Finally, I Go Out with Vikram
I watched TV late into Saturday night: three movies almost in a row, along with bits of another in commercial breaks. I slept in on Sunday morning, getting up once to let Kamalabai in and then going back to bed. I finally got up around noon because my hunger had grown too strong to ignore, and cooked myself some lunch. I spent most of the day watching TV, feeling too lazy to wash the clothes that had piled up in the corner of my room.
In the evening, I forced myself to get up and have a shower. Afterwards I made some tea and stood in the balcony with my mug. The cold wind sent shivers through my wet hair down my back, and I gripped the warm mug with both my hands.
My phone rang. It was Vikram.
“Maybe he’s calling to say he won’t be in to work tomorrow,” said Mandakini.
“I hope not,” said Miki.
“Well, what else could it be? He’s never called on the weekend before!”
“Hi, Vikram! What’s up?” I said after pressing the button.
“Nothing, yaar. What are you doing?”
“Nothing much, actually. Why?”
“Oh, I’m getting bored to death all by myself. Shall I come over?”
“What?” Mandakini squealed in my head. “He wants to meet me now? On a Sunday night?”
“He’s certainly never done that before,” remarked Miki.
“We can go out somewhere,” Vikram was saying. “To the malls or something. It’s not much fun going by myself.”
“Sure, Vikram, I’d love to,” I said with a smile in my voice.
“Okay. I’ll be over in twenty minutes.”
I rushed to place my mug in the sink and then to get dressed. It wouldn’t do to show myself in the oversized sweater my aunt had knitted me and my frayed pyjamas. But my best clothes were all waiting to be washed. I fished out my jeans from the pile of dirty laundry, and pulled out a lavender sweater from the cupboard. It was faded and I had had it since high school, but at least it showed off my figure. I combed my hair out of the mess it was in and tied a black bandana over it. Then I went out into the balcony to wait.
Vikram drove his small red car into Divya’s parking space. My heart missed a beat when he got out: he looked even better than usual in his white sweater and faded jeans. His hair fell over his face as he looked up and gave me his lopsided grin.
I was on the first floor, only a few feet above him, so we could talk comfortably.
“You coming on up, or shall I come down?” I asked.
“Come down, let’s go out.”
In a minute, I was getting into his car.
“Do you like drives?” he asked, as he got into the driver’s seat.
“I love ’em.”
“Me too. That’s what I do most weekends – drive around town by myself. But you get tired of being alone.”
“Promising mood he’s in,” remarked Miki, while I let down the window for the cool air to blow in.
My stomach felt slightly queasy with anticipation. I recognized that Vikram and I were crossing a boundary. We met every day in office, spent a lot of time together, but had never even gone for lunch in the cafeteria together.
“It’s a date, it’s a date, it’s a date,” squealed Mandakini.
I tried to ignore her as well as the uneasiness in my tummy.
We drove around for a bit, passing a couple of malls on the way. They were dazzling places on the weekend, twinkling with coloured lights and humming with activity. I looked out eagerly at the many young people thronging the entrance and even the street.
“What do you want to do?” asked Vikram.
“I don’t know. I’m a bit hungry.”
“Okay. Let’s go into the food court of this mall. They have live music on Sundays.”
We had passed the bigger malls and turned the corner. There was a smaller mall ahead, one that had fewer shops and lesser crowds. When I agreed, Vikram turned into the entrance.
“This is so awkward,” moaned Miki. “Is this supposed to be a date? How do I behave?”
“Can I reach out and touch his hair?” said Mandakini. “I so want to brush it back from his forehead and find out if it is as soft as it looks.”
“No!” warned Miki. “Don’t scare him away!”
We got into the lift and went up to the top floor, not looking at each other. At least, he wasn’t looking at me when I stole glances at him. The door opened and he walked out before waiting for me to follow.
We grabbed a table and looked around at the various stalls, wondering what to get. A band was playing Abba songs. I was swaying to “Dancing Queen” and humming along before I noticed Vikram looking at me amusedly.
“You are so different in office,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there you’re all professional and sophisticated. Right now, you look like a little child.”
He looked like he liked the change.
We sampled various things from the stalls: aloo chat, and noodles, and ice cream. And we talked – easily, the awkwardness gone. He told me about his family: his little sister back home and his parents, who were professors in the same college, in chemistry and philosophy respectively. He told me stories about living on campus and hanging out with older boys. And I told him about my days in college, about my romantic misadventures with Mrigank and Abhijeet, and about my friends Rizvi, Mallika, Prabhu and Raghav – especially Raghav.
“That seems like a very special friendship,” said Vikram.
“It is,” I said.
“I envy you. It’s not easy to find such a friend, especially of the opposite sex. I’ve never had one that lasted.”
I smiled, thinking fondly and proudly of my best friend.
“I’ve been friends with girls,” he continued, “but it always gets complicated after some time.”
He seemed to be thinking of friends he had lost to complications.
“Raghav and I have complications,” said Miki. “But that won’t kill our friendship. We’re too close for that.”
“We’ll always be friends,” agreed Mandakini.
“Hey, how about you and I be friends?” asked Vikram.
We sat and talked till closing time, and then he dropped me home.
I decided that it was too late to ask him up, and instead said “Good night!” and ran up the stairs feeling on top of the world.