"Oh, hey. Did you have a nice day?” she beamed a smile from across the room. She was sitting on the floor, next to my cupboard, with books and bottles scattered all around her. The books were hers. And the bottles, mine. Bottles of lozenges, not booze. I hardly drink – just occasionally at the cast parties of my plays.
"Well, just like any other day."
I removed my shirt and hung it on the wall hook. It was shaped like a cat. I hate cats; probably because my ex-girlfriend used to be someone called Kitty. But she loved them and most of her things had something to do with cats.
In fact that is how she came to live with me. Her landlady said she cannot keep her cat in the house. So off she came, with a backpack and a carton box with the cat inside. It kept scratching and crying, and I didn't know if I had to let it stay shut inside the box. With all the best interests for the poor cat, I opened the box and something just leapt out of it in a flash of seconds. And before I could realise what had just happened, the cat was gone.
What followed were days of silence. She wouldn't talk to me except for functional chit-chat. Not that we talked a lot otherwise, but we had been good friends. When she called up one night and asked me if I have a room for a girl and a cat, I had readily agreed.
As I changed into my tee and shorts, I heard her footsteps approaching me. I turned around to see her holding out a wafer to me.
"Oh, I really like these cream-filled wafers. Did you know I did?" I finished the bar she had offered.
"No, I just found it in your cupboard while I was cleaning it."
"Well I must really thank you for keeping the house so clean. I really had never imagined my room so clean."
"I found many other things too; a lot of bills. I didn't know which ones are important. So please sort them out yourself. I have left them inside the first drawer on your table."
"Alright. I'll go do that right away."
"No, dinner first" She called out from the kitchen.
She had been waiting for me to return to have dinner together.
Breakfast and dinner were the only times we would sit down together. She would occasionally read out some news from the daily paper and I would say a joke or two, at which she rarely laughed. She would tell me about the book she had been reading and I would tell her about the ladies at my office, about whom she never seemed to want to know.
"Can you peel the onions while I boil the macaroni?"
"Sure", I watched her chop the peppers into tiny pieces.
I don't like the taste of bell peppers and she knew it. So she would cut them into really tiny pieces such that it only adds the taste on the whole to the pasta.
As I peeled the onions, she stirred the macaroni boiling away on the stove. I gathered all the cut vegetables to a corner of the cutting board and waited for her to move the boiling macaroni.
"It's done. Sauté the veggies", she said, as she hurried to the sink to wash the hot macaroni.
I did as told, and she tossed the washed macaroni into the pan. I sprinkled the flour and salt as she kept mixing the whole lot. I wanted to do the stirring but was scared to ask. She was serious when she cooked. She would order me about and not talk at all.
"Keep stirring this. I'll get a lemon from the fridge." She handed me the spoon.
"Oh, okay." I was happy as a kid would be when let to do some grownup-ish chore. I guess I remembered those days when I would stand near my mother, holding the plates and spoons while she washed them at the sink I couldn't reach enough to see.
I smiled to myself.
She came back with a lemon and squeezed it over the pasta.
The aroma that emanated from the pasta was heavenly and I at once, hurried to get the plates and cutlery.
"I hope it doesn't taste too lemony." She sat down opposite me as I laid the floral table cloth over the wooden trunk that she had converted into a table of sorts.
"We'll get to know in a moment. Serve it already."
I was not just excited about the lemony pasta, but also hungry.
I started eating as soon as she had served. The pasta wasn't too lemony. It tasted "purrfect", as she said. She told me about her cooking experiments back home and I laughed as she told me about her "lab-cats". We talked quite long even after we had finished eating, until the plates had started to dry up.
Washing the plates was my task and I had just dumped the plates in the kitchen sink when she walked in.
"Do it tomorrow. Just leave it in the sink and go sleep. You must be tired." She stood at the door with a book in her hand.
"Alright. I had been wondering if that would be okay."
"It is alright. Just go sleep now. I'm too sleepy. I'll try reading a page or two maybe."
“Goodnight, Neel” she smiled.
I watched her sit down near the window, and untie her hair which had been tucked into a bun with clutch clip. She picked up a book to read and perhaps on second thoughts, put it back on the window sill and looked out the window at the moon.
I turned off the lights and walked to my room. The house was lit by the soft milky moonlight. As I lay on my bed, I thought of home. And I fell asleep soon.
The morning after that, I woke up early and thought of going for a stroll around the neighbourhood. I knocked at her door but she was probably sleeping, for there was no response.
I locked the house from outside and took the stairs instead of the lift. I met Ramanna, the milkman on the way.
"Goodmorning, Sirji" he called out.
"Goodmorning Ramanna" I waved with a smile.
As I reached the car porch where my bike was parked along with all the other vehicles belonging to the people who lived in the apartment, I noticed Ramanna's old bicycle leant against the brick wall of the compound. It was rusted and rickety. I would know it from the sound of his bicycle when he's coming with the day's milk.
As I started walking towards the children's park, I kept thinking of Ramanna's old bicycle. I remembered my childhood days when I used to cycle to the nearest shop after school to buy a packet of milk for the evening tea. Now I take my bike and go to the nearest supermarket to buy cartons of ready-to-consume milk for my breakfast cereal.
I reached the end of the lane that overlooked the children's park. The place was empty except for the few birds and squirrels that lived on the grand old trees which surrounded the park.
I looked at my phone and realised that I should be back home by when she wakes up. I hastened my pace and was soon back in the apartment compound.
Ramanna's bicycle was still there and I met him on the way as I climbed the stairs.
We just exchanged smiles and passed by each other.
I opened the door and found her standing near the fridge, taking out the box containing the left over cut veggies from last night.
"Goodmorning. I woke up so early today" I followed her into the kitchen.
"Morning. But how come you woke up so early? Do you have to go to office earlier than usual?"
"No, I just happened to wake up early and I thought I'll take a walk."
I watched her butter slices of bread as I washed the plates left in the sink. She had already washed the spoons.
"Can you drop me at the railway station on your way to office?" she didn't shift her eyes from the bread she was buttering.
"Sure. Are you going to the boutique ?"
"Yeah. There's a wedding party coming up. So I have some work."
"Alright. I'll get ready once I'm done with breakfast."
"Okay. No hurry." She smiled as she munched on her sandwich.
I enjoyed my sandwich though I ate in a haste.