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The Drive Home…

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“You look lovely,” he said.

She smiled as she buckled her seat-belt… and whispered a thanks.

He started the car and drove silently for a few minutes… he looked at her as she sat relaxed looking straight ahead… the hint of a smile still lingering at the corners of her mouth.

“You know, in school, you were the most desired girl,” He said in a matter-of-fact way.

A sense of déjà vu washed over her… she turned to look at him, searching his eyes as she remembered another school friend telling her that she was one of the most desired girls in high-school but then he had also mentioned feeling sorry for her present. She did not want to think about it.

He hadn’t noticed the question in her eyes… he was looking at the road and continued “You are smart and witty, you are intelligent… and you are pretty…”

She interrupted him, eyes narrowed “I am not pretty!” Though, she couldn’t help but notice his use of the present tense.

He turned to look at her… his eyes appraising her… “You are hot!”

“Hot is not the same as pretty,” She muttered… a blush creeping up her face.

“No, hot is a package… you have an elegance and poise I haven’t seen in anyone else, and something about that reserved air around you, and the way you speak… it is mature and intelligent with a hint of innocence, makes people want to talk to you,” he smirked and added, “And don’t try to be modest… you know you are gorgeous.”

She smiled sweetly… she had heard it all before, the praise, the compliments… in college, at her first job… but they all seemed a long time ago.

He was still talking… “Your eyes…  they are ever as arresting as I remember… you know, I had a crush on you in high-school!”

She snorted… “I thought you hated me… we used to fight… remember? You even kicked me once… a painful karate kick!”

He grimaced at her words, “You weren’t too bad… that punch” His fingers rubbed his jaw, remembering the pain.

She laughed a throaty laugh, “That was some punch… wasn’t it? I think I was driven by the pain from your quite uncalled for kick below the belt.”

They stopped at a signal… she sensed his gaze, but kept her eyes on the signal. He said “I still think of you… I haven’t yet gotten over my crush on you!”

She turned to look at him, eyes wide with surprise… no… shock, she whispered, “But, you are married!”

He shrugged and started the car as the signal changed… “Well, you have an indelible effect!”

She was blushing at the revelation but managed to say, “Hope your wife isn’t aware of your wayward thoughts.”

He felt a little uncomfortable and to change the topic he asked her, “ Didn’t you have any boyfriends in college?”

She looked at him and said, “You were with me in college… what do you think?”

He clarified, “I meant, in your Engineering college?”

She smiled, “I had mostly boys as friends… didn’t feel the need of a special boyfriend, besides, I did have a very close friend.”

“I remember… you rarely ever had any girls as friends… they all seemed intimidated by you.” He laughed.

“That’s not true. My best friend is a girl… you know her. And I have really good girl friends… friendships that have stood the test of time.” She said, almost petulant.

He looked thoughtful, “Your best friend? Yes, I know her… a wilful character, no-nonsense kind… quite like you, in fact!” He took a sharp breath and said, “You were always attracted to the strong types, weren’t you? None of the wimpy ones for you.”

Her eyes on the road, she smiled, “The attraction is mostly mutual!” Then she turned to him and remembering something, added, “But that’s not completely true… I had other girls as friends… ‘wimpy’ ones as you call them.”

He frowned, remembering the girl. “That wasn’t you being a friend… that was you protecting her! And that was one punch I enjoyed watching… he did not see that coming at all!” He laughed at the memory. “And well, he was smitten by you after that… can you blame him?”

She smirked, “Yeah…a lot good that punch did me! Did you know he would serenade me late evenings under my apartment with ‘jadoo teri nazar’ and ‘pehla nasha’? Mom did not know he was putting on the show for me though she liked how he played his guitar… and I never bothered to enlighten her. There were other girls of my age in the flats in our apartment entrance. And boy was I glad he didn’t sing my name aloud… though he did sing well. I should have punched him harder, though!”

“He did sing for you onstage during the college festival… I remember, I was jealous.” He scowled and mouthed the words of the song in a mock parody, Chehra hain ya chaand khila hain…

She blushed again at the memories. It wasn’t just him singing the song, some other senior had given her a mixed tape of Hindi movie songs praising her eyes.

“He was quite tenacious… wasn’t he? I remember him hanging around at the college gate even after he passed out. My blood boiled at the sight of his smug face.” He said, sounding angry and irritated.

She laughed, “I never paid him any attention… and he stopped after a while; I think his father retired and they left the colony.”

“This is it… you have to turn left here… there’s my apartment,” she said.

He turned in to her driveway and stopped the car. She unclipped her seat belt and thanked him for the drive home, “You know… it was delightful meeting you after so long. Would you like to come up for a coffee?” She asked.

He closed his eyes contemplating. And images of another invitation for coffee flashed through her mind… a handsome Italian, a ride in a blue Lamborghini Gallardo, the innocent coffee invite and the rather horrifying outcome… it was a narrow escape for her. When she recovered from the unpleasant memory, he opened his eyes and said “Not today… besides it’s quite late and…” He left words unsaid… and closed his eyes again. She patted his hand as she stepped out of the car, but he held her hand and asked, “When would I see you next?”

She gently freed her hand and before closing the car door she replied, “Next time you come to India… I would like to meet your wife too.”

He smiled, “You haven’t changed a bit… have you? Always out of reach!”

She smiled back at him and waved as he backed the car out of her driveway. He blew her a kiss as he drove away… she did not reciprocate, but held the smile on her face.

© Surya Murali

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