He drops his phone the moment he sees the number flash on his phone. Who is it, the wife inquires. Office, he says. Bloody morons can’t even breathe properly unless I tell them how.
Kissing the wife goodbye, he picks up his car keys and leaves. Minutes later, he parks his car outside Shashi Juice Corner and picks up his girlfriend and drives her to work. On some days, they skip work and stay home instead. She is apparently a tigress in bed and he can’t get enough of her.
Of course this is just speculation. Nobody has ever seen you in his car.
The conversation moves to politics. You don’t have much to add. You focus, instead, at the couple in the corner of the room. You focus on how animated she is in conversation. Her beautiful skin, her tanned arms, boobs the size of peaches. She has the body of a greek goddess, and she knows it. No wonder his hand is always resting on her waist. He says something witty. She laughs loudly. He blushes. She leans on him and kisses him on his cheek. He blushes some more.
You’re wondering if she’s any good in bed.
Hey you lovebirds, someone in their group calls out to you and your husband. Come and join us here. Let me introduce you to some of my other friends.
A short while later, you’re sitting across the table from him, flashing an evil smile.
A drop of sweat falls from his balding head as he sees your skirt ride up just a little as you cross your legs. Slowly. Deliberately.
She looks hurt. Your job here is done.
Let’s go, you say at two a.m. on a Friday night, almost pukish at the thought of spending another weekend in Delhi. Let’s get out. We never do anything impulsive, you say. Chalo, he says. Abhi? You can’t believe you’re actually doing this.
Five minutes later, you’re packing an overnight bag and dumping it in the boot of your one-year-old-highway-virgin car, double-checking to make sure you have all your papers in place, and driving off.
Where to, he asks. You name the first place that pops into your head at that moment. Kasauli it is.
Thirty minutes later, you stop over at a tiny little eatery on the road and announce do chai, ek aloo parantha. You fall asleep as you wait. When you wake up, he’s watching you intently.
Within seconds you are both smiling and holding hands, Hindi-picture style.
You finish your paranthas and chai and head home.
Me, or her? You scream at him, vaguely aware of all the eyes on you. You have to choose, you know! Me, or her?
He looks at you bewildered. For a while he is super quiet. You are sure he will pick you. He’s your brother and wouldn’t care if you suck at cricket.
But he doesn’t.
She does her stupid tilly-lilly dance. You stick your tongue out at her in response. They high-five. You look at him like a hurt kitten, but he doesn’t even pretend to look apologetic.
Confidence slowly leaks out as the crack in your heart widens.
Here you are again, slouching in your chair, head bent over your laptop, trying to type at the same speed as your thoughts. A million things a minute, no less!
You stop to breathe for a while. One thing at a time, please, and you shift your focus to where it all began. You think about the man who lived across the street when you were thirteen, who would sit in his balcony and read the newspaper every day. How he looked at you from across the street on a winter afternoon and how you read his mind.
Later that evening, you slipped on the road as you brought home groceries. He was there, right behind you, to arrest your fall. You got all coy and lady-like, and meekly whispered a “thank you uncle”. At home, you thought about how his hand around your bare waist felt warm and rough and moist and electrifying at the same time.
Years later, you finally gather the strength to admit that you weren’t about to fall until you realized he was walking behind you.