paper scrunched up, crumpled into little balls, was strewn all across the carpeted gray office floor. the clock showed 12 midnight. silence all around. not a soul in the office.

other than the man sitting there with his elbows on the desk, holding his head in his hands. arnav singh raizada was feeling restless.

a terrible restlessness that wouldn’t let him be. he couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t turn it off and get on with what needed to be done.

this was most unusual, he could practically switch the whole world off if he wanted to. even his dear elder sister, the only human being he cared for madly and badly and beyond reason, said there were times he forgot all about her. perhaps he did.

when work called, everything else receded, became secondary.

and look at him now.

there was so much pending. a whole new project in bali with an interesting young french designer. yet all he could think of was lucknow. and pompoms. and a pair of quivering lips.


he mauled the sheet of paper lying in front of him and flung it on the floor. 

“get out of my head, dammit!” he barked an imperious command at the constant intruder in his head. she looked back at him, fear in her eyes and said “aap aise nahin kar sakte… aap kyun aise kar rahe hain?”

(you can’t do this… why are you doing this?)

she wore pompoms on her sleeves and hair and now she was getting angry, her lips were moving, was she muttering something, what was she saying… he put his head on the back of his chair and closed his eyes.

he had to do something about this…

this girl will drive me mad, he thought.

yet, why? why, when he had no time for women in his life… no place for them. they were just trouble… never was he ever going to let a woman ruin him. they were all the same… all, all, all.

another sheet of paper bore the brunt of his frustration.

no he was not going to give in. enough!

he got up abruptly, he was looking tired and disheveled, gorgeously so in fact. he slung his jacket casually over his shoulder, picked up his laptop bag and ran down the curved stairway leading out from his office. as he strode out of the building he said to the security guy, “i’m done, lock up the office, ok? goodnight”

“sir, shall i get someone to bring your car from the parking lot, sir?” the guy hurried after him. it was late and sir had been working since six in the morning…

“no, no, sharma, it’s ok, i’ll manage.”

“but sir, it is late…”

he turned and fixed sharma with a glacial stare. was this man daring to disagree with him? thankfully, sharma realised the folly of his ways and shut up immediately.

asr reached the suv, got in with that easy elegance girls went crazy over, well on a good day he didn’t mind a bit of that sort of attention, but tonight he was in no frame of mind to enjoy anything.

that awful restlessness.

as though something was missing… what, he had no idea. he wanted to see a pair of eyes. no he didn’t. yes, he did. what nonsense. he started the engine, and pressed hard on the accelerator. he was not going to give in to this feeling.


next morning, he got up slightly groggy. but he knew what he had to do. that bali project was way too important to let something like this get in the way.

he called aman.

it was six in the morning. aman leaped out of bed. at this hour, it could only be one person. quickly he sipped a little water to clear his throat and answered the phone, “good morning, sir… aman here.”

asr smiled. some things never let you down…

“aman, now listen carefully… take down this name… khushi. kumari. gupta. yes kumari, aman… k…u…m… okay, got that? she lives in lucknow. please find her and tell her we would like to offer her a job starting tomorrow… what? address?… how the hell should i know, aman? what do i pay you for… find out dammit!!”

aman tried to keep his voice calm as he replied “yes, sir, of course, sir, no problem, sir.”

asr relaxed a bit, “okay now make sure she is here by tomorrow… salary? aman, pay her whatever she asks for. job? oh anything… let her be my assistant… oh that’s you… okay, lavanya’s then, or akash’s… aman, what does it matter… just get her here, will you?”

he told himself this was a good idea. in fact, this was the only way to handle this menace. get her over, let the restlessness settle down… concentrate… get the bali project done. that’ll be over in six months… and then.

and then?

and then… why? just ask her to leave, of course. go back to whatever small town she came from. six months. that’s all he needed her here for. just for the project. after that he’d be free.




in lucknow, a young woman woke up looking bright and fresh. as she sat up in bed, she did several quick namastes, “hey devi maiyya, kitna sundar din hai aaj… aaj mausam hai suhana…”

(hey mother goddess, what a lovely day it is… the season is so pretty…)


ncofl 2 400

many thanks to supriya.arshi and sunshine 80 for the banners.



find all chapters here

ncofl chapter 1