Thick air percolated and a burning sensation rippled through the bearded face dripping to the lip’s edge, the cheek and skin. It felt like being trapped into a burning stove. The humidity was not helping as he wandered aimlessly past the beach at Shivaji Nagar in Dadar pocked with a huge crowd swarming to celebrate the birth anniversary of Shivaji Maharaj. A familiar face ushered inside the coffee shop. Riyansh stared blankly and took two steps backward.
He didn’t enter inside and sheltered under the roof of the tapdi sipping tea and smoking, eyes furtively scanning her movement. Anika sat alone and smoked like a chimney, fingers twisting the hair lock and pulling the long hair falling on her eye. In the flipping seconds, she scampered on the busy road at Dadar, black-and-yellow cabs honking and swerving, bikes dashing cutting a swathe between cars, Red Best buses and trucks. She walked in frenetic speed, past the circle at Kabutar Khana and zigzagged on the pavement where old and wooden shops were housed, billboards occupying a space in front of them.
Anika disappeared in the air. Riyansh felt a thumping heartbeat and a chill down the spine, carelessly crossing the road, swerving from one end to the other, running like a madman, jumping bikes stationed and wriggled between the crowd. He reached Dadar station spotting a tall girl in a long skirt and Levis tee trudging the stairs.
It was a herculean task to sprint his way to the platform filled by human masses. He lacked the energy to beat the harrowing summer. She sat inside the train and pinching the thumbs, one by one. The train resembled a basket filled with eggs, halted. An impression of being followed by someone, Anika turned her head to see faces staring at her as if she was an alien. The compartment slowly chugged and reached Bandra station. “Anika”, a familiar voice raged inside her ear. She was preoccupied in getting off the train to pay attention in hearing her name out or to sense the steps crawling behind her.
Riyansh was at a touching distance outside the station and picked a novel on the pavement to hide his face. She kept walking. He followed her furtively by keeping a safe distance. Turning around, her eyes preened at the hotel selling cheap meat, book stall on the pavement and the stand to disappear inside a rickshaw. He forcefully entered the rickshaw behind and ordered the driver, “Aage ka rickshaw ka peecha karo” (Follow the vehicle ahead). The driver’s protest went unheeded and he upped his voice, “Sawaal mat pucho. Double paisa doonga aur time nahin hai.” The vehicle steered to life trundling on the potholes, following the vehicle ahead, twisting right and left to get out of the maddening traffic past the bus terminus, hitting Linking Road, surrounded by small shopping outlets and malls, American food and roadside eateries co-existing together.
Patience was wearing thin on Riyansh and in frustration kicked a hoof inside the rickshaw, wondering when the traffic will be cleared. The whistle of traffic constable was irking him. In a sudden jerky movement, the vehicles started moving and the rickshaw driver jettisoned in speed as if he is an air pilot zipping on the road by the sea at Bandstand.
The chased vehicle slowed, took a left and trundled on the upward slope behind Mannat before stopping. The stalker sat inside the vehicle, surveying every movement made when he saw Anika sashayed past the gate. He paid the driver 2000 bucks and pretended to walk behind her not to raise suspicion of the security guard. She stood in front of the lift and he hid behind a blue sports BMW at the parking.
She entered the lift and he stared at it, watching it stopping on the third floor. He didn’t lose a second and waded inside the second lift as she made way at apartment B-305 sliding the key in the wooden door. The phone buzzed suddenly and Anika walked inside forgetting to close the door. He took this opportunity to sneak in and skedaddled past the glass panel, slipping on the ginormous balcony offering a stunning city view, sea and towering buildings taking the shape and shade of a frieze in the still night.
He flicked a cigarette between the lip and was admiring the city’s view, eyes hovering at the gentle sea at Bandstand, the promenade, lovers making out on the rocks and people walking on the promenade, the paani puri seller, the lone girl, elderly couple stealing a kiss. An explosion almost ripped apart his ear apart taking the form of a resounding slap thrusting him on the floor. The cheek became red and Riyansh was flustered.
Anika lit his cigarette with the lighter and folder her arms sporting a mocking smile. “Well! You deserve this slap for following me in every space of Mumbai. Hi, stalker! Riyansh. Dude! I got an iphone tracking all your movements. Before you ask anything, I’ve dated a couple of guys and broke up several times. Even thieves are ashamed of entering someone’s house like that. Were you an insurance agent in your past birth? Can I ask Sir what were you thinking to enter my house like that?”
Riyansh flicked the cigarette butt from the balcony and saw it zigzag to land on the road. He still couldn’t believe that Anika slapped him hard but recovered sufficiently. “You almost turned me into Baba Ramdev selling Patanjali noodles and I rejected half a dozen proposals that there is every chance to turn into Devdas,” he said innocently.
She guffawed, “Are you in love with me? Simple and direct?”
“Simple or direct, I don’t know! Just love. After all, I am your stalker,” Riyansh kissed her cheek.
Riyansh and Anika lay naked on bed kissing each other. “Did it hurt,” she asked in doe-eyed expression. “A little bit,” he replied, “Not anymore for you are with me. By the way, where did you disappear that night?”
“I went back to the bus and Mumbai,” Anika told. “How did you find me?”, she whispered.
“I didn’t but love did,” he kissed her lip.