Hello hello! It’s been a while, I know. And this one is so random that it doesn’t even qualify as the lame ‘comeback project’ of a has-been Bollywood actor.
Basically, Chutki, in this interview, challenged me to write an OS. Which I did (can also be found on page 3 of the same thread.) Then, it occurred to me that I should post it here too.
I must warn you in advance that this stays a One Shot. I’m terrible about keeping my word on sequels and follow-ups (or the lack thereof) but on this matter, I am Firm and Resolute.
“There is no way that’s going to fit in here!”
Khushi gave it a firm push, watching the folder slide into her bag, and shooting him a look that was equal parts triumph and scathing pity. Akash obviously didn’t understand the Mary Poppins-esque bottomless quality of a good, strong desi jhola– with intricate gota work on it, no less.
Akash mimed a slow clap, a look of mock wonder on his face.
“Enough messing around, guys. I am dying of hunger, okay, I need food right now.”
“Anjali, we literally just got breakfast two hours ago. How can you already be dying of hunger?”
“Yeah, well, thinking makes me hungry. My brain cells have already used up the food I ate before class.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” Akash said sporting a puzzled frown. “You can’t possibly have that many brain cells.”
Dodging a clumsy punch that Anjali aimed at him, he whipped over to the other side of the little huddle and neatly inserted himself between Khushi and Arnav.
Khushi sighed. So much for her careful manoeuvring. Drat this Akash!
Arnav, as usual, hadn’t said much– content to listen to the conversations flying around him with a smile.
“Listen, if we keep walking at this speed, we’re going to reach Jo’s tomorrow. I swear to god we’re a bunch of Cows. We can’t walk half a kilometre without stopping for some reason or other.”
Lavanya broke out of line and marched forward with a determined air. As the group followed with a half-hearted attempt to speed things up, Khushi noticed with a sinking heart that Arnav had moved ahead, his long strides effortlessly falling in line with Lavanya’s.
She couldn’t join them now– it would look desperate! She would have to run to catch up, thanks to her being half a foot shorter than Lavanya and a full foot shorter than Arnav. And then everyone would wonder why she was so eager to join the two of them. And then they might figure out how she felt about…
No. The possibility was too awful to consider. She would stay by Anjali where it was safe.
Tuning out of Anjali and Akash’s relentless bickering, Khushi tried her hardest to make out what Arnav and Lavanya were talking about. Lavanya said something that made him laugh. He shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck in that terribly endearing gesture.
Oh, get a grip, Khushi!
Slapping herself out of her own mental mooning, she fiercely suppressed a strange twinge of jealousy and regret.
What was she doing? What was even the point of this? Sure, Akash, Anjali, Arnav and Lavanya were nice people– but they weren’t her type. They thought nothing of bunking class to go catch a movie (because tickets were fifty rupees for the morning show.) They knew how to build a hookah. At least, Arnav, Akash and Lavanya did. They were competitive about PS3 video games. And they always knew what to order at any cafe they visited.
Yes, she had resigned herself to the fact that making friends in college would be difficult. But should it be this difficult? Was she trying too hard to fit in with the wrong group of people? Maybe she should try making friends with a few others.
It must say something about her compatibility with this set that they had all met each other on the first day of college and now, three weeks later, the other four were fast friends while she still felt a little on the fringes of things.
Of course, she knew why she was trying so hard. The reason was an unreasonably tall, grey-eyed football player who didn’t say much, but had a habit of listening as though you were saying something he’d waited all his life to hear, and flashed you the most adorable, shy smile when he greeted you every morning in college.
And the fact that her untamed lust overrode every other faculty, making her say yes to all kinds of awkward social situations just because he might be present, really made her hate herself sometimes.
They crowded around the counter at Jo’s, examining the menu mounted on the wall, debating the virtues of a chicken-cheese tikka frankie over the lures of a schezwan chicken frankie. Khushi wandered over to the refrigerator at the far end of the cafe, peering at the drinks on display. No way would she eat a messy frankie in his presence and risk onion-breath to boot. She could hold on for a couple of hours and eat lunch at home.
Reaching for a bottle, she made her way back to the counter where everyone else seemed to have finally made up their minds and placed an order.
“Khushi, what do you want?”
“Nothing. Just this. I’m not hungry yet.”
“Not hungry? How can you not be hungry? You barely ate breakfast! Are you on some kind of drastic diet? Because let me tell you, you’re really pretty and don’t need to do any of that.”
Khushi giggled at Anjali’s earnest reassurance. But she couldn’t help sneaking a glance at Arnav to gauge his reaction either. Of course, he wasn’t listening. Arnav was still engaged in conversation with Lavanya.
With a rueful shake of her head, she placed the bottle on the counter and dug for her wallet. “I’m not on a diet, Anjali. You know Ma always makes me eat breakfast before leaving the house. So I genuinely am not hungry.”
And the butterflies in my stomach make it impossible to eat around Arnav.
As Khushi waited for everyone’s food to arrive, her mood rapidly deteriorated. Maybe Arnav was interested in Lavanya. Maybe he texted her out of courtesy and not because he really wanted to. Maybe he thought befriending her would help him get with Lavanya– although there was no basis for him to think this. Maybe they were already dating and she just hadn’t figured it out.
As the little brown paper bags arrived with their frankies, the gang headed back out again.
Lost in her unpleasant thoughts, Khushi fell a little behind. Akash and Anjali were arguing yet again about where to sit and eat. Their incessant jibes at one another functioned as a soothing white noise while Khushi wallowed in her own unhappiness.
Maybe she was so unattractive, no one would ever fall for her and she would die a virgin! Maybe she’d have to have an arranged marriage with a nice man with a prematurely receding hairline. She instantly thought of Arnav’s thick, floppy hair that she had a sneaking suspicion would be soft to touch. Maybe–
“So what did you get?”
She started violently, nearly dribbling some of her chocolate milk down the front of her lemon yellow ganjee.
She had been so caught up in her brooding that she hadn’t realised that she was several yards behind everyone else, or that the very object of her dark and lecherous thoughts had come back to walk by her.
“Oh…um…the Double Chocolate Fantasy.”
That dangerous smile appeared again, crinkling the corners of his eyes, and a slight dimple appearing in his left cheek.
“Whoa! Double chocolate? That sounds intense. Are you sure you can handle that?”
Khushi grinned back. “I live life on the edge. Want a sip?”
“Nah, I’m good. But what does double chocolate taste like? How’s it different from regular chocolate?”
Khushi took another swig and stared thoughtfully at the bottle in her hand. “It tastes like…like…like regular chocolate, I guess.” She ended with a sheepish shrug.
Arnav chuckled, the dimple in his cheek deepening. Khushi’s heartbeat heightened a notch.
“I’ll tell you what it tastes like.” He came to a sudden halt. Khushi subconsciously mimicked him, raising an eyebrow in question. He wasn’t going to…
Reaching up, he lightly swiped a thumb at the corner of her mouth and fished a paper napkin out of the brown paper bag in his hand to wipe the little smear of chocolate milk.
“It tastes of marketing and advertising agency superlatives.” Winking at her slightly stunned expression, he resumed walking at a faster pace to catch up with everyone else. Khushi stood frozen for a millisecond before bouncing forward to join them.
The Cows were laughing about something, oblivious to what had transpired so close to them; the only lingering shadow of Arnav and Khushi’s conversation in the heightened colour of her cheeks and the imperceptible unsteadiness of his hand as he unwrapped his frankie.