I was walking down the lane towards my favourite library to exchange the book. The leaves on trees had turned a darker shade of brown, amid falling down after autumn. The air, even at 5 PM, was chilly, which caused me to be pull my cardigan closer to my body. There was a good amount of crowd seeing how it was a Saturday. Weekends in such an enormous city meant an opportunity for the youth to get out, drive somewhere for booze or go to the cinema halls wherein they could sit with a huge bucket of popcorn and perhaps some cold drink. Weekends for me meant snuggling in my comfy blanket with socks on my feet and a book in my hand and immerse myself in the words of either Tolstoy or Austen.
I skipped to the library and after entering stood behind a man, in his late sixties, who seemed like a withered apple. Patiently, I waited for my turn. The guy, his name was Kenny, stood behind and smiled the minute he saw me. We met when he had first taken the job here and instantly began talking about various authors. He loved Chaucer and preferred old English writers. I handed him the book and went around to get another one from the shelves. I had the entire blueprint of the library copied in my head, so finding my way towards my favourites was not a big issue. I grabbed another one and smiled at the cover. Anna Karenina, it read.
I was walking back to the front when I had to stop in my tracks. I perspired and the hands that held the book became clammy. I wanted to run away, but I was not willing to go without the book. I could wait till he was gone, but I had to rush home seeing how I had locked no windows. Even the balcony was open. Before I could argue with my conscience, he turned around, and I immediately wished I had Harry’s cloak so I could drape it around myself and run, or at least become invisible for the time being. Of course, it would be of no use seeing how he had seen me already and was walking towards Ms I-Like-To-Embarrass-Myself.
“Hey, I think I’ve seen you somewhere,” his voice was fascinatingly deep with a smooth finishing of feminine tone. “Have I?”
I nodded my head and looked down at the ground. He was wearing fancy shoes for a library. I guessed he was in the area for some other business, too. Perhaps meet another girl? I looked back up and realised he had asked me a question. Before I could say no, I blurted a ‘yes’ and mentally slapped my head with the book I was holding. It will hurt because Anna Karenina continues for 800 pages.
“We met on Tinder,” I tucked behind the one stray hair strand attempting to block my eyes.
So the story goes like this: I was extremely bored and had forgotten to exchange the book because of which I had installed Tinder. Many guys matched with me and I took my time talking to everyone – there were 4 of them, including this one – and the next morning, I deleted my account telling none of the 4 guys that I was doing it. As far as I can remember his name started with the letter P. He loved books, too, and had a pet dog. He worked as a Software Engineer in some MNC and earned good. He was an extrovert and was on Tinder in search of a person to talk to – like me.
“Yes, we did,” he said. And an awkward air was created which left us standing in the middle of the library gazing at everything but each other. He interrupted the awkward silence I was enjoying. “Can I ask you something?” I nodded – I had no option. “Why did you un-match me?”
I wished there was some way I could explain my situation to him, I mean, he was a book-lover, too. I scratched the back of my neck. Behind him, Kenny was glancing at us from in between his work, probably pondering over why there was such a strange air in this lovely place.
I sighed, “will you judge me if I told you the real reason?”
“I’ll try not to,” he folded his arms over his chest and the tiny vein on his arm popped up. I gulped and forced my eyes to look at his face.
“I had installed it because I had nothing to read. I forgot to exchange my book here and get another copy. I was bored at home having nothing else to do. So I thought of installing it for a day. The next day I deleted my account. I didn’t un-match you.” I looked at the illustration of Anna on the cover and wondered if there was any chance I could take my words back.
He laughed. He threw his head back and laughed out loud. Kenny from behind shushed him and asked me to get the book to the counter if I wanted it. I walked to the front with my face flushed. He followed me. I got the copy issued in my name and walked out, but not before thanking Kenny and apologising at the same time. He smiled at me and spared a glance at my ‘friend’.
I walked out, and he still was following me. I turned around on the sidewalk to face him.
“I’m sorry but I was never looking for any relationship,” I tried to sound sincere but exasperation laced my voice.
“Nor was I,” he shrugged his shoulders. His hands were in the pockets, making me wonder if he was here to return the book or exchange it. He had a blue backpack on his shoulders, which cleared my doubts.
“Nor a hook-up.” And he laughed again. It was irritating me.
“Don’t worry, I know.”
“How?” I crossed my arms in defiance. He knew nothing about me, ergo he could not say he knew.
“You are like Naina from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani,” he went to one of the little benches beside the library and sat down. This time, I followed.
“Excuse me, but are you calling me a nerd?” I was now simply furious.
“In a way, yeah. But you read Tolstoy. You are an avid reader. You must come here every two or three days. You must be old school, not from among those who go on dating apps desperate for a boyfriend. You are made for love, not a hook-up. So, I know and I understand that you were there on Tinder for a day and you uninstalled it right after you found your love back.”
“Books.” I nodded my head and smiled. They were my love.
“What genre do you prefer?”
“Poetry,” he smiled sheepishly. “Neruda is my favourite.”
“I live for Tolstoy,” motioning to the book lying in my lap. He nodded.
“So because we did not hit it off on Tinder, would you like to have coffee now?” He said just as I was about to get up.
“Um, are you asking me out?”
He shook his head, “I’m asking you because I’m thirsty and I don’t want to go alone. All the laughing is now making me crave for something warm to drink. Plus, the weather seems perfect for coffee.” He gazed at the dark night above.
“Why did you even have to laugh? You embarrassed me in front of Kenny.” I pouted a little but glanced down at the book to hide it.
“Because it was fun hearing such a statement from you. I would’ve understood if you had simply told me you lost interest. Hearing a tale as long as Paradise Lost riled me up.”
“Do you even know how long Paradise -”
“10 books. An average reader takes 6 hours and 15 minutes to read it.” That shut me up. He stood up, dusting his pants. “Are you coming?”
“To Heaven. We’ll grab an apple from the forbidden tree and eat it.” This time, I laughed. “To get some coffee. You can pay your share as this isn’t a date.”
“I didn’t get my wallet.” He laughed again. And I wondered why I was even having this conversation with the guy.
“I’m guessing you don’t have your phone with you, too.” I gave him a glare. “Wow, you can never get robbed.” And laughter. Another glare. “I’ll pay for you. You can pay me later.”
We walked to the nearest coffee shop and sat down. He ordered two cups of steaming coffee and a sandwich for himself. The waiter came with the order real soon. He set it down, and I wondered if I could have a bite from the sandwich. My stomach grumbled and the guy in front of me – I still don’t remember his name – chuckled. He offered me half, and I thanked.
“I forgot your name,” I said, which earned another laugh. I could apply for stand-up comedy.
“Parth. And I remember yours. Sapna, right?” I nodded and took the first bite when my eyes widened. He asked me what was wrong.
“I haven’t locked the balcony door and I am having coffee with you! I need to go home.”
“Wait a minute,” he said right when I was about to grab everything and leave. “Sit. Finish your coffee and the sandwich.” His tone was authoritative, and I wondered if he was a project manager or something.
“No, you don’t understand. I’ve only locked the main door.”
“I understand, but you are hungry and so am I. Finish this and I’ll walk you home. If anybody has broken in, you can have my credit card and buy everything you were robbed of.” He took one bite from the sandwich and I sat down, still half-worried.
I ate in a rush. He paid, and I looked on the other side because it was an enormous blow to my pride. We scurried. The temperature had fallen a little and my cardigan was not helping me win against the cold. Parth was only wearing a t-shirt, but his hands were in his pockets. Maybe he regretted not bringing a jacket. After reaching the apartment, I was relieved when I found the door’s lock intact. After walking in, I gave a quick glance to find everything in place. I sighed. I locked the balcony because it was already chilly in the apartment. Parth was still waiting outside the apartment. I had reckoned he would welcome himself in.
“Would you like to come in?”
“No, I should get going. Mike must be waiting for me.”
Right, I said and nodded my head. I leaned against the frame when I remembered. I walked back inside and grabbed my wallet from the table. I asked him how much I owed him when he refused.
“That’s fine,” but I insisted and he refused harder. “So you were going to take my credit card if you were robbed. What would I get now that you aren’t?”
“What do you want?” I narrowed my eyes. He was standing outside my apartment. We were only a few feet apart. A kiss was my only clue.
“Will you meet me the next weekend?” This was baffling.
“So I could show you that there is a Hogwarts which nobody knows about.”
“You know that your sarcasm offends people and makes you sound like a jerk?” He laughed. “And that irritating laugh is equally frustrating.” He laughed harder. “Okay.” I said when he had calmed down. “But only if we are eating something and you let me pay this time.”
“I’ll forget my wallet,” he winked. I rolled my eyes. “I should leave.” I nodded my head.
“Take care,” he whispered and pecked my forehead. He was gone before I could even comprehend and decide for a reasonable reaction. I closed the door and a warm fuzzy feeling spread through the middle of my chest.