Consecutive Story

Episode 1: Yuvika Shroff

It was 10 in the night. A hillside old bungalow was glowing in the moonlight and vintage lanterns. The nameplate read ‘Shroff’s’. Currently, Yuvika Shroff, a 26-year-old woman lived there alone.

In the first room of the house, there sat a table in front of the window. It was open showing the big garden with lawn and plant beds. The cool breeze was constantly bringing in the fragrance of variety of flowers and spreading in the entire room.

Yuvika was shuffling the papers. Her long hair were messy but tied loosely. This style made her even more beautiful. A wavering palazzo, cotton crop top and soft shrug relaxed her. Her dark brown eyes were sparkling and missed to blink more often out of consciousness and focused work style. Her rectangle Ray-Bans gave her a complete nerdy look. Playing with front silky hair-layer with her left hand, she was writing some notes with the right hand. A mild light was lit in every corner of the home made the atmosphere even more glowing.

Yuvika, being in the most comfortable zone, leant back, sighed, and looked out of the window. The full-moon night and cold breeze made her smile. She felt a strange laziness. An envelope suddenly caught her attention. She took it. The address read,

“Yuvika Shroff,

Editor in Chief, @ink Magazine”

Yuvika went into deep thoughts. The envelope was still in her hand. Today’s events started floating in front of her eyes. But a phone ring broke the chain of her thoughts.

“Hello Chief,” said a male voice. It was Dev, her friend from the internship and now a senior.

“Dev, it’s you. Why don’t you sleep and let me work?” said Yuvika.

Dev and Yuvika were together in the internship at the @ink. She has been one of the most hardworking interns of her time. With her consistent excellent performance, she has got the promotion at a very early age while Dev was always one step ahead of her in the progress for two reasons; One, he was more informed and risk taking about everything he did and it always suited his powerfully dashing personality. Two, he was the immediate successor of the chairman’s seat. This reality had never affected Yuvika and her friendship with Dev. They had been grown up to the dependable and trustworthy employees together. They had been each other’s supporters throughout. Even today, Dev was the one who broke the news to her that she had become the Editor in Chief and now she would be replacing Dev in his cabin.

Yuvika got tons of wishes and greetings today. And why not! It was a very special day of her life. But none of those seemed to affect her much. And who could be more aware of her boring way the of celebration than Dev?

“So celebrations and all, ha?” continued Dev.

“Yes, of course. With the latest story,” said Yuvika in her most regular tone.

“Oh screw the story at least for some hours. Why don’t you believe in the concept of celebration?” asked the annoyed Dev.

“I will celebrate but only after this story. You know I have been working on this one since 2 years because of which the promotion got delayed for twice,” explained Yuvika, holding the phone between her head and shoulder, writing with her right hand.

“Okay okay, chief.”

“Don’t call me that.”

 

*******

Episode 2: With a stranger on highway

It was 6:30 in the morning. It was the morning of the new beginning for Yuvika. She woke up and got ready faster than usual. She wore her favourite grey trouser and white shirt. The shirt was loosely fit as she always preferred. She tied her hair in a ponytail. She did a light touch up with compact and a kohl eye-liner gave her smoky look. Mostly skin-coloured and sometimes pinkish lip balm made her lips glossy. The Rolex took place on her right wrist and a golden bracelet on the left one. She took out the pair of charcoal coloured Blahnik stilettos from the cupboard. Nothing was drastically changed in her appearance except the choice of clothes and accessories which she had kept in the collection for special days like today. But she always made sure that nothing was inordinate. Simplicity was her forte. It suited her the most. It made her more beautiful. She was ready to leave the house with her copper-coloured handbag.

She was eager and anxious at the same time. An old framed photo of her parents was hung on the wall in the front room above the vintage fireplace. She stood in front of it. Looking at the photo, she recalled the memories. They must have been the happiest today.  She came in the front room where she stood in front of the large painting of her grandmother facing the entrance of the room. She bowed her head. Her eyes got wet. After her parents, her grandmother was the only support she got and the only one for whom she could look after. She got very close to her after her parents’ death. And her death left Yuvika completely broken. She could hardly compose herself again. Ever since then, her work became her life, her world. She started working even harder.

She decided to have breakfast at the office as she did not want to get late on the first day in the new cabin.

It was 7:30. Every day, Yuvika self-drove to the city. The road from Chitgarh to Delhi highway was green, breezing, and no traffic at all. It took her 30 minutes to reach Delhi city. As soon as she got in the car, she got busy with the today’s schedule in her thoughts. She hardly drove a few meters where she spotted a boy who seemed to be in his teenage. He was in a round neck t-shirt and a pair of three-fourth. A bag-pack and a cap made him look like a collegian. She could figure out that he was waiting for any vehicle.

Yuvika stopped the car, rolled the window down to her right and asked that boy, “Heading to the city?” The boy said yes as it was a single track with no bifurcation.

“Hey, thanks,” said the boy as soon as he got into the car. He closed the door and adjusted himself. “I was waiting for a bus or any vehicle. But all I found were pedestrians. Nobody goes to the city?”

“They go. Mostly late,” said Yuvika.

“By the way, I am Joe,” said the boy.

“Yuvika.”

“So you go to the city every day?” asked Joe.

“Yes. I work there.”

“So, why don’t you live there?” asked Joe.

“Because my home is here,” answered Yuvika.

“Ah. Alright.”

The conversation came to a halt like any other strangers’-courtesy-talks. Joe broke the silence, “I have come here for the project. I mean the city. I have started my architecture programme. And to study the town system, I have chosen this town to live in. And now, I see that I made a right choice. I mean, the town is so pretty.”

Yuvika smiled. Many thoughts were already churning in her mind: today’s presentation, two meetings with clients, and the first story which she was going to publish after being Editor in Chief.  She had already reached the office mentally. She felt a huge amount of responsibility. But it did not bother her. She loved it. That’s what she wanted to do.

Seeing her lost in thoughts, Joe asked, “Please don’t forget the turn. I don’t want to get late on my first day.”

“There is no turn in this way. And this is the first day for me too,” said Yuvika.

“Oh really? How?”

“Never mind,” said Yuvika.

She didn’t find it necessary to share this information with him. And she wanted to make lesser conversation anyway. She usually did so whenever she got nervous or over conscious.

They were about to reach the highway. Joe again asked, “Do you live alone?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Yuvika was trying to find a way to shorten the conversation. But it seemed impossible.

“Look, Joe, this is a very important day for me. We will talk about families, friends and life some other day,” Yuvika had to go straight as that young fellow didn’t seem to understand the signs to keep quiet.

“Alright. By the way, I am staying at that bald Parsi’s bungalow.”

Now it was high time for Yuvika to need to calm herself, “You mean Mr Irani?”

“Yeah.”

Yuvika finally frowned. One, he was not understanding that she was not in the state of such chatters. Two, he didn’t seem to have any respect for elders. And Mr Irani was an old man and was her neighbour ever since she came here to live.

“So you know his name or surname at least?” asked the furious Yuvika.

“Yeah,” said Joe, already sensing the danger.

“So is it necessary to address him so rudely just because you have to flaunt your teenage and ‘compulsory-coolness’?”

She shut him up in just one sentence. Joe was stunned and Yuvika went back to her chain of thoughts.

“Well, I am sorry if I have offended you,” said Joe who is more puzzled than terrified. To which, Yuvika didn’t choose to answer.

They reached to the city in silence.

Yuvika asked Joe for his address. She dropped him near his institute and left for her office. Before she left, she made sure that Joe would get a vehicle on his way back to home. Otherwise, she would have offered him a drive to go back.

*******

Episode 3: Day one in the new office

Everyone cheered as soon as Yuvika stepped into the office. Her new cabin was waiting for her. She was not much surprised by the applause as she was usually loved at the office. But she always found it overwhelming.

The table in the new cabin was decorated with bouquets and pastries. The boss, Mr Dixit congratulated Yuvika and went to the bigger chair gesturing her that it was her from now.

Yuvika had always shared a friendly equation with everybody at office including her boss. Though, she was a warm hearted person, but as a professional, she was a tough one to deal with. She had never tolerated any kind of compromise in work. Even in some incidents in past, she had fired a notorious junior trying to corrupt the system and she had also risked her own job in a dispute with an influencing client who tried to bribe the magazine. And now that she was holding the position of a chief, her colleagues cracked joke that she would be a devil who would wear a Chief’s Prada. But everybody was happy for her and the magazine. There was no smell of envy. The environment of the office was positive and she would do anything to keep it like this. It was her second home.

As soon as Yuvika took the chair, she was called.

“Sir, you called me?” asked Yuvika taking the chair in front of Mr Dixit.

“Yes. It seems like you have already bagged a bigger fish,” said Mr Dixit with sparkling eyes.

“I don’t get it. What is it?” asked Yuvika in a confused manner.

“Mr. Sinha is coming in a couple of months. We are planning to start working on a new book which will be about the magazine; right from its history to the employees to the entire journey. And being the consistent part of the magazine, we want you to monitor it. And not just an editor, we want you to contribute as a writer too. It will be your book,” continued Dixit gesturing square brackets with hands, “Written by Yuvika Shroff and Published by @ink Magazine. What do you say?”

Yuvika was stunned. It was sudden and a surprise. She loved writing and it was the biggest opportunity for her to do something on her own and for herself. She was extremely happy. She knew that it would be even more hectic from now, but without giving it a second thought, she nodded and said yes. After a while, she asked, “When did you say we are supposed to start working on it?”

“Most probably within 6 months. Once Mr Sinha comes, everything will be finalized.”

“Sir, I feel privileged that you offered me to write. But I am afraid that I won’t be able to work on it,” said Yuvika in discouraging tone.

“Why? What’s wrong?” asked Mr Dixit, pretending his concern.

“In upcoming 5 months, we are going to feature Dalal’s story.”

“Oh Yuvika, the story is up to us. We can postpone it. May be after another 6 months?” said Mr Dixit, dismissing the worry on Yuvika’s face.

“Well, Sir, I don’t think that is a good idea. We have been working on it since a long and now the date we have decided should not be disturbed. Before the elections it is supposed to get published. That’s what we had decided,” said Yuvika.

Adjusting himself in the chair, Mr Dixit said, “Don’t think too much. Mr Sinha will never postpone his visit. We have hardly managed to get his time, you see. And once he meets us, we would also not be able to delay in start working on the book. The whole procedure would have to be in a particular time frame. After all, it is for magazine.”

Yuvika leaned back and folded her hands, “Let me see sir. We will figure it out.”

“Sure. I am expecting the same.”

She rose from her chair and nodded. She left the office.

She was going to her cabin with a long chain of thoughts when a man suddenly appeared in front of her, breaking her way from the left, “Hello Chief.”

She got so petrified that she almost screamed, “Dev. You scared the hell out of me.”

She hit his right shoulder and started walking toward her cabin. Dev also started walking on her left.

“Hey, congratulations Chief,” said Dev, stopping Yuvika, coming in front of her. He shook her hand. She replied, “Thanks Dev. And will you please stop calling me Chief?” She started walking making her way.

“Why? A chief should be called a Chief.”

They were about to reach to the cabin when Dev was greeted by a group of young interns. He blushed and nodded.

Dev Dixit was a handsome man who was in his 20s soon reaching to 30. Toned body and gelled hair with brown shining eyes always made other people turn head to see him twice. His body structure was extremely suitable for suits. Whenever he would dress up formally, like cotton shirt and a pair of jeans, any woman could trip over to see him. Though people in his office were used to his charm, but every day, he would get tons of complements. He was also used to this routine, but this would make him extremely shy. Yuvika often got irritated with his pink cheeks which often turned red, ‘Why do you feel shy like a bride? Isn’t it a ritual for you now?’

To this, Dev replied, ‘You are just jealous because it’s me who gets such complements and not you.’

‘Hahaa. Enjoy your toffees.’

She pushed open the door of the cabin and both of them entered. “Have you eaten anything?” asked Dev. He knew her so well that he could easily say that Yuvika had been so anxious since morning as it was a completely new day for her. And whenever she went through such anxiety, she could not have even a bite of bread.

“No. I thought of having breakfast here,” said Yuvika.

Dev took the chair and Yuvika reached to her chair opposite Dev’s.

He suggested, “So let’s go to canteen first and have breakfast. We can’t have our new Chief fainted due to starvation.” Again being called Chief, Yuvika got annoyed narrowing her eyebrows.

“Yes. Let’s go. But just a minute. I have some papers to file.” She took the papers and started arranging and stapling them.

“So how’s it different?” asked Dev.

“What?” she asked while pulling the file out of the drawer.

“This cabin and your new day as, sorry to say, but Chief?” He chuckled.

“Of course it is different.” Putting the file on the stack on her left, she said, “I am recently offered to work on the book for the magazine.”

“Oh wow. That’s great. So are you going for it?” asked Dev showing much enthusiasm.

“Don’t act as if you know nothing.” Dev smiled on that. She continued, “And of course I am working on it. How could I say no to such an opportunity? But,” She left the sentence sinking in thoughts.

“But? Is anything wrong?” Dev leaned forward to the table and asked.

“I am just worried for the schedules. I don’t know how I am going to manage it. But anyway, I will find some way.”

“What schedules? I don’t get it,” asked Dev with comforting smile on his face.

“The Dalal’s story is also scheduled for upcoming months. You forgot?” asked Yuvika widening her eyes.

“Oh,” said Dev, leaning back, the smile faded away. “Of course not. But I don’t think that you need to worry that much. Everything will be sorted out. You will do okay.”

“I hope I can make everything fine,” said Yuvika looking at Dev. She found him lost. “Dev. Are you even hearing me?”

“Huh? Oh yes. Of course.”

He tried to make his face as calm as possible. But he felt an urge and a burning sensation inside. He felt like something was hammering his mind. He didn’t want Yuvika to see him like that. He got up and started walking to the door saying, “I will see you in the canteen.”

*******

Episode 4: Party and Petrification

Yuvika was unlocking the door. It was a busy week in her office as usual. But she never really enjoyed Fridays. She loved her work so she was not the person who always looked forward to weekends. For holidays, she always had special plans for her articles or plantation in the garden. To add the cherry on the top, she could go out for strolling in the beautiful valley. Chitgarh was not a crowded town but was filled with natural beauty. The hills were always green and surrounded by dense forest. Each house, big or small, has a lovely garden with a lot of greenery. A variety of flowers made the houses more magnificent. From the day, Yuvika stepped into Chitgarh and started living in her grandmother’s house, she had never thought of leaving it even for once. She always felt fortunate that in the distance of one hour, she could her enjoy work. Living alone for years made her a person who enjoyed solitude. But she was fond of people around. She loved to talk to them. She often wondered how a house with four bedrooms, two halls, one kitchen and her large study room filled with positivity even with no one around! She called it her grandmother’s love for this house and her happiness with work she was doing because it was the only event which happened every day. Delhi’s discos and pubs never attracted her. She would hardly attend the parties. The only faces who visited the house were the housekeeper’s and the cook’s. They came twice in a day but usually when Yuvika was out for work.

“Hello,” came a voice from a distance. She looked in the direction from where the voice came. Joe was standing at the gate at Mr Irani’s house. He opened the gate and walked toward Yuvika’s house. He stood at the gate.

“Hi,” said Yuvika while opening the copper door handle. She stood facing Joe.

“I am arranging a party tomorrow. I would love to invite you.”

“Are you throwing your own welcome party?” asked Yuvika raising her left eyebrow.

“Well, kind of. Actually, I had just come to know that it is Mr Irani’s birthday too. And he won’t celebrate it on his own.”

“Oh, is it so? That’s great,” Yuvika pushed open the door. “I will try to come.”

“You are just one block away. Will you have to try that harder to cross one block?” asked Joe, curving the left corner of his lips.

She smiled.

“How about a cup of coffee?” asked Joe.

“I have just come from the office. I am a bit tired,” said Yuvika. She was still trying to avoid Joe. She wasn’t much impressed by him since the day she met him.

“Well, then I will see you at the party. And hey, please bring your friends too if they are around. I want to have a big gathering. Mr Irani enjoys people’s company.”

“Sure.”

She was not really sure about going to the party.

She changed to her relaxing wavering palazzo and a long cotton Kurta of one size larger. She sat on the chair and relaxed. With a cup of strong coffee on the table, she started noting down the points which she could include in the plot of the book. She was definitely excited about it. It was one of her favourite times of the day; her writing table, her notebook and a cup of strong brewing coffee. She would never want to share this time with anyone.

She hardly wrote anything when she went back to the conversation with Joe in her mind. Should I go? Or should I skip?

She finally decided to push it to the next day. Let’s see. She thought.

 

“Hey, Miss Shroff. Good morning,” greeted Joe while Yuvika was locking the door to leave for the office. She was in her cotton grey trouser and black shirt. Joe was still in his T-shirt and a pair of three-fourths.

“Good morning. Just Yuvika is fine.”

She walked to her car when Joe said, “So you are coming to the party right?”

She didn’t really think about it. She forgot to even consider it as the book and Dalal’s story occupied her mind most of the time. She just nodded to avoid any further conversation. She opened the car’s door. Before she got into the car, Joe said, “Is that a yes?”

“Are you going to allow me to the party only based on my confirmation? Are you having a checklist or something?” asked Yuvika peeking over the roof of the car.

“No. Not really. But not a bad idea,” Joe chuckled.

“Well, in that case, you can check my name. I would like to wish Mr Irani.”

The day in the office was busier. Yuvika was not even spared for a moment. The book kept her busy. She had to run constantly between her cabin and Mr Dixit’s. Dev also tried to ask her for the lunch, but she settled for a couple of strong coffees. She secretly thanked herself for saying yes to the party. But all this hustle was celebrated by Yuvika. She never found it chaotic. She loved this environment where everyone was running for something better. It gave her positive energy.

When she was about to leave the office, she reached to Mr Dixit’s cabin. He was still in the cabin. She stopped there, knocked on the door and opened it. She didn’t go in but just peeked in, “Do you need any help?”

Mr Dixit looked up from his file and smiled, “No Shroff. You have enough of the running today. Go and enjoy your weekend.”

Almost everything was done. Now the presentation remains for the next week. But I have a week. It is enough for the rock solid presentation. Not only this, but Sinha will write two more books with me on this magazine. She could hear herself talking in the air while reaching to her car in the basement.

 

The party was better than Yuvika’s assumption. Mr Irani was literally enjoying his 70th year on this earth. She noticed it for the first time that a 70-year-old man could fluently dance on a jazz with a glass of wine in his one hand wearing his wedding suit. It still fits him. She wondered. Mr Irani was extremely happy to have Yuvika in the party. She had brought a book for him as she knew that he was an avid reader and she was quite aware of his collection. She made sure that the new book accurately fits in his collection.

She was sitting on the chair at the mini bar which was specially built temporarily for this day. Joe reached to her and asked, “Drink for a lady?”

Yuvika blinked and looked at Joe, “No thank you. I don’t drink.”

“Then one scotch on the rocks for this gentleman, please.”

She starred at him for good five seconds.

Joe noticed her confusion, “What? Don’t I look like a gentleman?” He checked his neatly ironed suit and tie.

She smiled and said, “No. That’s not confusion. I never thought you could drink.”

“New York’s shivering cold makes you drink sometimes,” replied Joe showing the glass of scotch.

“Oh. You were in New York too?”

“For a couple of years.”

Her phone rang. “Excuse me.” She left the bar and Joe with his Scotch and received the phone. She came back after a minute. “So sorry. I would have to rush to the office. Have something urgent come up.”

“At this time?” asked Joe getting up from the table. “Should I drive you to your office? I can come. Really.”

“Now that’s a gentleman thing, isn’t it?” They both laughed. “No. Really I am fine. You don’t need to bother.”

She talked to Mr Irani and apologized for leaving the party. She wished him again and left for the office in the party wear.

 

“But how can that be possible?” asked Yuvika annoyingly.

Three pairs of eyes were on her: Mr Dixit’s, Dev’s and office boy’s who just came in the cabin to serve them water.

“Please say something now,” pleaded Yuvika while taking her chair in front of Mr Dixit when she didn’t get any response at first. She sat resting her head on her left hand. Dev was standing behind her, little on the right, taking rest of the side table with folded hands. He chose to say nothing. Mr Dixit leant forward and cleared his throat, “See Yuvika. Mr Sinha is the investor also. He is co-writing the book and it is going to give the magazine one of its biggest heaps. So if he decides to come earlier, we cannot deny to that.”

“But he does never change his timings,” argued Yuvika throwing her hands in the air.

“No. He never postpones. But he surely can prepone.”

“Now that’s the logic. Great. And he doesn’t even see if it is Sunday.” She threw herself back in the chair.

Dev came forward to stand on her exact right, he put her hand on her left shoulder and said, “Look. It is not that big deal for you to prepare the presentation by tomorrow. I know this. Alright? You just relax and keep calm. I will help you if you need any.”

“It is not about the time and speed. I wanted accuracy and perfection in this. I see it was one of the biggest opportunities. I wanted the best for it. And hushing can probably ruin it.” She again rested her hands on the table.

“Nothing can ruin it. It is in your hands, the best possible hands. Nothing can go wrong. And if anything goes wrong, I am right beside you. You know that right?”

They left the cabin. Mr Dixit and Dev were about to leave for the home. Mr Dixit stopped at Yuvika’s cabin and asked through the open door, “Are you sure you want to stay? You can take everything home and work there.”

“I am fine. I anyway will have to stay up the whole night work. And driving back to home and back to the office tomorrow would waste more time. So I better start working right now till the morning.”

Dev was behind Mr Dixit. He also stopped at the door and looked at Yuvika who had already dived into her computer screen and a pile of papers. He looked down for a second and again looked at her. He didn’t feel sorry for her. He was used to her vigorous dedication. He knew she could do this very well. But somehow he could not talk to her. An urge of iniquity was stopping him. He chose to walk away without a word.

Noticing his irked face, Mr Dixit said, “She will be fine.”

*******

Episode 5: Good things blend with good coffee

On Sunday morning, Joe was strolling on the porch of Mr Irani’s home in black round-neck T-shirt and trouser, his hands in both the pockets, craning his neck to see over the compound wall every now and then.

Black SUV screeched in front of Yuvika’s gate. She got down with a big handbag. She opened the gate. As soon as she got in, the gate was again pushed open with a bang.

“Where were you?” asked Joe while rushing in hurriedly.

Yuvika turned around, looking puzzled.

Joe stood in front of her, took a deep breath.

“Where were you?” asked Joe again, this time with ease.

“Office,” said Yuvika and turned back to walk to the house with keys in her hand.

“A whole night?”

“Yes.”

Joe was following her. Yuvika unlocked the door.

“Okay. Then take some rest,” said Joe standing on the door step.

She nodded and got into the house. She turned back and said, “No. Actually, I am going to the office in a couple of hours again.”

Joe stood there for a second or two and said, “You just go and freshen up. I will get you something.”

*******

Joe returned with two thermos coffee mugs. Yuvika opened the door. Joe said, “Here you are. I brought you coffee to save your time.”

She was surprised. Ignoring her expression, Joe crossed his way and entered the house. As soon as he entered, he saw the large photo of Yuvika’s grandmother in front of him. He stood there for a couple of seconds. He heard Yuvika following him in the room. He moved to the centre table and put the thermos mugs there.

“Hope you will like it.”

She took her mug and opened it and took a sip.

“Tasted okay?” asked Joe. He was eager to know her feedback.

“Hm. Okay,” said Yuvika with a slight smile on her face.

“I knew it,” said Joe and snapped. “Tell me. What’s wrong with that? Please do.”

Yuvika laughed and said, “First of all, it’s mild; normal mild. Not much, but too mild for me. A strong enough coffee literally opens my mind. You know what; let me make you a good coffee.”

Yuvika was in the kitchen while Joe was looking around the hall and the garden. He took a deep look at the photos of Yuvika’s parents and grandmother. He also looked at the paintings hung on the walls which were signed by Shri. Sanjivani Shroff.

“Now taste it,” said Yuvika as she walked down the hall and put two mugs of coffee on the table.

Joe tasted it and said, “It is definitely strong enough to wake you up.”

They both sat on the chairs facing the lawn in the garden. “So, what makes you work on Sunday?” Joe brought up the topic.

“Mr Sinha, basically. Then the Dixits,” said Yuvika with a sip of her coffee.

“Your boss?”

“Yes. Mr Dixit is the boss and Dev is a friend.”

“Dev, your boss’s son?”

“How did you figure?”

“I don’t know. Just guessed it. He must be a rich brat then,” Joe shrugged and said.

“Yes. He is the son. But he is my friend too. We started our career at @ink together. He has put the same effort as I had.”

“But he would get promotions earlier,” said Joe, looking at his coffee.

Yuvika starred at Joe. “Everybody gets what he deserves.”

“Have you got what you deserve?” asked Joe.

“Of course! I have become the Editor in Chief.”

“And what about Dev? Is he..?”

“He was the Editor in Chief,” said Yuvika interrupting him.

“So basically you got the chair which Dev just left.”

“Why are you being judgemental? You don’t even know Dev.” She showed disgust.

“I am just being practical. You don’t really seem to care about office politics much, do you?”

“Listen, there is no politics in my office. And the second thing, please mind your own business.” She went back to her coffee. All she wanted to do was to finish the coffee and run back to the office.

“Okay. Then tell me something, the day you gave me lift to the city, why you were so annoyed?” asked Joe.

She narrowed her eyebrows and tried to remember.

Joe continued, “Now I am talking about my business. Why did you have to be rude to me? You didn’t know me too then.”

Putting the empty mug on the table, she said, “It was my first day in the new cabin with many more new responsibilities. And for your kind information, it was you who was rude. You talked rudely about Mr Irani.”

“For whom I just organised a party,” said Joe.

“Yes. But I just found it odd so I had to say it. And now, I am supposed to rush to the office.” She got up from the chair.

“You don’t really like me, do you?” asked Joe looking up at her.

“Well, I really appreciate your coffee gesture. But better learn to make it strong to lighten up things.”

*******

Mr Sinha was in his 40s. He had written 6 novels and 2 biographies. He was the full-time author now. He lived in New York. He had specially come from the magazine. That’s why everyone agreed to work according to his timings.

He was expected to be someone who was older, somebody who was about to go bald. But he appeared way smarter than everyone’s assumption. His clean shaved face and sleek accent made the statement. Almost all the men in the office felt inferior when they saw Mr Sinha. He was in his stone grey suit. A smile on the face was invariant. He seemed to be an easy going gentleman.

He was sitting next to Mr Dixit in the conference room. Yuvika sat facing Mr Sinha. Dev entered the room and choose the chair next to Yuvika. After the exchange of formal introduction, Mr Dixit came to the point, “So basically, we want Ms Shroff to work with you as a co-writer. She has been with the magazine since years. She has been with it during its ups and downs.”

Mr Sinha, with his symbolic smile, spoke with an extreme ease, “So why not Dev? I mean he has lived with the magazine even at home.”

“I don’t doubt on his capability too,” said Mr Dixit.

Dev leant forward in his chair and cleared his throat, “Well, Mr Sinha, in my view, writing on something does not only require the enough information. It takes much more than this; emotions. You have to be emotionally connected to the element you are writing about. I am, of course, connected to the magazine. I breathe its air in a way. But Yuvika understands the magazine more than I do. So she will write on it as if she is writing about herself.”

Yuvika looked on her left to face Dev. But he looked down as soon as he finished. She heard Mr Sinha speaking, “Well then, I think I am going to have a great companion. I will be looking forward to a great partnership.” He got up from the seat and shook hands with Yuvika and then Mr Dixit and Dev. Dev noticed that he reached to Mr Sinha’s height.

Yuvika was about to leave for home when someone called her. She turned around to spot Mr Sinha. He was walking toward her. He stood there facing her and said, “We are starting to work from tomorrow.”

“Oh. I thought you have just come here to finalise things.”

“Well yes. But I feel that it should not get delayed anymore. I have also talked to Mr Dixit regarding the same,” said Mr Sinha. “Is it fine with you?”

It meant more delay in the Dalal’s story. But she could not speak about it to him.

“I was just hoping to be informed before the dates are fixed,” said Yuvika without looking at him.

“Well, this is the right time, I guess. My name is Jayendra, by the way.”

*******

The work on book started with ease. Yuvika’s documentations helped them a lot. Jayendra was impressed by her ethics and dedication. By now, Yuvika had learned to keep a balance between the book and her regular work. She got one more reason to write more. It made her days more excited. It added a reason to run the entire day. One day, Jayendra suggested her to write her own book. To which she said, “Whatever ideas I get and subjects I have, I would like to use them for the magazine. In that way, I can spare more time for work. It feels good.”

A week went happily. It was a progressive week; a worth spending but extremely hectic, they thought. They decided not to work on Sunday. Yuvika stayed at home. She was going through her collection of books which she wanted to rearrange. She chose to give writing a break for a day. She heard a knock on the door which was pushed open. It was Joe, again with two thermoses of coffee.

“I have been trying to achieve excellence,” he spoke as soon as he entered the room. He put the thermoses on the table.

“Well, I need it the most right now. Thanks a lot.” She took the thermos and opened it. She inhaled the aroma, “Hm. It is better.” She took the sip and said, “Yes. It is definitely better.”

This time, the coffee was more enjoyable. The strong savour filled the blank space of the room and gave it a touch of energy. They chatted over various topics. Yuvika seemed to be finding Joe a sensible boy. He sounded more realistic than she had thought. She enjoyed talking to him.

“Is she your grandmother?” asked Joe pointing to the photo.

“Yes.”

“I thought so. You look like her.”

“Thanks. But they say I look like my father,” said Yuvika pointing to another photo in the hall.

“Yes. They are right.” Joe starred at the photo. He didn’t say anything further. Sensing the reason behind his silence, she spoke, “They are no more. They died in a car accident many years ago.”

“So sorry to hear that,” said Joe avoiding eye contact with her. “And your grandmother?”

“I used to live with her in this house for years after my parents’ death. But she also passed away. She was too old.”

“Do you have any other family member? Like siblings?” asked Joe looking straight into her eyes.

“No.” Not a single word more!

They finished their coffee in silence.

*******

Episode 6: An Unreasonable Demand

Today, Yuvika came to the office in a Pine Green cotton long Kurta and ankle length Dutch white palazzo. Her big bag contained a lot of papers. Jayendra had already arrived and was working in her office. She came into the office and greeted him. She put the bag on the table and sat on the chair. She switched her computer on and went through some folders. She pulled the papers out of her bag and started noting down something from the computer. Jayendra couldn’t stop noticing it. He observed with curiosity. She didn’t look up for around 20 minutes. Then she finally folded the papers and arranged in the basket placed under her table. She then looked at him if he was also free to start working. He was already seeing her activity.

“What?” she asked, buckling her bag.

“Are you so busy?” asked Jayendra, expecting some obvious reply as he knew that she would not share anything about her office work with him.

“No. Nothing.” As expected. “Should we start plotting the next chapter?”

The work went continuously for 4 hours when it was interrupted by a knock on the door. It was Dev. “Can I see you for a moment?” He had a folder in his hand.

They went to the canteen. Jayendra went to do some phone calls. “So how things are going?” asked Dev.

“Pretty well.”

“Dad was asking if you are enjoying your work.”

“Of course I am.”

“He said that he is happy with the pace the work is progressing.”

“Hm.”

“Are you guys sure you want to name it @ink: The Journey?”

“Yes.”

The precise answers from Yuvika alerted Dev. She was already lost in the void. He wanted to ask what the point was but avoided. He had a slight idea where the discussion would go to; the Dalal’s story.

To change the mood, he asked, “I am sure you will write for yourself one day too.”

Getting back in the moment, Yuvika answered, “Jayendra was also suggesting the same.”

“Oh was he?” asked Dev looking down at the glass of water on the table.

“But I have some other plans,” said Yuvika, her eyes stuck to the greenery outside the window.

“And what are they?” Dev showed a keen interest.

“I have thought about a concept which has both of my favourite flavours; books and coffee,” said Yuvika. This time her voice had enthusiasm and eyes were sparkling.

“What would be that?” Dev snapped his fingers in front of her eyes to gain her attention.

She replied with a slight smile, “It is just a concept. Not even on paper. Things will take shape eventually. Let it take its time.”

“By the way, I am supposed to hand this over to you.” He reached for her hand with the folder. “It contains some basic material for the next big story.”

She took the folder. Before she could look into it and say something, Jayendra came back finishing his phone calls.

*******

One day, around 7 in the evening, Yuvika got a call from Joe.

“Are you in the office?” asked Joe.

“Yes. Are you coming with me?” asked Yuvika.

“Yes. I guess. Let me know when you leave.”

Yuvika was walking toward her car in the basement where he found Joe, leaning on the bonnet of her car. “I supposed you were meeting me on the highway,” said Yuvika as soon as she spotted him.

Joe moved forward and said, “I thought I would catch you up here.”

“Let’s go then.” She reached to the right door of the car. Joe also got into the car. “We are not going home directly. I have somewhere to go. And you need to come with me.”

“Where?” asked Yuvika, holding the steering, surprised.

“Just drive as per my direction.”

They reached the highway from where they went in the opposite direction from their way to home. Joe still hadn’t clarified where they were going.

“Now stop here. And park the car.”

They got down. She looked around, still puzzled. Nothing was familiar or of her use. There was not even a restaurant. Joe started walking in one direction.

“Will you tell me where are we supposed to go?”

“Will you just follow me?”

They were moving ahead in a street which was narrowing. It was dark there. There came a light and it started getting crowded. They could spot mostly youth. Joe turned to his left and stepped one stair to open the big glass door. She looked up at the name glowing with yellow lights. It read ‘Brewing Magic’ with a picture of seven coffee beans dancing with a wide smile.

He got into the shop and held the door open for Yuvika.

“So it is a coffee shop,” she said, declaring.

“Not just a shop. Wait for the magic.”

They went to the table for two near the window through which they could see the road. The hall was filled with people. Though it was crowded, it was not chaotic. Everyone seemed to be enjoying. The interior of this small place was dominated by the yellow bulbs and white lamps of different size. The colour of lighting made the Hall wider than its original size. Not a single wall contained the picture of coffee or any quote.

One helper came. Joe asked for two medium roasted beans. That’s it. Nothing else was required to make the product more specific.

He looked at the confused Yuvika and laughed.

“I had no idea about this place,” said Yuvika with a great disbelief.

“Very few people know about it and those who know are the hardcore coffee lover.”

The coffees came. It was smaller than she had assumed. She inhaled the mesmerising flavour. It was not too hot to take a sip. With one sip, she understood everything; the suspense Joe created, the crowd, the peace despite the crowd and what magic the name was talking about.

“And how do you know about this place? I didn’t know you are this much coffee lover,” demanded Yuvika.

“I am not. But you are.”

“So is it your treat?” asked Yuvika with another sip.

“Yes. Of course.”

“For no good reason?”

Joe brushed his hair with the right hand and said, “Well, there is a purpose.”

She put the mug down on the table and said, “Tell me.”

“I need your favour,” said Joe with a soft voice. “I was planning to open the art gallery.”

She raised her eyebrows out of surprise, “I didn’t see it coming. I thought you were just studying.”

“It is a kind of venture. I am going to be in a partnership with my friend.”

“Well, that’s great news. It surely deserves this heavenly coffee,” she said raising the coffee mug. “How can I be of your help?”

“I want the painting.”

“Joe, I can’t paint,” she chuckled.

“No. The painting in your home, I want to have it in the gallery.”

“There are many.” She put the coffee down, the smile faded away.

“I am talking about your Grandmother’s portrait.”

A few seconds went in silence. Breaking it, Joe said, “Look that is completely alright if you don’t feel like agreeing with the idea. I can totally understand how valuable it is for you..”

“But still you chose it,” she interrupted.

“I beg your pardon,” said Joe.

“You are very well aware of my respect and emotional attachment with the painting, but still you chose to ask for it. Why? Why that and not any other?”

Joe had anticipated such reaction from her, also prepared himself to some extent. But still, he kept quiet. “I assume you must have an explanation. Do you ask people for their possession for no reason?” She was harsh with words.

“You are the first one whom I have ever asked for anything. And the painting is the very first art piece I want to have in my gallery.”

“So I would repeat myself, Why?” She was staring straight into his eyes. Something was holding his words back.

Episode 7: Yuvika. You don’t know her yet.

On Thursday morning, Yuvika was staring at her laptop screen in her study room. There was a mini function in the office which she preferred to skip. She deleted some emails which said that she was approved for some loans which she had never applied for. Some work emails were sorted out and reverted. Later she had scheduled a write up on Children Issues which was to be published next week. She picked Health and Education. She had already gone through some statistics and got the material ready before a couple of days. But during all of this regular work, today, she could not get her mind off her yesterday’s conversation with Joe. Is he that insensitive or he was just not understanding her in reality? But anyway, she preferred to focus on her work anyhow.

Today, Ragini, the domestic help, was present in the house. She was in her mid-30s with a healthy physique. Her long black hair was always loosely braided. She usually wore cotton synthetic salwar kameez. A pair of bangles always clicked on her wrists while working. The colours of her bangles and bindi always deferred with the colour of her attire. She never wore footwear in a home. She had been in this house as a domestic help since Yuvika’s grandmother was alive. During that period, she used to come with her mother. She died three years ago from jaundice. Yuvika had helped her a lot; financially and emotionally. But she couldn’t be saved. Yuvika had suggested Ragini stay in the outhouse which she was about to build for her. But she chose to live with her rest of the family. Every day since she was a kid, Ragini was accompanied by the Maharaj, Shreedhar and his wife Sumi. They were also very reliable helpers for Yuvika’s grandmother.

The kitchen had always been under their observation and control ever since she could remember. She still couldn’t find out the things apart from basic in her own kitchen. They both were elder to Yuvika and Ragini. But Yuvika had the habit of calling them by their names. Even after her grandmother’s death, she chose to stay here and this decision had made them three very happy. Today, when Shreedhar and Sumi’s six-year-old, Muna went to school, half of the expense of his entire education was shared by Yuvika. And they were not allowed to have any objection. And she had also assured them that she would continue this until he started earning himself.

The door bell rang. Ragini opened the door. Joe was standing there. He stood there, chose not to come in. Ragini went in and informed Yuvika. She walked to the door and asked Joe to come in. Yuvika came out and found Joe empty handed, no coffee this time. She could feel that he had come to apologize, but to her surprise, he spoke, “So, have you thought about it?”

She felt completely short of words. Yes, it was extremely insensitive of him. She decided. She sighed looking at him. Joe said, “Look, I totally understand what you are thinking. I really do. Trust me. But I am not snatching it away from you.” She sat on the chair, facing Joe. He continued, “It will be taken care of there. I assure you that.”

“But why only this?” she finally spoke.

“Well, listen now.” He sat on the rocking chair, stock-still. “This is an amazing piece of art. The artist, who made it, had not just painted it. It seems like he had known every single detail of the personality your grandmother was having. And he had scribbled it for a lifetime on the canvas. As if your grandmother is still here, sitting in her chair, calmly, lost in thoughts. But it is not clear whether it is a pleasant face or grieving about something.”

She stared at him and said suddenly, “You know what; she used to sit like that and get lost in thoughts after my grandfather died. And we never disturbed her. We thought that she was having a silent conversation with grandfather. We always ensured her space and time with him even after his death.” She was now lost in her own thoughts, recalling the memories. Her eyes looked wet. Joe didn’t say anything respecting her emotional state of mind. Then he said after a few seconds, bringing her back in the conversation, “And not only this painting, if possible, one day I would like to meet this brilliant artist too. Who is he?”

Her face softened and shoulders got down. She said, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” repeated Joe with much amusement. “Haven’t you tried to know?”

“One day, I received a huge parcel with a note. There was this painting. Whatever you have just said came in my mind too then. I had to keep it with me.”

“And what did the note say?”

“It said, ‘Just for the sake of keeping her alive always in memories.’”

Joe said nothing, nor did she.

Joe had touched the tiniest detail of the painting and the emotions the painting showed. He had the eyes of the artist or of someone who knew the person in the painting so intimately. She found herself too tired to think more about it.

*******

Another couple of months passed. Neither Joe nor Yuvika uttered about the painting. They went to some other events and attended formal parties instead. Dev also joined them in many events. Whenever got a chance, they skipped it and went out for long drives and bookstores. Joe was inventing a new avatar of Yuvika. It amazed Dev too as after a long time, he saw her like she used to be; full of life, who knew both; living the life to fullest and working tremendously hard. He really wished her to stay like this forever. He didn’t want this charm of her to fade away again. In all these moments, one constant fear was hovering his head. Neither he wanted to see that nor could he ignore it. All he wanted to enjoy the cheerfulness around and her rejuvenated sparkling eyes. His lost friend was back!

Joe could see Dev and Yuvika’s healthy bonding. But one thing which always pinched him was the succession in Dev’s career due to his family legacy. Though many a time, she tried to make him understand how proficient Dev was in his work, the fact that he was privileged could not go unconsidered. People with legacy, regardless the amount, had to face such masked eyes full of cynicism.

In an incident or two, Joe clearly stated it. But Dev didn’t mind. It was not the first time he was coming across such situations. He was used to it now. Yuvika tried to cover up which Dev could clearly notice. But he assured her that she didn’t have to do this.

Eventually, the bonding between three of them got stronger. The company of each other was not formal anymore. Though Joe was the youngest, he was never underestimated as he was an excellent student who had an equally amazing persona. He used to joke about how initially Yuvika literally hated him due to his disgraceful comment on Mr Parsi. But they had to agree that he had actually won their hearts with wisdom and very fine showcase humanity in different incidents. And yes, how could his cultivated coffee making skill be excluded?

********

The pace of the book was going faster now. They reached the half-past. It interested both; Yuvika and Jayendra more at this stage.

Yuvika was at her desk. Jayendra was revising the plot for the next chapter prepared by her, leaning back on the table behind her. “I notice that the last two chapters lost the reference of Tej. When did he resign? It is not written here.”

She looked up but didn’t turn around to see Jayendra. “He was not in the office during that period.”

“For this long? Was he on leave?”

“He was not on leave. He disappeared.”

“What?” asked Jayendra, closing the file.

“He ran away with some confidential documents of the office.”

Jayendra did still not understand any of this. Yuvika turned around, rose from her chair and continued, “One of the very sensitive stories of that time was about to go on the floor. I was monitoring the project. His behaviour changed since we met the people related to the story. He also tried to delay his work and influence, another employee. But all failed.

“On one Sunday due to the excessive work, I was supposed to go to the office. Nobody was expected there apart from a gatekeeper. I found some of the windows on the back wall open while I went upstairs. I smelled of danger. I found the door broken. Now somebody was there who was not welcomed. It could be a thief or a goon. They could be more than one too. I had nothing with me but my bag. And it was too late to call for an emergency too. I had no any other choice but to step ahead in the office. As soon as I stepped further, I heard a thud. My cubicle was a mess. It was someone from the office, I could figure out. There were chances that he did not have any weapon. It comforted me a little. But he could not go away from this now. I looked around and went back to the door. I stood there looking around in the office. He would have to get up wherever he was hiding. I would have stood there for the entire day without even moving my eyes away. I stepped back for some meters, peeking into the office. After 20 minutes, I saw a black head at the last row of cubicles. I was not afraid, but I was angry like hell. I so wanted to kill him with my bag. I slipped into the office with the lightest steps. The only thing I was afraid, he should not slip out from my back. While moving forward in his direction, I took two paperweights from two of the desks. I stopped 4 blocks before and waited for him to peek out again. After another 10 minutes, he finally raised his head. I let him raise it more. He did.

“He was Tej as I had assumed. It gave me shiver in the spine. I was so furious that I directly hit one paperweight targeting his head. He screamed. Assuming that he had fallen down, I ran toward his direction and found him, trying to get up in hustle, one hand pressing his forehead. As soon as he saw me, he tried to run. I shouted and threw the other paperweight; this time, not at his head. But I targeted his shoulders. He again fell down. I reached to him and kicked him so hard that he stumbled. This time I shouted the loudest. I didn’t have to use the bag. I gripped his collar and pulled him getting up. I slapped and then punched him. All the papers which he tried to steal were on the floor, scattered. I shouted so loudly that the watchman ran to upstairs. He came near and held Tej by his collar. Before going to call Dev, I slapped him again. It was the tightest this time.”

She looked at Jayendra, only to find him shocked, dumb-faced with mouth wide open. Even he didn’t know about it. After a couple of seconds, he realized it and came back to present.

“I had no idea you could do that.” He spoke, sighed, finally.

“If someone tries to break into your house, what would you do? The exact spine-chilling anger I felt on that day. Nobody and nothing can violate this place. I will never tolerate it. It is either his last day in the office or mine.”

Jayendra was awed by Yuvika’s dedication. He had never seen this before.

Suddenly Dev opened the door, “Hey, Yu..”

Yuvika turned around to spot him. He saw those unvaried fierce eyes which Tej had seen that day.

Episode 8: Surprises!

In the night, the road seemed endless in the car’s headlights. It was the only car running on the road like a drop of water on a smooth surface. It passed zoomed every tree, leaving the leaves and flowers baffled. The tyres seemed like as they were not even moving due to the extreme rotation. Suddenly the car left the lane and shifted to its left. Again it left the lane shifting to the right. It followed this sequence in zigzag pattern. It seemed like it was shaking giving the fellow travellers enormous jerks. The pattern now showed uncontrollable. The zigzag became wider. The car touched both the extreme sides of road while running ahead. In no time, while shifting to left, the sheer voice of breaks pierced into the ears, and the car banged into a tree on the left of the road. It tripped over 4 to 5 times and fell into a pit. The sound of collision was extremely high. But it was the only sound which was heard. Nobody spoke.

The car was upside down in the pit. Only hands were out of windows. It was covered in the mud of blood. She could figure it out with the help of the shape of the hand. It could be seen that the bodies were harshly crushed; unable to move leaving her thinking of horrifying possibilities. All the glasses were crushed to dust. Even through the gap of broken glasses, nobody could be seen clearly. All she could see was who was where. She could not believe just an hour ago, her father called her informing that they would reach home in 20 minutes, from that left front seat. Her mother and aunt were on the back seat. It was her uncle who was driving. She pressed her eyes closed. She felt that her eyes were bleeding. She went numb. She didn’t faint nor did she cry out loud. She stood like a statue covered in skin.

The phone rang. Yuvika woke up from the sleep. She could feel the heat in her body. She was sweating. She saw it again what she had been trying to forget since years. She sat in the bed for a second and took a deep breath. She picked the phone up.

It was Manav. He was trained under her and now was working in her team. Even after her promotion, she chose him to work with her. He was very much aware of her working pattern. And she also trusted him as much as she trusted her own efficiency. She knew that confidential matter would stay confidential with him. He had called to inform her that he had emailed her the documents which she had asked him to prepare based on research. It was of Dalal’s story. She figured out that Manav had worked all night so she told him to come to office after the lunch break. The rest she would manage.

By this time, she forgot about the nightmare. She had got used to it. Before going to bed, she chose to read books or go through next day’s schedule. Her mother used to say, ‘The things which float in our minds before going to sleep, appear in dreams. So always have pleasant thoughts. You would dream always well.’ But sometimes, her mother’s theory didn’t work.

*******

Dev’s cabin door got knocked and pushed open. He found Joe standing there. He stood up, “Joe, what a pleasant surprise! How are you?”

“Great. How are you?” asked Joe. They shook hands.

“I am a good man. Please have a seat.” He went back to his chair.

“No. Actually I have to rush. Here I have just come to invite you to the inauguration of my art gallery.”

He handed him a rectangular ivory card which had his name printed in burgundy colour on it. It read the information of the event, schedule, date and venue. It was on the day after tomorrow.

“So the day has come,” Dev exclaimed.

“Yes.” Joe seemed excited but had a nervous smile.

“Nervous?”

“Who? Me? Oh, no,” said Joe, throwing his hands in the air.

They both laughed. He wished him luck and patted on his shoulder.

“Is Yuvika in her cabin?” asked Joe, reaching for the door.

“Yes. She must be. Let me see.”

They both reached to Yuvika’s office. Dev opened the door. “Here she is.”

Joe had surprised her too. He came in the office while Dev stood at the door, leaning on his right to the door frame, with hands in pockets. Joe gave her the card and informed her about the inauguration. They all chatted for a while in her office when Joe said, “I am now going to leave. So much work is pending.”

“Let me know if I can be of any help,” said Yuvika.

“You guys just be there. That will be all.”

Joe left leaving Yuvika in thoughts.

*******

The day of inauguration had come. It was scheduled to 7 in the evening. But Yuvika reached the venue in the morning before going to the office. Joe was busy arranging things when he spotted her at the entrance. She was looking for him. He came to her, “Hey, Good morning.”

“Morning. You left so early,” said Yuvika with a glimpse of a question.

“Yes. For some finishing work.”

“So I guess I am late!”

Joe didn’t understand. Before he could say anything, Yuvika stepped forward in the hall, looking around. Basically it was oval in shape with large walls. Some people were arranging the paintings of different size while the other were handling the lightings and testing it. She reached to a central wall, which semi intercepted the oval; its back faced the entrance of the hall. It had a few paintings on it but a large area was empty.

“This,” she said, pointing to the empty area, “place the painting here.”

Joe was still in confusion when he saw four men entering the hall with a large board like thing, covered in paper. She saw them and signalled them to come where they were. They put the board down and started uncovering the board. It was the blank wooden at first. Then two of the men lifted the board from both the opposite corners and re-positioned themselves walking half circle opposing each other. Now the front of the painting could be seen. It was Yuvika’s grandmother’s giant portrait. It looked more grand now from this close.

Joe stared at the painting as if he was lost in the beauty of it. He, then, looked at her. She was enjoying his expression, but couldn’t say exactly how they were. She smiled and asked, “Do you like it?”

He pressed his lips. He could not say anything. He again looked at the painting. What makes him so emotional about the painting? She could see the same amount of happiness on his face which she had felt it for the first time when she had seen it. She cursed herself for refusing his request for the painting initially. She did not have any idea that it mattered to him so much. But why? This was still unanswered.

*******

As soon as she entered her office, Yuvika noticed a file stated ‘Bakshi’ on her table. She could see that it was a new story which she was supposed to work on. Manav called her informing that he had gone through the file which was given to him. Once she would take a look at it, they could start working on it.

She sat on the chair and started reading the file. After a couple of pages, she closed the file and went out with it. She knocked on Mr Dixit’s cabin.

“Yes Yuvika,” said Mr Dixit as soon as he saw her at the door. He signalled her to come in. She didn’t sit.

“You saw the file?” asked Mr Dixit.

“Yes,” before he could say anything further, she continued, “are you sure you want to cover this story?” She lifted her hand with the file.

“Look, I know, it is alright.”

“No.”

Her sudden response made him forget what he was going to say.

“No we are not,” she said again.

He sighed. “Well, Vinod Bakshi is opening a school for slum kids. It is going to be a great story against the issues like starvation, illiteracy and many more. And it is your job to bring it to people.”

“And what about the other issues he is involved in?”

“Shouldn’t we appreciate someone who does something good?”

“Good? Really? Sir, he is the biggest human trafficker in India. There were allegations against him. You and me, we both know that they were true. But still he is roaming free on the roads, sir. He is a dangerous man.”

Mr. Dixit kept quite. She said further, “I was told to close his story. Why? Because it was too controversial for our magazine. I also suggested to, at least, use the information and help those children, who were victims, we could have taken help from authorities. But again I was quieted saying it was not our job. And now what are we going to do? Portraying him as a noble man? I am sorry sir, but my job doesn’t ask for being unethical.”

Manav knocked the door, opened it. “Ma’am, here is the draft. Please go through it.” Yuvika pushed it away without looking at it. She left the cabin. Manav looked at Mr. Dixit. More than confused, he was tensed. Noticing his blank face, Manav, was about to leave the cabin but he heard Mr. Dixit’s voice calling his name. He stopped and turned around.

“Yes sir.”

“Manav, give this file to Batra. They will handle this story.”

Manav hesitated. Batra was trained under Dev and had been working under his supervision. So automatically, the story was supposed to be handled by Dev and his team. “Will Dev Sir agree with this?” he wanted to ask, but couldn’t.

“Sure sir,” said Manav and left the cabin.

*******

It was half past seven. The gallery was filled with people. But Joe was eagerly looking for Yuvika and Dev. After another half an hour, Dev reached the gallery. As soon as he reached the entrance, he saw the portrait of Yuvika’s grandmother on the front wall; Joe had chosen a different place for this masterpiece, obviously! It looked magnificent. No other pieces could be seen. One could not take his eyes off it. He realized that Yuvika had changed her mind. He was happy for Joe.

Dev was standing in front of the painting, even though he had seen it many times, it looked amazingly different now. Joe tapped on his shoulder.

“Hey! congratulations!” Dev greeted Joe with a big bouquet.

“Thanks.” Today, Joe’s happiness was on another level. He excitedly asked, “Has Yuvika come with you?”

Dev said, “No. I thought she had already reached. I didn’t see her in the office to when I left.”

“Oh. Okay. She must be on her way. Anyway, you please enjoy yourself. I will join you in some time.” Joe left to welcome other guests at the entrance.

Dev took a stroll in the hall. Again he came and stood in front of the grandmother’s portrait. He took out his phone and called Yuvika. The call dropped. It happened for several times. Joe again came and asked for her. But Dev had nothing to say. Now he was worried for her. He took Joe’s leave. He left the event. While he was driving towards home, he got a call from Batra, informing about Vinod Bakshi’s story. He stopped the car. He was lost in thoughts. He was aware of the fact that Yuvika was going to handle it and he could also understand why it was with them now. “Yuvika must have clearly rejected,” he thought.

He had to talk to his father. He started driving towards his home. When he reached home, everybody was in the dining area. Everybody in the family took dinner together. It was an unwritten rule. Mr. Dixit, his wife Leena Dixit and Dev’s grandfather Ashok Dixit were there. Domestic helpers were taking cuisines from the kitchen and serving them. Leena was a decent and extremely intelligent lady. She was simple yet very elegant. She had a very successful career as a communication manager in one of the top companies. But after her marriage with Mr. Dixit, she left everything behind and completely dedicated herself to the family. She had chosen to stay away from the office and office matter. She was definitely not someone who could not balance between household duties and profession, then why she took such a decision? Dev was never happy with this fact, he could never grasp it, but he respected her mother a lot. There had been one unanswered question ever since his childhood, why a man like his father would ever encourage a talented person to leave something he or she is very good at? And to add more into his surprise, at that time, his grandfather had also kept quiet. This fact always frustrated Dev. So he chose not to speak about it often.

Leena came near to Dev, “Come Dev, join us.” She spoke very gently. Dev sat on the chair. His plate was also served. But before he ate, he asked his father, “Dad, why have we got Vinod’s story?”

Mr Dixit put the spoon down in the plate and said, “Dev, we are not supposed to discuss office matter at home. Not at the dining table at least. This can be done later.” He started eating.

“But dad,” said Dev when his mother interrupted, “Dev, eat something first. I know you, must be hungry. Let the work rest too for some time.”

Dev did not want to refuse his mother’s gentle request. Yes he was hungry. But he did not feel like eating anything, though he ate something and finished the dinner hurriedly.

After the dinner, Mr Dixit was in his library, sitting on his rocking chair when Dev came, “Dad, we need to talk now.”

Looking up from the book, Mr Dixit said referring to chair near the writing table, “Sit.”

“Dad, do we need to do this?” Dev asked.

“If you are also not doing it, tell me. There are many teams working there. But just don’t be stubborn in the name of being ethical.” Mr. Dixit was clearly pointing to what Yuvika had said. Dev had figured it out. Ignoring it, Dev said, “But Dad, we cannot let the facts go unseen. He is not that noble which we are going to portray him as.”

Removing his glasses, putting his book on the side table, Mr. Dixit leaned forward and said, “Dev, what is wrong with you? I am not taking anybody’s side, but at the end, we have to think about our magazine, right? We need to be practical. And to do that, sometimes we have to put the ethics aside if required. Yes Vinod was a criminal but we are not the ones who should fight him. We are businessmen after all. Facts are important to be conveyed but if it is anywhere harming the magazine and the business, I will clearly not allow it. And I am the one who decides what is harmful to the magazine.”

Being more precise, he added, “And I am afraid, Dalal’s story is also one such wound which I may not want our magazine to have.”

Dev looked down. He had seen it coming. He always knew it. But how would it take place, he had no idea about it.

*******

Episode 9: The Trust Factor

A crowd was gathered outside the office. Yuvika was shocked to see it when she reached the gate. She could not understand the chaos. A lady was crying very loudly. All the people were screaming and hooting looking at the building. They were constantly trying to pierce into the building, but the watchman and other guards were pushing them away. One of the guards noticed Yuvika. He managed to come to her. Seeing this, other two guards also came to help her. They escorted her to the entrance of the building. While penetrating the crowd, some words fell on her ears, “You people are heartless. He has eaten our kids and you are making him the hero. He has killed our children. But you people are not lesser than him now.” A woman cried loudly screaming these words.

At the door, Yuvika stopped. She did not go ahead. She turned around and saw the people. She could look at their expression more clearly now. There were pain and agony. Some were frustrated. They all looked at the people on their opposite side as criminals. She suddenly felt guilty, but she did not know why.

She went upstairs and ran to Dev’s cabin.

“What is going on?” asked Yuvika as soon as she pushed the door open.

Dev was standing at the window. He was observing the situation. As soon as he heard her voice, he turned around and rushed to her. Holding her shoulders, he sighed, “Oh thank god, you are here. Are you all right?”

“I am all right. But what is going on there?” she repeated herself.

“People are going crazy,” said Dev.

“Crazy over what?” asked Yuvika sensing the situation.

“They are the parents of those kids who Vinod had trafficked.

She almost forgot about Vinod Bakshi’s story due to more hectic schedule as the draft was in the finishing stage.

These words actually hammered her ears. She lost the balance and grabbed the handles of the chair near her. She sat down on the chair. She was about to cry, and spoke with a broken voice, “Are you seeing all this now? Are you all happy?”

Dev stood there, in front of her, without moving. She continued, “What have you got apart from business? We never helped them even though we were capable of. We never gave them any hope. On the other hand, we have dug out their wounds. Shame on us.” She buried her face into her palms.

Dev again went to the window to get the update of the current situation. People were still there, crying and screaming. Almost everyone in the office was disturbed and scared.

Mr Dixit seemed unaffected. It seemed like he was prepared for it. He had asked for police help. In some time, two police jeeps came and moved the people away. They had to drag some of them out of the gate.

Now there was a pin drop silence. But the screams were still echoing in Yuvika’s ears. She was in her cabin but not working. The draft of the book was there in front of her. But she didn’t want to touch it. The images of those people were still floating in front of her eyes. “I can never understand the agony of those people. How does it feel when your kid just disappears? How does it feel to wait for him knowing the fact that he may never come back? How does it feel to ask yourself whether your kid is even alive or are you waiting for someone who has left the world and you?”

She was starring at the wall. She had felt the same uneasiness earlier when she had got the biggest human trafficker’s story for the first time. She took months to get back into her world. She could not stop thinking about those kids and their families. Today, not only those parents’ wounds were dug out.

She got a call from Jayendra asking whether she had gone through the draft of the book. She said that she would see him during the proof reading. She did not want to see anyone right now. Without meeting Mr Dixit or anyone else, she left the office earlier.

Seeing Yuvika’s SUV parked in front of her home, Joe was surprised. He went to her home just to check if everything was all right if she was all right. When he reached her house, he saw her sitting on the sofa, her bag on the chair next to her. She was starring at the floor. Ragini had put the glass of water on the table before leaving. It was still untouched. Joe knocked the door gently. She looked at him, sighed. She again shifted her gaze to the floor. He stepped in.

“Are you okay?” asked Joe.

“Yes.”

“You left the office early?” One more question from him.

“Yes.” Again an abbreviated one!

“You are declining. You are mad at something. Hope it is not me this time.” Joe tried to lighten the atmosphere.

She looked at Joe. He was waiting for her to smile at least. But she did not.

“I am just tired. I need some rest.” She finally spoke more than one word.

“This early?” asked Joe, showing his wrist watch.

“Yes.”

“Do you need anything? I can make you coffee,” offered Joe.

“No. Thank you.”

She turned down the offer of coffee. Something is worse than he had thought. But he could not ask any further question as her eyes actually seemed tired.

“Okay. Take rest. And call me if you need any help.”

Joe went back closing the door. Yuvika tried to take rest but couldn’t. All the hustle of the entire day was making her mad all over again. Just to distract her mind, she opened the draft of the book which she was supposed to go through. But it also didn’t help her. But somehow she kept her mind glued to it.

After an hour, Dev’s car also got parked beside Yuvika’s. He knocked the door which was already unlocked. Yuvika was in her study room. He called her name. She came out of the room. She had changed into her routine clothes and put on her RayBans, she had the draft and a pen in her hand. She was not expecting him to be there or she did not want him there.

“You left early?” She had been asked such question very rarely. Dev stepped in. Yuvika sat on a chair. Dev did not sit. He asked again, “I just wanted to see if you are fine.”

“No. I am not.” He expected this from her. He could understand her answer.

He tried to comfort her, “Listen, things are not in our hands sometimes. The sooner you understand, the better you will be.”

She looked at him with disgust. He kneeled down in front of her and said, “Yuvika, please be practical, dear. Don’t stress yourself out.”

“We could have saved them.” It was all she had on her mind, still.

Dev sighed and said, “We are professionals, Yuvika. And we are loyal to our profession. There are limitations which we have to consider. We cannot use our privileges or sources against the prestige of our profession.”

“Which profession does not allow having humanity?” asked Yuvika, looking straight into his eyes. Tears were about to roll down, but she held it back. It pained her so much that veins on her forehead swelled. He looked down. Of course, he had no answer to it. “We really could have helped, at least some of them.”

Some facts could go unheard but couldn’t affect the reality

*******

The launch date of the book is announced today. People were cheering and congratulating each other. With this, Yuvika was climbing to one more summit. She felt relaxed. All past months were pleasurably hectic. A special dinner was organized for all the members of the office. It was kind of pre-launch celebration. Jayendra was coming with his wife and a daughter, Niyati. People from Mr Dixit’s business circle were also present. Many political personalities were invited.

The party got a grand opening where Mr Dixit took the floor and talked about the book and its journey. Yuvika and Jayendra were applauded the most for their brilliant work. But she was the one who took it very simply. She was extremely overwhelmed but she had the ability to digest the success.

Champagne was served. Some preferred wine. Yuvika settled for conversations with people around; those people whom she met every day but work dominated their meetings. Such occasions were important when they could meet each other in person and talk about many other things than the work. She never let such opportunity go away. She turned around when she got a tap on her shoulder. It was Dev’s mother.

Leena was accompanied by Yuvika and some other employees while Mr Dixit was busy in discussion with other people.

They had cocktails followed by dinner. Some were leaving the party and some were still enjoying their cocktails.

Leena said, “I must leave now.”

“Let me drive you home,” said Yuvika.

“No dear. I am calling the driver. He will pick me up.”

“Okay. Then, let me accompany you to the gate.”

“Sure. By the way, I am trying to call Dev but he is not picking up. Please inform him that I have left.”

“Sure.”

They were waiting for Leena’s car when Yuvika spotted Dev near the office building. There were three other men; one had a cigarette in hand. Smoke was puffed out after every few seconds. She had seen the two in the party too but the third one was not there or she had not seen him, she thought. But he was the one she could recognize. He was Hari Yadav, she figured out. Hari was the right-hand man of Suparna Dalal a.k.a. Sidhu Dalal, the leader of Dalal’s party. Sidhu was not there, she realized. She was not invited or she avoided coming due to the upcoming story on her party. Yuvika was confused but chose to keep quiet. Meanwhile, the car came. Yuvika waved to Leena seeing her off and turned around to find Dev and those three men were still in the discussion. She went back to the party. After half an hour, Dev also came but she chose not to utter anything about Hari and the men. She did not want to develop any kind of misunderstanding.

*******

The next week was comparatively relaxed. The book was in the print. She could get enough time to do the finishing work on Dalal’s story. Joe and Dev planned movies and drives too. She needed this break.

They reached a hill by a lake to watch the sunset. It was the beautiful landscape. The three of them were in a light mood. Yuvika took the centre space while Joe was on her left the Dev was on the right.

Yuvika and Dev were arguing over the name of the place when Joe said, “My project is finished.”

Yuvika looked at him and asked, “What? What did you just say?” Dev leant to his right to face Joe clearly.

“I am leaving in a couple of days,” Joe specified.

She took the time to get into her normal tone of voice, “I had just forgotten that you were here for a few months and one day you would have to go back.” She looked at the lake. The sun was setting. Dev could see the sadness on her face. He chuckled, “This is life, isn’t it?” Joe and Yuvika looked at him. He continued looking at her, “There was a day when you were mad at him, didn’t want to have any conversation with him. And now, when he is supposed to go, this fact makes you sad.”

“Strange, indeed. I never knew that I could miss you.” she turned to Joe and said. The three of them started laughing.

Yuvika got a call. She got up and walked a little far to get the clear voice on the phone, while Joe and Dev were still there. Joe looked at Dev and said, “Should I be honest with you?”

It was an unexpected request. Dev was confused. He said, “Yes. Please.”

Joe said, “I also did not like you initially.”

Dev raised his eyebrows, he wondered, “What? Why? Wait,” he turned to Joe and said, “I think I know why; because I am the successor of the magazine. Right?” They both looked at Yuvika. She had gone too far in search of the signal, was still busy talking.

Joe said, “It was one of the reasons.”

“One of the reasons? Now I have no idea about the other reasons.”

“I was not sure if Yuvika should trust you,” said Joe with much clarity this time.

This one left Dev in a greater confusion. He could not say anything. He again looked at Yuvika for some time. Then he looked down. Trust is a big word. Strangely neither he nor Yuvika had to ask each other this question despite the fact that they had known each other since years. Maybe it is something which needs to be developed and not confessed. Can she trust me? Does she trust me?  She does for sure. But will she always trust me?

Interrupting his chain of thoughts, Joe asked, “Can she trust you?”

“Of course she can,” Dev said in a swift reaction. It was very obvious to him that he could never even think of hurting her. Then after a couple of seconds, he felt a sense of guilt.

A thought of questioning each other’s reliability was something which had never crossed their minds; he was a very chivalrous man and she knew that. There was never a scope for rivalry too. So what was that? He still had to break the Dalal’s news to her. This was making him uncomfortable every time he recalled it. He wanted to ignore it. It scared him a lot; only a thought of letting her down was making him frustrated.

*******

Episode 10: Uninstalled

The book launch was in a couple of days. Invitation cards were sent. The office was decorated like Christmas celebration. Yuvika’s anxiousness seemed no boundaries. To keep her out of the anxiety, she indulged herself more into routine office work. But one thing got clearer by now; now she could push the Dalal’s story into the publishing.

Yuvika was into some paperwork when the door of her cabin was banged open. She looked up and found Dev standing on the opposite side of the table, resting on the table with both the hands. He was already lost in thoughts. Yuvika waited for a second to hear something from him but he didn’t move his eyeballs.

“What?” asked Yuvika. Dev shifted his gaze to her. He pulled the chair and sat. He began, “All right. Now we seem to be having a slight problem in publishing the upcoming story,” said Dev in just one breath. It was a relief that he said it. But he was not sure about the reaction from her.

“What?” asked Yuvika and went back to her papers.

Noticing her ignorance, Dev leant forward to Yuvika and said again, with a more dense voice this time, “Yuvika, we are having a real problem.”

Yuvika looked at Dev and asked, “What do you mean?’”

“Dad is willing to see you,” informed Dev.

She put down the pen and got up. “Let me go and see him now. I really need to finish this work by evening.”

They were in the office, sitting in front of Mr Dixit who was about to finish his phone call. Yuvika observed some official documents with government stamps on them. They were half out of the big khaki envelope. It seemed like they were supposed to be put back in the envelope but Mr Dixit had got call meanwhile.

As soon as he put the phone down, he looked at Yuvika and began to talk in explaining manner. It seemed strange to her. She didn’t expect this.

Mr Dixit said, “So Yuvika,”

Yuvika adjusted herself on the chair to pay more attention. Dev was sitting on her right, leaning back. He continued, “We are having a slight problem in the publishing procedure of the story on Sidhu Dalal’s party. They had come to talk to us. They sent their most eligible candidates to our office to discuss the issue. And we know that if they were elected, it would benefit us in many ways.”

Sensing the real smell of the situation, Yuvika tried to look straight without any hint of her disappointment. She had been working on this story for years. She had also let go a couple of promotions and rise in salary to maintain the position where she could directly deal with the sources.

Realising that it was her chance to speak, Yuvika tried to put words in a proper manner and said, “Sir, I am trying to understand your situation. But the fact is the Dalals have been always on the defending side. Even while our research works, we have gone through so much unnecessary delay due to it. But now the story is all set to be on the pages of the magazine. And of course, they will say to put it on hold or cancel it. First, they will just talk to us, and after that, they will show their true colours by breaking the furniture of the office. We all have always known this, haven’t we?”

Seeing ease in her words and confidence on her face sent out a clear message that she was not interested in stopping the publishing. Neither Mr Dixit nor Dev was surprised by her gesture. She could do it very easily; not hurting one’s ego, she could make her point as well.

Mr Dixit said, “Yes we are aware of it. But things are getting worse than we had anticipated it to be. And it warns us. So I am afraid we are supposed to turn the story down. I am sure you will consider it as a command.”

For Dev, the situation was familiar. He was stuck in this situation earlier. He could never interfere. He was hoping for Yuvika’s cooperation. But asking for her cooperation this time meant asking to compromise with her hard work.

She nodded with as easier face as she could manage and rose from her chair holding both the hands of the chair. She went out of the office, walked through lobbies, not interacting with anyone on her way. She went to her cabin.

After a few seconds, Dev also left his father’s office and went to see Yuvika. He went inside the cabin and stood at the door. He thought he would talk to her but her face answered everything. She sat leaning back to the seat with folded hands and straight look. This was something he was extremely scared of; fierce eyes full of disappointments. He cared for her. He could feel when she was hurt and he hated to see it. The anger in her eyes was giving her more pain; he could feel it. And the fact that he could not help her made him crazier.

Breaking the silence, Dev spoke, “So are you going to..”

Even before Dev finished the sentence, she said, “No. Not at all!”

She went back to the pile of papers as if nothing happened. She was clearly going to go ahead with the story. Hope nothing gets worse, thought Dev. He had to convey this to his father.

*******

Yuvika chose to go ahead with the story. She tried to avoid any kind of interaction with people at the office for that day. She did not want to disturb the pace of work.

The next day, she was again in Mr Dixit’s cabin. This time Dev was not there.

“So, I can see that you are not going to stop the publishing of the story, are you?” asked Mr Dixit.

She said with a smile, “Sir, I am just doing what I am supposed to do.”

Though she was sitting facing Mr Dixit, she avoided the eye contact because she knew that she was angry and she was not supposed to show that.

“Are you supposed to go against my suggestion too?”

She shifted her gaze to Mr Dixit. “I thought it was a command.” He starred at her. There was nothing that could change her mind, and there was no way he wanted to let it happen.

“Somebody wants to meet you today,” Mr Dixit informed. But before she could understand, the door of the cabin opened. She turned back and saw over her shoulder. There was Sidhu Dalal. She rose from her chair and stood to face her.

Sidhu Dalal was a lady who was in her mid-fifties, wearing a green plain cotton sari with a shining black border. She had worn a red dot on the centre of her forehead and vermilion red cosmetic powder along the parting of her untied long, black hair. She had put on a folded Pashmina on her right shoulder. It was matching the colour of her sari. She almost matched Yuvika’s height. Her skin looked younger for her age.

Yuvika greeted with a Namaste and nodded. Sidhu did the same.

Yuvika pulled the chair for Sidhu to sit, but she did not sit. She did not move from where she was standing. Yuvika also did not sit. Mr Dixit rose and greeted Sidhu. After the exchange of formalities, Sidhu again faced Yuvika and said, “Please leave the story.”

This sudden statement from Sidhu shocked her. She knew that she would be told via Mr Dixit but Sidhu had come in person to tell her that. Yuvika looked at her.

“Surprised?” asked Sidhu.

“Yes, Ma’am. In fact, I am surprised by your request more than your visit. Such a request from a woman makes me surprised for sure.” Yuvika had a mild smile which was about to fade away.

“Lalit has got his part of the punishment. What else do you expect?”

“Much more than that, certainly! He raped a woman and was out of the jail in just four days. That’s it? That’s all should we expect? And nothing was proven against him thanks to your powerful party and its contacts.”

“Let’s not get emotional here, Yuvika. It is time to get practical. We are going to get sympathy votes based on Lalit’s case. We need to stop the story. We can’t afford to let it affect our vote bank,” said Sidhu.

It struck Yuvika, “Sympathy? For whom? Lalit? Oh wow. That’s the most outrageous thing to say. You know what Ma’am; you are one of those leaders who enjoy extravagant hospitality, people kneeling in front of you for no reason, millions of rupees are wasted for those functions or events which you are attending, roads are blocked where you are going to pass by no matter if the ambulances are stuck there and people are dying. You make people think that they owe you because you promise to them that you would serve them. And those poor people don’t even realise that it is your god damn duty which is never fulfilled. You are one of them for whom leadership is making people your servants and having security guards around you. If you were a true leader, you would have stood with the truth and nothing else. But to expect this from you and many like you are nothing but falling flat on the face. You know what; I don’t believe you and any of your statements. So it is a clear dismissal from my side.” Yuvika finished piercing into her eyes.

Sidhu was taken aback. No one had ever spoken to her like that on her face.

Mr Dixit chided, “Yuvika. Are you out of your mind? Do you even realise who are you talking to?”

Yuvika turned to him and said, “Yes sir. I am totally aware of it. She is Sidhu Dalal who is the leader of Dalal’s party. She wants to get elected this time too. So she is begging to stop the story on one of her trained mafias who had raped a woman.” She spoke in just one go and turned to her. “But I am not afraid of her. If I get scared of some people like her, nothing can be a bigger shit of my life. I would rather spit on myself.”

Sidhu’s blood was boiling now. But stopping the story was her only focus. So without losing temper, she maintained to get a mild smile on her face.

Mr Dixit said with an urge of anger, “Yuvika, you are supposed to obey my decisions.”

“Sir, all these years, I have been working on the story considering every minute detail. You know that. I really don’t think we have left any stone unturned. Nothing is there which would be unfair. We have tested all the facts more than once. I have put many years in it and have let go many promotions. Now just for the sake of one political party’s benefits, I am not going to let it go off our hands. And definitely not for someone like Lalit and the people who support him.” She glared at Sidhu. Sidhu had to look away.

It seemed impossible to convince Yuvika. And it was clear on Sidhu’s side that she would shut the story down at any cost. Knowing the facts, Mr Dixit took the matter in his hand and said, “Now Yuvika, you have to take it as an order. Shut the story down. We don’t need to have any conflict between two groups. Just leave the topic here. Move on and start another story.”

Mr Dixti was the businessman who knew how to keep enemies closer. He was the perfect opportunist. At one point, he would let a friend go, but he would take care of his rivals. And today, that opportunist was speaking who knew whom to please for a long term benefit.

“I am sorry, Sir. But I cannot do that.”

Both, Mr Dixit and Sidhu loured at her, disbelieving her straight dismissal. She could not make it sound any humble now. She was firm in her voice. Neither request nor command was going to affect her.

“I am sorry but this is not going to happen,” said Mr Dixit in the coldest tone.

Yuvika was well aware of the fact that Sidhu would never let the story happen and Mr Dixit made himself clear with the enough show of his support for Sidhu. It was the time for her decision; could she leave the story and move on ignoring self-respect? The answer was a NO.

The only choice was left for her, “I am sorry for being rude sir. But you left me no choice. I think I will have to leave the story along with the magazine.”

*******

Dev’s car was parked near Yuvika’s SUV in front of her house. He burst opened the door and called for her. She came out. She was still in her office clothes.

“You left?” this was all he could ask. She stood in front of her. She could not speak anything. He was panting.

He again asked, “You just left?”

There were mixed emotions running through his mind. He was angry and guilty at the same time. She said nothing and turned around and walked to the chair. He followed her and reached to her hand and grabbed it. He turned her to face him again with a jerk.

“You are hurting me Dev.” That was the first time she spoke. Dev realised and let her hand go. He looked into her eyes. Gosh! They are hurt. He thought. He sighed and sat on the chair.

He again spoke but this time, his voice was lower, “What Yuvika?” He threw his hands in the air. “You can’t leave the magazine. You just can’t leave me. We have a dream for the magazine, you remember?” Seeing no response from her, he said, “Come on. Say something.”

She folded her hands and looked at him, “You saw it coming right?”

Yes. She nailed it in one go. She moved and started walking with hands gesturing, “You have been very well aware of every single thing that was happening. All those days when I spoke about the Dalal Story and you and your father were smartly avoiding. At that time too,” she turned to him; her eyes were wet by now, “at that time too you knew all I was babbling was a trash. Nothing was going to happen. I was clearly wasting my time and effort.”

“Yes I knew,” he tried to say.

But she interrupted, “Of course you knew. God damn it! You know your father. You know his every move and the reason behind his every decision. Everything was calculated. And trust me, the magazine is also going to run well; with me or without me. All that matters is the business after all. My principles and ethics are limited to me. That’s the harsh reality. Otherwise, I would not have been asked to agree with Sidhu. Who is she? Do you really think that I would care for her or get afraid of her? Do you think that my career is dependent on some bullshit so-called political leader like her? And you know what has hurt me the most? You; you really could have told me, at least once. You could have said that anything I am doing is worthless. You could have warned me, ‘Yuvika, stop it. Don’t get involved in it so much because one day you are going to get nothing out of it. One day, they are going to trash it. And that you would not be able to cope with.’ You know me. Or at least you said you knew me. So how did you not think of the effects it would be having on me?”

“I knew it. I knew it. I really wanted to inform you about it but then the book happened. And I thought that you would be busy with it. I got more time to think about how to break the news to you. Trust me; I never wanted it to happen this way.”

“Well, it just happened. There could never be any other way, Dev. Asking for letting go years of hard work can never have an excuse. You can’t offer me an option to compromise on the time I have given and the efforts I have put in. Stop fooling me and yourself,” said Yuvika.

“We started our career together. We saw a dream together. We wanted to reach the summit of the career together.”

“Do you really think so much? Why did you forget about me then?”

*******

That was the last time they spoke. Yuvika left the @ink Magazine. The book launch was conducted without the writer. She was missed terribly. But no one could speak about it. Why did she leave was the question which Mr Dixit wanted to avoid consciously.

Dev tried to reach her but failed. After few weeks, Mr Dixit gave him one of the biggest projects. It made him extremely busy.

It was a new beginning of @ink and Yuvika’s life.

*******

Episode 11: ‘THE CLAN’

It had been one year since Yuvika had left the @ink. The office felt the absence for more than a few months but later on, all had to move on. A new employee was recruited in the place of Yuvika and now the cabin belonged to Meesha. She was a 30-year-old woman who had worked with one of the most famous magazines for many years. But after her wedding, she had to shift to Delhi and preferred to join @ink. She had good experience of the field and she knew how to deal with the things but she could never match with Yuvika’s excellence and sincerity. Dev and other people gave her a very warm welcome but they could hardly accept her in the place of Yuvika. Mr Dixit had become more professional by now. He never let it matter to him as far as the work was finished on time.

The equation between Dev and Mr Dixit did not change as Dev never let it happen. But they both had always known that it was not done. Initially, Dev was annoyed, but Mr Dixit tried hard to teach him the lessons of practical life. But Mr Dixit was also aware of his conscious and asked himself why he let it happen. Yuvika was the only person in his entire career who he had ever admired and adored.

It was another regular morning at the @ink office when Dev’s phone rang. It was Joe.

“Hey Joe, How are you? And where are you?” Dev was very happy to hear his old friend’s voice after a year.

“Hi, Dev. I am good. I have just reached Chitgarh.”

It created silence on Dev’s side. He almost forgot that this question would come. He fumbled, “Okay. Why don’t you come to the office? Let’s have a lunch together.” He tried his best to avoid the question. But he failed.

“Dev, I have come to Yuvika’s house. It is locked. I met Mr Irani here. He said that Yuvika has left Chitgarh. Where is she now?” Joe just wanted to know where Yuvika was as it seemed impossible for her to leave her grandmother’s house. So what makes her leave the house? Was she living in the city? More than just concerned, he was worried now.

It was indeed a pleasure meeting for them after a long one year. But they both felt the absence of Yuvika. Because of her, they became friends, and because of her, Joe could change his perception towards Dev.

After exchanging greetings and well-beings, they sat in Dev’s office. Joe was now working with a construction firm in New York. He looked different too. He had changed his appearance from a college going kid to a professional. He was wearing a white formal shirt with black thin vertical lines and a pair of cotton trouser. But the innocence maintained its place on his face.

They had tea in front of them. Joe again asked, “Where is Yuvika?”

“Well, Joe,” Dev leant forward and started explaining the entire episode that happened a year ago. Joe was listening to him without even a blink. He was neither angry nor sad. But he felt pride for her decision. At the end, he had tears in his eyes. Dev knew how concerned Joe had been for Yuvika. He could understand his emotions. But Dev’s own emotions were different; Yuvika’sas he did not stand by her.

After hearing everything, Joe looked down for a second to clear his eyes and again looked at Dev. “Dev, do you remember I had asked you if she could trust you?”

Dev pressed his lips and said, “Yes. I do.”

“And you know why I had asked you? I did not doubt your intentions, but I was more worried for Yuvika’s emotions. Though she is the strongest person I know, she might not be able to cope with the glitch from the dearest person.”

Dev didn’t say anything. He brushed his hair with fingers. Joe continued, “Where is she now?”

Instead of answering, he pulled out the drawer of his table, took out a magazine and put it on the table in front of Joe. It read ‘THE CLAN’. Joe read it carefully but did not understand why Dev was showing it. He looked at Dev with puzzled eyes. Dev said, “It is Yuvika’s.”

Joe still did not get it. “What do you mean?”

“Yuvika started the magazine. And its office is in Mumbai.”

Joe stared at Dev and then looked at the magazine again. It had the picture of a group of people standing in front of the building which looked like a school. The title below the magazine name said, “Parents, the victims of the modern world.” There were some more titles too, written in smaller fonts and smaller photos. It was the current month issue.

Joe shifted his gaze to Dev and asked, “Is she in Mumbai now?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“After Yuvika left, I went to her house to meet her so many times. But I never succeeded in trying to gain her trust back. I decided to give her some time to rethink. After a month, when I went to her house, I found her house locked. I enquired around and came to know that she had left for Mumbai. I reached there and found her location. It was a huge building. There was an office called People’s. I went there and asked for Yuvika. There I came to know that she was the founder of the magazine. It had been just a month since the magazine and the office was established. But she was not there. I tried to ask about her where-beings. But they told me that they were not allowed to say anything about it. It was just another office as the publishing was done from there. She did not conduct from Mumbai office. But you know what; one thing that made me happier was the fact that she had put all her frustration, anger and energy in the right thing. She created her own empire. Today the magazine is one of the leading magazines of the nation. She made it. She did everything for her magazine which she had always wanted to do with @ink. But unfortunately, she could not do it.” As soon as Dev finished speaking with tearful eyes, Joe burst out, “Why she could not do it?” Now he was angry.

While explaining everything, Dev went into the memories of how passionate Yuvika was and how happy he became to see the success of her magazine. But the angry voice of Joe broke his thoughts. He looked at Joe.

Joe continued, “Dev, you may say that the frustration made her more successful. But you know what; that is just an excuse. And that is all you and your father can make your minds up with. But did you ever try to feel the emotions of that person? How did she do everything on her own? No. She was not only angry. She was in deep pain. And that made her leave this place; her house. All because of you people. She could not work with the compromises which were asked for at every level. I am happy that she left @ink and built her own dream. But I can never ignore the pain she must have gone through.” He leant forward and spoke with a heavier voice, “I am proud of her. I am proud of my sister.”

“Does she know that?” Dev was standing near the table, leaning on the bookshelf on his rights with both the hands in the pockets of his trouser. Joe was still sitting on his chair. He focused on the floor folding hands. Dev had called at the reception not to disturb him for an hour.

Joe did not regret saying the truth. He anyway had to spill the beans one day. He kept it a secret for a reason.

“Are you?”

“I am Alok Shroff’s son. He was her uncle. My father was Ashok Uncle’s younger brother. I was too young when I went to boarding school and then lived in New York for many years. When I came back, I wanted to meet Yuvika. It is obvious that she could not recognise me as it’s been many years. And I did not try to give any hint either.”

“Why?” Dev was trying very hard to digest the fact that being her brother, Joe had never even muttered this fact in front of her. How could he even keep quiet? On the other hand, Yuvika had never spoken about her sibling. According to her, she had parents who died in a car accident, and a grandmother who also had left her after a few years.

Old memories were flashing in front of Joe’s eyes. In a few minutes, he had lived his old days again. He remembered the people who used to be his family; some were taken away by the destiny and the rest were drowned into seclusion. He had spent all these years hoping to get his family back.

Dev moved to the table and rested both the hands on it. “Joe, please say something,” he pleaded.

Joe looked up and saw Dev. The confusion had irritated him a lot. He leant up and threw his head back on the chair.

Staring straight into the void, Joe spoke, “It was around 7 in the evening. Yuvika was preparing dinner for our parents. They went to attend the wedding of their close friend’s son. On their way back, my father was driving. He was drunk. Ashok uncle never allowed him driving when he drank. But my father insisted saying that he had not drunk too much. We had called them to ask when they would come home. At that time we came to know that my father was driving very roughly and while talking to us on the phone, Ashok uncle was constantly telling my father to slow down. They did not reach home in time. After a while, we got a phone call from the police informing us about the accident. When we reached the spot, our heart sank. The condition of the car and our parents were horrifying. It still gives me nightmares. We were orphaned in no time. All we had was our grandmother. Yuvika could never forgive my father. Though I was always like her baby, the accident and my father’s stubbornness took her away from me. It left her devastated. She could never give me the love and warmth again. I had not only lost a sister, but I had lost one more pillar of strength from my life. After my grandmother’s death, I went to the boarding school. She never stopped me. Not even for once. That day I realized that I may never get my sister back. In fact, she said, ‘Go ahead and make your life. Don’t look back for me.’ She never came to meet me at the boarding school in those six years.

“Though I was a kid, I understood that she did not want to see me. I really wanted to meet her every time when I performed well in sports or got good marks. I really missed her when I got the scholarship to study at the New York University. I always regret not having her by my side during my every single achievement.

“On the other hand, I was always so worried about her. She was lost in isolation for many years. I could understand her grief; I had no family, neither did she. And to live without family is something beyond anyone’s imagination.

“When I decided to come to India and took up the project here, I chose Chitgarh. The only purpose was to see my sister again; how was she? Was she okay? Was she living a happy life? But when I came, I found that old Yuvika unchanged whom I saw while leaving the house for boarding school, in the same house. Only time had made her a little more conscious. She got indulged in her work. It became her life. She kept herself busy in her small world. She was happy.

“When I came to know about you, I felt relaxed and alert at the same time. Not only because of the brotherly instinct, didn’t I want anyone to hurt her anymore. She is the person who can get affected by the people who are close to her. You were that person. So I wanted to make sure that she could trust you.”

Dev was still standing near the table resting on it with the one hand and the other hand was on his west.  He never knew this side of Yuvika. But he felt proud of her that she had constructed herself so well and that’s what made her special. The only thing which had been pinching him was that she was let down; by him.

“Do you love her?” Dev heard the sudden question from Joe. He was taken aback for a few seconds but gathered himself.

“What?” asked the confused Dev. “No.”

Joe smiled and said, “I knew it. Neither does she love you.”

Dev shrugged and smiled, “I know that.”

“But you know what,” Joe rose from his chair, “Esteeming someone is way greater than being in love with that person. Only a few can understand the true value of it.”

Dev felt a glimpse of happiness. “Hey Joe, let’s go to Mumbai and ask for her again. Maybe this time, we get to hear something.”

The office is bigger and well developed. The magazine was a well-established product. It was almost competing with @ink but Yuvika had never let it happen. She had kept it away from @ink in all the ways possible.

“I am sorry Sir. We are really not allowed to give any information to the visitors and customers.” They got the same answer.

“Ma’am,” Joe said, “I am Yuvika Shroff’s brother, Jogendra Shroff.” To that, Dev looked at Joe with a great surprise. He just came to know his real name. But Jogendra? He chuckled to which Joe frowned. Joe whispered, “That’s why it’s Joe. You see!”

“Sir, I need to check this with Ma’am.”

“Well, there is one problem. I have come from New York to surprise her. We are meeting after years. So it would be great if you help me to keep it a surprise too.”

The lady at the reception was in a great dilemma.

“Dev Sir!” They heard a familiar voice from behind. They turned around to find Ragini. She reached them and greeted. They took a sofa in the large hall. Ragini got married and shifted to Mumbai. When People’s was founded, Yuvika employed Ragini’s husband, Shivu in the management department. She also sponsored Ragini’s further education so that she could also get a job in the same magazine along with her husband. They met Shivu in some time.

After a long conversation, Dev had only one question, “Ragini, where is Yuvika?”

“Ma’am is in Goa. Nobody knows her exact address. But one day, over a phone call, she muttered something about the villa and the beach. So I could figure out that she must be living somewhere near the beach.”

“Fantastic,” said Joe, throwing his hands in the air. “Now we can easily find her from some 45 beaches.” He clenched his teeth and looked at Dev. But Dev was relaxed. At least they knew where she was.

Episode 12: Found the Café

Joe and Dev were in Goa. They listed all the places and beaches and decided to visit all the possible villas near the beaches. Roaming on the roads of Goa with Yuvika’s photo looked a terribly filmy idea to both of them. So they chose to visit each place and look for villas and a single woman living there. At least they assumed that she was still single.

It was 7 in the evening. They were in Benaulim, a coastal village situated in Salcete in South Goa. Dev and Joe had been looking for her continuously. They were exhausted, tired and hungry. On their way back to their resort, they saw a cafe on the right side of the road. It was exactly opposite the Benaulim seashore. They stopped the car.

“How come we didn’t notice this house earlier?” asked Joe.

“The lights make it more noticeable now.”

The building had an urban touch. It was a two storey bungalow. It has wider in an area as compared to its height. The entire compound wall was white and was covered with purple bougainvillaea flowers. Only the gate was left uncovered. But it was sheltered by the flowers. A car and two bicycles were parked outside the gate. There was another bicycle leant against the wall. It had a basket which contained plants and yellow flowers blossomed.

A wooden board was dangled with a support of a black rod. It peeped out of the lush of bougainvillaea flowers near the gate. ‘Brewing Books Cafe’ was written on the wooden board in simple fonts. The board and fonts were decorated with yellow sparkling lights. Some lights were also scattered on the bougainvillaea flowers over the gate. The gate was opened and it was the sign that the cafe was not closed yet.

Dev and Joe decided to eat something there.

They stepped in the garden. It was huger than they had assumed. It was a big area for a single bungalow. The entire bungalow was in white colour except for the doors and windows. They were kept in their original wooden finishing and it seemed like they were varnished recently. They could smell it too. After the garden, there was a huge porch where wooden tables and chairs were placed. A man was spotted in the entire area. He was sitting with a brush in his hand and a can of varnish on his left. He was still working on a chair-leg.

Dev and Joe stepped on the porch and looked around. There was one half-glass & a half-wooden door which opened into the room where some more tables and chairs could be seen. Some people were sitting there. They looked like tourists.

The man with a paint brush walked to them and asked them, “How can I help you, sir?”

They were led to the table. They chose to sit outside. From that level, the sea could easily be seen. The rows of lights on both sides of the tracks to the seashore made it an amazing view to spot. The cool breeze was moist but it was refreshing. The area of the cafe was peaceful so roars of the waves were clearly audible. It was the mini heaven in itself. They could doze off there if the man with brush had not returned to them to inform that they were supposed to place their order at the counter.

While enjoying their coffee and doughnuts, they were planning for the next day. They would visit many other beaches and places. That man again returned. This time, he didn’t have the brush with him. He bent a little and said, “Sir, would you like to read something?”

Joe chuckled. “What? For now, just let us have something which we can eat. A few more doughnuts will do, I guess.” That man also smiled.

Dev asked out of curiosity, “Reading? In a cafe?”

“Yes, Sir. We have the facility where you can enjoy your snacks with a good company of books. That’s why our cafe is called ‘Brewing Books’.”

Joe stopped chewing for a second and said, “Oh. That makes sense. Hmm…” He went back to his doughnuts.

But something had struck Dev’s mind. “What did you just say?”

That man repeated himself. “This cafe is developed with a particular concept. It’s a cafe-cum-readers’ hub. But we don’t sell books. You can sit and read here for as many hours as you want.”

Dev got numb for a couple of seconds. Joe looked at him. He tapped on Dev’s hand. “What? What are you thinking?”

The man was still there waiting for their response.

“Do you realise anything?” Dev asked Joe with wide eyes. Joe didn’t understand anything. Dev continued, “It is a cafe-cum-book store. This is exactly what Yuvika used to say.” Dev and Joe both looked at the man.

The man beamed and asked enthusiastically, “Do you know our Ma’am?”

“You mean Yuvika Shroff?” asked Dev.

The man nodded affirmatively.

There you go. They had found the treasure. Dev and Joe looked at each other with immense joy. They burst into laughter. They laughed till their eyes got wet and stomachs ached. The man watched them. He was laughing too. But he had no idea what was going on.

Dev calmed himself down and turned to the man. “Is Yuvika here?”

“Yes.”

“Can we meet her?”

*******

Joe and Dev followed the man through the first hall which was filled with people enjoying their snacks and chats. The hall was lit with a huge chandelier and some other corner lights and shades. The chandelier was gigantic. It was affixed to the uppermost ceiling of the house and it illuminated both the floors of the house. They saw the railings of the upper floor on three sides.

They entered another room. It was a big room filled with cabinets and shelves of different shapes and size containing books. Every piece of furniture was different from each other. It seemed that each was handpicked. The entire room was ideally lit giving readers an ease to read. Two to three boys were standing in front of one of the shelves while a teenage girl with a lady was sitting on the sofa in the corner. The lady was trying to express something to the little girl from the book. Her gesture spoke of a story where the scenery consisted of tall trees and mountains.

“This way, Sir.” The man guided the duo further.

They turned to the left in the room. There was a glass staircase spiralled to the first floor. The staircase had an artistic touch; each wooden step was in the shape of a half-cut piece of wood with the flat surface was to step on.

They went upstairs and entered another big room. The room was empty but the walls were filled with paintings and art pieces. Some of the giant paintings were leant against each wall. On the right, they saw the railing from where they could see the entire cafeteria room from where they had entered the house. Now the chandelier looked even more massive from the close. The room was progressed in a lobby on its right. On the right side of the lobby, there were three doors. Out of them, two were locked. They had different nameplates; BooksOfficeStorerespectively. The lobby ended with another room. It was Yuvika’s. That’s what the man said.

Yuvika was in the office.

They walked through the lobby and reached the office.

The man knocked on the door. Joe had anxiousness on his face while Dev was tapping his foot on the floor out of anxiety. They were eager to see her.

The man pushed the door gently and they saw her standing on the other side of the table. She was looking out of the window. The room smelt of papers. It also contained shelves. A set of the sofa was placed near the door. A laptop was placed on the table. It was closed. Piles of files and magazines too were on the table.

The man said with a soft voice, “Ma’am, we have guests who are looking for you.”

Yuvika turned around. Dev and Joe became keener. She seemed the same at the first glance. She was wearing a long burgundy kurta. She had a glass in her hand. It seemed like red wine. This was the first change they noticed in her appearance apart from the longer hair and paler skin.

Yuvika put the glass down on the table. Her eyes were narrowed. She smiled modestly. The smile became wider.

“Oh my god!” She started laughing. They heard her finally. She was clearly happy. Seeing this, Dev and Joe too, started laughing. She walked to them and hugged both. There was an immense happiness in her eyes, but she was not emotional. It could be figured out easily who knew her.

Dev sat on the sofa while Joe and Yuvika took the chairs and sat in front of him. The man had left the room.

“Joe, look at you. You have become a handsome man,” said Yuvika.

Joe felt shy; a compliment from his family. Dev could understand his emotions now.

“So when did you guys come?” Yuvika initiated the conversation.

They talked about how they found where she was and how they looked for her in Goa. She also talked about her life in Goa. She wisely skipped the part of her journey from when she left Chitgarh and went to Mumbai and then to Goa. She chose to talk about the cream part only.

Dev’s happiness seemed no boundary. But he could not ignore the woe she had lived with. She was living even more lonely life now; with so many people around but no one to call her own. And how could the alcohol go unseen? He would have to talk to her. He wanted to.

“Aren’t you guys hungry?” asked Yuvika.

“We were. But we are excited to have met you after so long. So the hunger vanishes.” Joe was still beaming.

Yuvika took them to the tour of rest of the bungalow. On the staircase, Joe went ahead followed by Dev and Yuvika was the last in the queue. Dev stopped at the stair and turned around to face Yuvika.

“Hey,” said Dev.

Yuvika gave him a puzzled look. “Huh?”

“So you made it. I feel proud that you fulfilled your dream.”

She smiled and nodded.

Dev continued, “Are you happy?”

“Yes.” She smiled convincingly.

“But please don’t disappear now.” He had a complaining tone.

“I have never disappeared. I have just tried to walk ahead a little.”

They sat on the porch. Joe and Dev had their coffee.

“It seems like coffee is not your drink anymore.” Joe winked. Yuvika chuckled. Dev frowned. She noticed but ignored it.

Dev’s phone rang. It read ‘Dad’. He got up and went to the garden picking up the phone.

“Hey! Dad”

“Dev, will anyone tell me clearly where are you and why? Your mother is keeping quiet. Is there any secrecy?” asked Mr Dixit.

Dev laughed and said, “What? Secrecy? Well, I am on a mission, I guess.”

“I am not joking, Dev. Tell me where are you and why?”

“Why do you always inquire? Why do you always want an explanation? Can’t we just talk, Dad?”

“All right. Just tell me are you in Goa?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Why?”

“Yuvika is here.”

“Oh. Is it so? How is she?”

“She is fine.”

“Okay. Great. Tell her if she needs anything. She can ask for it.”

Dev turned around and glanced at the bungalow. Raising his eyebrows, he said, “Sure.”

“And I want you here soon. You know we should not keep them waiting for so long.”

“Yes, Dad. I understand.”

*******

Dev and Joe had come back to their resort to rest. For the next day, they planned to have breakfast at Yuvika’s cafe.

The cafe was closed. Yuvika closed the door and locked it. She went to the counter and took a mug. She made herself a strong coffee. She poured it into the mug and sat on the chair resting her hands on the counter. Sip by sip, she tried to enjoy her coffee.

Is it really not my drink anymore?

Joe was standing in the garden of the resort near the swimming pool. He could see the beach. A few scattered lights made the shore visible. Except for some tourists of the resort and a number of stilts, no one was there on the beach. An immense peace was not disturbed by the roaring waves. In fact, it added the drama into the scenario. A cold wind was harsher at this time. Dev came and stood beside Joe, crossing his arms over his chest.

“It is relaxing after a tiring search mission, isn’t it?” Dev smirked.

“Oh yes. We finally met her. She is not changed,” said Joe.

“You look surprised.”

“Well, no. I am not. I know her. She is not the one who changes her persona. But she is just more subtle, calmer.”

“Yes. I noticed it.” Dev nodded. He looked at Joe who was still observing the sea. “Are you going to tell her?”

Joe sighed. “I don’t know.”

“Are you confused?”

“No. But I just don’t want to lose her again.” Joe blinked and looked down. “You know what; I am okay with not telling her the truth if I can keep my dear friend. It might hurt her lesser.”

“But it may make her even happier if she knows that her family is around. It makes one feel safer. She has lived with the void of the family which you can fill.”

 

Episode 13: Loneliness & Aloneness

 

“Your cafe serves the best breakfast in the entire Goa.” Joe declared.

“Joe, when did you have breakfast in the entire Goa?” demanded Dev.

“It is called the art of appreciation, my friend.”

“Well, thank you then,” Said Yuvika.

They were sitting in a large balcony of Yuvika’s room. The atmosphere was cloudy.

The table was arranged near the sliding door which led to her room. The room was painted white. This colour was accompanied by the ivory coloured carpet floored in the entire room. Facing the balcony door, there was a bed. On the left of the bed, the side table contained a lamp shade, a kettle, a couple of books and a pair of her spectacles. The left wall had a window which had the view of the beach and a road. The window had a one sided glass sliders. The walls were decorated with wooden and glass cabinets and shelves. Over them, the paintings were arranged. The size of the furniture and paintings varied with the space on the walls. Near the side table, there was a large wardrobe with the blurred glass sliding doors. Facing the balcony, a long table with the foam seat was arranged to adjoin the bed which was the perfect place to enjoy the sea from the room.

On the right wall, near the entrance door of the room, the tallest cupboard was arranged with glass door. It had Yuvika’s personalized collection of books. Near that cupboard, there was a set of two chairs and a round table. And on the table, an adjustable lamp was placed providing enough light to read. She often used it as the reading table. On the opposite wall, near the window, the dressing table was arranged. A small stool was placed in front of it. The dressing table had some regular cosmetic material, bottles of perfume, and a brush. The door in the corner opened into the washroom.

A chandelier was enough to enlighten the entire room, but she liked the antique shades in the corners. The lights made the room even brighter. In the mornings, the room radiated like rays-stricken water crystal of the sea.

The entire house spoke of Yuvika’s keen eye with the personal touch and specific choice of every single detail.

From the balcony, they could see the activity on the beach. The railing was not so high. It made easy to spot the sea from the room too. Tourists had started roaming. People were coming in the cafe for the breakfast. Kids were playing on the beach and some were making the sand castles. Joe watched them in admiration while Dev and Yuvika were busy talking business. Dev noticed him. “I am sure you want to join them, don’t you?” He teased Joe.

Joe broke the gaze and raised his eyebrows. Dev and Yuvika started laughing. She gave Dev a slight push on his right shoulder. Joe said, “Yes. Why not? I am still a kid at heart.”

“Oh! And seeing you this time, I was thinking of getting you married before you go back to the US.” Yuvika added in the laughter.

“No matter how much you grow up, the kid in you always wants to hop out whenever given a chance,” argued Joe.

“No. I don’t believe that.” Yuvika differed.

Dev and Joe looked at her. She continued, “I don’t believe that there is any kid in you who want to pop out every now and then. It is just you who wants to behave like a kid, not daring to show enough maturity.”

“Yuvika, that’s what they say.” Dev tried to explain the old phrase.

“That is why they have to say it. Logically, your mind is grown up with your age. That’s where you think from and that’s what decides which words would flow out. It tells you to act and react in a certain manner. It helps you to take decisions. So where is that kid they talk about? I see no logic in there.”

“Gosh! You are so practical. That’s so boring,” protested Joe.

“That’s how she is; a bore with super intelligence.” Dev put his arm around her neck and gently pulled her.

Putting the cup on the table, Joe asked, “So Yuvika, what have you thought about your future?”

She pulled herself back from Dev’s clasp and asked, “What future?”

“I mean, what would you do further? Where are you seeing yourself in the future?” Joe elaborated.

“Is there any better place than this?”

Dev chose to hear them silently.

“Yes, but, there are things in life, you know? You need to explore more, meet more people, and…” Joe faltered. Yuvika glanced at him. He continued, “and have your family around you?”

Dev sniggered. He took a sip from his cup to hide his smile.

Yuvika cleared her throat and said, “Well, some of the things which you can never have control over. Till now, many things were not under my control. The biggest factor which was controlling it was the time. It has also graced me with strength and clarity of mind. And it has also taken those things away for some time. But I don’t complain. It was just a wrong time. But I decided to take charge of these. Today where I am living and what I am doing, is totally my decision. Yes, of course, the time has to be right to make everything fall into the right place. But I am happy.” The last few words faded away. But they could hear them. They both were staring at her. She gave them a quick look and went back to the tea.

Now take the charge and accept me. Joe wanted to confront.

Joe’s phone rang. It was a conference call which he had arranged and forgot. So he sprang out of his chair and left the room. He had to go back to the resort and get the call arranged there.

Dev and Yuvika were standing on the balcony now.

“You know, this place is amazing. How did you find it?” asked Dev.

“When I came to Goa, I was visiting the sea facing villas or places. And I liked it the most. Mr Joseph Christian, the owner of the place is a very cheerful man. The house was not used for years. It was the palace of spider-webs, just like they show it in the movies; that old heritage haveli. So I worked on it and made it an ideal place to live. And now, it is my address.”

“So are you going to buy it?” asked Dev.

“I want to; one day for sure.”

“There was one more thing I wanted to talk about,” said Dev. He turned to her and asked, “Since when have you been drinking?”

She glanced at him wryly. Looking back at the sea, she said, “It helps you sometimes.”

“Please explain.”

She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sometimes when all these people and the staff go back and the house is empty, it scares you; sometimes when the silence of the night is filled with beautiful roars of these giant waves, it scares you; sometimes. Not always.

“Sometimes when this sky is too happy and is roaring with its laughter down at you, it frightens you; when the wind dances insanely and these windows, and doors join it crashing with each other fiercely, it makes you skip your heartbeat; when you fear of someone or something break into your house and take everything you have away from you, it panics you. The fear of your world being destroyed tears you apart; it shivers you inside out.” She was still piercing the sea with her eyes filled with tears. They didn’t roll down but chose to stay at the edge of her beautiful eyes.

A person who lived a happy life, her inner-self was scared. She was constantly fighting with a fear; fear of some invisible element who she thought would touch her fair world and harm it. She was armed to fight that evil element. This had made her even tougher and more rational.

Was there anything or anyone who could comfort her, give her assurance of a secure life? She was an intelligently efficient person who never needed anyone to back her. But why was she vulnerable now? Or was she even actually vulnerable? Can it be true?

What can I do for her? Dev was tangled in his thoughts. He was subconsciously gawking at her.

“Hey,” screamed Yuvika. Dev felt a jolt and woke up. She squawked again, “Hey, you. Go away.” There were some men on the other side of the wall of the house. There seemed to be moving the bougainvillaea plant from the wall. “I said go away.”

She rushed down stairs, opening all the doors with thuds. Dev ran after her but could not pace up with her speed. She went out the gate and started shouting again, “Hey, you have come again. Just go away. Get lost you, scoundrels. You son of a b…” Dev reached her and grabbed her by her waist. He lifted her and took her away from those men. Those men were stunned and quiet.

“Leave me Dev. I will kill them if they don’t go away.” She managed to leave herself from his grip. She took the pebbles in both her hands from the bed which she was preparing to plant more trees. She threw the pebbles at those men.

“Hey hey, you can’t do that. Stop it. What are you doing?” Dev again reached her and held her hands when she again tried to pick up other pebbles.

“Dev, just kick them away or I will call the police. Or I will kick them in their arse.” She reached those men and pushed one of them on his shoulder. The push was so hard that that man almost fell. None of them was shouting back or raising their voice. It seemed like they were used to it.

Dev pulled Yuvika’s left hand and pulled her back. “You should not do that. Why are you doing this? Let’s just all talk.”

Meanwhile, Joe came back. He parked the car and joined them. He was puzzled. “What is going on? Dev, what happened? Who are they?”

Dev gave him will-explain-later look as he could not risk leaving Yuvika’s hand. But she was uncontrollable. She somehow lost the grip and screamed at those men again. All the people at the cafe also gathered on the porch.

Dev said, “Yuvika, just talk to them quietly. Everybody is watching us.”

“I don’t care, Dev. They just can’t touch the property. They are removing the trees. Trees are supposed to be here; and not these morons. Why have they come?”

“Joe, just be here,” said Dev and he went near those men. “Look, I am sorry about everything. I would suggest you come back and we would have a talk later.”

“Dev,” yelled Yuvika. “Don’t talk to them. Just tell them to get the hell out of here.” Joe stared at her in aghast. It was completely different Yuvika for Joe and Dev.

Dev managed to send those men back. Yuvika glared at them. Dev turned back and saw her. She gave him a brief look, turned back and stepped in the bungalow. Customers were on the porch, looking disturbed. They gave her way while she went in without stopping, followed by Joe and Dev. Dev heard an old man murmuring, “They keep coming back.”

Who are they?

Yuvika rushed into the room and opened the cupboards and drawers. She seemed to be looking for something recklessly. There was a clear restlessness on her face. Joe stopped at the door when Dev went straight into the room.

“What are you doing? And who were they?” Dev asked. He had so many questions. But she was not hearing him at all. “Yuvika, look at me.” He almost scolded her.

She kept opening and closing the doors of cupboards and every drawer. “I am not finding anything.”

“What are you looking for?”

“The bottles. My bottles.” She looked at Dev. The restlessness was turned into a craving. It was not a good sign.

She went back to the cupboards and opened it. While searching, many of the things fell down from the shelves as she could not hold them back. Ignoring it, she searched in drawers. She walked to every corner of the room and opened all the drawers and cabinets. She looked in already searched places too.

She came back to the table where Dev was standing. She faltered, “I—it must be here.” She was about to open the drawer again when Dev stopped her, “Stop it. You have already looked into this. It’s not there. I am telling you.” When he pulled her hand, he felt it cold.

“So get them, for me. I need it.” She was not looking at him. She was breathing heavily. Her eyes were constantly flickering. Her trembling fingers spread an annoying sound in the while quiet room. Her tingling shoulders showed as if something was itching her. Her expressions spoke of her uneasiness.

“Dev, please close the door,” she said pointing to the balcony door. “I am cold.”

“It’s humid, not cold,” said Dev, closing the door.

“Yes, but that jacketed man will come again. Just close it.”

Dev turned back and stared at her, terrified. “Who is that? Who wears a jacket?” He went close to her. He raised his voice, “Who is that, Yuvika? Tell me.”

She was already lost in a void. She stared into the blank. She again started walking to all the cupboards and drawers. She was repeating herself all again; this time, more hastily. Dev stood there, watching her with his hand on his mouth. His eyes were wide open.

She was living in constant fear. She was so lost. Yuvika was lost.

Joe was petrified. He could not understand how to help Dev and how to calm Yuvika down.

“You won’t find them,” Dev spoke loudly.

“What?” She was panting. Her eyes were literally urging.

“The bottles are not there,” Dev repeated in s a steady voice.

“But why? I had just… wait, you, you have touched them. Have you?” She reached him. “Why did you come to my room? Where have you put them? Tell me now.” She screamed. She pushed him.

“I cannot.” He tried to stand stiff.

“Dev, please, please don’t do this.” She burst into tears. She felt vulnerable. “Get them back. Are you listening? Just get them back. NOW.”

Joe didn’t move. His eyes were shuffling between Dev and Yuvika. He felt tears in his eyes. He had never seen her so miserable.

“Look at you, Yuvika.” Dev held her by her shoulders and jolted her. “What have you done? Why are you like this?”

She didn’t have any answer. Her swollen, tearful eyes stared straight into his eyes. He looked away as if his eyes were not able to meet hers. He felt a sense of guilt.

He flashed at Joe. He was silently telling him to break the news. But Joe stood expressionlessly.

“Hey, we can talk. There must be something which can make you feel good. What about some strong coffee?” Dev tried to change the subject.

“Let’s not talk. I really need my bottles. You don’t understand anything. Please don’t do this to me. I am not in the state of explaining things. What do you want me to do? Drugs?”

“Alright. This is enough.” Joe spoke for the first time and walked forward. He reached to Yuvika and said, “Sit here and listen to me.” He made her sit on the edge of the bed. Dev walked to the balcony. He stood there for a couple of seconds so that nobody could notice his tears. He wiped them and turned back. He stood at the door keeping it open. He leaned against the door frame, with arms crossed against his chest. He was relaxed that Joe had gained Yuvika’s concentration.

Joe sat on his knees, facing Yuvika. “I know that you got angry. You didn’t like those people who tried to intrude your house. I am with you in that. You did right. But let’s all have the fighting spirit. Why are you torturing yourself like this? And what about alcohol? This would be the last thing I could expect from you. Why have you changed yourself so much? What scares you?”

Yuvika started getting restless. Noticing that, Joe tried harder to keep her focus on his conversation, “I was a super scared kid when I had to spend my childhood on my own.” Her eyes were on him, again. It worked. He knew that it would trigger. “When there was no family around, I was extremely afraid of almost every person around me; teachers, warden, students, even friends. There was no home. The place turned into the haunted house in the nights. A monster lived under my bed. I had spent many sleepless nights due to fear. I could not focus on my studies too.

“But one night, when the lights went off, I decided to face the evil. With a broom in one hand and a torch in the other, I kneeled down and torched under my bed. I had prepared the broom to hit if anyone comes out. But my happiness seemed no boundary when I found no one there; not even an insect. I was so relaxed. I tried to see the darkness as a sign of hope. I told my mind that this darkness would bring the sunshine in just a few hours. And you know what? I started liking the darkness too. As if it is just a phase, like a morning, noon and evening. So I let myself enjoy the dark phase too. After all, I was always taught to welcome all the phases, good or bad, with open arms.

“Now, the light outs or darkness don’t scare me anymore. I embrace everything that comes across. And I have learnt not to have any regrets. They are sickening.”

Her eyes were still glued to him as if she owned the story. He got up and sat beside her and said, “I have always missed my family, very much. I really wanted to run back and give them the tightest embrace.”

“Then why didn’t you?” She spoke softly.

Joe sighed and looked down, “I don’t know. Something was stopping me. I feared that before giving them a hug, I would have to say sorry. And I didn’t even know that they would accept me again.”

She was aghast. He still could not say it clearly. Dev sensed Joe’s hesitation. He was still afraid of confronting her directly. He was afraid that he would lose her all over again.

Yuvika seemed completely lost in Joe’s story. At least she forgot her bottles.

“But, how could they not accept you? You seem to be a nice man.” She murmured.

“Huh?” asked Joe.

“Had you run away? But, you seem to be a good kid.”

Joe laughed and said, “No. I didn’t. In fact, I was a good kid. But, I had one complaint; my name. That’s why I changed it to Joe.”

“Is it not your real name?”

There you go! Dev beamed.

“No,” Joe whispered.

“What’s your name, then?”

“Jogendra. Jogendra Shroff. Sounds fun!”

She was stunned. She was gazing at him; expressionless. Neither Joe nor Dev could anticipate about her reaction. She looked away. She leaned her face on her folded hands.

“You had recognized me, hadn’t you?” She finally spoke.

“Of course.”

“That’s why you wanted the painting.”

“It was me who sent it.”

“Really? It was beautiful. Now I know why it was so keen.” Her eyes glared. Joe smiled.

“But why didn’t you say anything? Why did you go back?” questioned Yuvika.

“I have no excuse. But I was afraid of losing you again, even as a friend.” Joe kept his gaze down.

There came a long period of silence again when Yuvika finally said, “It was me who lost you.”

Both Joe and Dev were surprised and puzzled.

Looking straight into a distance, she continued, “It was my fault and I knew it. For years, I didn’t come to meet you and when I came, you were gone. They didn’t know where you were. I tried to search you on social platforms but failed. I wanted to meet you; see you if you were doing fine. I wanted to apologise to you for keeping you away and making you spend your childhood all alone, on your own. We both have a family but still were unfortunate to have it by our sides. I have constantly lived in guilt.” Her voice became weak. Joe starred her. He was too emotional to speak anything. Dev’s eyes were also moist.

She continued, “I told you not to look back again. But since when had you become so obedient? Why didn’t you just force me to take care of you? It was my duty when our parents were not around. I don’t hate anyone, Joe. I can’t. Yes, our parents’ death had pushed me into desolation, but you had also gone through the same. You also wanted the warmth of the family. I was supposed to be your godparent. But I failed miserably. The agony had blinded me. It kills me now. It has been killing me down all these years. I don’t deserve a family and maybe that’s why I happen to live here, all by myself. I deserve this.” She broke down by the last words. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She buried her face into her palms. She was sobbing.

Joe put his arms around her, embracing her in a tight hug. She was still sobbing. Her ultimate grief was burst in front of her family after years. “I am sorry. I am so sorry.” She murmured for a number of times.

“Shh…Don’t say that. Don’t say anything. Just cry your heart out, my dear.” Joe wasn’t even trying to hold back his tears. He let it flow out. His family was with him now.

Dev wiped his tears before they could be seen. His heart was heavy. He had never seen Yuvika weak.

Yuvika got up and said, “I don’t know how to make up this. But please, forgive me, Joe. Please don’t disappear. Can you do it?”

Joe compressed his lips. His eyes overflowed with tears. He said with broken words, “On one condition; if try to go, you will call me back.”

“Yes. Yes, I will. I will.” She hugged him. “And not only that, I will scold you if you try to go anyway without telling me.”

“And yes,” she said, losing the grip of her embrace, “Do look back.”

Three of them burst out laughing.

Yuvika looked at Dev. She reached him. He became more conscious. He smiled at her. “Hey!”

“You knew it?” asked her.

He nodded. “Joe told me before coming to Goa.”

“Would you ask why I never told you about my brother?”

“No.”

She gave him a warm hug.

*******

The next day, Dev and Yuvika were leisurely walking towards the beach along a narrow road opposite her house. The entire area was beautifully covered by coconut palm trees. The road had lamp posts on both the sides.

Yuvika was busy on her phone. She was talking to an employee at the Mumbai office after finishing the conference call from home. Ever since he had come in Goa, Dev had not even touched his work. But Yuvika had to spare enough time to be virtually present in the Mumbai office.

After she finished the call, Dev said, “Really Yuvika, I am not surprised by your venture. But it is definitely not easy what you have done and proven. I am really proud of you.”

“Well, thanks. But I did nothing which was impossible and nothing was to be proven for sure. We had always dreamt big, remember?”

“Yes. It was always a big dream; our dream.”

His words faded away in the air with his gaze. He said, “I thought that when I would meet you again, what I would say; probably apologise and then would request you to come back. But here you are, doing exceptionally well in your profession. But all I am worried about the distance we are having which I felt when I met you here. I am scared that I have lost my only buddy.”

She smiled and said, “Things are changed. And it is perfectly fine. They had to change. So let’s accept it. And nobody has lost anybody. Please don’t complicate it. We should keep going because that’s how life works. All I know is I am happy to see you both. And thank you. Joe told me that you had encouraged him enough to confront and come up as my brother.

“And I am sorry I messed up yesterday. Sometimes I am out of my mind especially when they show up. I just don’t want anyone to intrude this beautiful house. And when these men come, it really annoys me.”

Dev asked worriedly, “Who does send them?”

She said, “The owner, Mr Joseph Luis’s son.”

They were on the beach by now. They found a place under a slanting tree to sit. They sat facing the sea. The cold but moist wind was relaxing.

Dev chuckled, “Yuvika, he is the owner. He can do anything with it.”

She argued, “Yes, but they are planning to destruct it and then will rebuild. And where was he when the house was nothing but a box of spider webs. It looked haunted when I saw it first. I made it a home. I made habitable.”

He laughed, “Well, that’s true. The house, I mean, the home is beautiful now. But still, ultimately if they want it back from you, you have to agree with it.”

“I told you that I am ready to buy it. In fact, I offered more than the actual price. I just don’t want them to destroy this beautiful place at any cost. But that stubborn son is not willing to give up. Mr Joseph says that his son wants to build another as per his grandfather’s wish.” Yuvika said in a complaining tone.

“Who is this son?” asked Dev.

“Some Loan or Leo, I don’t know. He doesn’t even live here.”

“So where does he live?” He asked curiously.

She freaked out, “How would I know, Dev? It doesn’t matter where that bastard lives. All I know is I won’t let him break this house. That’s it.”

He said widening his eyes, “Yuvika, watch your language, will you?. What’s wrong with you? Just wait for some time or ask Mr Joseph when his son will come. Arrange a meeting and talk to him; CALMLY.” She frowned.

They got up to walk ahead.

“I will need to go back,” said Dev.

“Yes, of course. @ink must be waiting for you.”

“Actually there is something else which is waiting for me too.” Dev blushed.

“Wait a minute, are you blushing?” asked Yuvika, stopping him.

“I am about to get married. The families are meeting for deciding the date once I go back.”

Yuvika, widening her eyes, said, “Wow, that’s just great. Congratulations! So, who is she?”

“Her name is Richa. She is a nice girl. I want her to meet you.”

“Sure. I would like to. So, many plans ahead now?”

“Yes. Meeting the families, deciding the big date, getting married, getting the deals done,” while speaking, he lost the breath.

Yuvika stopped walking, so did Dev. She narrowed her eyes looking at him. He didn’t speak anything and waited for her to say.

“What?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes, you heard it right.” Dev declared, nodding.

“Dev, what are you doing?” Yuvika’s voice had enough worries. It made Dev feel good as it was the first time she had shown enough concern ever since he had met her again.

“Whatever you are thinking is right. But I know Richa. I feel that I will be happy with her. It’s not only for the sake of a business deal.” Dev tried to explain but Yuvika still looked disturbed.

Dev again said, “I have met her a few times. I am happy to have met her. She is a nice girl.”

“I am sure she is. But that’s not the point here. But I am sorry I reacted, okay. I just didn’t believe it for real. We watch it in movies and read in books. But this is happening for real and it’s with you, so I didn’t understand how to react on this. But if you are happy and you are sure that you will keep her and yourself happy, then just go ahead with whatever you feel is right.”

Dev smiled. He put his right arm around her neck and said teasingly, “Thanks a lot. And anyway, you are going to be the first person whom I would call to get better ideas of arguments whenever she fights with me.”

“Oh no. Not at all. Please keep me out of this. I already have enough to sort out.” She released herself from the grip and started walking faster. Dev almost ran after her, “Hey, you can’t do this. After all, you are going to be the Aunt Yuvika to my kids.”

“First get married.”

They reached the house. Stepping into the garden, Dev said, “Really, I want you to be my best man at my wedding. I mean the best girl or best woman. Oh, whatever. I just want you to be there and have the best time.”

She chuckled, “I will try.” He frowned. She continued, “You first go back and decide everything. Enjoy your wedding shopping and have a great time with your fiancée.”

“I have something else to do too,” Dev said with a wrinkled forehead.

“What?” asked Yuvika, taking a chair on the porch. Dev sat on her left, leaning back on the chair.

“I have something unanswered,” said Dev, looking to the sea at distance. “You know that my mother is a homemaker. I have always seen her at home or accompanying my father in various functions or events. She left her glorious career after marriage. All these years, I have not understood why? How could my father allow it? How could my grandfather let it go unseen? They themselves are progressive people. Ever since you had left the magazine, Yuvika, the only person who could connect with me was my mother. We didn’t talk much about this, but I could see the sorrow in her eyes which I had seen in your eyes when you left the magazine. She could have been a totally different person if she had not quit her career. She could have been even happier.”

Yuvika was staring at him. She said, “I appreciate your sensitivity. But you are late. You should have talked about it earlier, at least to your mother.”

He looked down and said, “I know. I could have brought the change.”

She said softly, “But anyway, at least you are speaking your heart. So don’t delay in speaking for your partner now.”

*******

Episode 14: Congratulations, Loy!

“I will never forget this visit,” said Joe, hugging Yuvika. He was leaving for Delhi with Dev. Joe was trying to get the transfer to the Delhi office so that he could stay near his family now. For that, he had to go through some paperwork and formalities.

“I am sure, Jogendra,” said Yuvika. They burst into laughter.

Dev came forward and hugged Yuvika, “Please take care. And do visit Delhi. Let’s arrange a get-to-gather in Chitgarh for you and this Joe. It will be fun like old days.”

“Yes, sure. We can do that.”

Dev continued, “And talk to Mr Joseph and his son but like I said, calmly.” She pushed him on his shoulder.

*******

The door was knocked twice. Yuvika pushed it open and saw a man sitting at the table, his eyes glued to the laptop screen and said yes without even looking up.

The man seemed to be in his 30s. Lean body and face cut with square jaws lines seemed to be his forte. He had downturned eyes with hooded eyelids.

Yuvika said, “Hi!”

Hearing her voice, he looked up. His light brown eyes were visible from his round shaped reading glasses. His trimmed boxed beard matched the colour of his eyes. He got up from his chair as soon as he saw Yuvika. He came forward and shook her hand. His muscular physique was ideal even for a simple shirt and a pair of denim. He guided her to the chair facing his chair. He called his secretary to bring a glass of water. He went back to his chair and sat. He smiled at her. She smiled wryly.

He initiated the conversation, “Hi, how may I help you? I am Loy Luis.”

She said, “I am Yuvika. Yuvika Shroff. And I..”

“Yuvika Shroff? I mean the ‘The CLAN’ magazine Yuvika Shroff?” interrupted Loy.

“Yes and I have come to talk about the land where I am running my café.” replied Yuvika.

“Oh! Is that you? My father informed me about that.” Loy didn’t say anything further for a few long seconds.

Sensing her confusion, he clarified, “It is totally unbelievable that it’s you who have come to meet me. I mean, you, yourself.”

Her quizzical expression didn’t change. So he stood up and went to the cupboard on the left of his table. He opened it and rolled out the drawer. With a pile of magazines, he walked to the table and put them on it. She craned a little to see and found out that those were the old issues of The CLAN Magazine. She said out of surprise, “These are the most initial issues.”

“Yes,” said Loy. “And I have kept it with me.”

She craned some more to see the date of the magazines. “May I?” She asked.

“Of course, these are yours after all.” He chuckled.

She moved some of them aside to look at the last ones on the table.

She said, “Seems like you have stopped liking my magazine then.” She looked up to see him.

“What do you mean?”

“These are too old. And I can find no issue after June.” She said.

“Yes because you stopped writing after June. But that does not mean I don’t read it anymore. I still do read them regularly. It’s just that I don’t keep it anymore.”

Hearing this most unexpected reply, Yuvika leaned back. She smiled and took it as a compliment as she didn’t want to drag the discussion any further. But Loy seemed interested in talking about this, “Seriously, I am a huge fan of yours. I know that you must be hearing this all the time, but trust me. I am truly your fan. I love the subjects you write on and I am fond of the method of your writing. And I feel extremely privileged that I have got a chance to meet you.”

He, being so humble could be a trouble for her as till now, he was nothing but a nut-head who didn’t value the beauty of the place where she lived.

Accepting the compliment, she said, “Thanks a lot for your kind words. I appreciate it.” Adjusting herself in the chair, she cleared her throat and said further, “You sent some people to cut down the trees. They had come a few times.”

He could feel the sense of complaint in her voice. He said, “Look I am sorry for the inconvenience you had to face. But I had to do this. And I have to get the land back.”

Loy sounded determined. Leaning forward, resting her elbows on the table, she said, “Look, I want that land. I have created a beautiful place there. You may not understand the value of it but for me, it is beyond anything now.”

“I understand your sentiments, Yuvika. But,”

“What if I buy it from you?” said Yuvika with a clear offer.

“No. I am sorry. But I don’t want to sell it. I am going to build a house there. It is something personal.”

“It has beauty, Loy. You don’t need to destruct it and reconstruct it. It is beautiful in its own way. Let me just buy it,” she said in as requesting tone as possible.

“I am also buying the land near your café and going to merge them. I am going to build a huge mansion there,” said Loy.

“Are you out of your mind?” She burst out, leaving him shocked more than surprised. She got up from the chair and continued, “I am telling you. Let me buy the land. I am ready to pay the double or as much as you say. But please don’t ruin the land. It has the most beautiful location in entire Goa, at least for me. Please don’t mess it up.”

Loy, too, got up and said, “Listen Yuvika, the land is mine and the land which I am going to buy will also be mine. So nobody can tell me what to do with it. I think it’s…it’s totally my own business.” Hearing this straight away from him, Yuvika frowned and said, “You know what, I thought that you are a nut-head.”

“Excuse me?” said a shocked Loy.

She repeated, “Yes. But now I am sure about it. And please throw away those magazines because I don’t think that you can really understand them.”

She turned her back to leave the office leaving Loy stunned where she saw Mr Joseph entering the office. He said, “Oh Ms Shroff! What a pleasant surprise!” He looked at Loy and said, “Hey Loy, didn’t I tell you what beauty Ms Shroff is!”

“Yes, Dad. She sure is.” Loy said in a plain voice without bothering to look at her.

Yuvika, who was already annoyed, said, “But you didn’t ever mention how dumb your boy is, Mr Joseph. I am disappointed.”

Hearing this, Loy’s narrowed eyes shifted to her.

“Anyway, it is very nice to meet you as always.” She shook hands with Mr Joseph and started walking towards the door. She stopped there and turned back again, “Let me know if you ever change your mind.” She left.

Mr Joseph looked at Loy with questioning expressions.

“Would you care to explain son?” asked Mr Joseph, coming towards the table.

“She wants to buy the house so that we don’t destruct it.”

“I advised you to do the same, Loy,” said Mr Joseph.

“And I always say that it is never going to happen, Dad. I want the lands and I will create the mansion which will be far better than her café. And why can’t she move to somewhere else with the café? I can help her find some good place.”

Mr Joseph took the chair and sat, signing Loy to sit too. He again started the conversation, “Do you remember Loy, in what condition the house was? It was never less than some abandoned haunted house. Ms Shroff gave it a life. Now the place glows. You haven’t even seen it.”

“Dad, why are you taking her side? And I want the mansion to be built as soon as possible so that granddad can see it and live in it. He wants to feel like living in his own old Haveli. It is his only wish. And now I am going to make its replica. And what can be the better place than this land?” argued Loy.

“We can get some other land,” said Mr Joseph.

“But where, where will you find such an amazing location? And what’s wrong with getting our own land back? Let’s not be too sentimental about it. It’s for granddad.”

“Loy, you are always chivalrous towards women.”

“Dad, she just called me a nut-head.”

Mr Joseph laughed. Loy frowned. “What? You are laughing now?”

Mr Joseph said, “Oh come on, Loy. You have your reasons; she has her own. Why are you both making a big deal out of it? I would suggest you sell the land to her. Otherwise, it is up to you and your granddad.”

*******

The next day, Loy visited Yuvika’s café. As soon as he got out of his car, he stopped there for a second. The beauty of the house amazed him. He adored it and thanked Yuvika silently. The very next moment, he reminded himself not to get driven by this and keep his focus on his mission.

He looked for Yuvika. She was not anywhere near the counter. He was about to ask for her but then he saw her coming out of the room on his right. She glared at him and walked to him. He had taken some white lilies with him. “Please accept it as my apology. The place is very beautiful. I am sure the flowers will suit it.”

They took a table on the porch.

Yuvika smirked, “So, you always pluck the flowers and their plants or get it done by others?”

Loy certainly had no idea how to react to her taunt. He simply replied, “Listen I am sorry for the inconvenience those men created. I assure you that it wouldn’t happen again. And please don’t embarrass me more. At least you could say thank you for the flowers.”

She said, softening her tone, “Thanks.”

“Thank you for the thanks.” Loy smiled.

“But if I could say something; I don’t really appreciate…”

“Hey, I said I am sorry.” Loy interrupted her.

“Huh? Oh no. Not about that. I am saying that I don’t appreciate bouquets.”

“Oh. Okay. I will take care of that.”

After a silence of a few seconds, Loy spoke, “So, I have come to talk about the house.”

“Oh I am sorry, I haven’t asked about anything. What will you have; Coffee or how about some Ginger tea?” She asked enthusiastically trying to delay the discussion, but he continued, “Only my land. That’s all I want.”

She became quiet, then she spoke again, “See, the thing is, you just cannot destruct it.”

Sensing a direct conclusion in her voice, he defended, “But why not? It’s our land, for Christ’s sake. And why should I listen to you? Why do you think I would listen to you? See, your café is a beauty, okay. I agree with that. You have changed the face of this place. But you can’t claim it. And of course, I am going to destruct it to reconstruct it. I am going to build a Haveli for my grandfather; like the one, he used to live in. It’s his only wish. So I am going to fulfil it, no matter what.” Loy tried his best to keep his calm.

“You had never even seen this place in years. And now you just appeared from somewhere and speaking of making it some fantasy place? It doesn’t even sound real to me.”

“I know what I am doing, okay? And what are you? Just tell me; an invader or some kind of burglar?” He regretted as soon as he spoke.

“Are you out of your freaking mind?” She frowned and stared him with blank eyes. Then she spoke again, “You know what? Just believe in whatever you are saying. Yes, I am an invader, and also planning a crime which is going to take place anytime soon. So you better vamoose otherwise you could be the potential hostage. But wait, I don’t want to have you here even as a hostage. I can’t even tolerate you now. So just shove off.”

*******

“You actually did it?” exclaimed Dev. He called Yuvika to inform her of his wedding date. It was after seven months.

“Yes. I was rude, I know. I also told him to bug off.”

“As in, literally?”

“No. Actually, I had used another word. I told him to shove off.”

Dev chuckled, “From his own land?”

“What should I do Dev? I am offering a great price for that.”

“Yes. Yuvika. But he has his reasons.”

“I know. I know.”

“And he had come to apologise. He did the first move. I don’t think he is going to say sorry now.”

*******

The next day, Yuvika found Loy sitting at the same table where they sat the previous day. This time, there was a bottle of champagne instead of white lilies.

“You don’t appreciate bouquets, so,” he handed her the bottle. She put it on the table and smiled. But the smile had a glimpse of hesitation. Before he said anything, she initiated, “Look, I am sorry. I was rude.”

“Hmm,” said Loy, pressing his lips. “You were.”

“I didn’t think that you would come again.”

He smiled. “Well, I had to.”

She said, “But now I apologise and for that, I am going to treat you with my favourite coffee.”

“I don’t really like tea or coffee.”

“Just wait. It’s a speciality.” She insisted.

“I don’t really want anything. I accept the apology. So let’s talk about the house now.”

She adjusted herself in the chair and leaned forward, “Okay now, I know that technically and logically, all the pluses are on your side. You are right. So I will have to play the emotional card now.”

He chuckled, “What? I mean you are actually saying this. Tell me something; do you always do that; to your boyfriend too?”

“It’s not the point here. The point is your land; I mean your father’s land is…”

He interrupted her, “It’s my land.”

“Huh?”

“The land; it’s in my name; on paper.”

“Okay then. That’s a pro. One more plus to you.” Her words faded away. “Okay. Let me simplify it for you. No emotional card.”

He said, “Please do that.” He paid attention.

She initiated, “I talked about the pluses you have got on your side, which I totally agree with. But let me tell you about my side.

“When I came to Goa and was searching for a place to live, I came to know about this house. And during that period of my life, I was actually broke; not financially, but socially and emotionally. Let’s not get into detail there, but the point is, I got this house at one of the lowest points of my life. I spent days and months renovating and decorating this place. It was like a therapy to me. I loved it so much. And look at this now; doesn’t it reflect my adoration towards it? I have the emotional connection with this place. I am sure that you have it too. But mine is different.”

By now, she had gone into the void. Staring in distance, she continued, “Yes, at times, it scares me too. But I have made it my home. And it has accepted me too when I had nobody. I got to fulfil one of my most beautiful dreams; this café.

“Someone deserved such a place who truly understands the value of it; not in terms of money. It has comforted me. I have started the fresh phase of my life here.”

She stopped, still lost in thoughts. He was still gazing at her. He felt a sense of admiration towards her. He found her so genuine. After the first meeting and an amount of arguments, this time, he not only noticed her beauty, but he treasured it. He wanted to praise but chose not to say anything. He got conscious when he reminded himself of his only purpose; the land.

He cleared his throat. It brought Yuvika’s attention back. He had to gather his words carefully as he knew that he would probably hurt her. But he had to do this; for his grandfather. “I understand.” That’s all he could say.

She waited for him to respond. But hearing nothing from him, she said, “And?”

He sighed. “Yuvika, I, I really don’t want to differ with you but, see I have no choice. Unfortunately, we both want the same thing.”

He could see the disappointment on her face clearly. He said, “Listen, I am really sorry for the inconvenience. I really wish I could agree with you.”

*******

“I am stuck. I don’t know what to do now.”

Loy and Mr Joseph were talking over whisky. They were sitting at the tea table in the garden of their old family home. Loy’s grandfather also lived there. As three generations, living under the same roof, they shared a strong bonding.

“Are you stuck? Really? I thought you were fighting for it. And as per my understanding, she has agreed that you are right, technically and logically.” Mr Joseph said with a glass of whisky in his hand.

“Yes, I know. But still, she doesn’t seem to be loosening her grip.” Loy sighed.

Mr Joseph said, “Ms Shroff has done very well for herself. She is a strong girl. She fought till she could. She can’t go against the law now. So she may give up.”

Mr Joseph noticed a glimpse of sadness on Loy’s face. “Are you feeling bad for her, boy? You never want to listen to anyone when it comes to that house.”

“Of course I feel bad for her. I saw the place. She has beautified it to another level. But I can’t help it. She has to understand it.” Loy took a sip from his whisky and stared into a void. Mr Joseph smiled and shook head.

*******

A few weeks passed. Yuvika was in her office. She was informed that someone had come to see her. She came down to find Loy sitting on the sofa in the library. He had a file in his hand. Loy’s presence was not a surprise to her but it pinched her.

“You still here?” asked Yuvika. She was clearly not happy to see him.

Raising his eyebrows, Loy said, “Of course, I live here in Goa if you forgot.” He smirked. She showed a plain face.

He sighed and said, “I have got something for you; a kind of a deal; in fact a good deal.” He took out a brochure from the file and showed it to her.

She took a look at the brochure. It was the scheme of resorts and houses in the Benaulim. He said, “They are bigger and even more beautiful. They have a better view of the sea too. And I am sure they will be a perfect location for your cafe.” There was enthusiasm in his voice.

She studied the brochure. He could not anticipate her reaction. He found himself gawking at her. She closed the brochure and looked at him. She smiled and handed it back to him. He was still confused. All he could see was the dullness in her eyes. Was she agreeing with it or the smile was just a plain no. He chose to keep quiet and gave her time to process.

She spoke, “Please come to the office. Upstairs.”

She led him to the first floor. Loy was stunned by the hall and its changing face. It seemed something else to him. He didn’t recognize it for a few seconds. Pointing to a large painting, he asked, “Who are they?”

She stopped and turned around, “They are my parents.”

“Your parents?”

She said pointing to the lobby, “This way.”

The words swirled out of his mouth, “This place is amazing.” She again stopped and turned back to find him stunned by the beauty of the chandelier and the view of the entire house from there.

“Then spare it,” said Yuvika walking to the office.

They stepped into the office where she gave him the chair. He observed the office and the decor. She opened the cabinet on the right of her table and started searching something.

Loy said, “So this is the place where you manage business worth lacs and crores.”

She said, “What?”

“It is no small business you manage; café and the magazine. I know.”

She took out a portfolio. He rose from his chair. She walked forward and handed him the portfolio but didn’t leave it yet; it was still in the air. She said, “I will never agree with you. Just learn to cherish the beauty which is already there in front of you. No matter how huge you will make the building, but it would be a replica after all. Why can’t you just celebrate the originality?

“Anyway,” finally letting go of the grip of the portfolio, she said, “this contains the papers of the agreement. Have a look at them and take them with you to show to Mr Joseph and your grandfather.”

He said with a quizzical expression, “Yuvika?”

She smiled warmly for the first time during this entire conversation and said, “I don’t want your help, Loy. I can find the house on my own. I had thought about it and decided that if you would not agree to give up then I would, as it is the appropriate thing to do; legally and morally. So here it is. I request you to give me a couple of weeks to wind up and vacate the house once we finalise everything. Meanwhile, I will start searching for a new place.”

They walked about of the office. She said, “I am sorry for the troubles I have caused to you. I didn’t mean to annoy you. But it was only for this place.” She glanced around the house. “It’s the place which gave me the fighting spirit. But I am sure it will be easier for you now. And I am also hoping not to see you again here until I vacate.”

Loy coughed, “What? You really loathe me, don’t you?”

“Congratulations, Loy.”

The story is a pure fiction. Any resemblance to the real world is a coincidence.
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