Swarup Mondol stood at the mirror dabbing his nose with Ponds Talcum powder. He had had a bath just a few moments ago and was getting ready to leave for work. He tightened the trouser over his white shirt and turned sideways to view himself. His paunch jetted out a bit. He drew his breath in. It helped to reduce its protruding size. Smiling to himself, he now took the new bottle of Charlie perfume, which he had bought from 'Jamaibabu's Aayojon' a shop in Gariahat, only last evening. A generous amount of spray filled the room with fragrance. He made one last stroke on his oiled and combed hair and uttered with relief '
In the kitchen, his wife Parul got the whiff of the new perfume and rushed to the bedroom where the dressing table was. At the moment, she drew the curtain to the bedroom, Swarup had just uttered the word - ' Besh'
Parul scrutinized her husband of ten years closely. She had been doing it for the last two weeks, ever since she found him suddenly change; he had bought himself some new underwear even though it was only two months ago that she bought half a dozen of them for him. Still?! He had also become very generous with his money. When she wanted to buy that new silk sari and the accompanying gold necklace from P C Chandra, all amounting to a good forty thousand rupees, he had no objection at all. Ordinarily, he would want to know why. He would delay the matter and try to make her forget all about it. And now this Charlie perfume which he wore confirmed her worst fears. Yes! It is so, she thought.
In fact she had even confided to his best friend, Tapan Biswas.
' There is something! I can tell you, there is something!' she had cried to Tapanbabu.
Presently, Swarup saw his wife in the mirror and hurried towards the door '
' So is the lunch ready. I am late for office.'
It had been one of those very strange things that happen to people who have just started to use Internet. Swarup worked in Canara Bank on Park Street right opposite Music House. Last year his office had gone through a complete makeover and everything was computerized. Having gone though tech-phobia, fever and rise in BP, he had finally settled down to the newness of technology and even begun to like it. In fact, the real word is, love it. He experimented with the Internet and finally met one Miss Star in the chat room. The office hours now turned to lively chats and slowly, it became apparent to both, Miss Star and Swarup, that there was electricity between them. In fact, Miss Star was an eligible spinster in her early thirties and Swarup lied he was still footloose and fancy-free. Well, almost. Miss Star had sent him a smiley meaning to say she was flattered.
Meanwhile, the conversations between Parul and Tapanbabu, who called regularly to speak to her and give her emotional support, had become uncomfortably close. Parul was hardly aware therefore, when a shift in heart happened and when, in her mind Tapanbabu became Tapan only. The receiver shook in her hand everytime, he called. She trembled with excitement. She knew her heart had found a new home.
' So what,' she had thought to herself, ' after all Swarup is also engaged elsewhere'.has he thought about me? Why should I?'
Swarup noticed no change in his wife. He was too busy mentally, what with this new love in his life and all. Conversations with this Miss Star were very promising indeed, bringing an intoxicating rush of adrenaline in his brain.
' It's like a new lease of life.' he admitted to himself.
The stand from where he took his bus everyday ' C-1 to Park Street was crowded today. Swarup stood in the hot sun, cool as cucumber. It had all been fixed. Today was the day ' 14th February. He was going to meet Miss Star for the first time. He had tried to ask her for her real name many times; even her picture, but she had refused to give it.
' Never mind' Swarup had thought. ' She was such a beautiful woman in words, she would most certainly be as beautiful in person'. He was going to leave office at 3pm that afternoon. The place where they planned to meet was central, yet somewhat concealed. Priyam Restaurant, on the first floor, right at Gol Park, Gariahat. He would be arriving half an hour earlier and would leave his name at the counter. As soon as she arrived, she was to make enquiry at the counter and be lead to him. As requested by Miss Star, he also wore a soft pink shirt. This way there was no possibility of missing him, she had argued.
At exactly 3.30pm Swarup was at the Restaurant counter
He flashed his visiting card to the Manager '
' I am expecting a lady to meet me here. She will be coming soon and asking for me. Please direct her to me'.'
Swarup dashed off to the Cloakroom for that last touch up. He washed his face and wiped it dry with his hanky. Then he pulled out his comb from the back pocket of his trouser and combed his hair, touching it occasionally to flatten it or make a little arch above his forehead. Once satisfied, he tucked the comb and hanky into his pocket and ejected out of the Cloakroom.
What he saw in front of him caused him slip back into the Cloakroom in a hurry. His wife, Parul had just entered the restaurant, escorted by none other than his best friend Tapan. They were laughing with infectious closeness and settled down at a table, which was positioned in such a manner that even if he had slid out of the Cloakroom like a thief, he would not have been able to avoid their glance. He was damned! He scratched his head and came up with a good idea ' he was going to walk behind a waiter slyly and slip out of the restaurant. On the way, he was going to slip a chit to the Manager of the Restaurant, asking him to guide Miss Star out of the restaurant, as soon as she arrived. Swarup would be waiting for her downstairs.
He tried to wave a hanky at the waiter passing by but his strange movements only drew giggles from the men in the Cloakroom. Swarup began to sweat profusely. To make things worst, from the corner of his eyes he saw a beautiful lady arriving and going straight up to the counter. She addressed the Manager, who drew out the card he had been given. Words passed. The Manager nodded and looked around the restaurant. Swarup waved out frantically to the Manager from inside the Cloakroom. Men inside began to snigger.
' May I help you?' said one, trying to keep a straight face.
Swarup tried to put up a feeble smile.
'Please ask a waiter to come here'. Swarup said looking very distracted. He had begun to feel the sweat trickle down his back and his head throbbed. Just at that moment he heard a shrill shriek which he recognized to have emitted out from his wife's throat.
He slipped further inside the Cloakroom but not before he saw his wife jumping up from her seat and dashing out to meet the lady who had just come in.
' Jaya!' She screeched, ' After so many years! How have you been?'
Swarup mouth fell open. In the next few moments, he watched with complete amazement the goings on near the counter. The lady in question, quite obviously, Miss Star and his wife fell into a long-lost-friends embrace.
' Have you come to meet someone?' Parul asked Jaya.
Jaya, ( Miss Star) looked uneasily at the Manager, who now stood up and stretched his neck giving the restaurant a thorough look. His eyes suddenly fell on a frantic Swarup still waving a hanky from inside the Cloakroom. A silent communication passed between the two men and the restaurant Manager read the panic in Swarup's now saucer-sized eyes and the index finger pushing against his pursed lips
' I am afraid, Madam' he said slipping the visiting card into his pocket, ' no one of your description seems to have come here yet.'
Miss Star looked dejected. Turning to Parul she said,
' Yes, but I think he has given me a miss!'
' Oh dear! Never mind, join us for a cup of coffee instead'.
Jaya thought for a while '
' Why not?' she said with a smile, ' I suspect my date with the other will remain forever a cup of cyber friendship!'