“Thank you for sending out the parcel for me,” she says, taking the proffered receipt.
“It’s no problem. I was going to the Post Office anyway.”
She nods. He smiles.
“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” she asks.
“When have I ever said no to tea?” he retorts, eyes twinkling.
She smiles. Leads the way inside her house. He follows.
“Make yourself comfortable,” she says over her shoulder. “I will get on with the tea.”
As she sets the water boiling and puts out the milk to warm, she hears him walking around the living room.
“Fresh flowers!” she hears him exclaim. “So, you do seem to have a green thumb, huh? Who knew!”
She smiles at the boiling water. It is nice of him to notice and to comment on the tiny bunch of flowers from her garden that she has arranged in a small vase out on the table.
“Well, who knew!” she says.
And when she turns to get the sugar and tea out of the cupboard, she sees him standing at the entrance of the kitchen, one hand on the door frame and the other resting lightly on his stick. And somehow, she finds it fitting. Like it is the most normal thing in the world for him to be standing here, in her kitchen, smiling, chatting her up.
They take the tea on the porch. She has laid out snacks with the tea today. Batter fried peanuts. The kind they loved as kids. The ones they would steal by the handfuls from glass jars laid out on the counter of the local bakery, when the owner was busy with the customers.
“These are amazing!” he says crunching them now. “You know, I have been to so many different places, and I have tried these masala peanuts from all those different places; but this taste from our local bakery? I have never found it anywhere!”
“That is because our local baker uses the worst possible oil to fry them in!” she says without missing a beat.
He laughs heartily! She pretends to sip from her cup, hiding her smile.
“I am so glad you have not lost your sense of humour in all this time,” he says.
“Well, it is the one thing that has kept me going all this time….” She says. “That, and my daughter…”
He puts down his cup. Touches her hand lightly. “Krishna,” he says. “You are in a good place here. I know you haven’t had it easy, but life is smiling at you now.”
“I know,” she says, putting her hand on top of his. “I know.”
He nods and they fall into a companionable silence. Occasionally, one or the other makes a remark or points out something just beyond the gate as they continue to sip on their tea.
Ever since the day Ananta visited on his wife’s anniversary, Krishna has been surprised at the way she spoke about her marriage so openly and so candidly that day. It was the first time she had ever opened up about it; and yet, it feels to her, like the most natural, the most normal thing that it was Ananta she opened up to.
Since then, something has changed between them. Something’s shifted. There is an ease around them now. They meet regularly. They laugh a lot. They chat about everything under the sun. They even take in an occasional DVD together in either of their homes during lazy rainy afternoons. And these ‘teas’ that they have together, well, that’s almost routine now. Not a day passes when they are not sharing something. Be it tea, or the local gossip, or some childhood memory or even the wonderful recipes from their times that Krishna is so adept at making.
Latabai cooks less and less for Ananta now. And most days, even she takes home a casserole from Krishna. Ananta does Krishna’s errands and helps out with odd jobs around the house. They know each other’s routines and each other’s preferences; and between the two of them, and Latabai, it is almost as if the years in between had never happened.
Every morning, Ananta returns from his morning walk with a spring in his step, so he can greet Krishna with his Top of the morning to you! Every evening, Krishna waits anxiously to find out if Ananta wishes to join her for tea. On most days, he does.
“You know, there’s a play come to town?” he asks now, frowning against the bright sunlight.
It has been ages since Krishna has seen a live play on stage. Her husband never liked live shows and truth be told, they didn’t share the sort of relationship where they would take in a play or a movie. But she enjoyed watching live plays in her days and even now, keeps herself updated through the advertisements in newspapers.
“Yes,” she says. “It’s a comedy.”
He nods. He opens his mouth to say something. Then thinks better of it. His manner is suddenly hesitant. As if he is not sure what he is going to say. She senses the change.
“What?” she asks. “Has the tea gone too cold, should I warm it up?”
“No, no.” he says uncomfortably. Then he runs a hand around his collar. Although, his shirt is open at the neck.
“Is it too hot for you? Sitting out here? We could go in, I could switch on the fan…”
“Can I ask you something?” he says suddenly.
“Sure,” she says.
But the next moment he says, “Oh, never mind.”
“What is it?” she asks, impatient now. “Oh, come on Ananta, it’s me, Krishna! You know you can tell me whatever it is…”
When he looks up at her, his look is so intense, she starts. For a moment she just sits there, looking into his eyes. But then she remembers his old habits and gives a light slap on his wrist. “Quit the drama Ananta!” she says her eyes laughing. “Out with it. Now!”
But he doesn’t seem in a playful mood. “Promise me Krishna. If I ask you something and you don’t like it, we will still be friends.”
“Oh, please! You and your riddles!” she says.
But he continues to be serious. “Promise me.”
“Okay. I hereby, solemnly promise, that no matter what you say, I will still be your friend. Is that good enough?”
He is silent for so long, she thinks he is not going to say anything more. But he does.
“Krishna,” he says, hesitantly, “I just wanted to….it’s just that ….ummm…”
She can't help giggling like a little girl. "You stammer like a teenager asking a girl out on a date!” she says, and then laughs heartily throwing her head back, one hand on her chest. When she opens her eyes though, she sees him looking at her, his gaze direct, and the expression on his face so serious, she does a double take.
“What do you want to ask me Ananta?” she finally asks, sobering up.
And then he surprises her.
“Can I take you out to the play?” he asks her in a suddenly very sure voice.
She doesn’t say anything immediately. She just sits there looking at him, her emotions running amok. He looks at her with an expression that is part hope, part anxiety and part surprise. As if, he has surprised himself by asking her out.
She finds her own emotions running a similar course. She immediately wants to say yes to him! She doesn’t go out much and would really love to watch the play! But she isn’t sure she should do that. On the one hand she wants to just hug him for having even asked her to go out with him! On the other hand, she also feels they are too old for such outings. But honestly, she is really happy that he wants to take her out.
And it is this thought, which really surprises her. Because in her heart, she knows this is not merely about one outing. Things are changing. Rapidly. She is getting too used to Ananta. She is getting very comfortable with him. She has never known what she expected when she came here. But the change that she feels in her heart now, she doesn’t know what to make of it.
His eyes still hold hers. And she is very aware of this. She knows he waits anxiously for her answer. Just as she waits, with bated breath, her heart fluttering in her chest, to see where life plans to take her now, from here.