Ruhi’s Journey to Unknown
“Hey Ruhi, are you coming inside?”
My eyes bulged out of the sockets at the outrageous sight before me.
I neither acknowledged nor answered Savi as I took in the unbelievable insides of the house. My legs moved back and forth on their own accord as if I had a spring attached to them. I took a deep breath, my hand pressed tight on my nose, trying to block the polluted air and calm my fidgeting.
The hall room was invisible, not because of the white fog of winter, but the disgusting smoke of cigarettes thick in the air.
My wide eyes took in the small, crowded room filled with other people my age who had nothing else to do but attend this party. But I had far more essential things in life than to be here.
Oh, no, what was I thinking? This wasn’t me, but my friends had placed a bet, all ganging against me in unison. According to them, I didn’t participate in cool things, as if going out to movies wasn’t cool enough, or even hanging out at cafes for hours with just a coffee and a journal.
While they bickered, enjoying a lazy day at the café, I completed my pending notes. It was so that I could pass them all around the college and help other students.
Yes, I was the bookish type everyone depended on, and I took my role with passion and rigor. I would hate if anyone failed the subject because my notes weren’t thorough. So, twice a week, I went through all my notes and copied them to my journals, adding whatever details were necessary. I also provided some interesting links for further exploration.
My notes got passed around the minute I completed the task, and copies were made and distributed among everyone. I didn’t resent helping them. I enjoyed it as I was already a step ahead when the exams came.
I even tried smoking once, but that was a science experiment we were doing–why smoking is injurious to health. I guess today I will have a practical session for the same. But do I need to remind my friends I had already scored A-plus on the project?
Will I survive this, or will I die because of the hazardous inhalation of the smoke I had to endure for the sake of my life?
My little brother, Rishabh, would have traded anything with me to be at this party, and I might have taken the deal. I wanted to watch National Geographic at eight-thirty, not his lame drama reality show.
I sighed. Rishabh wasn’t here, and I must survive this party today.
“No, she isn’t coming. I can bet she is just about to turn around and leave. Wow, the next dinner is on Ruhi. I am ordering all my favorite expensive dishes.”
I rolled my eyes and stepped into the foggy lair of cigarette smoke.
Urgh. What had I done?
Snatching my finger away from my teeth, I grimaced at the sickening taste of nail polish. Bowling my hands into a fist, I curbed the urge to scream as I took my first step inside. Nishita’s mouth hung open. She didn’t literally expect me to go ahead with this charade. But determined to experience this new adventure and prove them all wrong, I held my head high and gallivanted inside.
Coming from a modest, strict family, I had never been out of the house after ten PM. My cheeks burned as I thought about the lies I said to mom.
Creating stories and ensuring minute details are in sync, I was right now with Nishita at her friend’s house. I had to create layers. No way was I going to trust my all-time panicked mom to not call Nishita’s place to ask if I was doing okay or wanted dad to come and get me.
Nishita stayed in a posh bungalow and had a basement we used for our night outs. My cell was out of range in the basement area, so mom always called on the landline whenever I visited her place.
Mom would get a message from Nishita’s family or roommate, Jenna, that she was out at her friend’s house, which was technically the truth. She would try to persuade Jenna to give Nishita’s friend’s number, but Jenna didn’t have any, so she would have to deny it.
Yes! My mom was paranoid, and I could do nothing about it.
Over time, I accepted it as a part of my life. Nishita’s family each year took in one student as her roommate, who couldn’t afford to stay in a hostel. It was nice of them. They provided shelter and food at zero cost.
Jenna took tuition to save money and will have enough by the end of the year to cover the next two years of hostel fees. She was a quiet girl who never wasted a penny if it wasn’t for essentials, which was rare, as Nishita’s family covered her basic requirements.
The only difference in my story was that we weren’t here for studies but to attend a party. Nishita’s friend Pammi, short for Parminder Singh, snagged an invitation to this extravagant party. And here we all were, ready to roll.
The dilemma I hadn’t considered earlier was this place would be swamped. Who was so popular to have hundreds of friends? I guess most of them were like us, strangers in a strange home, not directly invited by the host.
“Nishita, you really wanted to be here?” I narrowed my eyes as I waited for her answer.
We were similar in a way. She had an overprotective brother who, if had the faintest of a clue that his baby sister was here, wouldn’t only destroy this party but lock her in the house.
Akash was ten years older than us, so whenever we met, I always felt an aura of authority from him, making me tremble in his presence. Nishita would be in big trouble if Akash came to know of this place. But I guess she was trying to be bold and check off an item on her bucket list.
I could visualize Akash’s murderous face as he pulled us from this party. Oh shit, he could do that to me, too. He couldn’t lock me in the house. But he could rat me out to my parents without feeling guilty about the consequences. He never felt guilty about anything.
I loved him, I really did, but I pitied the girl who would become his wife. He didn’t have it in him to love others. His life was on rules, and fun wasn’t part of his dictionary. I shuddered, thinking about his future wife.
Yet Nishita could speak in front of him, even argue a little. But I invariably lost the power of speech when his glaring eyes burned holes in mine.
Once, Akash scolded me, and I lost it, bawling in front of him. During that time, I hated I tied him rakhi on Raksha Bandhan and made him my brother, but my heart swelled at the thought that he still had my golden band tied on his wrist. He never removed it.
I replaced the old with a new delicate and simple thick thread every year.
Now he had the right to force me to lead a life abiding by his terms. But he loved us and spoiled us rotten. He took us out for movies and dinners and once on a cruise when we wished the same as a gift for Raksha Bandhan.
My dad trusted him, and I got all the permissions if it involved him, making my Goa trip the most memorable.
“Hmm, let’s try to squeeze in. This type of party is a first for me too. Hold my hand,” Nishita held out her hand, and I grabbed it, my grip tight.
Taking baby steps, we both wandered inside after Savi, turning diagonally to get past the crowds dancing, sipping something directly from the bottle.
What was it?
“It’s a beer,” Nishita answered my silent question.
I had been staring at the bottle like a lunatic I was. I had seen these types of bottles in Goa when we visited pubs. Taking an audible sigh, swallowed by the loud music, we went into the depths of the place.
Finally turning, we stopped at the counter at the end of the hall room, near the kitchen. I saw paper cups stacked on one side and different varieties of drinks on another side. I could only recognize two, Pepsi and Fanta. Rest all were a big question mark, but I heard brands like Smirnoff, Bacardi, and Royal Stag. Oh Damn, I always wanted to taste Sula wine, but… no, I won’t. Savi and I both were going to have a sleepover at Nishita’s place. Despite that, it was my first time, and I didn’t wish to deal with the after-effects.
“What do you want to have?” Nishita arranged three cups in front of us, waiting for our orders.
“Um, I am not sure. Is this safe? What if Akash comes here?” I had seen in movies how unsafe these drinks were. What if someone mixed any drugs? And Akash could combust me with only his stare.
“Yes, it is. Stop taking the devil’s name. Fanta?” She raised an eyebrow, and I nodded.
“Yes, that would do. Thanks. I am just scared of Akash’s reaction.” Already feeling suffocated, my throat was already getting dry. I needed some liquid. My palms sweated, and I rubbed them against the back of my jeans.
“Red wine for me,” Savi ordered, ignoring me. Filling half a cup with orange soda, she passed it to me and filled another with wine for Savi. It was deep red and inviting, but I was resolute to not try anything. Nishita poured herself a glass of Pepsi. I was about to turn when I saw her adding something from one of the bottles lying on the counter.
“What are you doing?” I hissed, as glaring wasn’t making a difference.
“Just mixing some Vodka. Chill. I am not a virgin at this like you. By the way, today is a chance to try out and clear an item off your bucket list. Akash is on a business trip, so he cannot barge here. Relax, I have planned all this. We are going to have a blast. Lose your stiff shoulders and show me what’s hidden inside you. The wild girl is ready to unleash and live her true self today.” She sang her victory rap as if she could do anything she wished and forced me to abide by her.
“This is not on my bucket list. And there is nothing wild inside me. The drink has already reached your head, and you haven’t even started drinking it.” I snapped and sniffed my drink. Although it’s hard to smell drugs in flavored liquid, I still tried. Not sensing anything suspicious, I took a tentative sip.
“I know more about your bucket list than you. Remember, I helped you prepare it.” She pointed, ignoring the rest of my comments.
“No, you high-jacked it and converted it into your list. I had to prepare my own in the comforts of my bedroom, and my new list doesn’t have alcohol in it.”
“You both can bicker anywhere, anytime. Even when it’s so loud in here,” Savi rolled her eyes, and I stuck out my tongue, which made her laugh. She pulled me towards her and forced a sip from her glass, but I shook my head, standing as far away as possible from her. Nishita just grinned and blew her a kiss.
“That’s not fair. I was helping you. Alert. That guy is coming near us.” Nishita pointed with her head, her neck moving forward and eyes wide, making the gesture quite apparent. What did a stranger want from us?
“Hey,” he smiled, starting a conversation with Savi.
“Hi,” Savi’s answering smile was too bright and cheeky, but I stayed quiet and observed.
He held out his hand. “Wanna dance?” She nodded, and he pulled her towards the dance floor. She got lost within a second. I stood on my tiptoes to check on her in the crowd but couldn’t find her. The living room was quite large, effortlessly accommodating a few hundred of us.
“She’s gone,” I panic-blabbered to Nishita as another guy came out of nowhere in front of me. Were they waiting for us to enter so they could pounce on their prey? We just had the drinks in our hands for about a minute, and already Savi lost herself in the herd.
“Hi,” he breathed, his tone husky.
“Hi,” I bit my lip, nervous as hell. What was the code here to deny politely?
“Aditya. You?” he put out his hand, and I had to shake it. His voice was firm and confident. Had he dyed his hair? They were brown and sexy and looked perfect with his grey denim jacket and white tee inside.
“Um, Ruhi, but I don’t dance.” I blurted out, earning a chuckle from him.
“Okay. You want to see around.”
“Around the house?”
“Yes.” He moved closer so he didn’t have to shout each word.
I gulped at the closeness and how strange and unnatural yet good it felt smelling him. Shit. “Is this your house?” I asked to keep the conversation going.
I could drool here forever at his brown locks. Will he feel offended if I quizzed him about his hair? Mine was standard black, and I got jealous when I watched blond or red hair girls on TV while watching some series or English movies. In India, ninety-nine percent of people got black hair. So was he from the one percent of the crowd? That made him what? Special or a freak?
“Nope.” He shook his head and glanced around. Oh, God. Was he already bored with me?
“You are inviting me to see someone else’s house. Do you have the authority to do so?”
“Let me assure you, I have. Do you want to come?” I looked at him, like actually staring for the first time since we introduced each other. He had a bottle in his left hand while the other was tucked in his pocket. He was lean with an oval face. A hint of stubble suited his overall look. He smirked, and my eyes shot down at the humiliation I felt at getting caught. Why can’t he go talk to someone else? I would be happy to only stare and enjoy the night away.
What should I do? Nishita was already dancing with someone, and I was standing here all alone with a glass of soda. If I knew they would wander off at the first opportunity they got and keep me stranded, I wouldn’t have come. Let all bets go to hell. But I was already here. I had two choices. Either accept this guy’s offer or stand here alone. Suddenly, the second option felt creepier than the first. I took a deep breath and tried to find the confident girl inside me.
“Is there anything worth seeing?” I raised an eyebrow. He laughed, a good, throaty laugh, and I sucked in air. Wow! He was a natural.
I was sure girls fell on his feet. All he had to do was crack a smile and shake his head so his hair would move along with him, making him look irresistible. I wanted to run my hands through them. Were they as silky as they looked? He hadn’t applied gel, so I could touch and judge myself. But I held my hands in a fist behind me to not lose control and embarrass myself. I was a guilt-stricken person, and the mortification would stay forever.
“Let us find out if there is.” He spoke, waking me from my mind prattling. Bowing and gesturing me to move forward, he waited to see if I moved. I was about to walk when Nishita came, sweaty and breathless. Oh, great. God bless her.
“Come, Nishita, this guy is showing us around the place.” I grabbed her hand when she didn’t move forward.
“No, you go. I am waiting for Pammi. She just messaged and will be here in two minutes.”
“Um, are you sure?”
I will kill Nishita for letting me go alone with the guy.
“Yes, Ruhi. Go, have fun.” She waved, and I rolled my eyes, walking away with the guy. Oh no, it was… Biting my lip, I tried to recollect his name. Was it Ankit, or Avinash, or… Oh, God, what an embarrassing moment. Eating away all the lipstick I had on, I failed to settle for a new name for him.
“So Ruhi, I have a feeling this place is new for you. Am I correct?”
“Why would you think so?” Wasn’t he being too over-confident yet accurate?
“Just judging by your stiff shoulders.” He shrugged. I narrowed my eyes as he had not only stared at me enough to pass his opinions but was also flaunting them.
“Hey, it’s all cool. I am just saying.”
“Well, don’t because you are right. I am not used to going to parties. The only party I have been to is with cousins or at a friend’s place.”
“I am sure this is also your friend’s place.”
“It’s my friend Nishita’s friend, Pammi’s friend’s place,” I explained. Taking a deep breath, I continued. “But this is too grand for a house party.”
“Relax, Ruhi. This place doesn’t bite.”
“No, it’s set up enough to give me cancer. Disastrous air has clouded this place, harmful to my lungs, but I have to breathe. Can’t help. Need to fight till the end.” He again chuckled. He placed his hand delicately on my back and signaled me to turn right towards a door. Removing a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door and gestured for me to step inside the room.
Whoa, with shaky feet, I stepped inside. This wasn’t what I had expected. I jerked a little as I heard the clicking sound of the door as it shut behind us.
Why had he got us in a room?
I had to be calm and try getting out of here the first chance I nicked.
Ruhi, be cool.
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