used it… but her presence was left there in form of a fresh smell of lavender and frangipani in the air… probably a smell of her shampoo or body gel… to be inside the same space that she had been, a few moments back, sent his blood rushing to different corners of his body… ‘Shit’…’Shitttt’…
He tried not to think more about it and decided to concentrate on running the shower, and to be focused on bathroom rituals… the slight fog formed out of the heated water falling down the shower had formed a layer on the mirror, facing it… he noticed a little smilie that she had drawn on the mirror… it made him chuckle… He nodded hopelessly, closing his eyes and immersed himself in the heated water from the shower…
She had left the room after wearing the saree. Manik opened the door of the washroom and found the room empty. The sound of TV from the front extension of the suite told him that she was busy there.
He rubbed his hair with the hand towel and walked out of the washroom in the large towel that he had wrapped around his waist. He was standing facing the mirror when he heard a soft gasp from behind him.
Immediately he turned. Only to find Nandini, looking at him with a shocked look on her face. She had not expected him, it seems. With a terrified look on her face, she turned around with her back to him, hamming, “I’m sorry… I had gone hardly a minute ago… I wasn’t expecting you, so I just casually walked in…”
He stood there, with his hands on his waist, “Nandini…!!!”
His terse voice followed, “Can you please cut it short?”
She cleared her throat, “Err… My phone! It’s on the dressing table!”
He turned slightly towards the dressing table. Her old model Samsung phone, of some J series was lying there. He picked it up and walked towards her, taking slow steps and watching her slender, petite back, wrapped discreetly in a sea green lace saree.
He had to curb a sudden urge to turn her around. He wanted to see how pretty she looked. Unfortunately, her face was turned away from him.
He reached right behind her, once again. Every time, he was near her, she felt goosebumps. This time, he was shirtless and she was aware of it. She cleared a difficult lump of saliva in her throat, gulped it and closed her eyes, scrunching her nose to pass through this moment smoothly.
It wasn’t that easy.
She raised her hand in air to get the phone. He raised his hand too with the phone near her shoulder, just near her hand but instead of giving it to her, he whispered, “Turn around.”
She bit her lower lip and fiddled with the free end of her saree, caught between her hands. “Manik…”
In words softer than before, he requested-cum-ordered in a compelling whisper, “I said – turn around!”
She turned around slowly, her eyes still closed and forehead skin deepening as creases playing with her emotions. “What?”
He noticed that she was looking gorgeous, like a delicate doll wrapped in a lace saree. She appeared so cute that it did weird things to him The way she had closed her eyes, he sniggered.
“Open your eyes…” He said.
“Manik, I can’t … you are shirtless… and…”
“And your phone has only 2% battery life…”
“Whattttt????” She immediately opened her eyes and grabbed the phone from his hand, grumbling with it, “Ohhh fish!!! We need to travel after this…and then …noooo… I needed this phone…”
She marched inside the room and opened her handbag to find out the charger but there was none. She shuffled the contents frantically, “Ohh maaa… where did I keep the charger?”
He walked away casually, facing the mirror and brushed his hair. She scurried around the room to look for the charger, in her luggage and bags, “I don’t remember where I charged it for the last time… did I leave it somewhere…”
She turned to Manik and asked, “Do you a charger with these specifications?”
He looked at her as if she was talking in Latin. With a shrug, he spoke with a blank face, “Never saw such a phone before!”
She made an irritated face with twisted lips, “Haaa….haaa… soooo funny!!!”
He laughed at the way she said that and suggested, “Your phone needs an upgrade, Nandini!”
“No thanks. Find me a charger. That will be enough of a help!” She frowned sadly, while he walked towards her and took her phone from her hands, “Give it to me!”
“Manik…” She was both confused and impressed at his confidence.
“Leave it to me!”
“I know my name. You can do better than that, instead of reminding me my name every few seconds…”
“Now, if you go out and give me ten minutes… I’ll join you. We need to go down.”
“You’ll get it before we go to the airport. Sounds good?” He asked.
She nodded and smiled sweetly to leave him inside the room and waited till he was ready to join her.
More festivities and rituals followed as they reached the banquet hall of the hotel where Manik and his family had been staying.
Nandini’s family had reached too. Her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles …and to top it all was Priyanka masi who had hit it off with Manik’s Meera masi and cracked jokes which were only for them to savour.
Manik and Nandini observed them and exchanged secret glances. When she turned away, Manik didn’t turn his eyes away from her. Instead, he found him stuck to her.
She was beautiful. Her elegant saree, her subtle make up and sleek, minimal jewellery, spoke of class. It differentiated her from all the women who loved to be decked up by heavy make up and jewellery. Something, Manik was used to seeing everyday and something that he never understood.
She, on the other hand, was beauty personified, in the most simplest and natural forms. Her glowing skin and her radiant smile sufficed for make up and her shiny, silky long hair were her jewellery. Her eyes twinkled when she laughed uninhibitedly and her plump lips were so pink that she never needed a lip shade to define them.
Manik wondered if he was attracted to her after they got married or he had always been attracted to her, ever since they met first.
And right now, all he wanted was to take her in his arms and feel her skin, if she was really that soft as she appeared… her lips enticed him when she giggled on a silly joke by his cousins… he tried not to think about how would they taste…
He turned away, jerking away his naughty thoughts …
Once again a row of blessings, teasings, gifts and rituals took over, keeping them busy …. followed by breakfast… and finally an emotional departure towards the airport to catch the flight to Lucknow.
Inside the aircraft, Nandini took the window seat and Manik sat beside her. When he took his seat, he lifted the soft edge of her saree to remove it from his seat. She smiled and took it from him. The air, all around her, was smelling heavenly.
To resist the urge to touch her and bend towards her to feel her close to him, was tough. Manik struggled with himself and found a solution in his phone. he took out his phone and opened the message box.
She observed him doing so. They were alone after a long time. The moment she turned to talk to him, he slipped his hand inside his blazer and took out her phone. He moved just his wrist to give the phone to her. His eyes stayed on his phone screen, reading messages.
She took the phone from him. “100% battery?? How did you…”
Without going in the details, he simply informed in short, “Hotel staff…”
“Ohh!!” She was quiet after that. She observed him, reading messages and lost in his phone. So she pressed her lips and decided to play ‘word-game’ on her phone.
They had business class seats with comfortable plush seats in 2 X 2 fashion.
What had started as an effort to distract his mind from his beautiful wife, now became a tensed situation to handle. He had received several messages from his office asking him to give a notice why they lost a prominent project because of him. Was he incompetent? Or inexperienced to handle big projects? Or was he supporting the rival group?
No one knew the real reason for the lost project. Other than Cabir and their CEO.
Manik frantically typed a message to HR team that he will be back on Monday and discuss the issue. He also typed messages to Cabir and Dhruv, his only two friends at the office. He was still busy in thinking of possible outcomes, when he received new messages, one from his CEO.
Nandini looked out of the window, then inside the aircraft, then at Manik. Her game seemed to be boring. She asked in a sweet voice, “Manik… Your relatives are …”
Without turning to look at her, without any side story or backstory, he informed her in a straight tone, “Behind… in the economy class…”
“They upgraded our class as a wedding gift…”
“Hmm!” He nodded.
She knew that he was lying and was trying to avoid the entire conversation about why his relatives were in the economy class and why they were in the business class. All she could assume was that maybe, Manik didn’t like a lot of interference and speculations. So he felt awkward sitting with her, with their relatives around them, who were sure to tease them.
He didn’t say anything like that. She just assumed and stayed quiet. If he didn’t want to talk about it, she couldn’t force him to do so…
He was lost in typing messages and there were still ten minutes before the plane took off. He wasn’t talking much and right now, she had the first glimpse of how life with Manik was going to be… he would be busy with his phone and work … and he wouldn’t talk…
She felt slightly suffocated. But then, it was a mutual decision. Probably, if she went to Bangalore, joined some hospital and became busy in her work, she wouldn’t get time to think about him or talk to him…
Only that she ‘wanted’ him to talk to her…
His tease, his smirk and his voice sent shivers down her spine. The way he looked at her gave way to goosebumps through her body. She blushed when she remembered how her friends had teased her at their wedding for his good looks. They were right… actually!! She thought.
He was a walking, talking tornado with infectious energy and a delicious laughter. She wondered how his smile and laughter would feel when she touched his lips with her finger tips… or better still… her mouth.
‘Shittt… That’s the effect of silly, stupid relatives, masi and friends… to insinuate such thoughts in your mind!!! Gawwddd… good heavens… what am I even thinking…’
I need to join something soon in Bangalore, or else I will go mad…I need to find jobs / or Senior Residency, maybe…
She turned to him once again, “Manik, which area do you live in Bangalore?”
Still lost in his phone, he replied, “Whitfield…”
“Oh… is it far from the main city…??”
He rolled his eyes and raised his neck to look at her with a look of irritation… Firstly, he was trying hard to deviate his mind from her… secondly, his office was sending demeaning messages for the lost project… He needed a little peace and here, she wouldn’t stop talking…
She didn’t like that look. “Okay, sorry!! I won’t talk now…Don’t look at me like that.”
He huffed and was back to his phone. With his index finger rubbing his lower lip, something he did when he was anxious, he read new messages.
She said, “You didn’t speak much even at the function…you’ve been lost somewhere… are those messages from office?? Is everything alright?? I mean… you lost the project…so are they good??… You’ve been buried in your phone…”
“Nandiniiiii…” He dragged the last part of her name in an irked chide. Next moment, he turned to her and asked in a very stern, terse, serious voice, struggling with himself and almost upset with her.
“Is it so difficult to mind your own business?”