A small group of children were sitting around Meghna. She was reading out her newest book to them. The Quirky little Octopus. ‘The Octopus is the colour of the rainbow. Do you know what the colours in a rainbow are?’
Red. Blue. Orange. Green. Black. White. It was difficult to make out if the kids had left out any colours. She hugged one of them. The chatter started again. Yellow. Purple. Gold. Silver. She heard screams all around. Being around children was her biggest stress buster. She smiled at first. And then, suddenly broke into a hysterical laughter. So did the rest of the kids. The entire place was filled with smiles and laughter.
The sound of her laughter sent ripples across the book shop. Everyone from the customers to the people at the billing counter were looking at her. Even the security person was looking in the direction from which the laughter had come.
Standing in the last aisle browsing through some management books, his head turned automatically in the direction of the laughter. Normally, he wouldn’t have given it any attention. But, not this time. Probably, it was the high of the win in the morning, a ten or above on all the shots fired. He considered this National games to be a pre-cursor to the Olympics; however trivial that could be. Sometimes, a stupid superstition doesn’t hurt, he’d told himself. The win had made him a little relaxed. He’d been at the bookstore over the last hour or so browsing through aisle after aisle. Until he heard her laugh. Never had anything stirred the emotion in him like this laughter. He replaced the books in the shelves and followed in the direction of the laughter.
Meghna turned around and was able to feel everyone’s eyes on her. She, from the corner of her eye, saw someone settle down in one of the low-seat kid’s chairs. A little embarrassed, she continued reading. She clapped with the kids. She sang with them. She hugged one of them. Lifted one of them and seated him on her lap. A perpetual smile hung around in the corner of her lips. ‘This is what being with kids can do to you’. That’s what she told herself. But, her heart knew that it was not the kids that was making her feel happy. It was the stranger out there who was watching every action of hers that was making her stomach knot. His lop-sided grin at her every antic was what was making her heart jump for no reason. What was this? Rather, who was this!
He was sitting well away from her; at least a three hundred and twenty meters, his sportsman mind said. Although quite far that is for a normal person, he’d been programmed to see his target well. He saw that her hair fell straight over her shoulders and curled at its edges. He could see her well manicured hands dance away to glory. He could see her butterfly shaped ring and a small wave of fear passed through him. (Is she engaged already? Worse, married?) He could see her long legs that were covered by the short denims. He noticed her dewdrop nose. He could see how her pink lips (or was it purple?) moved up and down making syllables after syllables. Finally, he could see her long eyelashes. And, then her eyes. He looked at them. Slowly. What were those? Two uncut emerald stones? Nope! Those were pieces of magnet in the colour of emerald that mesmerized any onlooker into submission. As he was making his precious observation, she looked at him. Straight into the eye. He flashed his trademark grin and turned away. Reluctantly.
‘And, every other creature in the pond realizes what their own quirkiness is. The octopus and the rest of the animals in the pond lived happily together ever after!’ She finished and looked around. Her eyes searched for the stranger. But, he was missing. A frown engulfed her face. The kids were clapping away. Why am I searching for someone I don’t even know? Have I gone mad? I couldn’t even trust the guy that I spent a full three years with? And what am I doing here? She was visibly upset with herself.
As she exchanged pleasantries with the people there and picked up her handbag to leave, she heard a deep voice. ‘You are an awesome story teller. I really enjoyed it!’
She froze. She could see that awesome grin on display. She nodded an acknowledgement and slowly started walking ignoring her heart that was thumping against her ribs.
‘I’ve never attended a story telling session, you know. This is fun.’ He was persisting. He, who had never ever flirted in his life, was now slowly trying to get a hang of it. To his own surprise, he was liking this feeling. No. Actually, loving it.
She turned around and looked at him straight into his eye; little did he know that it was a ploy to avoid his grin. ‘I am not a story teller. And, this is not a story telling session. I am an author who’s reading out her book to kids. That’s all.’ She deliberately put on a hostile voice. He gave an awkward look but the smile was intact. Then, as though something struck her suddenly, she asked, ‘Hey.. Aren’t you Arunjeet? Arunjeet Atwal?’
It was his turn to freeze. ‘How.. How do you know me?’
‘Well.. Everyone will know a famous shooter, won’t they? I watched your Olympic final a couple of years ago. You missed qualifying to the last eight, isn’t it?’
Ouch. That hurt. He didn’t expect anyone to know him. After all, he wasn’t that famous yet; just another sportsman in this country. There are about a thousand odd people in this mall, and what a tragedy that the girl I like (or is it love?) for the first time in my entire life recognizes me. I am not programmed to fall in love. Girls are not my love; my rifle is. He nodded as an acknowledgement to her question and began walking.
She caught up with him. ‘Sorry.. I really didn’t mean to hurt you. It was just an errr observation. That’s all. You had your national games happening today here, right? If I can ask, how did it go?’
Now, his smile was back. ‘I did well. Got a gold today!’
‘You seem to be knowing about sports more than a lot of people. Do you play any sport yourself?’
Her laughter was back. She laughed for a full ten seconds and he was drowned at the sight of it. ‘No no.. My brother is a chess player. He keeps talking about other sports people. He insists that we read more biographies and autobiographies of sportspeople. He wants me to keep track of every sporting event that happens around the globe; more so that which happens in India. It’s because of him that I’ve started researching about how to incorporate stories about Indian sporting heroes in children’s books. And hey.. I think he’s met you once, too.’
‘Oh. Listen.. I am exhausted a bit and really wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee. You wanna join?’
Whoa. That was super quick. Should I put my hostile mask on? Is this going somewhere else where I don’t intend it to go? She stood there thinking for a long time. He kept looking at her questioningly.
Finally, she nodded. Yes. After two hours of reading and singing and laughing, I wouldn’t mind a cuppa. After all, it’s just a cup of coffee. What could happen? ‘Anything can happen over a cup of coffee’ read the big signboard as they entered the lobby of the Cafe Coffee day. She didn’t really notice it. Or who knows, she might’ve even ignored it. They walked in and ordered.
‘What is your brother’s name, by the way?’, he asked.
‘Manav. Manav Ramesh’.
‘Oh yes. I’ve spoken to him a couple of times. Such a genius he is!’
‘And so are you.’ Wow. Where did that come from? ‘I mean, that’s what Manav says, at least!’ Good save, Meg.
‘Thanks!’ He removed his hand from his cup, took them under the table and pinched it with the other to make sure this conversation was real. Yay! It’s all happening, he wanted to scream. But, hey.. this was not the time to embarrass oneself. ‘Tell me.. Why do you write children’s books? Why not adult books?’
‘I generally like kids a lot. I love being with them. You just saw me, right? They bring out the child within me. But the real reason is this. I have a lot of liberty with children’s books. Adults cannot take anything that deviates from the norm. Whereas kids don’t mind if the sun is green or the water is red.’
‘Or, if the octopus is rainbow coloured?’, he grinned.
She smiled. ‘Yes. All they need is something fun and I love doing something fun, too. I am not a serious person; and I can never be a serious writer!’ And, she dug into her handbag where her phone was ringing. ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes’, she mumbled into the phone. His face had already faded like a wilted flower. He knew what was coming. ‘I am really sorry. I need to go now. Thanks a lot for the coffee. Really nice meeting you. All the best with the rest of the games!’ She said standing up and shaking his hand in a business-like manner.
His mind was racing with thoughts. She’s going to leave, Arun. Do something. He suddenly decided to take the plunge. ‘Meghna! How about keeping in touch? Can you give me your phone number?’
She looked taken aback. Subtlety, where is the subtlety man? What blasphemy is this? Then, suddenly in her head Pranav’s face flashed. She couldn’t get out of her head that Pranav, who was so in love with her could actually hurt her; first, physically and then, emotionally. Her thoughts zoomed through that night in the restaurant which made her shudder. She looked up at Arun. His super-cute smile notwithstanding, she looked straight in his eye. Her hostile voice was back. ‘No, Arunjeet. I don’t think I’ll like giving you my phone number. Sorry. See you. Good bye!’
She walked straight out of the coffee shop and slowly into nothingness leaving a numb Arunjeet behind. Why the hell did she even have to come into my life?!