It was the first time in years that Alisha stepped in her neighbor’s house. Before Neil took it on rent, it was shut as the previous owners had migrated elsewhere. She was surprised to see that he had cleaned up the house really well in such a short span of time.
It was similar to hers, but it did not have a view of the sea.
She noticed that she was the last one to arrive. She spotted Neil in the kitchen and went over to give him the gift.
“Oh, you did not have to bring anything.” He said.
“It’s just some chocolates, as I’m coming to your house for the first time.” Alisha smiled.
“Come, I’ll introduce you to my friends and colleagues.”
He led her into the living room where most of the gang was. “Hey guys,” he said, “this is Alisha, my next door neighbor and new friend.”
Alisha’s insides melted into jelly as he called her his new friend.
“You know Arjun, Akshat and Rohit.” She waved at them as he called out their names.
Then, he introduced her to Nisha, his co-star in his next show. There were a couple other television actors and actresses. Alisha kept a blank expression as she did not know any of them. She hardly watched TV. She preferred to sleep in her free time!
Neil noticed Alisha’s discomfort and said, “I take it that you do not know most of them?”
She smiled sheepishly as she said, “uh… yes.” And she started twirling her hair in her fingers.
Neil started laughing, “I thought so. Anyway, these are all very down to earth people. I’m sure you’ll enjoy. And if at any moment, you get bored, you are welcome to go.”
Alisha waved him off and promised him that she will try her best to be comfortable and enjoy herself. And enjoy she did. She laughed her heart out at the various stories and jokes that his friends were sharing. And time just flew. She did not even realize that it was ten already.
“Guys, we are running late. Let’s have dinner quickly. We all have an early morning tomorrow.” Neil called out to everyone.
Alisha was starving, but when she went to fill her plate, she saw that all the food was non vegetarian. She just settled for dessert which was mouth-watering gulab jamun and ice cream. Neil noticed that and went to her, “Oh! I’m so sorry Alisha. I just did not realize to include some vegetarian food. We are all hard core non veg eaters.”
“It’s aright Neil. My party will be pending. You can treat me once you are back from your shoot.”
A short while later, everyone was waving good bye to each other, and Alisha too went home. She slept with a smile on her face.
The next day, she overslept her alarm and reached half an hour late to the hospital.
“Oh crap! Such a horrible start to my day.” She murmured. She somehow felt that her day wouldn’t be going well.
And that is what happened.
Late afternoon, a young man in his early thirties was brought in the emergency room. He was a victim of a road traffic accident. Alisha was called in to help in the emergency care as she was on duty and she was very good in resuscitation.
She winced at the sight of the man. She asked the junior doctors to explain the seriousness of the patient to his relatives as she had to tend to him as a priority. His relatives were very anxious and kept asking her questions. Tarun and Diya, her other colleagues also rushed in to help. Alisha explained all that she could to the relatives.
They had come to the hospital after two hours of the accident. They had been to other nursing homes from where they were referred here. Precious time was wasted and a lot of blood was lost. Alisha and her colleagues tried their best to explain the now agitated relatives.
The man was quickly transferred to the intensive care, but he did not survive.
Now, a mob had gathered outside. And they started pushing their way in. All hell broke loose.
The mob vandalized the emergency room and also hit the doctors. The few security men couldn’t contain the angry mob.
Alisha was hurt too. She did not even realize that she was hurt until blood started drooling down from her head and she collapsed.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself in the intensive care attached to intravenous lines. With her one free hand, she tried to get up, but was stopped by the nurse.
“Sister Ruby, what happened to me?” she asked in a hoarse voice. “Can I have some water?”
“You can’t have water till we are sure that you haven’t broken your skull.”
“What happened exactly? I really don’t remember much.”
“It was yesterday afternoon. An accident victim died and his relatives assaulted you all. You were hit by a rod or something on the head and you also have a hairline fracture in your left lower arm, and a few cuts and bruises all over the body.”
Alisha winced as Ruby described everything. “Wait, you mean I was asleep since twenty four hours?”
“Yes doctor. You have just been wheeled in after a CT scan. The results will be out in a few minutes.”
“Oh my God! What about the others?”
“They all escaped with minor injuries.”
“And what about the culprits?”
“They have all been arrested and are in jail now. And all of the staff in this hospital is planning to go on strike until the security improves.”
“It’s of no use Ruby. It’s the same story every time. I don’t even want to think about it. Can you do me a favor? I need my phone. I need to tell my parents and Minnie at least.”
Ruby smiled and said, “Minnie is camping out of the ICU since yesterday. I’ll send her in.”
Alisha smiled gratefully at her and closed her eyes.
“Alisha, sweetheart, how are you?” Minnie asked.
“A bit dizzy, but otherwise fine. Did you speak to my parents?”
“Ah yes. Adhira maasi said she’ll come down next week and stay with you as she has to finish some important stuff in office. And Avinash maasa will come with her only.”
Alisha started crying at that, and Minnie consoled her. “Don’t cry babes. Calm down. Please.”
“I hope they at least come when I die.”
Minnie’s eyes had welled up too, “My mom’s coming in some time with some delicious home cooked food. When your doctor gives the nod, she’s not going to leave you until you finish the entire tiffin.”
Alisha started laughing at that. And Minnie continued, “You know who else is waiting to see you?”
At Alisha’s questioning look, she said, “The ‘Neil Basu.’ He’s wearing an oversized hooded t-shirt and sunglasses and waiting outside. If anyone recognizes him, there’s going to be another riot outside.”
“Oh! I didn’t know he’s that popular.”
“You crazy woman. He’s the current heart throb of television. But obviously you wouldn’t know as you are holed up in the hospital always.” She swatted her arm as he said that.
“Ouch. Careful Minnie. It hurts.”
“Oops, sorry.” But she did not sound sorry. “I’ll just send him inside.”
Alisha was nervous thinking about him. “He had gone for an outdoor shoot,” she wondered. “Then, how come he’s here?”
Neil came in and when Alisha saw him, she smiled.
“Heard about what happened. You are one brave woman.”
“Thanks for visiting. But you shouldn’t have taken such a big risk for someone you hardly know.”
“I’m sure we’ll get to know each other really well soon. But, this is what friends are for right?”
Neil then updated her about the interesting location for his next shoot. She was feeling much better after talking to him. But she attributed it to their blossoming friendship and nothing more.
Even after he left, she couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear.
“Hey, how are you lady?” Tarun asked her. She was so lost in Neil’s thoughts that she did not notice Tarun and Diya walking in. Both were her colleagues and friends, but a year senior to her. Diya was married and Tarun treated her like his younger sister.
“Much better.” She sighed. “How are you both?”
“We were lucky to escape. This is so sad. And we can’t do much about it.” Diya said referring to the incident.
Tarun wanted to change the topic, so he said, “You know who was spotted in the hospital premises? Apparently some famous television actor.”
Alisha winced at that and thought that Neil must have been in a mess because of her.
Diya said, “I recognized him first and managed to get his autograph as well. See.” She showed his signature on the notes that she was carrying.
Realizing that this is her cue to tell them that Neil was here to meet her, Alisha cleared her throat and, “Guys, I have got a secret to share.”