New Excerpt from Advantage Love:
When you wish too hard for things to happen, you end up greatly disappointed. But surrender to the Universe and it will give you pleasant surprises.
Trisha muttered a prayer and broke into a run. Oh God, please let me catch that train. She reached the gates of the Metro station and there was the last train, just leaving the platform. She looked at her watch: 11.10 p.m. She was a minute too late. She sat on a bench, panting, feeling defeated and thinking what to do next.
The station wore a deserted look, making her more anxious. She should never have taken such a late appointment here in Noida but work demanded that she travel for meetings and follow up with people. As a Communication for Development Specialist, after all, her job description said she ‘was responsible to lead the design, management, monitoring and evaluation of strategic communication for behaviour and community-led social change.’ She was very proud of that fact and she took her job seriously. And this meant she needed to coordinate with government officials, programme staff, and other Unicef partners most of the time. A partner had called her to his house to meet today. She had taken an extensive interview that lasted way longer than she expected. But she had been out to prove she was the best, and if she had to take public transport in late hours, so be it. After that cathartic chat with Juhi several weeks ago, Trisha had felt lighter and gone back to being her old self though she hadn’t met anyone new despite Juhi insisting that she go out on a date. She still wasn’t ready for that.
She rummaged through her handbag and found only fifty rupees. Clearly that wasn’t enough to get her home to Gurgaon. She admonished herself for this bad habit of carrying very little cash. A cab ride would cost her a bomb. Should she call Juhi for help? She was working the night desk at her paper and her office was in ITO. Should she call another friend? But she realized with a pang that she didn’t have too many friends she could call in the middle of the night. Where was the time to socialize anyway? Focus, Trisha, said a little voice inside her head. It’s late and you know how everyone says Noida is unsafe! What can you do? She tried to look around if there was an ATM anywhere so she could withdraw money before she caught a cab.
Just then she saw a striking man sitting on a bench a few feet away. He was dressed in wedding finery and looked like a model. He must be over six feet tall, had honey kissed skin, a lean body with a taut torso and biceps that protruded from his sherwani. His thick jet-black hair fell over his eyes and he was sitting forward with his elbows resting on his thighs. He looked up and straight at her with his piercing dark brown eyes. A gasp escaped her lips. He looked vaguely familiar but she was unable to place him. And he seemed quite out of place at a metro station. Trisha looked the other way and started walking towards the station master’s office. It was closed. Damn people who leave early, she thought. She came out of the station and couldn’t find a cab or an auto in the dark streets. She suddenly realized that the man had followed her. She started getting nervous. She looked in her purse for some pepper spray but could only find kajal, some chewing gum, and a hairbrush. Seriously Trisha, her inner voice said, do you not think before you leave the house? It’s Noida, for God’s sake!
‘Are you looking for a cab?’ The man asked, walking towards her. He had a refined voice that spoke of a cultured upbringing. He checked his watch and she noticed it was an Omega.
‘What’s it to you?’ Trisha snapped.
The man smiled as he put his hands in his pockets, probably to give Trisha a signal that he wasn’t going to attack her. He kept a gentler tone coming closer. ‘Well there are a couple of cabs across the road. I doubt if the lazy buggers will go, though.’
‘What?!’ Trisha was aghast. ‘Why?’
She saw that he was clean-shaven and had a very easy-going demeanour. His accent said he could be South Indian but Trisha couldn’t be sure.
The man looked across the road at the cab drivers. ‘Because they’re all drinking. I think they’re having a party and don’t want to break it up. It could be unsafe if you insisted that one of them take you.’ His dark eyes flashed a gentle but firm warning.
Trisha held back a great sob and sat down on the nearest bench. The man stood a little distance away. His appreciative eye travelled from her sandals to her soft peach salwar kameez and the hint of the collar bone that stood out behind the white chiffon dupatta.
‘If you like, I can drop you to the next cab stand.’
Trisha panicked. She was ready to burst into tears though she tried not to show it before this stranger, who happened to be gorgeous, by the way. She didn’t know if she should get into a car with him or take her chances sitting at a station. And what would people say? Juhi would be furious. She rummaged through her purse and found her mobile phone. The man was still waiting outside his car to figure out if she would be ok. He was fumbling with his phone as well. She saw that her phone had died. Today was just not her day. She had no option but to ask him, even at the risk of appearing ridiculous.
‘Um... Excuse me... Can I borrow your phone? Mine has died.’
He suppressed a laugh while he gave her his phone. ‘It’s not safe to be out so late and have a dead phone. This is Noida!’ He had an indefinable feeling of rightness.
‘Yes I’m aware of that. Thank you.’ I’m not stupid. She called Juhi but she didn’t pick up. She then sent her a message, looking up while typing, ‘What’s your name?’ He answered politely, ‘Abhimanyu.’ She composed her SMS telling Juhi that it was Abhimanyu’s phone and she was taking a ride with him. After the message was delivered, she deleted it from the sent message box. If Abhimanyu knew what she was doing, he didn’t show it. The she gave the phone back to him.
‘Can I take you up on that offer please? Just drop me to the next cab available, the one without a drunk driver, preferably.’
‘You’re not scared of me anymore?’
‘I have pepper spray in case you try anything funny.’
‘You’re not supposed to tell people you have pepper spray, silly! It defeats the purpose!’ He laughed. ‘Okay, get in. I’ll drop you to a cab.’
The huskiness lingered in his tone and made Trisha instantly attracted to this stunning, confident stranger.
They got into his Honda City before Trisha asked, ‘So did you also miss the last train?’
‘Actually, yes. I was in such deep thought that I didn’t realize where the time went!’
‘Thinking about what?’
He grinned. ‘I was running away from my wedding.’
Her eyes widened.
‘I hate weddings,’ he continued. ‘Marriage. It just kills the romance, you know? Two people who really love each other and then bloody families get involved and they are no longer just two people. They’re several people who are supposed to love each other then. Kills it.’
‘But why were you taking the metro if you had a car?’
‘I see you’re quite logical! Well I hadn’t thought the entire thing through. I thought I would take the metro to the airport and then just zoom off from there.’ With his right hand he mimed an aeroplane taking flight.
‘Yeah, I’ve run away from my wedding once, too.’
‘No, you loser!’ she laughed. ‘Who runs away from their own wedding?’ She suddenly felt as if her dormant wits had awoken.
They both laughed heartily. ‘Why did you offer to drop me?’ Trisha asked.
‘It’s just the right thing to do. You don’t leave a woman alone anywhere. I have offered all sorts of strange women a lift in my car!’
It was Abhimanyu’s turn to laugh as he looked at Trisha’s shocked expression. He had pulled her leg. She laughed as well, feeling her defences beginning to subside.
‘Where do you stay?’ he asked.
‘Right, you mentioned that earlier. And you were trying to catch the last train? That’s pretty smart of you.’
Trisha didn’t mind the sarcasm at all, feeling at ease with this stranger. ‘People travel for work, you know. Or do you not travel at all?’
‘Oh, yeah, I travel. I travel a lot!’
They drove and continued chatting, and they both completely forgot about their arrangement for him to drop her off where she can hail a cab. He followed the road to Gurgaon and insisted that it was late and he needed to take her home for his own sense of certainty. This made her feel warm and fuzzy but she didn’t show it.
As the reflected light from the passing cars glimmered over his handsome face like beams of icy radiance, she stole glances at him, carefully noticing how he held his head high, how his profile was masculine, strong, and rigid. Trisha was shocked to find herself drawn to him in a way she had never been with anyone—not even Vedant. It was a warm camaraderie that she liked. With Vedant she had felt some kind of animosity on the debating stage, and it was only later in the infirmary when she realized he could be a fine chap and began feeling at ease with him.
It was a long drive from Noida to Gurgaon. Abhimanyu and Trisha talked about weddings, families, living in Noida versus living in Gurgaon, the places they’ve travelled to. So many things except work. There didn’t seem to be enough time and soon they reached Trisha’s house. As she prepared to get off the car she silently admonished herself for having revealed so much to a complete stranger. Am I so naive? Even though she knew she was intelligent, she sometimes felt like a fool in the ways of the world. Her father had often warned her against trusting others blindly but she believed in the innate goodness of humanity and never felt threatened by people. It would only be later, of course, when she would realize that she had been hurt.
‘So can I take you out for coffee sometime?’ Abhimanyu asked.
‘But didn’t you just buy me coffee?’ She joked.‘Okay then!’ He rode along. ‘Tea maybe?’
‘I’m not sure but I might be busy this week.’ Trisha thought it best not to say yes. She was reminded of a warning from a friend in Lucknow: ‘Don’t be a loose girl. If men think you’re fast and easy, they’ll take advantage of you.’
Abhimanyu nodded. ‘Well, it was nice meeting you, Trisha. Take care.’ And he zoomed off.
When you've tackled your inner demons and let them go, they will not look back to find you. Because it doesn't happen in a second. It takes a lifetime. And Trisha hadn’t let go of her fears of a new relationship just yet. Abhimanyu was quite good-looking though, she thought as she entered the house. A shame she would never see him again.
She entered the apartment and found Juhi fast asleep. Great. So much for my scheme of being safe. If something had indeed gone wrong, Juhi would have not known until the next morning when she woke up! She prepared to go to bed, already thinking of the explanation she would give Juhi about her unexpected night.
But another unexpected surprise greeted her in the morning: Abhimanyu’s face in the newspaper.
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