Ranjit’s near and dear ones, with the exception of Bhavna, were gathered in his apartment, waiting for the birthday boy. All preparations for a surprise bash were done. Bhavna wasn’t invited because no one except Vipin was privy of Ranjit’s affair. She was on the roof. The scope of her rifle showed a humming face with a throbbing belly resting on a bobbing motorbike about a kilometre away. She holstered her weapon and began tidying herself.
Ananya and Aamna were chatting near the kitchen counter. Vipin walked about talking on his phone. Uncle Sam lay sprawled beside the chabudai moved to the centre of the hall, while Changez feigned interest over a papier-mâché painting by the entrance. The hall was used to lacking furniture as well as people. With changes in the latter, such was its awkwardness that even the guests were impregnated with it.
Ananya checked the cake, rearranged the snacks, and eyed the decorations. “I hope there are no surprises.”
“That’d be a shame. It’s supposed to be a surprise party, right?”
Ananya rolled her eyes at Changez while Aamna punched his shoulder. His constant attempts at using sarcasm to be funny riled her, but he was one of her brother’s friends, so Ananya had to invite him.
“Surprises are a given when Ranjit is around. The tragedy, of course, is that his accidents are jocular for others,” said Uncle Sam.
Vipin laughed with Ranjit’s uncle. “I’ve been friends with him for more than five years, but his surprised face still cracks me up!”
“I’ve known him since he was born and even I can’t get over it. Honestly, that’s the only reason I dropped the ball on his conception being accidental!”
“Uncle Samrat, can you not say those things? I don’t want to talk trash about my brother behind his back,” said Ananya. Her words went unheeded, though, for everyone finally had a common topic. She watched as the guests took turns recounting tales and sitting around the chabudai to join the others.
“I once saw him trying to start his bike. He kicked the starter, and it kicked him in the butt on the recoil,” said Aamna.
“That’s nothing great. Speaking of bikes, I was once sitting behind him. A woman with a toddler standing between her and her moped’s handle suddenly appeared in front of us. She was going the wrong way and both Ranjit and she hit the brakes hard. The vehicles didn’t collide, but her son went flying. Fortunately for the boy, he didn’t travel far and dropped right in Ranjit’s lap. Unfortunately for Ranjit, he peed in his and on Ranjit’s pants,” said Changez.
“Speaking of little boys, Ranjit was playing cricket with a bunch of kids living in this building the other day. More than one balls were hit more than once that day,” said Vipin.
“Speaking of balls, I once learned that Ranjit was taking ball dancing classes on an uncharacteristic whim. He had kept it low. I barged in on his session right when he was lifting the instructor. I caught him by surprise and he lifted her higher than he wanted. The ceiling of the room was lower than she wanted. To prevent her face, she flailed her arms and squirmed frenetically. Her face didn’t hit the ceiling, but her knee hit Ranjit’s face,” said Uncle Sam.
Ananya sighed and hoped their laughter would soon stop and they wouldn’t continue once Ranjit entered.
Their laughter stopped the next instant.
They didn’t continue once Ranjit entered.
Despite the raucous laughter, a kiss, followed by indiscernible words, was heard from the other end of the entrance door. Such was the squeeze.
“Speaking of keeping it low, I don’t think—“
For the first time ever, no one laughed when Ranjit took on the visage of shock.
“Surprise,” said Changez in his sarcastic manner.
Time, and everything else in the room, stopped. Everything, except people’s eyes, which darted with frenzy. Even Bhavna was transfixed and covered her mouth with her hand. Such was the surprise.
Her hand didn’t move until Ranjit removed it and wrapped his fingers around hers. He nodded to her and smiled. When he looked at the others, they did the same.