Her glossy hair glimmered in the faint sunlight. Her cheerful face hovered just inches above his. Her eyes were shining brightly, almost as if they were the sun themselves. Her perfect pink lips were parted slightly to show the pearly whites of her teeth. She was gazing at him, her head slightly tilted. She was coming closer, almost as if she understood his yearning. Her nose made the first contact with his. He shivered in delight. He wondered if her momentary touch could make him feel this way then what would he feel when she’d actually embrace him? She was coming closer, her lips just inches from his and then she…
… started licking him!
Arnav snapped his eyes open in utter shock only to find a furry face inches from him, lapping up his face enthusiastically. He groaned loudly.
“OSCAR! No!” Arnav admonished and pushed the Golden Retriever pup away from him with a shove of his hand. He closed his eyes trying to identify the woman he had been dreaming about. Her soft ethereal beauty had seemed so… familiar. But he hadn’t been able to see her face as a whole. Realising his mind wasn’t going to be able to dig up her image from his subconscious, Arnav let it go.
He stretched in his spot, cracking the joints of his limbs when his mind registered the rigidness he felt in his back. “Ouch! What the hell!” Arnav groaned loudly and tried to sit up. That is when he properly noticed his environs for the first time.
His eyes widened as he realised he was curled up on the same cream Persian rug in his living room. Oscar’s wicker basket was kept couple of feet away and he was sitting snugly inside it. Arnav scrunched his eyebrows in a frown, trying to remember how he had ended up on the floor of his living room. What the hell had happened last night?
He got up from the floor and made his way towards the kitchen to get himself a glass of water. He paused as his gaze went to the verandah of his penthouse beyond the French windows. He frowned again as he noticed the bed of earth just outside the glass doors. And then it all came back to him in a flash; How Oscar had been whining last night and he had had the conversation with his sister in the middle of the night only to realise that the dog needed to pee. How he had toiled in the middle of the night to make up that pee-pan for Oscar by sacrificing his potted plants. And then when Oscar had continued to whine half an hour later, Arnav had decided to bring him inside the house and had sat with him in the living room so that the dratted pup didn’t feel lonely at night like most of the pups its age did.
Arnav glared at the pup who was sitting on the floor from across him, looking at him with his tongue hanging out in a comical angle, making him look like he was grinning at Arnav. “Ya, that is just great! Laugh at me! That is all I need now!” He muttered to Oscar. Arnav shook his head in exasperation and rubbed his neck. He needed a hot shower right now to soothe his aching body. “Okay I’m going to the bathroom to freshen up. You’re going to stay here and not break or chew anything, got it?” Arnav said to Oscar who sat down almost understandingly.
Fifteen minutes later, Arnav came out of his bathroom in a towel, a trail of steam trailing behind him. Gosh, the hot shower had done wonders in soothing him. He glanced at the clock by his bed and realised it was getting late already. He’d have to skip the treadmill for today, an alteration in his daily schedule that had not changed ever since he could remember. Well obviously not anymore because of that little-
“GAH!” Arnav jumped as he saw Oscar sitting at the foot of his bed, looking up at him interestedly. “What the hell do you want!” Arnav groaned, “why can’t you leave me alone? Jeez, like master like dog!” he muttered obviously referring to Oscar’s equally annoying mistress Ms. Gupta. Where the hell was she anyway? Arnav quickly dressed and walked back to the dining table still grumbling about cavalier attitudes, unprofessional behaviours and irresponsible lunatics.
He again stopped looking around. Something was missing. What was missing? Oh right, the familiar smell of French toasts and fresh coffee was missing. And then he remembered yet another distressing memory of the previous evening; his housekeeper Anita’s hurried departure. He turned around and saw Oscar sitting close to his heels, almost like he was Arnav’s shadow. “All because of you!” he muttered angrily.
Arnav sighed and opened the door of the giant steel refrigerator. It seems like he had to prepare breakfast by himself, a task he considered more tedious than choosing the right tie for an important meeting. He heard a faint rumble and looked down towards Oscar with an enquiring look. “I guess you are hungry. Well I’m sorry I don’t have any dog food in the house,” Arnav said opening the freezer. “Let’s see we have bacon strips, salami, sausages, chicken kababs. What do you want?” Oscar bristled with anticipation as if he understood each of the words that Arnav had uttered. He however, did not look amused. “Right, bread and milk it is for you!” Arnav said shutting the freezer door and took out a carton of milk and a pack of bread.
He quickly mashed the soft bread in the milk and placed the plastic bowl on the floor. Oscar sniffed at it once before looking up at Arnav as if saying, “you got to be kidding me!” Arnav smirked in response, “well boy, it’s either that or you fast till I get your dog food,” he said. Oscar started lapping up the bread and milk. Arnav’s smile became more pronounced at the feeling of accomplishment.
His phone started ringing.
“Yeah Aman?” Arnav muttered, biting into toasted bread.
“Sir, just wanted to confirm that we have a meeting with the Singapore clients today post lunch,” Aman’s brisk voice came from the other side. Arnav stopped eating and looked down at Oscar who was busy playing with his chew toy now. This was going to be a problem.
“Uhm, Aman,” Arnav ventured. “Can we postpose the meeting to tomorrow?”
Aman straightened up on the other side, his eyebrows having shot up in astonishment. “Sir, is everything alright?” is the first question he asked. This was so unlike Arnav to postpone important client meetings.
“Ya, everything is fine. I’m just going to work from home today I think,” Arnav answered. His response made Aman splutter on his coffee. Arnav Singh Raizada had come to office even when he had been running high fever. Something was terribly wrong.
“Sir, it is alright, you can tell me,” Aman cooed reassuringly. Arnav started getting irritated.
“Aman, I told you everything is fine! Just have the necessary files sent over to my apartment and uhm…” he paused unsure how to say the next words without them sounding incredulous. “Aman can you have a packet of dog food sent as well? Just tell the driver, he’ll know where to pick it up from. Thanks,” and Arnav quickly disconnected the call before Aman could ask him any more questions.
Well, truth be told, Aman’s jaw had dropped down to the floor and he was in no state to ask any more questions. Dog food?
Arnav looked at Oscar again. “Thank you, now probably Aman thinks I’m a crack head too,” he said conversationally. Then his eyes widened and he smacked himself on the head, “What the hell is wrong with me? I have been talking to a dog all morning! Crack head indeed!” he muttered to himself walking to the verandah in a huff.
Less than ten days interaction with a stranger named Khushi Gupta and most of his life was already toppled upside down. His supermodel date had left him mid way; he had turned up for his general investors meeting with a hangover; he had somehow landed her phone which had rung in the middle of an important meeting; he had climbed 8 flights of stairs just to get to her home; he had had his car towed; he had travelled in a frikking rickshaw to get his car from the Police Impound and now there was a dog in his apartment. Her dog! Arnav felt a frission of irritation rush through him. Why do I put with her crap everytime? He wonders to himself.
Quickly taking out the phone he hits speed dial. The phone rings before getting diverted to her voicemail. Helloo!! The super awesome Khushi Gupta is unavailable at the moment. Leave your message after the tone and she’ll get back to you. Tada!! Beeeeeep! Arnav rolled his eyes at hearing the cheesy message in her overtly annoying cheerful voice.
“Hello, Ms. Gupta. This is Arnav Singh Raizada. We need to talk. Please call me back when you get this.” Arnav disconnected the call. There, that wasn’t so difficult was it? Now when she’d call him back, he’d have his way and blast her off! Good plan! Arnav walked back into his apartment planning out the rest of his days.
Khushi didn’t call him back.
Arnav had been hard at work all morning, but his ears had been attuned to hearing the ringtone he had reserved for the loony. When it was close to lunch time and a good 5 hours had passed since the his first call, Arnav called her up again. “Hello, Ms. Gupta. Arnav Raizada again. Not sure if you got the previous message. I need to speak to you urgently. Please call me back.” He disconnected the call and walked to his apartment door to receive the home delivery of the lunch he had ordered.
Khushi didn’t call him back.
Arnav frowned as he stared his phone, almost willing it to ring. This was getting irritating now. Her phone was ringing both the times he had called her which meant it was on and she was merely ignoring him now. This was the limit! How could she ignore him? The nerve of her! He called her again, “Look Miss Gupta. I think I’m not making myself clear here. I need to speak with you about something important. Pick up the God damn phone!” Arnav thundered on the phone. “Oh, and this is Arnav Raizada.” He added as an afterthought and disconnected the call.
Khushi didn’t call him back.
“And I win again!!” Khushi exclaimed gleefully, keeping the game controller down and punching the air in triumph. Her niece Anu groaned staring at the TV screen where her player was knocked down to the floor of the boxing ring.
“Not fair Khushi Di,” Anu whined paying up 10 bucks as was their deal. “You have had so much practice over the last few days!” Khushi dropped her mouth open staring at Anu with a mock scandalised look on her face.
“Missy, are you accusing me of being awesome at kicking your ass? Or well punching your ass?” Khushi amended pointing to the boxing video game flashing on her TV screen. “And technically speaking, I’ve been “missing” for the last three days for all intents and purposes.” Khushi added smugly.
“Missing? What do you mean missing? You’ve been crashing here on this very couch with me gorging on junk food and guzzling down beer after beer in the last three days. It’s a good thing you don’t throw up when you drink, or else I would have spent a good part of those three days in the toilet holding your hair up,” Anu muttered cheekily that earned her a well aimed cushion smack her on the head.
“Not so loud young woman! The walls have ears too.” Khushi said admonishingly. “If they sneak off this information to my beloved sister that I’m corrupting my niece, I’ll not live to see the light of the day tomorrow,” she said motioning a finger slicing open her throat. Anu doubled over in laughter at her expression, for she knew her mother loved Khushi dearly despite all her craziness and she would probably thank her stars that it was Khushi who was “corrupting” Anu and not a bunch of ominous looking college mates.
Khushi walked to her fridge to take out couple of Coke cans when her phone started ringing again. She had diverted all of her mobile calls to her landline so that she could hear the messages on the answering machine simultaneously. After the 10th ring, the answering machine kicked in.
“Khushi! This is Arnav!” Khushi looked at her answering machine interestedly. Oh so after 5 times of the respectful “Ms. Gupta” it was Khushi now. “This is extremely unprofessional of you to be ignoring my calls like this. You better have a good explanation for your behaviour!” the call disconnected. With a small smile on her face, Khushi walked back to the red couch and settled down handing one can to Anu.
“Was that…?” Anu asked raising her eyebrow. Khushi nodded.
“Yep!” she replied in a monosyllable picking up the game controller again.
“And you’re still not…?” Anu asked.
“Nope!” Khushi replied setting up the options for the next game.
“What is going on Khushi Di? Why are you ignoring the guy? It might be something important he needs to talk about,” Anu said taking a sip of Coke. She had heard every single frantic message that he had been leaving since the time she had returned from her college in the afternoon.
“I know what he wants to talk about,” Khushi replied. “He wants to talk about when I’m going to his house to pick up Oscar.” Anu’s eyes widened.
“Oscar? You mean Priti Di’s puppy Oscar?” she asked, straightening up on her seat. Khushi nodded her head in reply, the smile on her lips becoming bigger. “He is with… Why did you give him to that crazy man?” Anu asked in a horror struck voice. “What if he harms Oscar?”
Oscar belonged to Khushi’s friend Priti who lived couple of floors down in the same building. Priti had gone to her parents’ house for a week and had left Khushi in charge of Oscar.
Khushi straightened her legs on the centre table and snuggled comfortably on the couch. “He’ll do no such thing kiddo. For one, he is experienced in keeping dogs as pets. He himself had a couple of dogs when he was a kid. And he might consider me his enemy but dogs are considered a man’s best friend. So let’s allow them to bond together while I kick your ass again at the next bout, what say?” Khushi picked up the controller all set. Anu picked up hers as well, Khushi’s weird explanation not having entirely settled her doubts.
“Let’s play!” she agreed and the two women got engrossed in their next boxing match, completely ignoring the answering machine which had already started recording the newest message.
“What the hell is going on? Why is she not picking up?” Arnav muttered as he paced around the dining table. Oscar was looking at the harried looking man interestedly. Hell, all this drama had kept him more enthralled than the squeaky toy ever had. “What if something has happened to her?” Arnav wondered aloud halting his pacing, a look of dread coming over his face. Then he shook his head dismissively and started pacing again.
The woman was as strong as a bull despite her looks. Oh and if anyone was foolish enough to mess with her, they’d just repent it for the rest of their lives. But then what was wrong? Why wasn’t she picking up her phone? Arnav stopped once more, silently debating in his head if he should head to her house and check on her but then he involuntarily looked at the dog. Well, if he’d leave the apartment to Oscar, God only knew what state he would find it in when he returned. No, that idea wouldn’t work. Resigned, Arnav punched the speed dial button again for the 10th time.
[Khushi’s apartment, much later at night]
The apartment is shrouded in darkness apart from the single light glowing in the kitchen which is bathing the adjoined living area with a soft amber glow. Khushi is perched on the red sofa, extending her long legs along the length of the sofa and using the arm rest for a back support. She has her diary open on her lap, a pen wedged between the pages. The answering machine is kept on the peg table next to the sofa within her arm’s reach.
Sipping another Coke, she pressed the volume button on the answering machine to reduce the volume lest it disturbed her niece who was asleep on Khushi’s bed. Then she pressed the play button.
You have 16 messages. Playing message 1.
“Hello, Ms. Gupta. This is Arnav Singh Raizada. We need to talk. Please call me back when you get this.” Khushi made the note in her notebook. Call 1, extremely polite voice.
Playing message 2
Hello, Ms. Gupta. Arnav Raizada again. Not sure if you got the previous message. I need to speak to you urgently. Please call me back.” Call 2, polite voice, slightly businesslike voice.
Playing message 3
“Look Miss Gupta. I think I’m not making myself clear here. I need to speak with you about something important. Pick up the God damn phone! Oh, and this is Arnav Raizada.” Call 3, irritated voice, bordering on bossy. The introduction at the end hilarious.
Playing message 4
“Miss Gupta, I need to talk to you. What part of that don’t you understand?” Call 5. Seriously irritated voice. No introductions.
Playing message 5
“Miss Gupta! Arnav Singh Raizada. I don’t know what the hell is going on? CALL ME!” Call 5. Voice bordering on hysterical. Bossy overtones.
Playing message 6
“Khushi! This is Arnav! This is extremely unprofessional of you to be ignoring my calls like this. You better have a good explanation for your behaviour!” Call 6. Admonishing voice. Threatening overtones. Drops the salutation. No introductions.
Playing message 7
“Either your phone is malfunctioning… no it is not. You’re plainly ignoring me now. This has got to stop now! Call me immediately or else… I’ll come down to your house. I know where you live!” Call 7. Open threat delivery. Subject assumes familiarity of identity by dropping all introductions.
Playing message 8
“Has something happened to you? Have you been abducted by the aliens and have returned to your home planet? Hahahahaa… oh wait has this been recording? Oh shit!” Call 8. H.I.L.A.R.I.O.U.S. Subject recorded sarcastic message by mistake.
Playing message 9
“Miss Gupta, I apologize for the earlier message. I didn’t realise… anyway, please call me, I need to talk to you about Oscar.” Call 9. Apologetic voice. Subject finally reveals purpose of intended conversation.
Playing message 10
“Now you are just messing with my head Khushi! What the hell is wrong that you can’t pick up your God Damn Phone? Oscar here has been… NO! Oscar don’t chew on that cushion. My sister picked it out-” Call 10. Atta boy Oscar!! Ahem, canine projection on subject seems to be working. Oh, panic stricken voice.
Playing message 11
“Okay that’s it! I’m done calling you now. Enough is enough. How dare you have your dog dropped off at my house without any notice. I have half a mind to drop it back to the animal shelter… well I don’t know which animal shelter it has come from. Anyway, I’m not going to do any such thing obviously. I can’t punish the poor animal for your annoying, irritating-” Call 11. Angry outburst level 5. All out venting. Subject sympathises with canine friend. Indications of forging friendship evident.
Playing message 12
“Trying one last time. Are you there Miss Gupta? Just give me a missed call please if you are.” Call 12. Hopeless dejected voice laced with politeness. The salutation returns. Subject resorting to any means possible to maintain contact.
Playing message 13
“You know what? Go to hell! I am done! I’m not calling anymore. To hell with you and your phone and your dog! GOOD BYE!” Call 13. Angry outburst grade 5 again. Anger projection assumes a “M” graph.
Playing message 14
“Oscar is fine by the way. Thank you for your concern. Yeah this is the last message for sure!” Call 14. Subject drops salutations and introductions again. Tone level but laced with scathing sarcasm. NOTE: this is the fourth attempt at labelling “last call”.
Playing message 15
“Miss Gupta, I have a meeting tomorrow morning which means I have to leave for office and can’t work from home like today. I’ll have to keep Oscar out of the house and this apartment is a no-dogs-allowed apartment, which means I can’t keep him out either. Now either you come here tomorrow morning to pick him up or this is the last you’ll hear of Oscar… Oscar? Howl for your owner… go on she’s listening… no, NO! Don’t run towards the bedroom again… Ahhhh!” Call 15. Voice level, business like tone. Logical explanations given followed by semi-intentional threat. Canine friend seems to be keeping subject on his toes.
Khushi paused realising she’d have to fetch Oscar the next day from Arnav’s apartment. Taking another sip, she played the last message.
Playing message 16
“Khushi, I really hope you are alright and nothing has happened to you.”
Khushi’s pen stilled in the air and she stared at the answering motion, her eyebrow slightly raised. She hit replay and listened carefully to Arnav’s last message again. She frowned settling back on the couch, feeling a little unsettled at hearing the softness in his voice. Finally, she wrote the feedback of the last message.
Call 16. Soft almost resigned voice, no undertones of anger/ frustration/ irritation. No threats, no demands. Intimate addressing, no salutation, no introductions. Traces of actual concern evident.
Khushi again stared at the answering machine almost wonderingly. What had just happened on the last call?
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