So what do you plan to do?" asked Aditya. Sam had narrated Charu’s ramblings on Facebook Messenger from the previous night.

“I think she misses me."

“I love her Aditya. I really do. As much I had hated her for what she had done, I always loved her, perhaps it’s time to end all this snooping and stalking," said Sam.

To me she comes across like an all-consuming forest fire; gorgeous, breathtaking, formidable, passionate but destructive. You know what I mean? Beautiful, sensual from a distance but one can never get close.

Aditya did not reply. There was silence for a few minutes.

It was six in the morning on Saturday and Sam had not slept all night.

“I never told you this. It was just three weeks into college. Must have been the lunch at the crazy noodle place near the cafeteria and I had definitely over eaten. Less than an hour of eating I was throwing-up like I was vomiting my heart, lungs, stomach and even my balls out every time. It was traumatic to say the least. I was holed up in my hostel, a miserable hovel, taking frequent trips to the potty. I did not want to call home as they would make it a big scene and I couldn’t get through to you. Idiot."

"Then out of desperation and helplessness, I messaged Charu. She messaged me like in reflex. She was attending a theatre workshop outside the city, but she excused herself from the training and came straight to me. You know, theatre and dance is so dear to her and she would not sacrifice her practice sessions for anything. But she did that for me. On the way she pickedup some much needed medicines from a clinic. If not for her timely help I would not have survived," said Sam.

Aditya responded with an exclamatory look.

“Hello, enough with your sarcasm. Of course I would not have died but trust me I was more than willing to die than to suffer from diarrhea and continuous vomiting. But she spent the entire afternoon with me, gave me meds, cooked me some light food; I was overwhelmed by her generosity and kindness," said Sam.

He looked at Aditya meditatively in silence.

"Do you really love her?" asked Aditya. "But you have been unhappy with her, perhaps both of you are seeking different things and that's creating all the friction."

"To me she comes across like an all-consuming forest fire; gorgeous, breathtaking, formidable, passionate but destructive. You know what I mean? Beautiful, sensual from a distance but one can never get close. I am not sure if she even realises the level of pain that you have gone through," said Aditya.

Sam nodded vigorously without saying a word. "But she is someone who could sweep you off your feet in ways that you can't even imagine. She is capable of such abundance, of kindness and love, which can be intoxicating. Have you ever put your finger inside a burning flame? Yes, that's how you would feel if you loved her. Perhaps, I should let go of my fears and submit myself completely to her."

"I am so disillusioned, worried and confused. With her everything is like a rollercoaster. One day I am intensely high and another day, everything would be horribly sad and disappointing."

"But now I am hopeful. Miserably hopeful. I feel like jumping into the sky."

"You are madly deeply in love with her," interrupted Aditya.

"Go get her."

***

“Can I have one hazelnut cappuccino and a dark chocolate mousse please?" Charu placed her order to the straight-faced waiter.

Amethyst Café was a wild green oasis in the middle of a chaotic dusty dry city. Charu reclined lazily on a painted bamboo chair in the spacious verandah that overlooked the lush garden. The main-building could have been a granary or warehouse in its previous avatar. The evening sky wore a grey orangish hue and the rain drops from an earlier shower on the broad arrow shaped leaves glittered like diamonds under the garden lights.

“Charu, stay calm and composed. Don’t let your anxiety make the stalker nervous. This is a perfect moment to nab him. Anwar and I will be at the restaurant just opposite the café. Buzz me immediately after he approaches you. Keep up the conversation in a non-threatening manner. We will be there immediately," Alex had advised Charu earlier.

The hot cappuccino arrived after twenty minutes, but no sign of the stalker. There were only few people at the cafe. A young man with a two week stubble seated at the end of the veranda was alone and kept to his smart phone. He sipped some juice from an unusually tall glass and looked at Charu gingerly few times.

A white couple and their two small children seated in the garden were creating a ruckus in an otherwise quiet evening. The little boy with a small bowl ran around the entire cafe making engine sounds. Steamed rice from the bowl was strewn all over the veranda. The cafe staff and waiters didn't seem to mind. Charu was irritated with the parents' callous attitude and wondered if the cafe staff would behave in the same way if it were an Indian family.

"I hate kids," she spoke to herself. "Especially the smaller ones, they are mean and evil."

When I read what she wrote last night, I felt a connection to my soul. You know what I mean? It touched my raw core in a painfully blissful way. You know what I mean?

She reminded the waiter that her order for the dark chocolate mousse hadn't arrived yet. Her nervousness amplified with the passing of every minute. There was no sign of any one approaching her. She was feeling increasingly discouraged at the utility of the whole exercise.

“So what do you think we should do?" Alex asked Anwar. They were waiting at a small restaurant nearby.

“Let us give it some more time, perhaps he is around somewhere close and waiting for the opportune moment," replied Anwar. “If he is a professional he would just observe and not make a move this time, but if he is an amateur and doing all of this out of spite, which I think he is, we still have a good chance of nabbing him today."

Sam and Aditya arrived well ahead of time at the café but camouflaged themselves in dark clothes near the dense green foliage. With no lights near them, they looked invisible from the veranda. Sam watched Charu grow anxious the entire evening and felt miserable about it.

“I really feel terrible, I am a fucking loser. How could I have allowed myself to stoop to this level? I can now imagine the level of fear and suffering she must have gone through. Should I just go and explain everything that happened and apologise?" asked Sam.

“That’s the dumbest idea," replied Aditya, “and you expect that she would forgive and embrace you immediately? Knowing whatever little that I know about her; either she would trash you or hand you over to the police."

“But what I did was cruel. I am so ashamed of myself," whined Sam.

“Tell me something, just a hypothetical question. Not suggesting this might happen…"

“Ohoo, please….," interrupted Sam.

“What if she said no to your love?" asked Aditya.

“She won’t. She loves me. I can feel it. Don’t ask me how. When I read what she wrote last night, I felt a connection to my soul. You know what I mean? It touched my raw core in a painfully blissful way. You know what I mean?" said Sam.

Aditya did not probe further.

The chocolate mousse was a clear winner, it transformed Charu’s mood from her immediate predicament to a state of perfect molten bliss. The mousse was a perfect balance of lightness and flavour. The bitter notes of the cocoa were slightly pronounced but what surprised her was the hint of spice and cardamom flavour that played along.

“Aren’t you Charu?" the bearded gentleman interrupted her gastronomic experience.

“Holy fuck, is that him?" she voiced in her head and froze staring at him.

“I was at your play where you presented Draupadi. A few weeks back? My brother played Julius Ceaser, so I had come to watch it. You were superb. I wasn’t sure if that was you from a distance. But I distinctly remember your gorgeous black round eyes. You should try modelling. This is my business card and I am a model coordinator. Please do come and meet me if you are keen. Lovely meeting you, bye. Take care," he said in a baritone voice.

‘Shit, he is handsome,’ she voiced in her head as she sheepishly shook his hand.

“I think we should call it off, it is more than an hour and let us not make Charu go through this any further. You should seriously look at Plan B," said Alex.

“Yes, I agree. Just do one last thing, will you? Send this message to Charu," said Anwar and showed a piece of paper that he had scribbled hurriedly.

“My wife is away for a conference this weekend. Would you want to drop by tonight? :P"

“This is bloody cheeky, why do you think it’s Sam?" asked Alex while he hit the send button.

“Human psychology! I am hoping this works," laughed Anwar.

Sam’s eyes became blood red on seeing Alex’s message to Charu. He stared at his mobile phone screen waiting for Charu’s response.

Charu coyly smiled and replied,

Someone’s being naughty tonight"

And she continued,

“So what’s for dinner?"

Sam stared at his mobile screen for a long time. He did not utter a word.

“Dude, I think she is playing you, bitch," said Aditya.

Sam did not reply, but his breathing became heavy and rapid. He shot up suddenly from his chair and moved swiftly towards the exit. Aditya could not keep pace with Sam. Sam got into his car and banged the door from behind and whizzed past. Aditya looked at Sam, but was careful not to upset him more. Sam’s silence was noisier than the reverb of the engine.

As he took a sharp turn towards college, he tweeted

“It’s show time folks!! Stay tuned!!"