Zoe took another swig of her warm beer and tried to focus on the road ahead, but his words reverberated in her mind. The sapphire flashed for that hint of a moment in the glare of oncoming traffic, before settling back to its murky blue depths.
“We should call it off.”
“Call it off.” Brief and precise. Just like he was. No explanations, no justifications, no drama. It was that simple to call the ‘it’ that had been riding her life for six years now, ‘off’, in a matter of few words, one scalding hot coffee and strains of Billy Joel in the background. The coffee shop she realized was perfect for breakups. There was no alcohol, so no chances of a scene happening. Plus there was a certain civility that cloaked you, the moment you walked into a coffee shop. Coffee shops reminded you, that you were a genteel and sensible species. Dirty business could be transacted gracefully here, without fuss, without drama.
She had tried to ask him and reason it out. But he seemed impassive, indifferent even. And while she was suddenly seized by an overwhelming urge to wail and rip off his pretentious Tom Ford shirt, all she mustered was a polite ok.
They sat like that for a few moments as if condoling the death of a pet hamster, she, too choked to speak and he dying to get away from the situation, away from her. It made her uncomfortable, embarrassed even. So Zoe had picked up her fake D&G bag, mumbled a fake ‘take care’ and left, her tears fast clouding up her vision.
She wondered if the fact that she had been sacked a week back had any bearing on this sudden realization. After all being fired from a prominent law firm was a big deal. But she had not been at fault, she maintained that. An innocent remark about a client during a totally incongruous conversation with an industry friend had found its way up the grape wine. But in her defense, she was drunk and talking to a friend, who apparently turned out to be not so friendly after all. Which her boss pointed out was even dumber.
And while she was slugging out as a dumb temp, Mr. Kabir Anand, the cool IIM pass-out boyfriend of hers, was steadily rising up the career graph. He had recently been made partner in his firm and was aiming to get featured next on a business daily. And now given the changed circumstances, a fired temp as a girlfriend was a bad liability. Bad for his image, bad for his business.
So at 26, in the prime of her life, she was jobless and oh yes, boyfriend less. And to top it all she had warm beer, 3 months of severance pay and a whopping credit card bill, earned by spending on clothes she didn't need and gym memberships she couldn't afford anymore. Life had reached rock bottom and now was looking for a shovel to dig.
She stared at the dark road ahead and wondered if jumping off a running car on a busy highway would be a good idea. It would be quick, but then she would end up looking like road kill. They would probably have to scrape her off the concrete. It wouldn’t look nice. She grimaced.
“Oh hello, madam, mind telling me the way. We are already 10 minutes on this road and there is still no sign of the petrol pump.” Nikki interrupted her.
“Oh shit! The map,” she remembered suddenly and quickly tapped the phone to refresh the app. But the device stayed unmoved. There was no network connection. She tried to remember the route she had seen just a few minutes back.
“Uhh, I think you have to take the next left after the Konkan Kinara.”
What! And you are telling me now!
“Well, I …”
“Woman, we passed that Konkan thingy almost 10 km's back.”
“Are you sure!?”
Nikki’s look said it all. Nikki’s look usually said it all. She had large expressive eyes which flashed with disapproval and opinions every few minutes. The rest she explained with a ready supply of expletives.
And while she was, well different would be an understatement. Polite, diplomatic and always worried if the other person might take an offense to something she did or said. Nikki called her ‘my little Bambi’.
The two had met in college and had since then stuck together like some odd pins stuck in a jar.
“Ok ok! Hold on I am looking…”
“You better!”, Nikki glowered.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Just what it said, Bambi. Get your attention on the road. We can’t afford any more misses.”
“Well, I am doing the best I can under the circumstances. I mean did you ever imagine that cheapskate after lying around in my bed for 6 years had the audacity to.., Zoe choked, her voice quickly tearing up
“Oh my God, there we go again”
“Well, we have been agonizing over your sorry life this whole week. And this Goa trip is supposed to give us a break right? So please let's just focus on getting to Goa now. We can cry about your life later. It’s already close to 2:00am and if we don't find a petrol pump soon, we’ll have to park her somewhere now.
“Well, it’s not out of choice, that I am wallowing in misery you know. A little understanding would help.”
“You are! So shitty stuff happened to u. And in a way good that it happened. At least we got that moron out of your life. So thank your stars and get on with your life.”
“Or whatever is left of it.”, Zoe added softly before turning to face the window.
“I think dad was right. I am mediocre, pretty average, I mean. I should have married the IT engineer dad introduced me to, that time. At least now I would have been safely ensconced in a 2 BHK in Bangalore and planning my first baby. Gawd! Where have I come?”
Nikki just rolled her eyes.
“You will never understand.”, Zoe sniffed and stared down at her ring.”
“Listen, Bambi, I might not have been in your situation. But I have also been through my own shit. All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am. And I think so are you. You have a choice right now. You can choose to dwell on your miserable ‘should haves’ of a life or simply move on to create the life you want.”
“I think, I need a miracle.”, Zoe sighed and rubbed her ring determinedly.
“If you are hoping for a genie to flash out of that sapphire, that ain’t happening lady.”
“I don’t know why you keep pestering me about my ring.”
“That’s because you carry it along like some security blanket.”, Nikki snapped.
“Well, it is, you know. It’s the last thing, amma gifted me. She was one hell of a woman.”
“Ya, that she was. That lady could kick some ass”, Nikki nodded, her hands gripping the steering wheel hard.
“And if you had any knowledge about stones, you would know this is one hell of a sapphire. Do you know the more intense blue the sapphire is, the more fire it carries within its heart.”,
“Fire in its heart…seriously?”, Nikki snorted.
“I mean it is that much more valuable.”
“Well its time to stop relying on shiny baubles and finding out how blue is your sapphire.”, Nikki chided softly.
“It's time to find out how much fire do you carry in your heart, woman.”
“It's not that simple. I need to…”. Just then an SUV racing from behind careened dangerously close to their side.
“What the fuck did you see that…that psycho in the Pajero”
“Please be careful”, Nikki gulped.
“Those morons just buzzed us on purpose,” Nikki muttered angrily, her hands gripping the steering wheel hard.
“Ok…just slow down. Let them pass. Must be some shitheads blowing daddy’s money.”
“I am! But they are slowing down as well…see, see they are deliberately doing that.”
Nikki changed the lane and slowed down the speed to 60. But the Pajero slowed down as well and was now inching towards their lane, forcing them to slow down further.
Soon they were head to head. Suddenly the Pajero swerved sharply and swiped past them.
Nikki immediately veered to her left, but the sudden move made the small hatchback stagger crazily towards the road embankment, missing it by inches.
Both the girls screamed loudly.
“What’s wrong with them? Are they on dope or something?, Zoe yelled, shaking her head incredulously.
“Shit! I think it’s the same guy.”, Nikki said.
“The driver? Do you know him?”
“No the guy sitting behind. That last restaurant we stopped at… I was waiting outside the washroom when he walked by and deliberately brushed against me.
“Well, I might have showered him with a few expletives and shown him my finger.”
“Great, now he is showing us his finger. Goddamn it, Niks, can’t you just ignore them for once.”
“Unlike some people I know, I just can’t bend over?”, Nikki snapped.
“Now that was below the belt and... Hey, they are doing it again!”
The Pajero was now rapidly slowing down and had again changed lanes to move in behind them.
Nikki pressed the accelerator hard hoping to get away but it was no match for the massive SUV.
The Pajero now began to nudge their car from behind. At 90kmph, the nudge felt like a violent shove and Nikki gripped the steering wheel hard to control the vehicle.
Soon it became a cat and mouse run, with the Pajero in hot pursuit.
The road was empty except for a sleepy hamlet or two on the way. Both the girls were now quiet, their minds desperately trying to think a way out of this trajectory, which was fast growing into becoming a life and death situation. The network still displayed a paltry signal. The phones were useless.
Nikki laid out the options. One was to stop at the very next village and scream for help. But there was no guarantee that anyone would come out at this hour.
The next option was to keep on driving until the fuel ran out. But, then what?
“Niks remember that diversion we took last time while looking for that hotel, the one that ends up into a small bridge.
“Yes. So!”, she answered warily, her eyes not leaving the road for one moment.
“What if we lead them up to that diversion and then jump back on the main road?
“Yes, so what?”
You know how that road ends abruptly…”
“Into the nullah, Zoe completed her sentence, her eyes gradually brightening at the simplicity of the idea.
“Do you think you can manage it. I mean it’s going to be a close call.”, Zoe asked, gripping her ring hard.
“I will surely try….”, Niks answered gravely. By now her eyes were blazing with the same ferocity, she displayed while playing squash.
“How far are we from that spot? she asked, her voice now calm and business like.
“About 5 km.”
“Ok. Cool. But can you recognize that fork in the road.”
“Umm, I think I can. Remember that gnarled tree trunk? It appears just before the fork..”
“Gawd! Zoe, please don't ask me to remember gnarled trees rite now, especially when we are so close to becoming tree manure ourselves. Just tell me once we are close, ok?”
“Yup!” Zoe answered, staring at the road ahead and bracing herself up against the dashboard.
The Pajero was tailing them at the moment, allowing them to speed up before catching up with them again. It was baiting them, like a cat baiting a mouse before moving in for the kill.
One of the guys in the back kept hooting and making obscene gestures.
“Oh shit, those bastards are moving towards the right. If they keep at it, we might crash into them while swerving back!”, Nikki screamed.
“Then we need to get them on the left!” Zoe answered firmly.
“Leave that to me.”
Zoe unclasped her bra. She pulled out one strap from the armhole of her t-shirt and then the other.
“What are you doing, woman? This is not time to be burning bras…”, Nikki glanced at her frowning.
“Yes, but no problem in flashing them, is there.”, Zoe replied, her voice now strangely impassive.
“You keep driving. And remember we’ll pass that spot in 800 meters.”
Zoe then rolled the window down and took out her bra and held it outside, its red straps flapping merrily in the wind.
“Fuck you bastards!, she screamed out to them, pulling out her tongue at them.
The guys couldn't believe it. One of the guys whistled and screamed something. The Pajero now quickly began to slide towards the right, trying to come up with them. The guy who had dissed Zoe began to lean out of the car, hooting loudly and trying to snatch her bra.
Slowly Nikki braked and veered towards the right as she approached the fork. The Pajero followed quickly. The guys were totally enjoying it right now. The obscene gesture guy even removed his t-shirt and threw it at their car.
Just then, as Nikki swerved sharply towards the left, as Zoe leaned out of one final time and raised her t-shirt flashing her girls at them.
She could see the Pajero’s driver’s eye freeze over for a long moment before he realized the mistake. But by then the monstrosity had rammed through the rickety bridge railing and flown over it to land upside down on the dry riverbed.
The last vision they had of the SUV was of its tires spinning wildly in the air.
“Wooohoooo, we did it” Zoe screamed.
“Oh my god, woman! What was that? Flashing your breasts and all! Nikki laughed, her eyes flashing with amazement.
“But pity we lost that cute bra.”, she added.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish!“ Zoe answered. It was the last thing he had gifted her.
6 hours and a police complaint later, they were lazing on the beach, gazing out at the vast expanse of the ocean & waiting for the shack to shuffle up some breakfast.
“So how do you feel right now?” Nikki elbowed Zoe, who was now sprawled out on a beach towel with her large Jackie O glasses and a tall glass of watermelon juice, spiked with vodka by her side.
“On the top of ze world, my friend” she drawled sexily.
“Well that was a quick! From the end of the world to the top of the world?”, Nikki laughed.
“Just flashing a little blue dear”, ” Zoe breathed out slowly.