Thank you for reading my story. Thank you for the comments and likes too. It means a lot to me. Love you all.
Apologies for posting late. It’s a long chapter… really long… :))) With lots of pictures…
They followed Nandini’s itinerary and took a bus to Zaanse Schans first.
It was a village near Amsterdam famous for recreated look of the 18th and 19th century Dutch village.
Nandini was thrilled to see the ancient windmills, wooden houses, tourists spots packed with several tourists clicking pictures, biking enthusiasts and couples roaming around hand in hand indulging in the rustic beauty and the effervescent atmosphere.
Manik was thrilled to see Nandini. Her eyes twinkled and she had a vivacious smile on her lips, making him smile too. She looked so exotic and attractive that his attention hardly deviated from her. Every few minutes, his eyes drifted back to her.
Nandini noticed him observing her this keenly and raised her brows cutely in a question, without speaking in words. He nodded to refuse. He wasn’t going to divulge anything more. Already he felt like having shared more than he had intended to. Last night, he couldn’t stop himself from telling her how much he loved her.
For which Madam had aptly thanked me!!!!
He rolled his eyes on that and then couldn’t stop a charming smile on his face –
Why do I even want to hear her say that?? I’ve always believed in gestures and feelings. Since when did I start believing in words? Nandini’s gestures speak, loud and clear, that she considers me special. Very special!! I should be satisfied with that for now. Maybe she isn’t yet in love with me… she might be… but maybe she is yet to realize it or accept it to herself! I should give her some time and not force it on her.
What if she doesn’t love you, Manik? His heart sowed seeds of doubt, which he pushed away firmly.
So, what?! If she doesn’t love me, even then I can’t stop loving her. It’s not in my hands to not love her… and I’ll wait for her to realize her feelings and share them… Till then, my love should be good enough for both of us…
She picked up several souveniers and gifts, shopped for coffee mugs and junk jewellery. When she wore a silver bracelet to show him, he shrugged and said, “You love all these trinkets, right? I’ve seen mom and Gaurvi and even my masi behaving crazy for gold and diamonds!”
“I don’t need diamonds. I’m happy with my junk!”She chirped, “Is it looking good?”
“Perfect!” He smiled and paid for it, “I remember Gaurvi throwing a tantrum and pestering Akhil to buy a solitaire ring worth 2 lacs for their engagement!”
“Uff!!! That’s sooo cute!” She animated and exaggerated her reaction and squeezed her eyes, teasing him, “Why didn’t I get this idea?”
He heaved a sigh of relief, “Thank God, I was saved!”
“Do you know why?” She asked walking along the long trail towards a coffee house.
“Manik… we never got engaged! We were married, directly!”
“Is that so?” He was surprised as this point had never occurred to him. “You mean, you don’t have an engagement ring?”
“Nopes!” She made a cute pout and nodded like a baby, “I don’t have an engagement ring!”
He sighed and apologized, “I’m so sorry! The first thing I’m going to buy you after reaching Bangalore will be a ring for your ring finger!”
She laughed, “No…no… I was just teasing you! I don’t need any more jewellery…”
He was not going to leave it, “No! I WILL get you a diamond ring. I’ve decided!”
“But I don’t wear diamond jewellery, Manik.”
“Gaurvi and mom have their rings. Masi, Kaki, all wear rings in their fingers. I won’t feel good if you don’t have anything in your ring finger. It didn’t strike me before! You should have told me.” He spoke blaming her, innocently.
She laughed but she was touched immensely as he had placed her with the women in his family and wanted her to be at par with them even if it was a petty issue as jewellery… he wanted her to be no less… She smiled gloriously and with a distinct pride in her eyes.
They visited the open arena museum and had their lunch before taking another tourist bus to Rotterdam.
“Why is the market so decorated?” He asked.
She giggled.“Where do you live? On planet Earth or Mars? Nothing strikes you without being told!”
“Is it something special?”
“Manik, it’s 23rd December today. It’s Christmas day after tomorrow.”
He looked around and then at her for a moment and then spoke in an excited tone, “Really?? Wowww!!! That means markets and tourist spots will be closed the day after tomorrow??? We won’t be going anywhere??”
She giggled and whacked him with her handbag, “How happy you sound!!! Jerk!! And yes, not only on 25th but markets and museums will be closed on 26th too!”
“Ahh-mazinggg!!” He rolled his eyes and yawned, “I’m soooo tired!”
“Shuttt uppp!” She frowned, unable to hide her laughter.
He checked his phone and scrolled the recent missed calls, while teasing her, “There is no point roaming around uselessly with you! I know, you will talk utter nonsense the entire day but won’t say what you should be saying!”
Sheepishly, she grinned with a prominent blush smeared on her cheeks and looked away, pressing her lips. She knew what he meant and why he was teasing her.
“What happened? Tongue-tied?? Madam talkative?” He was not going to leave her and she grinned more.
“Someone believed in gestures… why the sudden change?? Read my gestures now!!!” She teased him back and challenged him. “I won’t say anything… not a word… you read my gestures!!”
He opened his mouth, unable to believe that she knew what he was asking her and still went on to tease him. “I will answer you properly. But first I need to find a payphone. My phone has 4 missed calls by mom and it doesn’t show signals!”
“I saw a payphone there!” She pointed towards the end of the restaurant. He stood up, “I’ll be back in a moment!”
She nodded and finished her lemonade, taking out her diary from her hand-bag to scribble something while she waited for him. For next ten minutes, Manik was gone and Nandini was busy scrawling things in her diary, smiling away with a zing of exhilaration. She had been in high spirits since last night and the more he teased her, the more she was unable to voice in words what she felt for him. She was in love… and she had accepted it long back… but suddenly, it felt so difficult to tell him…
She was busy running her pen rapidly on the booklet when Manik appeared all of a sudden and snatched it away from her.
“Hey!! That’s wrong!” She immediately jumped from her chair and tried to reach for it.
He rotated the gum in his mouth and wiggled his brows, before he intimidated her like always, “Like really?? You think you can reach for it and grab it too!”
She frowned desperately and gave up the struggle, quite sure that she could never win it. His height was to his advantage and completely out of bounds for her. She was uselessly wasting energy.
“Manik, please give it back.” She requested sweetly.
“What were you writing? You promised that you will let me read it!”
She swayed her jaw in apprehension and then chewed her lower lip, “Ohkay! But it is unfinished. I will let you read it later?”
“After we reach Rotterdam?” She asked.
He gave her the diary, “Okay! But do remember… after reaching Rotterdam, I will read it!”
“Hmm!” She nodded with a cute grin, making him smile too.
“What happened? Did you call mom?”
“No… the payphone was not working! They say that one is outside at the end of the road, in the market. I’ll try there!”
“Okay!” She collected her handbag, stuffed her pen and diary in it and walked beside him to leave the cafe.
“The decorations are gorgeous!” He turned around to click pictures in the market.
“Christmas celebrations are a big deal all over Europe. Rotterdam is famous for it’s Christmas market and festivities!”
“That is why you chose it for today??” He asked, smiling at her knack of planning things to perfection.
She grinned and nodded, while he went away to try calling his home from a payphone at the end of the road. She roamed around the market observing the roadside shops, Christmas gifts, decorations.
He returned after almost 30 minutes. She was still around the main road.
“What took you so long?” She asked with a concerned look on her face.
He shrugged, “It was a long queue! Does your phone have signals?”
“Nopes!” She nodded.
“Forget it! We’ll reach Giethoorn and call them. What did you do in this time?” He asked, removing a lock of hair falling on her face and tucking it behind her ear. His finger-tips brushed at her skin, giving her goosebumps.
She bobbed her neck, side to side and sighed, “Got a Christmas gift for you!”
He pretended to be thrilled, “For me??!! Whoaaaa!! Where is it? Give me!”
She wiggled her brows mysteriously and whispered, “After we reach Rotterdam!”
He chuckled, “This one too!! What is Rotterdam? Heaven on earth??”
She smiled and slipped her hand around his elbow, “Every place on earth, where you are with me, is heaven on earth!”
“Sheeeeeesh!! Nandini Murthy… that was so cheesy!!”
She giggled, “That’s what I AM… Cheesy… hopeless romantic… fairytale dweller…you call me that right??”
“Ahhaa!! Now I know… you are making me pay back by letting the fire of anticipation set me ablaze?” He stepped up the first ladder of the bus with a jump and gave his hand to her to help her ride up. She warmly slipped her hand in his hand and allowed him to pull her up.
When she was pulled up on the bus, now facing him, with her hand strongly held in his hand, she placed her other palm flat on his chest and whispered, “I am seething in the same fire!”
The way she made everything exciting had a charm of it’s own. He was not someone who loved things easy. So, when she turned her confession in a thrilling adventure, he wasn’t complaining. He knew that he could wait as long as she wanted… a confession from her was going to be worth every wait!!
And he couldn’t spoil their ‘now’ for something in future. So he didn’t pester her for saying something, after that! They remained absorbed in the scenery outside the window, the extensive grassfields, the long canals dividing the villages, the sun about to set any moment and the raw beauty of nature. They talked about their childhood, schools, memories of holiday, friends… After some time, she rested her head on his shoulder and was quiet for a long time. The bliss of togetherness and her head over his shoulder kept him immersed in the bliss of love he had recently declared. He was glad that he did that. She knew about his feelings and it assured her. She was evidently happy!
“What are you thinking, Nandu?” He asked her after a long time.
“Something deep!” She sighed.
“And… you won’t care to share it with me!! Right?”
“I will share it…”
“But in Rotterdam??” He asked suggesting the possible reply,
She laughed uncontrollably, so much that she had a tear in her eye, “You are hopeless, you know?”
“I know, you were going to say that!”
“You are so right, Manik Malhotra! Good one!” She went back to lying on his shoulder and took a deep breath of ecstasy, making him grin too.
“I will miss you when you will go to Chennai! God!! It’s going to be so difficult!” He sighed.
She raised her head again and looked at him without another word. He shrugged, “What?”
Seriously and firmly, she declared, “I’ve been thinking about it since few days.”
“What about that?”
“There are hundreds of speciality hospitals in Bangalore. Thousands of doctors work in those hospitals and for their private practice. It’s a big city. I’m sure everyone doesn’t go to Chennai to find a career. There must a lot of scope in Bangalore… I just need to work hard for a bit more…”
“Nothing doing!” She was determined. “I’m not going. Even if I have to learn a new language!”
She placed her hand on his lips, “I’m not leaving you!”
Rotterdam was beautifully decorated, just like she had told him. The sun had already set by now and the lights were up.
The entire city was bathed in thousands of neon lamps, various coloured lights and Christmas trees at the Coolsingel, City hall and the Church.
“Gorgeous!” He sighed.
“Didn’t I tell you?” She was visibly excited, with a bright sparkle in her eyes and a bliss of satisfaction on her lips. “It’s like millions of stars have descended on Earth to celebrate with us.”
He looked at her and nodded, “You are a serious romantic, you know!?!”
“I know!! And that is why I wanted to bring you here!” She pressed her lips. “Come, we’ll go to the Church over there.”
They entered the Church, decorated in its full glory by lights, flowers, ribbons, balloons etc. There was a big Christmas tree at the entrance. They followed the tourists who entered the Church and went around to observe the statues of the kings who constructed and maintained it, paintings of different verses from Bible and knelt at the kneelers to pray.
She took him to the far end of the Church where they could see hundreds of lighted candles on several racks and unlit ones at the bottom racks. She searched for coins in her bag, “Oops! I don’t have change. Manik, give me 2 Euros!”
“2 Euros for one candle??!!!” He whispered, behind her, raising his brows.
“Shut up!” She giggled, “Give me a coin!”
He gave her a coin. She put the coin in a box meant for the same and picked up a candle to light. She moved away towards the racks. He kept standing there, when a Dutch woman of around fifty years, spoke to him thinking he didn’t know what to do. “Son! You need to put the coins there for the Church, think of someone you love and pray in the honour of God. Pray to show your faith in God and to wish for good health and lifelong happiness for the one you love!”
He smiled and move aside, but without removing her eyes from Nandini who was lighting the candle with the purest expression on her face. He took out another coin to put it in the box and picked up a candle before he went near her.
Nandini had her eyes lowered on the long racks containing rows of candles. When she lit her candle, she raised her eyes towards him and smiled. Her face reflected the glow from the candles. Never had he ever seen such a pristine, divine view in his life. He could fall in love with her, every day, every moment and still feel that he wasn’t doing enough.
He had never done anything like this in his life, before. So he observed others and Nandini and then he lit his candle before placing it at an empty space next to Nandini’s. After a brief prayer, they walked out of the Church and into the market decorated by lights all around them.
She held his hand, looking up in the sky with a child’s excitement. “Manik, Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yes!” He curled his hand around her palm, “I can feel a strange tranquility here!”
“I know right?!?!” She chirped and started walking when he didn’t leave her hand and she was pulled back to him.
“What?” She asked, searching his face.
All his discussions with himself, consolations of hope, justifications, denials, giving her time, all evaporated before his impatience. He couldn’t wait anymore.
“Do you love me?” He asked straight away.
She blushed and lowered her eyelids, before raising them again with a dazzling smile, making his heart beat. She sighed deeply and then whispered, “Who do you think, I wished for when I prayed in the Church?”
Whoaaa!! If he was a king of indirect compliments, she had learnt a lot from him. He was thrilled to hear that but wanted to know more… He didn’t want to interrupt when she had finally decided to open up, even for a bit. He was happy with these small bits of glee.
She took a deep breath and said, “Love is – eating healthy while craving for junk, because you want to eat healthy food… feeling content with you and not needing anyone else to make me feel complete… feeling beautiful when you look at me… feeling safe when I’m with you… willingly staying at the couch watching sports and stupid news, just to sit close to you… thinking in the bus journey how thrilling it would feel to add to my name – words I never knew before… words like ‘Manik’ and ‘Malhotra’… thinking about you whenever someone says words like ‘prayer’ and ‘wishes’…feeling suffocated and out of breath whenever I think about Chennai…”
He was tongue-tied. Speechless. Now he knew what she must have felt when he declared his love for her. His heart had turned into a mushy puddle which he hated to accept. He could feel a heavy load on his throat, as he could speak nothing.
There had been nothing, even remotely close to this, anyone had ever said or done for him. Not a single person had ever made him feel so special. She had been waiting to say it all in a special way… just as she was … hopeless romantic and mushy… she had spoken of her love in a divine setting, amidst stars and lights… Like her fairytales…
Nothing could be as perfect as this!!!
He walked closer to her, without removing eyes from her even for a moment and pulled her in his arms. Before he could say anything, she placed her soft fingertips on his lips.
“I have more…”
“No!” His throat was nearly choked, “You don’t need to do anything else! I’m already overwhelmed!”
She blushed and softly whispered, “Manik, you wanted to read my diary? I was writing something for you, today!”
“For me?” He was floored.
She took out her diary and gave it to him. He nodded, refusing to take it and requested, “You read it for me!”
She blushed more and opened the last page. He held her hand and made her sit on a bench under a tree, decorated with balls of yellow lights and over which a plant of mistletoe with red berries was wrapped.
She opened the page and started reading – In a beautiful, soft voice, giving proper pauses for effect and looking at him in between to see his expressions –
( I wrote this from Nandini’s side )
He held her hand and interlaced their fingers into each other while she recited her little poetry… and when she finished it, he exerted a subtle pressure on their hands, warmly enclosing it in his grasp.
She was nervous, “It’s just juvenile… but it reflects what I feel…”
He threw a heavy breath of air out, with great effort, making a pout of his lips, “Phewww!! Stop it… I can’t handle more…”
“Manik… I …” She started speaking more.
He slipped his hand around her neck, softly caressing it and lowered his forehead over hers, with a deep sigh, “Ssshhh!!! Shutttt Uppppp!!! Let me gain some senses back! I’m totally lost here! You bowled me over and knocked me out!”
She blushed and smiled softly, “One last thing… then you can react together for everything…”
“No Nandu… please!! My poor heart can’t hold more than this. No one has ever loved me so much!!”
“Just one more thing??” She asked sweetly, innocently and with a subtle coy smile on her lips. He couldn’t refuse.
“What is it?”
“I don’t want any gift!” He moved his face away and nodded awkwardly. “I don’t even believe in gifts!”
“I know that. So, I kept it for myself!”
“Whattttt??” He laughed at that, “That’s new!!”
“Won’t you guess, what it could be that I got as a gift for you but had it myself??!!!” She shrugged, creating an air of mystery!
He observed her keenly and thought about it. Here was a catch!! But what? He frowned and noticed her glee by her pressed lips and glorious proud smile. Immediately, he nodded, “Nooooo!!!! No…no…no…. no way!!! Please don’t tell me you did that stupid thing which I hate about couples… it’s so so so silly…I know what it is…”
Offended, she frowned. “It’s NOT silly!!! I love them…you know…” And then she giggled softly like a baby, making him grin at her hopelessness too.
“Manik, every important event of my life, I’ve had it inked on me… You are above all… How can I not have you on me…??!!!”
His breath was caught in his chest and he didn’t know how to react to this silly girl’s crazy love for him. She knew no limits, no filters, no speed breakers… and he had known that about her, from day one, since he had met her first.
Today, she proved it yet again that she knew no bounds when it came to her love for him! She was that adorable!!
Thanks for reading!