The moment Neeraj walked in, he was transfixed by this aberration — a pretty girl wearing a pristine white dress,
Although the terrorist attacks in Mumbai required social sobriety, one organisation ostracised the gloom and celebrate by throwing a New Year’s eve party.
Masses of young bodies in their shimmering best occupied every square inch of the room. Neeraj had planned to go with Deepa and even bought her a dress. But it was all wasted. What a fight they’d had before she walked away forever. He regulated his feelings — no excess baggage this evening!
In front of him, the ‘manna from heaven’ dancing alone, looked freaky in her white frills, auburn hair flying and swirling like a dervish. She couldn’t possibly be alone, he thought.
Time for introductions
Her rich boyfriend must have gone to fetch her a drink. Why waste time? She could be the balm for my anguish, he thought. But the pick-up line had better be spot on. Neeraj deliberated.
“I just heard that your boyfriend died of a heart attack at the bar.” Her eyes, till then shut as if in a trance, stirred open. “And you must be his reincarnation,” she shot back.
Neeraj had anticipated this. “No, I’m the guardian angel carrying his soul. With the powers vested in me by the Almighty, I declare you free from male encumbrances,” he replied.
Her face lit up. “Hi, my parents christened me Jackie.” Neeraj extended his hand, “Then I must be John F Kennedy! Although my ex-girlfriend used to address me as Neeraj.
She retaliated to this rapid fire round. “Being mysterious was my resolution for this year. With the New Year still minutes away, do you want me to break my resolution?”
The DJ’s voice on the microphone started the countdown. Neeraj took a chance: “I’ll allow you a kiss at the stroke of midnight, but I need your mobile number in exchange.” “Done,” she said, “but o wise one, my mobile number is in the countdown. Let’s see if you can catch it. I’ll nod and you make a note. The kiss will follow.”
The countdown progressed — 11, 10, 9 — smiling, she nodded. Neeraj made a note, 8 — she nodded.. 7 — she nodded.. 6, 5 — two nods..
4 – 3 — and so on. Amidst shouts of Happy New Year, Neeraj braced himself for the kiss, eyes shut, whispering, “Lip service, please.” But Jackie was gone. He looked around. Her boyfriend must have returned from the dead to rescue her at the stroke of midnight.
He was so heady in the morning, he was sure he had drowned in a Bacardi pool last night. Luckily, the number stayed afloat. He had found his New Year’s Eve!
“Hello,” a crisp female voice answered. “Jackie?” Neeraj whispered. “Who’s this?” pat came the reply. “Just a friend to wish her. Is she around?”
The voice said — “This is the special branch at police headquarters. This is the mobile number of Jacqueline, a victim of the terrorist attack at the CST station on November 26. We hoped someone would call to claim her body from the morgue. Hello, hello..”
Neeraj disconnected. Blood curled in his veins. A chill ran up his spine when he recalled that the vibes she had given him had an eerie feeling! A ghost! What a beginning to the New Year! What would he say if the cops called back?