As soon as he got out of the exam room, his eyes rose up from his tablet and across the counter to her work spot. She was there, of course – dear Ms. Das, cool and diligent, punctual to a fault. He paused and took a surreptitious but good look at her. Given how incongruent their last night’s conversation now seemed in the mundane morning light, he might have been inclined to doubt his memory, to dismiss it as a particularly vivid dream, if not for the rather tell tale red spots spreading across her cheeks slowly.
She looked up suddenly and met his eyes, and even though her words were strictly related to work, there was a nervous air about her as her eyes darted across his face, as if testing unknown waters, as if looking for clues. “Room One is ready to be discharged, Dr. Aggarwal. I’ve put his lab order sheet on your desk. Room Two – Rapid Strep was negative. Do you want me to run a Mono?
With a sudden amused insight, Aman realized that it was real possibility, given how tipsy and out of it she had sounded last night, that she didn’t remember her phone call clearly, not as cohesive whole memory anyway. She probably remembered it in blurry bits and pieces, which, he could well imagine, must be agonizing to her.
“Yes please”, he murmured, looking down at his tablet to hide his amusement. He tried to quell a not so appropriate desire to mess with her – and failed miserably.
He looked up and caught her gaze. Stepping up closer to the counter, he rested an elbow to ask in a low voice, “Do you have a headache?
She flushed but it was admirable the way she held on to her threadbare poise to answer, “Yes, but it’s not too bad”.
“Thanks for asking”, she added after a heartbeat however, her eyes carrying a visible hint of desperation now as she searched his face again.
“Take a couple of Motrins. With black coffee”, he said, walking off with a deliberate little smile, knowing and mysterious and amused, calculated to strike suspense and doubt in the heart of it’s audience.
Not long after he eased himself in his chair in his office later that morning, there was an urgent knock on the door. Even before he could utter the customary ‘come in’, Mira walked in – rather rushed in – with the general air of a person who reaches the end of some tether or the other in their overtaxed mind.
He looked up as she halted before her desk, her hands clasping and unclasping each other agitatedly. He had been meaning to call the office manager regarding some administrative work but now, with those coal black eyes, wide and gleaming and tempestuous, trained on him, he felt their surrounding air shift with some strange but palpable tension – an expectancy, an excitement, an undefined rush in the veins. A glimpse of a possible culmination what had brewed between them for years, for possibly longer that he’d known, unseen, unexpressed, largely unacknowledged. He putting the phone back in it’s cradle and looked up at her.
“Yes, Mira”, he said, his voice sounding unnaturally husky to his own ears.
“Umm”, she said, visibly fumbling for words and equally visibly hating it, “It seems like I called you last night”.
“Dr. Aggarwal”, she added as an afterthought.
Aman blinked at this unexpected directness and leaned back against his chair with a sigh, a part of him unashamedly prepared to enjoy itself, “Seems like?, he asked. He was unable to bite back an accompanying chuckle.
She stared back blankly, making it obvious that she wasn’t in a mood to share his mirth. After a short pause, she produced more words, “My call history tells me that I called you last night and that I had a long conversation with you, but, I…I”, she paused and turned her head to look out the window, in a failed attempt to hide her embarrassment – that lovely color going for her cheeks again. “I was a little drunk and I don’t remember much of it”, she finished, “Not all of it”.
“Hmm”, he said after a while, “Your call history is correct. You did call me last night and we did have a long conversation”.
As she waited for him to add to his affirmation, he pulled a sheaf of papers toward him and said, in his rarely used top of the food chain voice, “Anything else?
“No, Dr. Aggarwal”, she said slowly and turned to go. Her voice suggested that she hadn’t quite accomplished what she had come into his office for.
When she was at the doorway, he smiled at her retreating back, feeling a bit like that mischievous boy he was never allowed to be, and stated quietly, “It was quite an interesting conversation”.
Mira whipped around to face him again, her eyes taking in his amusement before flashing magnificently with simple unadulterated rage.
“I’m glad you’re finding this – this- situation amusing. I’m glad it’s making this otherwise dull day entertaining for you”, she said coldly, making no attempt either to disguise her anger or to hide the misery that lurked visibly underneath it’s surface, “I remember enough to realize that I might have said…stuff that, in my capacity as your employee, might well be categorized as inappropriate or presumptuous. And I…I apologize for that”.
As she stormed out of the office, he stared at her fast receding back in dismay. She was the only person in the world, he realized, who could make him swing from previously unscaled heights to unchartered depths in a manner of seconds.
Even as he mulled over the events of the last few minutes and struggled to gather together a response, she appeared at his door again, a deflated shell, stripped bare of her quite justified anger already. “I’m sorry”, she spoke even as she walked into his office again, “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, Dr. Aggarwal. I was way out of line. I’m sorry”.
He looked in surprise until something in her eyes made him realize – with a curious sensation in his heart – that she was acting on a raw necessity to safeguard her livelihood, the survival instinct of one with few choices and even fewer privileges in life.
“It’s okay”, he said, curiously devoid of words. He waved toward a chair, wordlessly asking her to take a seat opposite him.
As she lowered herself slowly, Aman looked out the window, at a frigid November day and said, “Your anger was justified, I guess it’s I who needs to apologize”.
She made a sudden movement as if his apology wasn’t quite acceptable to her but he held up a hand to stall her, “Let me finish”.
“There is an obvious imbalance of power here – between the two of us”, he said turning to look at her, “So if I feel I can pull your leg anytime I want but you feel you can’t put me in my place because I’m your boss, because I have the power to fire you – there is something wrong with such interactions, right? It might even be termed borderline harassment by some, right?
“Oh no…not at all”, she said, aghast “That’s not how I felt. That’s not what I meant. I was just embarrassed by my behavior, I guess, and I might have overreacted. I’ve never done anything like this before. Something so ridiculous. So preposterous”.
A small rueful smile flickered in her lips as she added, “I’m not much of a drinker and I had no clue it was possible to get drunk on just a couple of beers”.
“Even I didn’t know that either”, Aman chuckled, “Just a couple of beers?! Are you kidding me? Your liver must be naturally deficient in Alcohol Dehydrogenase”.
“I would assume so”, Mira said sheepishly.
They exchanged a brief smile with their eyes finding each other, and allowing them to rest there for a while. It was accompanied by a silence that stretched like spun sugar, not entirely uncomfortably, the sounds drifting in from the staff room nearby – the laughter, the opening and shutting of the microwave, it’s mechanical whirring and beeps – seeming to belong to another distant universe.
She cleared her throat, “Did I say anything that…was weird or inappropriate?
“You don’t remember anything at all?
“I do”, she said anxiously, “but I’m not sure where memories end and confabulations begin. It’s all a big muddled mess in my mind”.
“Do you really want to know?, Aman asked with a straight face, unable to keep the laughter from his voice, “What is that people say about ignorance being bliss and all that?
“I think a little knowledge being a dangerous thing is more apt for my state of mind right now”, Mira said warily.
Aman grinned at her, getting the distinct feeling of having drifted back to square one somehow. He decided to elaborate, to keep things light and inconsequential. “Well, in between wishes for a happy Diwali and confessions of gluttony, you called your boss ‘a good and handsome man…but since he’s a sucker for praise, he let that pass”.
Mira colored furiously. “I guess I should be grateful”, she murmured after a pause, shaking her head with visible embarrassment, “It could’ve been a lot worse”.
Although Aman found himself wishing – with a curious mix of sadism and masochism – that it was a lot worse, he attempted to reassure her, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve done far crazier things in life. We all do”.
“Thank you for your understanding, Dr. Aggarwal”, she said awkwardly in response, “I truly appreciate it”. After a pause, she rose abruptly, pulling on her invisible cloak of professionalism again. As she walked away, he felt her draw it close like a shield, shutting the world – and him – out once again.
The thought was excruciating.
Was it the caffeine in the potent brew she’d downed just moments ago, was it the caress of the early morning new light or was it simply the wind rushing past – it’s speed, it’s force a reflection of the man and the machine weaving through cars and eight wheelers, bolting unrestrained through the sparse traffic as one. Her blood was euphoria and her mind that bird gliding overhead or that jet streaking across the horizon ahead.
Pressing her knees closer on either side, she loosened her grip on the bars she’d been so anxious to find last night. After a few miles, she was emboldened enough to let go of them completely. Allowing the wind to slap against her stretched palms, she took in a deep breath and closed her eyes – until a sharp veer as the bike changed lanes had her scrambling for the bars again.
Sensing her movement, Arian shouted over his shoulder, – “Are you still there?
Would she ever be able to forget his voice?, she mused. Today, it smelled like sunshine and laughter, and sounded like youth and life itself.
“No”, she shouted back, “I’m about a couple miles behind you on the side of the road”.
His easy laughter wafted back to her – a sound that seeped into her skin, causing her blood to bolt down her veins in a frightening upsurge of sensations.
She found herself checking him out through the dense fans of her eyelashes – the wide span of shoulders, the perfect athletic V that even his leather biker jacket couldn’t hide. She inched a little closer until she could smell him better. Even as his scent went up to her head, she found herself thinking random silly thoughts like if it were possible to get hooked to the scent of a man or how his back would feel if she were to press her cheek against it, especially if his jacket and shirt were to somehow fly off of him magically, or better still, if she were give in to her crazy impulses, what his reaction would be like?
Half way through, cutting their way across a flat expanse with wide horizons and citrus groves on either side, Arian exited the highway onto a road that ended without a single traffic light into a meandering dirt road. It advertised along the way in roughly made signs various citrus farms, farm stands, local produce and U- Pick oranges. After bumping down the road amidst a cloud of dust, they reached the gravel parking lot of a medium sized cabin style building. A brightly painted shingle announced it as a welcome center and shop. A cluster of farm buildings huddled at the far end on one side and farm lands appearing to reach the horizon sprawled on the other.
Arian stopped the engine and waited for her to alight, and even as Anita stepped gingerly onto the graveled ground, she was struck by the silence, the sense of peacefulness often found in large open spaces and wide horizons. With the engine’s powerful thrum still faintly echoing in her ears and her butt and legs stiff from the ride, she winced audibly as she tried to walk.
“Are you okay?, he asked as he got off and stepped up toward her. The air was begin his to feel warm now and reeked of manure and citrus. He halted to take his jacket off.
“Yeah, except my butt hurts and my legs are stiff”, Anita said wryly, “But I guess it’s only to be expected. It’s not too bad”. She was grateful for her sunglasses – and his too – as she watched him shrug his jacket off. The neck line of his T shirt shifted and she caught a tantalizing glimpse of inked skin.
“Yeah”, he said absently, folding his jacket over the bike. “The first few times can be painful. But it gets better each time”.
Anita suppressed a smile and pretended to be suddenly deeply interested in a leaf she picked from the ground. When said huskily in that manner, his words sounded like a double entendre – flooding her mind with disturbing images and her cheeks with color.
Pushing her dirty – shockingly lusty – thoughts to the back of her mind, she looked up angelically as Arian asked what she wanted to do first.
A/N: Hope you liked this 🙂 Next update, next Thursday, Noon, USEST, Night, IST.
Love & best wishes always,