were secretly alive all this while and were judging you all the time?
The sight of mannequins is often enough to freak me out because of how eerie they appear with their plasticky perfect bodies. But the writer in me got excited and I wrote a book that I’d actually called ‘Mannequins on the Move’ but that got axed by my publishers and they called it ‘Night at the Warehouse’.
Since people are all watching scary, anxiety inducing stuff during these apocalyptic times, I thought, let me share something from there (Well, 5 chapters actually.)
Two young girls enter a shop in a lane, adjacent to a busy road. There is a yellowing shopping complex on the main road, thronged with shoppers, but the two girls are looking for something else entirely.
Both the girls are pretty and Sonia whose birthday it is today, smiles at the shopkeeper who looks back, somewhat startled and he smiles back hesitatingly. His shop is a tiny square, and barring the entrance, the entire wall space is packed with clothes hanging off racks. The other girl, Reema, asks him to get all his latest designs.
A lone mannequin stands at the corner, dressed in a pale-yellow summer dress that reaches its knees. It’s old, the plastic eroded in places, and the grin on its face almost macabre. The dress however, looks new. The shopkeeper pushes the door to an inner sanctum and steps inside, asking them to wait.
Sonia looks at Reema and shakes her head, looking sceptical. ‘Really? You think he’ll have something good here?’
Reema nods. ‘You want something mind-blowing, right? This guy has the best imports I’ve seen. Remember that maroon top I wore the other day to Sunita’s party? Got it from here,’ she says.
Sonia looks thoughtful, her hands inside her pockets, and nods. She looks around the items on display with a great deal of interest. Lots of floral prints and soft material but what she’s looking for isn’t here.
Sonia’s eyes connect with the mannequin’s for the barest of seconds and she turns away as the man walks back inside the store.
‘See this, madam,’ he says, showing her three dresses that are on hangers. Sonia’s eyes widen, but not in appreciation. She looks at Reema and shakes her head slightly. She doesn’t want to hurt the shopkeeper’s feelings, but these are not the kind of clothes she would ever wear. One of them is a knee-length dress in baby pink with pink hearts all over it. It has a sweetheart neck which only makes it worse. The other two are somewhat better in terms of colour—one is blue and one is green—but their designs are extremely kitschy.
Reema understands the look on Sonia’s face.
‘Bhaiya, show us some of your new designs?’ Reema asks him. He brings more. Sonia hates them all. She begins to feel terrible about rejecting everything he brings. She’s about to tell him enough when he gestures towards the mannequin.
‘How about that one, madam? I put it on display just today,’ he says. Sonia walks up to the mannequin and inspects the dress it’s wearing. It looks promising.
Eager to make a sale, the shopkeeper looks relieved when she doesn’t say no immediately.
‘Do you want to try it on?’ he asks. Sonia looks around in surprise. Where?
‘You can go inside and try it. There’s a mirror there too,’ he says. Reema is checking something on her phone and looks up.
‘Aryan just confirmed. He’s coming,’ she tells Sonia whose face lights up. Reema rolls her eyes. Sonia’s crush on Aryan is becoming a little too apparent. To be honest, almost all the girls in class have a crush on him, but Sonia is hoping to catch his eye this evening at her birthday party.
‘Okay, I’ll try this dress,’ she says and waits for the shopkeeper to get her a new piece. But he moves towards the mannequin instead.
‘Wait, don’t you have any fresh pieces?’ she asks.
‘Only piece, madam. I put it on just a few minutes ago before you came,’ he says.
There’s no space for him to undress the mannequin however, and so he lifts the mannequin and takes it inside, beckoning Sonia to come with him. Sonia looks at Reema who nods.
Go, she mouths the words.
Somewhat uneasily, Sonia follows the man to the windowless room inside that is packed with cardboard boxes and cartons. It’s a storeroom, Sonia thinks with dismay. Small and claustrophobic.
Reema is just outside, Sonia tells herself as the man places the mannequin in the centre and peels off the dress carefully, handing it to Sonia.
‘Try it and see. There’s a mirror also,’ he says pointing to the mirror on one side of the room and leaves. Thankfully it’s not blocked by boxes or anything.
Sonia shuts the door and pushes the bolt home. She quickly peels off her jeans and her top and gingerly places them on top of a carton.
The material of the yellow dress is soft to touch. It’s almost buttery, Sonia thinks appreciatively, as she slides her fingers along the bust. It’s a strappy dress, no sleeves obviously, just the way she wants it. She’s just wearing it when suddenly there’s a power cut and with her head stuck in the dress, she starts panicking because she hates the dark.
Trying to calm herself down, she pushes her arms into the arm holes and adjusts the dress over her hips. Her eyes adjust to the darkness and she can see the shapes of the boxes around her. For a second, she gasps when she sees someone else in the room with her.
Then she relaxes. It’s the mannequin, silly. Still, the fright has made her heart race and she decides to walk to the door to unlock it and step outside. Since its dark in here, she obviously cannot see herself in the mirror. Breathing a little heavily now, she crosses the tiny room, but just then the lights come on again.
Relieved, she turns to the mirror and stands before it. The dress looks amazing on her. What had looked pale and pasty on the mannequin makes her skin glow golden. Aryan wouldn’t be able to resist her in this, she thinks. She turns this way and that. The knee-length dress flares slightly at the bottom and fits like it was made for her.
She turns around. The mannequin is facing her, although she vaguely remembers it facing the other direction.
Forgetting the mannequin, she holds her heavy straight hair up with her hands. Should she tie it up in a top knot? Then her neck and shoulders will be bare and, umm … delectable. She drops her hair down and makes a face in front of the mirror. Hair up or hair down is always a problem with her. She knows she looks good both ways. But what would appeal to Aryan more?
Better ask Reema for her opinion, she thinks and heads to the door, glad to be out of the suffocating room. She’s looking forward to this evening when they will get ready in Reema’s house for the party. Without another thought, she unbolts the door and steps outside where Reema claps her hands in delight.
‘It’s perfect!’ she says, and Sonia grins.
‘I’ll take this,’ she tells the shopkeeper and goes back inside to change into her jeans and top. She removes the dress carefully and looks for a place to hang it. But there’s no hook anywhere.
Finally, she drapes the dress carefully over the shoulder of the naked mannequin and she wears her clothes. She goes back to the mannequin and picks the dress. The mannequin tugs it back.
Sheesh. How silly she is, she thinks, as she pulls the dress carefully around the mannequin’s finger where it had got stuck. She leaves the storeroom, pulling out her wallet from her jeans. The mannequin stares at her back silently.
‘No ma, I don’t need the umbrella,’ Sonia insists, shaking her head.
‘But you’ll get wet and then you’ll fall sick,’ she says.
‘Ma. I’ll be fine. Promise,’ she tells her as she zips up her backpack containing the new dress, a pair of heels and make-up. ‘I won’t get wet in the rain because it won’t rain this evening. And anyway we’ll be inside the mall.’
Her father turns to her, lowering the volume of the TV.
‘I don’t see why you kids have to go to a mall to celebrate your birthday,’ he mutters. ‘We could have called your friends at home. Your mother could have cooked something here itself.’
I’m 18, not 8, Sonia wants to say but she doesn’t and instead, she smiles tightly.
‘Papa, all my friends celebrate their birthdays like this. It’ll be fun. I’m going to Reema’s house now,’ she says.
Her father turns back to the TV and shakes his head, with disapproval coming off him in waves, but he doesn’t say anything further, to her greatest relief. Any more questioning and she might have slipped up. All this lying is a bit new to her, although thanks to Reema, she’s learning the ropes.
She’d been worried about finding new friends in the college after class tenth. She’d been in awe of Reema from the beginning because she was so popular and friendly and had been stupidly pleased when Reema had become her friend.
‘Shall I drop you to Reema’s house?’ her mother asks. Sonia resists the urge to roll her eyes at her mother’s overprotectiveness.
‘Ma, her house is just half an hour away,’ Sonia says with a smile, trying to assuage her mother’s fears. ‘I’ll get an auto in minutes. I’ll call you once I reach her house.’
Without further delay, Sonia leaves the house and breathes a sigh of relief. As much as she loves her parents, they can become quite overbearing and annoying.
Her mother comes outside, still holding the umbrella and Sonia takes it from her reluctantly, to keep her happy.
‘Fine. I’m taking the umbrella. Okay?’ she says and hefts her backpack on her shoulder. Only when she gets inside the auto does she allow herself to feel the first bubbles of excitement. The feeling continues to grow as she sits back in the auto and starts dreaming about the evening ahead. It’s just going to be so amazing.
Over the years, she’s never really had any friends like Reema. Certainly no one who is her complete opposite and yet feels like her soul sister in so many ways. Even though it’s been less than a year since they met, they’ve grown so close. If Sonia’s parents found out how much she’s learnt from her—how to bunk classes without getting caught, how to sneak in food into a boring class, how to smoke on the sly without parents ever finding out—they would declare Reema a bad influence and would probably forbid Sonia from meeting her at all.
As for their plans today, on her 18th birthday, she’s going to get a little drunk, and spend the evening with Reema, a couple of their other friends and Aryan. She only hopes that Aryan finally tosses off his blinkers and notices her tonight. It’s a wonder he’s agreed to come.
Aryan, gorgeous, tall and ripped Aryan. Uff! Just thinking about him makes her feel slightly giddy. She remembers the exact moment when he’d walked into their class (he’d been a late admission) and everyone had fallen silent for a few seconds before resuming the chitter-chatter. But there was a changed quality to the air. The girls were all checking him out and the guys were looking at him as though he was something obnoxious. Several girls had instantly fallen in love with him then and Sonia was certain that if the teacher had been at the lectern, she would have seen cartoon hearts in every girl’s eyes.
The thought of spending time with him at the party makes her feel as excited as a ten-year-old. She purses her lips and sits back. The auto driver takes the turn towards Koramangala before the Forum Mall signal where they’d have to wait for an eternity for the lights to change. A low rumble of thunder in the distance surprises her and she sighs. Her mom may have been right. It’s probably going to rain, she thinks as she sees the darkening sky.
They pass through the road with several shops and restaurants on one side, and a temple on the right-hand side. Reema’s house isn’t too far now. She’s only been to her place a few times but she’s memorized the way.
A shop with a bunch of mannequins standing outside catches her attention. None of the mannequins have heads. They’re just bodies displaying clothes. As they pass by the shop, she feels a slight chill that she attributes to the wind. Nothing to do with the creepy headless mannequins posing with hands on their hips.
An hour later, standing in front of Reema’s dresser, staring at the mirror, Sonia steps back to see how she looks. Then she leans forward and dabs the foundation on her skin in even strokes and blends it with a sponge. How lucky Reema is to have parents who are basically non-existent. They’re hardly at home and they are not overly concerned with where she goes and when she comes back home. Must be nice.
Reema brings over a bowl of chips and sits down on the bed, munching her way through them. She grins, and Sonia catches her smiling to herself in the mirror.
‘Nothing. Just thinking of how I managed to convince you to have your birthday in the building,’ she says.
Sonia caps the eyeliner and puts it back on the dressing table. She steps back, admires herself and twirls a strand around her finger.
‘I still have my doubts,’ she begins but turns around to face Reema. ‘But it’s okay. I get it. It would be perfect. No prying eyes. What about that warehouse though?’
‘It is perfect,’ Reema says, brushing her hands. ‘And that warehouse shuts down at 6 p.m. okay? There’s no one there after that and the top floors will be all ours.’
Sonia nods but still looks unsure. Reema knows the way to change her indecisive mood.
‘You look amazing and Aryan is definitely going to be wowed.’
It works. Sonia smiles. ‘You’re sure about hair down?’ Reema nods.
Not too far from Reema’s house is an abandoned building at the edge of the industrial estate. Well, not exactly abandoned. The ground floor of the building is used as a storage space for mannequins by some company who knew one of the owners and managed to rent it cheaply from them. The rest of the building is unoccupied. Apparently, construction on the top floor was not even completed.
‘There’s no security guard. It’s quiet, isolated, and very private. All the workers in the warehouse would have left by the time we go there,’ Reema had told Sonia when she was convincing her to have her party there.
‘But won’t it be a little basic?’ Sonia had wondered. She’d imagined more of a club scene for her birthday. Hard, pulsating music, manufactured smoke in the air, bodies pressed against each other as they danced and Aryan of course. She’d even been saving up for it for months now. Her parents would have a fit if they ever found out about what she had been intending to do with all that money.
‘Who cares? We’ll have music, food, and alcohol. We don’t need anything else!’ Reema said. ‘And only the top floor is not finished. The rest of the building has rooms and stuff, although some of them don’t have walls.’
Sonia purses her lips and then turned back to the mirror to finish her make-up. She steps back and admires her face. Smoky eyes, nude lips with the slightest tinge of pink at the centre. She knows she looks fabulous.
‘If you’re ready, let’s leave now,’ Reema says, tapping her feet on the floor.
‘You’re coming to my party like this?’ Sonia asks, hands on her hips. She insists that Reema change.
‘Why?’ Reema asks with a pout, looking down at her jeans.
‘I don’t want to look like only I’ve made all this effort to dress up!’ Sonia says, dragging her to her wardrobe and flinging it open.
‘Fiiine,’ Reema mutters as she pulls out a pair of shorts with a top. There’s a faint rumble in the distance.
‘We won’t get drenched in the rain, no? In the building, I mean?’ Sonia asks, walking up to Reema’s first floor window, and looking out, worrying her lower lip.
‘Nah. Don’t worry. We won’t. But I think it would just make everything sexier,’ Reema giggles as she changes.
Sonia sits down on Reema’s bed with a thump and presses her palms to her flushed cheeks.
‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ she says. Reema sits down next to her and gives her a funny sort of smile.
‘You’re not planning on actually doing it tonight, hmm?’ she asks, sounding a little worried.
Sonia blushes again and shakes her head. ‘Noooo … but I wouldn’t mind a bit of hanky panky, you know. Also, he has no idea of how I feel. I’m planning on laying it out tonight and letting him know. We can take things forward from there.’ She plays with the edge of her dress and looks up at her friend from lowered eyes. Is Reema judging her? That’s unlikely but before she can ask her, a knock on the door startles them both. The door pushes open before Reema can respond and a head peeps in.
‘You girls decent?’ a deep voice asks them.
‘Psycho,’ Reema mutters getting up from there to shut the door in her brother Bharat’s face.
‘Psycho hogi tu,’ he says, his voice casual as he pushes the door further and saunters inside.
‘Who told you that you can come inside my room?’ Reema asks, annoyed. Bharat is older than her by just a year, but there’s nothing older brotherly about him. For one, he doesn’t get worked up over anything that Reema does.
‘Shut up. If I’m getting you the booze, I should be coming to the party too,’ he says, sitting down on the bed, pointedly ignoring Sonia.
Sonia tries hard not to stare at him. Bharat is weird. He’s not just tall, but he’s big, like a huge bear, which is probably because he never seems to shave and is quite the social misfit. Where Reema is a rebel, Bharat is a tired one, who seems to have given up on everything altogether. He’s studying aeronautic engineering and is rarely at home, although when he’s around, he’s closeted in his room most of the time. So Sonia finds it a bit strange that he’s come inside Reema’s room and is asking to join the party.
‘No way. You’d get bored, not that I care, but then none of your weirdo types will be there and you start cracking dumb jokes when you’re bored,’ Reema says.
‘I’m sure I’ll find a way to pass the time,’ he says, stretching out on the bed.
‘Ugh! Get up from my bed! Now I’ll have to change the sheets!’ Reema yells at him, startling Sonia. Being an only child had meant that Sonia had never experienced sibling fights like this. She observes the dynamics between the two with a great deal of interest.
He shrugs, and only Reema catches him glancing at Sonia before he looks away quickly. When Sonia turns to him, his hands are laced beneath his head and he’s staring at the ceiling.
‘Just be careful. It looks like it’s going to rain tonight,’ he says, still looking up.
‘Yes, mom,’ Reema mocks, hitting at him with a pillow and catching him unawares. He sits up and blocks the next pillow attack with his elbows, shielding his face and getting up from the bed.
‘Ouch ouch, you crazy woman,’ he says, getting up from there.
‘Go now! We’re getting ready,’ Reema pushes him out.
‘Whatever,’ he mutters.
‘You look nice,’ he tells Sonia almost as an afterthought, but she hasn’t heard him. She’s back at the window, staring outside, her palm resting on the glass.
‘Story of my life,’ he says softly and walks away.
The rest of the group for the party will be meeting up at the building directly, while Reema and Sonia will be heading there a little earlier to set up the place.
‘The topmost floor is the best,’ Reema says. ‘Half of it is finished, and the other half is open.’
Sonia nods absently, as she helps Reema load up everything in Bharat’s car. It’s really happening. They’re off.
‘It’s quite exciting over there,’ she continues. ‘Dangerous also.’
‘Pfft. Only if you accidentally sit down on one of those construction rods sticking up everywhere and impale your ass on it,’ Bharat mutters as he gets into the driver’s seat.
‘Shut up, loser. Let’s go,’ Reema says, as she opens the back door to place the cake box on the seat carefully. Then, she gets in the back seat herself and safely places the cake box on her lap.
‘No point getting this smashed up by the time we reach there,’ she tells Sonia who is standing outside the car. Sonia is torn between joining her at the back and sitting in the front next to Bharat.
‘Give it to me. I’ll sit here with the cake,’ she says, finally.
‘No, no, I’ve got it already. Come, let’s go!’ Reema says, and with a sigh, Sonia opens the passenger door and sits down. Bharat is looking straight ahead and doesn’t seem to even notice her sitting down next to him.
The car smells a little funny and Sonia screws her nose, an action that doesn’t go unnoticed by Bharat who doesn’t say anything. She arranges her dress around her knees and turns in her seat slightly, to look at Reema.
‘All set?’ she asks.
‘Yes! Let’s go!’ Reema replies.
‘You owe me big time,’ Bharat says as he turns the ignition and the car starts. Reema lives in Koramangala, an area that has several aspects to it. Some blocks have beautiful houses and mansions and you’d gape at them as you passed by them, but most blocks are full of restaurants and shops along with houses. Koramangala began as an industrial area with factories and warehouses, which are still there, along with the offices of many established software companies and a number of start-ups. So inevitably, there are always a lot of people here, either walking, strolling around, or driving on the main roads.
Sonia lives in Jayanagar, closer to the shopping complex and quite near the shop from where she had bought the yellow dress. As they leave the main crowded streets, she finally begins to feel excited. She’ll be spending the night at Reema’s after the party and if things go well with Aryan … she then stops herself from thinking beyond the immediate situation. Better not to go there yet. But she can’t seem to stop herself from thinking about all the possibilities.
In no time at all, Bharat stops the car at the side of the road and she looks out. The building, her party venue, is not painted and there’s an unfinished air about it. There is a broken-down compound wall and Bharat parks his car just outside it. The building has several arched doorways and windows, and the facade is made of unfinished concrete bricks.
Reema spots the expression on Sonia’s face and nudges her. ‘Relax. What do we care how it looks like from the outside?’ she asks her. Sonia still looks doubtful.
‘Where’s this warehouse?’ she asks, looking around nervously for workers and other people.
‘On the other side. Usually everyone would have left by now, but Bharat didn’t want to take a chance so he parked the car here, behind the building,’ Reema says. She turns to her brother.
‘You’re helping us carry everything upstairs,’ Reema instructs Bharat who merely grunts in reply.
‘Are you guys sure we won’t get caught?’ Sonia asks them, uneasily. She looks around. The road is relatively isolated. In fact, there’s no one on the street and that is what makes her feel so uneasy, she thinks. Even if the warehouse shut down at 6 p.m., shouldn’t there be people around?
‘No. No chance of getting caught here because no one is bloody bothered,’ Reema assures her as she carefully gets down with the cake. She hands it to Sonia and heads to the trunk where they’ve kept the remaining stuff.
‘Let me …’ Sonia trails off, as Bharat lifts up the cardboard box.
‘No, you carry the cake. We’ll bring the rest of the stuff. It’s your birthday after all,’ Reema says, peering inside the smaller cardboard box that she has in her hand. Her face falls.
‘Shit! We forgot the speaker!’
‘Don’t look at me,’ Bharat says, glaring at her, shifting on his feet. He’s already holding the huge carton in his arms.
‘You’re going back home anyway, na? Please?’ Reema pleads, making puppy eyes at him.
‘How did we forget it?’ Sonia asks, looking dismayed.
‘It’s so small no, we must have missed it somehow,’ Reema says, referring to her portable wireless JBL speaker. They’d been planning to sync it with their phones and play music from it at the party.
‘So, if Bharat doesn’t get the speakers, we won’t have any music at the party?’ Sonia asks, distressed.
‘Fine, fine, I’ll go and get it,’ Bharat says, glaring at them both.
‘How do we go to the fourth floor?’ Sonia asks, smiling at him. He is startled at seeing her smile, but he looks away quickly.
‘Um, we take the stairs, dodo,’ Reema says, going inside, stepping through the doorway of the building.
A jagged flash lights up the sky, startling all of them. Loud thunder rolls through the sky and Sonia looks at Reema, apprehensively and steps inside. It’s dark and smells musty. Faint light from the street lamps filters in through the huge unframed windows. Sonia looks around nervously, as another thunderclap sounds across the sky.
‘Whew. That was scary,’ she laughs nervously.
‘Don’t worry. Once Bharat gets the speaker, we’ll play music loud enough to drown the sounds of all the thunder,’ Reema assures her. Just then, in another lightning flash, Sonia spots a glass wall dividing the ground floor. On the other side of the glass wall, there are rows and rows of mannequins, their heads all turned towards the other side. Reema nudges her towards the unfinished stairs.
‘You weren’t joking when you said they hadn’t completed this building,’ Sonia comments. There are rusty rods sticking out from one side, while the other side is entirely open.
Reema chuckles but doesn’t say anything. She opens the box in her arms to take out the emergency lamp from inside and she switches it on. Sonia feels instantly relieved. Now they can see the space before them with ease. The darkness was making her anxious. They’d bought some more cheap emergency lanterns, which they plan to keep at the top of each staircase so that people can find their way upstairs. Sonia shudders a little at the thought of what would happen should anyone fall. Even as they are climbing up, Sonia glances in the direction of the mannequins, which are now illuminated weakly thanks to the emergency lights. She looks away quickly.
Upon reaching the first floor, Sonia looks around with interest. The huge hall is punctuated with unfinished pillars and there are rooms along the sides. The second floor is more or less the same.
‘Are you guys all right? Are you able to climb up without any difficulty?’ she asks, even though she’s looking ahead because she’s scared she might miss her step and fall down.
‘We’ll be fine,’ Reema pants and stops at the third-floor landing.
‘You sure you want to go to the next floor too? We can manage here, no?’ Sonia asks, looking around. The ground is cracked under their feet and in some spots, there’s moss growing as well. Her excitement is beginning to dim and she’s worried the last floor will be worse.
‘No! Just come. You’ll see what I mean,’ Reema insists and they continue trudging upstairs.
The fourth floor is not like the previous other floors. There are no rooms off to the sides. It’s an extended hall sort of space and the roof ends at the centre of the hall. It’s a bit like being on a terrace with a sheltered as well as open section. A cold wind rushes through and Sonia shivers slightly. But Reema is right. It’s kind of exciting to be here, on top.
Bharat places down the box and stretches his neck and arms to ease out the kinks. Sonia finds herself staring at him, as his grey T-shirt rides up a little, exposing a flat, brown stomach. She turns away and quickly smiles at Reema who is looking inside the box of supplies and doesn’t even notice the smile. She places the cake box on one of the unfinished pillars and looks around, wondering how they can make the space party-ready.
The floor is dusty, uneven and there are some rusted tools in a corner. There are a couple of iron pipes lying around and Sonia toes them with her feet cautiously. They hit each other and a clang echoes through the hall, making her wince.
‘Okay, let’s do this,’ Reema says, looking up from the box and dusting her hands.
‘I’ll get your speaker and then that’s it. I’m done. Don’t ask me to come and pick you up or anything,’ Bharat says, turning around.
‘But Bharat!’ Reema wails. ‘We’ll be … drunk. How will we get back home, bro? Pleeeeeeeeease come and pick us up also?’
He doesn’t reply but merely scowls in their general direction and walks away from there. Then, as though having an afterthought, he turns around and wishes Sonia.
‘Happy birthday!’ he says and leaves. Sonia mutters a soft ‘thanks’, but he doesn’t seem to hear it.
Bharat gets into the car and exhales loudly. He sits still, watching the night fall around him rapidly. Insects crowd around the street lamp, muting its already dull glow. This was such a huge fucking mistake. He should have never walked into Reema’s room tonight. But she would have harassed him into driving them here anyhow and he would have met Sonia nevertheless. He had thought it would go easier on him if he saw her first instead of the sucker punch it always is, whenever he saw her suddenly in the house.
He didn’t own up to it for a very long time. Because he couldn’t bring himself to accept that he’d fallen for Sonia when he’d seen her at his house a few months ago. But he could no longer ignore the breathless anticipation that he felt when he saw her and even though he tried to ignore her, just knowing that she was in the house was enough to distract him and make his head spin.
Bharat knows he’s no prize. He knows there’s no point in even making an effort to win her over because she just doesn’t see him. It’s like he’s invisible to her, he thinks. There was that one time though when Reema and Sonia had been watching a movie and he had joined them because he wanted to spend legit time with Sonia.
Reema had scowled and Sonia had ignored him, so he focused on the movie. Then Reema had dozed off and only Sonia and he had watched the movie till its end. She hadn’t even looked at him when she got up to leave. She’d just said bye. But that was a memory he’d hoarded and took out whenever he thought of her.
There’s another brief flash of lightning. Thunder booms across the sky and he shuts his eyes briefly. The worst thing is that he has to pretend like he’s chilled out and has zero feelings for her every time she comes over. He normally makes himself scarce and then hates himself for not having seen her when she’s around.
He starts the car and drives away. He didn’t care too much for Reema’s plan to initiate Sonia into drinking alcohol on her birthday, so he didn’t say anything, because he didn’t want to appear interested.
Yet he’d casually walked into Reema’s room, and dammit there was that sucker punch again. He tried hard not to gape at Sonia in the yellow dress and how gorgeous she looked. That dress accentuated her creamy skin and her hair, thick and lush rippling around her shoulders, begging for him to lift a lock and inhale.
Again, act cool. Act annoying, he’d told himself. But he couldn’t stop himself from stealing glances at her every now and then, hoping his brat sister would not notice and give him shit later. He’s quite sure she doesn’t know about his crush on Sonia. Or she would have made life unbearable for him. He’d almost told them to have the party at home, but had stopped himself at the last moment.
He should have never told Reema about the building or taken her there when they both felt like they needed to cool off after another shouting match between their parents. It had seemed like a refuge then, to just come up here, smoke a few cigarettes, watch the city around them breathe frantically while they tried to make sense of their lives.
Reema and he connected only over their parents and their indifference towards them. Or when she needed things that she couldn’t get herself. Like booze. They’d learned to avoid the warehouse employees whenever they went to the building. It was easy once they discovered the back entrance from which they’d entered today.
Sonia and Reema have been planning this party for a couple of weeks and every so often, the name Aryan pops up. Both girls giggle a lot then and he’s been able to surmise that it’s some supposedly hot guy in their class and Sonia has a crush on him. The news doesn’t affect him as much as it should. He’s quite sure that Sonia and this guy Aryan would be perfect for each other. He knows that it’s for the best, because there’s no way he and Sonia would ever work out. He’s still invisible to her, right?
He doesn’t have to like it though. When he comes back with the speakers and sees her draped over this Aryan guy, it’s going to be tough to pretend not to care. Shaking his head, he changes gears and drives away, wondering why life is mostly shit.
At home, he parks the car outside the gate and goes inside. Maybe if he returns immediately, he can avoid running into this Aryan chap. He walks into Reema’s room and almost instantly he can smell Sonia’s perfume. When she sat next to him in the car this evening, he had to look straight ahead and pretend that he was driving Reema somewhere and like Sonia hadn’t existed.
He exhales loudly and looks around, wondering where Reema could have kept the speaker. He scoffs a little at the mess she’s made, but then he also feels a little flutter of nostalgia. The two of them being so close in age have never really felt like older and younger siblings. They’re more like twins who can’t stand each other most of the time.
What connects them both is their parents. He’s sure his father does more than business on his so-called business trips and his mother has ceased caring about them all. She’s just focused on minting money from her business. So, he and Reema have had to look out for each other all this while and it has brought them close together, whether they like it or not.
He sits down on the bed for a minute and stares into the distance. College is good, but everything else is so murky. Seeing Sonia from time to time has been like a glimmer of sunshine in the dark recesses of his life. He makes a face and gets up, determined to find the speaker and hand it over to them as soon as possible. He’ll come back home and watch something on Netflix, he tells himself.
He finally finds the red JBL speaker under Reema’s bed. He toys with the speaker in his hand and then with a sigh, gets up and leaves the room.
If you want to read the rest, head on over here.
Bye for now. I’ll be getting back to writing (romance this time) after ruining your perfectly good Friday morning.