celebrating the festival season with a brand new romance. enjoy the first sparks, back with more soon.
he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.
catherine was swearing under her breath, fuming, and anxiety struck as she ran into the lift. the roads had been pathetic, the taxi driver worse, she was almost ten minutes late and seth ji was a stickler for punctuality. of all things, she thought getting more agitated, this man who gave not a fig or even a raisin for the advertising idea, who decimated english, the language in which he insisted on advertising, who was crass in every imaginable way, and who dressed in the most shoddy clothes, no one would believe he owned one of the largest two-wheeler companies in the country… did he have to have a thing for punctuality! life was inequitable, two and two had never made four, delhi traffic was out to get her. catherine wished she could scream.
instead she kicked the lift door with her pointed shoe and started hopping at the pain it caused her.
he was standing at the back of the lift, looking detached and incalculably superior. catherine felt like screaming again. how could anyone be this good looking. even in the midst of pain, her eyes misting with tears, she almost gasped at the light in the grim brown irises. he was not very tall, perhaps a couple of inches taller than her five seven. he had thick black hair brushed back, a defined widow’s peak crested his high forehead, his lips were fine and set in a stern line, his nose was sharp and straight, his chin had a determined immovable stubbornness to it, he was absolutely clean shaven, defying the current fashion of an organoleptic stubble (she had written many fantasies in her mind about the stubble while working on a campaign for a men’s fragrance). his skin was smooth and taut and gloriously visible, he had the most maddening lines around the lips, curved and really thin heightening that imperious air. his skin had a touch of bronze in it. and what was that, was that a scar near his left temple?
catherine had never seen a man with such a beautiful neck. who noticed a man’s neck. but this one, a long elegant column… she shut her eyes in agony. this time of a different kind. these thoughts she was beginning to have… no no, don’t have them, she told herself. think seth ji instead. seth ji seth ji seth ji.
she gripped the portfolio holder with the mounted boards of the ads she had come to show seth ji, and looked down at the floor, not being able to stop the rush of insane thoughts. she certainly didn’t want this arrogant devil to think she was staring at him.
that sounded terrible. it was the sort of phrase used in the usual romantic books woolly headed girls read…. she had read a few and laughed out loud.
catherine did a mental huh! and decided to ignore him. anyway, they’d be reaching the thirty third floor soon. her eyes fell on his beautifully polished tan shoes, the neat crease of his dark blue trousers… was it cerulean or was it navy? there was an intensity to the hue. she gulped. she could feel her heartbeat begin to trip a little faster. maybe horribly exciting things can happen with a stranger right there in a lift between the twenty fifth floor and the thirty third. his suit was sharp, she couldn’t remember what colour his tie was but she was not going to look up to check. not. but…
the lift stopped. the gleaming brown shoes began to move. quiet, easy steps… the man was getting out of the lift.
catherine felt her cheeks and ears go hot, her heartbeat raced, her palms were clammy. she kept her eyes fixed on the ground. the lift doors closed, she felt a rush of unnameable, rampant feelings sweep through her. her knees were turning to water.
the light on the elevator panel went off. she had reached her floor.
seth ji looked pointedly at his garish watch as she was shown into the room by his perennially smiling secretary. catherine looked sheepish. seth ji broke into a wide smile and held out a box of bright green pista barfis.
“how you are, catherine my dear? come in come in, you will eats some mithai… diwali, haan? you are celebrating, no? eats, eats, 5,200 rupees kilo pista, haan! best quality!” he said.
in a movie, she would have bumped into the man in the lift at a party or maybe during a heist in a bank. alas this was no celluloid saga, this was the real life mundane everyday story of one miss catherine taneja, senior client service manager at a pretty big ad agency in delhi, who had recently found out her boyfriend hadn’t gone to lonavla to visit his mother during monsoon, he’d gone to goa with madhu from creative. the only consolation in all of this was she’d realised he was a cheapskate. goa in the rains? come on. she had of course broken off with him. unfortunately, they were in the same account management team, so there was no question of not seeing him ever again.
she put on the long dangling blue kundan earrings she’d picked up on the last trip to jaipur and inspected her reflection in the mirror. the white cotton lehenga was looking good. she had designed it really well, she decided, and thankfully her moody tailor had not altered anything.
in a way it was good she kept meeting arvind every day after the break up. it didn’t bother her as much as she had thought it would. she almost stopped noticing him in a few days. seth ji’s new year campaign had her complete attention soon.
maybe it wasn’t love, she said to her reflection making eye contact. her reflection grinned and said, no maybe about it.
she tied on her strappy silver sandals and called a cab.
the drizzle came down suddenly. the man grimaced and hurried towards a bus shelter. it was a quiet road, possibly the only one in the whole of delhi this evening. the crowds had surged and thickened as diwali approached. on this evening before dhanteras, between last-minute shopping and endless parties, traffic had reached a frenzy which could bring on severe depression.
he looked around to see if he could find someone, make a call, organise a car. his car had a flat tyre and his phone had run out of battery, meera had taken away the charger just as he was leaving.
the drizzle was getting heavier. he could see a car turning into the road, it was a cab. he stepped closer to the kerb and tried to wave it down. it sped past him.
a “damn!” exploded through clenched teeth.
the cab stopped and started to reverse. as it reached him, the rear door was flung open.
he got in quickly, and heard a woman’s voice exclaim, “delhi bus stops are getting quite exciting, i must say!”
“cathy!” sharmila called out the moment she walked in.
“where have you been, ladki! why so late? never mind, come… come! i want you to meet someone!” sharmila was excited, catherine could see her martini glass was almost empty. she smiled to herself, it was always wonderful to come to sharmila’s suddenly thrown slightly crazy parties.
and whom did she want to introduce to her?
she saw the wide shoulders from the back and the fall of a well cut suit. she almost stopped breathing.
it couldn’t be… no… catherine’s feet slowed down, beginning to drag almost, her heart though was pelting.
“vikram! hey, vik…” sharmila said chirpily, “i want you to meet my beeeest friend from darjeeling!”
the shoulders began to turn. catherine choked.
the man turned around and gave a friendly smile. he had a sweet, happy face, his nose was straight, his hair was brushed back. no widow’s peak.
catherine breathed out slowly, completely relieved. she held out her hand and said, “hi, nice to meet you, vikram! i’m catherine!” no, in her doggedly regular life such things didn’t happen. she wasn’t about to run into the man from the lift at some oddly exotic hour in some unplanned but meant to be sort of way.
she looked up and saw him standing at the door.
this was not happening of course. or was it… she took a halting step toward him and noticed the woman for the first time.
she was tall and elegant and downright utterly (this needed tautology) sexy in a clinging little red dress, and she was clinging tighter than her dress to the man’s arm.
he was looking devastating in a charcoal jacket with white shirt… his tie was silver grey.
“sharm, darling!” cooed the woman, yeah that must be what was meant by the strange verb cooing. catherine watched in a daze, sharmila went up to the two at the door. the woman in red and she hugged.
“bina! great you could make it!” sharmila said happily.
“met an old friend of mine at the… bus stop,” said the cooing one, now her voice all sultry and fifties’ movie-ish.
the bust stop? catherine frowned. he didn’t exactly look the bus stop sort. but who cared… bus, bullock cart, camel caravan… she was okay with it. in fact, camel caravan… that might be quite… a funny sense of euphoria began to fill her now catapulting heart.
she was being idiotic, but so what. anyway, he’d most likely be absolutely not her type, however, in a camel caravan that wouldn’t really matter.
she started feeling slightly dizzy with the riot of images popping up in her head. she had to leave now and get a drink.
there was a crowd at the bar. the bar tender rushed around, people kept yelling orders. catherine stood at the back, leaping a little, her hand raised, trying to catch the bar tender’s attention.
then, tired of the commotion, she turned to leave and walked straight into a charcoal jacket and a white shirt.
steely fingers gripped her upper arms.
“watch it!” said a cool voice.
she looked up startled, already breathless.
a casual, almost indifferent glance passed over her face. not even the slightest flicker of recognition in brown eyes.
catherine could feel her ears go red and her hands begin to shake slightly. she wondered what she should say, if she should say anything even. the man from the lift obviously had no memory of her at all. she pursed her lips. really… what was she doing? some stranger, that too a rude one, one with the memory the size of a… a… pista barfi, a virulent green one. someone who didn’t even have the courtesy to smile at you when they had walked into you, and apologise… okay, she had walked into him, but he could have apologised. really, what was she doing. she opened her mouth to say something scathing.
“seth ji,” she said coldly.
there was activity in brown eyes. catherine hadn’t realised she had started going seth ji seth ji seth ji in her head in an effort to stay calm in this calamity… the pista barfi rebuke, also in her head, must have set it off. was this a pavlovian response? every time she saw this man, her mind went into the seth ji defence? every time? she had seen him only once…
“sunil… sunil krishnan,” he said in an even tone. his voice was crisp, a little gravelly, and he was definitely laughing at her.
she shot a glance at his face, there was no trace of laughter there.
catherine stepped back. she took a haughty breath, ready to snap at him.
it was just then that arvind said, “hi, sweetie, can i get you a drink?”
trying not to let her jaw drop at that familiar sweetie and yell at him she wasn’t his sweetie, in case he hadn’t yet understood that, she found him standing at the bar. behind her, she felt someone’s presence.
“of course, darling, my usual red please…” she threw back in what she hoped was a pretty damn fine coo.
then she whipped around smartly with a triumphantly raised eyebrow.
he was gone.
ma had given strict instructions to buy some gold. catherine knew there was no point in telling her mother she didn’t believe in such things. ma was khasi, she was practically an atheist, but certain customs, she believed, had to be followed and that was that. also, it really wasn’t that difficult to go across to the boutique in greater kailash and pick up a little something in gold.
maybe she’d get a pretty ring, she pondered, skipping up the steps. she pushed the swing door open and walked into the shop, smiling and looking out for freni, one of the owners of the place.
“meera, choose whatever you like, i have a meeting, i’m getting late!” the voice had that gravelly texture. she looked involuntarily in the direction it was coming from and saw the right side of a perfect long neck, a ear with an angular helix, almost a tip at the upper edge… and that jawline she would have known anywhere.
who was meera?
she could only see the woman’s back. she wore a pale green chanderi saree and had silky soft hair, cut in layers that fell to the middle of her back.
so he was buying gold for meera on dhanteras and he was clinging to miss little red dress bina the evening before. catherine narrowed her eyes… oh he was a devil all right. look at that ear. she shook her head angrily just as he turned and looked directly at her.
he watched her for a moment, his irises growing still. did he… did that callous man narrow his eyes a little? how dare he. she wished her knees would not start going warm and shaky like that.
she stocked off angrily and bought herself an ugly shiny ring, in no mood to choose something nice even.
so he was handsome. okay, he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. and as luck would have it, she had bumped into him three times in one week. this was not normal and it didn’t even happen in movies. but that really didn’t mean anything.
he was a horrible two-timer and he had, like dory, a cartoon fish of all things, short term memory loss… he couldn’t even remember her!
almost a month had passed since dhanteras. winter was beginning to show its bite, skies were grey. dahlias, gerberas, pansies, roses, nasturtiums, phlox, salvia, cineraria, and many typical delhi winter time flowers were beginning to bloom in parks and in private gardens, along the roads and at the circles. bright red poppies swayed at the entrance to the building.
catherine stopped for a moment to stare.
seth ji was insisting on some patently incorrect english. it was her turn to try and convince him. the creative director was brilliant at selling the concept and he always did that. it was seth ji’s penchant for writing copy which the suits had to handle. her boss had tried and failed.
she braced herself against the wind and the long battle ahead and walked into the building.
she hadn’t seen the man again. she told herself that was perfect. she was happy. she didn’t care about him and his two timing. certainly not his brown eyes and scar near the temple. there were enough handsome men in this world.
she got into the lift and pressed 33 on the panel. the lift was empty. she sighed.
the lift was about to start its ascent when the door suddenly opened. she looked up, a little startled.
he walked in briskly, pressed a button and turned towards her. she tried to appear cool, maybe he wasn’t there, she was imagining him. and anyway, she didn’t care at all.
brown eyes narrowed slightly.
“catherine…” her eyes opened wide, “taneja?” there was the hint of a question in the slightly husky voice.
husky? another silly romance novel word. catherine looked at him dumbfounded.
to be continued soon
hi all, felt like writing a nice, quite senseless romance. will update every few days… no idea how long the story’s going to be. delighted if you come along on this quest for a mad happy love story and read. do let me know what you thought of the first chapter. see you and take care.
texture for visual thanks to katelyn/font courtesy ribbet