The latest anthem by Lady Gaga was playing in the background, while men and women were talking to each other, some in polite, smile infused tones and others putting the loud colours of the décor to shame by their roaring laughter. She, she realised belatedly, was already a part of the group of women who were in the mood to party. The sophisticated women had decided to play a game of innuendoes earlier than usual this evening. She synched her laughter with the group as she did not want anyone to ask her, “How are you? What happened?”
The ploy was working fine. She was laughing right on cue. She was looking good and she seemed like she belonged. One of the boisterous ones was busy building up a story, which everyone standing with her in sort of a group huddle predictably knew would end up grossing them out enough to break the group. When none of the women in the group were looking, she stole a moment to scan the room to see where she could be safe from questions once this unholy gathering broke up.
Maybe it was destiny, maybe serendipity or just a stupid accident. He found himself, once again, as the centre of attention in the group of sports enthusiasts at the party. They did not discuss the latest betting and spot-fixing scam that had taken the country by storm. They were the true blood cricket nerds. If the cricketing scene in the country was drowning in murky waters, they would turn their eyes on the test match happening in another continent between countries that were thousands of miles away from their tri-coloured waving country. Their high was the scores, catches, style of bowling and batting techniques. Winning and losing was just a minor part of the game for them. Today, they wanted to relive the Indian victory of World Cup 83. They all picked his brains, albeit in a very orderly manner, like true gentlemen.
He knew what he was talking about. He recreated the magic the stadium had witnessed that day with his words. It did not bother his audience much that he was not even a month old when the game had been played and the honour won. They hung to his every word. He generally enjoyed recreating matches, with details like, Sunny’s right collar had a patch of dirt after that dive at the boundary or the sweat on Kapil’s temple glistened like a jewel, much like the cup he was to pick later that day. He was saying the words, like a rehearsed script, but today his heart was not in it. He felt unsettled. Why, he had no idea.
The two saw each other at the same instant. Both knew they needed to talk to each other. Both felt an uncharacteristic hesitation. The women’s group broke with a chaotic chorus of “Ewww!” “Yuk!” “Ufff!” Across the room, the sports geeks were laughing, back-slapping each other as if they had just won a match themselves. Meanwhile, they took deep breaths, made a resolve and walked towards each other. She smiling the confident corporate smile she had mastered over the last five years of working in the various media roles and he grinned his boyish grin which came to him effortlessly.
They came face to face. Her confidence faltered a bit after looking into his deep, dark eyes. She lowered her gaze. He picked on the nervous energy and decided to make her comfortable by sticking to the convention. He asked her, “How are you?” He regretted the question, just for an instant, when he saw her meeting his gaze and her eyes wide in astonishment. He realized she was deciding if he ‘really’ wanted to know the answer or was he being polite. He said, “I really want to know.” The sincerity in his voice convinced her. She made a feeble attempt at stifling a sob. Then she broke down, tears flowing from her expressive, fear-stricken yet ready to face the world eyes, before she answered him. He came forward, held her by her shoulders to give her some support. It took super human effort to control his urge to hug her, to physically protect her from all the sorrows that plagued her. After all, she had not even spoken to him before this day. She composed herself, sniffled a little and cleared her throat. She did not attempt to mask her vulnerability. With honesty that was clearly filled to the brim, she replied, “I’m broken.”
And they lived happily ever after.