Ira tried to find her way on the crowded footpath. The men were in tight embrace greeting each other, children ran amok. The little boys in crochet topi’s and little girls in their colorful sequined shalwar qameez looked adorable.
Ira wrapped around her flyaway saree pallu by her left hand. The right hand was free to find her way out to the main street and stop the crowd from dashing against her as she rushed past everyone busy in celebrations. There were a lot of random thoughts going through her head. What was she thinking by agreeing for this meeting on a holiday? And that too at Mahim on Eid!…Hope the hair bun stays till the meeting gets over… Is the pallu too long?…Thank god it’s not raining today, else the tussar silk would have clung as second skin. Well and that would have been a sight! The buds in the tight gajra on the loose hair bun will bloom fully by dusk. It was a last minute addition. The smile was back on her face.
He saw her briskly but gracefully walking, deep in thought, but aware of the surroundings. A slight smile curved the corners of her delicately colored lips. Her light kajalled eyes looked straight into his. Without losing her gaze he walked closer towards her. Recognition and surprise lit her eyes more and she smiled brightly, which skipped a beat in his heart. He felt he was short of breath.
Ira stopped in her step, as though she had seen a vision in white. He looked absolutely stunning in crisp pressed white kurta. He stood in front of her and she forgot where she was. She blurted out. “What a pleasant surprise to see you. Eid Mubarak Irfan!” She stretched out her hand to wish him and he clasped hers in both his hands. “Thank you Ira” he smiled at her.” And what are you doing here?” ” Visiting a client’s place” she said. He was totally surprised,” Today? It’s a holiday Ira. Don’t you ever rest?” “I hardly have a choice. But I love what I do, so here I am. And I got to meet and wish you too” she smiled.
Before Irfan could say anything, Ira’s face was against his chest, clutching his shoulder with another hand. She gave out a loud painful cry. Few youngsters carrying a large table over their head, had pushed against her hitting her shoulder blade and back. The impact was such that she fell right into his arms. Irfan looked into her upturned face and saw the pain in her eyes.
The next instance he held her back and started moving towards those guys. “No Irfan! Please don’t! It was an accident. Let it go.” He looked at her. Her eyes were glistening with tears. She looked visibly shaken and scared. Irfan controlled his emotions and moved two steps near her. Her hand was still tightly holding on to his arm. Her left hand was clutching his kurta where a crease had now formed. There was now a slight pink color, where her lips had brushed against his tunic. He never thought Ira would be hassled ever or scared of anything in her life. During all the times they met for their business meetings, she always carried a devil may care attitude and a poise of great courage for a woman. But this Ira standing before him, was almost like a vulnerable young girl. Irfan realized he had overreacted, and tried to calm himself and her. He put his protective hand around her shoulder and led her away from the center of the crowd.
“Are you okay now? Did you get hurt? Do you want to sit down before you go for your meeting?” She relaxed. How is it possible that the same person can invoke a feeling of fear, and calm down your nerves in a span of few minutes?
“Yes I am better now. Thank you. I don’t know how I could have managed without your help. I did not anticipate so many men out on the streets celebrating.” She turned her head up and smiled at him. He smiled back tentatively. After a pause he asked her, “What time will your meeting get over? She said, ” In an hour”.
They walked towards Oscar Heights. Ira again wished him, they said their goodbyes and she went into the building. Irfan waited till she reached inside and then turned to leave.
The meeting was postponed by 30 mins. Mr Mirchandani, himself had gone to Crawford market to collect some samples.
An hour and a half later, when the meeting was over, she walked out happy and loaded with bags of samples. Her team will be thrilled on Monday, when she displays them her day’s work. They had very less time to complete the concept. This was a big jackpot. If she plans well, the entire project will win her company crores. The sun was peeking from behind the clouds. Ira brushed her strand of hair behind her ear and shielded her eyes. And then she saw him. Irfan was leaning against a car and had changed into a formal white shirt and slate grey trousers.
“Hi again! What are you doing here?” She was pleasantly surprised. “I came to invite you to our home. I stay nearby, and I insist you visit us on this occasion” he said. “Oh! I would love to really. But some other time perhaps. I have a lot of stuff to carry back and don’t want to be late”.
“I will take care of the stuff”, saying that he took the bags from her, opened the car door and put them on the back seat. “There! All done. Now if you please,” he guided her, holding her elbow, towards the passenger door and opened it for her, ” come and grace my home with your presence, I will be obliged”. She laughed while getting into the car, the sun shining in her eyes, making them even brighter. Was she always this beautiful, Irfan thought closing the door behind her.
“Amma, this is Ira, she is working with my partner on one of our projects. I happened to meet her after the namaaz, so I invited her over.”
Ira bowed respectfully, “Salaam! Eid Mubarak!” Irfan’s ammi, held Ira to her bosom, “Walekum as salaam beta! Eid Mubarak! And what tehzeeb. Ayra! Mashallah! What a lovely name. Were you at the masjid to offer Salat?” Before she could fire away more questions, Irfan cut in. He turned her around and walked with her towards the kitchen , ” Ammi jaan its Ira not Ayra. And she is a Hindu. She came here to meet a client and not for the salat. Now would you offer her some sweet please?And I am terribly famished as well. The aroma is making me all the more hungry.” “Oh yes yes…of course beta. I was just lost in some thought. Please sit dear Ira and welcome”. Ammi hastened inside and got a tray full with Biryani, kebabs and phirni.
By the time the dawaat got over and guests started leaving, it was 5 in the evening.The lift stopped on the 3rd floor. Irfan moved towards the door and looked at Ira. ” I have to pick up something from my flat. That”, gesturing upwards ” was my parents house”. He opened the door and welcomed Ira. She was hesitant. Today was a day full of emotional turmoil. Irfan disappeared in the inside room and minutes later called out to Ira. She went in the bedroom. It was spick and span. He asked her to look into the mirror on the dressing table. He held another mirror behind her back so she could look at the reflection. On her back, she saw a bluish black bruising on her skin at the edge of her blouse. She reached behind to touch the spot and suddenly remembered the incident. This was where the table must have hit her hard. No wonder she was in pain then. Irfan quietly kept the mirror and picked up an ointment. Without saying another word, started applying the cream on her bruise in light circular motion. Ira could feel the heat from his body very close to her. His mint fresh breath was teasing the loose strands of hair on the nape of her neck. He inhaled deeply,” The flowers in your gajra. What are these?” ” Chameli” she replied. ” Do you like it?” After another long breath, he said, “Yes”.
Her face looked flushed. Ira turned around and hugged Irfan tightly burying her face in his shirt, saying a silent thank you. He held on to her. Then very slowly Irfan moved his hand to her chin and turned her face towards him. He held her face looking at her for a long time, then lowered his head and kissed her on her forehead. Ira opened her mouth to say something, but words lost her. Irfan cupped her cheek, looked at her for some more time, turned and left the room. He picked up her bags and then dropped her at the nearest taxi stand. He took down the taxi number and instructed the driver with some rules, which she did not follow, ensuring her safety.
Irfan came back home very restless. He could not explain what he felt for her and why. The day’s events left him deep in thought. He went straight to his bedroom to lie down. A quick nap should straighten his mind. Suddenly he sensed Ira was still around. He could smell the heady, musky, sweet fragrance from flowers. On his dressing table, Ira had left the chameli gajra. She left a little of herself for him.