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I took a face tissue from my purse and dabbed my face. The A/C above me was whirring. I cursed myself again. Why did I agree to this reunion? 

I pursed my lips. The aroma of paneer tikkas and chicken nuggets invaded my nostrils. A caterer in a dirty uniform approached me with a tray. The usual Pepsi and Fanta! I refused it. The incessant chatter and laughter around me continued. Sighing, I got up when I saw a woman entering the hall. 

Was it …..? I adjusted my glasses. She looked at me. A minute that seemed like an eternity followed. Then a huge grin appeared on her face, and she squealed, “Shilpaaaaaaaaaaaa?” 

I tried hard not to wince as Hema waddled towards me. The curly-haired, overweight girl in the school who always had lice in her hair hadn’t changed one bit. 

“Shilpa! Where have you been all these years?” she shrieked, enveloping me in a hug.

“Hi, erm, Hema. Good to see you.” I managed to mumble.

Thankfully, Hema released me from her embrace but continued to look at me. “My God! You look fantabulous!” Somehow, her praise sounded genuine, unlike the ones from the rest of my mates. 

“You … look good too.”

“What are you doing nowadays?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you on social media?”

If Hema was embarrassed by my counter question, she didn’t show it. “Arey! No time for it. Managing two kids is enough.” 

“What does your husband do?” Not that I bothered, but what else could I do to prolong the conversation? 

“He is a medical representative.”

Ewww! Those men hovering outside the doctors’ chambers, dressed like clownish executives in the Indian summers. But then, girls like Hema could only deserve them. 

“Mine is a cardiologist,” I declared with a tinge of pride. 

Hema patted my hand. “Great!” 

Why didn’t I discern jealousy in her tone? I didn’t protest when she dragged me to the buffet counter. She paused in front of the table where the plates were arranged.

“My husband would have loved to meet you. But my daughter has a school project to finish. He is helping her with that. Sonny boy hates to be in a crowd. So hubby will cook for them and watch a film until I reach home.”

“Your husband can cook?” 

“Of course! We divide our household work yaar.”

I tried to recall the last time my husband took me out on a romantic date, let alone surprise me with a dish. It had always been surgeries… targets… He didn’t even have time for a video call with our son in the US. I remembered the parties attended by the bigwigs from his hospital. Fake smiles. Designer clothes. Lavish praises for my philanthropic foundation that had more Instagram followers than the needy people it could have served.

Hema handed me a plate and picked up another for herself. I didn’t budge, but the bubble I had carefully cultivated around me began to jiggle.


P.C – Unsplash [Lanju Fotografie]

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