THE CLEAN-LIVING DEAD

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INVITATION ACCEPTED

"Neha! Beti! Wake up!!" called her mother. She had come home late from the Stadium and declined the dinner offered to her. She had slept late.
"Kya maa!" Moaned Neha as she dug deep into her bedsheets.
"It's now nine thirty in the morning and you haven't even eaten anything last night! You didn't eat breakfast and dinner yesterday at all, or you may have eaten at your friend's place I suppose.." said her mother. That made Neha sit up, wide awake.
"Did papaji leave to the market?" whisper asked Neha. Her mother kept a hidden smile under her frown.
"I'm still here Nehaji! Someday you'll book me a ticket to heaven I guarantee that!" sarcastically replied her father. Neha's father was about to go out and he slammed the door and left the house with utter silence.
"Why is he so angry first thing in the morning?" asked an irritated Neha.
"Now don't talk! I'm the one getting stuffed like a patty between both of you buns! Jagvir is calm and does his work and you, the Karanveer Garg II only!!" scolded her mother Guri as she left her room with a slam on her bedroom door. Neha stretched herself and looked at the date.
"OMG! Today Neelam sir is going to burn me alive and haunt my grave after I die also! I promised I would work on Sundays also due to my irregular shifts!" thought Neha as she stormed into the balcony to brush her teeth.

Below on the street, Neha saw two familiar faces. Taran and Umed were coming towards her house. She suddenly swallowed and choked upon the foam on her toothbrush.
"Why were they here? How do they know my address??" She rewinded last night's scene. She had been talking to Umed and after the others came with their smoothies, Taran suggested that we drop each other at our homes because he didn't know the route to his house from there. So then, Aneeldeep suggested that she and Umed would go on the bike and Taran would come in the car with them because Amoli knew Aadarsh Apartments, their flats. She had not wanted that uncomfortable moment but Taran said we would get to 'know' each other and 'bonding' could occur. Since she had the thought that Taran would leave her if she listened to him for that night, she had no option.
"Oh yes! I shouldn't have even gone there!" thought Neha as she rinsed her face and came down.

"Why are you guys over here? And Taran, I thought you stopped following me!" asked Neha as she stared at Taran angrily.
"Uh...you um..... forgot your phone in my bike pocket and.....we wanted to return what was yours and so, we came" said Umed as he didn't dare to look up at her. Neha took her mobile and thanked them hesitantly.
"Um Taran, you go. I'll be back in a minute!" told Umed.
"What are you doing there Bittu?" asked Taran.
"Uh...who is Bittu?" asked Neha.
"It's his nickname!!" answered Taran.
"Shhh...Taran, I'll be back in two! You go!" Umed was embarrassed and it was evident.
"Um, are you comfortable talking about 10th grade?" asked Umed. He didn't look completely into her eyes.
"Um,.... about what?" hesitantly asked Neha.
"Anything! At the end of the day, we're classmates right? If you are free, we can meet at the coffeehouse on my street. If you are free only! Here, my number. Call me when you feel like coming" said Umed as he waved her goodbye. Neha was literally shaking! She could revive their old friendship! His eyes glowed just like they did whenever she would see him back then.
"Yeah,.....I'll catch up when I can! Thanks! Bye!" she said as she opened the crumpled paper he had given her and started storing it in her mobile.

"Eh! What are you doing there? It's nine forty-five am!! I'm not making any more parathas for anyone now. I stopped the flame! Do what you want and eat wherever you like but don't come to me or the kitchen" said her mother Guri. Neha ran towards her mom.
"Where are you going??" she asked.
"I'll catch a bus and go to my parents' house! You anyway do not need me!" said her mother as she got her hand purse out.
"Arey maa! Ok! I'll be at home for dinner and lunch today! I want paneer tikka masala today!" Neha tried to cheer her mother. Her mother flipped her head away.
"Maa look at me! Oye!!" called Neha.
"How will you have lunch and dinner here today? I was just kidding! It's my Masi's fifth death ceremony and I need to be there. I will come back tomorrow morning and......yeah! Your papaji will be coming with me only! Your brother will be driving us to the venue. It's up to you if you want to come or no" said Guri.
"Um...no! I have other plans so,....no" said Neha as she waited for her dad and brother to arrive. After they all came, Jagvir took out the car and sped off.

Neha took out her phone and dialed Neelam sir's number.
"Hello Neha, are y--" Neha interrupted him.
"Aaahhh!!! Sir!! I'm injured! I cannot come for my shift! Please hand it over to Aesha sir! I cann-" Neha acted as if she was injured and cut the phone in the middle of the call. She then texted Aesha to take her shift also. She then looked at Umed's phone number.
"Should I call him? It would be nice to catch up with an 8th grade classmate!" thought Neha as she quickly dialed Umed's number.
"Hello, Neha!"
"Hey! I'm coming to the coffeehouse. Send me the GPS location, I'll be there in five" said Neha as she cut the call and ran in to take a shower.

"Nice!" she said to herself. She wore a simple graphic tee and some comfortable shoes. A good looking watch or sophisticated pair of glasses were ready. She locked the door and left on her scooter.




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