Dhruv gave him a weird, disbelieving look, evidently smirking with that, “Manik, you are an engineer, right? From IIT? And if I’m not wrong, you manage all your transactions, mails… even shopping… practically your entire life online??!!!”
“Tch… Don’t try to become another Cabir, mannn!!” Manik was in no mood to entertain Dhruv’s jokes. He was already irritated. “I know, I’m well versed with technology. It’s just that, you know yaar… I’m a bit fussy about food… I don’t eat outside food or junk food. So, I don’t order food at these apps. I know it’s not a big deal. It’s no rocket science to follow the instructions and order…but there is so much other than that… what to order, how to decide the combo, portion size, specifications of each item… I’ve never done that!”
“Hmm!!” Dhruv nodded, “Now, I get it!! Even for our parties, either one of us, Cabir or me are doing it and you toh… we know you so well… you cringe at junk food…”
“Exactly!! And Nandini loves to eat junk. If I begin to order, I’ll end up ordering something that will definitely spoil her day!”
Dhruv folded his hands across his chest, and smiled, “Since when did you start thinking soooo much about others? What she will like and what she won’t?? What will spoil her day?? I mean, it’s just 3 days since you got married… Isn’t it a bit ‘toooo early’… Hmm??”
“Not again???!!! You know what, Dhruv!! You seriously need a break from Cabir. I didn’t bring him here as I wanted to avoid this teasing game… and now you started??!!… Come on, order something…”
Manik shrugged, thinking about it, “Anything… that a crazy girl who loves junk food will order.”
“Okay!” Dhruv smacked his lips and opened the app in his mobile, “Safest option – Mushroom pizza with extra cheese, french fries and coke?”
Manik grinned, “Perfect! I know, she is going to love it!”
“How are you so sure about that?!”
“Nothing can be as useless and as junk as this order! So, it’s obvious that she will love it.”
Nandini ordered food but got a message that due to some political procession in their area, the delivery was not possible for next 3 hours. She cancelled the order.
Manik and Cabir sat with the design team and finalized the last week of work for the project before it was shown to the MD and the client before submission. After about an hour, Dhruv dashed inside, with a look of regret on his face.
“What?” Manik asked.
“Err… I was busy with something and after ordering food, I didn’t check the phone or the messages…”
“They said that the delivery will be delayed by 3 hours and if I wanted, I could cancel the order. It seems the order was taken as I didn’t reply to that… but it is still not delivered!”
“Damnnnn!!!” Manik frowned and stood up. “I’m going home!”
“Home??” Cabir cocked a brow and teased, “You have a ‘home’ now?? The last I knew, was that all three of us had ‘apartments’…”
For the first time, Manik smiled at Cabir’s tease. “I don’t know why I said that. It wasn’t deliberate! Staying at home in Lucknow for 3 days did that, I guess…”
“Come on… don’t give excuses now…” Cabir punched him. “3 days, dude!!! And you are in husband mode, already!!”
Suddenly Manik was worried, all over again, clenched his jaw and moved around his chair. He didn’t say it but one glance at the watch told him that it was already 7. He should be going back. Firstly, he was already feeling guilty about leaving her alone on her first day in Bangalore. And now, he was not even sure if she had eaten anything.
Cabir and Dhruv were staring at Manik as if he was a museum specimen. They shrugged together as Manik was behaving slightly differently. He never spoke much about what he felt deeply about things, but being best friends, they knew that he was worried for his new wife. He was caring and thoughtful and only people close to him knew that.
He may or may not express it but Manik was a softie at heart and if he was thinking so much about the girl he married just 3 days back, then he was sold for life!
Cabir and Dhruv accompanied Manik as they were done for the day and they lived in the same building, same floor. Mukti and Alya lived 2 buildings away from them. All of them had previously planned to go to Manik’s apartment in the evening for drinks and dinner as a welcome party after his marriage.
Now, Cabir and Dhruv accompanied Manik and Mukti and Alya came separately with the cake, bouquet and gifts they had arranged for the newly wed couple. It was already 8:00 by the time they reached their building.
Already Manik was restless with all the panic buttons pressed in his system … he couldn’t wait for the elevator to reach his floor… Now, it came as a bigger surprise when he found the door locked and the key to the apartment nicely kept where it was supposed to be.
“Where did bhabhi go?” Cabir twisted his lips and pushed Manik to the edge, almost at the verge of nervous breakdown.
Manik simply pressed his lips, trying not to appear anxious, while deep inside he was a nervous wreck. Gawwwddd!!!! Where did Nandini go?? I hope she is fine… God forbid… If she loses her way or doesn’t return, where will I go and search for her???!!!!
They opened the door and went inside. The cake, the bouquet and the gifts were settled on the table in the living room. Manik quickly went inside and plugged the phone with the charger and tapped his feet impatiently, waiting for his phone to reboot so that he could call Nandini.
All of them sat quietly on the chairs and whatever place was available in the living room, not expecting this turn of events. The new bride was missing and Manik was losing his mind over the current situation.
All queries that Alya and Mukti posed regarding Nandini were answered by Cabir and Dhruv, like how Manik’s phone battery had died, how he didn’t know her contact number, how there was no food here… and she was new… she was alone… etc…
No one dared to talk to Manik at this time as everyone knew that he was a live volcano when he was stressed and worried. He would burst at even the slightest provocation. And THIS situation was one of those kinds when Manik was at the verge of blasting. He frowned and clenched his fist, chewing the inner aspect of his lower lip, leaning at the wall near the plug. staring into the phone.
Cabir, Dhruv, Mukti and Alya exchanged glances when the door opened. It was already ajar so Nandini didn’t ring the bell. All eyes turned towards the door when she entered.
Nandini looked at Manik and her first response was a bright, affectionate smile, with a shining warmth in her eyes. As if all worries soothed when Manik saw her smiling at him. His first impulse would have been to gather her in his arms and give her a squeezing hug, even before he asked her how she was and where she had been. But he didn’t do that. He kept standing at his place, trying to soak into his new found feelings… She had gone missing for some time and he had nearly panicked… that was such a terrible feeling and when she returned, it felt as if life returned to him… Was it all about, just responsibility??
Nandini had already turned towards the guests and greeted them with another warm smile and a cute, “Hi! I’m Nandini!”
All 4 of them stood up and reached her, to shake hands with her, greet her and introduce themselves. They had no expectations from Manik to do those honours. So they did it themselves.
“Let her sit guys,” Alya held her hand and made her sit, “So?? Where were you? Do you know, we were worried for you?? Especially Manik!”
Nandini turned to look at Manik and found that the adoring complaint he had in his eyes was the one to die for. Her heart did a flip flop at that. ‘She was his responsibility’ – She knew that he felt like that!! But she was so sure that the look in his eyes was not because he felt responsible or worried for his duty to protect her… it was something else…
Nandini replied to everyone, but her eyes stayed mostly on Manik and he knew that her answer was for him. She held a small brownish pup in her hand, with a bandage around his leg. She held his leg in her hand and said, “Actually, I ordered food at Swiggy but they said there was a technical delay. So, I cancelled the order and decided to go to nearby market to get something to eat. But the nearest market is so far. There is nothing down this building…”
“Yeah… it’s like farthest to the civilization in Bangalore…” Alya joked.
“So, I don’t mind walking and I walked till the next bus stop, had something and roamed around the market. This building was getting eerie by evening. Imagine, I was the only person in nearly 4-5 floors… so I thought I’ll spend some time in getting the hook of the city and the markets… I would have returned early, but when I was coming back, I say this little baby injured and thrown on one side of the road. I took him to Indira nagar…”
“You took him where?” All of them were surprised, including Manik, who was now straightened from his position, alerted at the info.
“Indira Nagar. Only the vet at Indira Nagar was open at this hour. Got him vaccinated, treated, bandaged and fed him… so it took me some time! I’m so sorry to keep you all waiting!”
Everyone was looking at her with a shocked look at their faces.
“How did you go there?” Manik asked in a soft tone, keeping his hand at the head rest of the chair she had been sitting on.
“Booked an Uber cab!” She smiled cutely and informed him.
“Nandini… you can’t roam around like that in a new city. You don’t know the roads and locations… people lose their way…” Dhruv was worried too. Cabir nodded.
Nandini showed him her phone, “I have GPS in my phone. Who gets lost in this era? I’m not a kid!”
Cabir asked, “But…what if your phone battery had died??? How would you book cabs or come back here without phone… or contact Manik??”
“I carry my charger and power bank in my bag…always!!” She shrugged, and giggled with that, with her ‘Nandini-mode’ on, she continued, “And before you ask, what if I had lost my bag or someone stole it, I will answer myself – I would have taken an auto, asked him to come to Whitefield, OliverStone apartments and asked the guard to pay him… If I had forgotten the name of the building and area… I would have gone to the nearest police control room and told them that my husband’s name is Manik Malhotra and he is the Creative Head in Phoenix Adlabs Intl. They would have contacted him. Don’t worry… I’m an expert at emergency management!!”
Manik turned to Cabir and with both his hands behind Nandini’s chair, he spoke as if introducing her, “Meet my wife, Nandini… the ‘dependent’… and what did you say…’meek’ ?? Right??”
Unable to understand, Nandini raised her brows, visibly amused at that. Manik explained to her, “Nah! Cabir was telling me that girls who choose arranged marriage fixed by their parents are meek and dependent!”
Alya and Mukti whacked him, “You said that??”
Cabir held his ears, “Sorry, baba!! I had formed a completely different picture of you in my mind…”
“Didn’t Manik tell you that I am a doctor? Credit me with some common sense.”
“Why me?? Even Manik thought that his wife will be lonely, anxious, sad and hungry?? Didn’t you, Manik??”
Manik shrugged, refusing it completely, “I never said that!! I was so busy in office. I didn’t even think about her!”
Cabir teased him, “Yeshhh!! He didn’t think about you… WE ordered food for you??”
Manik rolled his eyes discarding the discussion and walked away towards the kitchen. “I’ll get the drinks!!” Nandini blushed and grinned, visibly elated at his response as she knew that he was feeling awkward at the tease from his friends.
“Food for me?”
Dhruv added, “The Swiggy guy ditched us too!!”
Rest of them sat comfortable by now. Alya and Mukti asked her about her qualifications, their wedding at Mumbai and about her family… Nandini was busy for a while with them… with the girls discussing the girls things about marriage and giggling.
Every few minutes, her eyes would drift towards Manik. And without fail, at all times, she found his eyes on her. It was something new for her!!Something special!! Something exhilarating!!!
Cabir and Dhruv joined Manik and opened the food packets they had brought with them and poured drinks. Manik looked at the food spread on the table, gave it a tired look and served a piece of chicken kebab and small portion of salad in his plate.
Nandini eyed his plate and sighed softly, speaking in almost a whisper, “I saw you doing this when we went for dinners and in last 3 days… but I thought you were a bit uneasy about the whole marriage thing. But no… you ‘really’ eat like that?? Small portions?? Weird food??!!”
He whispered, raising a brow and smirked, teasing her, “Is it unhealthy ‘doctor’…????
She was left speechless at that. She was the doctor and her food habits were the worst. He was now asking her if his choices were different from what she advised the patients every day. Grinning sheepishly, she moved away.
The doorbell rang.
“Swiggy guy, hoga!” Dhruv exclaimed.
“I’ll get it!” Manik opened the main door. Nandini followed him and helped him take the packets with another tired whisper, “You ordered food for me?? Like what… tofu salad and spinach juice??!!”
Manik couldn’t stop laughing at that and when they kept the packets on the table, Nandini was left stunned when she opened them and saw the contents. ‘Junk food!!! For her??!!’
She secretly grinned at that. When she served the slices of mushroom pizza to everyone and reached near Manik, he rolled his eyes and stood up. “No, thanks!”
“One slice?” She asked.
“One slice will ruin one week of workout!”
Mukti teased him, “Oohhhh la la !!! Now you are married. You can chillax sometimes.”
Manik shrugged, “What does marriage have to do with fitness??”
“Nandini, are you a fitness freak too?? coz you are so so petite and well in shape!” Alya complimented her.
“Not in the least!! I hate gymming…” Nandini replied, making Manik smirk while he walked away towards the kitchen to keep his plate. Why had he expected otherwise. She had to be on the opposite pole. He couldn’t stop making the comparisons.
Nandini continued, “I have a good metabolism and rest is done by hectic hospital hours. Who gets time to exercise after a tough hospital routine of more than 20 hours a day…”
Soon, it turned into a session of work related talks and then continued as a discussion about office politics, projects and work, during which Nandini stayed quiet and simply observed them and listened to them. It was thrilling to see that they were working in the same office. She sat on a large cushion on the floor and fed the pup that she had brought from the street.
Cabir noticed that Nandini was quiet during this time. He left his chair to sit down, next to the pup. “Cute puppy! But we have a problem here?”
“Manik is terrified of animals.” Cabir informed her.
“Ohhh… I love animals!!” With a sad look, Nandini shot a glance at Manik, who was observing both of them, with his lower lip under his upper set of teeth. Nandini replied to Cabir, but with her eyes at Manik, “Don’t worry, I’ll let him go after his leg is fine and he recovers from his illness. But, where will he go, right now? He has fever too!!!” It appeared like a request to Manik, and he found it so cute that he smiled softly, nodding with it. There was no chance he could refuse that sweet pleading.
“I’m terrified of bigger dogs and cats. It’s okay for the pup to be here for some time. It’s too small…” Manik almost allowed her to keep the pup.
A wide smile graced Nandini’s lips and she blinked just once to thank him, without speaking another word. Their eyes were enough to talk even in a crowded room.
“And what is his name?” Dhruv asked.
“I’ve been thinking about it. There is a confusion. Cabir will decide – should we name him Dobby or Norbert?”
Cabir was grinning like a fool with eyes wide open, raising his hand towards her for a Hi-5, “Did Manik tell you about me??!! Noooo mannn… You too???”
Nandini grinned and nodded, “Yeahhh!!! A big one !!”
“Really? What was your latest score at Pottermore quiz?”
Everyone, including Manik was serious and silent, staring at them speechlessly, while Cabir and Nandini bonded like old school pals, discussing their viva exam and their studies.
“The one about Snape?”
“No…no…that was an old one… this time, they uploaded a new one on Sunday night! About individual patronus…”
“Aww!!!! …I didn’t check it on Sunday night… I was busy…”
Manik asked, interrupting them, “Doing what, Nandini??”
“Huhh???” She wanted to kill him right now, while the rest of them waited for the joke to unfurl.
“I asked, why were you busy on Sunday night?? What were you doing??”
Embarrassed like a shy bunny, she managed a rushed small smile in a desperate effort to discard the mortified look on her face. How could she forget the most beautiful night of her life! He was doing it to trouble her and she was loving it and hating it at the same time.
Pressing her lips more, she composed herself and reminded him, “It was our grand reception, Manik! In Lucknow??”
“Ohhhhhhh!!! Yeahhhhhh!!!” He dragged the two words and tilted his neck slightly, with a naughty squeeze to his eyelids, something that only she could see. She blushed so much that she had to lower her neck to avoid others from noticing it. Quickly, she picked up the puppy and and cuddled it in her lap.
Cabir said, “So, he is dobby, okayyy!! Let’s see if you can train him well, you can also use him as house elf!”
She giggled, “Yes! I’ll definitely do that!!”
“Please share with us, if he is of any use… we live next door!!” Dhruv spoke in a tired, irritated tone, making everyone laugh.
After some time, all of them left together as they offered to drop Alya and Mukti before returning to their apartments. Manik and Nandini sent them off at the door and while Nandini was still smiling and waving at them, as they entered the elevator, Manik walked inside and pulled her in.
“What??” She was thrilled as well as surprised at the way he pulled her inside, locking the door behind them. They were still at the door and Manik leaned at the back of the closed door. She gave him a longggg look of adoration.
He didn’t speak anything, held her hand and softly interlaced their fingers in a slow, sensual move.
“Manik…” She sighed and whispered.
“Ssshhh!!!” He didn’t want the reverie to be disturbed with meaningless words which were absolutely not needed between them. With his eyes fixed on hers and their fingers intertwining in the gaps, he observed her and subtly tugged on her hand to bring her close to him.
She smiled beautifully with her eyes not leaving his face. “Manik…” This time, she spoke his name purposefully. He grinned with that.
“I’ve lost the count!” He shrugged, casually.
She made a pout, “That’s so careless of you! What were you doing when I was taking your name…”
“I was wondering what would be more profitable to count, from now…”
“The number of times you leave me stunned with your spark or the number of dissimilarities between us?”