In an alternate universe, Arnav is a renegade ragged-blue-jeans-white-shirt-leather-jacket-and-aviators wearing biker on a Royal Enfield with a past that haunts him and has turned him into a cynical and hard man. Khushi is an emotionally damaged young woman in faded denims and an over-sized plaid shirt who comes from the shadier strata of society and struggles with an unhealthy dependence on nicotine. The only time Arnav loses control is on his bike, addicted to the rush of adrenaline he gets from the speed. Khushi is all about chaos– living each day as though she really wanted it to be her last. Arnav doesn’t really believe in the goodness of people. Not anymore. Khushi just doesn’t care.
Until they meet one late afternoon, on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Khushi is walking deliberately on the narrow divider with her arms held out in a manner reminiscent of Titanic, her long hair fluttering loose behind her, oblivious to the speeding cars, trucks and buses on either side of the divider– when suddenly she misses a step and falls right onto the road. A bike comes to a screeching halt in front of her. She looks up into a pair of tawny eyes that are currently looking at her with a mixture of slight anger and a lot of disbelief.
“Do you have a death wish or do you merely fancy yourself as a damsel-in-distress, Rose?”
Khushi stands up in a strangely dignified manner for someone who has just fallen unceremoniously on her behind in the middle of the road and dusts herself off nonchalantly.
“Why? Fancy playing the knight-in-shining-armour, Jack?”
Arnav snorts. And then looks at her carefully. Right into her honey-coloured eyes.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you as the tragic romantic film buff you know, golden-eyes.”
Arnav snaps out of his semi-reverie. Damn. What had he been thinking about? He couldn’t for the life of him remember. He realizes rather lamely that he had been mesmerized by the girl’s eyes. They looked like pools of whiskey. No, brandy. Warming. Intoxicating. Guilty pleasure? Arnav had been sober for years. It would have been all too easy for him to get sucked into that annihilating vortex of alcohol and ruin.
“Like you wouldn’t believe, Juliet.”
It was Khushi’s turn to snort.
“Did you peg me as the kind that would swoon over the Bard?”
“No. I pegged you as the kind that would swoon over my bike. But the Bard never hurt, Vivienne.”
“Which would you rather have me call you, Clark Gable or Edward?”
“Considering I don’t do sparkling vampires or Prince Charming millionaires, and I would never be as disrespectful as to call you a prostitute no matter how pretty, I’d prefer Captain.”
“Hmm. You DO fit the image, what with the bike, leather jacket and chiseled face. I think the problem here is your nationality, Rogers.”
Arnav rolls his eyes.
“Do I look like a goody-two-shoes-war veteran to you, Elizabeth? I had really thought you more astute than that. I meant the OTHER Captain. The daredevil one that’s impossible to catch.”
“Tsk tsk, Darcy. Don’t you think Johnny Depp’s a bit of a stretch? Even for you?”
“Entertaining though this conversation is, I must point out that we’re still in the middle of a highway.”
“Are you offering me a ride?”
“Are you asking for one?”
“That depends on whether you and your bike go up in flames or not, when you become angry.”
“Nicolas Cage, Brutus? That was low.”
“I agree. That WAS low. And I apologize, Adonis.”
“Apology accepted, Venus. Now hop on.”
Khushi “hopped on”.
“That’s a nice name, Geet.”
“You never cease to amaze me, Aditya. Hindi as well?”
“Thank god. If you’d said Maan, I would have insisted you get off right now.”
“Never. I’m low, but not THAT low.”
“So now that you’ve gotten onto a complete stranger’s bike, where to, Persephone?”
“I don’t particularly care. Into the sunset. Erebus. Take your pick.”
Arnav’s chest rumbled with low laughter, as he sped off with Khushi’s petite form tucked into him from behind, feeling more at peace than he had in a decade.
Khushi sighed again as she felt his broad chest vibrate with laughter under her palms and she sensed an alien sensation of her chaotic world falling into order and being… almost… rooted… to this man she’d met 20 minutes ago.
For the time being, both were willing to savour the moment and let the past– as well as the future, go.
Memorable romances weren’t always restricted to fiction.