City Lights

A story by ISHANI MALHOTRA LAHKAR

It has been raining for almost 17 long hours now. And if Met office reports are to be believed, torrential downpour is expected in the next forty eight hours. Well, strangely infact it was always the opposite that happen whatever the Met office detected.

Shalini had always loved the rains. Right from her childhood, rains meant waterlogging in her school grounds and a reason to bunk the class. She had floated many paperboats in stream of muddy waters during the monsoons. The thunderstorms alone gave her goosebumps. Shalini had spent numerous wet rainy afternoons gazing out of her classroom window while her geography teacher taught necessary map pointings (unnecessary to her though) to the entire class. Like any other Kolkatan, she sweared by the downpour. There was something awesomely romantic about it, she always felt.

It has been a beautiful rainy day; the day Shalini and Sahil spoke for the first time over phone. She was 21, smart and a very childlike girl, brimming with energy to take over the world. Kolkata had no dearth of beauties and Shalini proved it to every ounce. After completeing her Mass Communication degree, she went on to work as a correspondent in a leading English daily. Meeting Sahil has been a very out of the blue experience in her life.

Sahil had seen Shalini in a photograph of a common friend Rishabh, and had been bugging him since then for Shalini’s phone number. But that was ten years back. Time had jet set itself and flown away.

“Maa, can I play now? I am done with my today’s homework.”  Quip Aryan, Shalini and Sahil’s five year old son. “Yes honey, ofcourse you canbut before that you need to finish your glass of milk first.” Shalini says, quickly gathering heself and coming back from her past to her present world. Unlike other kids Aryan was fond of milk and in a matter of few seconds he finished his warm glass of milk that was kept on the side table of the couch where Shalini sat.

“Bottoms up maa,” said Aryan showing the now empty glass of milk to his mother. ”Can I nowgo and play in my room?” Shalini gives a tight hug and a beautiful smile to Aryan before he could zoom off to his room.

From her school days itself Shalini had always been complimented on her smile and figure. Every guy who knew her wanted to date her and each girl knowing Sahalini wanted to be amongst her closest of friends. Well, some girls were jealous too. The world thought she was a complete package of good looks, intelligence, humour and friendliness. And those who thought so weren’t at all wrong. With the capability of burning down a few dozen hearts, she was a fire cracker.

Sahil was already waiting in the coffeeshop when Shalini had gone to meet him for the first time. Theirs was a blind date. Sahil texted and called Shalini after he had managed her phone number after much coaxing from Rishab. And after speaking for more than a week over the phone, they decided to meet up.

 Sahil had made to the date straightway from office and was in his formals. He had apealed to Shalini as an average looking guy with a good height, clean hair-cut with a side parting and fair complexion. She had looked into his deep bloodshot eyes and had thought he must be on drugs. It was only after a couple of dates later that Shalini discovered those red bloodshot eyes were the result of riding bike on the dusty roads. Occupying a corner table, they ordered coffee and sandwiches and spoke of friends, family, dreams and the beautiful city of Kolkata.

“So what to do like to do in your free time?’ Sahil asked her.

“I love to write. Stories, poems, quotes. It is a way of expressing myself.” Shalini said.

‘Oh that’s great. And how many of them have you written till now?”

“Not much but not less either. And when I’m not writing, I love to read. Mostly fiction. And I have a good collection of books.” Shalini replied.

“Wow! Now that’s impressive. But I’m poles apart from creative reading and writing. All I write are excel sheets and read are strategic plans to develop business.” Sahil said laughing out loud.

Shalini looked at him irritatingly but ignored what he said. Instead she asked him, “So what all places have you seen in Kolkata?”

“Nothing much except Victoria Memorial.  Had been to that place only last week with a collegue and his girlfriend. Must say that place is a nest for all love birds.” He said winking his eyes.

Sahil, a native of Delhi worked in a painting solutions company and had been posted in Kolkata just a few months back. So basically he was new to the city with hardly any friends around and Shalini being born and raised up in the city itself pointed some hangouts that she said should be on his must-visit list. Shalini’s watch showed eight p.m and she was already getting late for home. So they decided to leave and after clearing the bill, they make their way out of  the coffe shop and headed towards the parking lot. It was raining outside. Probably, the first rains of the year, thought Shalini.

“Can I drop you home?” asked Sahil. But Shalini wasn’t sure because she didn’t like what she saw. If she was to take a lift from him, she had to sit on a very old and trashy looking black Yamaha bike and plus it was raining.

”Umm no thanks I wil manage, I wil get an auto. You know my house is not that far from here”. Shalini replied and prayed that Sahil doesn’t compel her more to take a lift from him. But her prayers went unansweredbecause he did compel her.

“Yes that’s exactly what I am trying to tell you. Your home is not far and hence no point in taking an auto. I wil drop you. Come on, now hop on and you told me that you really like getting drenched in the rains. So here’s your oppurtunity.” smiled Sahil.

Before she could think much Sahil kick-started the bike and cocked his eyebrows giving her a questioning look. Soon Shalini found herself sitting behind him on that trashy two-wheeler holding him tight by his waist. Leaving a wisp of smoke behind them, they vroomed off amidst the first rains of the year.

Shalini was distracted from her thoughts by the loud beeping of her cell phone. She picked it up and saw it was a reminder alarm showing the birthday of Manisha, an old friend back from her school. It was eight p.m at the cell phone’s digital clock. Sahil wil be late tonight, she knew. Still sitting on her couch, Shalini quickly completed wishing birthday to her friend over the phone and promised her that she will be making plans to meet her and the school gang soon. She got up and went on to the balcony. Dark clouds pretty much gathered in the sky, she  noticed and there was no sign of the rains stoping. Her new home’s balcony was the most relaxed corner of the flat. Shalini and Sahil had beautifully decked it up with three bar stools, a bar table, green plants in designer pots and completing the decor with a plush swing. She spent hours huddled in that corner reading a book at times, or listening to Pink Flyod or with a mug of coffee looking blankly out of her fifth floor apartment.

It was Friday night and Shalini knew her husband would be late for home. Since a few months Friday nights were meant for his so called extended office hours and dinners with clients. But she exactly knew where and with whom Sahil’s Friday late evenings were spent. There used to be a time when Shalini and Sahil had spent the entire weekend wrapped around each other with bottles of wine and candles around. They had made love atleast four times a day. But now Shalini wished Fridays and the weekend would pass off quickly. As she kept on thinking so much the door bell rang. Who it can be, thought she.

Sahil? But how, it was after all a Friday evening.

But what Shalini saw opening the door took her breath away. Sahil stood at the door. His hair and clothes a little wet, prabably from the rains outside. Her heart beamed like that of a kid. She was very happy to see him so early back home on a romantic rainy Friday evening. ”You! You back so early? Is everything alright?”  Asked Shalini as he walked in. “Yes! Everything’s just fine. I was somewhat tired, so decided to skip the office meeting tonight.” He lied.

As she brought in two mugs of coffee, Sahil quickly took his shower, changed into his night wear and started replying to the text messages smilingly on his cell phone. Shalini knew it was Priya on the other end texting back her husband.

She had come to know about Sahil and Priya’s affair a couple of  years back and after much crying for days, that extended into months, Shalini finally confronted Sahil. He had addmitted to their affair but had even said that it was a mistake and promised her that he would cut off all ties with Priya. But Sahil had broken his promise a few months back and once more rolled on his affair with Priya. He kept his Friday evenings reserved for her, meeting her at her place where she stayed all by herself, making love to her and finally calling it a  night with a cosy dinner. Sadly Shalini knew it all. She had wanted to talk about it with her husband whom she loved very much but never had the heart to do so.

But what Shalini did not know was that, it was the third cosecutive Friday when Sahil had to drop his plans of meeting Priya. The first friday was missed when the Vice President of his company visited and Sahil was tied up with him till late into the night discussing the company’s quarterly target. It was almost one in the morning when he finished his work and headed directly back home instead of Priya’s. Priya had made plans for the weekend earlier with her friends to visit Mandarmani, a beautiful beach on the outskirts of Calutta and hence could not meet Sahil either on Saturday or Sunday.

Suddenly Shalini came up with an idea that she has been toying with for sometime, “Can we go to Darjeeling the next weekend?  We haven’t been there together. It’s the Foundation Day of Aryan’s school next Friday and the primary section has been given a holiday. So we have an extra day in our hand. After watching the film Barfi he had been too eager to go to Darjeeling.” She wanted a ‘yes’ nod from Sahil. But he was yet to answer.

Last Friday too Sahil was unable to meet Priya. He had to be in Sikkim for official purpose and just on Friday when he was all about to reach Calcutta, the flight got delayed from Bagdogra due to heavy rains and landslides. When he finally landed back in Calcutta it was past midnight and he was so tired that he thought going back home was a far more a better option. Needless to say Priya was miffed. It’s been now more than fifteen days they have not met, not made love. Priya was probably starting to understand that this relationship is not going to work, it was never meant to be and hence she was in search of greener pastures.

Sahil called Priya the next day and kept on convincing her that it was just a flight delay and they should catch up the very day.

“Sahil I have already made plans with Pooja for movie today and on Sunday I have an appointment at the spa. Cannot miss either of them, baby. You very well know that on weekdays office is so hectic that it’s impossible to accommodate anything else.” Priya responded to Sahil over the phone.

“Sweetheart I know it’s my mistake but can’t you re-arrange your schedule.  I can make it up with planting kisses wherever you want on your sexy body.” Sahil flrtily said pleading Priya to meet up.

“Sahil, you making me blush now. However much I want it, sweetheart the plans that I’ve made for today and tomorrow cannot be cancelled. It’s been due for long now. Never mind; next Friday is just six days away. I am going to see you soon my love. I have to hang up now otherwise we will run late for the movie.”

Priya said and quickly hanged up.

Sahil somewhere deep down his heart felt guilty about cheating on his wife. It wasn’t fair to Shalini or to Priya. They both deserved better and there was no point in dragging it on. And now when it’s almost three weeks of not seeing Priya, Sahil realised the urge to meet up with her has minimalised and he is not missing her as much as he thought he would miss.

Sahil had called Priya yesterday to fix the timing of their Friday meet. But Priya had said her brother’s friend, Vicky is in town for the weekend and she had to accompany him for a tour around the city. Sahil didn’t askher to cancel her plans. He remembered that Priya has on a couple of occassions mentioned about Vicky and the fact that he has proposed to Priya. Maybe this time around Priya was considering the proposal.

“If you are planning to take a drink now I can quickly prepare your favourite garlic prawns. I had brought some frozen food from the supermarket two days back.” Said Shalini.

“Yes, I think I need a stiff drink and the prawns too.” Sahil looked at Shalini. He realised he had not taken a good, close look at his pretty wife in a long while now. She was ravishing with her perfectly toned figure and good looks. But tonight the happiness that glowed on her face seeing her husband back home on a Friday evening made her look even more beautiful. He hadn’t touched her in a long time now. Sahil felt the urge rushing through his body to touch Shalini, to love her and make up for all the lost times. He remembered how once he would give up anything to be with her. It was time and the unavoidable circumstances of life that has taken a toll on Sahil and Shalini’s relationship. He realised it and this time he made up his mind to mend his ways.

Sahil poured his ‘on the rocks’ and Shalini finished up feeding dinner to Aryan and putting him to bed. Aryan fell asleep fast.

They had a quiet dinner soonafter.

Shalini searched through the piles and wandered through the racks of her wardrobe until she found the short strappy baby pink satin nightwear that Sahil had gifted her a year back. Somewhere she felt that it will make him happy tonight, maybe more than that, to see her in that nighty.

Shalini took a quick shower like she did everynight, changed into the short strappy nightdress and as soon as she stepped out Sahil grabbed and pulled her towards him. She obliged.

He softly started kissing her whole mouth and graduated to her shoulders. She was as soft as butter and he kept sinking in her. He smoothly untied the laces of her nighty that kept itself tied from her shoulders. It dropped to the ground in no time. Watching her nude body, Sahil felt like kicking himself hard as for what he has been missing all this while.

He held and licked her earlobes with his lips and very slowly played downwards to her bosoms. Running his big, strong hands along the back of her sexy hips and calves, he carried her over to the bed.

Amidst the sound of the rains outside, Sahil and Shalini made love after a long time. They did not even bother to get back into their clothes. They lay like that and fell asleep holding each other till the first rays of the next morning sun penetrated through their window.
Shalini woke up, got into her overcoat and walked towards the balcony. She looked out. In a long time she has not seen such a fresh and a beautiful morning. The Met office was obviously wrong. The rains had stopped but the road down was still wet. She looked above the sky, the clouds were clearer and the gloomy air was nowhere in sight. A little gust of wind blew her hair over her face. She smiled and removed it and let the wet wind kiss her face. As if the wind was taking away all her pain with it and she felt unusually light. She closed her eyes and sinked into the glory of the new day.

She felt Sahil’s strong arms hugging her from behind.

“You need coffee, right?” She asked.

“I need you right now. But if you insist I can take that coffee offer too.” Sahil replied teasing her.

“You think you are too smart, Sahil. Just wait right here. I will get you the most fabulous coffee you have ever had in your life.”

As Shalini went to make her husband coffee, Sahil walked up to the study, picked up his laptop, went back and sat on the balcony stool. As the blue light of his internet flashed he browsed through some trip advising sites for Darjeeling. He kept checking the hotel tarriffs and flight fares when Shalini walked in with two tall mugs of coffee.

“Hey love, here’s that lip smacking coffee I was talking about”. Shalini passed on the mug to Sahil.

Still looking into his laptop screen, Sahil asked his wife, “Shalini, so you said next Friday Aryan has a holiday, right. I guess even I can manage a leave. So I am getting the flight and hotel reservations to Darjeeling for the coming Friday, alright?”

‘’Yeah, alright.’’. Smiled she.

Shalini looked up at the sky once more and before she realised tears slowly rolled down her cheeks. It was a new day, a new beginning.

Ishani Malhotra Lahkar

Ishani Malhotra Lahkar

Ishani Malhotra Lahkar hails from Guwahati. She can be reached at malhotra_ishani@yahoo.com (+91-9508444022/27)