It was quite dark into the night. There was no sight of human habitation at a long distance. Tall trees lined the narrow deserted road till as far as eyes could see. The branches and leaves swaying due to the cool breeze made a swishing sound, chilling her blood till her bones. Other than these sounds, there were only night calls of nocturnal animals breaking the silence inside the deep, dark jungle.
Nandini could feel her heart beat rising, breathing becoming irregular, feet jammed on the freshly cemented road, throat choked and tongue glued to the palate. She wanted to move, but couldn’t. Wanted to turn around but couldnt. Wanted to speak but couldn’t. She could feel footsteps around her and she was terrified. This was the time to either run or else she was going to die. She just knew it… She knew that she she was all alone. There was no one around her… no one who could be there with her…. No one to help her… hold her…
Her body trembled, frown deepened and she struggled hard to free her tongue from her palate and mouth and whispered with great difficulty, “Manik!!!!!!”
Immediately, she opened her eyes and woke up. Next, she noticed that she was sitting on the bed, breathing hard and drenched in her sweat, trying to make sense of what she had just felt. Her heart rammed against her chest with a loud thumping sound. She wiped her face to get rid of the sweat.
‘What a terrible nightmare!’
Nandini turned around. The room was immersed in dark and it was dark all around the cottage too. Manik was not on bed with her. She searched for the bedside lamp and switched it on, only to find it not obeying her.
‘Must be some sort of power cut off!’
Scared and dismayed, she searched for her phone on the bed and switched on the torch. The cottage was drowning in darkness and silence. Just like the scary dream she had been in.
“Manik…” She got down from the bed and called Manik, hoping for him to be nearby but he didn’t respond. It seems he was not in the cottage.
Nandini clearly remembered that she had fallen asleep on the couch while reading her book and then Manik had not only carried her inside but cuddled with her and chatted for some time, missing the game he loved, telling her that he was addicted to her. It had been a mushy feeling at that time. She had fallen asleep again after some time.
Right now, her phone read 9:00 pm. It was quite late as per Netherlands’ standards where people called it a day as early as 6:00 pm.
Nandini called him two to three times and when she realised that he was not inside the cottage, she was terribly irked. She wrapped her woollen shawl around her short grey top and beige trousers, wore the woollen cap and bolted the cottage to go outside to search for him.
It was dark outside. And it was very cold. The reflection of the cottages in the water of the canal gave an eerie look to the village beautiful during the day. Only few street lamps were on, otherwise the village seemed to bathe in darkness all over.
For a moment, Nandini was scared. It felt as if she was reliving the scary nightmare in reality. But sitting and waiting for Manik was not something she was planning to do. She wanted to find him.
Why he was not in the cottage?
Where did he go in this small village, leaving her alone?
Was he fine?? God forbid!! What was she going to do in this small place, in a remote location, if he disappeared? If something happened to him??
No ….no….no… no… Be positive, Nandu!!! He must be fine…
He must have gone for a walk… he didn’t exercise or jog today… given that he is so addicted to activity, he must be on a night walk…
But why did he leave me alone in the cottage??
He doesn’t care… he does…. no, he doesn’t…. ufff…
She just came across one or two men walking along the canal… rest of the village appeared to have gone to sleep. It was silent. It was scary. It was eerie…
She was not someone with a daring heart. She was a loser when she was alone. Her dream reverberated in her mind again and again and she was living that torture all over again.
She was irked and super angry by the time, she had taken two turns away from the cottage.
What if I lose my way?? What if I never find the cottage back, in this dark? What will I do all night?
Where will I go??
Where are you Manik??
“Manik Malhotra, just meet me once now! You have no idea what I am going to do with you!” She clenched her jaw in irritation mixed with anger mixed with worry for him mixed with fear of the night growing darker and colder.
After walking for around 10 minutes, she saw a well-lit cottage off the canal, beyond a bridge. The place appeared lively and happening. Looked like a pub-cum-cafe. There were light music sound coming till far along with sounds of laughter and cheer.
A sixth sense told her to check for him there. She crossed the foot overbridge and reached the pub, only to find Manik standing near the billing counter, holding a bunch of beautiful white gerberas in one hand and a brown paper bag in another. He was talking to an old man and appeared engrossed in the conversation.
She stood still at the door of the pub when she found him there, overwhelmed with a mix of emotions rushing all over her. When he flashed his one thousand-watt smile and laughed candidly at what the old man spoke to him, she knew that all other emotions could take rest for a while… anger dissipated, irritation subsided, worry quietened… and relief took over. She sighed and took a deep breath.
So… He was there!!!
He was fine, talking to someone with great interest, laughing and smiling like a kid. Relief washed over her. To see him standing tall, holding the flowers she loved… she had told him just last night that she loved white gerberas… grinning like the world could be lit with this smile…
It felt as if a squishy warmth had cushioned her from the harsh, cold, dark world around her. She didn’t need anything else in life. Her sunshine was right there, oblivious to her presence.
No… it wasn’t just relief! She was sure. It was something deeper. Something special. Something that she had felt only for him…
It was love!!!
She was insanely in love with him and while she had known this for a long time now but today, a few minutes without him shook her. She was not prepared for this sunken feeling without him. She didn’t know that in such less time, she would begin depending on him for her smiles… for her happiness…
Today, her heart screamed loud and clear to her that she couldn’t imagine a life without him. They were meant to be together… Forever!!!
She marched across the hall of the small pub and reached near him. He was quite surprised to see her there. Under her shawl wrapped around the lower half of her face, her face was white due to cold and shock. Her look was blank, her eyes stoned.
He was speechless.
With first three fingers of his right hand, he touched the edge of her shawl and slid it down her face. Her soft, fine fingers slid along with the shawl, grazing through her cheek. Her lips trembled, not due to the cold, but due to the warm touch. Her eyes had thousands of complaints. But she didn’t have to spell them in words. A certain someone could read her eyes.
He whispered, “Nandini!!”
She didn’t speak even a word. Just stepped ahead and threw her hands around him to give him a tight hug, holding him so strongly that he was surprised again. She rested her forehead against his chest and breathed deep. Her eyes were closed and she almost quivered. Her fingers curled and grasped his jacket at his back, making him feel the urgency of this hug.
She had never hugged him in this way – as if a prized possession was being snatched away from her… as if she was losing a part of her and holding onto him for life was the only way to stay alive…
In fact, no one had ever hugged him like that before…
He was helpless at the way this girl broke every barrier to enter the spaces, he had always kept guarded for the fear of getting hurt. He didn’t even realise when he allowed her in every crease of his ruffled life.
He had believed that he was emotionally unavailable as that tag suited him. It was good for him. This way, he was not expected to respond, react, do things for someone and be liable or answerable just because he had accepted that tag – emotionally and otherwise ‘unavailable’… that’s it !!!!
But this beautiful girl whose heart defined her beauty refused to believe or accept that tag for him. She made sure that he made himself ‘available’… for her!!
For all means and purposes! For she never settled for less… She didn’t deserve less…
She made sure that his heart registered those tiny feelings which he had once buried deep inside him, believing that he was heartless… she made sure that she kept aside all ego when she dealt with him… she made sure that she made him feel special and the center of her universe. It was such an empowering feeling… so different from all the accusations, blaming and guilt trips he had been before.
Was he doing enough for her?? He was not sure!
But he was sure that whatever he did for her, he did it with all his heart. He was not forced to do magnanimous things for her for she was happy the way he was. He couldn’t fake his feelings. And Nandini never expected any fake exaggerations.
And so, he wanted to do more each day, just because she didn’t expect much. That is why when he came out to buy a drink for him, he stopped to buy her favourite flowers, about which she told him last night. He had never done that before. For no one.
With flowers in one hand and brown paper in another, he curled his hands around her and took a deep blissful breath, resting his chin on the top of her head.
Something weird was happening. Something was changing in him. For good. The selfish workaholic was beginning to live life according to someone’s whims and fancies. One who didn’t want to give a damn about a stranger, now wanted her to stay happy. One smile on her face would make his day. One frown on her face would make him restless. Immediately, he wanted to make things right for her. His life was beginning to revolve around her and he wasn’t even complaining…
He was loving it!!
For he was in love…
Incurably… Irresistibly… Irrevocably…in love!!! With no remedy!!!