Roses are Red, Cheeks are Redder

Love is in the air. Some try to shut it out, some fling open the window and welcome it with arms wide open. But love is capricious.

              Ranjit cherished Sundays, for it was his day off from the computer business. As he woke and cast his eyes out the sliding door, the tenebrous Delhi sky greeted him mournfully. His yawn ended with a sigh as his day began with gloom. But his spirits lifted when he saw the rose he had planted bloom. Watching its blood red in the backdrop of grim clouds somehow made it all the more appealing, much like Victorian architecture.

              Ranjit walked out to the balcony to admire it more closely. The beads of dew refreshed his mind. As he bent to caress the flower he had cared into blossoming, he noticed its sibling in the form of a timid bud. The sweet fragrance reminded him why women appreciate being gifted flowers, and why men often don roses on their coats. Roses had always mesmerized Ranjit, and he could easily understand why people spent their days selling flowers.

               It was this love, and not the annual week of love, that caused such thoughts to erupt in his mind. But a nearby billboard reminded him of the ephemeral frenzy that had recently gripped adolescents and adults alike, and Ranjit’s heart throbbed spasmodically. His thoughts, though, were interrupted when the first hail of an unseasonal hailstorm smacked his neck. Ranjit rushed to the safety of his room, carrying the flowerpot with him. As he stood there watching the hailstones clutter, plop, crack, and thud, he remembered the previous time something had landed on him while he was in his balcony.

                Reflecting on it now, it made him chuckle how his neighbour’s spat toothpaste had splashed on his neck. He smiled again when he recalled how she had gifted him a pair of vest and boxers to make up for ruining the one he was wearing at the time. Her attractive face flashed in his mind as he looked at the proudly standing rose in his hand, and Ranjit’s heart throbbed amorously.

              The potted rose flirted with his nose, her bewitching face bombarded his mind, the valentine billboard arrested his eyes, and his ears boomed with the beating of his heart. It seemed too synchronous to be coincidental to him. When he stretched the elastic of his sweatpants to check what boxers he was wearing, he was sure it was serendipity. The hailstones yelled ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and the rose whispered ‘Go! Go! Go!’

               The energy that love’s passion imparts beats adrenaline every day of the year, and its optimism can help entire settlements recover from major catastrophes. Such is its chemistry that it makes people identify chemistries that might not even exist. Before Ranjit could ponder over these things, he was standing in front of the lone apartment on the floor above his.

            Thunder rumbled its warning but his gasping passion pushed him over the line. He decided to leave the rose without a word, opting for anonymity. Before Ranjit could fix the rose in the letter slot, another person was standing in front of the lone apartment on the floor above his.

              Ranjit only learned of that when he felt a strong force pulling him away from the letter slot, and an even stronger force bulldoze his cheek.

              “What do you think you’re doing?” she screamed louder than the thunder. Ranjit could only gulp and gawk. Her hair was wet and sliding down one side of her neck. Her black trousers glistened with dripping water. Her long fingers clutched the camping bag on her shoulders. Her red jacket couldn’t match the rose dangling down the letter slot, but her burning eyes beat it comprehensively. Redder still was Ranjit’s burning cheek. He couldn’t believe such a slim hand could land such a heavy blow.

             “Oh, it’s you!” said his neighbour. There was a hint of self-reproach in her voice as she recognized her neighbour at the next flash of lightning. She couldn’t imagine malevolence under the baby-face, or deceit in the guileless eyes. Hailstones battered the lone window in the corridor, rushing to take a look at Ranjit’s blazing cheek as he dropped his hand.

                  She maintained her stony face but it was bereft of colour when she saw the glowing imprint of her hand. Ranjit covered it again and pointed to the rose in response to the question. An even higher-chroma red was seen flooding her cheeks when she picked up the rose.

              A few minutes later, they were sitting across a small round table in her hall. A small lamp illuminated the table, and lightning lit up the numerous plants under the window. Ranjit sat with hands in his lap and eyes on his host, while she sat with rose in hand and eyes closed.

              “I’m Bhavna,” she said. Ranjit nodded. “No one has ever given me a rose.”

              “I’ve never picked a rose before,” he said. Bhavna nodded. When she opened her big, gauging eyes, Ranjit felt flustered. “It’s just that I’ve been growing this rose for a while and it has finally blossomed into this beautiful object I thought it would look better with someone who matched its beauty!” he said without pausing.

              It was Ranjit who closed his eyes now and Bhavna who looked at her guest. He sighed on hearing the softest utterance of laughter. But when he saw her looking at him with a smile on her face and the rose near her nose, his heart skipped a beat.

                “Isn’t it wrong to pluck pretty flowers?” she asked with a smile.

              “It’s better than letting it wither and die in lament. With a new bud ready, I felt it was ready to pass the baton. I love flowers, but I’m sort of a benevolent reaper, provider of timely deaths!”

              “We belong to the same field!” said Bhavna, holding up the rose. Her eyes widened in shock, while Ranjit smiled and nodded, pointing to the plants. He felt surprised how quickly things can change and thought about it time and again over the next couple of hours, sitting across Bhavna in her dimly lit apartment. Even the claps of thunder sounded like applause. He didn’t feel like leaving. But when he was about to, Bhavna planted a gentle kiss on his cheek.

              “I hope this makes it feel better!” she said and shut the door lest Ranjit saw her blush.

          “What kind of an idiot smiles after being slapped across the face?” said Vipin when he saw his roommate enter a minute later.

             “The luckiest,” said Ranjit through stretched lips and puffy cheeks.

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