Natasha is cycling, or trying to, switching between pedaling and pushing and cribbing and cursing as she crawls onto Harlur road. Just as the road twists another 30 degrees, she finds herself staring into her recurring nightmare. A long string of cars dotted here and there by a rickshaw jamming the road in both directions.
Dressed in her commute attire of pale orange muddy sports shoes, black nylon slacks and a loose hanging red t-shirt with the company access badge dangling down her neck, she stands in line behind a desperate dad on a motor bike who seems to be in for a talking to from his kid’s teacher again for being late.
Amongst the cacophony of honks and the chaos of the ultimate traffic jam, another cyclist, dressed in fluorescent green shorts and a black t-shirt, with yet another company badge dangling from his neck, lands right next to Natasha.
“Wow! That’s not a scene you want to start your day with is it now sweetheart.” The guy, now parallel to Natasha casually says in a seemingly American accent, looking directly at her.
Natasha, obviously uncomfortable mutters… “Uh..yep”
The guy extends his sweaty hand, the name is Rahul (pronounces Raul). Naam to suna hi hoga. He continues, winked at Natasha, all in his seemingly American accent.
Natasha, again, never having been called a sweetheart or winked at, not by sexy legged men in sexy accents, shakes the extended hand, smiles and says “Natasha”
Rahul (Raul) continues, so you want to get out of this party sweetheart?
Natasha, thinking of the 11 am performance appraisal meeting with her 8.30 am sharp to office, stingy, moustached, creaseless shirt donning, sweet worded poison spewing, uptight as a palm tree of a manager, found herself nodding.
Well then, Rahul (Raul) continued, unmindful of her shortness of words, follow me beautiful.
And saying so, he adamantly crossed the still very jammed and still very honking road and led her to the pavement on the wrong side and began walking, cycle perched precariously at the edge of the very thin excuse of a footpath.
I could have done that, Natasha thought, kicking herself in the ass metaphorically.
Rahul (Raul) shouted at the top of his voice, as he turned over to talk to her, walking, It’s 500 meters to the bigger road. We can get back on the cycle there.
She nodded. Still never having interacted with a complete stranger with such an authority and such sexy legs.
They kept walking, and Rahul(Raul) kept turning back to talk, as if this was his everyday routine, which could be. But with that accent, Natasha wondered.
He shouted, “Doesn’t it feel powerful?”
Natasha frowned clearly feeling anything but powerful on this humid, cloudy Monday morning walking down a narrow muddy footpath towing her cycle amongst incessant honking and an impossibly tangled jam.
He continued, slowing both of them down, turning again and again to make sure she was hearing “Doesn’t it feel powerful to be getting ahead of all these seemingly rich and entitled idiots who are fucked up, alone in a car that can seat five destroying the environment and all?”
Natasha stared behind, she could see the jealousy now in the looks of the identically dressed, badge dangling drivers of an Audi and a Mercedes and a smile started appearing on her face as she kept walking.
Rahul (Raul) continued shouting and turning his head as Natasha pretended to listen and nodded away to speed up the now boring walk.
After fifteen minutes of nodding and head turning and jealous stares from the stuck vehicles, they reached to the end of Harlur road, just to find the connected Sarjapur road leading to their office equally clogged. No amount of hand waving and whistling and scary stare giving from the traffic policemen was easing the jam. People continued to honk and slide a measly inch after a measly inch towards their Mondays.
Natasha now stood there. 10.15 am. If she ducked her cycle and started walking, in that muddy potholed and overflown drain water laced road edge, she still wouldn’t reach office by 11. And even if she did, she would be looking like a ragamuffin and smelling like a rat.
Rahul (Raul) as usual, the charmer, glanced at her, glanced at the empty one way across the divider and asked. “Do you trust me beautiful?”
Natasha, now really pissed at being called beautiful and sweetheart and with the noise and chaos around and inside her head, snapped.
“What is this beautiful and sweetheart and all huh? Do I even know you? Isn’t this enough of a Monday morning screw up that you come along with your fake accent and winks and all? No respect for women only. Huh!” And she started weaving her way amongst the stalled cars and trucks and busses to cross the road.
Rahul (Raul) followed, now, quiet, plugged a pair of expensive Bose headphones and continued to follow her, across the road.
She jumped on her cycle and started cycling in the wrong direction. At least this part of her way was empty. There were of course those insanely reckless Rickshaws coming from the opposite direction and she did miss being hit by a truck driver who was way too up on his seat to see a cyclist. But now her watch and her distance to her performance review were both working together.
And just as she hit a peaceful patch of road with no incoming traffic, swish, came her that day’s cause of high BP next to her. Pretending to be unaware of her, Bose headphones plugged in tight, the badge dangling away as he matched his pedaling with hers.
Irritated, she looked sideways and said “Why are you following me?”
He continued as if he hadn’t heard, still stubbornly matching her exact speed. She repeated “Oye mister. Why are you following me?”
He went on, still unaware of being talked to. Infuriated, she took a hand off her handle, and poked him. He lost his balance for a moment, swiveled and caught it back, removed one of his earbuds and said, as calmly and politely and with his relentless accent “What sweetheart?”
Natasha went red now. Conservative upbringing makes you averse to phrases like sweetheart and beautiful and accents from good looking men flaunting cyclist muscles in fluorescent green shorts.
“Why are you following me you …you.. you..Monday spoiler?” Words now seemed to be making themselves as she looked into his dark black eyes, mischievous. Turning back and forth between her and the road ahead as they kept cycling, pedal for pedal, inch for inch.
“I am not following you sweet…oops…Natasha. It’s just a coincidence that our paths are same…”He winked, but not at her this time, just looking ahead…and then muttered again in his charming accent… “Ittefaq .. Coincidence”
Natasha stopped staring at him and went back to looking ahead as she almost toppled over a filled pothole and swerved back.
She pedaled on trying to speed up and slow down just to see if he kept up and he did. A flurry of vehicles came from across as a signal turned green and they were shouted and cursed at and pushed to the road edge as they cycled along the wrong side. The city was tired and it was just Monday morning. But the rains and the potholes and the jams were getting to this otherwise jovial crowd.
There was peace again for a while and then he began again…”You have amazing eyes. You know that right?”
Natasha was just then checking the time and mentally calculating how soon she will be reaching the office and was jerked out of that reverie with this …this flirtation? Praise? Honest observation?
“I have glasses” she cursed her voice box and the part of the brain that formed sentences. She was supposed to say “thank you” or not say anything at all or have a witty comeback. But this?
He smiled, glanced at her and went on. “Yeah…yeah you do gorgeous. But if someone looks long enough they can see.”
This time, she didn’t reprimand him for calling her gorgeous. She just tried hard to not smile. A small butterfly, that she didn’t know was there had dislodged itself in the general left part of her chest and was fluttering hard now.
She also wanted to commemorate his very sexy legs and his sweat ensconced forehead and his long fingers that firmly gripped the handle and his sharp perfectly symmetric nose and his thick eyebrows and his very wide chest and arm muscles that were bursting out of his very tight fitting black t-shirt and his dark thick curls that bounced with the bangalore potholes.
But all she said is “Your cycle is nice. 6 x3 or 7 x4? Seems like a hybrid.” She was now sure this American accented cycling stranger had unhinged the connect between her mind and her voice box and her lips and her self.
“Hybrid…Definitely a hybrid. ” And on that note, he overtook and swerved to the right. “This is me beautiful. And then The Monday begins.” And he braked and got down.
Natasha also braked. Surprised. She had forgotten for a moment about the performance review, the clock and the moustached boss. She got down. She saw the office building beyond and thought to herself. “Not bad.”
“You work here?” she asked. Pointing at the building beyond.
“”Maybe…” he said, mysterious as ever.
There was a silence and each looked at the other. Each the complement of the other in anything that met the eye. Natasha, a mess, loose fitting clothes, muddy shoes, thick specs, a tight ponytail frowning with an in-confident hunch. Rahul (Raul) , a perfectly chiseled sculpture, confident, smiling, perky and well groomed even after thirty minutes of bicycling through crowded chaotic muddy roads.
And just like that he turned. “See you around sunshine. You know where to find me on Monday mornings now, don’t you?”
Natasha smiled now, her smile reaching the eyes beyond the glasses and stood there, watching him leave. Suddenly her phone chimed and she saw it was 10.45. She had 15 minutes to reach to her predictable performance review or 2 more minutes to watch this gorgeous angel leave and hope for him to turn around, Once.
** This story was written as a writeclub exercise on Independent Screen Writing