Nine degree Celsius. He could bet it wasn’t higher. His watch said eight in the evening and Pune was already dark – the night sky glittering with lights from the all new Marriott hotel on Senapati Bapat Road. A rather dusky Santa Claus was hip hopping in Crossword amidst streamers packed with bells and thermocol icing. He shivered in his new cardigan, purchased the day before from a quiet little outlet in Deccan. As he drew his arms closer to himself, he realized his folly in not wearing a shirt underneath it.
“Haven’t listened to a word I have been saying, have you?” Her voice broke into his thoughts and he slowly turned to see her closely scrutinizing his face.
Major crisis. If he didn’t produce some snippet that fitted, coincidentally or otherwise, then… Now what was it she usually talked about this time of the day? Her roommate was out so it couldn’t be that, her outfit wasn’t new and was in dire need of better fitting though he didn’t dare say as much. It could be work but lately she had been endorsing the Leave Work At Office rule. Wait, he had an idea, it was coming, yes. Oh there. He smiled.
“You have been talking about pakore.” Pat on the back. Hot and spicy onion crispies had been on her mind all day. Her granny made her pakore whenever it rained and courtesy Pune’s unexpected December chill, they were what the doctor ordered. Pakore it must be.
He hesitantly peered at her and she grinned. “You have a good guess.” She tweaked his cheeks and pointed to a bhaji vendor across the street. “Let’s go gorge! And don’t worry about me giving you the standard health and hygiene lecture later.”
He winced. Were her fingers cold! A fresh round of shiver went through him and goose bumps lined his arm. What was with him? He shook his head as a couple of girls in polka-dotted pink shorts halted at a panipuri stall. Maybe the pakore would help.
“Delicious aren’t these?” She fed him a rather overly fried bhaji and held a green chilly to his mouth.
He smiled as he took in her excitement. She would give him a scolding if he let on he was cold. The whole solo cardigan idea had been his. He looked at her supposedly-warm black jacket. Wasn’t she chilled?
Despite her muttering something about her hair getting spoiled, he removed his grey woolen cap and arranged it on her head.
“You bet.” He said, munching with relish.
His place was a twenty-minute bus ride from where she lived. Standing outside her P.G., he thought about that ominous window crack in one of the Pune Camp buses. Silently crossing his fingers, he wished he would land another bus tonight.
“This is the last time I am asking. Do you or don’t you agree?”
Huh? No! He didn’t miss out on conversation yet again.
“Sorry”, he began apologetically, “you were saying…” It couldn’t be pakore this time… Christmas perhaps?
She sighed.”I was and have been saying this for the past fifteen minutes. Am I so non deserving of being told the reason behind your wet-cat expression all evening?”
“Yeah absolutely.” He nodded his approval.
She gave him a strange look. “Are you unwell darling?” She was about to check his forehead when he pushed her hand away.
She glared then. Clenched her fists. Re arranged her hair and started moving toward the gate. To the cozy confines of her room and the soft yellow warmth of her quilt.
He needed to do something. Brushing his hands together, he exclaimed.
“Hey stop. Why are you leaving so angrily?”
“Oh I am sorry. After your overdose of affection I probably should be dancing!”
Her little nose turned redder as she spoke and a strand of her hair fell on her face. She looked cute in his grey woolen cap, her ears covered in a smug warmth. They had bought it from one of Pune’s sneaky little alleys and he couldn’t deny she carried it off way better than he did.
The breeze – so far a playful chill – suddenly took on force. Taking a quick step closer to her, he drew her in his arms. The tip of her nose was cool, her cheeks a wintery soft.
“I love you.” He whispered in her ears even as she fidgeted and tried to turn back and see if her landlady was watching.
He flicked it off then, his grey woolen cap, and scampered to the bus stand.
Before you give me those stares, I admit I am not my sanest today. Anyway, this was fiction, for the most part. But there’s no denying that Pune is all wintery this year.
So all of you out there who are still battling the chill, do invest in some winter wear. I have had enough people staring at my grey cap as is.