Ruhi woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall back to sleep again. Earlier she had gone off like a light as soon as her head had touched the pillow; the salty tang of the sea clearing the cobwebs from her mind, but they were back now as tangled and twisted as ever.
She stared at the shifting pattern of light and shade created by the swaying blinds, the agitation procured by the cool air blowing through the vents. He had turned the AC way down, and she couldn’t get warm yet was too lazy to rise up and adjust the thermostat. Men are like that, they only think of their comfort unlike women who are forever willing to suffer in silence but not she, not Ruhi.
She hugged a large pillow to her body in an attempt to get comfortable as her mind drifted. She hadn’t allowed herself much time to ponder these past few days. She had been afraid to think, lest she may need to face her emotions, which were not what she wished them to be. But they crept in now, slowly and surely like insects do to a flame—a fatal attraction.
What have you been doing, Ruhi? that tiny voice queried what some may call “mann ki awaaz” or inner voice and some others schizophrenia—depending upon whom you were talking to.
“What have I been doing? Nothing in particular. Anyway don’t call me Ruhi, call me Bee. I like that name better. It has sting.” She giggled, a little hysterical.
Why are you playing these games, as Shaan said last night, sending him confusing signals then withdrawing at the last moment? What are you trying to prove?
“I…I am taking my revenge, making him pay for what he did to me. And I think it’s getting to him, I can see it in his eyes.”
But aren’t you hurting yourself too in the process? Can you deny the attraction you feel whenever you are near him?
“No! I don’t feel anything!” she said aloud yet was unable to camouflage the truth.
You are not a Mata Hari or femme fatale who ensnares her prey then leaves unaffected. You are an inexperienced young woman playing a very dangerous game who will pay a terrible price in the end. You need to stop now, Ruhi.
“Shut up! I will do what I want. I won’t sit back and let him walk all over me. I don’t care what happens, but I can’t forgive him that easily.” She clutched her pillow tight, recalling how he had held her last night, how she had struggled to tear herself away; the pain had been unbearable.
If you continue like this, do you believe you’d be able to leave peacefully when the time comes? Do you think you can start anew on your own or even consider somebody else as a partner?
“No! Everything began and ended with Shaan. I can never imagine spending my life with another person. He took my heart and left me hollow inside, and it hurts. It hurts so bad!” She buried her face in the pillow in an attempt to subdue her sobs but couldn’t prevent the tears from trickling out.
Yes, perhaps I should stop fooling myself and just let things ride. He has been nice so far, has done things for me, taken me places I’d have never seen otherwise. He has been a perfect gentleman though he came close to breaching that boundary last night. I almost wished he had. Then I’d have been in his arms right now, and everything would have been so different.
But it didn’t happen, and I’m still there where I was before, married yet single, counting down the days before I bid good-bye to this short yet achingly sweet part of my life.
But dear God, before I leave, I just want to meet that Des once so I can give her a piece of my mind, a big solid chunk! I want to leave her screaming! She mused on this happy thought before falling asleep exhausted.
Seems like mahashay did not have a very good night either! she thought with a simper when he didn’t make his appearance at the usual eighth hour.
No, cut it, girl! Control your impulses! Stop the tease. Be nice for a change!
“Yes, be nice and make pancakes,” she scolded herself, heating up the skillet.
Ruhi sensed a thrill run through her body as he came up in a rush behind her. Popping a slice of bread in the toaster, he stood there watching, lounging against the narrow counter, not too close yet close enough. His citrus-flavored aftershave flooded her lungs. She reached forward to turn on the coffee machine just as he did and withdrew in a hurry, feeling scalded.
“Thanks for yesterday. I had a very good time,” managing to croak out finally as her throat had gone bone-dry.
“You don’t have to thank me. I had a good time too after quite a while. Blast!” The bread came out charred.
“You can have these pancakes. They are fresh and hot.” She plated a couple.
“No, I’d prefer to eat this today,” he said, holding up the burnt toast in his hand. “It’s proven that charcoal helps clear poison out of the system, and I do need to get used to you not being here after a couple of weeks, don’t I?”
She flinched, a sharp twist of ice cold metal in her gut while he waited intently for her reaction.
He’s using my own weapon against me. I won’t show him that I hurt. “I…I’m sorry for how I behaved last night. Maybe it was something in the ice cream.”
“I didn’t mind it at all. Rather, I found the proceedings quite entertaining.” Don’t make lame excuses! You wanted to unnerve me, and you succeeded with flying colors! So you are trying to act strong even though I can see you burning inside. You won’t show it, will you, my darling?
She found herself backed into a corner with no avenue for escape. Unblinking, she stared at his eyes, and he gazed back tenaciously into hers.
What is it about her that makes me want to hurt her, make her cry? I have never experienced this cruel streak before but then nobody has evoked these alien feelings in me as she has, including a deep passionate desire.
Her eyelids fluttered close as his warm breath tickled her skin—an eager anticipation peppered with delicious panic.
“Make a wish.”
She blinked when he placed something nonexistent on her closed fist. “Ahh! It’s gone. Sorry, better luck next time.” He moved away with a sly grin.
She controlled her instinct to punch him. How dare he? They were shadowboxing, practicing their moves until it was time for the final show down whenever that might occur.
He took a quick gander at his watch. “I’m late.” Punctuality had never been a problem before.
“Wait, your socks don’t match, shall I…” She faltered.
“It doesn’t matter. Anyways, why would you care? You aren’t my wife, are you?” He paused at the door and caught a glimpse of her distressed face before she turned away.
She watched him walk to his car, which was parked right below the kitchen window of their apartment, just as she did every day. He looked up, holding the door open, and their eyes met briefly before he got in and drove away.
Darn! What in hell has got into me? I’m digging my own grave! He thought bringing the car to a halt along the sidewalk almost as soon as he left the complex.
“Instead of working on winning her heart, I’m just succeeding in pushing her further away. But what can I do? She forces my hand!” Feeling wretched, he bowed his head over the wheel. “I’ve gotten so used to having her around that I can’t imagine spending a day alone in the dreaded apartment without her. She can argue constantly for all I care, I just want her to be there with me! Hell, what have I done? I’m a classic nutcase!” he cursed, getting out and slamming the door shut. “I need to get some fresh air.”
“Are you speaking to me, young man?”
Frowning, Shaan raised his head. He hadn’t realized he had company on the bus stop bench.
“No, I beg your pardon. I didn’t mean to bother you.” He smiled at the almost invisible old lady with skin so transparent that he could clearly envision a fine network of capillaries underneath. He recalled Ruhi’s spunky lady.
“You must be Sunshine, Ruhi’s bus stop friend. She’s a big fan and so am I. I’m Shaan.” Grinning wide, he gingerly held out his hand.
She tittered, her face lighting it up with a lovely smile. Her grip was firm and sure. “No, I’m not bothered. Indeed, it’s a rarity nowadays that I get nice-looking young men wanting to shake my hand.”
Shaan was tickled to see her fragile complexion suffuse pink.
“Roohee? But I think she said her name was Bee!” Her blue eyes twinkled. “Odd, I thought. People from your country tend to have such pretty names, my Jeremy used to say. He spent a few years there.” She smiled wistfully to herself.
Ruhi, don’t think you can fool everybody. “No it’s R-U-H-I. She tends to get a little deranged some- times.” And I love her for that.
Sunshine squinted at him with a knowing smile. “Are you her young man, Shaan?”
How I wish I was.He met her gaze then looked quickly away; her blue eyes were uncomfortably perceptive. “We are just friends.”
“Friends who wish to be much more than friends but are afraid to speak their minds.” She patted his hand. “Don’t bide your time, young man. Don’t let the bird fly the coop. Life is short, especially when you are in love. Seize the opportunity and sweep her off her feet.”
He smiled at her enthusiasm. But it’s all so much easier said than done.