Finally this is my last month in this office. A month ago I had handed in my resignation. I am a Marketing Consultant in a renowned firm with the rhyming name of “ONM”. Two years ago, I had arrived from Dubai, back to my roots and maybe get a few closures.

Waiting for the traffic signal change, I see hundreds of cars toiling in the sweltering heat on the long stretch of Delhi Gurgaon Highway. I feel restless sitting inside the cool confines of my gleaming Honda.

The ONM building looms in the distance. I am doing well here and could make great strides if I continued. But an exciting offer from a German company aroused my desires to escape to the cooler climes of Europe.

I walk over to the lift, greeting people along the way. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafts in the air, coming from the Starbucks on the Ground Floor.  It takes me back to my first day at work when I became aware of this beautiful scent.

The door is about to close when a dainty, well manicured hand extends forward to stop it. A floral fragrance which reminds me of orange blossoms breezes in. My eyes fill with stars as I recognize Ridhima Gupta, a colleague of mine, who works in a different section. The beating of my heart is like a drum. She reminds me of a china doll in her flawless peach skin and doe eyes. Her shoulder length hair is falling in a cascade, bouncing gently on her slim shoulders. Her dress has floral patterns in minimal bright colors, with small fringed sleeves.

“There you are, when is your last day?” She smiles affably.

My name on her lips is symphony to my ears. I nod and try to act composed. Boy. Do I have a massive crush. Or is it more? Ridhima and I interacted for a short period for a common client. She is a Client Servicing Executive and I often wonder; what would have happened if I had stayed back a bit longer and asked her out.? I look at the small of her back and daydream about caressing that tiny butterfly tattoo, just barely visible above the nape of her Chinese collar.

With a spring in my step, I enter my work area and surprise my colleagues with an expansive greeting. Most of them show surprise, because I rarely do more than nod. It happens over a period of time. In the beginning you greet everyone and as familiarity seeps in, it trickles down to a nod or an acknowledgement without eye contact.
Priyank, my witty colleague says to the others.

“But of course guys, a prisoner always feels happy as his sentence comes to an end”

I smile like a Cheshire cat, put my hands in the air, and yell, “Yeh!”

By nature I am an introvert, but amongst close friends and family I metamorphose into this humorous, boisterous person. The subtle transformation quite surprises me.

My profession is among the better ones of the modern world. I help companies to become more competitive by analyzing their inner workings and suggest ways of improvement through marketing initiatives and alliances. Sounds dull? But no it isn’t, because I am the one giving advise and suggesting improvements. Humans you see, revel in pointing out others flaws as it makes them feel superior.

I enter my large cubicle and plonk into the chair. There is a fresh bouquet of flowers on my desk with an eclectic mix of orchids, roses and cherry blossoms. Where did they come from? A secret admirer perhaps? Yeah dream on. Nonetheless, I am cheered by their freshness and lush colors. Flowers are symbols of good mood. I am a hopeless romantic and dream about fairy tale romances where I am the proverbial knight, riding on a black steed, searching for his lady in an exotic land. Will they come true? I don’t know, but fantasizing is good.

“Hi dear, hope you had a great time last night,” a welcoming voice sounded.

I turn around, glad to see my friend and guide, Praanesh Mumshetiwar. He is my senior, but more than that, a trusted friend. When I first moved here, I was in for a cultural shock. The people, the restrictions, the dress, everything confused me. Praanesh stepped in and became my buddy. He explained to me the customs and traditions and took me around and helped me with little things. Over the months, I grew fond of him and we became friends. We shared a warm camaraderie and occasionally crashed at each others places.

I hug and slap him on his back. “Man, last night simply rocked. My throat is hoarse from laughing.”

He had taken us to a jazzy club where the food and drinks were topnotch. Everyone cracked jokes on their bosses. Praanesh was a bit sloshed and his rants against his boss were what I call, most colorful.

“Shiv, my a** is busted today man. I have meetings and consultations lined up throughout the day. Cant focus much with this crappy hangover”

“Thanks to all the cocktails you had, you moron! Have a disprin and some strong coffee.

“Goodbye Buddy. Hope to catch you before I leave for the day today, as you know I am going for my month log sabbatical starting tomorrow and won’t be around for your farewell”

“Sure. Man thanks for being around.”

He gives me a bear hug and then with a salute, leaves. During the course of our journey in life, we meet many people and most of them are forgettable but the ones like him remain etched.

I decide to meet Mr. Malhotra, my boss for a handover chat. For a brief period, I worked under a different boss, and had excelled. The client was impressed and mentioned me in a glowing letter of recommendation. Subsequently, I was placed under Mr. Malhotra and reported to him through Praanesh.

Mr. Malhotra is what I call an ‘indifferent-but-screw-you-sometimes’ type of person. He minces no words and rubs your mistake in your face. As per a survey, 80% of employees leave a company because of a bad boss. I am not part of that statistics.

I knock and enter. He is sitting with his eyes half closed, his fingertips forming a pyramid. His cheeks are droopy and a dour expression lines his face. I clear my throat.

“Ah, Mr. Shiv come in.”

Is he smiling? If he is, I must give the guys the breaking news, his mouth had curled.

“I wanted to discuss the handover process”

“Hmm…” he says looking through me.

Mr. Malhotra has this weird habit of staring at a person for a more than a few seconds. I wonder whether he is slow in understanding or is floating in a parallel universe.

He asks me about my plans and makes small talk.

On a sudden impulse I ask, “I would like to hear your feedback, sir. Anything to help me create a proper handover document, anything you think should be included.”

“Well..,” he says bobbing in his chair and looking at the view through the window. “ I have created an excel sheet, you will find the necessary fields jotted ion there. You will parallely be working alongside a new girl we have decided to include in our team as a full time employee as compared to hiring a management consultant. She is from a different department, and I believe she is a rare find on my part”….. he pauses dramatically.

Suitably curious I asked who the person was and he said she will be meeting you in your cabin post lunch after the necessary paperwork is done.

I spend a couple of hours filing away the necessary documents, ROs and receipts and start with the excel. After a bit I get up to stretch my legs, I fill a cup with coffee at the dispenser and carry it to the terrace where some of the employees go for a break.  There are chairs underneath a large shaded area. I carry one to a corner behind the bamboo partition. The air is humid, but breezy. I light up a cigarette. As I exhale, I wonder why people smoke when they are bored. I read somewhere; smoking gives an illusion to the smoker of being in control of his actions. I am not much of a smoker, but holding a cigarette in your hand and blowing smoke feels invigorating.

I take the final drag of my cigarette and watch the smoke, wondering where it goes. Back in the cubicle I enjoy a cool drink of water.

Priyanka sticks his head in the door and asks, “Hi Shiv. Want to have lunch with us?”

“Glad to. Give me two minutes.”

I am engrossed in reading an e-mail, when there is a hesitant knock on the door.

“Coming guys,” I say, not looking up.

A soft clearing of the throat grabs my attention. She is standing with her hands behind her with a smile playing on her lips. I stand up, pleasantly surprised that Ridhima has come to my cubicle. My knees feel like twanged guitar strings and I hold on to the desk.

“What a delight to see you again. The room is aglow with radiance,” I gush. Did I really say that?

She looks at the flowers, “Someone must like you. Who sent them?”

Do I notice a mischievous glint in those eyes?

“I don’t know,” I say caressing them and enjoying the velvety feel.

This is the first time we are alone and the moment feels intimate.

“Well…,” she says, pausing a bit and making eye contact. “I was wondering whether I could take you out to lunch.”

Don’t swoon. My dream girl is inviting me for lunch! This is manna from heaven. From the corner of my eye, I see tinsel falling and hear the sound of bells. I told you, I am a romantic.

“Of course, that will be great!”

I am 28, a good looking guy, tall with an athletic build. A straight nose and a deep cleft on my chin add to my retro looks. I am aware of my personality but women are not flocking in droves. I ought to look up the internet. There are like a gazillion websites telling you how to attract a woman.  Anything under the sun can be searched on the Internet. Check out this: ‘How to tell if food is spoilt?’ or ‘Try Yoga with your cat’.

When her back is turned, I do a little jig, winking at the bewildered expressions of the guys whom I was ditching for lunch.

I sit in her Chevrolet and notice an empty box of Domino’s Pizza and a few tissues smeared with sauce strewn on the floor. A fascinating visual of her eating while driving pops up and I grin. She is human after all.

“Sorry. I was so hungry last evening.”

She maneuvers the car smoothly, “I know a nice place hidden from the crowds. The ambiance is really cool.”

I give her a sideways glance. She is chewing on her lips and some of the lipstick sticks to her teeth. A small action like this can be very sexy. How I wish to reach out and caress her cheek. Why can’t I gather courage to tell her what I feel? I try consoling myself with the thought that some things are not meant to be. But it offers me no comfort and I feel dispirited.

We stop in front of an inviting Indian restaurant, “Machaan”. A traditionally dressed turbaned waiter seats us in a cozy cabin overlooking the hills. How divine!

“May I order? I know you will agree with my choice.” I have no qualms. After our food arrives, we indulge in a warm conversation about families, movies and books. I compliment her on her excellent selection of food that includes an intriguing lamb gosht masala and chicken in a spiced spinach and cream sauce. There is also butter garlic naan bread and steamed rice to go with it.

She seems a bit distracted and gulps her food. A nameless sadness creeps into me as I realize time is slipping and soon I will depart never to see her again.

The tranquility of the place, the spicy food and the soft notes of a romantic duet stir my senses. On an impulse I decide to confess my love for her. The waiter arrives and the moment passes, forever to be lost.

“My girlfriend didn’t like spicy food but I just freak out on it.”

A transient, wistful smile lightens her face, “Must be someone really special.”

“Uh huh. But things didn’t work out….”

I take a sip of my drink. “One day the magic disappeared. There was simply no excitement left. So we decided to go our separate ways. “We played our parts in each others lives,” I say, remembering the gregarious laughter of Madhu my ex.

“What about you?” I ask.

“What…? You mean…No, I have a tall order. Difficult for anyone to fill. So I am waiting.”

The afternoon has taken an enticing turn. Talk of love stimulates me.

I spread my arms, “So here we are: desirable people, up for grabs.”

Her mouth widens, its corners lift heavenwards. She looks around, cups her hand to her mouth and says, “Is anyone listening? We are available.”

We both laugh with abandon.

Running a finger on the rim of my glass, I say, “I am an introvert and have difficulty expressing my feelings.”

She looks at her watch and rubs the nape of her neck. She seems pensive, looks sideways and is lost in thoughts.

She turns suddenly with a determined look. Her earrings dangle with the movement.

“Can I fill the blanks for you?” she asks.

I blink not understanding.

“Shiv, time is at a premium.” She frowns and shakes her head as if this was not the right choice of words.

“There are things I want to say to you. If I don’t say it now, I never will. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what if. The question would haunt me to my grave.”

She looks deep in my eyes, her gaze unwavering. The sounds around me seem to be far away. Time stops. Looking at her mesmerizing eyes, I feel submerged in cold and warm waves. Her words sound surreal and send pleasure through my being. The anticipation of what she wants to say rages like furious lava about to erupt.

“Shiv…” she whispers, “I love you.” After a pause she continues, “I have loved you since the moment I set eyes on you. But I couldn’t gather the courage. When word reached me of your resignation, I was crushed. I agonized over it this past month and tried everything to forget you,” she says wide eyed. “Yesterday I decided no matter what, I must tell you my feelings. Better to have loved and lost than to love and not try. By the way it was me who sent you those flowers,” she says with a twinkle in her eyes.

She watches me in fascination as I continue to look at her in silence. “It’s a great relief to have told you. It’s like a giant wave has washed over me and I feel liberated.”

The soft dulcet tone in her voice sweeps me away. Her words will forever be ingrained in my memory. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and looks at me in anticipation. In that moment I am reborn. If I were to know I am going to die the next moment, I would gladly embrace death. My life is complete and nothing matters. I have attained ‘Niravana’ and ‘Liberation’, that every human being aspires for. The pursuit of my happiness has reached its deserving end.

I look at her with the submissive gaze of a prisoner who feels glorious bound in his chains. In the human heart, new passions are forever being born. What happened next will become a treasured memory, the passage of time cannot erase. I fix her with my gaze and walk over to her side. I am an introvert, yes, but at this moment I am a guy drunk on the heady wine of love. I transform. Everything is happening in slow motion. I place my hand on her cheek, lower my face and reach out to her soft pink lips. Our cheeks graze. I can feel the warmth of our faces as my lips unite with hers in celebration of a first kiss. She runs her hand on my chin and caresses my stubble. He heady smell and the kiss is intoxicating me to another level.

Savoring the kiss we unwillingly pull way from each other. She smiles and I smile back. Our bodies are doing the talking. We sit back and gaze into each other eyes. What is meant to be will always be.

An hour later, we are back in office. My fairy tale romance has come true with a slight twist; the lady had wooed the knight. We had spoken at length and made plans; a long distance relationship; when we would meet. She holds my hand for a long time. Then, with a mischievous wink, she glides away.

I jump and give a high five in the air. I slide around in my chair with delight. My joy is boundless.

Celebration over, my desk phone rings. It’s Mr. Malhotra on the other line calling me to his cabin. As I enter I find Ridhima sitting on the opposite chair across the table deep in conversation with him. Wondering what is this about I pull a chair and Mr. Malhotra looks at me beaming, “Here you are Shiv meet Ridhima, Ridhima meet Shiv our star employee soon to be an ex-star employee!!! Do you think you could fill in his shoes , they are pretty big I must warn you”.

I could not suppress my utter surprise and gasped audibly. The beautiful girl beside me looks up with a bemused expression. First thing that hit me is the fact that she has about a couple of years of experience whereas I have been in this field for about 8 years, how on earth can she possibly replace me?”