19B: Of Muses and Such
Khanak heaved a sigh of relief when her day ended. Her brain had finally started to cooperate and think in terms of diagnosis and treatment rather than Shantanu and his blatant shamelessness. In her mind she could almost hear him yelling out loud even though all he had done was written a note. She didn’t dare wonder what lay in store for her in the future.
Khanak wasn’t pleased to have Mrs. Bak Bak’s (she had never bothered to learn her name) company in the elevator up to her apartment. The woman was a pain, a diehard gossipmonger.
“Khanak my dear, you have grown so thin and your complexion is in dire need of attention. Don’t you ever go to the beauty parlor?” Mrs. B opined archly while preening herself in the hazy steel elevator door.
Tell that to Shantanu… Khanak thought and blushed but couldn’t escape Mrs. Bak Bak’s sharp gaze who exclaimed:“Why did your face turn red all of a sudden? Is it due to the heat? Poor girl. And your Nano obviously has no AC, does it?”
When Khanak failed to respond, she briskly rolled on to another topic. “Are you familiar with Mrs. Bawra’s daughter on the 7th floor? I heard she ran away with some actor. The laundrywala told me.”
For some unknown reason Khanak’s cheeks grew redder but she was saved from further interrogation when her floor arrived. Heaving a sigh of relief she let herself into her family’s Thane apartment. “Mama! Chai milegi kya?” she called out depositing her keys on the key rack.
“Khanak meri laadli you’re back.” Sunita came rushing out of the kitchen then tenderly kissed her on the forehead.
“Yes for once I got out of the clinic on time;” Khanak smiled and hugged her back. “Is Dad home already?” She was surprised to hear her father’s voice.
“Yes I asked him to come home early. Someone special wanted to meet him.” Her mother said with a mysterious smile.
“Who? Manisha aunty?” Khanak asked excitedly as she was very fond of her father’s younger sister.
“Come see for yourself.” Her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her into the living room.
What the… Khanak stood stunned. Her father was deep in conversation with no one else but the man who had succeeded in turning her neat little world upside down— the man she had lost her heart to—Shantanu. Looking crisp and delectable like a freshly minted thousand rupee note in an olive green linen shirt and khaki pants her brand new beau was lounging in her family’s living room, on their sofa and sipping her mom’s best tea.
“Close your mouth.” Sunita nudged her sharply in her ribs then spoke aloud; “Shantanu beta, our Khanak is here.”
As the two most important men in her life turned to face her, Khanak was seized by an acute desire to run and hide. What had Shantanu been telling father about her? The images from the previous night replayed in HD in her mind as she tried to disengage herself from her mother’s grip. But Sunita seemed intent on prolonging her misery.
Her father beamed. “Khanak! Finally you’re here. Poor Shantanu has been tolerating me for the past hour. He must be bored.”
“Not at all sir. It’s my good fortune that I got to meet with you today and I hope to have the opportunity in the future as well;” Her new beau was all charm. But why was he ignoring her? Pretender! Khanak griped inwardly.
“Definitely son. I really do hope to see a lot of you too!” her father declared heartily as if he had found his new best friend. Then he looked to her. “Khanak my child, get ready soon, Shantanu wants to take you somewhere.”
“But Dad! I… Shan…”
“Beta you don’t have to say anything. Shantanu has said all that needs to be said.” Her father came forward and put his hands on her shoulders and his expression said it all. Khanak eyes filled up. He seemed to be saying goodbye to her. No Dad I’m not going to leave you.
Her mother stroked her back and sniffed. “Everything seems to have transpired so quickly but we couldn’t be happier. Now get ready quickly. Don’t make Shaan wait any longer.” She dabbed at her eyes and gave her daughter a shove toward her room.
Khanak stared at herself in the mirror. She looked terrible. Her sari was wrinkled, her hair disheveled and her face pale. And what was that look in her eyes? They looked dazed! Dazzled rather. He has you dazzled Khanak! Then she needed to knock his socks off in return. No more Ms. Practical and Ms. Dowdy. What did he see in her after all?
She took a quick shower then rummaged in the closet and came upon a beige top of fine cotton with a cowl neck that suggested more than it revealed and a pencil denim skirt that stopped demurely just above her knees. She topped the look off with silver hoop earrings and a chain with a sweetheart pendent. Growing a little bolder she splashed a dash of her favorite perfume on her pulse spots… for his benefit if he got close enough. Pleased with the way she looked, she took a final pirouette in front of the mirror then ventured out into the hallway. He was standing right outside with her mother who was giggling like a school girl.
She was pleased to see his eyes grow wide with appreciation yet at the same time not so pleased with her heart’s response.
“Okay son, don’t be late and be careful.” She barely heard her mother say.
“Mummyji why do you worry? Khanak is now my responsibility.”
As soon as the door closed behind them Shantanu made a grab for her. A strong whiff of his masculine scent invaded her nasal passages causing her to stagger against him. “Kya Hua? Dizzy again?” He asked not looking in the least concerned.
She righted herself. “Of course not. My foot caught against something.”
Her dashing escort wasn’t fooled. “Is that so? For a moment I thought it was my effect on you. They say some of perfumes serve as aphrodisiacs. Yours for sure is doing the trick. What is it?”
“Beautiful;” she said staring helplessly into his eyes.
“Sensual is more like it. And what are those come hither chemicals called?”
“Pheromones.” Khanak murmured automatically and then blushed.
Shaan looked delighted. “Pheromones! Nice! I think I may one day write a book on the science of love with your expert comments, of course.”
She felt it was safer to keep mum.
“Will you guide me as my muse? “We’ll make millions for sure.” He bent closer so his warm breath fanned her face. Khanak shivered. “And what is the chemical that gives that pretty pink color to my sweetheart’s cheeks?”
“Shut me up.”
Khanak giggled and took a swipe at him with her hand bag. Shan yelped then reached for her once again and she struggled the elevator doors slid open.