A girl can only pretend to not know what is on a guy’s mind.
I remained seated on the bed clutching the painting, not daring to breathe. If you were to walk into the room, you could have easily walked past me, mistaking me for an oddly shaped log with a painting stuck on it. And then you might have meandered back out into the living room to where Gopal and Reva stood, preparing to depart. I, on the other hand, would have opted to stay back in the confines of the room, awaiting an opportunity to escape.
“Let’s leave then.” came Gopal’s voice again. Reva seemed to be in the kitchen, I could hear a plate rattling.
“You go ahead, I need to .. err .. use the restroom.” came her reply, interrupted by the occasional clang of a plate. She must have been cleaning up after lunch.
“Alright, I’ll head over to Priya’s place and wait there. See you. I’ll leave the flap open.”
I tapped my foot impatiently. Why couldn’t Reva use the restroom at Priya’s place? At least Gopal had left, to open the ‘flap’. Whatever the hell that was. A few seconds later, the noise from the kitchen receded and I heard Reva walk towards the corridor, presumably towards the restroom. A sudden thought snapped me back to my senes. What if she opened this room by mistake?
Without wasting a moment, I dived under the bed, painting in hand. I am not sure if any of you have taken the opportunity to hide under a bed before. You haven’t? Well I wouldn’t recommend it then. It is not the most pleasurable experience in itself. Besides the fact that there is barely any room to budge the body, there is always the unpleasant feeling of dust entering your nostrils, and strange tingling sensations in the region of your spine. Your best hope, really, is to not think about how uncomfortable you are. The next couple of seconds passed like hours. It was a simple matter from here, I thought to myself. Venkat had gone home. Gopal was out of of the picture as well. If only Reva would use the restroom and get out of .. Wait, what was that? Is that a spider under my shirt?!
I had just about begun trying to scratch my back, when I heard the door to the room open. I stiffened up. Even if it was indeed a spider, it could have my lower torso for lunch and I wouldn’t care less. The footsteps grew louder as Reva entered the room. Couldn’t she see this was not the restroom? There was nothing that could be be done anyway. I could only hope my metabolism ground to a halt and pray that …
“Hari?” came her hushed voice.
I froze to a standstill. Had she seen my foot sticking out?
“Hari, where are you?”
Now this was confusing. If she had seen a part of me jutting out from under the bed, why was she asking me where I was? Nevertheless, I had to hold my ground. There wasn’t much choice.
“I know you are here, Hari.” she said again, calmly.
I propped my chin on my arm and thought about it for a moment. There didn’t seem the remotest possibility that Reva had found out about the scheme. Priya wouldn’t have revealed it even if her life depended on it. Or maybe she did give in.
“Hari, you idiot!” snapped Reva. “Are you going to come out, or are you going to make me find you and drag you out by the ear?”
I grunted softly. This Priya had really rubbed off on her friend. “I am here.” I replied at length, crawling out from under the bed.
“Ugh, you have a cobweb in your hair.” she said as she watched me stand up and dust myself.
“What on earth are you doing here?” I inquired, pulling off the aforementioned fabric from my locks.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?”
“Oh I was just, you know, hanging around.”
“Under the bed?”
“Hey. In Paris, Hawaii or under the bed, it’s my choice.”
“Ah, why don’t you carry on with your vacation then. I’ll ask Venkat and Gopal to pull up beach chairs as well and bask in the sun with you.”
“Geez, you are a part-time blackmailer too now? You are turning into Priya.”
“Don’t you accuse me of anything. You are the one up to no good.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Venkat told us you were trying to climb over the gate earlier.”
“I thought I saw your shirt fleet through the bedroom door. Why are you wearing this eyesore of a shirt anyway? Not to mention, Gopal noticed something weird about the house. Luckily enough for me, it did indeed turn out to be you.”
I let out a low whistle. “You are quite the genius. So you didn’t even know if it was me when you stood here calling out for Hari?”
She shook her head proudly. “I wasn’t sure or anything.”
“Wow. And I fell for it. So, if Venkat told you, Gopal must have heard about it too?”
“How come he didn’t suspect anything?”
“He genuinely believed the newspaper story. He is too good hearted to even doubt you, his own brother, for even a moment. So the thought simply left his mind. I, on the other hand, know you better.”
I felt a twang of guilt. “It’s not like I am a cheat, you know.”
“What are you doing here anyway?”
The question caught me by surprise. I had no backup story. I hadn’t even envisioned being caught. She had me red-handed and off-guard.
“Nothing.” I replied curtly.
She frowned in response. “Fine. You don’t have to tell me. I need to leave now anyway. Whatever you were doing, I would recommend you set straight again. I wouldn’t cheat my own brother at any cost if I were you.”
I merely stared into her hazel eyes as they glared back at me. How was I to tell her she was the price? She swept past me as I helplessly searched for words. Her footsteps receded down the corridor once more and I heard the main door shut again. I was on my own again.
I slowly bent and pulled the painting out from under the bed and stared at it. The dancer lived such a simple life on her parchment. That wooden frame, it confined her to her world. All that she ever needed was within it. Her hands formed, with delicate perfection, the mudra of infinite peace. How ironic, the depiction. Inside the picture; of outside the frame.
Her eyes gazed away just enough to not meet the eye of the onlooker. Reva’s eyes. I breathed out a sigh. She was right. I couldn’t rob my own brother, for my own personal gains. She was always right.
“You are going back to where you belong.” I said to the dancer and unconsciously tilted my head to try and meet her eye. But she always looked away ever so slightly. I shook my head and stepped out of the room.
For a second I stopped in the middle of the dimly lit living room, to pull out the hooks from my pocket. For some reason, instead of a light metallic clink they let out a low growl as they left their temporary refuge. Weird, I thought to myself, as I held them up against the feeble light. There was that growl again. Only this time, it didn’t seem to emerge from the hooks anymore.
What unfurled over the next flash of a second could have put a decathlon athlete to shame. If you were seated on the central couch, you’d have had a great view of the proceedings. I would have flung the hooks aside in a single sweeping motion, missing your head by inches; leapt over your upright frame, possibly grazing your well-groomed hair on the way down; knocked out the chair that stood in my way with a blow of the elbow; sprinted across the carpet like greased lighting and finally vaulted onto the dining table with great flourish. A 10-point landing. It would have surprised no one had you stood up and applauded the marvelous feat. I, on the other hand, would have been panting heavily, and peering nervously over the edge of the table, down at the beast that was barking its head off.
It took me a good minute to swim back to my senses and get a grip of the situation. I was conveniently located about 4 feet off the ground, which is thankfully out of chihuahua-jumping-range. Cleo raged in the waters below, leaping at a rate of about 80 jumps a minute, snapping her jaws like an out-of-control paper shredder. I glanced at the painting in hand. It seemed safe; the dancer had lost no weight either. She, in fact, looked least perturbed by the fact that we could both possibly be eaten alive by the monster in the deeps below us. I allowed myself to catch my breath. So this was what Gopal meant when he said he’d leave the flap open. He was talking about the dog flap on the back door. What a stinker. If only he wasn’t my brother, I’d have stolen every single of these darned paintings just because he let this pest of a dog live.
If only the brat would stop yapping for a second. I mean, even Sherlock Holmes needed the peace and quiet of his living room to ponder his plots. His exploits would have been far and few had Watson owned a specimen of this species and had let it loose on Holmes’s property at every opportunity. This was impossible. I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts.
“Shut up!” I shouted down at Cleo. She, clearly hadn’t been taught the trick. I decided to give it another shot. “Play dead!” Still nothing. The relentless barks continued.
I reached out for my phone. I couldn’t think for myself and Priya was the one who had gotten me into this mess in the first place. As luck would have it, the cousin had mysteriously vanished once more. I threw my phone back on the table in disdain. Cleo continued to send up volleys of snarls, barks and yaps. I crossed my legs and made myself comfortable on the table. Somewhere in the midst of all the ruckus, I heard my phone ring. It was Reva.
“Hello.” I said rather disjointedly.
“Hey, I saw you trying to call Priya. She’s busy with another … Oh my God. What on earth is that noise? Is that Cleo?”
“Yes. She says ‘Hi'”
“What on earth is wrong with her?”
“I wish I knew, Reva. I wish I knew.”
“Wait. Are you still at Gopal’s place?”
“Very much so.”
“Let’s just say I’m stuck.”
“Stuck on the table. And if I even think of stepping off it, the little brat will rip me to shreds.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Just get off and leave.”
“I think I’d rather stay here and wait for it to die. How long do dogs live anyway?”
“You are such a scaredey-cat. Hopeless.”
“Are you going to help me out or not?”
I struggled to hear Reva over the ceaseless din. “Help you? What do you mean? Do you have no mind of your own to get out of this?”
“Oh come on! You have to help me here! Why don’t you just … Hello?” Reva had disconnected the call.
“This is it, my dear” I said, to the dancer as I slowly kept the phone on the table again. “There is where we die.” With the ever-increasing ferocity of her barks, Cleo seemed to agree with me.