By Neel Anil Panicker

Shefali inhaled three quick smokes from her trademark Wills Filter Kings cigarette.

She let out a perceptible moan on the third puff.  The muscles of her upper neck constricted as she lived through the sudden intense stab of pain that broke out all over the palette.

‘Damnt it. I need to switch my brand… to what …to something harder, I guess. This one’s no longer giving me the kicks’, she thought out aloud.

As the smoky rings ricocheted off the roof and dispersed all around the room, her eyes felt the discomfort and, near visible lines began to appear on her brow.

She struck a hand out to clear the smog around her. Her eyes caught Rishi, who, she noticed, had moved away from her and now stood beside the balcony.

One entire week had passed since that night of drunken revelry at the rooftop.

It had been one big, endless night of debauchery_ just she and Rishi, and the wide open skies and the twinkling stars resplendent in their midnight glory.

A night of much drinking and fucking and music and laughter. A night the two would certainly remember for a long, long time.

A very good night indeed if only for…

And then she remembered. A night that was no doubt beautiful but one that could have been bettered.

And all because of Rishi.

‘Why was Rishi acting strange? Why did he say he wanted to talk about this later?’.

Painful unanswered questions that cried out in angst, seeking redemption, much like a newly orphaned child trying to strike an amicable deal with God (or with whoever it was that ruled over homo sapiens).

And that was how they had parted. All questions, no answers.

She had decided not to pursue it any further.

Now, a week later, sitting cross-legged in her sofa, she studied Rishi.

Their lovemaking over, he had moved away from her and found refuge in the  low-backed wicker chair that he had perfunctorily pulled in from the dining table and moved towards the window sill.

She noticed his stooped shoulders as well as his slightly bent back as he slouched forward; a glass of wine in one hand and the other__ safely tucked inside the inner pockets of his jaded blue Caterpillar jeans, a ghostly apparition that looked like it was came off a last minute Salvation Army Seconds Sale.

She emptied the contents of her glass__whisky, what else, and her third of the evening__, and ambled across to him.

Placing herself beside him and with her shoulders slightly brushing against his, she followed his gaze across balcony.

An everyday evening was beginning to unfold in front of their eyes. A group of children were kicking ball in the building below, the ball bouncing off the cemented surface and little kids maddeningly running after, as the circular plaything appeared and disappeared and then reappeared from behind a labyrinthe of cars and scooters and pillars and crevices that constituted the underground belly and served as the impromptu playground of children robbed of much needed playing spaces in a city that had turned into an urbanite’s nightmare and a builder’s goldmine.

In the far distance, men and women darted in and out of lanes and bylanes, crossing ever busy roads to catch the trains or the buses or the taxis or whatever other modes of transport that promised to safely transfer them to their respective destinies.

The two watched from above, seemingly oblivious and even unconcerned, at the blink-and-you- miss destinies of human lives as men, women, and children of all denominations, shapes and sizes, (looking like tiny little ants from afar) skirted in and skirted out of sundry homes and offices and buildings and houses in their quest to meet their husbands, wives, lovers, partners, colleagues and friends, even enemies as well.

She watched him watch her.

Turning her face to him, she spoke, her voice maintaining an even keel, “

“Tell me Rishi, how long have we been lovers?”

He recoiled at the sudden intrusion.

“Almost four, five months, I guess”.

Could she detect some annoyance in that.

Shefali knew she had to tread carefully.

She placed a hand on her waist and looked him in the eye.

“ Tell me Rishi, do you still love me?”

She watched as he let out a very slow, barely audible gasp. The fingers of his left hand, the one that held on to the balcony grille, trembled, albeit slightly.  He was having trouble holding onto the glass of wine.

She kept her gaze at him steady. His eyes had changed colour. Deep red pools had formed around the iris. Looking at him Shefali knew she had had her answer. It reminded her of a long-forgotten childhood incident.

She cleared the cobwebs of her past, and soon the incident came alive.

The flood of memories followed. One evening while heading back from college her eyes had strayed on a snow-white spaniel by the drain. She neared the creature and found an impish pair of eyes staring into hers. Her heart dissolved like the way hot butter dissolves on an even hotter fry pan, and taking mercy on the poor creature, she carried it on her lap to home.

She had good fun and experienced great joy, but then the dog scampered off after only a couple of days.

It was then that she realized that nothing much had changed and the full import of the mantra: more things change they remain the same.

But then along came Rishi and she had embarked on another journey of change, but this time she was careful, rather very careful, as she wanted the change to be different.

Looking at him, she murmured her new mantra: I will change my destiny.

Rishi caught her smiling and smiled back. He was a dog in love and she, a bitch in trouble.

A deadly duo, if any. The two, ideal complements  and therefore made for each other__a highly combustible combination ready to blast off into the orbit.

She sneaked her hands into his and blew smoke rings into his face. His hands cupped hers while two pairs of dopey eyes scanned the horizon.

She had found her killer.

They were now ready for the kill.

( chapter 17 of ongoing series “A FAIR AFFAIR”

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