“So, you are finally leaving us! No regrets, I will not miss you!” Aman said, tongue in cheek.
“Neither will I miss you,” Mohan replied, with a sigh of relief.
“Come on guys, cut out the charade! We know how both feel, you are bum chums!” Asha intervened and said.
“Yeah! A good try to keep the tears from falling! Let go, let them out, we too will join you.” Razia said, mocking them.
“Come on, do not put salt on their hidden wounds guys, you will have to call 911 for the ambulance!” Edgar pleaded and patted Mohan on his back.
“Sir, your table is ready, please follow me,” the waitress told them.
They followed her and occupied the chairs around the table, which was at one end of the large room. It was Friday evening and all the tables in the restaurant were occupied. They had to wait for half an hour for their turn and many more were patiently standing behind them.
“OK, now cheer up, you both. Let us enjoy the evening. Mohan is leaving us not because he wants to, but he has to. Aman, though he is very close and dear to you, we too are sad that he is leaving us. In fact many more in the office will miss him, especially Lalitha!” Razia said with a mischievous smile.
“Does she know that tomorrow he is flying to Mumbai? Why did we not ask her to join us? Should I call her up now?” Asha said looking at Mohan.
“Do what you want to. I am not interested,” Mohan replied, shaking his head.
“But she likes you. She told me!” Razia exclaimed.
“That is her problem, not mine!” Mohan replied.
The waitress placed the appetizers and two jugs of lemonade on the table and stood near Aman waiting for their orders. Aman knew their choice and ordered pasta for the ladies and spaghetti for the men. For desert butterscotch ice cream was everyone’s choice.
Edgar, who was hungry, pounced on Bruschetta, the appetizer consisting of grilled slices of bread rubbed with garlic and immersed in olive oil. Asha and Razia followed him while Aman and Mohan looked on.
“Saves us the bother of refining the card,” Edgar said, munching the bread.
“Which card?” Razia queried.
Asha looked at Edgar, who nodded.
“Oh! We were using our digital graphic skills to produce a card for our friends,” Asha replied.
“What for? What does it say?” Razia asked.
“Aman weds Mohan!” Only we were waiting for the date!” Asha replied with a broad smile.
“That is really not funny!” Aman looked at her and remarked.
“We have to change it now to “Aman weds Asha,” Edgar said, with a smile.
“Please stop it,” Aman pleaded.
“You want both of them to be beheaded?” Razia asked, rolling her eyes.
“No way this will happen here. Soon they are going to be American Citizens. No more India for them,” Edgar said.
“Why don’t you listen to Aman? Please change the topic,” Mohan said, in a subdued voice.
Their dinner bowls had arrived and the waitress placed these on the table.
“Is there anything else that you want?” She asked them.
“Yes, can you do me a favor?” Aman requested her, got up and stood a few feet away from the table.
“Sure, what is it?” She replied.
Aman retrieved his mobile phone from his pocket and kept changing his position until he was satisfied that all his friends were in focus on the screen. He held on to the mobile for a while longer as he noticed on the screen, in the background two persons, a teenage boy and a middle aged man sitting in front of a table. The man was busy eating the spaghetti while the boy had lowered his head slightly and was moving his lips. A plate with uneaten pizza was in front of him. Aman, reflected for a while and shook his head in bafflement.
“Please come here and capture a picture from this position. Please ensure that all of us around the table are on the screen before you press the button,” Aman said and handed the mobile to her and sat in his chair.
The waitress took the pictures and Aman thanked her after he was satisfied with the result. She left, informing them that she would soon return with the ice creams.
During the meal, Mohan opened up considerably and monopolized the conversation. At length he reminded them of their close association for the past seven years in the Company, of the good and indifferent times they had faced together. He particularly mentioned Aman, whom he considered as his younger brother and an extremely good friend. They listened to him and interjected only when he touched them emotionally to bring tears into their eyes.
After finishing the ice cream, Aman looked at Asha, who took the hint and opened her purse. She shuffled her hand inside it several times, but could not find the box containing the gift, which they had planned to give to Mohan. The box contained a golden bracelet which had their names inscribed. She got up and stood a few feet away from their table. Aman followed her and they spoke in whispers.
“I can not find the bracelet box. I thought I had kept it in my purse. I really do not know what to do?” She hissed.
“Take it easy. I think you did not put it in the purse when I gave it while sitting in the car. It will be there on the seat,” Amman told her.
“Yes, You are right. It is in the car. I will go and get it. Give me the keys,” she demanded.
“You sit and relax here. Come let us go back to the table. I will go and get it,” Aman escorted Asha to her chair.
“I will join you in a few minutes. In the meantime you could order coffee for me,” he told them.
As he was proceeding towards the exit he passed close to the table where he had seen the boy and the man sitting. The man had left but the boy was brooding in the same manner as he had noticed earlier. The pizza too remained untouched. A bit puzzled, he ignored it and walked on.
The car was at the farthest end of the parking lot and he ran towards it as it was drizzling. He covered the distance of over 50 yards in quick time. The tail light shone when he pressed the key button. He jerked open the door and looked at the rear seat and found the bracelet box tucked in a recess with the backrest. Entering the car he retrieved it.
The moment he turned to come out of the car he was hit by a blast wave. He fell out of the car and landed on the wet ground. Reeling with pain and anxiety, he looked towards the hotel. Horror and amazement filled him and with awe he saw the flames come out of the building to lit up the dark night sky. The noise from the blast followed and pierced his eardrums. He blacked out and lay still.
To be continued in Part II