He held to the chewed pencil in his fingers, while he went through the designs once more. The deadline for submission was tomorrow and he always liked to be thorough before he handed over his work. His phone rang, it was a video call from his friend. He looked at the watch on his desk instead of his phone out of habit. It was 1:11 am, why would he be calling so late? He swore loudly and picked up the phone.
“Hey, you took ages to answer the phone, why?” Shobhit asked irritated.
“I was working, ok.” He was a bit annoyed. He need not explain his actions. He could see Shobhit was on the road alongside his car. He saw a woman’s hand poking out of the passenger car window.
“What’s up?” he asked equally irritated by his friend.
“Bhai, my car died. I think it’s the battery. I got in touch with the on-road assistance but they can only come by 3 to 4 hours.” He explained.
“Where are you? Are there no garages nearby?” he asked. Shobhit moved away from the car a bit.
“I am on Mumbai Pune expressway, returning from a date. I can’t leave her alone in the car. I thought you were the closest. She needs to get home by tonight.” Shobhit almost begged.
“Its past midnight Shobhit, you are returning from a date and she has to get home by tonight?” he summarized the incredulous situation.
Shobhit smiled, he always knew Jeevan understood him best as compared to other friends. “Yes Bhai, please come soon to rescue me. I have made this impression on this girl and I don’t want to spoil it.”
“Send me your location and Shobhit I don’t think the impression can be more spoilt.” He said now completely disgusted by his friend. He looked at the designs once more, they would have to do for now.
He wore his jeans and silently looked at his wife sleeping soundly. He felt lucky to have found her just after his mother had passed away. He was really disturbed after his mother’s freak accident. It was a hit and run case. The police had been useless and could not find the culprit. He got in touch with all the people who had witnessed the accident but no one could remember anything apart from the fact that it was a red Honda. They could not even answer if the driver was a male or female. The vehicle was in speed, almost like 100 per km. He ran a campaign on social media, it got some wind and died down after a few weeks. He joined a page on hit and run victims. That’s when he met her, she had reached out to him.
He drove to the location and found Shobhit’ s car. Shobhit came out and hugged him, “Thanks Bhai. You are a savior.”
“Enough baba! Let’s get going, I have an important meeting tomorrow morning.” He said. He wanted this to be over as soon as possible. He looked at his watch, it was 2 am. When he looked up he saw her, she was beautiful in a strange way. She reminded him of someone and he could not figure out who? Shobhit stood by her side, “Meisha, he is Jeevan our God sent savior tonight.” He laughed and it sounded fake. Meisha extended her hand and winked. Jeevan shook her hand, her grip was strong. She was no delicate woman. Again it struck him the similarity to someone he knew.
“Thank you, Jeevan” her voice was velvety and she smiled. He nodded wordlessly and smiled at them.
“Meisha, just give us a moment. I need to discuss something with him.” Shobhit said and took Jeevan aside. He kept his eyes on her, she tilted her head to the side and watched them.
“She lives in Parel; will you please drop her?” Shobhit pleaded by joining his hands.
He dismissed Shobhit’s hand, “Listen, I will get you guys a cab from near my house. You can drop her and regain your impression.” He laughed dryly.
“The road assistance team will be here in an hour. I can’t leave the car, it’s my dad’s. It’s too late Bhai and I don’t trust the cabs. Look at her.” They both looked at her and she raised her eyebrows. He knew Shobhit was right, in her crop top and skinny jeans, she was a treat to any eyes. He just did not want to drive so far, he needed some much-needed shut-eye before the meeting tomorrow. He was not going to give up. He suggested radio cabs that can be tracked, but Shobhit refused and finally confessed, “I told her you will drop her.”
“You did WHAT?” he literally screamed at Shobhit.
“Shhh, Bhai, please. Just this once, please.” He whispered, “I owe you one.”
He did not want to look at Shobhit anymore. He turned to her and asked her to get into his car. He quickly got in and glared at Shobhit.
“Not one but lots.” He said before leaving Shobhit and his car by the side of the road. Meisha waved at Shobhit seductively and blew him a kiss. Shobhit caught it and touched his heart. He shook his head in disbelief and continued driving. He did not intend to delve into conversation with her. He was not in the mood. But he had the inkling that was not possible.
“I am sorry.” She said as she turned in her seat to look at him. He glanced at her, she had pulled her long hair over her one shoulder. She batted her eyes and pouted her lips.
“What for?” he asked. He knew well what she meant with her gestures.
“I know, you did not want to drive so far to drop me.” She tilted her head to one side and stared at him.
“That’s okay.” He replied.
“You are a man of few words. Isn’t it?” she laughed. It had a quality of witch’s laugh, he shuddered. He ignored her and hoped she would get the cue.
He stopped at the petrol pump to fill the gas. He checked his phone while they waited behind another car in the queue. He saw several messages from Shobhit, thanking him profusely, asking to call him once he dropped her and then update of what he was doing. He quickly typed a message to his wife explaining where he was and she should not worry. The car ahead had moved and it was their turn to fill the gas. They headed out and he did not intend to stop till he dropped her. He saw the car ahead of them had stopped outside the petrol pump and were lighting a smoke. He stopped his car and roll down the window on her side.
“Hey...” he said and tried to get their attention. There were four men inside the car and all of them were laughing at something. They stopped and looked at him curiously and then appreciatively at Meisha. “Don’t smoke near a petrol pump.” He commanded.
“Who are you, brother? Cop or something?” one of them sneered. The other one said, “No boss, he is showing off in front of the girl.” Their car was blasting some cheap music and had ripped upholstery. I rolled up the window on her side. One of them catcalled, “Come with us darling you will have more fun with us instead of that stuck up.” He was surprised when she laughed at that crude comment.
He drove on furious at himself to have stopped to warn those idiots. He again glanced at her and found her staring at him. “Why did you laugh?” he asked.
“They were outrageous. I liked it.” She said and laughed slightly.
“You liked it?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes, their lewd comments excited me.” She winked at him. He gave her a once-over and thought what kind of woman was she? What was Shobhit doing with her?
“Don’t judge me. I can see you doing that.” She seemed a bit annoyed. He did not say anything; it was best to keep his thoughts to himself. “All this becomes material for me.” She explained, “I do an open mic and these real-life incidents are useful.”
“Is that what you do?” he asked and tried his best not to sound judgmental.
“Yes, sometimes standup comedy or stories on an open mic.” She said, “You should come to one, you would loosen up a little.”
He overlooked her comment and said, “You could make a living doing that kind of thing I suppose. I would have never thought about it.”
Then he saw in his rearview mirror that the same car was chasing them. He swore loudly. They had come really close to their car. Meisha shrieked and clapped her hands. He did not have time to react to her absurd behavior. He raced the car at the maximum he could go. They followed and tailed their car. He kept going fast, he kept swearing and glanced at her to check if she was wearing her seat belt. She was. But her eyes were wide with excitement and a strange smile played on her face. They rounded about and came towards the side of their car. He thought if pulled the break suddenly, they would get ahead. One of the men in the car jeered and others cheered him. He stepped on the brake hard and their car swiveled into a roll before it came to a stop. Thankfully there was no other car behind them. The other car stopped way ahead and looked at them. Then they left. He sighed in relief and stepped out to check at the tires. He saw Meisha get down, he handed over her a bottle of water. She accepted it and drank. They quickly got back in and he drove again.
“That was an adrenaline rush. This night has become a very interesting one.” Meisha squealed.
“Seriously? We could have been in a really bad accident.” He said in disgust.
“Don’t you enjoy this rush? I have been in accidents before, in fact, my family has a history of car accidents.” She joked.
“You are lucky you have not been in a fatal one yet.” He said sarcastically. “What kind of accidents?” he was curious about her.
She again batted her eyes at him and he again sensed a strong resemblance to someone he knew. She sat cozily in her seat, “My father gifted me a car on my nineteenth birthday, he always loved me more than my elder sister and spoiled me right.”
“Right.” he agreed with her. She frowned at him.
“I barely passed my driving tests. He bribed the authorities and I got my driving license.” She laughed and he was reminded of the devil once again. “I often joke about this in my open mics.” She said proudly.
“I treated my car badly, often met with small accidents. Nothing harmful.” She said.
“Are you sure?” He could not help himself. He immediately remembered his mother’s death. His eyes felt like the calm before the storm. His quiet question took her by surprise.
“Yes, I am sure. These accidents only harmed my car and me mostly.” She said defensively. She directed him to the road he need to take to reach her home.
“Do you still treat your car badly?” he tried to change the topic.
“No not after…” she stopped in mid-sentence. “I usually take radio cabs. Please take a right from here”
“What happened to your car?” he asked.
“It remains parked on the street for the last three years, gathering dust.” She joked again.
“That is called treating your car badly.” He concluded.
“Hahaha yes, especially when it’s a Honda Civic.” She laughed.
He looked at her strangely as soon as he heard she owned a Honda. It was also three years since his mother had passed away. He shrugged, he was just assuming now the coincidence. They stopped next to an old building. They got down.
“There.” She pointed to a car. The car had a sheet of dust all over it but he could make out it was red color under the street lamp. His heart jumped a beat and eyes broadened in surprise. He wanted to clear his head of this nagging doubt, he asked her, “Why you don’t drive it anymore?”
“Why don’t you come up for a coffee and I will tell you why?” she smiled coyly.
This gnawing doubt almost made him say yes. He thought about his impending meeting and decided against it.
“No, it’s late and I have a long way home.” He refused.
She shrugged and turned to take her bag from the car. Its handle got stuck and as she pulled at it, the contents spilled out on the road. He swore and quickly bent down to retrieve them. She struggled to unhook her bag. He found her wallet spread wide open. He did not mean to snoop but her name stood out in his mind, especially that of her father. Then he realized to whom she resembled. He kept staring at her wallet. She quickly put all her stuff back into her bag.
“I know I don’t look anything like my picture in the license.” She joked. He handed over her wallet to her.
“I did not mean to stare at it.” He was embarrassed but he had to clear his doubts. “Your father is Ashok Bhatia, the businessman who owns a bearing company in town?” he asked.
“Yes, do you know him?” she looked at him surprised. Then he took her up on the coffee offer.
She looked at him sleeping. She had read the message he had sent her. She had heard him enter in the early morning. But if she did not wake him up, he would get late to work. She blew on his temple softly. The moment was broken with Shanta, their maid washing vessels loudly. He woke up and looked at her strangely. Without a word to her, he got ready for work. She sensed a turmoil inside of him.
“What is wrong?” she asked as she held him lovingly.
“Have you ever been truthful to me?” he asked her, a harsh whisper. She took a few steps back when she heard the resentment in his voice.
“Wha …What do you mean?” she stammered.
“Does Meisha Bhatia, the name strike something?” he asked her mockingly.
She turned white and sat down. “How do you know her?” she asked him.
“Darling, I met her yesterday, and what a character she is? She told me everything but I want to know the truth from you.” He said sweetly and then in an unleashed anger he said, “Now!”
She shuddered visibly as if he slapped her, “She is my sister, Jee …Jeevan. We disowned her after…”
“After what?” he screamed at her. “Are you spinning more lies, darling?” he sneered.
“Jeevan, please listen to me.” She pleaded. He grunted. “She was a spoilt brat, extremely careless and her constant accidents got dangerous. Father gave her a last warning, he was tired paying for every accident and failure. She stopped using the car but she did not inform anyone that the car break had malfunctioned. She was still asleep in her room. I was getting late for an interview and decided to take her car at the last moment. I was speeding to reach on time. I saw her crossing the street slowly and I was alarmed when I stepped on break, the car kept going at the same speed. I kept pumping at the breaks but then I had collided into her and she fell. My car wouldn’t stop, I wanted to help her and I panicked. I called my father and he asked me to pull the gear to the lowest and pull at the hand brake. Finally, after a huge distance from the accident my car stopped. I contemplated returning to the spot but I was too scared. I managed to reach home. My father was waiting for me, he was worried. He asked me if the person I hit was okay? I said I don’t know. He took me to the spot and we overheard some people discussing that the old lady passed away on the way to the hospital. I was devastated. I had killed a person.” Tears streamed her face. He was silent, his eyes were a dark pool of storm.
“That day my father disowned Meisha. He discouraged me from going to the police. Then I saw your post trending on social media. I knew who you were. I reached out to you, so I could help you in any way I could. I never expected to fall in love with you Jeevan. I wanted redemption but instead, I found love. I am really sorry; I could never bring myself to tell you everything. I knew I would lose you. We never invited Meisha to our wedding, my father said she did not belong to our family anymore. I have not met her after that day. I never wanted to lie to you. Please Jeevan, say something.” She was knelt down in front of him, tears streamed constantly.
“There is nothing left to say Srisha. Please do me a favor.” He struggled to say the next words. All the time they spent together flashed before his eyes. Then he remembered his mother bloodied from the accident. He swore softly just the way he did when he saw his mother dead, “Please leave when I return home I don’t want to see you or anything that belonged to you.” He picked up his designs and left his home.