“Thank God! Ranjan sir will not be coming to the office now! How would I face him? Hey Devi Mayya, thank you! Will surely visit madding in the evening…Ok?” She talked to her Devi Mayya, walking briskly on the road. She was running late and had the catch the bus in time. She Broke into a run seeing the blue line bus slowing down at the bus stop.
“Iss Say Achha Hota… Ki Woh Rakshas Gadi Bhajata, Pehelay Jaisey! It would have been better if he sent a car like earlier!” she muttered somehow hopping into the bus. After foundation day, he had stopped stalking her.
“ Khushi ji!” Sham called out. Khushi looked surprised. “Sham ji? In this bus?”
“Come here!” he called her and as she neared, he got up to give her his seat!
“No.. it’s ok, shamji! I am used to!” She said smiling. “No! Sit!” he said authoritatively pulling her hand. She sat glaring at him. She didn’t like it.
“How come you are in this bus?” she asked loudly over the noise in the bus.
“I am going that side for some work!” he was vague enough. The growl in her stomach made her aware that she had not had her breakfast. Sham looked at her. The person sitting next to her was about to get down and Sham grabbed the opportunity.
“Khushi ji!” he whispered in her ear. She looked at him and smiled. She kept her bag in between them and looked out of the window. The bus took a turn and Sham banged on her. She shrunk and looked at him irritably. Sham slid little away.
“Sorry! Khushi ji!” he apologized. “It’s ok!” she said smiling.
“You know, you are right! We need to spend more time with each other!” he again said looking at her unblinkingly. She looked around.
“Alone!” he whispered. She preferred looking at the morning Delhi from the window.
“Where are you getting down?” she asked. “Umm Last stop!” he answered.
“Ok. Then! I am getting down here!” she got up two stops earlier than her regular one!
“Here? But you get down at Jal Bhavan..!” he knew. “Yeah! But today I have some work here!” she said balancing herself getting up in the moving bus. She got down a took a sigh of relief.
“Chaliye!” came a voice and she winced. Sham too had got down. She frowned.
“I will come with you!” he said pleasantly. “But you had some work…!” she blurted.
“Nothing is important than you! Khushi ji!” He put his hand on her shoulder as she moved into the crowd of the market. She jerked his hand away. She had to think hard…She had to dodge him. He was not ready to leave her alone even for a second in that crowd.
“I will be right back!” she elbowed into a particularly crowded shop. She calculated. She had fifty rupees extra. She had to buy something. She picked up bindi strip.
“Think Khushi! Do something… you are getting late. This growl will not leave you! Draw truce with him.. Khushi!” she commanded herself and came out!
Sham was waiting outside for her.
“Oh Shit! Payal ji, Let’s go this way!” Aakash maneuvered Payal holding her elbow. She looked puzzled. He merged in the crowd with her. He had seen Sham in the crowd and had dodged him successfully.
Khushi weeded through the crowd aimlessly. She was getting late to the office.
“Hey Devi Mayya!” She looked ahead and turned abruptly. Sham was waiting ready. She tried to avoid the bump and he held her. She jerked herself apart and started walking down in exactly opposite direction.
“Raksha Karana! Devi Mayya! Hope he has not seen Jiji..! By the way what is she doing in the market with Aakash sir?” She prayed hard looking behind to confirm that Sham was following her. Now she wanted Sham to follow her. She desperately wanted to save her Jiji! She had seen her Jiji and Aakash walking in the crowded market hand in hand.
“Umm Sham ji.. I will take an auto from here! I am getting late! Will you come with me?” she wanted him to come with her. Her Jiji should be safe! Sham nodded happily. She hailed an auto and hopped in with Sham behind her.
“What? What is she doing in the market? And who is that who got into that Auto with her!” he clutched the steering in rage. He waited at the parking lot smoldering in anger. He was waiting for Aakash to pick him up from the market.
Khushi reached office and looked up. He had not reached yet. She took a sigh of relief. Her intercom rang.
“Khushi… I will come late! Get those samples ready from the studio Ok?” Lavanya ordered her. Khushi went to Studio.
“She hasn’t reached yet? How dare she! She is late!” he clenched his fists angrily and he saw her coming out of the studio with pile of big drawing files. His anger subsided a bit.
“Khushi..!” he shouted. She turned but he couldn’t see her hidden face behind the files.
She went in to Lavanya’s cabin hurriedly and thumped the files on the table. She came out and looked up. A furrow on his forehead forewarned her… ! She started climbing up the stairs.
“You are late!” he accused. She shook her head.. “I came in time Sir!” she looked up at him trying to gauge his mood.
“What were you doing in the market?” he asked her sternly taking a step ahead. Khushi gaped with open mouth.
“Wa.. what? M…Market…!” she stuttered thinking hard for some excuse.
“Don’t lie! I can recognize you from any distance!” he threatened her!
“Bhai..!” Aakash had entered his cabin. “I saw you in the market, Damn it!” he shouted and both Aakash and Khushi shuddered.
“He saw me in the market? Did he see Aakash sir and Payal?” Khushi was scared.
“Khushi was in the market? Did she see me and Payal?” Aakash looked nervous!
“Who was she with, in the market. I saw them taking an auto!” thought Arnav angrily.
“Th.. that…I mean.!” Both Aakash and Khushi started of stuttering in fright and looked at each other shutting their mouths at once.
ASR glanced at both of them. Khushi crushed her dupatta nervously.
“I am asking you, Khushi!” He barked. Aakash took a sigh of relief temporarily.
“Woh.. I mean I wanted to buy some material for Jiji..!” she spoke and Aakash looked at her in surprise. She avoided his gaze and looked down.
“What was she doing? Following us?” Aakash thought suspiciously.
“Aakash…!” ASR started was cut off.
“You know, bhai, I had to collect some fabric samples..!” he said hurriedly and Khushi looked at him suspiciously!
“Samples? With Jiji?” her head spinning, she touched her head. ASR clenched his fists closing his eyes.
“ Aakash, I am asking you to keep the papers ready for the meeting, Damn It..!” he ordered and Aakash turned with a sigh of relief. Khushi gaped at him till he vanished in his cabin and turned to look at ASR.
He was staring at her. “who was she with?” his suspicion grew.
“How did you come?” he asked. “A.. Au… Auto!” she answered and his doubt confirmed.
“Who was with you?” he couldn’t stop questioning.
“Wh…What?” she again frantically searched her brains for some excuse.
“I saw you with someone, damn it!” he came on to her. She tried to go back in defense. Then thinking that offence is the best defense.. stood her ground.
“Haan Toh? So?” she asked him back to his astonishment. He saw defiance in her eyes and he came on to her like a lion on the pray! She was frightened looking at his eyes.
“Woh… Our family friend, Sham ji… wa…was with me!” she blurted the truth. His anger subsided, he took a step back. She was angry with herself for heeding to his pressure!
“If your interrogation is over, I want to go back to my work, Sir!” she retorted and he nodded.
She started descending muttering furiously.
“Samazta Kya Hai, Apanay Aap Ko? What does he think of himself? Do I have to give him a report of what I do outside office hours? This is my life! I can do anything I want, go with anyone I like!” she flared up in rage.
“Sunaa Maine!” he barked and she winced on her chair.
She put her hand in her bag. She had missed her breakfast and was extremely hungry! “I will die of hunger, if I don’t eat something..!” she muttered rummaging through her bag and looking around sheepishly.
“Arey Wah! Amrood? Wah Wah!” She was happy. She had stuffed a few guavas in her bag. She took out particularly a big one and looked at it with affection.
“Amrood ji! Aaj ki Bhookh Toh Aap Say Mit Jayegi! My hunger will be satisfied with you, Guava ji!” she smiled at the fresh semi ripe Guava! She wiped it with her dupatta and was about to dig her teeth!
“Kitani Baar Kahaa Hain.. Yahan Khana Mana Hai!” Guava jumped from her hand in fright. He caught it in flight and smirked. She got up struggling.
“S..Sorry Sir!” She took her bag to go to the canteen and he barked again…
“Kaam Chod Kar Khanaa Chahti Ho? Don’t you have any work? Want to go to the canteen?“
“N No!” She sat back on the chair guiltily. Her hungry tummy was growling. She looked up at him pleadingly. He was playing with the guava in his hand. Smirk had grown in contemptuous smile. Her mouth fell open when she saw him digging his teeth in the fresh ripe guava! He turned taking a big bite and she frowned angrily.
“Khadoos Class Teacher Kahi Kaa! Bacchonko Khanay Nahi Deta Aur Khud Khataa Hai..! Killjoy Class teacher! Doesn’t allow us to eat but enjoys our food! Stanley Ka Dabba wala teacher!” She strangled him in the air. She took out another one defiantly and without even cleaning it, dug her teeth in it sitting on her chair and chomping noisily!
********* ******* *********
Aakash was stealing glanced at his Jijaji. He wanted to know…!
“Aray, how was your Chandighar Trip?” Anjali asked at the dining table. Sham fumbled a bit and just nodded.
“Chandighar? You had been to Chandighar? But I saw you in the market this morning…!” Aakash couldn’t stop himself. Arnav looked up startled. Sham fumbled. He ran his fingers through his hair sending them back and started off weakly.
“Me? In the market? Oh Maybe, Saale saab, I I came in the morning and wanted to buy some stationery before I went to Court directly..!” Sham’s voice was unnecessarily high. Aakash nodded.
“Woh…. Sham ji…was with me..!” He remembered Khushi saying and looked at Sham suspiciously.
“You came in the morning? Why didn’t you call me?” Anjali slapped on his hand sulkily. He smiled at her saying “Raani Saheba.. Milanay Ka Jo Maza Hain, Woh Phone Pe Kahan? You know? The pleasure in meeting is much much better than talking over the phone!” he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. She smiled passionately. ASR lost interest in food remembering Khushi!”