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This is another sneak peak from my novel. This is the second and may be the last excerpt I am posting in my blog. I thought this particular chapter fit the day and couldnt resist posting it. I would love to have your feedback. Happy Valentine’s day everyone.

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Parimala sounded optimistic that Chilakamma was trying to come out of her boyfriend’s tantrums. But I wanted to see her in person to understand if she was angry on me or not. Her voice, like her face that day failed to show any emotions. I never realized the importance of me and how I had let her down then.

“OK! Do one thing. Come home this Sunday. We are planning to do Vidyarambam for Avni” Parimala said.

“What is that?”

“It means the start of the education. We used make her write in rice and some rituals will be done.”

“But.. This Sunday is February 14”

“Great for you then. I will make sure my sister is there”

I was overjoyed to tell the least. I never thought I would meet her on Valentine’s Day. I had no idea what to buy her that day. I just didn’t want to overdo it. So I just took my camera and went to Parimala’s place. The rituals were simple and that was the first time I met Avni. Contrary to the kids of her age, this kid was so matured and well mannered. She didn’t make big fuss or anything. She always asked permission before using my camera or wanted me to take a photo of her. Parimala’s husband brought home some surprises. When the rituals began, everybody was looking for a match box. Parimala’s husband jokingly asked if I had one. I handed him my lighter.

Parimala and Chilakamma were visibly shocked, but didn’t tell anything about it. It was time for the well behaved kid to have some gifts. Chilakamma and Parimala’s husband thought of getting her a nice dress.

Chilakamma said,“Prasanna and I will go and get a dress for her. Let it be our gift”

I liked the way it sounded. But Avni’s doting father wanted to be sure that he was present in everything his daughter got. He made me sit at home with Parimala and Avni. Chilakamma gave a persuading long look to me before she stepped out of the house. It was saying, “Say something and come with me”. I was the one who was blushing when both Parimala and her husband gave a surprising and knowing look to each other. Avni liked me and I liked her.

“See I told you na. Now you saw it yourself” Parimala was saying when they were gone.

I smiled and didn’t reply.  Yeah, if this is how she emotes when she talks with Parimala, then she is establishing that she likes me. I changed topic to how well mannered Avni was.

“I think she reached the age to understand what is going on around her. We also planned to have a kid for ourselves”

“That is great”

Meanwhile, Chilakamma returned with a beautiful pink dress for Avni. After much deliberation, we both started walking to the bus stop.

“So you smoke?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Nothing.”

“You don’t like it?”

“I am not bothered about you. Are you going to quit if I say so?”

“What makes you think, I would not?”

“My dad asked the same question to me. For thirteen years he asked me the same question but never waited for an answer and he never stopped. I know you people. You are addicted and helpless”

“If we are only going to talk about my habits, there is your bus. You can get in”

She was angry. No! She was furious. The bus was nearly empty and it almost started before she grabbed my arm and got into the bus.

“Why am I here? My bus is different”

“I don’t know. I cannot go alone. Come with me” she said and started looking out of the window. I couldn’t help but appreciate her looks more and more whenever I met her. She looked very normal when I met her in the trek. It will be etched in my memory forever. But then I only saw the face and not what she is made up of. Now as a girl who is taking care of family, fighting a failing relationship and no trace of self-sympathy in her face. I admire this woman, I told to myself again.

She got down at the bus stop and never turned to say bye. I felt like stupid coming with her and to be insulted like that. I never thought smoking was such a big problem for anyone. I walked to the nearby shop and got a smoke. I inhaled the carbon and nicotine and let out some when she called me,

“Got Bus?”

“How does that matter to you?”

“Don’t try to get angry on me when I am angry on you”

“You were the one who went away without even saying a bye”

“So?”

“So? Nothing. I now know what I mean to you”

“Then why did you pick up the call now?”

“I want to make sure you reached home safe.” I heard the padlock of her door making sounds and thought she would have gone home. I got a chewing gum and tossed in my mouth and walked back to the bus stop.

“OK. So bye now”

“Bye”

“No Keep smiling today?”

“I am not spreading anything.”

“Such a selfish person”

My bus came and when I was about to board the bus, a hand pulled me out of the bus. It was the second time she touched me today. It felt special and good. She had a box in her hand and was smiling seeing my shocked expression.

“You ruin the surprise every time. So I did this purposefully. Guess what I have got for you?”

“Hmm.. Roses?”

“Too much! Remember you once told me Coffee bite was your favorite chocolate. I bought a box for you.”

“I don’t think it is even available in Chennai now.”

“My friend in Bangalore got this for me.”

I realized I was smiling ear to ear, not because I liked the chocolate but she remembered something I told her two months back and bought it for me. That too on a very special day.

“Thanks Chilakamma”

“Your next bus came. Its getting late. I should get back.”She said looking at her phone which was ringing. She silenced the phone and looked at me with a smile. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I could have and should have kissed her then and there. Instead I said,

“Keep Smiling Chilakamma”

“Keep Spreading”

I was in the footboard and she started to walk along with the bus. She was trying to say something but hesitated a lot. I arched my eyebrows in a questioning way and she shouted from the bus stop,

“Don’t smoke today. Please!”

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