The day I found Megha on the internet, I pumped my fists in the air like I'd hit the million-dollar jackpot.
I called up the gang and told them all about it. On my ten-minute drive to office, I rang up Mohammed and warned him that his cherub couldn't hold a candle to Megha's little angel. I dialed Steven and enlightened him that Megha had risen to the position of Project Manager at an IT company. At least that's what it said on her profile.
Steven grunted. 'Did you drop her an email?'
'I sent her friend requests and wrote her an email,' I said.
'You know, if she's married, she wouldn't want to see you now.'
'That's ridiculous. Why shouldn't she get in touch with me? We had a special relationship in the past!'
Steven sighed. 'Just... be careful. I don't want you to get ...dumped, again.'
'You're wrong. That'll never happen. How do you know Megha won't call me? How do you know we won't trade stories of our lives after school over a candlelight dinner at the Taj? It will be just perfect. I'm telling you.'
He grunted again. 'Whatever,' he said, and hung up.
In office, the minute the boss left his seat, I checked my email. She hadn't yet replied.
The morning whizzed by in meetings. I wolfed down my salad sandwich in two bites at lunchtime. During the post-lunch cigarette break on the terrace, I checked my Berry again. Nothing. Yet.
At six when I rang the bell, Seema opened the front door, her lips pursed tighter than usual. Rohan scampered up and wrapped his arms around my leg.
'Daddy, look! Star!' he said, shoving his fist in front of my nose. The straps of the laptop bag slid off my shoulders. Seema scooped it up along with my helmet and padded off to the study.
I hauled Rohan up and whirled him around. We played a few rounds of pretend-boxing. Seema returned from her exercise of slotting things in their place and set down a cup of tea on the centre table. 'Your tea is getting cold,' she said, and I wondered how that could be -- wisps of steam were still rising from the cup.
I patted Rohan on the bottom and sent him running into his room to do his colouring. Seema hovered by the sofa as I downed the tea in three gulps.
'So, when are you planning to take me?' she asked, her arms folded across her chest, one impatient foot tapping the floor.
'Take you where?' I asked.
'For shopping, where else? I've been reminding you for two weeks!'
'I have so much work right now. We have a big demo coming up. Can we go next week?'
'Oh of course we can go next week! The malls have discounts and sales going on all throughout the year, don't they?'
She stomped inside. I lugged my laptop from the study to the bedroom.
Megha hadn't replied even now. Then it struck me. I picked the wrong sites. Maybe Orkut's members always besieged her with 'franship' requests and MySpace wasn't her thing.
I logged into Facebook and dashed off a friend request there too.
Three days later, Steven called up.
'Seema says you're tethered to the laptop every evening? Is that true?'
'No, its not. Anyway it doesn't matter.'
'Did Megha reply?'
'I want you to stop thinking about her. You're married. She's married and she's out of your reach now.'
'How can you know that?'
'Can't you see she doesn't want to be linked to you in any way?'
I slammed down the receiver. Steven's words had triggered the name of a corporate social-networking site.
There she was. Different photo here. A cool, professional picture of her in goggles and a pantsuit, her hair patted down perfectly.
I stared at the name of her company for a long time. The words danced in front of me. I clicked the link to the corporate website, and from there jumped to their 'Contact Us' page.
The phone numbers enticed me to pick up the phone and dial. That's what I did. A sexy automated voice demanded the extension of the person I wanted to speak with.
I pressed 0 for the operator.
The question in the receptionist's voice was unmistakable.
'Megha Sharma, please,' I said, my heart beating faster.
Elevator music filled my ears for five seconds, and then a ringing tone. On the fourth ring, she answered with a furtive 'Hello?'
'Hello Megha, Anil here.'
'Anil, from APJ School, Saket. Remember?'
'I sent you an email. You must've seen --'
'Yes, I did. My only question is -- I haven't responded, so why haven't you got the hint yet?'
'What's wrong with --'
'No seriously, why did you think it was okay to dig out my office number and call me?'
Didn't she need to catch her breath between rants? 'You can't just--'
'If you call me again or contact me in any manner, I will report you to the police. Do you understand that?'
I slammed down the receiver. Who the hell did she think she was?
Until evening I stayed away. When I did eventually click on the little blue login button, I found the vamp had blocked me out. From. Every. Damn. Site.
I hate her.
I wrote her an email:
Dearest Mrs. Sharma,
Sorry to bombard you with emails, but I wanted to clarify a few things.
In case you get the wrong idea, I must inform you that I had merely intended to get back in touch with you like I had with our other school friends. But your reaction shocked me to the core.
You will be happy to know that henceforth I will refrain from calling or emailing you unless you do so first.
And stop being so juvenile!
I nearly spilled my Coke all over Seema's salwar kameez when my Berry pinged Megha's reply.
I'm really sorry but I couldn't talk freely with people around. I didn't mean to hurt you with my behaviour.
Please meet me tomorrow at the cafe near my office, 4 pm. We can talk this over in privacy.
Throughout dinner, the music in my head drowned out Rohan's school stories and the blare from the TV. Seema cocked an eyebrow at me while passing the rice. I think she suspects something. But my lips are zipped.
The afternoon sun pounded down on the concrete. I parked my bike across the road, hopped over the divider and skipped past the makeshift pavement.
The interiors of the café cooled me down, but I still needed to mop my brow with my kerchief. When that didn't work I helped myself to the tumbler of cool water they thumped down in front of me, and splashed it on my face and eyes.
Advertisements of all hues ravaged the glass door that served as the entrance. Through the small patch of glass left bare, I saw two people crossing the road. One of them wore a khaki outfit.
Less than a minute later, they opened the door and strolled in. If a fashion photographer set eyes on Megha in that moment, he would have scooped her up, flung her over his shoulder and carried her off to his photo studio. Her jet-black hair lay in perfect waves on her shoulders, untouched by the warm breeze. Her black figure-hugging shirt and grey trousers had me reaching for the glass of water again. The shade of lipstick, a brighter crimson than I'd ever imagined her wearing, alarmed me a bit. But it only added to her looks, contrasting against her smooth milky complexion.
She sidled up to my table. Her cherry-red lips were moving.
'...see, I told you he'd be here.'
That's when I noticed the other person.
'Sir, did you make calls to madam here?'
For the first time since I caught sight of him from across the road, I noticed the policeman's uniform, the medals pinned across the shoulder, the glimmering eyes and the stiff, proud moustache.
The idea of fibbing my way through this ordeal had hardly occurred to me before I abandoned it.
'Yes of course, she is my old friend from school!'
'So? Does that give you the right to badger married women who have shown no interest in pursuing friendship with you?'
I rubbed the edge of the formica-topped table and examined the tips of my fingers. These guys didn't dust enough.
'If you contact madam again either by phone or even email, I will have you locked up. Do you understand?'
The quietness of his tone troubled me more than anything else. I raised my eyes to his level, and said, 'Yes.'
'I really expected better from you, Anil,' Megha said.
The duo sidled out. I considered ordering a frappe and slurping it alone over the next thirty minutes, but then I surrendered and moved out.
The bike ride to Megha's office turned out bumpier than expected. I parked across from the gate. She didn't sashay out, but why would she, now?
I turned the key in the ignition and revved up the accelerator.
Somehow, that tingling feeling of winning a million dollars had melted away.
BIO: Gargi Mehra writes fiction and humor pieces in a determined effort to unite the two sides of the brain in cerebral harmony. She maintains a web presence at http://gargimehra.wordpress.com/