Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (IV)
I could see Chetan growing flustered. His nervousness surprised me. It seemed to peel off the veneer of stoic cynicism that passes for worldliness in today’s world. Denuded of that protection, Chetan looked vulnerable as a confused adolescent. He stood staring at her helplessly. His eyes unblinking, his demeanor rapt, he stood mute.
How on earth do women hear the unspoken words of a man… specially THOSE words? She dropped her eyes but not before that secret, pleased smile tugged briefly at the corners of her mouth and swirled enticingly in her dimples. I looked at Chetan. As I feared, the fool’s eyes had glazed over. I knew the man was done for. Do you think it was wrong of me to feel pleased? Well, I was. I was as pleased as if my favorite nephew and heir had just expressed hope that I would give him the job of a cleaner in my business because he wants to learn the ropes from the bottom up. Oh yeah, I was mighty pleased, to say nothing of smug.
I waited breathlessly to see what he would do next. When nearly two minutes dragged by in silence, I began to wish I could deliver a kick to his posteriors. I may be a house, but even I know that the way to impress a girl is NOT to stand ogling at her with the glazed look of an overwhelmed frog..! She stole another glance at him from under her eyelids. From the sibilant hiss of his indrawn breath, I know Chetan was dropping deeper in love. He was too love-struck to see a tiny frown formed fleetingly on her smooth brow. I sighed. The things one has to do…!
With a loud whoosh the kitchen tap erupted into a fountain. I noted with satisfaction that it startled both of them. They rushed into the kitchen to check. It took a few minutes for Chetan to locate the valve under the sink and turn it off. She began mopping up as if she owned the place. I could see Chetan beginning to get warm under his collar.
“Tea or coffee”, she asked sweetly.
“Tea”, he replied automatically. When she turned away to make tea, I saw him throw his hands up in air. I think he was a mite peeved with himself for letting a slip of a girl turn him into jelly. He didn’t say anything. I smirked.
With efficient economy of movement and her left hand out of commission, Damini not only made tea but also dug out a plateful of cookies. Graciously, she invited him to help himself. Didn’t I tell you, she behaved as if she owned the place and he was her guest? He seemed resigned, but I knew he was gearing up for the interrogation. The more the girl did the ‘gracious hostess’ bit though, the less inclined he seemed to ask questions which would surely appear rude. Truly, love has the power to turn the roar of a lion into the plaintive bleat of a lamb. Haven’t I seen it happening a hundred times over the centuries?
When she sat down with the tea, he could no longer avoid the questions. Taking a sip of the beverage, he gave her a fleeting smile and made to speak. She beat him to it. Again, I was expecting it, weren’t you?
“What am I doing in your house, how dare I break-in like this and why shouldn’t you hand me to the police?” She spoke solemnly and I know she was not trying to be funny or cheeky. Blame it on those dimples, even when they were at rest they seemed to be dancing merrily. Chetan looked clubbed; absolutely, utterly confused. I am sure Rip Van Winkle must have looked chirpier when he woke up from his twenty year slumbers. Chetan nodded weakly, looking more like a stuffed trout than a man.
“It is rather a long story. Sure you have the time? I mean, you aren’t in a hurry are you?” She looked the very picture of tender concern and innocence. The girl had gumption, spirit and pluck. I defy you not to fall for her yourself. I tell you, it was getting impossible- even for an inanimate house like me. For Chetan, the knell sounded deep and long. You could see it in his face. His blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to break the spell. It seemed as if a man were holding a sheet of new-paper in front of him as a shield from a bullet. Pathetic, I tell you. But one sympathizes with the poor thing.
“Please don’t be concerned about my time. I have all the time in the world”, he assured her. I don’t think he had any idea how helpless he sounded, how eager to please. His voice seemed changed. I had never heard him sound like that before. His voice acquired a deep cadence like the resonant boom of the sea. I realized this was the first time Damini had heard him talk. With immense satisfaction I noted the tremor in her hands. A colony of goose-bumps rippled over her arms for a fleeting moment. Oh, I thought to myself. The lady likes the gentleman…! I grinned.
He didn’t notice her reaction to his voice or that she was as flustered as he had looked just a few moments ago.
She took in a deep breath and began.
“Do you know Dinesh Rajpal?” she asked.
He nodded, adding, “He owns the biggest granite quarry in town and is very rich, isn’t he? What about him?”
“I am his only child.” She said quietly.
To be continued…