The cop at the chowk stares at me for the third time. I can clearly detect the first strains of irritation building up on his face. Of course I can't fault him for in fifteen minutes peak hours will start and my monstrous Contessa has to be moved before it becomes a major source of obstruction for the rest of the traffic. This routine of picking her up from office on the way back home has been going on for the past 7 months and never once has she been late. And today I've been been kept waiting for almost 7 minutes now. It has to be something really serious. I smile wearily at the cop who coldly replies by glancing disapprovingly at the wrist watch in his right hand. A sudden knock on the window makes me realise that she's finally made it. Letting her in and easing the car carefully back onto the road, I casually adjust the mirror to steal a hasty glance at the person besides me. Her eyes are moist and the makeup on her face, which she is always very particular about even at this late hour, is clearly wearing off. I know better than to ask what is troubling her for experience tells me that she will open up after sometime. In fact, I can even sense what the issue could be but I would rather wait for her to start it. The RJ is playing some fast dance number and I realise that this is probably not the right time for the radio to be playing. On second thoughts maybe Sinatra will calm her down. I coolly open the glove compartment, select our favorite CD and silently play it.
"I can't take this anymore. He's been keeping in touch with her all along despite those lofty promises that the past is history. (a slight pause) I dropped in at his cubicle after tea and he was on the phone chatting away."
"Maybe..." but before I can complete I am rudely cut short.
"No. I've had my suspicions about this before and today, I confronted him. He didn't deny anything but just thinks its no big deal. In fact he's been e-mailing her for a couple of months now."
"Have you..." only to be stopped again in mid-sentence.
"Of course I have. I have told him in no uncertain terms that he has to choose between me or her. I've warned him on more than a few occasions that the foundations of any relationship are based on complete honesty but he always says I over react to these things...Anyway its not that we don't have other problems.. In fact, I can't even see how we've managed to go through this one year together. I am always his girlfriend only when he's not busy making his career moves. I am always his girlfriend when weekend plans are to be made. He's never been around when I've felt really low - remember the time when Priyanka got that onsite posting ahead of me and I was so cross that you took me to your place and we watched My Best Friend's wedding together or that time when sis and I had that horrible fight and didn't speak for a month..."
"Well...." and the obvious happens yet again.
"Ayyo...why won't you just shut up and listen ? Why do I fell he is using me ? Why do I get the feeling that he is taking me for granted ? Why do I always feel ignored or neglected ? It wasn't always like this. We did have our great times. I am soo confused now. Do you think I should break up ? Help me nuh"
"Are you done ? Can I speak now ? "
"No No..Just answer me.. how long have we known each other ?"
"Four and a half years ?"
"So what are you driving at ?"
"I think in these 4 years I've really come to know you well. In fact wouldn't it be fair to say that no one understands you better than me ? To an extent the reverse is also true..I have never felt more comfortable with any other friend like I do with you. Whenever we've had any problems, we've never thought twice about asking the other for a second opinion, right ?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"The last few months you've turned to me on more than a few occasions when things haven't worked out well between you and him. I've always tried to tell you what is in your best interests but today as things stand, I don't think I'd be the best person to advice you. I know I've reminded you umpteen times that its very difficult finding that one person whom we can truly love and once we find, we should never let go. So I could ask you yet again to try and patch up with him."
I stop so that my words can sink in but I can clearly make out that she wants me to continue.
"On the other hand, we are both aware of the fact that he isn't ever gonna change and you'd have to again compromise and quite frankly, I think you deserve better. So the logical thing for me to advice would be to ask you to break up with him. But then why do I get the feeling that suddenly my own vested interests have begun to dominate my thoughts. Why am I scared that I would then be pushing you into a decision that you might regret later on in
life...Yeah..I don't think I should advice you either way...coz I feel very strongly for you myself..I know this is crazy but yeah, you mean way too much to me now for me to be objective about this whole damn thing..."
"OMIGAWD...Wait a sec...wait a sec...Are you telling me you love me ?"
"That was true even before.."
"No no.. Don't play with words...Lemme rephrase that.. Are you telling me that you are in love with me ?"
A stunned silence.
"How long have you felt this way ?"
"The last 6 months"
I am so relieved that the monkey is off my back that I am almost whistling the Sinatra number playing on the stereo. I can sense that she has still not recovered from my out-of-the-blue admission.
"Please don't let this upset you. I told you this only because I don't want to be burdened any more with the responsibility of having to advice you, esp on matters of the heart." (as an afterthought) "And come what may, we will always be pals, ok ? "
I know I need to say something to salvage the situation but words fail me. To compound my misery, I can't even think of a single wisecrack or smart line. By this time we have almost reached her apartment. There is this sudden awkwardness in the air as I slowly roll the car to a stop in front of her place. It looks to me as if we are at one of life's crossroads. Leaning across the seat, I open the door and smile at her. She avoids meeting me in the eye and walks briskly past her gate. I wait half anticipating her to 'palat' and bring this whole messy evening to an end. She hunts the key to her apartment from her purse, opens the door, lets herself in and silently closes it without even turning a head in my direction. I begin tosuspect that all is lost when my cell phone rings. I am totally confused when I see that its her on the line. I answer the phone.
"Can you pick me up tomorrow and drop me at office ?"
I try to see if I can catch her through the windows but the blinds are drawn.
...and before I could ask anything more, she hangs up.
It was always the evening trip back home. Now a morning drive ? Strange. And did I sense a warmth in her tone or am I just dreaming ? I've never been more confused in my life, not even when I watched Kabuliwalah as a child and didn't know if it was a happy or a sad ending ?