Neapolitan City

Chapter 3: When I Set My Eyes upon You Again

The books shone on the shelves as Ishaani took steady rounds around the library, the bright morning sun gleaming in and giving the library a surreal glow. The library a month ago would have been dull and mysterious, like some ominous secret lurking among the various vast shelves of books, cobwebs and dust suspended in a limbo, a warm yet suspicious atmosphere.

It had the feeling of known tragedy, as though thousands of souls had drowned their guilty secrets and existences within the hearts of various books. They took refuge in the dim atmosphere of the library, for the darkness and somber lighting was much more in level to their mental agonies than the bright and glorious light of the present day.

But any of those returning to the library two months later would have been shocked, for the library had been transformed. Not in any elemental way, yet the feel of the library had changed. Where the morning sun was restricted in the library, now the curtains lay in neat folds of a pattern while books bathed in the free light of the sun, the forgotten covers learning to live in the blast of golden light once again.

The library no longer had a shabby and long-forgotten look about it. It was now clean and dapper and looked much younger than one would imagine it to be. The dust and cobwebs had been viciously thrown away and the countless rows of shelves looked inhabitable. Mrs. Brandt looked around the library with a proud look and her eyes fell on her new assistant caretaker.

The girl had managed to convert the library into a magnificent hall of unworldly worship and Mrs. Brandt could not have been happier. Finally, the library funds were being utilized in the best possible way. Ishaani was strolling through the various rows, making sure that the readers there were comfortable and solved any queries they had about any book and fulfilled their needs precisely.

She had managed to learn the location of almost every book in the library, old and new and she was the best guide to the customers. Mrs. Brandt took an instant liking to the way Ishaani had managed to run the library this efficiently and had taken off a huge load from her own ageing ones.

"Ishaani, sweetheart, do sit down for some time. You have been pacing about all this morning."

"No it's alright Martha. I like walking about." Martha glared at her fiercely and before another word could be uttered, Ishaani quickly hurried up and sat beside Martha out of frightful respect. Smiling by the way Ishaani scurried and came to sit next to her, Martha patted her head affectionately before saying.

"Sweetheart, its 11 right now. You can leave for home after 1. You have to be ready for the party at 6. I don't want you looking this fagged out." Martha looked at Ishaani's pallor with dissatisfaction while Ishaani looked at her embarrassed. She groaned inwardly at the thought of the party.

Martha was always responsible to give a tour of Greece's most respected library that ages beyond half-a century and had somehow become a type of sacred monument in the rapidly evolving city. And since this particular group of people were delegates in the Canadian Government and came from the upper circles of Canada, there was a supper party thrown in their honor the very same evening.

"I don't suppose that they would be too happy to see me around if they knew I had a police record." Ishaani spoke viciously at the thought of having to fake herself in front of strange foreigners for the evening tonight and the thought of it irked her immensely.

In these two months, Martha and Ishaani had formed a very strong bond, a bond that only two people coming from different countries and backgrounds altogether with a common miserable past could form. The two women had almost known each other's entire life story by the end of these two months, except the names of the people actually involved in their past. They both preferred the anonymity rather than the painful bits of memory that came along with the names.

"Don't get cheeky now, dear. Your police record was less of a crime and more of a self-sacrifice, though if I were the police, I would have ensured that you were sentenced for an extra six months just for being such a big obstruction of justice with that crazy mind of yours." Ishaani glared at her, but the corners of her mouth twitched steadily.

In these months that they had worked together, Ishaani and Martha had been quite frank with their opinions about each other and had never bothered about courtesies. The two of them had found a good listener and the perfect friend with whom they could relate anything and everything.

"Besides, we both know that it's not going to be as horrible as you are making this out to be in your mind. So stop fretting and make sure you put on your best dress tonight. If you are in luck, I'll be able to introduce you to the trustee of this library today. I've heard that he's back in town." Ishaani didn't look too interested before, but at the name of the trustee being mentioned, she suddenly sat up like a cat.

"Well, at long last! I've been meaning to meet him since so long and fin-“

“-Darling, I'm not talking about Mr. Ambrose." Martha cut Ishaani mid-sentence. Ishaani looked slightly abashed before she asked the former curiously.

"Then who is it that you are talking about?"

"It's our new trustee. He's been giving the maximum donations from the last three years."

"I didn't ever hear you mention his name before." Ishaani looked surprised. There was some strange unknown element of mystery that seemed to have caught her fancy.

"That's because he's a secret trustee. He's vouched for anonymity and that's why I'm bound by it. Can't tell you anything more about him."

"If that's the case, then why do you want me to meet him tonight?"

"I've been mentioning you a lot in my daily reports, according to his observation. And from what he has surmised, he is quite happy with the way you have been running about the library. That's why he's interested in meeting you." Ishaani looked surprised for a moment, but understanding dawned over her.

"And exactly what is it that you have been mentioning about me?" Martha turned a reproachful glance towards Ishaani, but the latter could see a lurking guilt hidden behind the reproachful glance.

"That's a very personal and rude question to ask someone, you know." Martha looked at Ishaani with innocent eyes, but the latter saw right through it. Ishaani flared at her.

"Aha! So you have been trying to set me up with this trustee guy so that I can end up working for him instead of in the library!" Martha dropped all the remaining pretense and looked straight at her while Ishaani gave her an exasperated look.

"Look, I'm going to be straight enough with you on this. We both know that you are not at all suited for this job, not in terms of competence, but in terms of your skills being utilized. And I've told you this before too, that my main purpose of hiring you was the fact that I needed a temporary help in order to set my affairs straight and I will not have you working here like this, when you have got all your life ahead of you. Life, that is much more beautiful that the four walls of the library. Besides, the trustee is not an easy man. He will be observing you tonight and only if he finds you competent enough to handle his affairs, will he decide to consider you as a candidate for the vacancy his company is offering currently."

Ishaani had opened her mouth several times to cut in, but Martha had held up her hand steadily. The moment Martha finished speaking, the two women stared at each other for a few moments before Ishaani spoke slowly.

"Martha, I really appreciate what you are doing for me. I really do. But I prefer the peace of this library to-"

"To what? Ishaani, you have been a very dear friend to me and something closest that I've known to family in these many years, so I'm telling you this. I won't have it on my soul to see you throw your life away like this. When you wanted a new beginning in life, I decided to give you one, but it's time you learnt to swim, darling. There is no point in living life like this, not when you have so much to see and so much to learn still. So please. If not for your sake, at least give this a try for my sake. And besides, in case you are rejected today, you are welcome to work here for as long as you want. You have my word."

Ishaani stared at Martha hard before she spoke once again, her eyes set afire and her tone hoarse.

"But you know I will be selected, don't you? You are pretty confident about it?" Martha smiled at her sweetly, her eyes giving out a flame of its own before she replied.

"Make sure you're in your best dress tonight. Also, I think you can call it quits for the day."

Ishaani reached the hall at 10 minutes to 6. She walked confidently ahead, her velvet green dress flowing in the breezy air of June, her gown glowing gorgeously in the rapidly falling sunset. Her gown was a turtle neck gown, sleeveless, netted from her neck till her neckline and a rick silk from below the net, flowing beautifully over her precise figure. There was a slit to the side of the gown, revealing her glowing, milky legs from below her left thigh. She had her hair left loose that flowed in perfect curls till her back while her eyeliner went perfect with the light compact on her face.

The gown had been her only one that she had bought for any emergency social function and she could not have been more in luck. As she walked by, several of the guests turned around to look at her, eyeing her curiously while some were stunned by the breathtaking effect of her attire. As Ishaani walked inwards, she could not help but admire the effects of the decoration that Mrs. Brandt had sent upon the place.

Mrs. Brandt had banned her for helping her at all in the preparations as this was Ishaani's first such party and wanted the effects to be a surprise for her. The place was an open ground pasture, grass neatly trimmed and unwanted weeds plucked out while various trees stood there, providing glorious shades of light in the natural ambience.

Half a dozen candle-lit tables sat there in the open air while lanterns were hung over the strong braches of the trees carefully. Daffodils, orchids, vines of bougainvillea, and hyacinths were decorated on the various poles of the open-headed marquee set-up, their fragrance fresh in the air while there was a small band of 5 people playing the classic Canadian hits of all time.

Ishaani spotted Mrs. Brandt from a distance, who was dressed in a violet taffeta gown, her cheeks pink, and glowing with blushes and praises simultaneously while she was busily chatting away with someone who was standing in the darker section of the marquee. Meeting several of the guests from the delegate while making sure that they were all comfortable, Ishaani finally made her way to Mrs. Brandt, who had just finished her conversation with the unknown man and had walked towards her.

"Darling, don't you look gorgeous! And you are right on time. Our trustee is right here!" Martha caught hold of her hand and guided her to the crowd, until they were standing right behind the trustee, who was having an animated conversation with one of the Canadian delegates.

Tapping him on the shoulder, the man turned behind slowly, and two simultaneous gasps died away on their lips. Mrs. Brandt, unaware of the reactions from the other two because of the music, continued her introduction in a jolly tone, even though the atmosphere had turned cold all of a sudden.

"Mr. Vaghela, this is the girl I wanted you to meet. This is the very exceptional Ms. Parekh that I've been talking to you about."

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