He heard a cycle pull up behind him, and turned around. She was getting off the bike, pushing the hood of her raincoat back with one hand. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”, she smiled, as she climbed the steps. “Bani?!”, he said, rather uncertainly, as she took out a key and opened the door. She held the door open and smiled at him, in reply, inviting him into the house.
Bani. A memory, now more real than anything that had happened before. Intelligent, vivacious, unusual Bani. No one in college would’ve called her mysterious; she knew everyone, and everyone knew her. And yet, the three of them had always agreed, no one really did know her. Maybe that was what had kept them from anything but passing acquaintance with her.
“You live here?”, he asked, as he stepped over the threshold. “Yes”, she said, “come in, make yourself at home”. She closed the front door, as he stood looking at the room. Warm, he thought. And old. No, not old, though some of the furniture definitely was. Comfortable, lived in. That was more like it. Books, cushions, a rocking chair.
“Ben!” he heard her call, and realised she had left the room. He could see the stairs through the door to his right, she must be calling up them. “Ben!” She came back into the room, smiling. “Do sit! Let me get you something warm to drink – you must’ve been caught in the rain. Will tea do?” “Yes, thank you.”
What on earth?!
“Hi! I see you got my email”, said the man walking into the room.
“Indian,” he thought, “what Indian name shortens to Ben?”
“I’m Ben, by the way. Bani’s partner.”
He shook the hand that Ben held out to him, and sat down just as Bani entered the room with a tray. “I hope you like Darjeeling”, she said cheerfully. “Not that there is anything else in the kitchen!” She set down the tray, and plonked herself comfortably on the divan. Ben leaned over the tray, pouring. “Milk? Sugar?”
What in the Universe…?!! Bani’s partner? Tea? Come to think of it, that was how he remembered her – with a cup of tea in her hand, sitting in the canteen, putting down a book to call to someone, to charm the server into bringing her a slice of lemon, to smile up at someone who’d just come in and wave them over. But who was Ben?
*Apologies for taking so long with this one!
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