It was a glorious night. Stars twinkled in the sky. The sea shimmered with lights that it trapped from the shacks on the beach. Crystal and her friends were all enjoying the end of their college vacation in Goa. When they returned to Mumbai all of them would be heading in different directions. Some would go to abroad for higher education, others had family businesses waiting for them and Crystal, she had a multitude of choices waiting for her to choose from.
Tonight she chose to get mildly drunk and enjoy their last night on the beaches of Goa. Some bright spark decided they all needed to take a dip in the water and all of them stripped to their swimsuits, left their stuff at the shack and ran into the cold water. Fifteen minutes later, soaking wet and chilled to the bone they returned laughing like hyenas. Wet hair plastered over faces they toweled off and sat down to a late dinner. The light hearted ribbing continued and the high spirits were catching.
Another round of drinks later, her friend Tina turned to Crystal and said in a loud sotto whisper, “That guy there is so cute.” The entire group turned to look at the guy at the next table. Dressed in a floral shirt and shorts he looked like a regular tourist. He seemed to be enjoying their drunken examination as he had a smirk on his face. He raised his glass in quiet salute to the ogling group of girls.
Tina declared loudly, “I dare the bravest one here to go kiss that guy!”
Everyone looked around to see who would take up the dare. A couple of them giggled and shook their heads. There was a round of clapping as Crystal got up on shaky legs. She downed the rest of her beer in one swallow and turned. With hysterical laughter her friends hooted encouragement as she tightened the string of her sarong to show she meant business and walked over to his table.
He had the most amazing eyes up close, Crystal thought as she put her hands on the table and stared into them almost hypnotized. He looked totally amused as she had clearly forgotten what she was there to do. As he smiled the lines around his mouth caught her attention. He took her chin in his fingers, pulled her closer and kissed her. The neighboring table erupted with cat calls and whistles.
Crystal heard none of them as the kiss consumed her. The initial jolt was replaced by a warm feeling that spread from her lips to her toes. He made her forget where she was, as he kissed her with a thoroughness that she had never felt before. She felt his lips moving softly over hers and then she was drowning in sensation. On a sigh her lips parted and he instantly took advantage of it.
She shut her eyes as his tongue explored her mouth first gently and then possessively. When she opened her eyes she was somehow sitting in his lap and he had his hand fisted in her hair. What just happened here? She turned away from that magical mouth trying to make sense of her response to a simple kiss. For a second she rested her head on his shoulder so that the dizziness could pass. She turned to look for her friends, and panicked when she saw them walking away from the shack. She quickly got to her feet and ran to join them.
“Wait,” behind her the man said in a low voice like husky velvet, “What’s your name?”
She turned and looked at him with the expression of a deer caught in the headlights of a powerful truck. Then she ran the back of her hand across her lips, almost tasting him there. She turned again and ran like the wind to catch up with her friends. It was almost as if she feared the devil himself was behind her. The sheer passion of that kiss had scared her. Never had she ever felt like that before. She needed to get away from that man as fast as she could. She could hear him following her, but then she caught up with her friends and they got into the SUV and drove away. She looked back to see him standing with the shack behind him and the moon above it. She could not see his features, but she was sure he was angry. She felt like she had just had a very lucky escape.
Four years later – 16 April 2009
As she packed her clothes Crystal wondered how she had got caught up in this mess. Not that she was grudging a trip to South Africa, but the circumstances were just so weird. Her baby sister, Kim, had been invited to see the IPL inauguration by a college friend. Her parents had given permission for the group of six friends to go together. Only trouble was with all the election trouble and security issues the IPL had shifted to South Africa. Why did these protestors in Mumbai always end up making life difficult for everyone?
Naturally they had assumed that the plan would now be shelved, but no. The boy who was sponsoring the tickets as his birthday treat managed to convince his father to send the whole group to South Africa. All expenses paid for a five day holiday. You had to hand it to these spoilt rich brats, Crystal thought, they really did manage to get whatever they wanted. After much debate over many days, tears from Kim and discussions amongst her parents, they had finally agreed to let her kid sister go - as long as Crystal went along as a chaperon for the group.
So here she was taking a week off from work to accompany a group of teenagers to an overhyped cricket event that she was not even interested in. She could hear Kim’s excited chatter in the hall as she talked nonstop on the mobile with another girl who was coming along on the trip. Crystal hoped that she had finished packing her bags because it was almost time for them to leave. What was the name of the guy who was supposed to take them to the airport? Yes, it was Rohit Sharma. God what a clichéd name!
Rohit rang the bell of the apartment and wondered how on earth he had got stuck in this mess. Here he was, a top of his class MBA, with five years of solid marketing experience, and what was he reduced to? Baby Sitting! For crying out loud! When his boss had called him into his office he had been sure that he had finally been noticed and that he was going to get a special assignment. Well it was a special assignment alright, just not one that he particularly cared for.
Why would he like to escort a bunch of teenagers to South Africa? And they were a mixed group of teenagers! What a nightmare. Anyway there was no getting out of it. So here he was picking up the last two of the group’s members and taking them to the airport. He hoped that these two girls were packed and ready to move. They had a long drive from Dadar to the International Airport. Hopefully the other car and its load of teenagers was already half way there by now.
An excited Kim opened the door and shouted practically in his ear, “He’s here! Crystal! It’s time to go!”
Crystal gave a small sigh, picked up the smaller bag and slung it over her right shoulder. Then she lifted her larger bag in her left hand and walked out of her room. In her sweatshirt and jeans she looked much younger than her 25 years. She took one last look in the mirror to see that her dark brown hair was neat in a ponytail, as she tucked a stray strand behind her ear. Time to get going she thought to herself. Why not make the best of this unexpected holiday.
Her parents were already waiting in the hall. Kim seems so excited that she could almost bounce off the walls. Her father was giving last minute instructions to Kim and to the man, Rohit, who was apparently taking them to the International Airport. Crystal could not see his face, as he had his back to her. Still there was something in that big broad back that made her pause in mid step.
His hair was cropped short and his voice was deep husky velvet as he reassured her father that he would take care of his girls. And then he turned around. As recognition flushed over her, she quickly blinked and looked at her father. He could not know who she was, she thought to herself. Quickly she tried to compose herself, before she gasped out loud. There was no way that he would remember her, she hoped fiercely as she half turned to give her mother a hug as they left.
All through the ride in the elevator while Kim kept chattering with Rohit, Crystal made it a point not to look into those hypnotic eyes. All the while she was praying reverently that he would not recognize her as the girl who had made a fool of herself that night. She could have happily strangled Tina right now for throwing out that dare that night in Goa.
Rohit helped the girls put away their bags in the boot of the car and sat up front with the driver. The two sisters were as alike as chalk and cheese he thought. One was loud and vivacious while the other seemed intent on not saying a word. For some perverse reason she was the one who caught his attention more than the chattering one. He had a nagging suspicion that he was missing something there. He wondered what it was. Then Kim began talking again with the other girl in the car and he gladly tuned her out to concentrate on the road and the traffic.
At the airport the entire group went through the formalities and sat down to wait for the boarding announcement. Crystal took out a book and ducked her head into it. The others were discussing what they were going to do once they got to South Africa. Rohit decided he could leave them for a few minutes on their own and get some peace and quiet. He sat a few rows away from them keeping a watchful eye on the group. He picked up the restlessness of the boys and the excitement of the girls. When his eyes came to rest on the dark brown head behind the book, they narrowed. There it was again, that tingling feeling. What was he missing with this girl called Crystal?
The flight was announced and they all got up to board. That’s when she closed the book and put it away in her bag. Then she tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, as she bent down to pick up her bag and swing it onto her shoulder. When she looked up she was staring right into Rohit’s eyes. Even with three rows of seats between them, he felt her flash of surprise. She quickly averted her eyes and began walking to the departure gate. He knew her from somewhere, he was positive about it now.
She could feel his scrutiny boring holes into her back. Her heart missed a beat. Did he know who she was? She risked a quick glance back at him. No, he would not look so frustrated if he did. It was clear that he did think he knew her from somewhere, now it was up to her to make sure that he did not remember where. She was keeping absolutely quiet, and fully covered. That was a far cry from the swimsuit and sarong she had on the night when she had first met him on the beach in Goa. In the line she stiffened up as she felt his breath on her neck.
Rohit wondered what on earth was wrong with him. Why was he sniffing at some teenage girl like a wolf seeking his mate? There was something about that delicate perfume that teased his senses. He knew he had smelt it before, but when? Crystal put the hood of her sweatshirt up as they entered the aircraft. As luck would have it the others had all settled into their seats leaving just two seats together.
Crystal sat close to the window as Rohit tucked away a bag overhead before he sat down in the seat next to her. The Air Hostess finished the pre flight announcements and they finally were on their way. The cabin lights were dimmed for takeoff. She shut her eyes and hoped for sleep, but the awareness of the man seated next to her would not allow it.
As their thighs touched lightly she felt the heat radiating from him and it compelled her to look at him. To her surprise she found herself staring right into his eyes. She snapped her head away and fought a losing battle to ignore all the sensations her traitorous body was feeling at his proximity. She shut her eyes tight and tried to get some sleep.
Rohit willed her to open her eyes and look at him, and when she did not he was disappointed. When the Air Hostess came to offer him a drink he ordered a whisky. He was going to need a drink to get through this night he thought.
Kim turned around from the seat in front, “How come we don’t get any?”
Rohit replied, “Alcohol is only served to those above 21 years of age.”
Kim replied, “So only Crystal gets to have some?”
At which Crystal opened her eyes and said quickly, “No I don’t want a drink.”
Rohit looked at her speculatively as he registered the fact that she was not a teenager, but a legal adult. One with a right to drink and that meant the right to vote as well. Interesting thought! One that opened up possibilities. Then he wondered about her quick refusal of the drink. Some people didn’t like drinking, while others did not handle their drinks too well. The light bulb flashed in his head as he remembered the kiss in Goa with the mildly drunk girl.
Then he turned in his seat and looked hard at Crystal watching her get visibly uncomfortable under his gaze. She pretended to look out of the window, but there was nothing to see in the dark outside. She threw him an agitated look before she turned her attention to the seat pocket in front of her trying to take out the in flight magazine to read. Now he was sure he knew who she was.
It was her, the girl he had kissed in Goa. She was looking different without her swimsuit and sarong, but he knew it was her. No wonder he had reacted so strongly to her smell. There was no way he had forgotten that sizzling kiss. Apparently she had recognized him much earlier. No wonder she had been so jumpy around him. Well, he had found her again, and this time he was not letting her go so easily.
“Are you sure you don’t want something to drink?” he asked.
“Yes quite sure. No drinks.” She shook her head adamantly.
He smiled slightly when he leaned over to her and whispered to her, “What about a kiss then?”
Her eyes widened as she stared into his eyes. Had he figured out who she was she wondered. She shook her head again slowly.
“But I thought you were the bravest one here!” he teased with a soft chuckle confirming her fear. “Do you know I went back to that shack for three nights running hoping I would find you there?”
“It was our last night in Goa,” Crystal said softly as she turned to look at him again.
“I thought as much,” he replied.
“Why did you go back?”
“To try and catch a girl who ran away from me. One I have been lucky to catch again,” he said with an intense promise in his eyes. “And this time, I know her name and I won’t let her run away from me.”
This story originally featured in the compilation of short stories called Glimpses Through the Dream Catcher