The Late bloomer

silhouette of young happy carefree girl running on the beach at sunset

*Image courtesy google images*

“Suniiiii” she could hear her mother shouting from downstairs. Meena, Sunanda’s mother, must have just come. “What does she want now?” Suni was thinking. She didn’t want to get up from the couch, but She knew that her mother was not going to stop till she got up and answered her. “The door is open amma”  Suni shouts back hoping Meena was calling her to open the door, Suni heard Meena calling her again and got up and went towards the door slowly.

It is less than a day since Suni landed from the US and she hadn’t gotten out of the jet lag yet. Actually it is not even the jet lag, it is all the late night working that was going on before she left. The usual story of “finish all your work and handover before you go on holidays.” Suni’s brother Santhu decided to get married all of a sudden and that upset all her holiday plans. Can’t blame him. he waited for her to get married for a long long time and there was no sign of her finding her man. He found the girl of his choice and they wanted to get married right away!

So yes, here she was on a “long” holiday compared to the usual 15 days and her mother was thrilled. Meena was getting old and a little bit of help with the wedding arrangements would surely go a long way. Today Meena was out to distribute wedding invitations to the area in which they lived long long before they built their own house and moved in. Meena asked Suni to go with her and Suni refused point blank. “I have to meet all these people at the wedding anyway. Who wants to meet them now and answer all their questions about me still being single” She thought. She used her jet lag as an excuse and was vegetating on the couch, trying to watch the stupid television and read a book and avoid falling asleep all at the same time and this is when Meena came back.

Looks like Meena had gone shopping on the way and was dragging a couple of bags. She wanted help to bring them upstairs and Suni went down to help her.

“Is the Velachery area covered today amma?” Suni asked.

“Yes Suni, I went to all the houses in the street we lived and everybody was asking about you. Remember Vijayan? He asked about you a lot”.

Now who is this Vijayan? Suni thinks in her mind and asks aloud too.

“Do you not remember Vijayan? He was in the same school as you when you were in your Kindergarten. His cousin Chitra and you were classmates. Both of you used to go in the same rickshaw and you both always sat together and even after school you two were inseparable and remember how much you cried when we had to move to our home because you would miss him so much.” “That was thirty years ago amma. Do you expect me to still remember him?”.

“He remembers you!”.

“Well, that is his problem” Suni snapped. Meena sensed Suni’s irritation and left it at that. Suni could see the change in Meena’s face.

“Why does amma have to do this every time? I know she is not happy about me being single, but I am not ready to get married for the sake of it. It has to be Mr.Right or none at all. I am not ready to settle for someone just because the world around me wants me to.” Suni thought.

Now Suni is not a rude girl or anything, it is just that she was tired and she suspected that her mother was trying her hand at matchmaking for her yet again that made her snap. Suni is cool about most things and is very close with her mother. She is kind of an introvert but a very cheerful person. Her smile is her best asset. She was known to be a very patient and sensible person among her friends. Though she was never impulsive about anything, she trusted her intuitions and she had to get a feel for anything before she took a decision. Whether it is job or house or just buying clothes and books, she has to like it at first sight. Somehow though one thing she did not believe in was love at first sight. She laughed at friends who spoke about falling in love the minute they saw someone. “How can you fall for someone without knowing anything about them?” Was always her question.

Suni made a cup of coffee for herself and for her mother and sat beside her on the couch. “Amma, now tell me who this Vijayan is? Is he fat, bald, married to a mami, father of four, working for some government office kind of guy?”. Suni tried to make her laugh..

Meena was not ready to talk about him now. All she said was “Vijayan is still single, just like you” and quietly sipped her coffee.

Suni was hoping that Meena didn’t try her matchmaking stunt yet again! “Who wants to get stuck married to a guy in India and that too in Velachery! I need my space and freedom” she thought.

***

“Viji, look who is here”…Sarojini amma called “your childhood friend Sunanda’s mother is here”. Vijayan looked like he was in the middle of something but he did pop out to say hello to Meena. He asked her about Sunanda  after which he excused himself and went back inside to finish a call. Meena and Sarojini talked about old times and how the Sunanda and Vijayan were inseparable when they were kids. They both were laughing at how everyone in the street used to say they would grow up together and be married to each other. Over the years, though the two families have not been in touch the two women were updated about what was happening in each other’s families. They have always been friendly to each other and have only nice things to say about each other. It was always a pleasure to meet and spend time with each other.

Meena had to leave soon though as she had to go to other houses to distribute invitations. After she left Vijayan came out. Sarojini wasn’t impressed by the way Vijayan went to attend his call rather than spend time with Meena. Vijayan walked behind his mother to the kitchen trying to cool her down and asked her “So how is Sunanda? short and fat? married to a baldie? mother of four? running around behind screaming kids?” Sarojini started laughing….

”Viji, is that what was bothering you? Sunanda is still single”. Vijayan didn’t know what to say, he tried to brush off her remark..

“Ma, there is nothing bothering me. I was in the middle of a call from US and I couldn’t have spent much time with aunty and you know that. When and where is Santhu’s wedding by the way?”

The mother and son got talking about on tiny Santhu was when their family moved out of this area and how he has grown up to be a tall and handsome young man now. As they sat at the dinner table eating Vijayan’s favourite meal, he was thinking about Sunandha and his mother mistook it for some concern about his business.

Late that night when he walked into his bedroom and locked the door, he opened his cupboard and pulled out his old albums. There she was… Sunandha, his Nandhu, right beside him in his birthday photos of three years at a stretch. The cute chubby girl whose cheek he loved to pinch and then share his toffee with her when she cried. He started whistling his favourite song as he was getting into bed.

He went to sleep that night thinking about the past and smiling to himself. Would she be thinking about him too?

***

Days moved very fast. Suni had to do finish all the last minute shopping and her parents had to do all the last minute inviting. Suni was her usual organised self and had gotten her clothes and jewellery sorted for the reception and wedding well in advance.  Once her things were sorted and out of the way she helped her parents in whatever way she could. Santhu could not take time off before the wedding as he wanted to go on a long honeymoon and was using up all his holidays after the wedding. So it was all up to Suni and her parents to do the running around. Suni was also trying to catch up with friends and family in between all this. She would meet some of them at the wedding, but she might not get time to spend with them, so she was planning her days accordingly.

The day of the wedding arrived and Suni was all excited. As the sister of the groom she was too busy running around and doing things that she was asked to. When she went into the wedding hall it was  4:00 am and all empty, bar the few sleepy heads wandering about doing their work of setting up things and doing the last minute checks, she didn’t even realise when the crowd started coming in. All of sudden she noticed that the wedding hall was full.

***

Vijayan came in early for the wedding. He had a meeting to attend at 10:00am and didn’t want to miss it at any cost. He could have easily attended the reception in the evening but something told him that he should be there to see his Nandhu. He was curious.. would she remember him the way he did? He knew she wasn’t married, but how did she look like? Will he be able to recognise her? Too many questions and he didn’t know who to ask. He need not have worried at all. As he walked into the nearly empty hall, he saw her, yes, it surely was her, unless she had a sister he didn’t know about… she was on the dias, dressed in a radiant green saree, with gold border, long hair (was that real ?) and flowers on her hair and her cheerful smile still the same. He sat in a corner watching her. He just couldn’t take his eyes off her. He was hoping she will turn around and notice him. Will she come over and talk to him? He was curious.

As the mother of the groom, Meena was extremely busy but Meena noticed Vijayan sitting alone and asked him why Sarojini hadn’t come. He told her that he had to go for a meeting so he did not bring his mother and he would surely bring her for the reception in the evening, which by the way he had decided at that instant. His original plan was to just attend the wedding and skip the reception. Meena told him that she will introduce him to Sunanda later and that Sunanda had forgotten about him completely.

Even though he was disappointed for a minute, he realised that she was only a little girl when she moved out of that area and since then they haven’t met each other at all, except maybe on a couple of occasions when she was still little.

****

Suddenly Suni  felt as though someone was staring at her. There was a big crowd, “how can I even find out who is looking at me” she thought.

Around 8:30 am, the ceremonies were nearly coming to an end and people were coming to wish the couple and give them gifts. It was time to escape she thought. She desperately wanted a cup of coffee to keep her going or else she knew she would just collapse. As she was going to step down from the dias, Meena caught her hand and pulled her to introduce her to someone. Suni turned around and saw this tall guy standing beside Meena, his eyes looking straight into her eyes with a kind of questioning look and he had a teasing smile on his lips. There was an instant connecting spark. Suni turned around to make sure that he was not actually looking at someone else, but it was her. Meena said, “Suni ma, this is Vijayan. He runs his own business and he travels all over the world. Remember I told you about how you both were always together as kids and you didn’t remember him?” Ah… now Suni knew the reason for the look and smile.

Suni could feel her cheeks turn red… she had to stop blushing. She didn’t like what was going on there. She was cursing Meena for embarrassing her in front of him!

Vijayan put out his hand and Suni didn’t even know what she was doing… Suni’s hand went up automatically and she shook hands with him. It was a firm handshake. He looked so tall and handsome. Must be going to the gym regularly Suni thought. He gave Suni his business card and he said his email id was on it. He asked Suni to mail him once she settled down after the wedding and asked her if they could connect on facebook. She simply nodded her head and smiled.

“Do you still sing and dance?” he asked.

“Ugh, well, I do occasionally” she muttered.

“I saw you getting down, may be you are in a hurry, give me a call when you get time or we will catch up on email. When are you leaving anyway?” Vijayan asked. Suni mumbled some answer and ran away.

Suni could feel his eyes piercing her back from the distance and she just wanted to vanish into thin air. She found her other cousins, got something to eat and drink and got busy with the preparation for the next set of ceremonies. Too many ceremonies and too much fun. “When I get married I will take care not to miss any of this”, she thought and as the thought crossed her mind, “Did I actually think that? Did I?… When I get married..not even if I get married…” What happened to me she thought. Till today marriage was an absolute no-no and now she was thinking about what ceremonies to have at her wedding. Is it all because of that guy?

Suni was in her early thirties and had seen so many men. She has had guys propose to her, some really good looking ones and yet has never felt anything for anyone before. She was always a loner. She stuck to her books and music and good food – the three loves of her life. She always said  “I am not ready to share my space with anyone. I don’t want to have to do small talk with someone just because I share my space with them. Many times I just like to be left alone. For a person like me, it is quite difficult to find the man of my dreams. Well, I don’t even have a dream, forget finding a man to fit in there!”

She still had Vijayan’s card in her hand when she went to her room. She checked it properly and put it in her bag in a safe place and then completely forgot about it.

****

Vijayan’s roving eyes were constantly looking out for Nandha, he just couldn’t take his eyes off her. He had to leave though. He finished his meetings and rushed home. He asked his mother to get ready for the reception. Sarojini had a questioning look and Vijayan knew he had to explain to her. He told her,  “Ma, you have to come to meet your future daughter-in-law”. Sarojini was thrilled. She has been trying to get him married for the past few years and he has been refusing. Specially after his father passed away Sarojini’s worry only increased. She was ready to get him married to anyone that he liked. She knew her son was a responsible person and would not under any condition chose the wrong girl.

Now she was curious, who was this girl who he met at the wedding. But at the same time she was thinking about her niece Chitra, who was supposed to arrive in with her baby in the evening. How could she leave Chitra and go for the reception? Vijayan had a better idea, all three of them and the baby could go for the reception. Chitra and Vijayan absolutely loved each other as neither of them had any siblings. Chitra would only be happy to meet Nandu he thought, they were classmates once upon a time. When Sarojini found out who the girl was she was thrilled. But Vijayan forbid her from telling anything to anyone. He wanted to talk to Nandhu first and find out what was in her mind. There was no point in the rest of the world talking about it if she was not interested.

***

It was time for the evening reception. All of the cousins were dressed up in designer sarees – absolutely in contrast to what they were this morning. In the morning it was silk saree, gold jewellery, hair down neatly braided, flowers in the hair, a red round bindhi – the whole traditional look. Now it was a designer saree, hair tied up, stone bindhi and artificial jewellery! The only common factor was that in both cases, Suni’s jewellery was minimum and there was absolutely minimal or no make up. Yet her simple and elgant looks caught everyone’s attention. She did not look one bit her age. That made everyone wonder all the more as to why she was still single.

As opposed to the morning session, when Suni was too busy with all the ceremonies, she was now free to wander around the hall and talk to people. Though she detested their question about her own marriage, she was actually enjoying meeting people after ages and catching up on all the gossip. There was laughter and colours and smiling faces. This is what she loved about weddings. She loved to sit and watch everyone so well dressed, and appearing so happy inspite of what is happening in their lives. It doesn’t matter if they had a fight the previous night at home or if there were problems at work, everyone forgot all their problems and just showed their happy faces. Suni always loved to attend weddings, and mostly she loved to sit in one corner and watch all the fun. But today was special, her little brother was getting married and she was very happy about it. It was also the first wedding she was attening in about two or three years and she hadn’t met most of her family for a long time.

As Suni was chatting with people all around and walking down the aisle, She was way too distracted and bumped into someone. It felt something strange, it was kind of a shiver running down her spine, only thing, it was a happy feeling, if you know what it is, something unexplainable.She looked up to see that she had bumped into Vijayan. It was only a second, but a long second, he held her tight and then let her go. But that was enough to tell the two of them that there was something special between them, if only they were ready to listen.

Once Suni kind of managed to get her composure back to normal, Vijayan introduced her to his mother and his cousin Chitra and the cute little baby. Suni spoke to them for a few minutes. Sarojini asked Suni when she was leaving and she said that she just had four days to go before her holidays came to an end. Chitra was holding Suni’s hand now and asked her would she find time to come and meet her. Suni smiled but she did not want to lie, so she said, she had to do a lot of shopping and of course there were still a few ceremonies for the next couple of days before that and so it was nearly impossible to go anywhere else. Chitra very innocently asked “Can you not change your flights Suni?”.

Suni laughed…“Oh yes, why not? The airline company would love to get an extra $100 and my boss would love to kick me out.”

She did notice three people whose face changed, even if only a tiny bit before their smiles came back again. Suni asked them to have dinner as she could feel that the baby was getting restless. They wanted to wish Santhu so she took them to the dias and stood with them for the photograph. While Suni and Vijayan stood on one side of the couple, Sarojini and Chitra stood on the other side. Vijayan very gently reached down and told Suni  “You look absolutely stunning Nandhu” in a voice that she could die for. “Did he call me Nandhu? Never in my life anyone has called me that, it was always Suni or Sunandha.” Suni thought. She was speechless yet again and her face was turning red. Argh, she needed to get away from this guy or else she would be constantly getting herself embarrassed.

***

The next few days were busy with Suni’s last minute shopping, packing, being a part of more ceremonies and sending the newly married couple off on their honeymoon. Before she realised what was going on, she was on the plane heading back to New York. Once on the plane, she realised how tired she was and slept all the way through. Even the book she had in her hand the lovely music on her walkman couldn’t keep her awake.

Back in New York, Suni got into her busy schedule and completely forgot about India and everything else too. Meena would update her weekly on Skype as to what was the current news in Chennai and what the rest of the family was doing. Work got busy as usual and she was looking forward to one of her first Christmas’ in New York. She would have loved to go home, but this time she had exhausted all her holidays for the wedding. Every now and then she would think about Vijayan, she would dig the card out of her handbag and see it. But she never had the courage to mail him. “I don’t know anything about him, how can I mail him” she thought, “ worse still, what will he think of me? I am not that desperate”

Suni’s birthday came and went with the usual wishes from friends and family. This time she felt unusually lonely. Meena as usual was complaining about how she was a year older now and still she wasn’t married.

It was just the beginning of the holiday season and Suni was in one of those lousy moods. Work had been hectic so far and things were slowing down for Xmas. Saturday morning and no call from her brother, his calls had been irregular since the wedding anyway.She just checked out her bookshelf and she found a few romantic books that she had just added. A few of her friends thought it would be funny to gift her those books. What is so funny about giving a single person romantic novels Suni thought. Some how automatically though, she picked one of those books and began reading. She finished the book at one stretch and she was crying at the end. Not even sure why she was crying. She had to get out. She threw a coat over her shoulders and with a hat, scarf and pair of mittens to keep herself warm, She just banged the house door behind her.

She walked to the pizza place down the road, picked a slice of pizza and sat on the bench outside… it was cold and it could snow any moment. She didn’t want to get out of there. She just wanted to sit out there in the freezing cold till she felt numb. She didn’t know how long she sat there. An old lady walking past patted her shoulder and asked if she was ok. She knew she had to get back home. She didn’t even bring her phone with her. She had just taken her purse and keys.

She walked back gingerly wondering what she would do when she went back home. As she put the keys on the door she could hear the phone ringing. She walked in slowly and picked up the phone. It was her dearest friend Hema. Hema and Suni were colleagues for years and were of the same age group and from the same city. Needless to say, they were thick pals.

What was Hema looking for her for? It is Saturday and Saturdays are her busy days with her boyfriend Joe. Joe was an American and somehow they had fallen head over heels in love with each other. They met at some common friend’s birthday party and famously got along well with each other.

“Hi Hems” Suni  said.

“Where the hell were you?” She asked. She must have been looking for Suni for a while. “Anything important dearie?” .

“Nah” Hema replied, with sarcasm “I just called you to tell you that Joe went down on his knees and popped the question”.

“What?”, now it was Suni’s turn to be surprised! For the next hour it was about how he took her out for a romantic dinner the previous night and gave her a big diamond ring. She said she had posted the picture on facebook and asked Suni to check it.Suni hadn’t logged into facebook in a while and had to do it now. If she didn’t like and comment on Hema’s picture, Hema would kill her.

Hema said they were getting married in Long Island beach, a simple Christian wedding, with limited guests, and then a proper fairy tale wedding in India Tam-Bram style! Suni was hoping Hema wouldn’t say she was getting married right away as Suni could not afford the holidays. Thankfully there was plenty of time for her to plan and book tickets. Suni’s Xmas holidays next year was gone too now. Also her best mate, who she normally talks for long hours with is gone too. Now Hema will be too busy with Joe to even think about finding time for Suni.

It was as though everything was working against Suni. First it was Santhu, now Hema. Everyone was getting married and getting on with their lives. Now slowly Suni felt there was nobody to talk to. Suni was very happy for Hema, but was feeling sad for herself. She needed something like chocolate and ice cream now or better still a big tub of vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce on it!

Once Hema hung up, Suni got up, dragged herself to the kitchen and made herself a cup of hot chocolate, lit a fire in the living room and cuddled up on the couch with the laptop on her lap. Logged in to facebook to see so many notifications. There was a friend request and her heart stopped when she saw the name. It was Vijayan Chandrashekar. Could it be him? Well it was him, she could see the profile pic. Did he actually search for her on Facebook and add her? While her mind was still asking her these questions, her hand had already pressed the confirm button.

Within seconds of her doing this a message window popped up “Hi, how are you?” ….

Was he actually waiting for her to add so he could write to her?

Suni replied “I am fine, how are you?”.

The next question was “What is your number?”. Now Suni didn’t know whether she should give him her number or not. After a thirty second wait, She got a message from him

“What? Have you forgotten your number ;)?” . It took her ten seconds to type out her number. And just as she finished typing the number her phone rang. Suni’s heart popped…

“Am I really ready to hear his voice? Am I ready to talk to him?” She still remembered his voice and the way he made a comment at the wedding. She let it ring for a couple of rings before she answered…

They had a quick chat and the essence was that Vijayan was in New York on business and he would love to meet up with Suni for dinner. It was decided that  “Pure Thai”on 9th Avenue would suit them both. As Suni hung up the phone she realised that she had agreed to go to a dinner date with Vijayan. This was her first date and she was getting excited and nervous at the same time. She didn’t know who to call and talk to and share her excitement with. What if it was just a joke? What if he calls back in ten minutes and cancels the date? She wanted to call Hema and share the excitement but then what would she tell Hema? She wasn’t even sure why she accepted to go out and what was in Vijayan’s mind.

The next couple of hours she pottered about the house not knowing what to do. “Did I sound too eager to meet him? What will he think of me? Should I really go? What should I wear?” Too many questions in her mind and too little answers.

Finally Suni decided to relax and have a long bath first. So got into a nice warm bath with a book in hand. She was flipping through the pages, but if you asked her what was in the book she could hardly say anything. Her mind was all over the place.

When Meena called her a couple of hours later on skype as usual, for probably the first time in Suni’s life, she hid something from her mother. Suni did not tell her that She was meeting Vijayan. She didn’t want to lie or hide anything from her mother. Suni just didn’t want her mother to question or confuse her further, she was already confused.

***

Vijay had given the business card to Nandhu in the hope that she would either call or email soon. But neither had happened. He waited for too long. Her birthday came and went and he could not even reach her. Finally he gave up and called his cousin Chitra and ask her to get Nandhu’s details from her parents, which Chitra did promptly.

He sent Nandhu a friend request on facebook and waited for a few days and there was no reply. He could also see that she wasn’t that active on facebook either. No photographs, and no status updates recently. Then he flew into New York on a business visit and was sitting with his client and on a break he logged into facebook and within seconds of which he got a notification saying Sunandha had accepted his friend request. He had to chat to her immediately. He fixed a dinner date for the same night. He was in New York only for a week and he wanted to utilise the time well. Even though he had her number, he didn’t want to call her directly. He got her to tell him her number. He didn’t want her to feel that he was very invasive.

Now that he had fixed a date, he was feeling very happy. He had seen the spark in her eyes at the wedding and he knew exactly what that meant, but does she know her own inner feeling? He wanted her to feel it and not force anything on her. He did feel that Nandhu was hesitating a bit, not sure what it was.

***

Suni got out of the bath and had a struggle picking the right dress. Picking clothes to wear had never been a struggle before. Finally she picked a pair of jeans with a nice semi formal shirt and a matching scarf to go with it. She didn’t want to wear Indian clothes.

Suni got out well ahead of time as she didn’t want to be late. Suni reached there early and she thought she would have to wait for him for long when she saw him, his hands on someone’s shoulder and talking happily. Her heart sank. Who is she? Why is he coming with her? May be she should just run away before he sees her..

Before Suni could do anything he saw her and smiled at her. The same look that he had on her brother’s wedding day and her face went red.

“Jesus! Why does my heart flip over for him? Just one smile and I am gone” He introduced Suni to the girl – Mary-Ann, his Manager for US. Mary-Ann was absolutely gorgeous. Gosh! Why did she have to be so beautiful? Vijayan told Suni that they were just finishing up a meeting and he had a few things to discuss with her, so he thought it would be a good idea to bring Mary Ann with him for the dinner. He hoped that Suni didn’t mind her being there. Suni had no choice but smile and said no, what else could she do. He was very thoughtful though and he had brought a beautiful orchid plant and a bar of chocolate for Suni.

Suni’s mind was confused. May be this is his girlfriend and his mother probably said no to a non-Indian and that is why he is still single.

Food was ordered and they chatted for a while. Suni sat there grazing her food and Vijayan surely noticed that and when he asked about it she just said

“Sorry Jai, I had a heavy lunch and I am finding it difficult to eat now”. Even though he knew she was lying, something made him smile. Suni didn’t realise that what she had called him made him smile. What was in her heart had come out but she was yet to realise her feelings for him. In between all this Vijayan casually asked to look at Suni’s phone and was messing around with it. Nothing registered in her mind.

Suni wasn’t sure of what to make of the relationship between Mary-Ann and Vijayan. They seemed so comfortable with each other. Suni wished she was sitting beside Jai and she could talk to him the way Mary-Ann did. Suni’s heart was racing… she wanted to be with Jai so much, but she hated the thought of Mary-Ann being around.

Just before dessert was ordered, Mary-Ann got a call and she said she had to leave immediately. Jai helped her with the jacket and gave her a big hug and a peck on the cheek. He even excused himself and went to the door to put her on a taxi. When he came back to the table, things should have been easy for Suni, it was just the two of them, but somehow her lips refused to open. She was sitting looking down at her dessert, biting her lip. Jai lifted her face and released her lip from her teeth gently.

“Don’t hurt your lips Nandhu”

Suni could not look at him in the eyes.Jai was asking her many questions and was keen to listen to her talk. While Suni did answer the questions, there was something that stopped her from being comfortable.

“What is wrong with me? When we weren’t alone all I wanted was to be alone with him and now I don’t want to talk to him.” Suni thought. It appeared as though Jai was dragging the evening as much as he could. Finally it was getting late and they both had to leave. As they were leaving the place after dinner, he held her hand, as they crossed the road so that she could get a taxi. Jai gave her a slight hug and opened the taxi door for her. Jai asked Nandhu to call him during the week. He was hoping to meet her again before he left New York on Sunday morning. Suni said she would and went back home, fell flat on the bed and cried. All that was on Suni’s mind was “Why did he have to do that to me? If he wanted to bring another girl for dinner then he shouldn’t have called me.”

Before Suni realised Sunday flew and Monday arrived. As usual it was Manic Monday for her and before she realised it was Sunday Morning once again. She had avoided thinking of Jai all week long. Every time she opened the fridge and saw the huge bar of chocolate or saw the beautiful orchid plant on the kitchen counter, she would think of him. She would gently touch the plant and that would make her feel happy. But that was it, she was not ready to call him at all. What if he comes with Mary-Ann again or may be with someone else. Who knows?

She was cuddled up on bed and listening to music and reading on the Sunday morning when the phone rang. She was shocked when she looked at the screen. The display said “Jai” . She did not put the number in the phone then how did that come there? Then she remembered that Jai was playing with her phone at the restaurant. How dare he? How could he have added his name, and that too as “Jai”.

Jai was calling from the airport. He told Suni that he was disappointed. He was hoping for her to call him. Suni could sense a laugh when he said that is why he had added his number to the phone so that her little brain didn’t have to do the hard work of remembering his number. She wanted to throw things at him. How dare he calls her brain “little brain”? She tried to be diplomatic. She told him that she was too busy with work so she couldn’t call. “Really?” he asked and Suni could sense the sarcasm in his voice. “God… I don’t want him to put the phone down, please continue talking to me” she thought. But he said boarding had been announced and he really had to get on the plane now and leave but he would be back in New York soon and the next time may be they could try Italian food and see if she liked it better than the Thai food. Again the same sarcasm with a tinge of laughter in his voice. “Bye Nandhu” he said and hung up. Suni was sitting in bed and staring at the phone.

“When I am talking to him I don’t remember anything and yet when he is not around all kinds of thoughts come into my mind. I did not call him because I wasn’t sure who Mary-Ann was? May be she was his girl friend. I didn’t want to dream about him knowing that he would never be mine. “ Suni muttered. She threw the phone on the bed and started crying. She didn’t know how long she was like that. She must have have fallen asleep crying. She woke up to the phone ringing again. She was in no mood to answer, but knowing the handful that called her, if she didn’t answer the phone they would call her again and again till she answers. Might as well answer and get it out of the way she thought.

Suni answered the call without even checking who it was and her heart stopped again. The voice on the other end said “Hi Nandhu” and she thought she was dreaming. The room was dark and she was still in bed. This sure was a dream… she could hear him say “Can you hear me Nandhu?” and only then she realised that this wasn’t a dream. Where was he calling from? Stop over somewhere? or transit and he thought of calling me? He kept calling her name and she couldn’t even say a word. She started sobbing all of a sudden. His voice changed and sounded worried. “Nandhu, are you ok ?” he asked and for the first time she replied “Yes, I am fine, I just have a bit of cold.” Damn! She didn’t even know in which direction and with whom he was travelling.

“Really Nandhu? You were fine when I called you nine hours ago? What happened now?”. She had to do some quick thinking…

“I was out in the cold and I hadn’t taken my hat and scarf”, she replied. She could hear him laugh. She closed her eyes and imagined him laughing. He looked great when he laughed, the way the eyes would go narrow, and his lips would turn up and reflect a smile right from the heart. “OK stop imagining that you idiot”, she told her heart. He told her that he had to rush but he would keep in touch on phone and asked her to please reply to his messages. When he asked her if she could be his friend, she couldn’t refuse and she said yes.

The rest of the day meant nothing to her. she mechanically got out of bed finally and made something to eat. Within an hour and a half she was showered, fed and ready to hit bed again. This time she slept peacefully. But in the heart of heart, a thought crossed her mind. He said “be my friend” not anything else. May be he just wants a friend. May be it is just Suni who had fallen for him and is reading too much out of the whole thing.

From then on Suni would keep getting messages from him. She never took the first step. It was always messages from him and she would reply to it. It started with once a week and over a period of time, had become a few times everyday. He would write to her from all over the world, about his work, the people he met, what he ate, what he saw. And she would write to him about her boring life compared to him. About her colleagues, about Hema, about her boss, the lunch she had, the new recipes she tried, the books she read, the music she heard and he would send her suggestions for food, music and books. Her library was slowly growing with new books – all his suggestions. She was listening to a wider selection of music and was learning to cook more dishes from around the world – all thanks to him. From ther person she was – not wanting to talk to people just for the sake of it, she was messaging him day and night, the day would start with her good morning message and finish with her good night message and sometimes in between it would be conversations with easily a thousand messages between them. She was slowly but surely opening up.

A beautiful relationship was blooming but Suni was refusing to look inside herself and see where the whole thing was heading to. She just wanted this the way it was. She was happy to be in her own world, in her own little space.

In the meantime Jai did come to New York in a couple of weeks as he promised but he could not meet her. He said he had meetings lined up all day long and he had to attend parties in the evenings and he thought it wasn’t fair to invite her to those “boring” parties. He did call her from a party one of those evenings for a quick chat and Suni could hear Mary-Ann in the background. Another tearful night for Suni!

During one of the weekends when Meena called, she noticed that her daughter wasn’t looking the best and knowing her it wasn’t work related stress. So what was it? Meena asked Suni what it was all about and Suni replied that she was bored because both Santhu and Hema had no time to talk to her. Damn all those people in relationships… they had no time for others, she said! Meena started laughing and then started the whole “Get married darling, you won’t regret it. I have in mind a nice guy for you.”.

“Amma, if this is all what you want to talk about then please hang up” Suni snapped.

Even though Suni wasn’t too keen, Meena decided she should do something about it. She put up an ad in the matrimonial website saying she was looking for someone in New York for her daughter and she started getting responses. When she told about that and mailed in a few profiles and pictures to Suni, Suni totally lost it. “Amma, at this rate you will even fix my marriage without my consent… I am not talking to you anymore” She shouted on the phone. Of course Meena knew this would only last a week before she would be calling Meena again. While Suni is a loner, she loved chatting with her mother and could never be really really angry with her. Meena decided to set up a date for her daughter and surprise her in the last minute. She was trying to fix a date for the next Saturday with a guy whom she thought was really nice and from a good family.

When Suni was at work her full concentration would be on work. But once she finished and she was on the train heading back home, she would be day dreaming about Jai. She would sing duets with him around the Statue of Liberty, the Swiss Alps and the Eiffel Tower. She wanted to be with him badly but didn’t want to show that she was desperate either. What if he considered her only as a “friend”. That is what he told her right?

***

Vijayan on the other hand, was very very busy, but that didn’t stop him from sending messages to the girl who ruled his heart. He would write to her, write everything that he wanted to share but he would also add little remarks about the people, specially women who were around him. This is hoping that it would make her jealous and fight with him, but his darling was refusing to take the bait. The whole idea of bringing Mary-Ann on his first date with her was to see her reaction. He had got his answer right away. But he wanted her to realise what was in her mind. Till then he wasn’t going to say anything, other than may be slowly nudge her towards thinking about it.

He would drop a “darling” here and a “sweetheart” there in the messages, but Nandhu wasn’t reacting to anything.

***

Saturday morning Suni got a call from a guy named Sridhar. He said, her mother had given him the number and he would love to meet up with her. Very unlike her, she lost her patience, told him straight on the phone that she wasn’t interested and hung up and called her mother immediately and nearly lost it on Meena. This time she said her mother had crossed the limits and given someone her phone number without asking her. Meena quietly listened to the whole shouting thing and then calmly asked

“So who is it Suni ma?”

Suni didn’t even think, she said immediately. “What do you mean amma? There is nobody”.

“The speed in which you replied, makes me think there is someone in your life Suni. I am always there to listen to you. Tell me about him when you are ready. I am happy to accept whoever it is”

“Oh why should it be a him amma? why can’t it be a her?” Suni laughed, she was trying to ease the situation

“Oh silly, I know you much better than that! Just tell me when you are ready, OK”

“I am lucky to have such a wonderful and understanding mother” Suni thought as she hung up. Meena got the message loud and clear. Her daughter is definitely interested in someone, but she is not ready to accept it yet. Meena was just hoping that it would all work out for her.

***

Vijayan was flying around the world and in the process flew into New York another couple of times and he couldn’t meet her. But he did not hide the fact that he was around but couldn’t meet her. He had a few reasons for not meeting her.

He was really very busy and couldn’t afford the time.

He thought absence would make the heart grow fonder, at least in this case, make her think and realise what her feelings for him was.

He was afraid that if he met her he would just hug her and tell her how much he loved her. He had to control himself.

***

Hema’s beach wedding was approaching and Suni was the bridesmaid. Suni was the only one without a date. Everything else was set. Hema’s inquisitive eyes hadn’t missed the smiles at the phone in the middle of meetings, the quiet chats on the phone every now and then, etc. When Hema asked Suni, Suni confessed everything.

One such afternoon the two of them were coming back from lunch when Suni’s phone rang and seeing her smile, Hema knew who it was. She just snatched the phone and before Suni realised what was happening, Hema had walked into a meeting room and locked herself in. Suni was getting restless. It felt like a long long time before Hema came out and gave the phone to Suni and walked away with a wink and a smile.

Suni noticed Jai was still on the line…

“Jai”

“Yes darling”

“What did Hema say? Sorry about that, I didn’t expect her to snatch the phone and lock herself up in a room.”

“It is ok darling, she has invited me to her wedding as your date”

“What?”

“Yes dear and I am coming. So be prepared to spend an entire afternoon and night with me. I am not going to let you go”

“Are you serious”

“Have never been more serious in my life before sweetheart. Now I have to go, good bye and remember, be good!”

***

It was the day of Hema’s wedding. Suni was busy from the morning, getting Hema ready and getting herself ready too. She wasn’t really sure if Jai would turn up for the wedding or not. He hadn’t mentioned about the wedding after that in any of the conversations they had.

Just an hour before the wedding, when she walked out, she saw Jai, standing there, leaning on a pillar, dressed in semi formals, one hand in his jeans pocket and on the other the mobile phone. He was busy talking to someone. Once he saw his Nandhu, he disconnected the call and walked towards her. Here someone was was losing their heart beat real fast.”He looks so good and I want to run into his arms” Suni thought. She had to control herself. When he came closer he put his arms around her shoulder, slowly moved the curls hanging down her forehead to the side and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. Suni realised if she didn’t move away from him now, she had no chance of going back. Thankfully Hema called her and so Suni ran away, using that as an excuse and Jai had a knowing smile on his face. “Where will she go?, She has to spend the rest of the day (and life) with me.”

The moment arrived when Hema and Joe were pronounced man and wife. Everyone settled at the their tables to listen to the speeches and then have food. As Hema had said, the crowd was limited to mostly Joe’s immediate family and very few friends of theirs. Jai was sitting right beside Nandhu and when all the hungama settled down he whispered into her ear about how gorgeous she looked in the red gown and how he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Suni blushed once again. “What does he think of himself? He always puts me in this situation where my cheeks end up turning red.”

The food was good and it was time for the dance. The first dance of course was the couple’s dance. When the floor was open for the rest of them to join in, Jai got up and put his hand out asking Nandhu for a dance. Nandhu mumbled “I have got two left feet! I can’t dance.”

But Jai wasn’t ready to listen, and it would not be nice to create a scene there so she got up for the dance. Jai held her close to him. Nandhu started feeling dizzy, just being that close to him. The music, the mood and Jai. She knew she was just melting in his arms but she could do nothing about it.

It was time for the newly married couple to leave on their honeymoon and as Hema threw her wedding bouquet behind her, it some how mysteriously landed on Suni’s hand, symbolising that Suni would be the next person to get married.

The guests left soon after and Jai and Nandhu didn’t have a mind to go back to their respective rooms that had been booked for them at the hotel. Though Nandhu was very tired from all the running around, she wanted to be with Jai. They both decided to take a moonlight walk on the beach. They walked and talked and talked and walked and laughed for a long long time. It was slightly cold and Jai gave Nandhu his jacket. What started of as a walk side by side, moved to holding each other’s hands and it had come to him putting his arms around her shoulder. They somehow had so much to talk and so much in common too. It was as though they were soulmates.

Jai felt that if they stayed together any longer then something might happen which he didn’t want. Not without Nandhu telling him what was in her mind. He quietly guided her back to the hotel and got her into her room and bid her goodnight with a slight hug and a peck on her cheek! Both of them spent a sleepless night in their respective rooms.

The next morning, they got up, got ready, had breakfast together and went back to their routine. Nandhu to her work and Jai to attend his meetings.

Nandhu by now was sure of her feelings but still Jai hadn’t told her anything so far. He does openly flirt with her, but that means nothing. How can she find out what was in his mind? Was he really serious about her? She had no answers and she didn’t want to tell him something and then if he says he just considered her a friend, she would be really really heart broken.

Nandhu never believed in soul mates before, but now she could see clearly that Jai was her soul mate. They loved the same things, they loved being together, they made each other laugh, they missed each other too much, they completed each other’s sentences. Yes this is it! Jai and Nandhu were made for each other.

Time waits for nobody. It was time to go to India for Hema’s big fat Indian wedding. She flew in advance. This time she did not have to worry about running around like last time. She could relax at home, listen to her mother’s stories, go shopping, meet friends and even go on a mini holiday in India.

She had told Jai about her trip at the beach wedding and he said he would be in India during that time and he made her promise that she would go and meet him.

The day after she landed she got a message from him asking her when she was going to keep up the promise of meeting him. She called him this time and said she was free the same day and she would love to meet him.

Suni told her mother that she was going to meet her friend. She wanted to confirm everything before telling her mother, so Meena just had to wait to hear the news. Suni was supposed to meet Jai at a coffee shop. Jai was waiting for her right at the door and he asked her to hop in the car for a drive. Within the next fifteen minutes they were at Jai’s house.

She couldn’t even recognise the place. It had been a long long time, nearly three decades since she was there and things had changed drastically. Jai’s house had been renovated and looked really really good and bright.

Sarojini invited the girl with open arms and asked her about her family and work. Suni was chatting with her but her eyes were constantly following Jai. Sarojini decided to give the two of them some time together. She asked Jai to take Suni around the house while she made something for them to eat. Jai showed her around the house and finally took her into his room upstairs and closed the door. Nandhu was not sure what to make of it. Jai was leaning on the table, and asked her what she thought of him. ‘Nandhu was lost for words. He held her hand and pulled her close to him. That distance between them only made her close her eyes and take deep breaths. Jai was smiling, she wasn’t moving away, that is a positive sign he thought. He pulled her even closer and whispered..”Do you love me darling?”

“Yes, Yes and Yes… what took you so long to ask me?”

“From day one you seemed so unsure of yourself. I wanted you to find out your feelings for me first. I didn’t want to force myself on you”

“Why did you bring Mary-Ann on our first date?”

“Oh, that is where the problem started is it? I was hoping you would feel jealous and fight with me. But of course you wanted to be the epitome of sacrifice and wanted to give away what is rightfully yours to someone else and spend the rest of your life drowning in your sorrows” he laughed. “and oh, by the way, Mary-Ann is married to a good friend of mine and is a mother of three children”

“Silly you… don’t you even know how much torture I went through?”

“I realised that when Hema spoke to me sweetie”

“So Hema told you everything?”

“Yes she did, she told me how much you love me but how you were not sure about my feelings for you. That is why I came for the wedding in Long Island. If you had any doubts about me, I wanted to clarify everything. It would sound silly if I told you that even as a child I always had a soft corner for you and when I found out that you were still single, I was sure I could woo you”

As he said that, he pulled a draw from the desk he was leaning on, and took out a little box.

He took her ring finger and put a beautiful ring. He didn’t even have to ask her the question anymore. He knew the answer already. He lightly brushed her fingers with his lips. He looked at her red face. He couldn’t resist any more. “When are we getting married darling? Tomorrow or maybe today? What do you say?” He asked as he pulled her into his arms and gave her a real tight hug followed by a kiss. Neither of them knew how long they were like that, in a tight embrace, lip locked , forgetting the world… They were brought to this world when his phone rang. It was only his mother who was teasing him asking if they were coming down or going for their honeymoon directly from there.

He laughed and said he would bring her daughter in law safely downstairs. He hung up the phone and pulled Nandhu close to him again. He didn’t have the patience anymore. He had waited too long for this.

And thus started a new beginning of Nandhu’s life…..

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