A cold draft of the evening wind was blowing by the Arabian Sea and Alisha was sitting on the promenade overlooking the sea. Her gaze was upwards at the cloudless and starry sky and she smiled when she spotted the blinking lights of an airplane across the horizon. This was her favorite place; the promenade by the Marine Drive or the queen’s necklace as it was popularly known. This was the place where she would be when she wanted to be alone and delve in her own thoughts. The breeze by the sea and the roaring waves always had a calming effect on her. As she was lost in the beauty of the sea, the ringing of her phone broke her trance.
“Dr. Alisha, Sister Ruby here.”
“Tell me Ruby, who is about to die now?”
“Looks like someone is pissed! Nobody is dying yet doctor, but I called to inform you that the next surgery is preponed to 7.30 pm. So please be here by 7.15.”
“Oh. Is it? Don’t worry Ruby, I’ll be back in 10.”
Alisha sighed in exasperation as she looked at the time in her watch. It was 7 pm already. She tied her messy raven colored hair in a high bun, took her oversized tote, straightened her beige tunic and jumped down on the pavement. She began to brisk walk the short way to the hospital. She loved the strategic location of the hospital and despite it being in the heart of the city, she felt a sense of calm the moment she entered the campus.
It was spread over multiple acres with a fountain located in the center that was surrounded by a small garden. The fountain was flanked by three buildings that were two storied each. The central building was the administrative one and it also housed the out-patient department. The building to the left side consisted of all private suites and the dialysis department, whereas the building on the right housed the emergency rooms, intensive care, the operation theatre and all other wards. In the far end of the campus was the medical college and the student hostel. The lush greenery in the campus made it feel like she was in a different world altogether.
Alisha enjoyed working in this state run hospital. It had crazy work load, but she didn’t mind it. She loved her job and she loved the proximity of her work place from the sea. She was upset at that time as she had an argument over the phone with her mom. She recalled the last thing that she had told her mom. 'I don’t want to talk to you ever again!’ She bit her lip in guilt and decided she would call her back as soon as she reached home.
Exactly an hour and a half later, Alisha walked into the elevator of her plush South Mumbai society. Balancing a McDonald’s burger and fries in one hand and iced tea in the other, she somehow managed to press the button for the tenth floor, where her flat was. Just as the elevator doors were about to shut, an old man dressed in workout clothes jumped in.
“Oh my God! Vinay uncle!” Alisha screeched. “You scared the hell out of me!”
Vinay started laughing and gave her a sideways hug. His eyes twinkled in joy and his salt and pepper hair glinted in the lights of the Otis elevator. He took the iced tea from her hand and said, “I saw you entering the lobby while I was jogging. Jog became a run as I wanted to catch you before you escaped. It’s so difficult to get hold of you these days young lady. Looks like you live in the hospital.”
“No, uncle. It’s just a little hectic these days. Nothing more. And believe me, I’m still living here. You know how crazy my parents would become if I were to even think of going somewhere else!”
“Oh yes, that I can vouch for. How are Avinash and Adhira doing by the way?” he quizzed.
Alisha shrugged her shoulders and said, “Busy with work, as usual. Nothing new there you know.”
Sensing her discomfort on talking about her parents he swiftly changed the topic.
“What’s with the takeout food by the way?” he asked.
Alisha smiled sheepishly and said, “Too tired to cook, uncle.”
The elevator stopped at the tenth floor and Alisha invited Vinay uncle to her flat.
“I would have come to your house uninvited too, as I have something important to discuss.” He said.
Alisha opened the front door and kept her dinner on the dining table adjoining the open kitchen. Vinay sat on the couch in the living room and patted the seat beside him. Alisha sat next to him and Vinay took her hands in his and said, “You are a like a daughter to us. You know that Alisha. Please take care of your health. And you can ask anything from us. Nirmala loves you like her own.”
Alisha was overwhelmed on hearing this. She blinked back tears and said, “I know that uncle. I wish my parents were like you both. Anyways uncle, you said you had something important to discuss?”
“Yes, I need you to meet your potential new neighbor tomorrow. He wants to take the flat next to yours on rent. He’s a model and actor kind of a guy. Works in some daily soap. So just meet him and you can decide if you want him for a neighbor or no.” Vinay winked as he said the last part.
“Uncle, why do you need my permission? I’m hardly home anyways. You give it to whoever you want to.”
“Yes dear I know you are hardly home. But these are the rules of the society. And I’m the secretary. So it’s my duty to get it done. It is like a protocol. Anyone wants to sell or buy any flat, the immediate neighbors have to sign a no objection certificate. The other two families on the floor have already signed. Only you remain. It’s just a formality. Come and get it done.”
“Okay uncle”. She sighed. “I have to reach the hospital by 8.30 in the morning. Call him before that. I’ll sign all the documents.”
“Great. I’m going to call him by 8. You come to my house as well.”
With that he got up to leave. Alisha asked him to have dinner with her. Instead he said, “Nirmala will kill me if she comes to know that I have eaten fries and burgers. In fact if she comes to know she will kill you too!”
Alisha widened her eyes and raised her eyebrows in surprise.
Vinay laughed at that, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her. I really want to take you with me to have dinner, but Nirmala will not leave you until midnight. And I know how important it is for you to rest my young doctor!”
Alisha started laughing at that and after saying their goodnights, she proceeded to the bathroom to freshen up. She splashed some cold water on her face and looked in the mirror. She saw a woman with a round face and small almond shaped eyes decorated with dark circles, a pointed nose and full lips staring back. Her hair was a mess and she thought of showering before having dinner. But at the thought of reheating the dinner, she decided against it and went back to the kitchen. She gulped her dinner in record time and decided to have some curd. She stood in the balcony of her living room with a bowl of curd in her hand and gazing at the city lights. She remembered she had to call her mom and apologize. Before she could change her mind, she had already dialed her mom’s number. On the third ring she answered.
“I’m sorry mom!” Alisha said, even before her mom could say hello.
“It’s alright dear. Will call you back. I’m in a meeting now.” Her mom said in hushed tones.
Sighing, Alisha cut the phone and went to her room. She had a quick shower and after changing into her pajamas, she sat on her bed. She browsed through some articles on ‘Recent Advances in Anesthesia’. But, she simply couldn’t concentrate. She recalled her conversation with her mom. They always ended up arguing whenever Alisha’s future was discussed. Her mom wanted her to get married. But Alisha was not ready. She was just out of horrendous break up and didn’t want to get hitched so soon. She wanted a diversion and her work gave her just that. Yes, she wanted to find a life partner, but someone who understood her and her erratic working schedule as well. She didn’t want to waste her time and energy for short term flings. Shutting her laptop, she decided to go to bed. As soon as her head touched the pillow, she was asleep.
At 7 in the morning, Alisha woke up refreshed and ready to start her day. She hummed while making a breakfast of puffed rice or poha as it was popularly known and a cup of tea. She also had some bread and jam. After a filling breakfast, she got ready for work. Dressed in black pants and a mauve button down shirt, she applied some concealer to mask her dark circles. She then applied some kohl in her eyes and a lip gloss. Grabbing her tote that had all her essentials, she was ready to go. She liked to go to the hospital early and meet all her post-operative patients and get a summary from the residents. As she was about to descend in the elevator, she remembered that she had to go to Vinay uncle’s house to meet the new neighbor. So instead of going down, she went up to the twentieth floor and rang the doorbell.
The moment the door opened, she was crushed in a hug by Nirmala. She was a short fragile looking woman and Alisha simply wondered how her hug could be that powerful!
“How are you sweetheart? It’s been days since I met you. Vinay told me last night that you have been busy, but please take care of your health.” She said in a single breath.
Alisha giggled at that and gave her a peck on her cheek.
“You both husband and wife have gone mad, I think.” She said jokingly. “You both are so obsessed with my health that sometimes I wonder whether my parents got exchanged!”
At the commotion by the door, Vinay came out and grabbed Alisha from his wife’s clutches. He took her to the living room, smiled at her and called out, “Neil, meet Alisha Merchant. Your future neighbor if she signs these documents.”
Neil came out of the balcony and stopped in his tracks when he saw Alisha.
Vinay continued, “Alisha, this is Neil Basu. The guy about whom I told you yesterday.”
Alisha’s eyes widened like saucers when she saw him, but she regained her composure and offered her hand for a handshake.
“Hi, Mr. Basu.” She said.
“Hello Ms. Merchant.” Neil said. “So we finally meet again.”