Star-Crossed. | Part VIII: {1}

‘Some guy Durrani is, huh?’ Arjun said as our lift dandled up. I nodded my affirmation.

‘He is so professional. Seems very passionate about his job.’

‘Oh he is. He’s been in the industry since he was eighteen. Fourteen years can teach you a lot.’ I did the math in my head and did a double take.

‘He’s thirty two?!’ The lift pinged open on the 2nd floor. The lift man tipped his hat and held open the door as we walked into the carpeted corridor.

‘Looks like he’s in his mid-twenties right? I am telling you, that man does not age.’ Arjun said, shaking his head.

‘He’s like wine. Gets better with age probably.’ Tara giggled. I chose not to retort to that very un-bride like comment, especially when it wasn’t even about her groom.

‘Seems like someone is floored.’ Leia said, accompanying Tara in her schoolgirl giggles.

‘He tends to have that effect on women.’ Arjun shrugged. ‘I remember during our Germany conference, one of the female speakers just wouldn’t look away from him. I think they met up for drinks after that. But,’ –he shot Tara one of his I-am-your-elder-brother glares- ‘that doesn’t mean you have to fawn over him. We’d reached Tara’s room at this point -214. I discovered that my room (215) was adjacent.

‘That’s exactly what I told her.’

‘Will you guys calm down? I am not running away with him!’ Tara scoffed. And then she turned excitedly towards me and added- ‘but you could! Oh my god, you two would look perfect together!’ I wasn’t sure what exactly it was, but I saw the tiniest flutter in Arjun’s expression.

‘I wouldn’t advise that. He can be a bit of playboy, from what I’ve heard.’ he said with a frown. I hope that isn’t some kind of brotherly concern.

‘She doesn’t have to marry him or something. Just have some fun!’ Tara winked at me.

‘He could lose his job for doing that on-duty.’ Arjun pointed out.

‘Geesh, who called Mr. No Fun to my wedding.’ Tara rolled her eyes. I quickly interceded before Arjun could retort.

‘Okay, guys? I have absolutely no interest in him! Can we get back to our normal lives now?’ I swiped my door-card meaningfully.

‘See you guys later.’ Arjun waved, his other hand intertwined with Leia’s, walking towards the other end of the corridor.

‘Wait, are you guys sharing a room?’ Tara called out. Arjun waved once again wordlessly without looking back, but I heard Leia giggle again. Tara looked at me in horror.

‘How the fuck did my mother even allow that? At a family function?!’ I uncomfortably stared at the receding couple. I didn’t like the thought of Arjun and Leia sharing a room. Tara was right. How did Shikha Aunty allow that?

‘Okay, your room, in twenty. We need to talk about this shit!’ Tara said, and disappeared into her room. I followed suit, stepping into the pleasant warmth, and then let out a little gasp. The décor was breathtaking. The walls were golden and brown, adorned with delicate white motifs. A large queen-sized poster bed occupied central space, a low divan at its foot. I dropped my handbag onto the wooden desk next to my suitcase, and gazed around in wonder. The wide windows revealed a sprawling view of the hotel’s main grand lawns. I could see gazebo tents and a shimmering swimming pool sitting in the lap of lush green grass.

I turned to explore the rest of the room. The bathroom doorway had a full-length mirror and a wardrobe on either side. I peeked into the bathroom—the expansive stone bathtub beckoned me invitingly. Without another thought, I peeled off my shoes and socks, and tip-toed across the cold marble to draw water for bath. The water was steaming hot. I hastened to get rid of three layers of clothing (including the itchy thermals) and clambered into the half-full tub. I sighed deeply. I could get used to a tub like this.

The stone was still cold as I rested my back against it, hot water steadily rising in level. I could feel my muscles unknotting after all the travel. I tried not to think of Arjun and Leia, and their hand-holding, and them sharing a common room, and quite possibly a common stone bathtub-

You’re at it again.

I sank deeper into the tub. The water had almost reached my shoulders by now, and I turned off the ornate brass taps. I shut my eyes and leaned my head back against the surrounding marble. Arjun’s face inexorably flashed in my head momentarily. Arjun, in his dark blue beanie, grinning at me. Arjun, with Leia trailing behind him. I gritted my teeth and pushed them out of my mind. Happy thoughts please.

I thought of Kabir Durrani for some reason. His aristocratic face and green eyes stood out so sharply from the rest of the staff. Since when did hotel managers start looking so good?

And then there was the rest of him. His mannerisms, the way he spoke, his attire, all of it made him so…

Delectable is all I could come up with. I could see why he had that ‘effect’ on women. He was pretty much a living, real-life Adonis.

I felt myself lull into a slumber. I knew Tara must’ve definitely dozed off as well or was on the phone with Nitesh. Either way, she wasn’t coming over any soon. Naptime it is.

Thirty minutes later, I stumbled out of the tub, looking like a slightly pink prune in the multiple bathroom mirrors. I wiped myself dry with a thick white towel and then donned one of the fluffy robes, ‘Fairmont’ stamped on its breast. Humming a Beatles tune, I traipsed back to the bedroom. I hoisted my bulky suitcase on the divan, and then realized that I didn’t recognize the numeric metal lock on the bag. My heart skipped a beat. I grabbed the airline baggage tag on the handle. Bharat Ghatori. I cupped my mouth and sat down on the floor weakly. I had mixed up bags. My wedding outfits, make-up kit, accessories, shoes, everything was gone.

In a flash, I ran out of the room, and knocked madly on Tara’s door. She opened after a minute, hair disheveled on one side—she had fallen asleep.

‘Sorry,’ she yawned. ‘I didn’t realize when I dozed off…’

I brought the wrong bag!’ I screamed. She froze mid-yawn.

What?’

‘I brought someone else’s bag from the airport!’ Tara blinked and then pulled me into her room, wide awake now.

‘I know who can help.’ She punched in a number on the hotel phone. ‘Hello? Yes, this is Tara Solanki, from 214. The bride.’ I rolled my eyes. The bride. Like there would never be any other.

‘Can you connect me to Kabir Durrani? It’s pretty urgent. Yes, thanks.’ She waved her hand reassuringly at me. I sat down on the armchair.

‘Hello, Kabir? Yeah, it’s me, Tara. We have a bit of crisis here…my friend Stuti accidentally picked up someone else’s suitcase from the airport. Yes, IndiGo 207. Um, around six in the morning I think. Yes, from Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal 1…Stuti Khanna. Yeap, okay. Thank you so much.’ She kept the phone down.

‘What did he say?’

‘He said he’s coming up to note the baggage tag number and your other details.’ She sat down across me. ‘Don’t worry, Stu. He said he’ll make sure you get your bag back.’

‘I feel so stupid. How could I not recognize my own bag?’ Or rather, what was not my bag?

‘Happens, baba. Don’t worry. I absolutely trust Kabir.’ I narrowed my eyes.

‘You should stay away from him. Have you called Nitesh since we got here?’

‘Yes I did. Right after I got to the room. I even told him how cute the manager is. He just laughed.’

‘Nitesh is too nice to you.’

‘Lucky for me. So tell me, how amazing are these rooms?’

‘I’ve never seen anything better.’

‘I know right? The bed seems to be made of clouds!’

‘And the bathroom, dude! I managed to take a mini nap in the bathtub!’

‘Is that why you’re in a bathrobe?’ Woops.

‘I’m naked beneath this!’

‘No shit, Sherlock.’

‘Tara, clothes!’

‘And why?’

‘Durrani’s coming here, it’ll be weird!’

‘I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.’ Tara laughed, but got up to find me a t-shirt and pajamas.

‘Do you want undies as well? I bought some new ones for the honeymoon. You could borrow one!’ I shook my head at the disgusting lace she flashed at me. No, but thanks for the nightmares. I made my way to the door so I could go change in my room. I opened the door and found myself face to face with Durrani.

‘Yes, she flew in this morning, on the IE 207,’ he was saying into the phone when I made my appearance. He stopped short, hand halfway to the doorbell. I saw him look down at my get-up, and then take a step back.

‘Vijay, I’ll call you right back.’ I tucked my hair behind my ear self-consciously. Act cool! Pretend like you roam around in a bathrobe all day!

‘Should I…’ he trailed off.

‘No, it’s okay. Was that someone from the airport?’

‘Yes, our hotel representative Vijay Bhatnagar. He will find out ASAP if someone has reported their bag as missing.’

‘How long do you think that will take?’

‘I can’t say for sure. But we have direct relations with the airport ground staff, so I think that should help. Did you have anything expensive in there?’ Expensive?

‘Pretty much all my stuff for the wedding is in that bag. Clothes, jewellery, make up.’

‘Gold jewellery?’

‘No, precious stones. And some money too, but not too much. Just some spare cash for emergency.’

‘Well, hopefully the guy whose bag you picked up isn’t a transit passenger or out of reach at the moment. It’ll be easier if your bag is still at the airport. I’ll need the rest of your details however. Is now okay?’

‘It is. Come in.’ I unlocked my room and led him to the bag resting on the divan innocently. He took a photo of the tag and my boarding pass.

‘Do you think I could get my bag by today? Or tomorrow at least?’

‘Today might be a stretch. But I’ll do everything I can to have it here by tomorrow. We can only hope for the best.’ I must have looked terribly morose, because he immediately loosened up a bit, stepping out of his managerial demeanor.

‘We do have a store downstairs, by the way, where you can grab some t-shirts. If you’re interested.’

‘I think I’d rather borrow clothes from Tara’s aunts. No offence, but those tourist t-shirts are terrible!’ He laughed.

‘I agree. They all have Rajasthan etched on them. I only suggested it since you’re wearing the…bathrobe.’ I blushed. Daily outfit! Keep up the charade!

‘This…uh, this is because the bathtub looked very inviting. And then I just decided to take a bath before anything else.’

‘Our bathrooms are one of the finest in Jaipur.’

‘I haven’t been to a lot of bathrooms here yet, but maybe you could be right.’

‘The others do ok. We do especially well in that aspect.’ He was grinning infectiously. ‘I hope you find the rest of the room to your liking too?’

‘Eh. It’s alright. I think I’ll sleep in the bathroom tonight, I like it the best.’ He laughed again.

‘I’m glad we’ve managed to impress you.’ The plurality stood out. ‘I’ll take your leave now. I’ll drop a note at the reception the moment I get any news.’

‘Actually, you could just text me, since that’s quicker.’ He was too formal for my liking. He nodded and noted down my number, as I accompanied him to the door.

‘I can’t thank you enough for this.’

‘You don’t have to. It’s my duty to help.’

‘So you’re saying that you wouldn’t help if it wasn’t your duty?’ He shook his head and I pretended to gasp.

‘Okay, maybe I’d help. I do have a weakness for beautiful women.’ Woah.

‘Thank you, for that underlying compliment.’ Where did that come fro- oh. Damn bathrobe.

‘Oh, and if I could make a suggestion,’— he took a pause until I nodded my approval, and I was almost tempted to not nod at all and see how long it’d take him to make the suggestion then— ‘in case of the unfortunate event of your bag not turning up, there are shops in the city where you can find the best of jewellery and lehengas. You know, just in case.’

‘Let’s just pray I don’t have to use that suggestion, but thanks.’

‘Have a good day, Ms. Stuti.’

‘Stuti.’ I corrected. He smiled.

‘Stuti.’ He nodded and walked away. The smile never left his lips.


 

Part VIII: {2} will be published tomorrow evening. 🙂

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