Love Chakri A Short Story by ROSALIA SCALIA
Part III -
A Prem Kahani
Continued from yesterday …
“Let’s try out our new dance moves,” he said, pulling Josephine toward the floor.
In her floral dress and tan low-heeled, sensible pumps and delicate pearl earrings, Josephine’s charms and her dimpled smile paled in comparison to Naveen’s glamour.
“Your new dance moves. This is old hat for me.”
On the dance floor, Razzy tried adroitly maneuvering themselves within Naveen’s sight line, but another dancer, or an unexpected turn, or something random, always interfered with his efforts. He didn‘t realize that his maneuvering appeared frantic.
“I’m not stupid,” Josephine said, frowning. She dropped his hand and left the dance floor. Razzy followed her back to their table.
“Why are you being an ass? Why are you so interested in your student’s mother anyway? Are you the fun police or something? Discombobulated because your student’s mother is out dancing on a Saturday night?”
Razzy laughed, masking his irritation over Josephine’s astute observation.
“We argued on Wednesday about her tardiness in dropping off and picking up Mini. Her rudeness stung, and it just shocked me to see her here again tonight.”
The waiter delivered their dinners, and Josephine ordered a glass of red wine. Razzy ordered an iced tea and serendipitously attempted to track Naveen and her date around the club.
Josephine said nothing, waiting for him to speak. After she finished several bits of her ropa veija and black beans, she set down her fork and sipped her wine.
“I’m not buying it,” she said finally. “No doubt, you argued with her on Wednesday. That would explain why you stomped around the kitchen and didn’t answer Noor and me when we spoke to you. It’s pretty obvious that you’re so attracted to her, you can’t keep your eyes off her.”
Razzy nearly choked on his yucca.
“I thoroughly dislike that woman,” he said. “Plus, she has a 10-year-old kid, for heaven‘s sake!”
Razzy still couldn’t stop himself from gazing at Naveen, hoping she’d catch his eye. He was beginning to feel piqued that she was purposefully avoiding looking in his direction.
Josephine raised her eyebrows and scoffed.
“What does her having a kid have to do with it? Methinks thou dost protest too much,” Josephine said, offering a tight, knowing smile that this evening would represent their first and last date.
Later, at home, unable to sleep, Razzy tortured himself, wondering if Naveen invited Beach Boy home with her, wondering if Beach Boy forced himself on her, or worse yet, if Naveen welcomed Beach Boy into her realm. He recalled the contrast of the white roses against her hair. He imagined the alluring open-backed dress and Naveen’s figure that did not look as if she had carried and birthed any child.
The more he attempted to think of other things, the more he couldn’t shake the image of Naveen Kaur dancing the mambo and the cha-cha-cha and the samba with the buff Dr. Lewis until he was reduced to the misery of watching the red digital clock click down the hours, minutes, and seconds of the night.
Sunday, if anyone phoned, Razzy let voice mail pick up. He ignored his text messages, including one from Josephine, clipped monosyllabic words thanking him for the previous evening. His appetite failed him at breakfast and again at lunch, much to his mother’s consternation.
At the gurdwara, although he looked for Naveen and Mini, he found them nowhere, and he retreated to the now empty multipurpose room where his brain refused to focus on the pre-gatka ardaas. How can someone with his family history like his, a descendent of the great warriors, the great Shaheedan di Misl, who rose up and protected the Darbar Sahib - the Golden Temple in Amritsar -- in the 17th century, with the martial spirit in his blood, passed down from his forefathers to grandfather to his father, someone trained to battle with limitless courage, be knocked off kilter by a mere woman … and one older than him, even!
His years of practice turned into jelly hands and clumsy feet as he dropped the lathis and tripped while doing the panths, his legs, his hands, his fingers, fumbling like a child’s; he returned the lathis to the closet and set out for a drive, unable to erase the image of Naveen looking splendid in her evening dress, flashing her dazzling smile at Beach Boy.
The Ball Hawker had definitely got under his skin. A half hour later, he found himself at the Nail Factory Project, shocked to see the front door of the structure propped open. He circled the block for a parking space.
The construction boards covering the doorway to what Naveen designated in her schematic as the salon entrance, leaned against the building. Razzy feared someone may have broken into the structure and was perhaps robbing the site of expensive construction tools and maybe even valuable metals. He stepped inside, shouting “Hello? Who’s here?”
In the dusty, dark interior, a yellow light shone in the back of the structure, zigzagging in a haphazard fashion. He stepped gingerly, fearful of rats inside the long-defunct factory. Using the flashlight on his phone, he approached the yellow light, wondering what he’d do if he happened upon a thief.
Instead, he found Naveen wearing the yellow light on her pink hard hat.
“Rasbir, what’re you doing here? And where’s your hard hat? You can’t be in here without it. You know the law.”
“I’m wearing a hard turban,” he said, pointing to his head, his heart quickening, pushing a flush up his spine, coloring his neck and face as his joke died.
Naveen disappeared inside a dark room on the other side of the courtyard and returned with a pink hard hat.
“Pink is not my best color,” he said, setting it atop his dastaar, smiling.
“You’ll survive. What brings you to my project on Sunday afternoon?” she asked.
“You mean our project,” he said. “I can ask you the same thing.”
Naveen rolled her eyes. “Dude, there’s nothing ‘our’ about this project.”
Razzy shuffled, tongue-tied, knowing that his role in the work would gradually diminish.
“What brings YOU here on a Sunday afternoon?” he asked, turning the question back to her.
Naveen didn’t answer right away.
“What does it look like? Work.”
“Do you always work on Sundays?” he asked. Her hair, still in the updo from the night before but the white roses removed, was tucked under the hard hat, corkscrew curls hanging like tendrils beneath the pink edges. Even in her jeans and red converse sneakers, she looked ravishingly fresh, her beauty misplaced in a construction site.
“You can leave now,” she said, searching in an opened, scuffed tool box for something.
“I prefer not to,” he said.
She finally fixed her large, obsidian eyes on him.
“You looked beautiful last night,” he said, meaning it.
“Why, thank you, Rasbir. Flattery will get you nowhere. Why are you here, again?”
Razzy stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Saw the door open. Thought someone was stealing tools.”
In truth, he didn’t know why he had come, but was glad he did.
“Thanks for stopping by,” she said, dismissing him, her attention on her clipboard and measuring tape. Razzy refused to move.
“What now, Rasbir?” she asked.
“I ... I ... Why did you ignore me last night?” he stammered.
“What? Are you fucking kidding me? You didn’t exactly go out of your way to say hello. Why don’t you call up your girlfriend to entertain you on a Sunday afternoon so you won’t be tramping through my job site for no good reason.”
“Are you always so difficult?” he asked.
“I’m not leaving, Naveen.”
“Are you always so difficult?” she asked, imitating him in a mocking tone, and Razzy laughed. “As long as you’re insisting, you might as well make yourself useful. We have only 20 minutes before I need to pick up Mini from her gymnastics class. Make these 20 minutes count.”
Naveen tossed him a clipboard and automatic tape measure. “I’m working off this checklist.”
Working quickly but precisely, Razzy experienced great pleasure ticking more items off the check list than Naveen did.
“Why do you work on Sundays?” he asked.
“Somebody’s gotta pay the bills.”
“What about your husband? Aren’t you married to Dr.Lewis?”
Naveen glared at him “You writing a book or something? My Ex -- Mini’s father. An arrangement, a miserable arrangement. Let’s just say he was less than honorable, and I walked away. Divorced and liking it. William is just a friend, though last I checked, who I date is certainly none of your business.”
“But your ex helps you out, doesn‘t he?” he pushed.
“Look, what’s it to you anyway? Why are you showing up on my turf making a nuisance of yourself?”
“Just curious,” he said.
“Don’t be curious. It’s none of your concern, and I’m not playing 50 questions with you,” she said, ending Razzy’s attempt to learn more about her. She signaled her indifference by not asking him a single thing about himself.
Although they worked in silence, it shocked him how fast 20 minutes evaporated. Naveen flashed him her exuberant smile as she gathered her things.
“Time to go. Ha! Your clothes are filthy! Bet you didn’t expect to be getting dirty on a job site,” she said, laughing, herding him out the door.
“How far do you need to go to pick up Mini?” Razzy said, drawn to her in a way he couldn’t explain or articulate. She plucked the pink hard out off his dastar and tossed it and hers in the back of the Rav, parked outside the Nail Factory. She looked regal with the updo still in place, despite the casual pants and sneakers.
“Thanks for your help today,” she said, re-installing the protective construction boards with a battery-powered screwdriver. “Even if you are a nosey somebody.”
She replaced the screwdriver in the toolbox and slammed the back door shut.
“Has Mini eaten dinner? Let me get you both a pizza!!”
“Another time, Rasbir.” Naveen said, climbing into her SUV.
“Why not now?” Razzy asked, wanting to tag along.
“It’s late,” she said, turning over the engine, then pulling out of the parking spot without so much as a glance behind her.
Continued tomorrow …
July 10, 2013
Conversation about this article
1: Marci Caltabiano-Ponce (McAllen, Texas), July 10, 2013, 9:19 AM.
Am loving the story by my old friend from "The Neighborhood." Great job, Rosalia! Also, love the serialization; fun way to read a sweet love story. More, more!