Even today, he caused my heart to stop for a second!
Ten years is a long time to remember how a lopsided grin instantly changed an otherwise serious face, how laughing eyes conveyed a lot more than words and how the first two shirt buttons carelessly kept unfastened revealing a hint of chest hair had an unnerving affect on me.
But ten years is not too long to forget the many nights I had cried myself to sleep, the many hours I had stared at the phone screen hoping to see it come aglow by his name once more and the times I had spent asking numerous agonizing questions to myself, without any answers.
As these thoughts raced in my mind, I kept a cool exterior and smiled warmly at the person standing before me.
“Prithwi, how are you? It’s good to meet after so many years – how many has it been – ten?”
“Oh yeah, ten long years! My goodness, Sree, you still look like… you still look the same!”
My belly did a break dance without any warning.
“So, what brings you to Dubai?” he asked, flopping down on the sofa near me.
Did I hear a hint of amusement in his voice? Ah! Still the arrogant pig, he is.
“Well in the last 10 years I have evolved from a college girl to the Vice-President of an MNC. I have to travel to our various offices in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and London. I spend 12 days every month outside India. So to answer you, work brings me to Dubai.”
“Ouch, you still have that sting! Only you can be so smilingly sweet and venomously sarcastic!” Prithwi said with his eyes laughing.
I couldn't help but join him in his laughter. “You still understand it? My subtle sarcasm is lost on people nowadays. May be tonight I will have the perfect recipient to practice it on.”
Tonight! Where did that come from? Stupid girl, get a grip! My head raised an admonishing finger at my heart.
“Sir, your Tom Collins. Madame, your Cosmopolitan.” The God-sent server saved me before my cheeks became too red.
“So Prithwi, how have you been? Tell me what has happened to you in the past ten years.”
“Oh! C’mon, you know already, don’t you? I have let the world know all that I could share about my life via Facebook. Don’t tell me you have not seen!”
“Prithwi, do you really think I would have followed your life story on Facebook when I hardly log into it myself?”
“Hey, that’s not true. You uploaded your Swiss trip photos some time ago. You and you hubby holding hands in front of the Alps has been your cover photo ever since!”
For the first time in the evening since I had bumped into Prithwi at the hotel bar, I began to relax and enjoy my time. It was good to know, after all these years, that Prithwi followed my life through Facebook.
“Hey, I know the meaning of that hint of smile playing on your lips. Don’t you think that I stalk you on Facebook! That album of yours received so many ‘Ooohs’, ‘Wows’ and ‘What a cute couple’ comments that it remained on the top of my feed for a week!”
I stared at the man. How is it that my thoughts are still so exposed to him? I thought I have grown up, learnt from my mistakes and evolved into a mature woman, but here he was treating me like a little girl, as always!
“I never meant that you stalk me. I upload a few pictures off and on but really do not get the time to go through my news feed. The last I know of you is you getting married. You can tell me what happened since then, just so that we can converse for the rest of the evening.” I replied keeping my secret smile at bay.
“Evening? I thought you… Never mind,” Prithwi looked at me without a flicker of his eyelids. I knew that gaze very well, remembering the first time he held me with his stare like that. It seemed like yesterday!
I arched an eyebrow. I had to pretend I did not understand. After a while, he dropped his gaze.
“Since we are beginning from where we left, why don’t you first tell me why you did not come to my wedding?” he asked.
Of course! I was dying to attend his wedding!
“For that matter, Prithwi, forget attending, you never even congratulated me when I sent you my ‘Save the Date’ mail.”
“I get over hundred emails every day, must’ve missed yours.”
“You are still such a… “
“Such an accusation for not replying to your mail? You are still so sensitive!”
I finished my second drink – a large Grey Goose with a little cranberry juice and ordered a repeat. I knew I was going too far – both with my drinks and my words. But I was in a mood to be daring.
My legs began to die from sitting in one position for too long. I opened my stilettos and curled my legs under me on the lounge sofa. I noticed Prithwi's eyes travel towards the slightly raised hem of my dress. He stretched both his arms on the arm rest, one of which came dangerously close to my bare shoulder. I stole a glance at the exposed flesh of his chest. I pushed aside the memories which had begun to surface from the innermost hidden chambers of my mind.
“I may not have followed your personal life, but I do know that your business has been a roaring success. And let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.” I extended my palm.
“Sree, you are five years late. I have sold off my shares and moved on.”
“Well, yes I was going to ask you the reason behind such a decision. I thought it was a foolish thing to do,” I couldn’t stop myself from saying.
“Wow! Sree, you still speak your mind without a filter! Glad to see someone being honest and unpretentious.”
I kept looking at him, waiting for his answer. He finished his drink in a gulp and ordered a repeat for the third time. “So tell me about your husband. How did you guys meet?”
He had again steered the topic of conversation towards me. So secretive still, I thought. “It feels strange to be asked this question five years after I married. But in the spirit of catching up, let me fill you in. It was an arranged marriage,” I replied.
“What? You went for arranged marriage? Who does that today?”
I lost my cool.
“What is the problem with an arranged marriage? It was a traditional method but nevertheless, I found a great guy whom I fell in love with. I am not like you, who found a girl to date and marry, all within a year of….”
I immediately regretted my words. This was completely unnecessary. After all these years, I couldn’t blame him especially since he never misled me. He was very clear right from the beginning. If I wasn’t ready for a fling with him, then I cannot blame him for moving on and settling down with the next girl he met.
I excused myself to visit the washroom before my eyes betrayed and exposed the tears about to fall. I was upset to realize that I still remained a stupid, naïve girl when it came to him. I was mortified to realise that he still had that much power over me.
After carefully reapplying my slightly smudged kajal, I returned to where he sat, despite the strong urge to flee from the scene.
“Can we order something to eat? I am quite hungry,” I said in a casual voice, determined to salvage the situation.
“I regret the way things turned out between us.”
I was stunned. Where did that come from?
“I never meant to hurt you. I behaved like a jerk by suggesting a fling instead of a meaningful relationship. When I met you, I wasn’t ready to commit but I was attracted to you enough to suggest a casual physical relationship. That was crass of me. I am truly sorry.”
I was finding it difficult to breathe! After all these years, he was apologizing!
“Thanks for your apology, but I think it was not your fault. I was quite young and naïve and so it was my mistake to misjudge your intention. You were very forthcoming about what you wanted and did not lead me on.” I said with a smile.
“I know it doesn’t make any difference now but I think I made a mistake then. I regret it even today.”
I caught my breath! What is he saying?
“You know Sree, I was afraid to admit my feelings then; that’s why I hid behind my cool-dude exterior and talked about casual sex and fling and what not. If only I had owned up to the unexplained feelings I had for you, things would have been different.”
Oh my goodness! He was confessing to have been in love with me! After ten years of leaving me in a heap of emotionally distressed state without a care as to my feelings, he was now saying things could have been different between us! Despite my extreme self-control, I was feeling insanely happy.
In a flash I felt like the 22-year-old hopelessly romantic girl who had fallen for a suave, smart and handsome 27-year-old just by hearing him speak at a seminar. The search for his email ID, emailing him from the cyber café, the first meeting followed by the numerous meetings (or dates, if they may be called so), the taxi rides with his hands casually resting around me, the invite up to his apartment leading to his first move – they all seemed to have happened just yesterday! Sitting in the dimly lit, romantic lounge with soft music playing in the background, I forgot the intervening ten years.
The atmosphere between us changed, as if both of us wanted to pick up from where we left. While our conversations began to flow much more easily, the air became charged with sexual tension. Our body language started screaming signals to each other. More drinks followed with plates of delicious food. Five pegs down, I began to go from my happy-drunk zone to my slurred-speech-drunk zone.
“Let me take you to your room, you can’t even walk straight,” he offered.
I was only too happy to lean on him, while he held my waist and walked me towards the elevator.
A huge crowd entered the same elevator as us, which caused us to move too close to each other. His hands travelled from my waist to my hips. After what seemed like ages, we stepped out of it.
“Here is my key. I think it is room 1204 at the other end,” I handed over him the key card.
We reached the room and he opened it for me.
“Thanks Prithwi for escorting me up. It was so good to meet you. Keep in touch,” I extended my hand.
He hugged me instead. “I am happy to have met you too.” I could feel the pressure of his chest on my breasts and his hands touching my bottom lightly. After a tad too long, he disengaged himself and gazed into my eyes with a smouldering intense look. Wordlessly, he leaned forward.
“Goodnight Prithwi,” I said and turned to enter my room. “I really love my husband, even when I am drunk. You see, I am still as romantic as I was, ten years ago,” I offered as an explanation before closing the door on him.
It felt so good to finally get even.