|Dolls created by Jayashree Karthik|
On Monday morning, Chanda breezed into the office, her feet on wings. She could still not believe her luck. She had had such a wonderful weekend and she hugged the secret to herself. She did not want to mention anything to anyone as she worked for Ranveer. She did not want to become fodder to the office rumour mill. But her black eyes glowed with excitement. Only she was not aware of what was in store for her.
After a couple of hours, when Chanda went to the washroom, Shikha waylaid her. The latter had ensured that the rest of the female staff were busy in the canteen or at their desks. It was just the two of them.
“Hello Chanda!” came the saccharine sweet voice of Ranveer’s secretary. Chanda turned around to see Shikha standing in front of the wide mirror studying her own reflection. Chanda smiled naturally and replied, “Hello Shikha!”
“So, how was your weekend? You seem to be glowing.” Shikha managed to keep the anger out of her voice.
“It was good,” Chanda toned down her enthusiasm and spoke softly. She definitely did not want to share confidences with this woman, of all people.
“Oh, and what did you do?”
A small frown gathered on Chanda’s forehead. What right did Shikha have to question her like this? She did not like her tone of voice. She was not her friend, so why the inquisition?
“Oh, this and that, nothing special. And how was yours?” she asked, more out of politeness than any interest.
Shikha took the plunge. “Oh, I had a super time. Do ask me what I did, go on!”
Chanda stared at the older woman in wonder. Whatever was happening? Why did Shikha want Chanda to know what she had done during her weekend? What was she trying to establish? Chanda’s lips moved in the semblance of a smile that was forced. “So what did you do?”
“I had the time of my life. Ranveer and I…” Shikha gave Chanda a keen look when she heard the younger woman make a choking sound. Did she imagine it? She could not find any change in Chanda’s expression. Shikha decided to continue. “Ranveer and I had the time of our lives, you know. I’ll let you in on a secret.” Shikha’s voice became a dramatic whisper. “Our boss is sweet on me. He just could not keep away during the weekend. The other night, after I left for home, I was quite irritated. He called me on Sunday, insisted on coming home and took me out for lunch.” Shikha described Ram’s visit and made out as if it was Ranveer who had met her.
Chanda felt pity for Shikha. Obviously, Shikha had no clue that Ranveer had spent the Sunday with Chanda. Somehow, Chanda was not too surprised at the way the woman spun a yarn. She had seen her for what she was – an absolute humbug. She could only pity her.
Shikha got quite irritated when Chanda showed no reaction. She had expected the younger woman to appear shocked if not heartbroken. Why was she so stoic? Could it be that she was not bothered? Maybe Shikha had imagined that Chanda was interested in Ranveer. Shikha felt a sense of relief stealing over. She had finally arrived at the right conclusion or so she believed. Ranveer had tried to show some interest in Chanda, the girl had not returned the compliment and hence he had withdrawn.
Shikha smiled at her own logic and felt relieved. How she came about this conclusion was truly a mystery. That very morning she had got irritated with Ranveer’s cheerful mood. She had sat and pondered for more than an hour before she had concluded that even if Ranveer had taken Chanda home to his house on Saturday, she must have returned to her hostel first thing on Sunday morning. That’s when she had decided to spin Chanda a story to make sure that the girl believed that Ranveer was interested in Shikha and none else. She had liked Chanda’s indifferent reaction. The young lady was not interested in Ranveer, obviously. Shikha’s smile widened as she could now act benevolently towards Chanda as she did not see her as competition.
“So, little Chanda, do tell me. Do you’ve a boyfriend?” asked Shikha, pretending a friendship she did not feel.
Chanda could not control the frown that formed on her forehead. She gave Shikha a keen look before saying, “No, I don’t.”
“Tell me something. I’m sure you must be liking someone here at work. There’re some good looking young guys around. You know, close to your age.” She gave Chanda a sly look. “What about Parth? You do spend a lot of time with him seeing that he’s your supervisor. Would you like me to set him up with you?”
What? Chanda gave Shikha a disgusted look. What was she trying to do now? Chanda thought for a moment and finally reached the conclusion that Shikha probably wanted to ensure that Chanda left Ranveer alone. A tiny smile lifted the corners of Chanda’s lips. She hid it in a hurry. With a straight face Chanda said, “Actually Shikha, there are but a few months before my final exams. I’m not keen to tie myself down with any guy just now. So...” she shrugged, “thank you for being so helpful. But I’m sure you understand.”
Shikha nodded her head wisely, her permed locks bouncing around her face. “That’s my girl. You should take your studies seriously. All the best!” She smiled widely, only this time it was the most natural smile that Chanda had seen on her face.
A relieved Chanda managed to get out of the washroom in one piece. Whew! That had been close. She needed to be more careful not to visit the washroom alone.
AT ABOUT 6 PM, THE CHAT ICON POPPED UP ON CHANDA’S SCREEN. “Shall we play TT? That’s if you’re done for the day.”
Chanda wondered how they were going to get away with playing TT in the gym room with Shikha present in the office. But then, she was just Ranveer’s secretary and not Chanda’s keeper. The chat screen flickered again as Ranveer said, “Chanda!”
“Yeah, I’m done. So, let’s go.”
“See you at the gym in ten minutes.” The chat went off. He was obviously a man of few words.
Chanda packed her bag and went to the gym on the floor below. She had managed to find out the location during lunch. She kept her fingers crossed that she would not meet Shikha. She need not have worried. Shikha and games did not go hand in hand. Ranveer arrived there a couple of minutes later. There were a few others in the gym, playing games and using the two treadmills. The gym was large and quite classy. While it was enclosed completely with the heater turned on mildly, the long windows of plain glass gave a wonderful view of the garden below with a number of trees that reached up to the level of the fourth floor.
Ranveer placed his backpack next to Chanda’s bag on the long bench that was provided for that purpose. “So,” he said, “all set?” His brown eyes turned velvety with the smile that sent a glow to Chanda’s heart. Her answering smile was just as enthusiastic as she nodded, her ponytail bouncing at her nape. She had tied up her hair as she intended to play hard. Ranveer’s smile turned into a grin seeing the determined expression on her face. It seemed that Chanda never did anything in half measures – whether it was watching a movie, checking out the counters at Dilli Haat or playing a game of table tennis.
Ranveer wondered when and if she would pay him that kind of dedication.
The next couple of hours were the best in Ranveer’s life. Chanda was a quick learner and she kept him on his toes. He had enjoyed teaching her and now they were playing a tough game. She moved around like quicksilver and Ranveer almost drooled at her moves. The attraction he felt towards her was too powerful. He wondered whether she felt anything for him at all. A small sigh escaped him as he missed yet another serve that Chanda sent his way. He was obviously distracted.
Chanda looked at him in concern. Was he bored playing with a novice? She checked her watch to see that it was almost 8 pm. It was time she left. She looked at Ranveer and said, “I think it’s better I left, Ranveer. The curfew is 10 pm on weekdays.”
“Have dinner with me,” said Ranveer. He just did not have the heart to part with her.
Chanda nodded her head but insisted, “If you’ll let me buy the meal.”
Ranveer smiled at the innocent face in front of him. She was really a baby. He wondered whether she will ever notice the attraction he felt for her. He decided to let her get away with it this time round and said, “Okay, your treat.”
Chanda smiled as she excused herself to go into the washroom. She was sure that she would not be plagued with Shikha’s company just then.
But where was the woman? It was a wonder that she had not turned up as Ranveer had been here at the gym for quite a while. Chanda did not know that Ranveer had pretended to leave the office and had made sure that Shikha had left the premises before stepping into the gym. He was quite tuned into his secretary’s malicious nature and he did not want Chanda tainted by that.
Chanda had a quick wash and applied some light make up before stepping out. Ranveer was waiting for her and they left the building to go find dinner.