Bully #fiction

The team leader kept shouting at the bespectacled fresher. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Enough of being a spectator. ‘Stop bullying him,’ I said loud and clear. His attention shifted to me. ‘What? What did you say?’

‘I said stop bullying him.’

‘And who are you, madam, to say me that? How dare you? Would you instead like to take up his task and stay over the weekend?’ he threatened.

I was seething inside. ‘You don’t have to tower over him like that. He’s doing well enough.’

‘And you are the judge? Says who? The one who fumbled during the presentation yesterday,’ his tone was piercing.

I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of seeing my shivering feet. I mustered up all my courage, pent up anger and spoke again,’ You are not perfect yourself. Get out of the illusion. Everyone knows of your shortcomings even if you think they don’t. Stop being too much of yourself.’ That silenced him for a minute. The highest anyone had managed till date.

Jenna #shortstory

‘I think chicken broth is tastier than vegetable broth,’ she said with conviction chopping the cucumber and cabbage on the wooden board. ‘Really, I want to taste it. Would you make it for me?’ he asked coaxing her to cook for him. He loved her recipes and rarely had such a golden opportunity to have a meal with her. He couldn’t forget the coconut and mango smoothie he had had last time. ‘Ok, it’s Pasta then, for dinner,’ she smiled chopping the tomato and onion now. She too liked a lot to display her skills and gain appreciation. Soon they started talking about other relatives in foreign lands who are reluctant to return, their marriages, divorces, affairs and babies.

John had come to Jenna’s town to visit her. He was a great fan of hers and immensely admired her. Their grandparents had been close; they were the founders of a company that Jenna’s parents now take care of. Soon John will do the same, but Jenna made her choice not to get stuck in this heirloom. She broke free from the emotional blackmails of her father and chose to be a chef instead, taking culinary courses along with her business administration classes. She was brave, independent, challenging and daring- something that John couldn’t be. At first he envied her freedom but then he understood the risks she had taken, and the stakes of her decision; he thought she was bold.

‘There’s a competition going on for getting accepted to the food labs. Aren’t you participating?’ he asked munching the Chinese salad. It was delicious- the crunchy fried noodles and some sweet sauce were surprising his palate. ‘Yes, I have applied for it but they have not yet responded,’ Jenna replied. She had been preparing hard for the competition. It was her only chance to get some exposure and rise higher than what she was- a chef in a decent family restaurant. ‘Aren’t you going to sit for a while? There’s three more hours for dinner. You needn’t worry from now. Keep that knife aside,’ he was being sulky. She laughed at his childish tone and came to sit with him. And just then the door bell rang, interrupting them from another long conversation.

It was a package. Jenna opened it eagerly and the contents made her squeal with joy. She held the acceptance letter for the competition in one hand and hugged John. It lingered a few seconds more than it comfortably should. ‘See.. I am so lucky for you,’ John said to lighten the awkwardness that followed. Jenna laughed.16577327-Woman-cutting-vegetables-tomato-cucumber-salad-on-a-wooden-table-Stock-Photo

Jodhpur Diaries #9

10 years earlier– (continued)

‘We are not yet open, Miss.. It’s after about two hours..,’ Rehaan said as he saw me enter the door. I had not thought of any good excuses yet but I attempted nonetheless,’ I know. But I have my school at that time…Umm… Can I just sit in the far end, in the library? I’ll make sure not to disturb you…’ My art of sweet talk was failing me here. There was a chuckle, or did I imagine it. ‘But I won’t be able to serve you the recommendations now,’ he said with a straight face, but his eyes crinkled with the pent up laughter. ‘Not at all a problem, anything will do,’ I knew was being childish not able to contain the excitement.

I took a seat near the romantic novels section. It smelt of room freshener and sanitizer wash. The aroma of the various concoctions was not yet present in the air. I put my fluffy overcoat on another chair. It was cold outside but inside was a bit warm. I was in my uniform, again. It’s not a date, I chided myself. Rehaan moved from one end to the other fixing things and arranging flowers. ‘Are you from Delhi?’ I asked as he assembled the books in the shelves around me. ‘No,’ he said. That’s it? He didn’t even name a place. That question usually worked, didn’t it? ‘You must be in college right? Or are you already graduated?’ I tried again. ‘Really, my looks tell you so? I’d rather let you make a calculated guess,’ he smiled this time. ‘College, I presume. Or did you drop out?’ No answer. ‘Where was your schooling?’ ‘A place far away from here..,’ I was blown over by these diplomatic answers.

‘You don’t have any friends here?’ -yet another attempt at having a proper answer from him. Why need he be so secretive? He’s playing with me, having fun, yes, he is.

‘Miss Rano, I think you said something about not disturbing me..,’ his teasing voice, chuckle and a raised eyebrow made me flush with chagrin. ‘Oh, yes, um.. sorry,’ I poked my head into the assignments and started writing without another word. Ah, I shouldn’t have come. I could hear unabashed chuckles from behind the shelves and cupboards. I really shouldn’t have come.

****

After about an hour, my assignments were completed. I was packing my bag to leave when he came with two cups of green tea. ‘Are you leaving, already? Isn’t it still an hour before your classes begin?’

‘Yes.. it is..’

‘So why don’t we ..,’ he left the rest unsaid pointing to the cups.

‘Yes, Ok.’ It was awkward to sit with him face to face. I had a lingering feeling that he was going to laugh at me again. I hate being laughed at.

‘You like this book?’ He pointed to Preeti Shenoy’s ‘Tea For Two and a Piece of Cake’ on the table. ‘Yes, she’s one of my favorites. I’ve read this book twice.’

‘Ah, sad the guys have not yet arrived, and we don’t have a piece of cake for our tea for two,’ he made a funny face. I laughed. ‘I like thrillers more and also coming-of-age novels. James Patterson is my favorite author, just after Agatha Christie,’ now he was answering my unasked questions.

We talked about hobbies and adventure sports; about movies and characters- damsels in distress and knights in shining armor. He had a good sense of humor and was good to talk to.

‘I should leave now. Thanks..,’ I got up picking my bag. ‘Today it was a complimentary drink, tomorrow it won’t be,’ he said holding my overcoat for me, before I could ask for the bill. He was expecting me to come again, welcoming me too. I didn’t reply to that. ‘You should come on Sunday mornings, we have tea ceremonies scheduled. It would be interesting to watch, I hope,’ yet another invitation. Ah, it’s good I came. ‘Sure,’ I said.

****

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Rehaan and I met almost every day at TeaTown or outside in the Mall Road. I had tried all the flavors of tea within a month, I dare not tell this to my friends- they would have killed me of jealousy. Rehaan helped me prepare for the exams; at times he helped us all in solving mind boggling equations. I wondered what this intelligent guy was doing here in this quaint township. We helped him in planting the exotic flowering plants in return. We trekked together a few times. It was really fun. Malhar, Myra and Rehaan tried rock climbing and Jane and I watched them compete. We were a bit afraid of heights.

In such a short time we had created so many memories, captured so many moments in clicks. I knew I liked him, but didn’t know about Rehaan’s feelings.

One day he came with blue roses, orchids and lavender. The fragrance was wonderful. I held it possessively hugging it close. And then he spoke for the longest three minutes of my life.

“I am deeply and irrevocably in awe of you. I won’t say ‘love with you’ yet, as I don’t take love casually. I like every version of you- the notice-me you, the notice-me-not you, the geeky you hiding behind the book racks and peeking at me, the bemused you, the excited without reason you and the gossipy you. You are innocent enough to be corruptible, but you are resolute and fiery in situations that I almost think you can’t handle. You are an enigma. Allow me to be a part of your life.”

I wanted to vanish in thin air at first. Then I desperately wished the ground to shallow me before I could blush further. And then I wanted to feel the feelings unhindered, without doubt. I said Ok- a resonating stupid one syllable, Ok, stupidly grinning ear to ear.

Little did I know that the next week would spoil it all.

Jodhpur Diaries #8

10 years back:darj_i0000db

The air was cool yet, still humid. It had drizzled two hours back. It was already March. Ah! How time flies! The wind blew on our face as we ran down the slope licking the ice-cream before it could dribble down our fingers. The roads in Darjeeling were like uphill and downhill, some slopes gentle but some too steep for any vehicle. We friends loved day outs like this, gliding on our skateboards, or pedaling on cycles down the road and walking the rest chatting and laughing together. High school and Intermediate in Darjeeling was quite, calm, soothing yet very eventful.

‘It’s the last month of school, do you all realize,’ Myra started. ‘Ya, next month we would be taking our board exams, and then off we’d go to places far from here, far from each other,’ Jane chimed in. ‘ISC is just a month away,’ I mock panicked just to change the course the conversation was taking. Such talks usually made an emotional mess of me. ‘Oh, stop it Rano, why do you have to mention the exams now? We’ll not talk of studies now, we shall chat, gossip and giggle our time together, alright,’ Malhar chastised me. He was the only guy among us, very sweet and homely, yet always pretended to be above us. We loved him. Well, actually he was like an outcast in other friends-circles in school.

I had suspected he was gay at first, years back, but it was something else. It was perhaps a phobia or something that he couldn’t connect well with people. ‘We should go trekking someday,’ Myra again started excitedly, making the same plans which almost always culminated into nothing in the end. ‘And when is that ‘someday’, you always have your last minute emergencies and murder our excitements with all your drama,’ I asked irritated. They laughed, ’Let’s plan something else.’ ‘For now, I’m going to the TeaTown, who wants to accompany me?’ I said finally unable to suppress my eagerness anymore. I had waited the whole day to go there, and it’s almost six in the evening. ‘Yes, Of course,’ they said in unison. I knew, I knew, they would never let me go there alone, or they would die of jealousy. I was giggling in my mind as we turned to a corner towards the Tea&Treats.

We walked up the steep slope feeling and imbibing the gradual change in our surroundings. There were no street vendors selling apricots, strawberries and extra orange carrots. Towards our right was a valley- the view was beautiful beyond words; we stood by the low height barricade against steep cliff-like edge that led to the green pine trees and the clouds in the valley. Each time we came here, we were mesmerized, and the view was the best at sunset. It was always difficult to let go of such a sight. But there was something else that piqued our interest and curiosity recently.

We walked up the stone and brick stairs admiring the exotic flowering plants in the sidelines. Oh, everything in this place was so beautiful. One has just too many things to admire here; you can never get tired of appreciating and adoring the place. The smooth colorful stones, tiles on the floor, Chinese patterns on the wall, vines hanging from the balcony, the red and pink tiny flowers on every table, and the golden card requesting a revisit given to customers while leaving- oh my god- there’s just too much mini treasures to hoard. I already cherish the glitter stones from behind the aquarium; three golden colored cards and a red flower now rest within the pages of my journal. It’s the perfect haven for a dreamy girl like me.

Now, hold still, I have not yet started about the interiors. It was an elaborate tea shop, inaugurated just recently, offering flavors you could have never imagined existed or was likable, with recommended food items combination for every type of tea. Work of a brilliant tea sommelier. And the book shelves with beautifully covered novels, just enhanced the charm.

We entered the glass doors. There were students like us all over the place- lovebirds, and chitter-chatter troupes. ‘Hello,’ dark eyes and easy grin of Rehaan welcomed us. I felt his eyes lingering on my face a few more seconds than others. He wore his black and white uniform with style, as we wore our school uniform with pride. I liked that. Apart from everything else that TeaTown boasted of, Rehaan was the best. Ever since I had been here, my eyes wandered searching for him every time I entered the doors, and I had grown a liking towards the sweet thrill that I felt every time our eyes met. I wonder if my friends noticed it, or worse, felt the same.

We were led to a table beside the Manga book section, Malhar’s favorite. ‘Would you like to try today’s recommended combo?’ Rehaan asked us. ‘Yes, for me,’ Myra raised a finger, smiling. ‘Yeah, me too,’ the rest of us said together. Rehaan smiled, as if he knew our reactions prior to asking. He perhaps knew the effect he was having on us, oh, of course he did, this guy. He was extremely handsome, with an edge of mystery. Again I felt his eyes linger on my face, I wonder it was real or just my imagination.

My eyes sought him every five seconds. He deftly poured the brewed mixture into beautiful shaped cups. But somehow it felt he did not fit here, his persona oozed of something more umm, important, yes and superiority, demanding respect perhaps. I could not pin point that feeling, or that word. We were served Belgian Mint Tea, Coco Truffle Tea, Orchid Vanilla Tea and Raspberry Nectar along with cakes and brownies. Yumm!! ‘Raspberry Nectar for you Miss. Rano,’ he said, He knew my name! O.M.G.. thank god I had that much of restraint not to smile foolishly at that. Everyone was looking at me. Myra’s expression was almost a scowl. Jealousy? Oh no. Jane teased, ’Oh, he knows your name. But Rehaan, why so special a recommendation for her?’ He hesitated a bit,’ No, I just overheard the name. Enjoy your time.’

‘Woah..You have an admirer Rano,’ Malhar began. ‘Let me taste your tea too,’ Myra demanded with a puckered face that made me laugh.

I have to talk to this guy.

The next day I woke up early enough and took the city ride to Tea&Treats with my assignments and journal. There’s no one to be seen so early, but Rehaan reclined on the window sill reading something intently in the newspaper.