Neil’s life, post the kiss
After he had shared that kiss with Alisha, he had a call from Mansi. She pleaded and begged him to attend her wedding for the sake of their friendship. But, Neil couldn’t bring himself to do that. Not after what they had done to Alisha. He just couldn’t do it no matter how much she and Rohan said otherwise.
So instead of going to Jaipur for the wedding, he headed to Kolkata the very next day. He was terribly missing his parents and this was a wonderful opportunity for him to meet them.
He reached the ancestral house around noon and was mesmerized by the sheer magnificence of the structure. Located in the Central Avenue area, it was one of the many old homes that were still present in the city. While the surrounding structures were being renovated or rebuilt, Neil’s parents and grandparents had preserved the structure as it was.
It looked like a mansion with its open terrace and a huge porch. While they had painted the house, they had retained the old wrought iron grills and the red oxide floor in the porch. It was a spacious house with four bedrooms, a large living room and an attached kitchen, each room being around 300-350 square feet in size. It was two storied, with the living room and kitchen on the ground floor, two bedrooms on the first floor and another two on the second. There was a large verandah with a potted tulsi plant in the center.
Neil stood near the tulsi plant while admiring his ancestors’ work. He smiled as he stood at this vantage point. Nothing much had changed. He could see the two bedrooms on first floor on opposite sides. Here, his grandparents and one of his uncles would stay. The top floor rooms appeared to be locked as there was no one to use them. His parents would occupy one room on the top while his brother and he would occupy the one across, when they would come to stay here during their vacations. His grandparents and his unmarried uncle had passed away many years ago. Now, it was just his parents and the younger generation that included his brother and himself, to maintain their ancestral legacy.
He spotted his mom in the kitchen and he could distinctly smell the aroma of the special dish of sea food that his mom was cooking.
He sneaked behind her and closed her eyes with his palms.
“Oh my! Neil!” She turned around to find her smiling son standing in front of him. “What a pleasant surprise! Why didn’t you call, we would have come to pick you up at the airport. What if you had gotten lost? You are coming here after years!”
“Mrs. Paulomi Basu. Breathe deep. Calm down. Finish your dish, then I’ll tell you everything.” Neil said.
“Yes okay. You men and your food. Huh! I’m going to be done in ten minutes. You go freshen up. Use the bedroom to your right on the first floor. That is for guests who come unannounced.” She said smiling smugly at him.
“And for guests who come after announcing their arrival?” Neil asked curiously.
“Then we decorate the bedrooms on the second floor, you see. They are one for each of my sons.” Paulomi said looking at Neil.
Neil raised his hands in surrender and mouthed a sorry before going to freshen up.
Later, during lunch, he told his parents about everything that had happened in the last few months except the kiss that he had shared with Alisha.
“This girl Alisha appears to be very hardworking and sincere, don’t you think Paulomi?” Neil’s dad asked looking at his mom.
“Yes, Aaditya. I kind of like this girl already, even without seeing her.” She looked at Neil and said, “Give me your phone, son.”
“My phone? For what, mom?” Neil inquired.
“You must be having some pictures of this girl, right? I just want to see her.” She replied.
“Mom please. I’ll take you to meet her, don’t worry. No phone stalking please.”
“Okay, as you say dear.”
But Neil very well knew that his mom would sneak in to his phone at the first opportunity that she got. It did not matter even if she did. He had nothing to hide and he did have a few pictures of Alisha in his phone.
Then, in the evening, they spoke about anything and everything ranging from politics to the weather to Neil’s career. Both his parents were extremely happy on his unexpected visit.
The next two days he kept himself busy in meeting distant relatives and exploring the neighborhood. His mom was very cheerful since his arrival and that was enough to lift his spirits.
There was just one thought nagging him continuously. He did not know what to say to Alisha. So, after a lot of contemplation, on the third night post his arrival, he decided to play safe and sent her a text saying the kiss wouldn’t affect their friendship.
He was so confused about his feelings for her. He still couldn’t understand what possessed him to kiss her.
The next morning, Amit, his older brother had called him asking about his whereabouts.
“You are in Kolkata? Wow, that’s wonderful. I was going to go there myself to get mom and dad here with Rachana. And I called you to keep a watch over her as I would be travelling.” Amit said.
“Why do you want mom and dad out there?” Neil was not understanding anything.
“Neil, Rachana has started her ninth month of pregnancy and she’s very scared. I work the full day, she doesn’t want to be alone. So I thought, that maybe if I could get mom and dad for a few days to stay with her, she would feel better.”
“Oh. That’s alright Amit. You don’t need to come. I’ll ask them and if they agree, I’ll get them along.”
“Thanks, you are savior Neil.” Amit said.
Neil managed to convince his parents to stay in Mumbai for a few days. So, the next day, they boarded a flight to Mumbai. Neil was also getting impatient as Alisha had not replied to his earlier message and there were reports of a huge fire breaking out in Mumbai city.
Back in the city, he stayed with his brother, bhabhi and his parents for old time’s sake. He was ready to bolt the very next moment and rush to see how Alisha was doing.
Seeing his restlessness, Rachana asked, “What’s wrong Neil? I have never seen my brother in law being so fidgety.”
“Umm… nothing bhabhi. Nothing’s wrong at all.”
“Oh. Some girl trouble, I see.” Rachana smirked as she said that.
Neil looked at her with wide eyes and said, “How do you know so surely?” Realizing all other family members were listening to their conversation, Neil quickly added, “We’ll talk about this later, bhabhi.”
He was still restless all through dinner and then he had a message from Alisha saying she was busy and they would talk once he was back. He wanted to go back right away.
Post dinner, Neil was sitting in the living room in his brother’s house when Rachana joined him.
“So Neil, am I right or am I right?” She asked.
“Wow, bhabhi. You are so confident about your suspicions!” He remarked.
Then he also chastised himself about it. Of course his bhabhi was good at all this. She had a private investigation firm after all. Amit and Rachana had moved to Albany immediately after their marriage due to Amit’s job transfer. And they had moved back to Mumbai within two years after that. But, he never knew what kind of lives they led in Albany.
“Something that you learnt in Albany, right?” Neil continued.
“Yes, kind of. I honed my skills out there. But, leave that part. I’ll tell you in details what I did in Albany some other time. You tell me about this mystery girl. Tell me everything. No hiding. Okay?”
Neil sighed and looked closely at his bhabhi. She was around Alisha’s height, fair skinned and had shoulder length black hair that framed her oval face. She looked tired though and had put on quite some weight due to her pregnancy.
He said, “This is about my neighbor and good friend.” He told Rachana everything, right from the Goa episode, to him being her fake boyfriend, to her giving that little speech at the party and him kissing her. He also told her about the messages that they had exchanged.
Sighing, Rachana said, “You are in trouble boy! Why don’t you tell her what you feel?”
“But bhabhi, I myself don’t know what I feel. I mean I’m so confused. I always considered her a good friend. I really don’t know what came over me when I kissed her. But, it also felt right, you know. She felt so right against me.” Neil said in exasperation.
“You really need to sort out this mess in your life Neil. If you don’t know what you feel, just be frank and tell her. I’m sure she would be wanting a clarification from your side as well. And please, you cannot be just friends with her after sharing a passionate kiss! Give me a break on that Neil!” Rachana got up with that and once again told him, “Tell her Neil. You have always been honest with her, so now why are you beating around the bush?”
“Yes bhabhi, I’m going to tell her. You are right.”
They said their goodnights and parted ways. Neil couldn’t sleep properly though. He had a bad feeling about all of this. He tried calling Alisha, but she refused to answer and after a few more calls, her phone was switched off.
He decided to meet her the next day, come what may.
The next morning, he left from his brother’s place citing work reasons. He was still off from work for another week. But they did not need to know that. He had to sort out the mess that he had created in both Alisha’s and his life.
Now, finally home after five days, he heaved a sigh of relief. They were the most emotionally difficult seven days of his life.
He just prayed that Alisha wouldn’t have an emergency duty and she would be back home in the evening. But, evening turned into night and there was still no sign of Alisha. Resigning himself, thinking she would be back the next morning, he went off to bed.
There was still no Alisha by next day noon as well. Now, he was getting worried. ‘Even if she had an emergency, she should have come back by now.’ He thought.
He tried calling Minnie, but she too, did not answer his calls. He saw the date on his phone. It was 5th of December. “Oh, it’s her birthday today! Her 29th birthday.” He said to himself. He tried calling her, but still her phone was switched off.
He remembered joking with her about her birthday. “You are six months older to me, Alisha.” He would say. “You are my old friend!” And Alisha would get so pissed at that. He smiled at the memory.
Thinking she must be celebrating her birthday with her friends, he decided to take up the matter the next morning. Again, in the morning, her house was still locked. Now, he was getting suspicious.
He went up to Vinay uncle’s house to ask about Alisha as he too was not answering his phone. “What’s wrong with everyone? Nobody is answering my calls.” He said to himself in frustration.
Luckily, Nirmala aunty was at home.
“Oh Neil! You are back? Good.” She led him inside and offered him tea.
“No thanks aunty. Actually, I’m here since the last three days. I wanted to talk to Alisha. But she’s not home since then. Any idea about her aunty?” Neil asked pleadingly.
Nirmala offered him a glass of water which he gladly accepted. “She’s in the hospital Neil.”
“I know that aunty. Of course she’s in the hospital. She works there.” Neil replied.
“No Neil. What I meant is, she is hospitalized. She is a patient in a private hospital.”
The glass of water that he was holding fell down from his hands and he stood up.
“What the hell happened to her?” He asked in disbelief.