A Life-long Vacation
A Life-long Vacation
Reema's trip to Lahore threw her into a collision course with Junaid. Or did it?
The inauguration of Reema's new designer-wear showroom went off well. After the last guest left, Reema announced that she was taking the whole team out for dinner at a posh restaurant at which she had already booked a table. Everyone smiled and nodded, but Reema knew that all of them were exhausted. After all, she was exhausted herself!
"Don't worry, I won't keep you late," she assured them. "I'm as tired as you all are, but we need to eat..."
"And going straight home will be such an anti-climax," Junaid chimed in. "Let's go for dinner."
The restaurant was full, but their table was waiting for them and they were quickly seated and their order taken. There was some desultory talk about the inauguration and which guest had said what and to whom. But all of them were too worn out to talk much. Everyone just relaxed, sipped their fruit juices and waited for dinner to be served. Reema glanced at her watch.
"Fed up by our company?" drawled Junaid.
"Of course not," murmured Reema. "But my mother will be up waiting to hear all about the inauguration and I don't want to keep her up too late."
"I'll take you home if that's okay by you," offered Junaid and Reema remembered that her car had been given for some minor repairs.
"Thank you," she said.
Everyone ate fast and was eager to leave as soon as the meal was over. After quick goodbyes, Reema and Junaid were on their way.
Neither spoke for some time, but the silence was eventually broken by Junaid. "What do you think of your assistant, Laila?" he asked.
Reema was surprised. It had been Laila who had brought Junaid to her when her interior decorator had given her staff trouble shortly before the inauguration and she had dismissed him in a fit of temper. So she had thought that Junaid and Laila were friends.
"She is hard-working, intelligent, reliable and supportive," she said slowly. "And she comes up with great ideas..."
"I'm not thinking of hiring her!" interrupted Junaid. "I meant, what kind of a person is she?"
"What kind of a person?" repeated Reema a little blankly. What did Junaid mean, she wondered. Did he want her to play Cupid and bring him and Laila together?
"Yes, what is she like as a person, a friend?"
When Reema looked a bit confused, Junaid said with a laugh. "I suppose you wouldn't know. I mean, you're not the kind of person who knows people personally! Everything is business for you. You're... some sort of machine!"
Reema's voice rose. "What do you mean?" she asked sharply.
"You've known Laila for a fairly long time and yet you don't know her as a person! That makes you a machine! Are you angry that I'm talking to you like this? Your staff consists of sycophants who flatter you, so I suppose no one has ever told you the truth!"
"How dare you speak to me like this?" Reema gritted her teeth and glared at Junaid as she spoke. They arrived at her house just then and lumping out of the car, she banged the door after her and ran down the path without even thanking him.
Mama was waiting up to hear all about the inauguration and Reema, tired as she was, had to sit down with her and give her all the details. Finally she went to bed, but sleep just wouldn't come. Her brain was still wired and she restlessly went over all that people had said to her at the inauguration and what follow-up work she had to do the next day. She also remembered what Junaid had said to her and again grew hot with anger. Okay, he had wanted to talk about the woman he was interested in, but that gave him no right to speak to her so rudely!
But once she got to work the next day, she forgot all about Junaid. There was so much to do! Just before the inauguration she had bagged a big overseas contract from a leading fashion house and there were smaller local orders to be taken care of too. The new price list had to be finalised and it was also the month of Ramzan which meant that many karigars were on leave. The inauguration had also meant a lot of extra work and there had been the usual shuttling back and forth between cities. All told, it meant that she was exhausted but had no time for any rest.
Slowly things began to fall into place, but the pace of work continued to be frenetic. The inevitable then happened and one morning she passed out in the basement of her workshop.
The next thing she knew was that she was in bed with Mama and Laila standing by her bedside and looking down at her, worry writ large on their faces.
"What happened?" Reema asked in a weak voice.
"You fainted," said Mama. "Of over work and exhaustion.”
Reema felt so weak and helpless that she began to cry. Mama sat down beside her and took her in her arms, but she let her cry till she was cried out. Then Laila began to talk.
"You're overdoing things," she told Reema firmly. "You are behaving as if there is nothing else in life except work. What are you trying to prove anyway? Haven't you already proved enough? You've revived your father's business and also made a name for yourself."
"Yes," chimed in Mama. "And I'm so proud of you, Reema! I am confident that whatever problems come your way, you'll be able to face them and overcome them. Now what you need and deserve is a break."
"But there's so much work to do!" protested Reema weakly.
"Don't you trust me?" asked Laila at once. "Don't you think that I can handle it? Haven't you trained me well enough for me to be able to do it all just as you would like it done?"
"You have, and Laila has proved herself an able assistant more than once. I'm sure that she can manage just fine while you're away!" added Mama.
Reema had no answer to that and in a surprisingly short time she was aboard a flight to Lahore. Laila had taken charge of everything and decided that a week in the garden city was just what Reema needed. Lahore was absolutely new for Reema, but she had faith in Laila. The girl had the most amazing contacts and had told her that all arrangements had been made for her.
Reema walked out of the airport pushing her baggage trolley. She looked around for someone with a placard with her name on it, but the next moment she screamed, startling the old woman walking beside her.
"Just stand still a moment," said Junaid. "I want to capture the look on your face for Laila and your mother! They are going to love it!" The next moment her stunned face was on the screen of his mobile phone!
"Welcome to Lahore, Madam Millionaire!" Junaid said next, picking up her heavy suitcase effortlessly and walking towards the car park. Reema followed him.
"You and Laila really tricked me!" she said in mock anger.
"Me? Laila gave me no choice. Every time I called her, she went blah-blah about you and how you needed a break!" He sounded quite angry.
"I'm sorry," said Reema stiffly. "Please take me to a hotel.”
"I'll never hear the end of it from Laila!" he shot back as he brought the car to a halt in the underground parking lot of a multi-storeyed building.
Junaid took Reema to a third-floor flat. "Look, ma'am, I have a proposal for you," he said. "I have just bought this apartment. You can stay here — free lodging and free food — and you can help me to fix up the place in return. What do you say?"
"But you are an interior decorator yourself! Laila brought you in when I sacked my interior decorator. You took over from him and did an excellent job..."
"I just followed the plans that that man had drawn up. Now what do you say to my proposal. When will you start, ma'am?"
"As soon as I have a shower and you brew me some coffee, sir!" replied Reema matching his tone.
Two hours later, he drove her to the biggest shopping mall in the city. "Just window-shopping today," he told her. He wagged his thumb and made a face. "No hard cash today."
Reema smiled at his honesty, her eyes on some checked curtains in a showroom. Junaid pulled her out of the shop. "Only looking today," he reminded her.
"Okay, but tell me something about yourself. If you aren't an interior designer, what are you?"
"A software engineer heading a multinational computer company," he said dragging her away from a store that sold expensive cushion covers. "Hey, I think that it's time we left! I don't think I can control you here!"
"We don't leave until you buy me ice cream," she retorted, shaking off his hand.
"Ice cream in this weather?" he protested. "Why not? Ice cream in winter is heaven!" And he was forced to buy one for her.
"Your idea of heaven doesn't match mine," he said softly as he handed her a double scoop of her favourite, butterscotch.
Reema gave him a sharp look. "What does that mean, sir?" she asked.
"Use your brains and you'll understand! You aren't as innocent as you look. Hey, enjoy your heaven before it melts and becomes hell!" he grinned.
Back at his flat, he settled himself down on the sofa and stretched out his legs. "Fix dinner for this poor soul, will you," he said.
"Me? Fix dinner? No way! I'm a disaster in the kitchen!" Reema said flippantly.
Junaid looked amused. "Hey, I took you out and even bought you an ice cream! Now all I'm asking for is an omelette."
"That I can make. Perhaps!" Reema unwillingly moved to the well-stocked kitchen and went through the shelves.
"The eggs are in the refrigerator, not on the shelves," Junaid was certainly enjoying her plight and Reema flashed him a fuming look.
"You go and change while I try," she mumbled and he quickly moved away before she could change her mind and announce that she wasn't in the mood to toil in front of the stove!
The next day Junaid sat in his office enjoying a full meal. He grinned as he thought of the previous night. The omelette had ended up where it belonged — in the rubbish bin and then Reema had handed him bread and butter and a large mug of hot chocolate.
"Sorry, but you have to make do with this," she had said and then laughed and covered her ears as he exploded. Later, when Reema was not around, Junaid narrated the incident to Reema's mother and Laila and they all had a good laugh.
"But don't be too hard on my girl!" Reema's doting mother had requested at the end of the conversation.
When he went home that evening, Junaid used his own key to get into the flat. Reema was on the phone. He showered and changed and came back to the living room only to find her still babbling away. This was too much! He went over and turned on the TV and turned up the sound.
Reema got off the phone and glared at him, "Don't you have any sense of decency?" she hissed at him. "I was talking business!" She moved and stood in front of the TV, blocking his view.
"Look who's complaining! I came home 20 minutes ago and you didn't even notice!"
Reema stared at him through narrowed eyes, "What did you expect? A loving hug and a cup of coffee?"
"Is that too much to expect?"
"Look, mister," Reema said in a guarded tone, "we may be staying in the same house, but we're not playing house-house!"
"Thanks for reminding me!" Junaid spat back.
He got up and went into the kitchen to make himself dinner. Madam sat on the sofa, enjoying the telecast of a fashion show and passing comments on every single design. Sidharth came back with his plate piled high with food, quietly took the TV remote, changed to a news channel, sat down on a rocking chair and began to enjoy his dinner. Reema made a grab from his plate but he was too quick for her and moved it to his other hand. She fell back on the sofa.
”Just a quarter of what's on the plate!" she begged him.
"No," he said wickedly. "There's your favourite bread and butter in the fridge. Go and help yourself."
"But you promised me board and lodging!"
"But I didn't say that I would cook for you!"
"Honestly, I can't cook!" she wailed.
"But you could help."
"Well, fine. I will from tomorrow."
Reema was so hungry that she didn't mind even eating what was left on Sidharth's plate. "Delicious!" she said, licking her fingers. "A little more cheese and it would have been even better!"
"Reema, I'll kill you if you wipe your fingers on the sofa cover!" threatened Junaid. He came over and pulled Reema to her feet. "Your turn to work now. Do the washing up and fix me a cup of coffee. Black and strong."
Reema murmured an abusive word as she headed to the kitchen. Junaid had more to teach her the next day. When she came in, threw her shopping on the sofa and dived for the bed, he firmly propelled her to the bathroom and told her to take a shower. "Come out and pick up your shopping from the sofa and your shoes and purse from the floor and change the bedcover," he ordered her. "You can only get into bed after that."
Reema gave him an indignant look but she hummed happily in the shower. "Old habits die hard," she said saucily to him as she did what he had told her to do after coming out. "Is everything okay now, Mr. Spick and Span? Can I have the bed tonight while you manage on the sofa, which isn't all that comfortable?” she said as she closed the door.
Junaid stared at her aghast the next evening. "What? You went and asked the woman next door to send us food? You're nuts!" he angrily pushed away the plate before him.
"Will you listen before you explode? I cut two of the fingers on my right hand and went to ask the lady next door for a Band Aid. The good woman understood my plight and offered to send us dinner."
Junaid's anger did not subside. "Well, I can't eat this stuff, but you can if you want to!"
"Well, I'm hungry! I didn't have any lunch today."
"Then go ahead and eat!"
"But..." she made a pathetic face and showed him her injured fingers. Junaid felt a tug at his heart strings. He stared into her eyes. "Don't play games with me, Reema," he whispered. "I've had my share of pain..."
Reema smiled back even more sweetly.
Reema had a blast, with Junaid not just cooking for her but also doing the washing up and feeding her, till Junaid saw her fingers and realised that she had lied about injuring them. He then exploded so violently that Reema panicked. She had never seen a man so angry. He screamed at her as she tried to defend her lies.
A little later, common sense prevailed and he realised that he shouldn't have exploded like that. After all, Reema was in Lahore on a break! He cooled down and everything would have been all right if Reema had only apologised. But by now her temper had been aroused and she attacked him like a wild cat.
"So, you cooked a couple of meals for me! So what? I can get men like you to not just cook for me but to also lick my feet!" she yelled.
"Then go get them!" said Junaid.
"You do that!"
They did not talk for the rest of the day and the next morning Reema left the house as soon as Junaid left for the office, and caught a flight home.
Reema's mother was surprised to see that her daughter was even tenser after her break than she had been when she had left for it. The next couple of days she stayed at home, morose and uncommunicative, not going to work and not even returning Laila’s calls. Finally Laila landed on the doorstep.
"What's up, Reema?" she demanded. "Why are neither you nor Junaid returning my calls?"
Reema burst out. "I shouldn't have stayed in Lahore once I found that it was Junaid who was to play host to me, Laila!" she exclaimed. "I should never have come between you. You two are just made for each other. You'll be so happy and have such a great life together..."
Reema's eyes widened and she came to a stop as she saw Junaid walk out of the kitchen with her mother.
"Finished, Reema?" asked Junaid with a grin. He pushed her gently to a chair as he saw her stagger unsteadily. "But what gave you the idea that I was drawn to my brother's girl? He is in the USA on training and he told me to keep an eye on Laila. Are you convinced now that it is you whom I am interested in and not her?"
He said the last sentence so tenderly that Reema's heart skipped a beat.
"But I'm no good in the kitchen," she said humbly.
"You aren't good at a number of other things as well," he said with a wink. "But I'm ready to do all those things for you, rather than to sit alone, imagining some other man licks your feet!”
"Well said!" exclaimed Mama. "Go down on your knees now and propose to my daughter!"
Junaid promptly went down on one knee. "Will you marry me, Reema?" he whispered. "Will you bear me two cute and healthy kids? In return, I promise a lifelong vacation, free board and lodging and breaks galore!"
Mama took him into her arms and hugged him tightly. "Welcome to a lifelong vacation, filled with happiness and fun, both of you!" she said happily.
Re: A Life-long Vacation