Among the new hires was a young woman, Ridhima, same age as him. Bright eyes, though plain-looking. Her most striking feature her chin. It gave her character, a fullness of the mouth. And though he couldn’t take his eyes off her, to her he was all eyes and hair. At least at the beginning. When she avoided him off hours.
He reeked, she told one of the other guys. Hadn’t he ever heard of cologne?
It was that that had him install a shower in his bathroom and invest in a soap more expensive than cafeteria lunch. But he realized that just smelling nice wasn’t going to be enough. Not if he wanted her to notice him as a person … as someone she may see a future with one day.
So he got a trendy haircut, shaved off the beard and mustache, and from the little savings he had amassed, traded in his old borrowed clothes for crisp shirts and trousers in all shades of blue.
Ridhima didn’t crinkle her nose at him after that. In fact, the first time he showed up at work all clean like a regular office-going person, for the first few minutes she could hardly recognize him. His face, no longer lost under a thick mat of hair, was arresting in its sharp lines. And his eyes, no longer dull with malnourishment, sparkled bronze. She could hardly look away herself, and found herself sneaking glances across the room.
She even sat beside him at lunch. And during rehearsals. And on breaks by the back gate. Avoiding smokers by the front.
When he asked her out for the first time, she turned him down. She wasn’t ready, she said. They were perhaps better suited as friends. The second time, she shrugged — a non-committal yes or a maybe. Playing hard to get. And instead, they went for a group movie night followed by dinner at a nearby pub. It was someone’s birthday. Not that they were much aware of anything other than themselves. Lost in conversation, and in each other’s eyes.
There was no third time.
It was a quick and simple wedding, done at the registrar’s office. The two of them and their friends from work. They both had no family. Though the girl had an aunt who’d raised her when her parents died, albeit begrudging, as she had six children of her own. And now she’d declined her invite, though she gave her blessings over the phone. Her knees were acting up, she said. But they both knew it was the travel fare from Ferozabad to Delhi. For the entire set of them. Such an unnecessary expenditure when she was no longer responsible for the girl’s well-being. And this was the perfect moment to sever all ties. Sending her off to Delhi for work had only absolved her of her responsibilities so much.
Life was looking up for Moonish. He had a wife he loved, a job he enjoyed, and a house that they both would turn into a home, fill it with kids and laughter and love. That was the plan.
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