Circumstantial Evidence

Pinky removed her makeup with steady hands. Calm strokes of the hairbrush adding to her overall sense of serenity. The one thing she craved for.

Rohan walked into their bedroom. “The car will be here at 10 in the morning to drop you to the airport. Good Night,” he said in a neutral voice, not looking at her. She nodded, to the back of his head as he walked away.

The farce would end in 12 hours. They had just returned home from their last public appearance as a married couple. Both were extremely successful entrepreneurs and had recently been featured on the front cover of a leading business magazine.

She curled up on her large bed, alone. Fighting tears that threatened to pour any moment. No, she couldn’t allow herself that luxury now. She needed to get away first. From Rohan, from this apartment she once called ‘home’, to escape from hurt. Her mind fought her every resistance and travelled five years back in time.

They’d met in Bangalore during their MBA program at one of India’s best B-Schools. He had been her senior. She had been smitten by his love for the written word, his simplicity and how he made her feel cherished.  She was a small-town girl from Dharwar, with a fierce hunger to succeed. They got married within a year of completing her MBA. Their combined efforts had resulted in a young dynamic renewable-energy startup that had generated considerable interest from venture capitalists.

Then, Vera happened.

The young Research intern that Pinky hired for the windmill project. Bright, pretty, energetic.  Who got things done. Pinky saw Vera as her protégé and mentored her. As their business grew, Pinky’s overseas travel increased. Building relationships was her forte, while Rohan focused on the technical and financial aspects of their company.

It had been a random Thursday evening. Her flight had arrived early, she decided to surprise Rohan by showing up at their office. She walked in. And saw Vera. Disheveled, in Rohan’s arms. They saw her and Rohan gently released Vera. Vera stammered awkwardly, “Er.. Hi Pinky. Rohan, Mom’s waiting for me, I have to go.” She quickly walked out without a backward glance.

Pinky stood still as a statue. Trying to breathe, to stay calm. Rohan walked up to her, hands in his pockets. “No Pinky. This isn’t what it looks like. Let me explain.”

“Don’t you dare touch me, you … pig,” she whispered. He simply looked at her, not saying a word.

She took a taxi to a hotel. She needed time to think. She spent the entire night pacing in her room. And took a decision.

“Rohan, I want a divorce,” she said to him next morning.

“But Pinky, you didn’t give me a chance to explain. I love you Pinky. At least hear me out,” he said helplessly. She was adamant.

“Let’s pretend we’re still married until the Sweden deal comes through. After that, we’ll be colleagues. I’ll relocate to the Bangalore office,” she told him coldly.

The divorce papers were drawn up.  Vera had resigned months ago, citing personal reasons for her exit.

Next morning, she was getting ready to leave for the airport when the doorbell rang. “Surprise!” said Harish, her brother-in-law and her best friend, a wide grin on his face. She hugged him tightly, trying not to cry.

“Hey … what’s up? All well? Where’s Rohan?” he looked concerned, an arm around her shoulders as he led her inside.

Rohan walked into the drawing room, clearing his throat. And looked at his ex-wife sadly. “No Pinky. I won’t ask you to explain. Why my brother has his arms around your shoulders.”

Harish looked confused and angry, “Hey Rohan.. what’s this nonsense talk man? She’s hurting dude .. and …”

Rohan interrupted him. “Harish, I know. There’s something Pinky and I need to talk about in private. Do you mind?” Harish looked at both of them. “I’ll be back. For lunch. Be here.”

Pinky sat down on the sofa, tiredly rubbing her temples. Rohan handed her a glass of water, and sat opposite her. He looked at the only woman he truly loved.

“What happened to us Rohan?” she whispered, no longer able to hold back her tears. To her surprise, she saw tears in Rohan’s eyes.

“Nothing happened Pinky. That’s the truth. It’s how we perceive situations and allow them to control our mind, our lives.”

She listened quietly as he continued. “Vera’s Mom is diagnosed with leukemia. As you already know, her Dad passed away years ago. The day you arrived, they’d just broken the news to Vera. She meant to talk to you once you return, asking if she could go on a leave of absence. I was simply holding her to comfort her. Isn’t that the primal instinct of a human being? To hold and comfort another who is in pain? Just like Harish held you today when he sensed your pain. That’s all there is to it Pinky.”

Pinky wept. “Poor Vera. What a fool I’ve been Rohan. Two similar sets of circumstances in our lives, yet we reacted to them so differently.”

“Pinky, circumstances tried to fool us twice. Remember, they didn’t succeed. I trust you, and have complete faith in us. Do you?” his voice shook slightly.

“Oh Rohan I do. You have no idea how much I want our marriage to work. I won’t allow my mind to play games with my life. Not anymore. I think I grew up in the last few months. Maybe I was a little jealous. And possessive about you. I over-analyzed a situation, choosing to interpret it my way. I almost believed I could be replaced. I was insecure.” She hugged him fiercely.

“Pinky, you are my wife, the woman I chose to spend the rest of my life with. No one can ever ‘replace’ you. Vera is a good friend. Yes, we do get along very well.  Just like you and Harish,” he said, holding her close.

Harish joined them about an hour later, brooding and angry. Pinky and Rohan, both explained quietly. In minutes the wide grin was back. “Phew… such complete fools you are. Why didn’t you simply talk it over? What a waste of precious time! Allowing silly circumstances to interfere with a solid relationship.”

©DarshanaKalyanpur2015

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

 (Prompt: Fool Me Twice)

Selected as ‘WOW’ Post

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Short Story: #LoveOnline

She flung her laptop bag on the bed. Weekend. Finally.

Suma glanced at her watch. Steve should be here any minute now. She changed into her usual skirt and top ensemble, comfortable shoes, simple make-up. She ditched the contact lenses and chose to wear her glasses instead. A quick glance in the mirror and she saw a slim figure, a round face, wavy hair. Well, not so bad.

Steve was back from his Paris business trip. They had agreed to leave together to Veena and Sandy’s new place. Their whole bunch of cousins had arrived the previous evening from various parts of Europe for the wedding and they had planned a house party.

Steve pulled up and honked twice. Suma hurriedly locked the door and ran towards the car. She got in and hugged Steve. They talked about his new assignment and he moaned about the long hours he was now expected to put in. They’d met about six months ago at a theater workshop. They continued to see each other as good friends. Neither mentioned commitment and were happy to go with the flow.

They arrived at the penthouse. The party was already in full swing. Veena waved out to them. Someone handed Suma a glass of chilled white wine which she gratefully accepted.

Suma realized she hadn’t eaten anything since 11:00 that morning. She hurried towards the dining room, grabbed a plate and piled it with a handful of kababs. Sighing with satisfaction, she turned. And bumped into him, lost her balance, fell backwards onto the chair. The chair toppled over, she was on the floor, her glasses askew, the plate’s contents strewn all around her. A kabab was sitting comfortably on her forehead. She irritatedly threw the kabab aside and adjusted her glasses.

He stretched out his hand, with concern in his voice, “Are you okay? I am so sorry!”

Damned right you are – she wanted to scream at him. Her best outfit was ruined and the party hadn’t even started yet. She hadn’t eaten anything the whole day and for some reason, she felt like crying. She angrily wiped away her tears. He was even more concerned. “Does it hurt that bad? Stay here, let me go get Veena.”

“No, I am fine. Really. Just had a little meltdown there. I am good. Thanks,” she hurriedly got up and rushed to the washroom. She knew the skirt was ruined beyond repair.

“Oh Sweetie, let me get you something to wear,” Veena’s concerned voice came from behind her. She took out a floral maxi dress and handed it to Suma. “There you go. I bet this will be a perfect fit”.

Suma tried it on. It did fit her well, though she wasn’t too sure she liked the deep scoop neck on the dress. She thanked Veena, hating herself for all the fuss she had caused. He was waiting for her, still looking worried, holding a fresh plate of kababs.

“Suma, this is Yatin. My cousin from Frankfurt. He’s here for our wedding. Yatin, Suma and I go back a long way. Now you be nice to her, won’t you?” Veena said mischievously before walking away.

Suma suddenly felt deserted. She looked at the stranger in front of her. Medium height, broad shoulders, the beginnings of a paunch. Yatin stood with the plate in his hands, forgetting to hand it to Suma. He continued to blink, at a loss for suitable words a guy ought to say in situations such as these.

“Let’s meet the rest of the gang, shall we?” said Suma as she walked onto the terrace. There were whistles and catcalls as she made her entrance. Steve quickly walked up to her. “Well, well Suma! You look gorgeous.” He had his arm around her waist, possessively, as he led her to the group and introduced her. Yatin followed, looking a little embarrassed.

The usual party games were finished and most folks were taking a breather. There was one last game that Veena insisted everyone play. Truth or Dare. The bottle was spun, the questions were relatively crazy and the game had everyone in splits. Suddenly, the bottle pointed towards Yatin. Veena opened the slip of paper from the bowl and read aloud, “What is the stupidest thing you have done in your life?”

There was silence in the room when Yatin spoke. “I broke the heart of this beautiful orphan girl in Bangalore. We stayed in touch for a year over emails and finally decided it was time to meet in person. We agreed to meet in Bangalore last year. I stood her up. I simply never showed up. I know she shouldn’t be with anyone else but me. If she will forgive my momentary lack of courage and have me.”

Steve heard Suma’s sharp intake of breath. And looked at her with concern. Suma excused herself and went out to the terrace. She desperately needed the fresh air. It was a coincidence. Had to be. It is possible isn’t it? That this world is full of guys who use a matrimonial site as entertainment? To play with a girl’s emotions and then discard them like yesterday’s newspaper? She composed herself and was about to go in when she saw Yatin in the doorway. She ignored him and tried to walk past him.

“Suma, please wait. Let me explain. Please?”

“Yatin, I have nothing to say to you. I don’t know who you are. I am with Steve. I guess you know that already.”

Yatin sighed. “Suma, you need to listen to me. You know me as Harish. My profile name on the website. You also know we never exchanged photos because we thought we should get to know each other long distance before actually seeing one another.”

Suma said quietly, “Yatin or Harish, or whoever you are. I want to say this one last time. I am with Steve, I do not care what you have to say. I’d like to go in now.”

Yatin tried to hold Suma’s hand. She pulled away angrily.

“Please listen to me Suma. I was scared when you mentioned your parents abandoned you as a five year-old child because of suspected Hansen’s Disease. And that the fishmonger took you in and later handed you over to the orphanage. It was simply too intense for me to comprehend. For the first time in my life I allowed circumstances to overwhelm me. I stopped thinking rationally. I love you Suma. Always have. Please forgive me.”

Veena came to the terrace, closely followed by Steve. Steve put his arm around Suma’s waist. “Hey Suma, everything okay?”

Suma looked right at Steve and said, “Steve, I haven’t mentioned this before. But I may have had Hansen’s Disease in my childhood.”

Steve immediately dropped his arm from around Suma’s waist and took a step backward. “Ohh,” he stammered as he wiped his palms on the sides of his trouser legs.

Veena hugged Suma, “Come here my little one.” She turned to Steve. “Steve, I’d like you to leave. The terrace and my party.” Steve hurriedly walked away, not once looking back.

She turned to Suma, “Suma, what Yatin hasn’t told you is that he had Hansen’s Disease as a baby. He was fully cured by the time he was in his teens. He has been traumatized enough in this country to be scared. Really scared. I think you should give him a fair chance.”

Suma whispered,”Veena, you knew? All this while. And you didn’t say anything to me.”

Veena looked at her helplessly. “Suma, what could I say? Yatin did mention a certain ‘Suma’ to me and I did wonder if it might have been you. But you know, coincidences usually happen in books and to other people. I thought if the two of you met each other, maybe we’ll all finally know the truth? And maybe your story ends the way it is supposed to?”

She left the two of them alone. Yatin and Suma were very quiet.

Suma whispered, “How did you know it was me? I never sent you any pictures.”

Yatin smiled. “The butterfly tattoo on your left wrist. You’d mentioned the tattoo to me. Your profile name is Suma. And the pictures Veena uploaded on Facebook. Look, I meant to meet you and tell you in person. That our relationship would always be a gamble. I didn’t want to cause you any more hardship. God knows you have been through enough already. But here I am, I simply couldn’t stay away. Not after knowing you.”

Suma smiled, “Yatin, life doesn’t have guarantees. I know Hansen’s Disease is not genetic. But who knows what genes we carry? Or what ailments our children will be born with? It is too much of an expectation that our futures will turn out perfect. I’d like to focus on the present, Yatin. The here and now. Do you have the courage? To place your faith in the possibility of us? I do.”

Yatin held Suma tight and said, “Suma, will you marry me?”

They went inside hand in hand. Suma walked up to Veena, hugged her and said, “Thank you Veena. Few in this world are blessed to have friends such as you,” Veena had tears in her eyes, “Baby, any time. You’ve been there for me too, remember?”

Yatin and Suma were married a month later at a quiet ceremony at Veena and Sandy’s place. Within a year of marriage, they adopted a baby girl. Suma is pregnant and the baby is due in August this year. They presently live in Frankfurt.

**************************************
1600 Words

Short Story: Deliver us from Lust

The lounge seemed to be even more crowded this particular Friday evening. Mark surveyed the surroundings from his usual place at the bar. The week had been exceptionally good for Mark. The deal was finally inked, his Hong Kong posting would be announced first thing Monday.

His thoughts were interrupted when a distinguished looking man joined him at the bar. “God! Hope I look that good when I get to his age!” thought Mark as he raised his glass and smiled.

They shook hands. “I’m Mark. Mark Williams,” he added, “Head of APAC Sales. With this start-up that just got VC funding!”

“Pleased to meet you.  I’m Jonas. Jonas Welch from Ohio,” he smiled and returned the firm handshake.

Mark ordered a round of drinks for both of them. He looked at Jonas and said, “So, what brings you to Mumbai?”

“Oh! Life, I guess. Uncanny that of all the cities in this big world, everything should end in Mumbai. I would have thought Mumbai is supposed to be the beginning!” he said, giving Mark a strange look.

Mark threw back his head and laughed. “True that! For me, Mumbai is indeed the beginning. Hey Jonas from Ohio! Good to finally have someone I can celebrate with. Just got promoted. Will be heading out to Hong Kong early next week.”

“Well, Congratulations! Here’s to new beginnings then!” said Jonas as they clinked their glasses.

Conversation was surprisingly easy. Jonas and Mark realized they had similar interests – they both played golf, enjoyed horseback riding, and were just about learning the nuances of playing great chess. “Nurtures strategic thinking old man! Time to show those old snooty b******s at London what strategy’s all about!” slurred Mark.

Jonas smiled and put his arms around Mark’s shoulders. “Yes. Everything is in the game. Players change. Pawns don’t.”

“Hello!” said a husky, feminine voice behind them. Both men turned to see if the woman matched the voice.

“I’m Kajal Chotrani. My companion just ditched me. Meeting with the boss, he says. I don’t want to ruin a perfect Friday evening. May I join you? That is, if you don’t mind,” she said.

They both stared at this vision of a woman. “Only an Indian woman is capable of looking like this,” thought Mark. To combine sensuality, beauty, charm and somehow still look innocent.

Both men stammered simultaneously, with Mark taking the lead, “Oh Please, do join us. Hi Kajal! I’m Mark, this is Jonas.”

She smiled at them. And sat down daintily on the bar stool, demurely crossing her long legs. The deep purple dress hitched up an inch over her thighs. She had charcoal-grey eyes, a dusky complexion. Shoulder-length hair. An hourglass figure that looked like a sculptor’s  work of art. She leaned towards the bar man and smiled “Hey Jeet! My usual. With olives and bitters.”

Mark thought to himself, “Jonas needs to leave. This woman belongs to me.”

Jonas thought to himself, “Meera, it’s been two years since you passed on. I love you Meera. And I have been alone. You know that.”

Kajal thought, “Well, who would have thought today will turn out to be so eventful? Mark’s cool. But still a boy. He’ll play with me in the sandbox. Jonas .. well Jonas is something else altogether. Maybe he needs a real woman!”

The evening was highly entertaining. For all three of them. The air was heavy with an unexplained tension and the chemistry between the three of them was palpable.

Kajal had moved to Mumbai two years ago. A brilliant graduate from one of India’s top-ranking B-Schools. Wanting to make it big in advertising. Realized very quickly she needed a lot more than brains or talent to make it big any place. She ditched advertising and joined an IT conglomerate. Public Relations is what they called it. She had different names for it though! She smiled to herself. She had inherited her Mother’s figure, good looks and her Father’s sharp business acumen. She had learnt to desensitize herself to situations and people. Life was meant to be fun! Not saddled with guilt, loyalty and such other useless stuff that drags you down. You should put yourself up there. Among the stars. Where you truly belong.

Mark excused himself from the group, went to the men’s room. He splashed water on his face and stared into the mirror. He didn’t look so bad. Considering he’d almost felt suicidal two years ago. The scandal with Katie had almost blown his career to bits. A botched abortion, the rich cold husband he’d nearly bludgeoned to death in a fit of rage. Luckily, his Dad knew how to pull strings. Scotland Yard couldn’t touch him now. They had arrested the ‘attacker’ too. After all, the homeless fellow had to pay a price for a new kidney for his ailing daughter. He quickly controlled his thoughts, practiced his smile, and hurriedly walked out.

He saw them engrossed in conversation, their heads close. He didn’t interrupt, simply watched them. Kajal looked up and said, “Hey Mark! We were just talking about visiting this art gallery later tonight. I know the artist and I think you will like his work.” Mark shrugged his shoulders. Art wasn’t his area of interest, but he had no plans of leaving Kajal and Jonas alone.

Jonas and Kajal spoke animatedly. About current trends in contemporary art. They seemed to inhabit a world that Mark didn’t even know existed. It turned out Jonas invested in art, especially paintings. And he was a potential buyer on the lookout for new talent. Mark felt a slight tremor in his right hand. Usually that happened when he had extreme emotions of any kind. Pure animal. Jonas looked at Mark quizzically. “Sorry for my poor manners. I seem to be monopolizing the conversation. Kajal, let me get that one last round of drinks for all of us before we head out. Excuse me.”

Jonas went to the far end of the bar and placed his order. He observed Kajal and Mark. It was obvious Mark had plans that Jonas was most definitely not a part of.  Jonas didn’t like playing games. If he thought Kajal was the slightest bit interested in Mark, he would have walked away. But he knew she wasn’t. She didn’t look at Mark the way she looked at him. Their interactions had transcended from the basic level of physical attraction to something deeper. After Meera, no one had really intrigued him the way Kajal had. Then he saw Kajal lean very close towards Mark and say something that made him laugh. Well, one never knew with women!

He’d had enough. He could visit the dang gallery on his own. Kajal had mentioned the artist’s name. His office would do the rest.

Jonas plonked their drinks on the counter and very cheerfully said, “Folks, I’m beat!  I’m heading back to the hotel and catching up on sleep. Need to give the art gallery a miss. Maybe we catch up again soon?”

Kajal looked at him quietly for a few seconds.”No Jonas. You come with us.”

Mark said, “Hey Kajal! Let’s ditch the art gallery. Let old Jonas leave eh? Then you and I? We can take a long walk down the beachfront at my hotel. Maybe talk some more? Let’s take my car!”

There was an awkward silence and Jonas gallantly said “Okay then. Let’s shelve the art gallery for now. It’s late. We’ll go to Mark’s hotel. Beachfront eh? Lucky young man! Mine overlooks a tall building!”

Kajal excused herself and elegantly walked to the ladies’ room. Jonas and Mark couldn’t help noticing how every man in the room looked at her. It didn’t matter if he had a woman with him or not.

Kajal reapplied her lipstick. She looked at her own eyes in the mirror. Jaded? Nah! She still had it in her. Maybe the mouth needed a little rework. She made a mental note to contact Dr. Shah, her plastic surgeon. She determinedly shut her tiny makeup case. Well Mark, Jonas, may the best man win!

She walked in the middle, linking her arms with both men and headed towards the hotel entrance. A very nervous valet brought Mark’s car. He would be nervous. A customer with a silver Bugatti in India was every valet’s dream and nightmare at the same time.

“Mark, are you sure you can drive?” asked Jonas

“Don’t worry, the cops won’t stop me. They know who I am!”  Mark slurred slightly.

They drove towards Mark’s hotel. Kajal sat in the front, quiet.  Jonas sat at the back. Few times, he’d met Kajal’s eyes in the rear view mirror. Mark continued with his talk, mostly related to his work, Hong Kong and this “shitty world full of scum.”

They reached his hotel. As promised, Mark directly led them to the beachfront. There were hardly any people around at this time and the place was a little deserted. “It’s a private beach. It’s a part of the hotel property,” Mark explained.

They slowly walked on the sand in silence. Their feet were bare and the night got darker.

After a few minutes, Mark could not contain his patience any longer. He turned to Jonas, “Old man! Please scoot now. Don’t you get it? The woman is mine. You’re a nuisance. Go. Now!”

Kajal suddenly took Mark’s hand. “No Mark. Jonas has to stay. And this is why!” she said as she took out the knife.

Jonas watched in silence as Kajal caught Mark’s both hands in a vice-like grip, kicked him in his shins, pushed him to the ground. All in a matter of seconds. Mark was too startled to even put up a struggle. Nor did he scream. Kajal slit his throat neatly. Side to side. Execution style. She was magnificent. No sudden blood spurts, no mess. She securely tied his hands at the back, left him face-down on the sand. Just like she’d been told to do.

Jonas said very quietly, “I guess you already made plans for me?”

Kajal smiled. “Yes Mr. Heidelberg. Only, they never told me you’re this good-looking.”

“And I never had you down for a contract killer. The sultry seductress act had me confused for a moment.”

“Well, who said it was an act, Jonas?” she arched her perfect eyebrows, a mischievous smile dancing on her lips.

Jonas laughed, linked his arms with hers and they slowly walked on the sand back towards the hotel.

It had all begun four years ago. There was a brilliant bio-tech merger that Heidelberg had accomplished sitting in New York, and for some reason it was starting to unravel. There were millions at stake, that’s what his Board of Directors told him ominously, “Jasper, well, if this deal doesn’t go through then.. ” So he landed in Mumbai for a stay of “four months only.” That’s the time he had been given to either close the deal or disappear for good.

And by then, he had met Meera. The sweet intelligent daughter of the friendly Goan businessman who lived next door to his Cuffe Parade flat. Meera would often drop in to discuss art with him. She was almost ten years younger than him, but they always felt like equals. She was a fabulous cook, could speak German, Spanish and French. It was only a matter of time before they fell in love. He had never met a woman like her. She challenged him intellectually and had a way with people that he simply envied. She was a charmer. His Meera.

They got married at a beautiful church in Colaba. Meera had only one wish. She said, “Jasper, please. Let me be known as Katherine. I always wanted to be named after my Grandmother.” Oh well! Katherine she was, atleast to everyone else. To Jasper, she was always Meera.

Jasper and Meera moved to London and had what one would call an ‘idyllic relationship’. She was beautiful, gentle, amazingly talented. He was rich, good-looking. They were always chased by the paparazzi. The celebrity couple on the art scene who actually got along with each other! They were in love. And the world believed.

One beautiful morning, Meera walked up to Jasper and said, “Oh Jasper! God has been kind. I am pregnant!”

He held her tight and said, “Oh Darling! I love you so much!”

He went back to his office, shut the door and didn’t come out for three days straight. He knew he wasn’t the Father. That accident during his golfing days had made him sterile. Something he didn’t care to tell anyone. Not even his Meera.

It only took a few phone calls to find out about Mark Williams. Meera and Mark had been seeing each other for almost a year. She planned to leave Jasper. Mark had proposed to her. He had promised to break off his engagement to his childhood sweetheart. But the pregnancy threw a spoke into their plans. Meera truly believed Jasper was the father. She felt guilty for cheating on a relationship with a man she really loved. She hoped their child would help make things work with Jasper.

After about a month, Jasper finally spoke. “Meera, abort the baby. I don’t want the child.” Meera was devastated, “But Jasper? I’m already into 5 months of pregnancy! You have a son, I can feel him move.” He held her arms in a tight grip, his voice menacing, “Do it.”

She did. Through her tears, she phoned her gynaecologist and like a zombie, went through the motions.  Her body couldn’t withstand the strain. She died within an hour of surgery.

Blinded by rage and helplessness, Mark had stormed into Jasper’s office, just as Jasper was walking towards his car. Mark found the fire extinguisher on the wall and hit Jasper’s face with it. He hit repeatedly, he knew not for how long. Then he threw the extinguisher, called his Dad, and wept on the phone. His Dad took care of the rest.

Jasper lay still on the ground next to his car for about three minutes, bleeding profusely. He willed himself to bear the pain. To stay conscious. His cell phone was in the jacket pocket. He managed to find it. He hit redial on the last number he had called. And passed out.

He woke up at the hospital. They told him he was lucky to be alive after such a brutal mugging attack. And that Dr. Shah, the brilliant young plastic surgeon from India was in London. She would fix his face.

Dawn was breaking. It was already Saturday morning. Kajal and Jasper walked to the hotel entrance. They shook hands and promised to stay in touch. They knew neither would. Jasper took the taxi and went back to his hotel. Kajal continued to walk towards the opposite end of the street. She still had work to do.

She sat on a leather sofa in the swanky lobby of this new hotel that had opened last week. A young man walked up to her and said, “Good Morning. Madam will join you for breakfast in the Coffee Shop.”

Kajal nodded and followed. As usual, she took the corner table at the far end of the room. She heard the smart click of heels and looked up. The woman was tall, blonde. Elegance personified. “Class!” thought Kajal. She also saw the cute two-year old boy behind her. His face looked oddly familiar.

“Hi. I’m Gwendoline Barre-Williams,” She shook hands and discreetly handed the envelope to Kajal. “And this is my son, John M. Barre-Williams.”

Kajal smiled at the little boy who couldn’t stop staring at her. She sipped her coffee. Both women talked about Mumbai’s scorching heat, traffic woes and the emerging art scene. Mumbai was a potpourri of talented artists and painters. A distinct new style was starting to emerge that had New York and London’s most seasoned art collectors queuing up to invest. After about an hour, Gwendoline excused herself to go up to her room. She had an important phone call to make.

“Hello. Am I speaking with Jasper Heidelberg? This is Gwendoline Barre-Williams from London. Your office said I can get in touch with you on this number. Yes…we had met at the art auction at Sotheby’s last year. Perfect. Will see you at 12:00 Noon. Let’s have lunch after the exhibition. The Italian place at Taj President works for me.”

Gwendoline hugged her son and left instructions with the nanny on his routine.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can, love. Be good.” She tousled his curly hair and gently closed the door behind her.

Two years ago, she had been told she would never have children. On the same day, Mark had said he couldn’t marry her. Because of Katie.

Fate couldn’t have been any kinder. The hospital gave her the baby. They said the “cruel husband” had wanted the baby dead. The boy was weak, premature. Gwendoline needed the boy to live. She told her parents in Edinburgh she had been with child. And Mark didn’t need to know. The papers were easy to obtain. The tests would also prove he was Mark’s son.

Mark proposed to Gwendoline and they were married in June the same year. For two years, the boy was her best kept secret. She had hired her trusted childhood nanny.

Gwendoline started to realize that having Mark in her life was a nuisance. Mark’s father, Lord Williams had passed on recently and left his entire estate to his only son. But Mark’s philandering ways had started to ruin the Williams inheritance. And her political future. She confided in Dr. Shah. They had been to finishing school together and continued to keep in touch. Dr. Shah mentioned Kajal to her.

Heidelberg had been Dr. Shah’s most challenging medical case till date. It was a miracle he’d even survived the mugging episode. She mentioned Kajal to Jasper.

Gwendoline and Jasper met up for lunch at the Taj President. The exhibition was a runaway success. The new artist that everyone was raving about lived up to his reputation. They decided to work together on a plan to launch the brilliant young man in London and New York. Jasper thought Gwendoline was a bright and attractive woman. Gwendoline thought Jasper was one of the very few self-made men she had met.

Kajal unlocked her front door. The labrador came bounding and almost threw her onto the floor, knocking over the framed picture on the mantelpiece. “Oh Perry, get off me you minx!” she laughed. She picked up the picture, looked at it fondly and kept it back in its place. It was clicked about a year ago, when they were honeymooning in Switzerland. She loved the merry twinkle in Vikram’s eyes. And the way he made her laugh.

“Coffee, my sweets?” asked the comfortably plump, bespectacled bald man who was still in his pajamas. Kajal rushed to hug him. “Oh yes my darling Vikram! I missed you my love, my Winnie the Pooh! The dang flight was late and they lost my bags. And I could kill for that cup of coffee. Mumbai drives you crazy doesn’t it?”

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3200 Words