“You look breathtakingly pretty tonight baba!” Abhishek almost whispered when he looked at Neha that night.
“Thank you Abhi. “ Neha almost blushed as she sat down and shut the door of her car. “So where are you taking me? Are we going to the highway again?”
“Hmm, if you don’t want to go there than we can just go to a restaurant, but that way, all that we would be doing is eating dinner and rushing out soon after. I would rather collect Chinese takeout and have it in the car with the privacy of only us two baba.” Abhishek suggested while fondly stroking her head.
“We do it everyday”, Neha complained “and I dress up for nothing. Why do I take the trouble of doing it anyway if no one ever even gets to see me?”
“You do it so that I fall in love with you a little more each day.” Abhishek took her hands and kissed them. “So the highway then, my lady?”
“Yes, if we must.” surrendered Neha.
Abhishek started his Hyundai and they drove off into the night. All through the way he held Neha’s hand, letting go only to change his gear. There was no doubt that even after 7years of courting Neha he was still as smitten by her, as he was when he saw her for the first time in school. They had definitely come a long way since then, Abhishek was an Engineer now and he had a steady government job. He had hoped to ask Neha’s parents for her hand in marriage any day now but before that, he had to ask her if she was ready for the big step and he was going to do so today. They crossed a few popular hangouts and Abhishek stopped the car near a dhaba called Relaxy Inn. Immediately the sounds of insects filled his ears. Somewhere in the distance dogs were barking, the rumble of trucks zooming away like angry rhinos on the run, the crickets, frogs and insects, croaking, creaking and warbling and some hungry owls hooting in the distance; nature was alive that night.
A look of pain crossed Abhishek’s face. He looked transfixed at a big mango tree in the distance; its dark outline looked ghostly by the light of the moon and it looked slightly dented as though its big trunk was axed away a little. Neha touched Abhishek lightly on the shoulder and said,”Abhi, you look sad! This place is a little creepy don’t you think? We should stop coming here. I think its dangerous to hang out at a place that is so deserted. Anything could be out on the prowl at a place and time like this.”
“Baba, just listen to the night. There is nothing to be frightened of the dark, not when I’m with you at least. This is where I feel most connected to you for nothing can distract me from you at this place. I want a few uninterrupted moments to gaze upon your beauty. I mean just look at you; your pretty brown eyes are sparkling, your cute little nose looks almost edible, your smell is intoxicating and your lips; oh your lips make my mouth go dry.” Abhishek said with his voice getting huskier with every word, and he clutched her long hair with his left hand and passionately kissed her on the mouth.
“This is amazing”, he said as he paused in between his kisses, “I can never have enough of your lips. I love you so much Baba.” They broke apart when a motorbike crossed their car, lighting the semi-dark area with its headlight.
Neha took Abhishek’s cellphone from the dashboard and checking the time groaned, “Abhi its almost 8 and if we are to eat anything tonight than we’d better order the food. You know I can’t stay after that time.”
“I know about your deadlines Baba, but I just want a few more moments with you. I am not ready to let you go yet. And I had something really important to ask you.”
The moment had come, Abhishek took out a solitare from his pockets and looking steadfastly into Neha’s eyes he asked her, “Will you brighten my life a bit more and give me the honor of waking up to your pretty face everyday, Neha? Be the sunshine of my life Baba!” Abhishek held his breath waiting for an answer.
At that very moment, someone tapped the window of his car and Abhishek was shaken out of his reverie. He opened the window to see the familiar face of Inspector Baruah looking kindly down at him. “So here again eh, Bhaity? Even the scar on your forehead has healed but your heart hasn’t, has it? It’s become a ritual for me now to cross the highway, find you here and chase you home. I suppose almost 2 years have passed now but you will never stop looking for her will you? Go home Bhaity, your mother will be worried if you don’t reach home soon. Chalo, off with you!” Inspector Baruah admonished.
Abhishek started his car and left without another word but not without one last look at the mango tree, the place where he lost Neha 2years ago in that horrible accident. He had proposed to her that day, Neha’s face had lightened up and she had hugged Abhishek, slid the ring in her finger and was admiring it in the moonlight when a truck smashed into their car. The car slid sideways and hit the mango tree at the side where Neha was sitting. Both of them were perilously injured that day, Abhishek needed three major operations to live and Neha was in a coma for four days before she finally succumbed to her wounds. He never got to see her after the accident for Abhishek himself was in a semi-conscious state, and when he finally did recover from his physical wounds, Neha’s last rites were over.
The doctor’s termed it as a disease of the head that he saw Neha everyday but Abhishek knew that even Neha was not ready to let go of him yet. No matter what people said, his Neha was still around somehow and she did come to visit him just so that he could feel her touch and smell her presence everyday. She was helping him heal and survive in a life that stood stagnant ever since that fateful day.
Abhishek closed his eyes and whispered, “I love you Baba”, while tightly clutching the ring on his palms.
“I love you more”, Neha replied with much intensity from the seat beside Abhishek, which was empty for the rest of the world.