Chapter 2: The Virgin and the Smoke

Read Chapter 1 here.

When Afreen received the confounding message, she was dressed and ready for work (unusually early), and standing by the elevator of building 28, one of the many oddly numbered buildings of her company, waiting for a lift that was suffering from a bigger case of Monday morning blues than her own self. When it finally arrived, yawning its doors open with all the enthusiasm of an awakened security guard, her phone began its over-panicked mother-hen style clucking.

Now if there was one thing that Afreen hated more than a Monday morning, it was a Monday morning rife with work crisis. Especially one that was someone else’s fault but still your problem. Afreen’s work ethics in such a situation usually dictated that she fall grievously sick, diarrhea preferably, or something more embarrassing and less prone to questioning.

Well, it wasn’t too late for that, was it. Nobody had seen her yet.

She thanked her timing and her stars, (both of which she held otherwise in scant regard). Her jaunt across the company campus was a long one, and against the flow of the morning crowd: employees, laptop bags, headphones. The landscape was spotted with flowering trees and gurgling fountains, park benches and cafes, a work atmosphere that tried hard to rival with the weekend lives of its employees.

Just as she neared her freedom and the exit gates, she caught sight of Deepak, the boss, standing with his back against the wall, taking a long puff of nicotine. Afreen swore at her bad luck.

There was no way to escape the man’s eyes and exit now. She popped into the nearest building, through the sprawling glass windows, and back at the feet of another reluctant elevator. There were four of them, loitering on every floor but where necessary, an elevator’s equivalent of a mistimed coffee break. Afreen could kill for a coffee now. Or a smoke. She pressed the floor for the building terrace.

The terrace at the fifteenth floor held her favorite view over the ledge. Jammed traffic, screaming drivers, confused animals, gesticulating policemen, and out-of-order traffic signals. She enjoyed knowing that she was above it all, literally fifteen floors. It was like she was God. She lit a cigarette, and welcomed in the unscheduled nicotine rush.

“Nice. Having a nice break here, while the team is working hard?”

She jerked at the sound, and whirled around, and felt hot flush rise through her. “Damn you, Sumanth,” she punched him. “You scared me! I thought Deepak followed me upstairs.”

He flicked his hair from over his brown eyes trying hard to look severe, “How long do you think you can keep your phone switched off? Your manager…and I have been trying to reach you.”

She held his haze long, “And he packed his favorite elf off to find me? Why don’t I believe that?”

He sighed, “Look Afreen, We can’t leave Pinky to do the work on her own. “

“Why not. I’m not the one in love with her.”

This jibe had its intended effect. Sumanth looked down, a flush of pink coloring his pale cheeks and ears, his hair doing little to hide his embarrassment. Sumanth had crushed on Pinky for almost a year now. And Afreen never failed to use it to her advantage. “Here, have a smoke,” she said, extending the cigarette.

“I don’t smoke,“ he said weakly.

“Nonsense. You are a musician. It’s good for your image. Will get you girls. Here, I’ll teach you. Hold it on your lips” she stepped close to him, and he looked up at her, “Don’t touch it” she said, slapping his hands, “I’ll hold it for you. Just use your lips.”

He took a puff, “It’s disgusting,” he mumbled over the cigarette, pushing it away.

“Rejecting a smoke from a girl is like rejecting a kiss,” she said, smiling.

“You have weird views on dating, don’t you?” said Sumanth, “Can we go now?”

“Not till you see this view,” she said, pulling him close to the ledge and her body. “Isn’t it blissful.”

“It’s a traffic jam, Afreen. What is blissful about it?” He said, leaning across the ledge.

“Well, its all the view you’re getting, darling. So don’t spoil it with your smart mouth.”

They stood beside each other, as the wind blew through Afreen’s hair. She closed her eyes and took in the final puff of her smoke, almost woeful at the end of the few stolen moments.

“I have a crush on someone too,” she said into his ears.

Sumanth eyebrows furrowed, “Who?”

She grinned at him, “You gotta figure it out. That’s how crushes work, man.”

“Is he hot?” he said.

“Obviously. Tall, husky, broad-shouldered.”

“North or South?” he said.

“What is this? Am I ordering a veg thali?”

She saw him look down suddenly, his eyes widening in shock. “Shit” he whispered, “Deepak!” And stepped off the ledge.

“You think I am crushing on our manager? ” she said, making a face.

“NO…I mean…Deepak is down there. And I think he saw us.”

“From fifteen floors?” she said, looking down.

Yes, Deepak was there, squinting up at her. She got off the ledge and looked at Sumanth for a horrible second. Then, without much ado, they ran, first to the lift. Where they froze, terrorized by the possibility that their manager could already be in it, or the lift, sadistic as they were known to be, would deliver them to the ground instead of the fourth, like lambs to slaughter. They took the stairs, two at a time, all the way to the fourth floor, the sky bridge, connecting them to the buildings 25, all through to 26. Then down. Out in the open, rushing across buildings in the wretched sun.

“Why do you have to go and hide so far away?” said Sumanth as they huffed, “And where are we running to?”

“We go back. And pretend like we were there all along. Like he didn’t even see us.”

“That’s your brilliant plan?” he said.

“You have a better one, smarty pants?” she shouted as had reached their building. The elevator opened immediately, and they stepped in, pressing the third floor.

“Oh my god,” said Sumanth.

“What?” said Afreen, looking around confused.

“Pinky,” said Sumanth, his mouth gaping like a stunned fish, “She will think we ditched her.“

“Stop obsessing over her. She’s not even into you.“

“How do you know?” His face reddened again.

“You just aren’t her type, man.” She said. They stepped into the office pantry.

“What is her type? I can be her type.” He was irritating her now.

“Not possible.” she said harshly, “For starters, you need a green card, and an American accent. And I need coffee.”

“We need to get back,” said Sumanth, but Afreen had already walked to the coffee machine, grabbed a cup, and pressed the button for hot water.

“Next, you need to be dynamic and playful,” she said, as she added a sugar cube, “Girls like that sort of thing. Pinky especially, since she’s also a scaredy cat like you. Opposites attract and shit. So always play with danger…..managers…hmm…you shouldn’t care. Heyyyyyyy Deepak!”

Afreen’s voice had taken a sudden high pitch like she was almost excited to be caught loitering around by her manager. Sumanth noticed that the manager was equally taken aback by the greeting.

“Guys,” said Deepak recovering from Afreen’s greeting. ”Why are you guys loitering around when there is such a major escalation?”

“We were waiting for Pinky,” said Afreen, “Since the problem is in the interfaces…”

“Pinky can’t make it today. She’s got a personal crisis” Deepak said, walking into the office, the two of them in two.

“So Pinky is not in?” asked Afreen, covering her mouth in exaggerated shock as she glared at Sumanth, “And what is this personal crisis?”

“Well, if she hasn’t told you, she doesn’t want you to know,” said Deepak, sitting down, waving his hands at the two chairs.

Afreen grimaced at this, clutching her arms to her chest. “Deepak, I have something to tell you this. I just had a personal crisis too, this morning.“

“What personal crisis?” asked Sumanth, claiming one of the chairs opposite to Chris.

“It’s personal!” she snapped, slumping into the chair. “My very living conditions have been compromised! I felt so traumatized, I arrived two hours early to work!”

“Well, that does sound painful,” said Sumanth, laughing.

“Don’t you live in the same apartment as Pinky’s? Silver Oaks>” said Deepak.

“It’s a big apartment! And that’s not even the point. You guys think her crisis is big, and mine is not?”

“Ok, Ok, calm down. Tell us what it is?” said Deepak.

Afreen swallowed, suddenly feeling the heat in the room. Her ears tingled at the words that lay stuck in her throat.

Sumanth sensed her discomfort, “Afreen? Whats the matter?”

Deepak said, “What is it, Afreen? Whatever it is you can tell us.“

But Afreen looked away, and said, “Nothing. I was just fooling you guys. Let’s just fix the damn Interfaces module.”

They, of all people, couldn’t understand her problems.

**

Read Chapter 3 here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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