Under bright lights and blaring music, unable to move or breathe, thoughts of escape were only running through my head. Knowing what college day was, I cursed myself for showing up. I wanted to leave. My friends tried to stop me but I told them I needed a smoke, which was enough reason for them. I did need a smoke.
Outside, a chill had crept in, distant signs of a storm coming. The monsoons were here finally, ending the long spell of heat.
It was half past midnight, and I was low on nicotine. Lighting my last one, I decided to head back home after the smoke. Resolutions to reduce were running down the drain as it was my second pack that day and still the craving wasn’t gone. The thing was a killer; even the pack said so but what wasn’t in this world. We are born on to a deathbed, slowly but surely dying.
I crushed the bud under my feet and got on my bike. The wind was strong as I made my way to the exit. It was mostly dark inside the campus and you couldn’t see shit in front of you. Even then I couldn’t miss her, the red saree under my head lights; a lonely figure walking. I zoomed past her but it was no mistaking it. Skidding to a halt, I waited for her at the entrance.
College day was really just an excuse for everyone to dress fancy and hook up. It wasn’t exclusively for the seniors or the juniors, everyone was there and everyone was game. You could end up with anyone when the night ended. It was an interesting thought considering the person I waited for.
Sure, there were some pretty girls and some pretty outrageous ones too but to me, no one even came close to her. The grey and red saree hugged her curves at all the right places, promising a gorgeous figure underneath. The slight transparency against her light skin was eye catching but not too revealing to be deemed inappropriate. The thin strap of her backless grey blouse stretched across her frame, straining, wanting to be unhooked.
Sure, the clothes were sexy but she was a beautiful girl nevertheless; she made even the simplest churidhars look classy. It was hard to keep my eyes off her in college even though she was a senior. They registered every detail; her black hair that dropped down in waves around her pretty face, cute dimples that formed when she smiled and lips that made you wonder what they tasted like. In all, I was completely aware of Harshini.
I thought she left hours before but there she approached me in quick strides, hands hugging her chest and head tilted down.
“Need a lift?” I asked in my most manly voice. She passed me without an upward glance. I tried again, my normal tone returning, calling out her name. She stopped.
“Do I know you?” She asked, trying to recognize me in the darkness.
“Not personally. We are in the same college.”
“I can see that.” She said looking me over. “Thanks for the offer but I can walk.” Before I could say something, she walked away. I followed her.
“Not in those heels, you can’t. I am surprised you made it out in those, on our campus roads.” She ignored me. “Come on. It’s just a ride. I am not some random creep on the road trying to pick you up.”
“You look like one.” She said loudly.
“What gave you that idea?”
“How about the makeup and the rings? You got more piercings than a girl.” Sure, I thought the eyeliner was a bit too much but that didn’t make me a creep and I told her that.
“Why should I trust you?” She asked.
“You don’t have to! I am not asking you to marry me. It’s just a ride.” She stopped and a mute exchange passed between us that I really didn’t understand but then as if she had no choice, she climbed in the back. Her body grazed me as she settled in; her perfume filled the air around me to an intoxicating high. When I knew she had a firm grip, I started the engine. Her answer to where she wanted to go came after looking at her mobile.
“The bus stop.” I considered that as there were no buses running at that time and I was sure her house wasn’t close by.
Mentioning I actually knew where she lived would cement her idea that I was a creep. So, I took her to the stop without a word.
It was a shorter ride than I hoped for. She thanked me, all the while looking at her mobile. I stole one last look before heading for the nearest tea stand, the one open at that hour. Bought a pack of kings, lit one warming my innards, watched Harshini texting, and calling someone on the phone. Her frustration was unmistaken even from that distance. On the way back, I stopped in front of her again.
“Are you sure I can’t drop you off somewhere else?” She looked at her phone and then at the empty road again. Her body shivered, yearning for some warmth. I imagined all the ways I could have warmed her. “Look you can wait here cold and alone, this time a real creep may show up or I could drop you off wherever you want before that rain hits.” She considered it.
“What about you? Is your house close to shastri nagar?” She asked. I lied to her. My house was nowhere near hers but I knew she wouldn’t take me up on my offer otherwise. One last look at the road before she slid in behind me.
There wasn’t any traffic but I kept it slow, seeing how cold it became.
“So, who were you calling?” I asked. She inched closer to hear me better. Her body, most probably her breasts or so I hoped, pressed up against me. I took the opportunity, leaned back into her, and repeated the question.
“My boyfriend. He was supposed to come but he didn’t show up.” So, she was still with that guy.
“His loss! The guy is a sinner for ditching out on such a beautiful girl looking like this.” The compliment didn’t bring out any response. Still I wanted her to talk. “Is he from our college?”
“He was; he graduated last year.”
“I don’t know what the fascination with seniors in our college anyway? Every girl in my batch has an eye on one.” I heard her laugh.
“Aren’t you my junior?” She asked. I nodded, laughing myself. “I don’t remember seeing you much around campus.”
“Maybe you can’t recognize or remember me with the makeup but I met you on my first day of college.” She sounded interested and I was all too eager to recount our first meet to her.
Everything about that day was fresh in my head. How my mother embarrassed me by dropping me off like a kid. There wasn’t one person who guided me and after an hour of hopeless searching, I finally ended up on the first floor balcony trying to figure out where I was, when I dropped my bag over the edge. The short glimpse and the cry of pain was enough; I was positive I killed someone. After minutes of petrified fear, I gathered my strength and ran down to see the damage.
That was when I saw her for the first time. I lost myself all over again looking at her and her lips moving. I thought an angel had descended from heaven to take my unsuspecting victim but I saw no body. Just her, holding my bag. After all the drooling, I finally took the bag. An apology didn’t even occur to me at that time. Nevertheless, she smiled, maybe at my utter idiocy. As she walked away, I at least summed up the courage and asked her for directions. She guided me to my class, flashed her brilliant smile and went her own way. Ever since that day, I stalked her cautiously, to see that smile. I didn’t mention that last part to her.
“So, this is your way of apologizing to me after all these years?” She asked once I finished.
“No, this isn’t an apology or an excuse to get you in my back seat. I am giving you a ride because I want to.” She didn’t say anything to that either. A tough girl to impress.
“Your boyfriend; what does he do now?” I continued our conversation.
“He’s project head over at TCS.” She said.
“Already uh? He must be quite good.” She mumbled something unintelligible and then asked me something else completely.
“Have you been attracted to more than one girl at a time?”
“Sure but I don’t have a hot girlfriend.” Emphasis on hot.
“Then how do you know if a girl matters or not?”
“I don’t know. She matters or she doesn’t. I guess you know when you don’t have to question it.” My answer stopped that line of query, leaving her to her thoughts.
For me, she was a girl that mattered and I wanted her to have no doubts about that. Just as I began to speak, the drops hit my face. Within minutes, I was wet, drenched from top to toe. I had no other choice but to stop. We found cover under a sunshade, which wasn’t complete escape from the rain, but it was better than driving in it.
We were both shivering. Her wet saree stuck to the skin around her hips and revealed everything that I only dreamed of before. The dimple in her belly rose and fell as she shivered. My gaze moved above to her chest just as her hands squeezed shut around them. One look at her face and I knew, she was aware of my probing eyes. The odd part was she didn’t appear angry or embarrassed but confused. We both turned away.
It was a perfect time for a smoke but the rain had ruined my pack and all I could do was curse the sky. With that, I unbuttoned my shirt, squeezed the water out and handed it to her without looking. It was dry at the back where her body pressed up against mine.
“What about you?” She asked.
“I am fine.” I told her, which wasn’t entirely true seeing how my mouth wouldn’t stop shivering. She didn’t take it until I looked at her. I held my mouth still until she took it with a thanks and a smile.
“Can you call a taxi?” I asked. She showed me her cell phone, which was completely wet and dead. She asked for mine.
“I don’t have one.” This bit of information shocked her and most anyone else.
“A guy without a cell phone? Hard to believeun this day and age.” She stated.
“I never needed one.”
“Why not? How does someone reach you when they want to?”
“I guess I don’t want them to reach me.”
“Who are they?” She asked.
“Everyone.” I answered.
“So, you’re sort of running away?” She had that right. “You’re not running away now?”
“That’s because I want to be here.”
“Here? In the cold without a shirt while it’s raining cats and dogs?” She confirmed.
“No, here with you.” She immediately went back into her shell but I sensed a joy from her on hearing those words. The rain had pushed us to just inches apart and my hands were itching to touch her.
I didn’t have to. The lightening came first, and then the ear shattering thunder struck. Harshini closed the gap between us. Her hands clamped around my chest, sending shivers through my body, which would have been so much better if I could actually feel anything. Instead, I froze like a Popsicle without an inkling of sensation but I still let her hold on to me. Her head nuzzled under my neck for a long time after the lightening. Eventually she slowly began to loosen up.
“The lightening frightens me.” She revealed, looking up, still holding onto me.
“I figured that out.” I lifted her chin up lightly so that her lips could meet mine. I kept my eyes open for any signs of protest but as my lips came closer, her eyes closed in acceptance. There was no protest, as I tasted her lips, first from one side than the other. Slowly her lips responded to mine in unexpected ways. Her kissing had me panting and yearning for more. Nothing could have ruined the moment other than the rain weakening, and forcing me to come back to reality. My luck, it did happen. Minutes after I released her, she came out of the trance. Her expression changed from that of desire to stricken worry.
“Come on. We have to go before it starts up again.” I said. She climbed back on quietly. It was still drizzling as we started which made driving without a shirt a bad idea. The drops felt like shards of glasses piercing my skin. I made it a few kilometres but then it was Harshini who told me that the rain was still too much and we had to stop. This time I found a better place for shelter. Mount manor, a hotel with a parking.
“Maybe they have a phone.” I said. She was still distracted with her thoughts, whatever they might have been. She followed me up to the hotel. It was a small place and not kept too well. The reception desk was unattended. I rang the bell for a long time before a sleepy old man arose from one of the rooms. He walked up to the desk in his pyjamas, announcing the rates. I stopped him before he got further and asked him just for a phone.
“No room. No phone.” He said.
I knew what would get me a phone. So, I handed him a twenty, which only had him walking back. I quickly took out a fifty. He grabbed the receiver from under the desk and handed it to me. I dialled the number of the cab service I knew but no one picked up. I tried another. No answer. The last one picked up but they weren’t operating under the weather. I slammed the phone down, which didn’t sit well with the manager.
“I want to call someone.” Harshini stepped in. I gave her the phone but not before handing over another twenty. I moved away while she made the call, most likely to her boyfriend.
It was a devastating end to my sad night. At least, I kissed her, a highly unlikely possibility until that night. I couldn’t expect more.
She came back after the call.
“So, when is he coming to pick you up?” I can’t help the bitterness in my tone from seeping out.
“No, they can’t make it in this storm. So, my father told me to stay till the morning.” She said. At first, the words didn’t really make any sense. Stay where? With whom? Did she say father? “They think I am with Prakash.” Prakash was her boyfriend.
“Why would they think that?” I asked.
“Because I told them I was.” Honestly, I had no idea what was on her mind. As I tried to understand what her words, her averted gaze, all of it meant, the manager thought it the time to interrupt us. He made it clear if we weren’t renting a room, he would kick us out and go back to sleep.
I guessed we needed a room.
The discussion about the rates was ridiculous. The guy was trying to rob us. I finally got him to agree for 1500 until morning. Another 100 for a blanket and a towel.
“Just for one?” I complained.
“Oh I think you two can share.” He whispered in a devious way. “May I also interest you in some mosquito repellent? Good for the whole body.” That cost another hundred and I wasn’t going to waste any more money.
“You will be coming back for this.” He said when he gave me the key. I grabbed the rest of the stuff, swearing I wasn’t going to give the thief another rupee for anything. Our room was on the first and only floor.
“I had money for one room only.” I blurted out as we climbed the stairs.
“It’s fine.” She said equally uncomfortable.
I knew what this hotel was the minute the manager announced hourly rates and my suspicions were confirmed once inside the room. The bed was the size between a double and a single, enough for a couple to cuddle but not for two sleeping separately. The bathroom door was broken and the only other furniture was a small desk by the bed. The bed was springy, making loud squeaks as we sat at opposite ends.
“This is some room.” Harshini announced. I agreed and the manager was right about the mosquitoes. There were already two, three buzzing around my ear.
“You didn’t let your parents know where you are.” She asked.
“It doesn’t matter. They won’t miss me.” I said, trying to kill the little fuckers. Harshini watched me with interest.
“What?” I asked.
“I wonder what you look like without those ridiculous rings on your face.”
“They are not ridiculous.” I countered.
“Yes, they are. Without them, I could picture a very handsome face.” I smiled at her words.
“That’s what my mother used to say.”
“She is right. I can’t believe she hasn’t pulled them off your face yet.” She said also smiling. It was the first time I looked away from her smile.
“She can’t. She’s dead.” The words just slipped out. She stopped smiling, I didn’t.
“It’s funny how we try to hold on to memories of others.” The silence after that was unnerving.
“Let me go take them off.” She tried to say something but I didn’t want to hear it.
The bathroom was utterly small even for this place. By the basin, I removed the rings from my eyebrows and ears and gave a quick splash of water.
When I came out, Harshini tried to hang my shirt over the curtains. Without her heels, she was shorter. Her back strained to reach up. I stepped up behind her, took the shirt from her hands and flung it over.
She turned slowly to face me.
Water was still dripping from her body. The entire night she tried to hide herself and I saw why. Her silky blouse was just a flimsy material that clung on to her breasts revealing more than they concealed. Two thin straps ran up to form her short sleeves around her arms. I imagined them sliding down her body easily with the gentlest pull. Maybe they were meant for more to remove than to wear. I didn’t, couldn’t look away and she made no move to cover up either.
“It must be some special day to dress up like that for Prakash.” I said without thinking. Tears formed in her eyes as she looked up at me.
“It’s our one year anniversary. It was supposed to be my first time and he didn’t even show up.” She said. All I could say to her was ‘oh’. It was my turn to look away awkwardly.
“I better get out of this ridiculous thing before I embarrass myself anymore.” She walked away from me, took the towel and headed for the bathroom. I stopped her at the door.
“You look anything but ridiculous.” I said. She gave me half a smile and ran inside.
I decided to hang my pants too. On the other hand, I held on to my trunks, even though they were wet too. I couldn’t take them off and walk around proudly like a prick. Speaking of pricks, I wondered how big of an idiot I was for bringing up her boyfriend. What guy would not show up for her? On top of that, he made her doubt herself to the brink of crying. The cocksucker must be gay if he didn’t know what he had. Things were going so good before that asshole popped up in my head.
I was glad to hear one thing though, that she hadn’t done it before. Made me feel a lot better about my own virgin status. It was when I pondered on my virginity and the chance of losing it, that the lightning struck taking the electricity with it. The scream came a second later.
I called out Harshini’s name as I bumped my way to the bathroom.
“Are you alright?”
“Are the lights coming back on?” She asked after a while.
“I don’t know but stay where you are. Don’t move.” I slowly made my way back to the window. There were no lights anywhere. The storm must have knocked out the line or something and the dump surely had no backup. I returned to the bathroom, without the help of my eyes.
“I don’t think it’s coming back on. It’s out for the entire area.” We waited for a while, when I decided to check outside.
I opened the door to find the manager holding a torch.
“I was just about to knock.” He smiled looking at my half-naked state.
“When will the lights come back on?” I asked half irritated at his presumptuous ass.
“Not tonight.” He gave me half a candle with a matchbox. “Compliments from the hotel.” Compliments? That surprised me more than anything did.
“You still have the mosquito repellent?” I asked. He took it out from his pocket. It was an unmarked bottle of some liquid.
“I had a feeling you would want it.”
“What’s this? I am not going to pay hundred rupees for this.”
“Now it’s a hundred and fifty. Prices rise my friend and don’t worry the bottle is worth every rupee.” He grinned as if he delivered the happiest news of my life.
“I will pay you in the morning.” I grabbed the bottle and shut the door.
“And then there was light.” I said walking into the bathroom with the lit candle.
I came to a halt, as my eyes adjusted.