The girls greeted her in the bus, warily. They had joined Telco a few weeks earlier. Divya was an Electrical Engineer from Roorkee and Rakhi was a Mechanical Engineer from Ranchi. They looked like simple, studious girls, who had worked hard to get here. They were dressed in stodgy, sensible engineer-like attire, the primary function of which was to conceal any trace of feminine lure.

As they stood huddled together, Sara stood out like a sore thumb in her pink salwar-kameez, with intricate chikankari, a translucent dupatta with large, embroidered flowers, and pretty, bobbing earrings. Her pretty oval face was flush-pink with the thrill the day got with itself. Her sweetly-etched lips and that dimpled chin lent the classically-beautiful face a mischievous look.  Her long hair was swept back and braided, secured by a dainty hair-clip that looked like a blob of cotton candy.

What made it totally abhor-able was that trace of pink lipstick!

Tch tch!

They evaluated her from top to toe, and Sara suspected, would not have approved of the way she looked.

‘Hi! I am Sara. So, we are all going to be staying together, right?!’

‘Yes, we are already staying there. It’s a three-bedroom house. The landlord stays upstairs.’

‘Great! How far is it from here?’

‘It’s in Indiranagar.’

Engineers had a way of answering questions correctly, without solving the problem, Sara learnt, as the buses streamed out of the plant. It was a fifteen minute drive down the upcoming industrial estate before they entered civilisation. Indiranagar was right where the city limits started. The bus reached ‘A’ block, took a turn at the Gogo ice-cream parlour and stopped in front of a large, white house. It looked like newly-constructed house, and had a neat, trimmed row of shrubs around a neat lawn. The girls entered the gate, greeted by a hyperactive Pomeranian that tried to bite off their ankles. Maya, evidently, was petrified of the dog: she climbed on to the small kennel-like cage that actually housed the tullu-pump, yelling,

‘Panditji , Pandit ji…’

A sedate-looking Panditji, ambled towards the girls, clad in a torn vest and a soiled dhoti. He was the landlord’s domestic help.

‘No, Puffy, NO’

‘He is always drunk,’ whispered Rakhi, with disapproving certainty.

Sara entered the spacious apartment. Beyond the large hall that was shorn of any furnishing, and a kitchen that was plonked right in the centre, there were three bedrooms. She peeped into the ones Divya and Rakhi had already occupied, noticing a bare bed and a suitcase in each, and headed to the room that would be hers. It was a large room, which had neat, wooden cupboards, a mattress and an attached bathroom.

‘My own room,’ Sara beamed with joy. She opened her bag and stacked the three sets of clothes she had in the cupboard. She had to pick the rest from her aunt’s house which was about ten kilometres away. She decided to keep that chore for the weekend.

That night, Sara slept with a smile on her face.

The next day, she was back on the bus to the plant, day-dreaming about life ahead. Her father had given her a briefcase to carry to work, based on his childlike assumption about how people went to work in the corporate world. She carried it with pride to work, and since not sure what she should keep in it, she had tossed in The Theories of Personality, her favourite book from her Masters’ days.

At work, she found out the trainees had to work on four, three-month projects in groups of four. She had to check from Tarun, the HR Administrative Assistant, where she had been assigned. He briefed her, throwing in helpful, additional information, with earnest commiseration,

‘Madam, you are joining the project two weeks late, the others would have left you behind.’

She trotted, dutifully, to the building where her project team was working out of. It was in the Quality Assurance department, and it entailed designing a software programme for managing their operations. It made her fearful: she had never worked on a computer, leave alone programming on it. But, Sara was all about spunk, she knew she could take anything on.

She pushed the glass door open and entered the tiny room. The room was bare, but for a long table, and four chairs, placed in a straight row, behind two large computers. Three of the chairs were already occupied. The boys were poring over the screen and jabbing the keyboard, purposefully.

‘Hi!,’ said one of them, breaking into an easy, comfortable smile, his handsome face blurring the rest of the objects in line of her vision. His smouldering black eyes, fenced with long eyelashes, lent a mysterious, almost intimidating look to his face. But, his wide, honest-looking forehead, and the warm, comforting look in his eyes mitigated that. He had a black crop of hair, framing that forehead and a classic, angular jaw that signed-off on the face.

Samar.

Her heart skipped a beat, befuddled at its own response.

‘And why was that?’ she chided herself, as she squeezed into the empty chair beside him, a draught of musky cologne engulfing her.

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