She called today. The last I saw her was at Borivali station ten days ago. She had been standing there, smiling bravely, flapping her hands in good cheer, but I had jumped into a rickshaw with my luggage, pretending I hadn’t seen her. I may have stopped to offer her a lift, but my rickshaw was nudged ahead by two bullies of BEST buses. I hoped she had seen my helpless shrug, and sat back, feeling a little ashamed at my un-chivalrous haste in getting a rickshaw for myself.
But Megha had called just as we got off the train, and I had grabbed my luggage and moved on, in obedient attention to her voice. Through the corners of my eyes, I saw the others sorting out their luggage, rushing out, hurled into the commuter crowd of Borivali station. I would have liked to say a proper bye, but it was not to be.
Near the rickshaw stand, the drivers soliciting long-distance fares, the honk of traffic, the paranoid clinging to one’s own luggage, had put paid to any fond farewells. We were back in Mumbai, and back to taking care of ourselves.
We had spent all our time together after shoots in each other’s hotel rooms, drinking until we dropped, waking up just in the nick of call-times, laughing between takes, laughing all the way to the station, and in the train. We had stayed up as late as we dared to without disturbing the other passengers. When we went off to our berths, we fooled ourselves the fun would continue the next day over breakfast, until it was time to leave the train.
But no, everyone woke up, already thinking about the city ahead, the things to do once one reached home. I woke up after the breakfast trays had been taken away, and grumpy and disheveled, I looked at her, sitting on the lower berth across me. Without any morning tea, I did not much want to talk to her.
She seemed to have washed, combed, made-up, even changed her T-shirt, and somehow her clean, fresh look irritated me. I could see her looking at me, hoping for a smile, but I looked at the newspaper. I hadn’t even glanced at one in the last 10 days, and the words swam around me, but I kept my eyes fixed anyway. She stood up and walked away. I sighed softly, and messaged Megha.
She came back an hour later with Nikhil and the others. Nikhil said I must invite them all home; they’d all like to meet Megha. I could feel her big eyes riveted on me. I laughed and cracked some silly joke about keeping Megha a secret possession. I knew she was squirming at my joke, but I wanted to underline Megha’s existence to her. I wanted no foolishness.
Not that she would be foolish. She’s been in the industry long enough to know how long flirtations last. Usually only until the shoot does. Specially, if you can kill the ants in the pants during that time. This time we could not. The unit was too small; too low budget. We had to share rooms, and besides, I don’t trust Nikhil. He is the sort who would tell Megha a thing or two, just out of malicious pleasure. And Nikhil and I are going to work again on another project. So …
I know she would have loved to come to my room. I was careful not to give her any hint that I wanted her to. I could not risk Nikhil barging in on us, and finding a girl in our room. Even if we were just sitting and talking, it would give him something to open his big mouth about. Anyway, sometimes it’s OK not to let things go too far. Some times it’s more gratifying to leave urges unsatisfied.
Not that I did not find her attractive. She’s pretty, and she’s not Megha. Usually that’s enough for me. But I don’t take unnecessary chances. The camaraderie on the shoot was admirable, suffocating at times, but fun mostly. It did ensure that no one was ever alone much. And I never go in for elaborate plans, because if you set up something complicated, you are bound to get caught.
One evening, though we had a half-hour to ourselves. We happened to be in the same car, from the location to the hotel. Nikhil got off at the market, to make a STD call. He had to talk to a producer in Mumbai, who wanted him to come in for an audition. Maya, the assistant director went off to print out the next day’s call-sheets, looking hassled as usual. My room keys were in Nikhil’s pocket. Her room keys were with the costume designer, who was in another car.
No one could suspect us of creating this opportunity. We decided to wait on the terrace. As I climbed the steps behind her, I watched her body, and I knew that she was aware of my gaze. Once or twice, I let my hand brush against her as if by accident. She turned once or twice slowly and looked at me, her face all-solemn, holding back her excitement.
It was a lovely, moonlit night, and the breeze was cool. She stood a little distant, but smiling to herself. I put out my hand and she took it. I pulled her a little towards myself, and looking around quickly, kissed her. She kissed me back with a fervor that suggested a long waiting.
I had known it would be this way. I had seen it in her eyes for a long time, in the way her body swayed a little when she passed me.
The kiss was too passionate for me. I moved away gently, keeping her hand in mine, looking away with a smile as she had done. My fingers caressed her palm, and I could hear her breathing. But my eyes were on the lobby down below, and the moment I saw Nikhil, I waved and asked him to come on up to the terrace.
She looked at me again, and I looked at her and smiled. I pulled her and kissed her again, leaving her just as I heard Nikhil’s steps clambering up the stairs. She was confused, panting, trying to cover up. I wanted to leave her with this confusion. I didn’t want to do anything much with her infatuation, but it did please me to have her infatuated with me.
The next two days of the shoot were a tantalizing game between her and me. Like most girls, she was a novice. Once kissed, she was all eyes and secret smiles. I used to touch her casually now and then, and feel her tremble with excitement. The time passed wonderfully well, and my acting abilities perked up with this sniff of illicit romance in the air. The secrecy charges me up more. And it was amusing to see her all keyed up, raring to go. I know she must be longing for another kiss. I was not reluctant to give her one, but it did not happen, and that was that.
In the last ten days, there have been some blank calls. Megha looks at me suspiciously every time there is a blank call. I deal with that by looking suspiciously at her. Today, she spoke. Megha handed me the phone, and then watched me for a few seconds. How does a wife hear the tiniest constriction in a man’s throat, as he speaks to a girl? Megha walked out of the room rather deliberately, as if to leave me alone to have a private conversation. I raised my voice rather deliberately, and spoke to her with loud laughter and fake friendly cheer, as if I was talking to one of the boys.
She shut up on the other end. I am sure she won’t call back again. Surely she was not expecting me to talk to her in any special way. It was only a kiss, after all. Even if it had been more, she should know better than to expect any lovey-dovey phone calls from me. Girls can be so naïve.
Megha will have something to taunt me about for the next few days, in her usual, sarcastic good cheer manner. I’d like to tell Megha right now that nothing happened between us, but that will only spark off a retort about guilty consciences and the opening of a new discussion, on the possibilities of it having happened.