Koshy knew he was hooked as soon as he set his eyes on Beena. The photograph he had seen earlier did not do her justice. Slim and wide-eyed, Beena could have given any top-league model a run for her money. She was wearing a saree, a plain silk saree which was neither too traditional nor too modern. They were at the Mountain View restaurant in Ponkunnam, which was hardly a twenty minute drive for Koshy from his home in Simhapara. Beena's folks lived in Ponkunnam, not too far from the restaurant. Beena had a chaperone, it could not be otherwise. But Beena's sister-in-law who accompanied Beena was quite charming and not much older than Beena and hence did not spoil the atmosphere.
Previously, if anyone had told Koshy that he would be tongue-tied in front of a pretty girl, he would have hooted with laughter. But, it was true. Koshy had trouble deciding on an opening line. They had ordered some starters and Beena sat there with a smile waiting for Koshy to say something. Beena's sister-in-law came to his rescue. 'Will you be going back to Bangalore tomorrow night?'
'Yes.' Koshy was silent again.
Beena's sister-in-law was once again forced to break the silence. 'The broker told us a lot about your family. I guess they told you a lot about us as well.'
'No. Not really. Not much.'
'No? Really? What did the broker tell you?'
'He said,' Koshy hesitated again. 'He said that, well, he said that you are a respectable family and quite well-known in Ponkunnam.'
'Is that all? We got to know a lot more about you. We know that you have two sisters, that both of them are married and settled, one in Delhi and the other in the States, that your father was in a civil servant in the labour ministry, that your mother was a lawyer who stopped practising after she got married, that you have spent your childhood in various parts of Kerala, that your father retired a few years ago, that you are a software engineer in Bangalore who earns around thirty five thousand rupees a month.
'Didn't the broker tell you anything more about us?' Beena spoke for the first time. It was as if she had to say something just to make sure Koshy did not think she was mute or otherwise incapable of making conversation. Beena's voice and tone did not gel with the saree. She spoke with a lisp and sounded as if she would break into peals of laughter at the slightest provocation. But after a few seconds, they sounded perfectly natural to Koshy. Yes, a girl in a saree who resembled Beena was bound to sound the way she did.
Koshy composed himself. 'I was told that you have two elder brothers and a sister and that you have a job. In Kochi.'
'Yes I do. I work for a call centre in Kochi.' An overhead fan was whirring gently and Beena brushed back a few strands of hair from her face. Her hair was almost waist-length and quite straight.
'It's very convenient isn't it? Beena's sister-in-law commented. 'If Beena had a serious job or if she were career minded, then we would have been forced to find a boy employed in Kochi.' Koshy was quick to agree. He was in fact quite happy that Beena would happily chuck her job to marry the right guy. He desperately wanted to be the right guy. In a semi state of shock, he reconfirmed his initial observation - that Beena's skin was fairer than his and did not have a single blemish.
'Do you have to work at night?'
'No, I've been lucky. I am part of a team that services Indian customers. I wouldn't have taken on this job if I had to do night shifts.'
Koshy wished he could keep silent and stare at Beena without being considered rude.
'So what else do you want to know about Beena?'
'Well, which college did you go to?'
Before Beena could reply, he sister-in-law said, 'shall we order the main course?'
Koshy cursed himself for having failing to notice that they had finished their Chinese spring rolls and their plates were empty. Koshy and Beena studied the menu for a while. Beena's sister-in-law came to their rescue once more. 'Shall I suggest something? Let's all order biriyani. Makes life simple. What do you say?'
'That's a brilliant idea.' Koshy wondered why he did not think of it. Beena's sister-in-law seemed to be quite used to meetings such as these. Koshy was sure that potential grooms would be making a beeline to Beena's house. 'Chicken biriyani for everyone?' There was no need to worry about side-dishes when one ordered the biriyani. The Mughal chefs who invented the biriyani deserved a medal.
'What do you do when you are not working?'
'I like to watch movies. I watch TV a lot. I can sing a bit.'
There was more silence. 'I like to read,' Koshy volunteered. It sounded stupid and boring. He almost wished that he too liked to spend all his free time watching movies. 'Which college did you go to?' Koshy repeated his previous question.
Koshy was not impressed, but it didn’t really matter. Amongst the colleges of Kerala, St. Luke’s was hardly a brand name worth talking about. 'I went to the REC at Calicut,' Koshy told Beena and waited for a reaction. Beena was suitably impressed.
Realisation slowly dawn on Koshy that in all probability the broker had intentionally decided not to tell him too much about Beena. If he had been told that Beena had done a BA in history from St. Luke's, worked at a call centre and watched TV in her spare time, he would have refused to meet her. His instructions to his parents had been very clear. A career-minded girl, someone who would understand if he worked late, someone with whom he could discuss books and politics. He assumed that his parents had relayed some of that to the broker. Koshy did not bother to ask Beena if she was interested in politics. Why on earth did a girl as pretty as Beena have to be interested in politics?
'Do you have a bike? How do you get to work?' Beena asked unexpectedly.
'I have a car. I bought it second-hand. It is too dangerous to ride a bike in Bangalore. The traffic over there is quite crazy.'
When he got home, Koshy had his father call up the broker and tell him that Koshy liked Beena and all other proposals were to be put on hold, until Beena's parents got back with their feedback. The broker reminded them that his commission would be 3% of the dowry. 'Don't even try to negotiate the dowry,' Koshy warned his parents as he caught a bus to Bangalore Sunday night. 'Just accept whatever they offer us.'
Koshy did not call his parents for a few days, hoping that his father would cal him instead and give him some good news. He finally gave up and called his parents on Thursday night. 'Have they got back to us?' he demanded.
'Well, yes they have.'
'And?' Koshy steeled himself for the response. They must have told his parents that Beena did not like Koshy and they did not want to go ahead. His parents must have decided to spare him the trauma of rejection. Big deal. There were a million girls in the world.
'The girl apparently liked you a lot.'
'So why didn't you call me and tell me that?' Koshy was sure that he had made it clear to his parents that he had really liked Beena.
His father was silent for a minute. 'Moné, it is like this. The girl does not have a good reputation. She had an affair when she was at St. Luke's. And apparently she goes out with a boy who works with her in the call centre. She was once spotted in Kochi riding pillion on a bike.'
'That's ridiculous. How did you hear of this?'
'Kuruvilla Sir told me. They had considered Beena for his cousin's son and they received an anonymous letter from someone saying Beena is no good. They checked it out and found that it was true.'
'An annonymous letter!' Annonymous letters were the bane of Kerala. People who did not have the guts to say things to someone's face would send out anonymous letters.
'She might have had an affair while at college. So many people do. But I am sure she is not having an affair right now. I mean, that's cheating by any standards. To have an affair and at the same time enter the mariage market is cheating.'
'That's what Kuruvilla Sir told us. We think he is right.'
'What did you tell her parents?'
'We haven't told them anything. Sunday evening after you had left, Kuruvlla Sir came to our house and told us what his family knew about the girl. He said he hated to ruin a girl's life, but he would be doing you a great disservice if he kept quiet, knowing all that he did. And then, the broker got back to us on Monday evening saying the girl liked you. I didn't give him any feedback. He pestered us for a while, but we told him we were yet to make up our minds. We said we needed another week to decide. We were planing to call you and tell you that the girl is no good. Then we thought we would tell you when you came home next.'
At that Koshy exploded. 'You've written off the girl already! Have you ever thought that maybe someone is making a mistake?'
'Moné, in matters like this, there is rarely any smoke without fire. We feel that it would be best to abandon this proposal and look elsewhere.'
'What if I don't want to do that?' Koshy found it difficult to keep his voice calm. He was at his office, having finished his work for the day. There were a few other young men dwadling around, delaying their departures from the air-conditionned comfort of their office with broadband internet access, to their boring single lives in the humid air outside.
'Did you ask the broker? After all he introduced them to us.'
'What's the point? We will not rely on him anymore He must have known. Brokers always know.'
'So, what do you plan to tell the girl's family?'
'I am tempted to call them up and give them a piece of my mind. But I will not do that. Most probably the parents do not know anything. That is usually the case. And if you tell them otherwise, they will not believe you. And so, I will tell them that we have decided to put on hold our plans to get you married.' The time honoured way of saying No. Koshy had been 'shown' a few girls previously, and he had not fancied any of them. His father had called up each of the prospective fathers-in-law and politely told them that they had decided to put on hold their plans to get their son married.
'This is silly.'
'Just forget about this girl. We can ask Shamuel to find us a good broker at Thiruvalla. And your mother was saying we could could consider Marthomites as well.' Thiruvalla was some distance away from Simhapara, but had a lot of Jacobites and Marthomites. Simhapara was Catholic dominated and Koshy's family was one of the few Jacobite families in the area. .
'Don't do anything of that sort. I need some time to think.'
'What's there to think?'
'What if your precious Kuruvilla Sir is wrong?' Koshy's father was silent. 'Don't tell them anything, okay? Please give me a day's time to think.' Koshy hung up without even asking his father to pass the receiver to his mother, as he usually did.
The next day he called up his father and asked for Beena's telephone number. 'I don't think you should do that. What will you ask her?'
'I want to ask her if there is any truth in these allegations.'
His father was silent. 'Moné, what can I do if you are so obstinate?'
'Well if you don't get me the number, I will get it myself.'
Koshy called up Beena's home the next day morning. He father picked up the phone. 'Uncle, I am Koshy. You know Chandy Sir's son. I had met Beena last Saturday.'
Her father seemed to be nonplussed for a few moments. 'And so how are you? We were wondering why we haven't heard from you. Didn't the broker tell your parents that we wanted to take this proposal forward?'
'Can I speak to Beena?' There was silence. Was Beena's father shocked? A few seconds later, Koshy could hear him hollering for Beena.'
'How are you Beena?'
'I am fine. And youself?' Was her father still standing near her? It didn't matter.
Koshy had rehearsed himself and struck to his plan. 'Because I work for an Amercian MNC, Saturdays are officially off. But there is usually some work to be done. Sometimes I go to the office and sometimes I work from home. '
'I see.' Was Beena shocked by his phone call? She was bound to be surprised.
'I stay at this place called Laksandra. My office is on Hosur road. From my home to office should not take me more than ten minutes by car. But during peak traffic, it takes me almost an hour. So, today I am going to work from home.'
'You did tell me that traffic in Bangalore is very bad.' Was she irritated with him? No, most probably she was puzzled.
'Beena.' Koshy lost his voice for a second and then recovered. 'Beena, I liked you a lot and asked my ..'
'What?' Was Beena angry? Or was his voice not clear enough?'
'I was saying that I liked you a lot and wanted to take this proposal forward.'
'So, why didn't your parents get back to my parents after we told them that we are happy with this proposal?' Beena was now clearly puzzled.
'Can I ask you something? Did you like me?'
'Did you like me? Because if you did not, then I will not ask you the next question. It will save us all a lot of trouble. Are your parents forcing you to marry me?'
'What should anyone force me?'
'If you liked someone else, and your parents did not approve, they might want to force you to marry a boy of their choice.'
'Are you ... you're crazy,' Beena whispered.
'We heard from someone that you are having an affair with a boy who works with you. Is it true?' There was silence. He could hear Beena's father say 'Beena, molé'. He was still connected and could not hang up. After a few minutes Beena's father came on line. 'What did you tell Beena? She is upset.'
'I just asked her something.'
Thankfully Beena's father said 'We'll call you later,' and hung up.
Koshy tried to do some work, but could not focus on anything. He went for a movie in the afternoon, which did not solve any of his problems.
That evening, Koshy's father called him on his mobile. 'Shall I call you back?'
'Don't worry. I can afford to call you once in a while.'
'Okay. You know, today morning ..' His father cut him off. 'The girl's father called us up.' His father sounded quite angry. 'They don't want to have anything more to do with us. They have requested that you should never get in touch with the girl ever again.'
Koshy was silent. Beena was not a cheat, he was sure of that now. The rumours were just that. Rumours. 'Moné, forget about that girl. Shamuel has put us in touch with a broker in Thiruvalla. The next time you come home, he's promised to show us plenty of equally pretty girls.'
'I don't think I want to see any girls. In fact, I don't see myself coming home anytime now. I don't have anymore leave you know.' Unfortunately it was not possible to slam down his mobile phone to disconnet.
Till then, Koshy used to go home every two months or so. He called his parents every three or four days. All that changed. He started to call his parents once a week, on Sundays. He would speak to them formally, give out very little information about himself and hang up. He refused to discuss any plans to visit them. After three months or so when his father said, 'we have plans to visit you,' he asked his father, 'where do you plan to stay while you are in Bangalore?' It was another month before he told his mother, 'I will visit you next week.' Before his mother could say anything, he added, 'but I will not be seeing any girls when I am there. Do you agree?' His mother agreed. Koshy took the Monday off and travelled by the overnight bus to Kanjirapally after work on Friday. Koshy usually took an auto to Simhapara after getting off the express Volvo bus at Kanjirapally. And so he was surprised to see his father waiting for him as he got off the bus.
'We've been worried about you,' his father told him as they drove to Simhapara in his father's Maruthi Esteem.
His mother had made all his favourite dishes, but Koshy continued to brood. Saturday evening, his eldest sister called up from Delhi. Koshy gave a series of mono-syllabic replies to her questions and then handed over the phone to his mother.
All three of them went to Church on Sunday. After service when people gathered in knots outside the Church to talk and exchange gossip, Kuruvilla Sir and his wife walked up to them. 'So you are here. When did you arrive?' Koshy ignored the question. There was an embarrased silence. 'He just came yesterday. He is not too well,' his father was forced to say.
'I understand Chandy Sir. We'll see you next Sunday then.'
'No wait a minute,' Koshy's mother interjected. Aren't we all meeting this Thursday at .....' Koshy continued to maintain stoic silence.
On Monday, his bus was scheduled to leave for Bangalore at three in the evening from Kanjirapally. In the morning after they had had breakfast, his father insisted that they go fishing together. 'Come along. You can't sit around moping like this.' Koshy was silent, though he wanted to say, 'its all your fault.' He had been crazy about fishing when he was younger, but as he grew older, he had outgrown his love for that pursuit. He stood and watched as his father dug up a few earthworms from the damp soil beneath a coconut palm and put them into a polythene bag. Father and son walked towards the river, fishing rods in hand. They sat on a grassy bank, their baited lines in the water. The fishes weren't biting that day. 'You will have to get over that girl. That's part of life. Just because you found someone you liked and could not marry her doesn't mean you should pine away for the rest of your life.'
'Daddy, I don't see myself marrying anyone else in the near future,' Koshy told his father.
The next day morning after Koshy reached Bangalore, he did not call up his parents to tell them that he had reached safely, as he usually. His mother got tired of waiting for his call and called him up on his mobile. 'Moné, did you reach safely?'
'Oh I did. Why shouldn't I reach safely?'
'Well, then why didn't call me and tell me? Even if you are angry with your father, why should you be angry with your mother?'
'I am not angry with anyone. I was planning to call you up this Sunday. I will definitely call you up once every week. But since we've spoken now I think I will skip this Sunday. I'll definitely call you the Sunday after.' He felt even more angry towards his parents.
'Why are you punishing us for the way things turned out?'
'People sometime get punishments they don't deserve. You will have to get used to it. That's life. Innocent people may get defamed, respectable people may go around telling lies. One has to get used to all that.' Koshy hung up on his mother.
After two more weeks, Koshy's parents relented. As Koshy's father told his mother, 'it's his life. If he wants to run a risk, who are we to stop him?' He called up Beena's father. 'Please don't hang up on me. Please hear me out,' he told Beena's father. It took two more such beseeching calls before Beena's father agreed to receive him at his house. Koshy's parents drove down to Ponkunnam on a Saturday. Beena was also present. Koshy's father placed the entire blame at the door of Kuruvilla Sir's cousin.
'I really do not know what came over me, why I listened to such drivel. I have known Kuruvilla Sir for so many years and he is a fine gentleman. And so when he came to me with this information, I was forced to listen.'
'You know, the reason we did not marry Beena off to that boy was because we found out that there is a history of mental illness in his mother's side of the family.'
'I see, I see. I really don't know what came over me.'
'Tell me Chandy Sir. If I thought my daughter was having an affair with someone in her office, would I remain silent? Either I will bring her back home or if the boy is suitable, I will make her marry him.'
'You are right. If there is something awry, you are bound to know.'
'I mean, I brought her up. Even if there was a slight hitch somewhere, wouldn't I know?' Beena's father nearly choked on his words.
Beena's sister lived closeby and had come down with her husband. 'Mama stopped eating food ever since your boy called up Beena from Bangalore.'
'Even now I am tempted to ask you to leave us alone and go to hell for what you said about my daughter. The only reason I am not doing so is because Beena liked your son.' This brought a shy smile to Beena's face. Her brother and sister-in-law who stayed with her parents had stony looks on their faces. Her brother gave the impression of a soldier waiting for orders. If his father asked him to throw their guests out, he could and he would do so, his expression seemed to say.
That evening, Koshy got a call from his mother.
'Why do you call me so often? Don't you want me to call you on Sundays?'
'Moné, we have done what you wanted. Your father went down on his knees and pleaded with the girl's father and sorted out everything for you.'
It took a while for the news to sink in. And when it did, Koshy exploded with joy. "Mummeee, I am so sorry I behaved the way I did. I don't know what came over me. You know, I was so upset.'
'Well, that's exactly what your father told the girl's father. He didn't know what came over him when he listened to Kuruvilla Sir.'
It was only after the wedding had been formally fixed by both sets of parents that Koshy got the courage to call up Beena. 'I'm so sorry,' he said. 'We all made a huge blunder.'
'Why do you have to say sorry? It was not your fault. You were misled by your family friend and his cousin.'
'But still we should not have believed him.'
'Anyone else would have behaved the way you did.'
'I don't know how I can wait for three more months.' Beena gave a polite giggle. Koshy's sister who lived in Texas wanted to attend her only brother's wedding. And the earliest they could make it was in three months time.
'Next week, I am going to be home. Can we meet?'
'I don't think so. Not in Ponkunnam.'
'What if I come to Kochi on a Monday? I won't take the bus for my return journey. Instead, I'll come to Kochi, spend a couple of hours with you and take the train to Bangalore from there.'
'There's a restaurant called Patiala House near Shenoy's Theatre. Can we meet there?'
'I can slip out during my lunch break - say twelve thirty?'
Time seemed to drag slowly for Koshy before he could hop on to the bus from Madivala after finishing work on Friday. This time Koshy's father was not waiting to collect him from Kanjirapally. Koshy made his way home in an autorickshaw. Wedding preparations were on in full swing at his home and Koshy's mother was in a state of nervous excitement. She was yet to decide on the menu for the wedding lunch. The caterers were demanding exhorbitant rates. Two hundred rupees per head. Koshy tried to show some interest, but he did not really care. 'I'll have my suits made in Bangalore,' he promised his parents. A friend of mine used a tailor in Brigade Road, near St. Patrick's church and he was very good. I don't trust the tailors here.'
'That's fine. But let's buy the fabric from Kottayam. It'll be cheaper for sure. You can have it stiched in Bangalore.'
Koshy nodded his head.
Shouldn't he call Beena and confirm their rendezvous? What if she forgot? Or what if there was a misunderstanding regarding the date and time? Saturday evening, Koshy found a moment when his parents weren't around and dialled Beena's home number. Her father picked up the phone. 'Hello,' he said in a pleasant enough voice. Koshy was not sure if he should respond. 'Hello!' This time the voice was not too pleasant. He hung up. When he tried an hour later, Beena picked up the phone.
'It's me,' he told Beena.
'Hello there! I was planning to call you. How was your journey?' Koshy heaved a sigh of relief. He almost admitted that he had called earlier and had hung up on her father.
'I managed to sleep on the bus. Aren't we meeting on Monday for lunch?'
'Oh yes we are. I am looking forward to it.' What else was there to say? They had not yet reached a stage where they could chitchat like friends who knew each other very well.
'See you on Monday.' He hung up, even though there were a million things he could have told Beena.
He wished time to fly, but did not seem to be having much luck. His father had lists of different lengths struck on various surfaces all over the place. There seemed to be a million things his parents wanted Koshy to get involved in. Gifts had to be bought for all his grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, their hired helps and a thousand other people. The wedding hall had been booked, but they had to make sure the decorators got access to it a few days before the wedding. Koshy's father wanted to have the wedding conducted by the Primate himself, rather than their local priest. Koshy declined to get move a finger for anything. It was as if he had put on an act, which drained him of all his strength and left him in a daze.
Monday morning after having had breakfast, Koshy caught a bus for Kochi from Simhapara. The journey took him over three hours, but he reached Kaloor Bus Station by noon as he had hoped. He hopped into an auto. 'Shenoy's Theatre,' he ordered. He was not too familiar with Kochi, but Shenoy's was on the main MG Road. He could not miss it. He combed his hair while in the auto, using a small blue comb he had in his bag. The auto driver dropped him off in front of Shenoy's theatre. It took him a minute to find Patiala House. The external facade did not look very imposing, but the interior had a brand new smell to it. Beena wasn't there yet. He asked for a table for two, tucked away his bag in a corner and waited. His heart was beating fast. He cursed himself for not having asked for Beena's mobile number. What a fool he was! It was quite warm in the restaurant, which otherwise for him, was empty. The decor was very good, but the airconditioning had been switched off to save costs. The restaurant had shaded windows and dim lights. The semi darkness gave the impression of comfort and luxury. 'Please put the AC on,' he requested the waiter standing nearby. After a few minutes, the AC came on with a whirring sound. 'Would you like to order something Sir?, the waiter asked him.
'Can I have a fresh lime soda sweet?'
There was still no sign of Beena. But, it was only twelve thirty five. What was the saying, 'it's a woman's privilege to be late?' Five minutes later, Beena entered wearing a pair of jeans and a red top. Koshy felt as if his heart would burst with his emotions for Beena. She looked so innocent and fragile. And to think that they had done her such a gross injustice. Would she ever forgive him?
'How was your journey?'
'Nooo.' Beena laughed in a way that made him feel good and silly. 'I spoke to you after you reached Simhapara. The journey here. By bus.'
No, he had not imagined it. Beena did have a lisp.
'Would you like a drink?'
'The same as you!'
'Another fresh lime soda sweet please.' The waiter hurried away, leaving them with a long menu each.
'I skipped breakfast and I'm starving.'
'I'm hungry as well, Beena giggled.'
'Shall we order and then talk? Do you want any starters?'
'No, lets order the main course straight away. I need to be back by one thirty.'
Some music started playing - loud bollywood music - the waiter looked at Koshy for approval. Koshy frowned. The waiter disappreared and soon the volume was reduced. It sounded much better when played softly.
'Tell you what, let's order a mixed platter of rotis, some dal, some rice and some chicken kababs.'
'Ummm. Sounds good. Beena's eyes glided over the menu. And what vegetarian dish shall we have?'
'Do you really want to have that?'
'It was only a suggestion.'
'Well, I don't like cauliflowers at all.'
'Paneer tikka? Paneer mutter? Palak Paneer?'
'Paneer is the vegetarian equivalent of meat. Let's have something genuinely vegetarian.'
'Hmm, there's dum aloo.'
'Potatoes are not vegetables either. How about some Baingan bhaji? I love brinjals. Do you?'
'I do.' Koshy lied. He regretted it a moment later. They were to live together for the rest of their lives. What was the point in telling a lie? Now would he have to live with it for the rest of his life? Pretending to like brinjals when he did not?
However, except for that hiccup, the rest of the meal passed like a dream. Koshy explained to Beena that his work involved late nights. 'I know. Don't worry. I won't crib if you come home late.'
'Any job that pays well, and mine does pay well you know,' Koshy said without any attempt at modesty, 'they expect you to give your life for them. It is not the way it was for our parents, where they had public sector jobs and fixed working hours.'
'I know. And I don't see you working in the public sector. You would not find it challenging.' Koshy could not believe his ears. The pretty girl in front of him was no wet-behind-the ears lamb. She had brains and could form her own view.
'How far is your office from here?'
'It's at a place called Palarivattom. If the traffic is not bad, it won't take me more than twenty minutes by auto.'
'Have you told your colleagues about the wedding?'
'Not yet. If my boss gets to know that I am getting married to someone in Bangalore, he'll know that I will be quitting soon. I don't want to give that sort of advance notice.'
'I have told all my friends. I can't wait to introduce you to them.'
'I need to get back. My lunch break is over.' Was it all over so quickly? There were two more rotis left in the platter, both of them butter naans glistening in the dim light. They had finished off all the sukka rotis. Three more customers entered the hotel, two men and a woman. They occupied a table as far away from Koshy and Beena as possible.
'So we meet again at the engagement? Maybe your father will let me meet you before that?'
'I doubt it. If that hadn't occured, he might have. Now he doesn't really trust you. Whatever you do will be suspect. You will have to work very hard to earn his trust.'
As if he cared. 'I will do my best,' he promised.
'Are you going to take an auto to the railway station now?'
'No, my train is at five. I have lots of time left. I am planning to drop in on a friend at his office. I can drop you off at your office and then go visit my friend.'
'I'm so sorry. You see, I told a colleague that I am meeting a cousin passing by and we both came here together. My colleague is going to be waiting for me at that shopping complex over there so that we can take an auto back to our call centre.'
'And you don't want to introduce me to your friend?'
Beena giggled. 'Not this time. After I hand in my notice, you can come to my office and I'll introduce you to everyone.'
'How long do I have to wait for that? Another month?'
'Yes. One more month.'
'Well, it's your folks who wanted to delay the wedding by three months,' Beena retorted in semi-mock anger, topped off with a smile. She was right. If only his sister did not insist on wanting to attend his wedding, he could have married Beena by now. Koshy wondered what he had done to make his sister think that he desperately wanted her to attend his wedding.
Koshy looked at the waiter and signed in the air. He came over and asked 'No desserts?'
'Nope. Just the bill.
They walked out into the hot sunshine. 'And so we part here?' Koshy looked in Beena's eyes as he spoke. He thought he could see sadness in her eyes.
'We part here.'
Outside the restaurant, there was an auto waiting for a fare, its engine coughing clouds of black smoke into the warm and dusty air. 'You better take this one before somebody else hails it,' Beena told Koshy.
Koshy offered his hand to Beena. After a moment's hesitation, she took it. It was his first physical contact with Beena and Koshy knew that he would always cherish it. The auto driver was in a hurry. Koshy got in with his bag and soon he was off.
Beena waved good bye and then took out her mobile from her bag. She dialled a number and said 'yes, he's gone.' She started walking towards the shopping complex. A minute after she reached the entrance to the shopping complex, a bike roared in and stopped in front of Beena. 'We need to fill her up first,' the bike rider told Beena as she was about to clamber onboard. He took off his helmet and shook his shoulder length tresses.
Beena took a step back and looked at the bike rider in the eye. 'Why didn't you go to the petrol station while you were waiting?' Beena was annoyed.
'I'm broke. You know that.' Beena knew that. He was perpetually broke.
'I'll be paying for your petrol for just another month, I think,' Beena told the man who clamped down his helmet once again.
She clambered on to the pillion, holding to the man's nape for support. The bike roared off to the call centre where they both had an afternoon's work to do. Beena was actually glad that she would soon be moving to Bangalore.
Published earlier in Epic India Magazine
© Vinod George Joseph