Caught On Wrong Foot
I make it to the door but Lakshmi accosts me and will not let me go without having dinner. It is a buffet and people move around. I take shelter behind Pratap and Vijay.
Madhuri drifts towards us. On seeing me, her expression changes. If looks could kill, I should be writhing on the floor now. I am in no mood to brook her ill will either, and glare back with equal venom. She looks around, spots Karthik and calls him over. Karthik joins us, much to my dismay. Madhuri looks from him to me and comments pointedly, “I didn’t know you knew each other.”
“We were colleagues before,” I reply quickly. I don’t want Madhuri to discover our relationship abruptly. This takes Karthik by surprise though, and he looks askance at me. Vijay’s eyes are also on me, and Pratap is missing nothing.
“Oh!” Madhuri says and turns to Karthik, “You never mentioned anything about her the other day…”
He shrugs. I remain tight-lipped, enjoying his discomfiture.
She is not one to let me off easily. “What were you doing in his firm? Aren’t you into marketing software projects?” she turns to Karthik again. “What were you doing there?” Madhuri turns back to me, contempt written all over her face.
I can see Pratap getting into apoplexy as Karthik says, “Planning and budgets.” He looks puzzled as Pratap laughs loudly and Vijay chuckles. I smile despite myself. “Did I say something wrong?” Karthik asks me.
Before anyone can respond, Madhuri drags him away, angry with all of us for having kept her in the dark all the time she had been throwing bad budget planning on my face.
I see Madhuri turn her charm full blast on Karthik, now that she believes we were nothing more than colleagues. I wish I can be as amused as Pratap, but jealousy slithers around in my heart, crushing it mercilessly. I watch her being absolutely gracious and, well, beautiful, as she flutters and turns all feminine around him. Karthik would love that, but he does a great job of appearing untouched.
Vijay touches me lightly and smiles with understanding. “Do you want to leave? Or… shall I take Madhuri home?”
I flush at being so transparent. I try to cover up saying, “Oh no! I was just admiring her…cool. Let’s leave.”
“What about…Karthik? Isn’t he dropping you?”
I shrug. “Change of plans, obviously,” I can’t help being sarcastic as I see Madhuri wrapping him around her dainty fingers.
Vijay raises an eyebrow. My lips twitch nervously. He walks up to Madhuri. Karthik excuses himself and comes over to where I am standing. “Shall we leave?” he asks.
“What about Madhuri?” I ask pointedly.
“Vijay has offered to drop her home,” he says with his eyes on me.
“I can manage on my own,” I try to put him off. Though the idea is to establish my independence, I am also nervous at being alone with him.
“I know,” he replies indifferently.
As we drive down, I feel him struggle against the winds and the dangerously swishing trees. The wiper has a tough task of clearing the windshield as rain pours hard. I look at the road and instantly remember a night when we were on the bike, together, and the rains made driving through difficult.
“When did you buy the car?” is out of my mouth before I realise it. Biting my tongue is no good now because he has heard it. He doesn’t respond except to look at me, and I don’t repeat it, keeping silent throughout the way.
I find myself holding my breath, anxious for him to drop me off at the gate and leave; anxious about his driving the distance in this night all alone; anxious about having to invite him home…; anxious about his answer.
The cyclone may abate, but in its aftermath, it will leave destruction behind.