Aalia

She sat across the table, watching him. It had needed all her resourcefulness to maneuver herself into that exact seat, opposite where he sat. She had had to push people away and watch them look around bewildered. Even that had not quite worked. Finally, she had upturned a glass of water on the seat silently, letting it sink into the cushion, so no one could sit. No one except her, that is. The water on the seat made no difference to her. She could not feel it.

The other twelve were busy gossiping, laughing, flirting, some getting to know each other and some letting things fall in place. Not for her, however. She had no time to waste on these social trivialities- she had done enough of them. Her eyes never wavered from the face opposite hers. His face. His face, the deep brown eyes that could crinkle merrily with laughter, the characteristic shake of his head when approved of something someone said or did, the raised eyebrows at someone’s faux pas, the tilted grin, all too readily flashed. He was recounting something and the group roared with laughter. Hungrily, she drank in his every gesture, his every word, no matter whether she understood the context or not. And laughed whenever the rest of them did, more often than not with no idea of what the joke was.

Her eyes glided briefly from him to the woman to his right. She pursed her lips as she studied her and concluded: Pretty in a vivacious sort of way with mobile features. Not his type at all. She noted the way his right arm was casually slung over the back of her chair and the comfortable way the woman rested her head on his arm. His current date. She pretended she didn’t feel the pain, a dull ache somewhere about her chest. Idly she wondered how many women he had seen, and then abandoned the stray thought as unproductive.

They ordered drinks and then the food, most of it Italian. She sniffed, wrinkling her nose. She had always hated Italian food. No point protesting though, they would take no notice of her requests for Chinese. Then again, they never took any notice of her. No one did. She preferred it that way. Much more peaceful. Easier to focus her attention on the only one of them who mattered.

She didn’t reach out for the food, for fear she would attract attention. Anyway, she didn’t eat much these days, unless she felt a craving for something special. Like now- when no one was looking, she silently smuggled a piece of the bread and popped it into her mouth. Predictably, it was tasteless, as though she was eating nothing at all. She watched him slice the arrabiata pizza into seven even pieces and serve them. She wished he could serve her a slice, take it to her mouth, smile at her, tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ears. Even as she wished, he leaned over and kissed the woman on her cheek, a lingering kiss-and the pain came back. She turned away abruptly and spent the next few moments studying the bamboo artwork on the walls of the resto-bar.

All too soon, it seemed, it was time for the bill. He rose to pay it; it was his treat, a new job. She watched him move, fluid, so graceful for a man, and something expanded and constricted in her chest at the same time. He was wearing dark red today. Red suited him, suited his leashed-in energy. She smiled; proud of him, as though she owned him and his good taste. And no one noticed her smile. It trembled and died.

Finally, they walked out, talking, joking. Her eyes followed them until the window and she watched them leave; watched him mount the Royal Enfield, the woman climb behind him, wrap her arms around him and lean her head on his broad back. They left, the Bullet thudding quietly, powerfully. Quiet, powerful. Just like him.

Alone, she sighed. It was closing time. The waiter came over, task-tsked at the water on her seat, and cleaned the water even as she sat, his hand passing unknowingly through the layers of clothing, her skin, her legs, all the way to the royal blue cushion underneath.

Resenting the intrusion, she arose. And rising, walked out straight through the wall. ‘Glided’ would be more apt, perhaps.

After all, her feet never touched the ground.

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