"Did you see? She smiled at me, man," Rakesh the optimist said.
"That's unbridled optimism, dude," Kumar the dampener responded.
"No, man, she really did."
"There, wishful thinking speaks once again."
"You are a cold-hearted as***le."
"If you are right, why don't you greet her and ask her out?"
"I can't do that…!"
"Then what's the point in drooling, dude?"
"I can't do that, yet."
"Tell me after you do that."
"Raveena, did you see? That guy is staring at you…expectantly," Sumathi said.
"Yes, my dear. He does that every day," Raveena finished drinking water and threw the paper cup in a dustbin. "Let's go have some coffee."
Rakesh and Kumar were sipping coffee in the cafeteria of their office, a software giant.
"Look, look, Kumar. There she is. I'm sure she's following me."
"Of course she's here, dude. This is the office cafeteria."
"What does it mean?" Rakesh asked hopefully.
"What does what mean, dude?"
"Her presence here, man. What else?"
"Oh, that! It means that she and her friend are going to have coffee."
"Man, you are such a wet cloth."
"Hey, why don't you walk to her and say 'hello'."
"No, after she marries someone else."
"Th…There's no risk? Wh…What'll she think?"
"You'll never know, unless you venture."
"Should I go now?"
"I bet fifty bucks. You don't have the b**ls to do it, dude."
"Wait and watch, man."
"He's here, Raveena!"
"Leave him be, Sumi. Drink your coffee. It'll get cold."
"He's staring at you; means he's interested in you!"
"Sweetie, he's simply having coffee with his mate."
"See, see, see. He got up. He's walking towards us."
"Sumi, will you please stop the T20 running commentary?"
"He's coming here, I'm sure."
"Ahem…Hi, may I sit here?" Rakesh's gambit.
"It's a free country." Raveena's hostility.
"Ha, ha…I'm Rakesh. You are…?"
Raveena was silent. Sumathi nudged her, with no effect. "She's Raveena."
The small talk went on for a few minutes.
"Come, Sumi, we've got to go."
"See you, Rakesh."
"See you, Sumathi. See you Raveena."
"Here's your fifty, dude; didn't think you'd do it!"
"Thanks, man. She's Raveena; a little haughty right now. But I'll make her fall for me for sure."
"The other girl isn't bad either, dude. What's her name?"
"Sumathi. Come on, she's a plain Jane, man."
"But good-looking, for sure, dude."
"Don't tell me that you are after her!"
"Why not, dude? Wait and watch the prince charming in action."
"Hi Sumathi, where's your friend?"
"Hi Rakesh. She's gone on leave to Bhopal for a wedding."
"Waiting for the cab?"
"Same here. Hey, can we have coffee or do you have to be home before curfew?"
"I am in a working women's hostel. I share a room with Raveena."
"Great. My friend is Kumar. We share a flat with three others. Where are you from?"
"I am from Lucknow and Kumar is from Coimbatore, too!"
"The cab is here, Rakesh."
"Let's get down near Spencer Mall and have some coffee and snacks. I'll drop you at your hostel. Don't worry."
"Guess what, man!"
"You proposed to Raveena?"
"No, yaar. I took Sumathi for coffee and snacks yesterday."
"Sumathi! The plain Jane! But I thought you were interested in Raveena, dude."
"I am, man, I am. It happened by chance. Raveena is away at Bhopal. I can get closer to Raveena through her friend. And she isn't all that plain, man."
"She wears two plaits, dude."
"I thought you wanted to get her interested in you, man!"
"I will, dude, I will. I have a strategy."
"You aren't going to war, man."
"Shut up, dolt. I'll woo the plain Jane through her friend, Raveena."
"That's copyright infringement, man."
"Everything is fair in love and war, dude."
"Hi, Raveena. How're you? When did you return from Bhopal?"
"How do you know that I went to Bhopal, Rakesh?"
"I keep my ears to the ground."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Ahem…Nothing. I just came to know through Sumathi."
"Sumathi! She can't keep anything to herself. I'll…"
"Oh! Come on. Go easy on her. She's a good girl."
"Oh! Is that so? You don't find me good?"
"No, no, no, no, it's not what I meant. You're good, too. It's just that…"
"Falling for her…huh?"
"Hey, let's all go to Mahabalipuram over the weekend. What do you say?"
"I say yes, dude."
"Me, too," Raveena agreed.
"Raveena, how can we?"
"Why not, Sumi? Let's have fun."
"No ifs or buts, Sumathi. We'll go in the morning; go sight-seeing, swimming, have fun. We'll return by evening. Just one day; don't say no, please," Rakesh pleaded.
"Please, please, please…Sumathi."
"OK, Rakesh, if you insist."
"I do, Sumathi. I do."
Raveena pulled Sumathi aside. The two men were walking ahead on the sands of Marina beach.
"'OK, Rakesh, if you insist'. You didn't agree when I insisted!"
"Poor fellow was pleading so much. Sorry, if I gave you a feeling of insecurity. Ha, ha, ha…"
"Insecurity! What crap?"
"Told you, he is interested in you. You aren't paying attention."
"You were cosying up to Rakesh alright, Sumathi."
"What do you mean? When?"
"At Mahabalipuram; Saturday; in the beach."
"Come on, Raveena, whatever gave you the idea!"
"Weren't you clinging to him while bathing in the sea?"
"You weren't playing saint with Kumar either, dear."
"What do you mean?"
"He was literally carrying you when you hurt your foot on a shell."
"I was in pain, Sumi."
"I didn't see you limp afterwards the entire day, dear."
"How is your strategy blooming, dude?"
"OK I guess, Kumar. And yours?"
"I'm trying, I'm trying…"
"I hope our strategy works well."
"Yeah, 'winning our girls through their friends'. Dude, we must patent this POO."
"POO - Plan Of Operation. Let's start a consultancy. We could be millionaires in no time. There are lots of guys who need a strategic nudge in their love affairs."
"Man! You and your ideas. Let's take care of our cases first."
"Yeah, Rakesh, let's concentrate on our cases first."
"Hi Kumar. Where are Sumathi and Rakesh?"
"On their way. He called me."
"Shall we wait for them?"
"No need. Let's sit inside in A/C comfort. Let me get some eats and Coke for us."
"Pepsi and popcorn for me."
"Yes, ma'am. Same for me, too."
"Let's get in, Rakesh. They must be waiting for us."
"Let them, Sumathi. We still have fifteen minutes before the movie. Let's have some snacks first. What do you say?"
"As you wish."
"What'll you have?"
"Order anything you like."
"You're so sweet. Samosa and pomegranate juice?"
"Hey, dude. What's up?" Kumar asked.
"Nothing, man. Dropped Sumathi at the hostel," Rakesh replied.
"Where did you go?"
"We had dinner in Raintree."
"Hey, dude. Don't you think we should take stock where we stand; in our strategy?"
"Sure. What do you want to know?"
"It's almost six months. I don't know what progress we made. We've only been concentrating on the friend; haven't made any overtures to our actual girls."
"True, man. We must shift gears now, in the proper direction. Right, Kumar?"
"Absolutely, dude. For me, I'm going to announce my love for Sumathi tomorrow." Kumar paused and looked at Rakesh curiously.
"Are you alright? You look a little…sad."
"No, man. Just confused. That's all."
"Nothing, man. I'll announce my love to Raveena, tomorrow."
"You don't sound enthusiastic, dude."
"I'm cool, man, I'm cool. Good night."
"Hi Raveena. How are you?"
"Hi Rakesh. I'm fine. Are you alright? You look a little…on the edge. What happened?"
"I've got to speak to you. Can we talk?"
"Sure. Actually, I wanted to speak to you, too."
"Something very important."
"You can be frank with me. You know that, Raveena."
"No, no, no, ladies first."
"I don't know how to say it." A pause. "It's this matter of my life and love."
"Go on, Raveena."
"Alright, Rakesh. It's this…………"
"Sumathi, can I speak to you for a minute."
"Yes. It's important. Otherwise I wouldn't trouble you."
"OK, Kumar. Go ahead. In fact, I wanted to talk to you, too."
"Go on, Sumathi."
"No. You brought it up first. So, you first."
"Ladies first, Sumi. Please, go ahead and speak freely."
"Oh God! I'm at a loss of words. OK, I'll try."
"Come on, Sumathi. Say it."
"What! Sumathi loves me!"
"Yes, dude. It's true."
"You are nuts, Kumar."
"She told me clearly, Rakesh."
Rakesh mumbled something.
"What? What's it, dude?"
"I can't believe it, man."
"What happened with Raveena, dude? Could you tell her?"
"I tried, man, but got a shock."
"Why? What happened? She rejected you? Abused you?"
"No, man. Nothing of that sort."
"You won't believe it if I told you."
"Try me, dude."
"Raveena loves you, man. She's head over heels in love with you."
"Shut that mouth, Kumar. Flies are flying in and out of it."
"I don't believe it, dude."
"What do we do now, man?"
A long pause.
"Dude, let me tell you what I feel."
"Our strategy boomeranged on us."
"I'm speaking about me, dude. While I was wooing Raveena to get close to Sumathi, somewhere I started liking her. I knew she liked me, too. Actually, declaring my love for Sumathi was…like a …challenge to me. I saw you fall for Raveena. So, naturally, I thought I must fall for her friend. But I realised that Raveena was genuine about me. She had no strategy."
"Kumar, you've snatched words from my heart and lips. It's exactly the case with me, too. In getting friendly with Sumathi, to reach Raveena, I started loving Sumathi. Actually, both are nice girls."
"What do we do now, dude?"
"The girls expect replies from us today, man."
"Dude, I suggest we tell them the truth…"
"And accept their love, man."
"And declare our love for them, dude; on our knees, if need be."
"Yeah, to that, man"
"What?" Raveena's reaction.
"What?" Sumathi's reaction.
Staring at the quartet in disbelief, passers-by walked away giving them a wide berth.
The happy hysterical laughter of the four friends was lost in the sound of splatter of the breakers and surf on the Marina beach.
...Shyam Sundar Bulusu