At the office of Phoenix Adlabs Pvt. Ltd.
Manik entered his cabin and pressed the buzzer three times at one go, a signal to his subordinates that he was in mood of no-nonsense and commanded them in his room at the earliest with the work they had finished. The staff stood up from their seats and rushed to his cabin to give him the details of the parts they had already finished regarding the campaign for beauty products.
“Thank God, you came, today!” Cabir entered his cabin, shook hands with Manik and hugged him, “Sorry to trouble you, bro… and Congratulations, by the way!”
Manik rolled his eyes at the way Cabir stuffed so many emotions in one sentence. He smiled to thank him and then shrugged, as if to ask what was going on behind his back. Cabir told him about how the CEO, Shobha Diwan, was spreading stories about him and plotting against him.
“Dude, the woman is super pissed off at losing the Artemis deal. Now she thinks you are getting too big for your boots. But it’s just a deal, right?! Deals come and go… Why is she so angry?Almost after your life?”
Manik nodded knowingly, “I knew that it would happen. She is jealous. And she is insecure as her post is threatened. Ever since MD started giving me major projects and openly declared how he liked my work, she has been behaving weird with me. She is now trying her best to make me cut a sorry figure before the MD, trying to prove that I don’t deserve it.”
Dhruv spoke, “We informed you as she has already called the MD and everyone else for the meeting to prove that we are not ready for the deadline on Saturday and will lose this project too. So she has decided to work on it, herself.”
Manik replied, “I know. She wants to prove that we are least bothered about the targets and I am holidaying!”
Rest of the staff, whoever was loyal to Manik, spread the files and the work done till now on the project, and the parts finished in last 5 days. They joined Manik to attend the meeting with the MD and the CEO.
Just before entering the conference hall, Manik stopped and took out his phone to check for missed call or message.
“What happened?” Cabir chuckled, “I’ve never seen you obsessed with your phone! In fact, we had forgotten that you use your phone for purposes other than official messages or mails.”
While Dhruv laughed at that, Manik gave him a killer look, chewing his inner cheek on the right.
“Shut up! It’s her first day in Bangalore. Everything is new for her. I hope she is fine!”
“Aww! You ‘should’ worry!! Now that you have married someone chosen by your parents, I can assume how dependent and meek she must be! Afterall, she married you at such short notice, chosen by her parents! Indian girls, you see… when will they become smart!”
Manik smirked, thinking about Cabir’s assumption of Nandini as someone dependent and meek. He had no idea what a dynamite she was!
“Call her. Ask her what should ‘patidev’ bring for her in the evening!” Cabir teased him.
“Enough!” Manik was in no mood to entertain him. “You haven’t met her. Let’s talk after you meet her!”
“Yeah… we are coming in the evening to welcome her. You better give us a good party.”
Manik was not even listening to him. Listening to Cabir would mean allowing him to make assumptions about Nandini and letting him label her, which he wasn’t going to allow anyone on this Earth.
“Her phone is unreachable!” Manik was irked and he bit his lower lip in worry.
Cabir smirked, doing a high-5 with Dhruv, when both laughed. Alya and Mukti working with designs department arrived by now. Mukti raised her brows, “What’s the joke, guys?”
“Congratulations to all of us! So finally, the signs tell us that our Manik baba is a married man, now!!”
After Manik left, Nandini took out her phone, read messages, twitter updates, instagram messages and facebook updates and updated everything on her side as well. She called her ma, papa and Priyanka masi. As a dutiful daughter-in-law, she also called her mother-in-law and informed her that they reached safely.
Next — She clicked at least 20 selfies giving different poses with her pretty dress, her mehendi, her chura, her managalsutra… posted pictures on the social networking sites about her changed marital status… and made a video about how she was hale and hearty and thrilled to reach Bangalore and sent it over whatsapp to her cousins in Mumbai.
Ever since she got married, she had been itching to do so… So desperately!!
She couldn’t do it as she remembered what a look Manik had given her when she had taken out her phone to click a selfie at her colleague’s wedding in Mumbai. She had grinned sheepishly and put her phone back when he had given disbelieving, weird looks to her, nodding away like someone was lost on an alien planet.
He clearly didn’t like clicking selfies or pictures as such. She had tried searching him on the social media and his presence there was next to invisible. Though, he had accounts on every portal, but they seemed like they were made on gun-point. No pictures. No updates. No posts. His last post must be around six months old and he had no business telling people what he liked, didn’t like, visiting or who his friends were. She remembered being shocked at that!
What a recluse turtle!!!! Ducks his head and neck in his shell at the slightest hint of exposure!!
She felt awkward when she compared her own online presence with him, where she was almost an insta-star with hundreds of followers and nearly a twitter-celeb! She could never use the phone with him, after that.
It was true that he had maintained that they had individual lives which were different from each other… they had enough space in this relationship… that he won’t say anything to her… she could do whatever she wanted to do…
But how does that happen?? She had no idea.
He gave her ‘looks’ when she tried to click selfies… he rolled his eyes at junk food whenever she tried to indulge in chips, or coke, or any fast food. He was a health freak who would only eat wholesome home cooked food as proper meal.. no in-between snacks for him… no junk munching… no pizza, burger, fries for him… And then he didn’t interact with strangers. He was lost in his phone when he was not interested in his surroundings… and that he did more than often…
She clicked her lips thinking about Manik and how secretive, how elusive and how private a person can be… and that boringness was obviously extended to the other person who is living with you day and night… How would you keep a separate life??
She sighed and went out of the house to heartily click more selfies with the house entrance and corridor.
The eerily empty, silent corridor, with other 3 locked apartments on the same floor made her aware that she was alone on this floor. And probably the only one on 9th, 10th and 11th floors as Manik said that all three floors had officials of Phoenix staying here.
She had heard that Bangalore had mostly the IT company employees staying in areas like Whitefield and such buildings were made for this purpose. They all must be in office, na!! That is why the space is so quiet!!
Was she alone in the entire building?? She shuddered at the thought.
In the conference hall…
His team had taken seats on the right of the oblong conference table. Manik was on the right end of the farthest seat, so that he could get up and talk whenever the need arose to explain the project details. Cabir and Dhruv were next to him.
Manik tapped his fingers on the phone kept before him, wondering about Nandini. He was worried and he wanted to be sure that she was fine.
This time, Cabir was a bit considerate, “Call her!”
“Hmm!” Manik picked up his phone but Dhruv interrupted him, “MD has arrived.”
Manik kept his phone back and greeted the MD and rest of the staff from the Head Office. The proceedings of the meeting commenced and for next two hours, Manik was involved in the meeting…
Irritated for the first time in his life for not being able to concentrate on work…
Nandini went inside the apartment and locked it from inside.
She decide to unpack her luggage but when she opened Manik’s cupboard, she found it overflowing due to stuffed clothes, files, stationary and what not.
She went to the bathroom and found nothing that she could call belonging there. Different types of body gels and shampoos used for different length of time and discarded but not thrown. Some had lost their caps and some had dried. 15 toothbrushes and five toothpastes… She held her head and walked out of the washroom.
Feeling hungry by now, she went to the kitchen and found practically …’practically’ nothing to eat!! The guy didn’t eat junk…so there were no biscuits, cookies, snacks or bread in his kitchen. He was out of the house for last 5 days so there were no leftovers in the refrigerator… no milk… no eggs!!
She couldn’t cook elaborate food and even if she did, she wasn’t going to do it in a new kitchen with no utensils, no ingredients at her disposal. It would be futile to search for maggi… she knew by instinct, by now, that he didn’t eat it… She turned to her phone to order food at Swiggy.
‘Oh Manik!!! It’s going to be hell of a task to live with you!!’
Manik couldn’t focus on the meeting … and by that, it meant that he didn’t give his 100%…
It was another story how his attention level of ‘a-bit-less-than-100%’ was still more than everyone else, so no one noticed his distracted mind, all thanks to Nandini.
But for someone like him, it was not acceptable!!
He frowned at being nearly haunted by her! She was a enchanting sorceress, he was sure by now, who had cast a spell on him and sent him to office. With his mind, still in his home. Who knows, they really teach spells in Harry Potter books and they worked??
She was crazy! She must have practiced them… He laughed at his own stupid theory!
Cabir saw him smirking after the meeting and shrugged, “What happened?”
“Personal joke!” Manik shrugged, refusing to share it.
“Ohhhh terriii!!! Manik and jokes…”
“I DO crack jokes… ask Nandini!”
“Now toh… I HAVE to meet her! Who is this girl who made you grin like a fool in 3 days??!!! Like, you are cracking jokes and you are so relaxed…I’ve always seen you stressed out before and after such meetings!”
Manik frowned, “I WAS stressed!! But this girl… she stressed me more! I hate it that I can’t reach her!”
Cabir had a pleasant smile on his face, “Manik, is it really you??”
“Shut up!!!” Manik rolled his eyes and took out his phone.
Cabir teased him, “Call her, or else you will return to your angry young man avatar…”
“My battery died down… I didn’t charge it after coming from Lucknow and directly came here…”
“And you don’t have the charger?” Cabir asked.
Manik nodded, “Usually, I keep one in the office. That day, while going I picked it up and forgot to bring today.”
“Let’s ask someone, if they have a spare charger…”
“I doubt… this Samsung Galaxy S9 has a new port… no iphone or other Samsung charger works with this…”
“I’ll still go and try… do one thing… take my phone and call her!” Cabir took out his phone and gave it to Manik.
Manik took his phone and stared at it for a few seconds, feeling like hitting himself.
“What happened?” Cabir studied his face and then he smirked all over again, “You don’t remember her phone number?”
Manik was super-irked, “Who remembers phone number these days? It was saved in my phone…”
“I remembered her number when I had a girlfriend… I think you too…”
Manik interrupted him, absolutely disgusted with himself, “Stop it!!! I’m already feeling bad!! In my defense, it’s just 3 days since we got married… I’m sure I would have remembered her number, if I had called her as many times. But we were less on phone and more together… and last 3 days… why would I call her when she was with me all the time?!!”
“Okay, tell me… when you left the house, did you leave her with the office address, office phone number… any of the emergency contacts… or number of any of us, in case she needs…???”
Manik nodded, almost buried in guilt… “I shouldn’t have left her, in the first place!”
Dhruv and Alya brought coffee and sandwiches for them, making it even more difficult for Manik. Manik had almost a blank look at his face. He rested his elbow on the table before him and rubbed his hand on his mouth, something that he did when he was worried.
“What will she eat?!” He knew that his kitchen was never complete with all supplies at the right time. The rice and cereal was over and he had postponed grocery shopping till the project was looming on their head, completely forgetting that he will be back with Nandini after the wedding. that he will buy them after he comes back from the off. His cook was on leave and so he had taken it a bit lightly and was eating with Cabir since a week. He couldn’t think of anything that he had in his apartment that would be of any help to Nandini. He felt irritated at the irresponsibilty on his part.
Dhruv snapped his fingers before his eyes, “Hello!!! Earth calling Manik… Are you there??”
Manik asked, as if on an afterthought, “Dhruv, is your phone working??!”
Manik grabbed Dhruv’s phone and walked away. After few seconds, he came back and dragged Dhruv with him, this time. Telling everyone about it was awkward and telling Cabir was getting into a lifetime of jokes. Dhruv was safe, reliable and his best friend who would stay quiet, unlike Cabir.
“Where are we going, Manik?” Dhruv asked.
Manik took him in a corner, at far end of the corridor. For the first time in his life, he was going to do something for which he needed Dhruv’s experience.
“How do you order food online?”