When Paths Cross

When Paths Cross

Sasha pushed open the door of the rooftop terrace of the building and walked in. She let out a long sigh! It had been a long and tiresome day. With the little baby and two-year old Sparsh sick at the same time, both madam and she had had their hands full! As the little one was too small, four-months to be exact, madam couldn’t leave her alone. Sparsh needing his mom and not finding her around, clung to Sasha like he would to his mother. He had grown very fond of her in the six months that she had been employed with the Sharmas.

Mr. and Mrs. Sharma were a young couple, living in this high rise building in an elite locality of Mumbai. Mr. Sharma had been transferred to the Mumbai office six months ago from Delhi by his company and Mrs. Sharma had also moved in with bag and baggage, Sparsh in tow and a little one on the way. Sparsh had initially been reluctant to be left even for a while with Sasha, but over time his fondness grew. Today, he wouldn’t let her go to the washroom or even get off her lap for a moment and it had eventually taken a toll on her. Mr. Sharma realized that she needed a break when he got home from work and had suggested that she go up to the rooftop for a while to relax after dinner. She was unused to kindness and her eyes had filled with tears when he said so. But here she was.

Sasha took a deep breath and looked around. Set near the queen’s necklace as it was called, the water glittered and the shoreline twinkled. She could see boats in the distance and although there was traffic below, it flowed smoothly and there was only quiet around her. A cool breeze was blowing in from the sea and her naturally curly, brown hair swayed to the wind which seemed to be caressing it. She looked pretty for a 23-year old girl. Around five feet two inches, she looked taller since she was a slim frame. Fair complexioned and with a heart-shaped face, her most arresting feature was her smile which dimpled on the left cheek. She had received many compliments in the past and even now whenever she smiled, Sparsh dug his finger into the dimpled cheek and smiled back. At his age, vocabulary was limited but his actions spoke louder.

Feeling calmer and relaxed in the serene environment, Sasha decided that it was time to go back down and headed to the door. As she pulled it, she realised it wouldn’t budge. Thinking it was jammed, she tugged harder, but it stayed firmly shut. Not knowing what to do, she fished for her mobile in her jeans pocket, but it was nowhere to be found. She then remembered that she had left it charging in her room as she came upstairs since Sparsh hadn’t given her a chance to do so during the day and the battery had died. Oh dear, now what was she to do? Probably best to wait it out as the Sharmas would surely notice after a while that she had been gone too long and were bound to come looking.

Sasha decided to explore the rest of the rooftop terrace and turned in the direction of the overhead tank as that was one area that she had never explored. As she turned the corner, she saw that she wasn’t alone on the terrace. There were some people sitting underneath the tank and talking. Since she didn’t know who was sitting there and couldn’t see their faces in the dark, Sasha decided to turn back.

Suddenly she heard a male voice call out, “Hello, who goes there?”

Not wanting to be rude, Sasha turned and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude. I was just locked in here and decided to take a stroll. I didn’t know you all were here.”

“Locked? Anthony, you are the watchman and you are sitting here with us. Whoever could have locked us?” saying so, the young guy who had spoken to Sasha, started laughing.

Sasha was embarrassed. Maybe she had not pulled the door hard enough and felt stupid.

Anthony sensing her discomfort said, “Let me go and check.” And he walked away.

While they were waiting, Sasha saw that apart from Anthony and the guy who had spoken to her, there was also a girl seated. With short hair and clad in jeans and a t-shirt, she looked completely at ease with the boys.

Anthony came back and said, “That night watchman, Michael has done this without realizing that we were here. I called him already, but the idiot has gone home as there is a crisis. He will take at least an hour to come back and the rooftop keys are only with him. There is no choice but to wait it out.” Saying so, he plonked himself back on the ground.

Sasha continued shifting from one foot to another as she was confused whether she should stay here or walk away. Anthony pulled up an old wooden crate next to him and said, “Come sit. You can’t go down anyways. Why tire yourself out?” Saying so, he smiled.

As she sat down, she introduced herself saying, “Hello. I’m Sasha and I work for the Sharma family residing in A-306.”

“Sasha nice to meet you although I have seen you around. You know my name already, Anthony. This is Max, who owns the grocery store around the corner and here is Riddhi who works in B-902.”

Sasha took a closer look at Max. He was tall and good looking with curly hair and deep brown eyes. With a husky voice, he was the loudest of the lot, that she could see.

Riddhi turned to her saying, “Aren’t you the girl taking care of little Sparsh? I have seen you many times while you take him in the evening to play in the garden below. He loves the swing and the slides, doesn’t he?”

Sasha was surprised. She replied, “Yes, I do. How come I haven’t noticed you?”

“That’s because I don’t come down often. I watch you mostly from the balcony of the house, when I sit out enjoying the evening sun with Mrs. Sabherwal. You see, I am her caretaker.”

“Oh! Is she sick?”

“Not really. It’s mostly old age, but she lives alone as her son stays overseas. Hence, I am her friend and companion” Riddhi replied.

“Ok ladies, please do include us in the conversation. It’s time we got to know each other better.” Max butted in and looked directly at Sasha while he said that. Sasha went red in the face. She didn’t know what he meant by that, but she felt her nerves tingle everywhere.

Anthony noticing her embarrassment, rushed to help her out, “Yes Sasha, tell us a little more about yourself. We would all like to know.”

Sasha didn’t know where to start. They were all strangers to her, but something instinctively told her that she was in safe hands here.

“Originally from UP, I spent my earlier years with my mum, dad and three brothers. My parents driven by poverty and many mouths to feed, sold me off to a man who offered them some money. He, in turn, sold me to a brothel owner here, but luckily for me, the same night there was a police raid and I was rescued. Since I was too young to say which part of UP I came from and my parents couldn’t be traced, I was sent to an orphanage where I stayed and studied until I was eighteen. I have been working right since then doing odd jobs here and there and landed at the Sharmas residence six months ago. The rest you know.”

“What? Your parents did that? Unbelievable! How could they ever do that?” Max was shocked that any parents could be so cold-hearted. And that too, to a daughter like Sasha. If ever, he had a daughter like her, he would never let her go. As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he paused. He barely knew Sasha and here he was imagining a daughter like her? What was wrong with him?

“Sasha, why did your parents do that? Did they never try to find you again?” Anthony chipped in.

“My parents were labourers. With three boys and one girl, the choice was simple for them, I guess. Boys carry the legacy on. They take care of you in your old age. Why have an extra mouth to feed? And that too, one that will go away one day.” Her eyes filling with tears, Sasha stated it in such a matter of fact manner that all the others fell quiet.

The night was turning darker and the breeze had picked up. Sasha shivered in her sleeveless top and wondered how much longer they would remain locked here. Max noticed that she was cold and handed over his shirt like a true gentleman, one that he had casually thrown over his t-shirt.

This exchange was not missed by Anthony and Riddhi. They sensed an attraction, a romance brewing. Anthony decided to egg this on further. Turning to Max, he said, “So Max, it’s been many days that we haven’t heard any new verse from you. Why not today? The moon shines bright and we are locked here together. Go on my friend, let’s hear it.”

Max paused for a moment and in his husky voice said,

“Seeing her today in the moonlight,

With her curly hair, a beautiful sight,

I feel my heart pick up a beat,

My senses soar and my body heats,

An angel has come down to earth,

Oh how, I would like to have her in my hearth,

Alas, our time is limited to this rooftop,

Although I wish the world would stop,

Let me be with this angel tonight,

Her love so wonderful, shining bright”

Sasha felt shockwaves run through her body. It was as if they were the only two people around and time itself was standing still. Never had a man so blatantly professed his love, that too with an audience. But, how could he? He didn’t know her at all. She was perplexed as her body and mind seemed to be sending out conflicting signals. The atmosphere was electric and sensing it Riddhi said, “Guys, stop it. Anthony, don’t you have any better sense? You guys are scaring her, she has only just met us. Poor girl! Look at her. Her hands are so cold. Sasha, don’t bother with them. Both are mad. Anthony even more so. He doesn’t think before talking.” she added. It then struck Sasha that Anthony and Riddhi were in love with each other. No wonder she was so comfortable with both of them.

Riddhi continued, “Max before you go any further, shouldn’t you first be telling Sasha all about yourself? I mean a girl has every right to know what a guy is all about, before deciding whether she wants to go out with him or not. So, start.”

Max had always considered himself a ladies man. Wherever he went, girls swooned and were drawn to him, just like a moth to a flame. For the first time, he felt unsure of himself. He was on unknown territory but knew that he wanted to make a good impression on Sasha. There was something about her, that drew him to her.

He started, “Well, as Anthony said earlier, the corner grocery store is mine. My parents are old and I have an elder sister who is happily married and stays in Mangalore. You also know that I like penning poetry and play drums sometimes in the local band.”

Riddhi not to be outdone, quickly piped in, “Now he is being too modest. Max is also a man with a golden heart. He teaches the slum kids free of cost at the local school twice a week. So, you can see Sasha, our Max is a multi-talented young man.”

Sasha was touched by what Riddhi had just said. Max seemed like a nice guy and she now knew that he was the helpful kind too. But whether she wanted to explore the possibility of a relationship with him, she didn’t know yet as it was too soon. Every relationship started with friendship and she didn’t mind that. These people sure seemed to be nice.

“Anthony, you are the watchman of the building? You seem to be well educated. So, how did you land up here?” Sasha asked.

“Oh, I am going to continue to do this only for some time. You are right, I am a B.Com graduate. My best friend is setting up a restaurant in the suburbs and I intend to join him soon. Since it requires many permissions and clearances, the process is taking time. It is impossible to survive in Mumbai without working, so I decided to take this job for the moment. Better than asking my uncle for help with whom I am currently staying.”

“And how did you meet Riddhi? Yes, it was easy to guess that you two are in a relationship. I want to know all about your love story.” Sasha’s eyes twinkled as she said that.

“I don’t think you can really call it a love story. Anthony and I met a year ago at the church fair through common friends. He asked me out and I said yes. We have been together for a while now and I am really happy that he completely at peace doing this job as I am sure he will be when he joins his friend. This is what I like the most about him, his contentment. To him, no job is big or small, a job is just a job.” Her love showed in her eyes as she said that and they both exchanged a look that said it all.

As Sasha looked at them, she envied them. They seemed to be so happy in their own world, content with whatever they were making and doing. She had never believed in this kind of unconditional, all-encompassing love. Unfortunately for her, she had only seen greed and need in relationships from the start and all this was new to her. But seeing them like that, she realised that love could be this way too. She looked up to see that Max had been staring at her. As their eyes connected, his eyes mellowed and became warmer. They spoke to her and she knew that they both wanted to see where this journey would take them in the future.

Hearing a voice calling out, they all turned. Michael was headed in their direction with Mr. Sharma who was carrying Sparsh in his arms. As soon as they reached her, Sparsh held out his arms wanting her to carry him. She happily obliged and Sparsh cuddled in, tucking his head on her shoulder.

Mr. Sharma said, “We were worried as you were gone for a long time, Sasha. I came upstairs to check earlier, but the terrace was locked. Sparsh was also getting restless, I am afraid he has gotten too used to you. I just saw the watchman in the lobby and he said that his friends were accidentally locked so I came along to check. Glad to see that all is well here and I can see that you have made some new friends.”

Quick introductions were made with Mr. Sharma and he headed back down, leaving Sparsh with her. Michael was extremely apologetic for the goof up. He hadn’t realised when the others had come up to the rooftop and assuming that there was no one around, simply locked up and left. Thankfully the crisis at home was sorted and he had rushed back as soon as he could.

Lulled by the breeze, Sparsh fell asleep in her arms and Sasha decided that it was time to head home and put him to bed.

As she said goodbye, Riddhi asked, “Max, aren’t you meant to perform over the weekend at the local pub? Sasha, why don’t you join us? It will be great fun I promise. And I will make sure that both these boys behave themselves” she added laughingly.

Sasha promised to check with the Sharmas and let them know. Anthony, polite as always, added that it had been great to know her and that he was happy that they had all got locked in. Who had thought that simply getting locked in together would be the start of some great friendships?

Max walked with her towards the door and said, “Sasha, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to come on too strong, but I couldn’t help myself. There is something about you that draws me. I do not know what the future holds but let us leave that to destiny. I am so thankful to God that our paths crossed, and I know that given the chance, we can work it out. Please say that you will join us over the weekend.”

Sasha smiled and said she would definitely try and let them know as soon as she could. As she walked past, he brushed his hand gently over her cheek where it dimpled. Surprisingly, the action reminded her of Sparsh. And somewhere she knew that a new journey was about to begin…

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