The Club had never looked better. With red and gold swags, silver angels and holly wreaths it just screamed festivity. And with everyone twirling around in lounge suits, bandhgalas, gowns and saris, it looked almost magical , a fairy land in an every day world. That was where it all began perhaps at the exact moment when the couples on the dance floor literally melted into each other, swaying gently, almost hypnotically to Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight“, when the lights went off for the last slow dance before the count down to the New Year. Clapton’s velvet voice always made Neha’s heart take a dive and when she saw Prerna and Vivek moving as one, she felt the first twinge of regret of being single to mingle . “How I wish I was dancing in the arms of the man I love,” she sighed and buried her head in the poky jacket of the man she was dancing with and wished that she was in the arms of Mr. Perfect, the Man of her Dreams. At that exact moment,she was determined that this would be the last New Year’s she’d be solo and from that day on, Neha had made it her singular mission to never dance “alone”.
So, like the Strategic Marketeer that she was,little Ms. Perfect aka as Neha Tiwari , set about getting Mr. Right into her sights. And who better than Prem Diwanji , the investment banker on the fifteenth floor, with his perfect suit , perfect manners, and perfect diction: the perfect little “Pooh Bear ” to nuzzle up to?
All through January, she timed her entry into the building making sure that Prem and she went up in the same lift .She loved the way he allowed her to go first, and after the initial shy smile, they were soon exchanging a witty repartee . Within days it became apparent that a romance was building up. The watchman would give her a ” knowing salaam”, the chai wallas would have a slight smirk and it came as no surprise to either of them when Prem asked her out on a date.
” Are you doing anything special on Valentine’s Day?” he asked her one morning in the lift, trying to keep his tone casual and off handish.
“Nothing much,” she replied, equally coolly sure that he could hear her heart beat faster ” Just the usual – hang out with my friends at Jeffry’s or Leo’s. Just one or two drinks and then we go home or may be if there’s a good chick flick we’d take that in.”
” Oh, then it won’t be hard for you to ditch them will it?”
“Ditch them and do what?”, she said trying hard to be blase and cool.
“Have a romantic dinner date with me.”
And that was it! Thirty days was all it took to get a guy? Trying not to sound too pleased and struggling to act calm, she feigned indifference and said, “Ok. Where to?”
“Why not Amadeus?” suggested Prem “It has great food and a great ambience and we can go for a long walk on Marine Drive……….”
“Hmmm, ” said Neha, ” Done deal!”
Prem looked pleased too. “So, should we meet up straight after work?”
” No, sweetie” said Neha, “You come and pick me up! “
“Arre, but this way we’ll get more together time.”
“I have all the time in the world for you,” said Neha suggestively……..” I want this date to be perfect. I want to shower and change before we go out …….I’m sure you do too na?.”
The next few days went by in a breeze and on Valentine’s Day when Neha entered the building alone , the watchman asked her, ” Kyon Madam, aaj akele?”
Neha gave him a withering look . She was irritated as it is and didn’t want to deal with nosy questions. Just then her Blackberry began to vibrate and Prem’s handsome face flashed on her screen..
“What’s up sweetheart?” she asked, ” I waited for you at the corner but decided to go ahead when you didn’t show up.You’re coming na, today? You’d better not ditch! ” she warned.
“No, no,” protested Prem’s voice , crackling at the other end. ” “I’m sorry, I had to rush to Delhi. It was a dire emergency , I promise. I didn’t even have time to call or text you. Can’t talk. I’ll text you when I get time. But don’t worry, I’ll be back tonight so our date still stands.”
” Don’t worry sweets,” she assured him, relieved that things were going as planned. ” I’ll be waiting. Take care. Love you !” she said as she kissed the phone goodbye.
The rest of the day passed too slowly for comfort. To make matters worse, Neha kept worrying if the Delhi flight would be on time. It was notorious for being an hour late. “Thoughts become actions, ” she warned herself and pushing all negative thoughts out of her mind, concentrated on how she imagined the evening would unfold : a romantic candle light dinner at “Amadeus”, a long leisurely walk arm in arm ,along the sea side promenade, perhaps even a ride in a gaudy Victoria before going home to the ripe, red strawberries and hot chocolate sauce, a Sula Red Zinfandel nestling in the copper pail wine cooler , the warm scented candles all over the house and the creamy silk sheets……..Aaah, she sighed, that would be the perfect end to a romantic evening and the beginning of a lifetime of bliss.
All through the day they exchanged SMSs with Prem giving her an hourly update of what he was doing. She was relieved to know that he’d got an earlier flight and as she left for home, could scarcely feel the ground beneath her feet.
At 7.30, her doorbell rang and she tried not to be too hasty in opening the door. “Make the man wait a bit,” she remembered her old fashioned mum’s advice……. Doing a last minute check, she flicked her hair back, picked up her clutch and mobile and opened the door, eager to jump into his arms and say Happy Valentine’s Day.
” Oh my God ! ” she shrieked, ” What happened? You look a wreck?” scarcely able to hide her disappointment and shock.
Gone was the dapper young Prem and the romantic dinner date. In his place stood a scruffy man in a crumpled suit, his tie askance, the stale smell of aftershave and tobacco and a face that was hidden in a wild growth of 24 hour stubble!