Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (III)
She emerged from the kitchen bearing two vases jammed full of flowers. In the middle of the hall locking the front door behind him, stood Chetan. If you were standing at the now closed front door, this is what you would have seen:
– Woman almost hidden behind two vases of white and red flowers walks in from back left of the stage.
– Man at the front door his back to her; sundry pieces of luggage behind him.
– To her left, in the middle of the hall, the fountain burbling away merrily.
– Woman screams and drops the vases. They burst to pieces in a loud, musical tinkle of fine crystal.
– Man jumps up two feet, curses and spins around.
– Woman stares at the man saucer eyed, poised for flight like a deer that espies a lion.
– Man glowers at the woman, looking more like a peeved lion than a man, thus completing the circle.
From my vantage point above their heads, I held my aching sides and guffawed helplessly. Though I was amused, I was also bristling with anxious curiosity to see what Chetan’s reaction would be. Did I ever say I was a simple house? I can have complex emotions too, right?
Both of them stood frozen, glaring at each other across the luggage. Don’t tell me I am letting my imagination run away with me, but I distinctly sensed Chetan drawing a sword. Maybe I felt that way because there was an imperceptible change in his stance. I am not too sure. But I am sure of this: he was ready to shoot-first-and-talk-later. Are you surprised? I’m not.
She moved back a pace instinctively and the story moved forward all by its own-some, so to speak.
She stepped on the flowers lying in a pool of water, pieces of glass under the wreckage. Her foot slipped and she fell forward. Her scream of pain rent the air as a vicious shard of the shattered vase impaled her palm. Blood gushed out and mingled with the watery mess on the floor. On her knees, her right hand gripping her left wrist, she looked at him in mute appeal. There was a two-inch piece of vase sticking out from the middle of her left palm. Blood dripped off her fingers sluggishly into the pool of water below.
In a trice he reached her, helped her up, and all but carried her to the washroom. With set teeth and no warning to her, he pulled the sharp piece out of her hand with a jerk. She screamed again and pushed him away with all her strength, glaring at him with hatred. He caught her wrist and shoved it under the running tap, letting the cool water run over it. In minutes her hand was neatly bandaged with blood still oozing and spreading under the bandage. Chetan fished a pail killer out of the medicine box and went to fetch her a glass of water. Silently, she gulped it down and he put the first aid box back in the medicine cabinet.
The whole thing was over in seven minutes flat- start to finish- and nary a word spoken. Between absolute strangers mind you, to say nothing of the weird situation. Don’t tell me there are no unknown forces at work in the universe. Unknown to humans I mean, of course. If this is not strange, I’d like to hear you define strange.
She lay sprawled on a chair by the window, her eyes closed. Through a chink in the curtains, a stray ray of sunshine frolicked on her forehead. He looked down at her for a moment and then turned on his heel and walked out. He cleared up the bloodied mess in the hall before bringing in his luggage. She was still in the same position. Her mouth etched out the shape of pain, her nostrils pinched and white.
She heard him come in and opened her eyes. I wonder if she had any idea how she looked then. She looked at him as if she had met him already, which in a way, she had. I am not really surprised by that. What surprised me was Chetan’s ease. I had expected him to begin a rapid fire inquisition. I had even expected him to start chewing her out now that she looked a little relaxed. I had wondered what I’d do if he showed an inclination to kick her out summarily. But he showed no such inclination. I need not have been concerned. His ‘peeved lion’ routine was conspicuously absent from the scene. On the contrary, he seemed almost benign. Moreover, I got the impression that even if Chetan had tried to act up, the girl would have been able to deal with him.
There was a familiarity in her glance. Though she was wary, she was not afraid. It was as if a decision had already been made and she was just abiding by it, trusting in it, knowing it was for her best. Her face, expressive as ever, spoke volumes. It really was fascinating to watch. There is no way a woman as open faced as hers would ever be able to hide anything; she would be incapable of subterfuge. I am sure it was the hint of imperious anger in her eyes that made Chetan smile. One sees his point. I mean, for her to be in the position she was in and then to show her temper…!
I wonder if anyone had ever told Chetan his face transformed when he smiled. It did. That too was amazing to watch.
I could see the anger fading from her eyes. She didn’t smile back, but her dimples deepened and her smoke grey eyes widened and glowed.
“Hi”, he said. “I am Chetan.”
“Hi”, she said softly, mellifluously. “I am Damini.”
I knew that was the moment when Chetan fell in love with her.
To be continued….