Short Story 2018 Longlist, Sunita Singh

HE

He disliked going to parties unless they were ones where he could drink and talk to his heart’s content. But the one he was going to, was a boring formal kind of an affair and he would have avoided it at any cost, had it not been hosted by a very dear friend of his. He knew what he had to do, take a glass of drink and stand in one corner observing and hearing the boring conversations taking place.

The party had already started and there were quite a few people around when he reached the venue. His friend almost immediately introduced him to her. Seems she too, did not know many people and so they stood in one corner trying to talk to each other.

She was attractive! He looked closely at her, she looked pretty fetching in that attire, though in his mind he had already seen her without it. She was beautiful! Oh! She was saying something to him, but he could not concentrate. He had to, he knew. She leaned closer to make him hear what she was saying. He could smell the faint whiff of perfume and felt a little dizzy. But, outwardly he had an artificial smile pasted on his face. The woman thought that he looked a little weird, he knew, her face said it all. She felt he was inattentive, how naïve she was! If only she knew that he was a little too attentive towards her, and was trying to hide it.

She repeated what she was saying. Her eyes were so deep, her lips, Ohh…her lower lip had a small mole. He was fascinated. She was saying something. “Interesting”, he replied, though he had no clue what she had been talking about. She was turning away. He panicked. He had to keep her engaged in conversation. Why?? A part of him asked. Because…hmm…well, she was pretty. He wanted to be near her. He racked his brains and came up with some inane detail about the city. There was a spark of interest in her deep eyes. “Ohh. I’d love to know the history of this place”, she said. He was foxed. He was not very good with history and had just mentioned what was common knowledge. On the pretext of getting a drink, he moved away. Well, there was always Google, he tried to reassure himself. He had a gift, he knew, a way with words and when he wanted to, he could use his charm to his advantage.

He came back only to find her talking to some other man. He felt a sharp pang of jealousy and was quite bewildered by it. He did not even know her properly except that mole on her lower lip. Ohh… probably he was smitten by her, he thought. Odd. She was beautiful but then he had met and known far more beautiful women than her. He was trying to make sense of all this, when she called out to him. Wait. He told himself. Don’t go running like a lap-dog. So, he pretended he did not hear. But, when she called out his name the second time, he turned without waiting. The man was still there, looking quite dapper in his designer jacket. Suddenly, he felt a little awkward in his dirty blue jeans and his black shirt. He disliked formal wear. But, somehow, today he felt that he should have worn it. Shrugging his shoulders, he put that thought away.

She was introducing him to the man – he was a businessman. The man cocked an eyebrow on hearing that he was a painter. He was amused. Infact, he was used to much worse reactions, when people came to know that he was a painter. But, it had provided him with wonderful opportunities to get close to most women – young and old alike. Most wanted him to paint them. Some amorous ones wanted him to do a nude of them. His brush had the ability to bring out the deepest emotions of his subjects on to the canvas. It fetched him a good amount of money too, especially from his well-to-do benefactresses. Somehow his paintings brought out the beauty hidden in the women.

He heard a soft voice and snapped out of his reverie. The man had gone, and she was asking him something. “Sorry, I did not hear!” She gave him an irritated look and said, “Dinner is served, should we?”

“Yes, yes!” he answered but inwardly kicked himself for being so lost. Somehow, he gobbled something but made sure to keep the conversation running smoothly. He had to get to know her, especially her mole!

SHE

She had moved to the city just a fortnight back and was slowly trying to come to terms with it. It was the first time that she had moved from her city of birth and education. It was only the fact that she had got a very good offer from a reputed Corporate House which was the deciding factor. She hardly knew anyone except a friend’s friend and so when he invited her for a dinner party, she could not refuse. She made sure that she returned from office a little early. It had been a while since she had gone out and thought that it was a good opportunity to wear that black dress which she had bought on an impulse while shopping last week.

The party had just started when she reached the venue, she gave herself a final look- over in her phone-camera before stepping inside. There were quite a few people and she felt a little lost but thankfully, Navin, the host of the party, came up to her and after a few pleasantries introduced her to him. Apparently, he too did not know many people. Though he seemed a little weird almost absent-minded because she had to repeat what she said before he answered but she did not know anyone else. Besides, when he told her he was a painter she understood. These artist kinds were a little zoned out anyways. She looked at him closely, he was average looking but wore dirty jeans and shirt. If only he had worn proper clothes he would have looked decent even handsome. She tried to do some small talk but when he did not answer she decided to move away. Infact, she was surprised when suddenly he told her an interesting historical fact about the city. He was not so dumb after all, she thought. History fascinated her.

When he went to get a drink, Navin finding her alone, introduced her to another friend, a businessman. What a show-off that man was!! She just could not stand his type. The painter was any day better and she decided to stick with him for the rest of the night. Surprisingly, towards the latter half of the party he was quite okay, his absent-mindedness had disappeared. He was not so bad after all she thought as she got up to go home.

THEY

Katyayani had almost dozed off when the phone started buzzing. It was Saturday evening and she had completed some office work on her laptop and then started watching a movie on Netflix when she fell asleep. She got up with a start and glanced at the phone – some Vikram was calling her, and she could not recollect who it was. She picked it up anyhow. It was the painter, she had met at the party last week, at Navin’s. He wanted to ask her out for coffee. She looked at the watch, it was almost five and she could do it. But, somehow, she felt a little tired and wanted to stay at home. Though she agreed for lunch the next day.

Vikram put the phone down and smiled. She had agreed. When she refused for coffee, he was a little disappointed and had tried his luck by asking her out for lunch the next day. He was surprised that she was willing. He had been counting days to call her and had somehow waited for the week to pass before calling her up. He wanted to take it slow.

At the stroke of twelve he was at her door. When she opened the door and smiled, Vikram felt his heart beat a little faster. How simple and beautiful she looked in a flowery white shirt and blue jeans. She invited him in and Vikram saw that the small flat was tastefully done up, quite unlike his house which was a mess. Cleaning meant shifting the pile of clothes, papers and other stuff from one room to the other, except the room on the terrace, where he painted, that was always spick and span. His canvas, the brushes and paint neatly stacked. Painting for him was almost like meditation. “Would you like some coffee?” Katyayani asked.

“No thank you. Let’s go if you are ready.” Vikram wanted to spend time with her, not make her go to the kitchen.

The small café served excellent Mexican food apart from the fact that it was located right next to the river. Surprisingly, it was not too crowded, and they were able to get a seat next to the large window overlooking the river. Katyayani seemed really impressed by the place.

The conversation flowed easily over drinks and food. Katyayani seemed a bit surprised that even though it was the first time they were actually talking, yet she felt very comfortable with him. He had a fantastic sense of humour. She looked at him closely, hmm…he looked handsome in clean clothes, his perfume smelt good too, his nails. Katyayani always looked at a man’s nails. She was put off by even the most handsome if he had dirty nails and wore dirty shoes. Thankfully, Vikram passed this test. Was it the live band playing soft music in the background or the effect of two Sangrias, she was not sure, but she found herself looking deep into his eyes. He had beautiful brown eyes and long eyelashes which gave it a droopy look. She looked away, she didn’t want to give him the wrong impression. This was her first date with him. She decided to pay attention to the old English numbers the band was playing, some couples got up to dance. Suddenly, she found Vikram extending his hand to her. She thought for a second but then, got up, she was fond of dancing. Katyayani felt herself floating, holding on to Vikram’s hand. In his strong arms, she felt strangely at home. For once, she decided to enjoy the moment.

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