While Natasha and Anita were enjoying Calcutta, Shom and Khush got together at their old haunt, Wink bar.
“Do you remember Aer bar at all?” asked Khush. “We used to go there ten years ago.”
“Yes, of course. But after Raima’s mother
expired and she moved to Harry’s house
in Colaba, I stopped going there. I
remember those days when both of us were chasing Raima and we used to go to Aer often,” replied Shom.
Khush and Shom were at Aer, the exclusive rooftop bar at Four Seasons, Worli, overlooking the sea. As they settled on the plush white sofas with a drink, a cool breeze blew in from twilight sky.
Shom sighed. “Poor Raima, she has gone through hell.”
“It is not over yet, there is much more shocking news to come,” said Khush, taking a sip of his single malt whisky.
“What do you mean?” Shom was on the edge of his seat.
“Well, she got involved with this
handsome young guy, Saif Hussein, who was head over heels in love with her, or so it seemed anyway. They conveyed the expression of made for each other, but the affair lasted only a few months. One evening, when they were out for dinner, he received a phone call. He responded in a hushed tone and disconnected quickly. Raima could sense his nervousness. He was normally quite a composed man who would casually excuse himself to handle his calls privately, but this time it was different,” said Khush, downing his drink and signalling the waitress.
“Are you new here? I haven’t seen you around,” asked Khush smilingly.
“Yes, sir, I came in only last week,” she replied.
“Thought as much. I don’t forget a pretty face. I’ll have the same drink, dear.”
“Right away, sir,” she said.
“You made her day. Now let’s get back to Raima.”
“Yes. Now, where was I? Right, got it. Well, you know Raima is not a fool. She suspected something was seriously wrong. The next time he received such a suspicious call was when they were in his ground-floor apartment. She excused herself and tiptoed around the house to the window. She was shocked at what she heard. He was talking like a tapori on the phone. She peeped inside. By his angry look, Saif appeared no better than a gangster in a Bollywood film.”
“Arrey Usmanbhai, manaa kiya na, ye time pe phone karneka nahin. Theek hai, bolo, jaldi bolo. Nahin manta wo, achhaa, to tapka dalo saale ko. Bolana, haan, bheja uda daalo bas.”
“Raima had never heard anyone talk like that before, except in movies. The words
‘haan bheja uda daalo bas’ kept ringing in her ears. She could have passed it off as an empty threat, but the tone of his voice was chilling. From his conversation, he appeared to be a murderer.”
“Raima walked away from there, scared that he might see her. She recalled the occasions when he had excused himself to take a call or hung up abruptly when she had been within earshot. What kind of a plot was he involved in? And where did that leave her? If she got embroiled in the mess – whatever it was, she knew it was ugly – she might not be able to get out of it. Then, at that time, she may not be able to betray him. The very thought horrified her.”
“Raima was scared when she contacted me. She discreetly went through Saif’s phone records and supplied me with names that I investigated. We discovered that he was a terrorist. I relayed this information to the police and the Bomb Squad. Soon enough, he was behind bars as one of the key suspects for 26/11.”
“But naturally, this incident left her scarred. It happened about a year ago. I tried to contact her but realised it was too painful a memory for her, so I let her be. I have had no contact with her for the past nine months. And then, the day before, I heard you mention her name.”
Shom remained silent. He remembered Raima mentioning Saif as one of the bad experiences in her life.
“How did you meet her?” asked Khush.
“On my Facebook chat,” said Shom.
“So that’s what you do sitting in the office.”
“I chat with her mostly at home at night or in the car, on my BlackBerry. Unlike you, I am a lonely man.”
“Does she know you are Suman Bhatia?”
“No. I am Shom to her, like I am to you and I don’t think she even cares to know more.”
“Would you mind if I make contact with Raima again and work out a date?” asked Khush, trying to test Shom’s feelings.
Shom felt like chucking his glass of rare single malt on his friend’s face but decided against it. After all, Khush was his best friend and a nice guy at heart. It was only his way of thinking that was so different. He realised Khush wanted him to be detached. An idea dawned upon him.
“You may call her but only in my presence, with the speakerphone on,” Shom said.
“That’s okay with me, as long as you can keep your mouth shut.”
The thought of hearing Raima’s voice got them excited. There was a spring in their step as they made their way out of Aer. Shom put his arm around Khush’s shoulders, like long-lost buddies.
“Let me send my chauffeur away so that we can talk to her from my car, as we drive up and down the sea link,” said Shom.
Once they were on the sea link, Khush called Raima but received no response.
“Why is she not taking the call?” he asked, sounding irritated.
Thank God she isn’t answering, thought Shom, and then cursed himself for thinking like a loser. Suddenly, her sultry voice came from the car’s speakers.
“Hi, Khush. It’s been a long time.”
“Raima! It’s so good to hear your voice. It certainly has been a long time. I didn’t want to disturb you these last few months. How have you been?”
“Thanks, Khush. I appreciate it. You have been very understanding and supportive. I am in a much better condition now.”
“Great to hear the old Raima is back.”
Shom was nervous. He wished Raima would remain his alone.
“Back on track, yes, but no one should remain the same. I too am evolving with time. Learning from the lessons life has taught me.”
Well said, thought Shom, that’s my girl.
“I agree. Saif Hussein was a bad experience.”
“Yes, but I have moved on.”
Shom was enjoying this conversation. He was impressed with Raima’s answers and her positive thinking.
“That’s wonderful. So, what are you doing these days? Why don’t we meet up? We have a lot to catch up on.”
“I don’t mind meeting you but you might find me boring and not fancy-free like before.”
Raima was great, thought Shom. She was putting Khush in his place.
“I know a great place for dinner and it has the best music. The type you like. Remember how we enjoyed dancing that night?”
The bastard was up to his usual tricks, cursed Shom.
“That will be nice but I should tell you it won’t be like what you are thinking.”
Shom was thrilled. Raima was basically telling Khush to fuck off, a sentiment he expressed in sign language to Khush with one hand on the wheel. Khush scowled and continued to suavely persuade Raima.
“How do you know what I am thinking?”
“Come on Khush, I am not dumb. I know what men think of when they want to wine and dine women, especially men like you. I am sorry, didn’t mean to rub it in.”
Shom was thrilled now. He had a tough time keeping his mouth shut while watching Khush get irritated. He was swaying to some imaginary music in his head and so was the car. Khush abruptly cut the call and asked Shom to stop so he could get off. Shom folded his hands and begged him to call her again.
“Why?” asked Khush.
“It looks rude. Besides do me a favour; let her talk a little more and maybe she will let on about her relationship with me. And let’s not fight over a woman; we aren’t boys anymore,” said Shom with a tinge of satisfaction in his voice.
The music resumed once the call ended. Jim Morrison was singing about the whiskey bar and the little girl: Show me the way to the next little girl, oh, don’t ask why, oh, don’t ask why. It was interrupted by another phone call. It was Raima, calling Khush.
“Hey Khush, did I say something to offend you? If I did, I am sorry, I shouldn’t have.”
Shom placed his hand on Khush’s shoulder, urging him to continue the conversation.
“No, nothing of the sort. I think the call just dropped. But you are right about my taking things for granted with you. Let’s try again.”
“There’s nothing to try. We are friends and I would like to remain so. Nothing beyond that.”
“I would love to remain friends too. I know it isn’t any of my business but are you seeing someone?”
“I don’t mind telling you actually. In fact, only a few days ago I met a god-sent of a man, a real gentleman. I have never met anyone like him before. I hope and pray it lasts forever.”
Khush looked at Shom who had tears in his eyes. Raima, he thought, had his friend hook, line and sinker.
“That’s fantastic. When do I get to meet this lucky man? I would like to learn a few tricks from him.”
“There is a lot for us to learn from him but I can’t say anything beyond that. Moreover, he will not meet anyone and I respect his feelings. Thanks for calling, Khush. I have had a tiring day. Keep in touch. Goodnight!”
“I will. Goodnight!”
“That was Raima and you were head over heels in love with her,” said Khush.
“What do you mean? I will always be in love with her. Now Natasha is so lonely without her that she’s taken Anita away,” replied Shom.
Just then there was a call on Shom’s phone. It was Raima. Shom answered immediately and his face turned grim.
To be continued…