The Arrangement

By: P.G. Van

Niha ran down the steps and straight to her room to avoid being seen by Ratnamma or Naani. She shut the door behind her and leaned her back against it. She slowly placed her palm on her thudding heart.

She could not figure out why her heart has been on such a rampage in recent weeks. No. It’s only when he is around her, or she is thinking about him.

“Stop looking at him or dreaming about him,” she told her reflection, looking in the mirror.

Niha sat on the bed, feeling weak to her core. Why was this man’s presence so disturbing and nerve-wracking? Is it because he held a higher power? The power to turn her life backward in a flash. The power to hold her hostage in every sense and make her respond to his command.

Niha, stay away from him!

Chapter 7

“What? Unacceptable, Naani,” Niha grumbled looking at Naani. Mahen had told them earlier that day that he was going to take Naani and Niha for dinner. It was the celebratory dinner because Raghav’s father agreed to Mahen’s offer to exchange the land.

“I seriously don’t have any energy.” Naani shook her head, settling into the couch in the family room to watch a classic movie with Urmila and Deepa.

“I’m not going if you’re not going.” Niha sat down next to her on the couch.

“Don’t act like an eighty-year-old woman,” Naani said and added, “Look at you, you look so pretty in the saree. Right, girls?”

Niha was decked out in a cotton saree that she had borrowed from Urmila and got a big thumbs up from both Urmila and Deepa. “What’s the point, you’re not going.”

“Ready, ladies?” Mahen called out from the top of the stairs as he made his way down.

“Yes,” Naani called out.

“No, Naani. I’m not going,” Niha whispered, shaking her head.

“Hey, Urmi… Deepu and Naani, why does it look like you’re settled in for the night?” Mahen asked.

Naani pulled the throw closer. “Because I am. You guys go have fun.”

“Okay, don’t stay up late, Naani. Niha, are you ready to go?” Mahen asked, and she shook her head.

“We should take Naani, too, and the girls,” she whined, glaring at the elderly woman.

“It’s okay if she doesn’t want to go.” He shrugged. “Urmi, Deepu… you guys wanna go?”

The girls shook their head and gave lame excuses of having an early class in school the next day.

“But you wanted all of us to go out, right?” Niha didn’t know if she was more inclined not to go with Mahen alone or wanting to go with Naani.

“Yes. But it won’t be the last time we go out for dinner. If no one else wants to go, that’s fine. Let’s go.”

“Good. You two have fun.” Naani smiled.

Mahen nodded and started walking away toward the front of the house, and Niha followed him, her heart thudding. Why was she so jittery? It wasn’t like she has never dined with another man before, but with Mahen, everything felt different.

Niha looked at him as he walked ahead of her, wearing his light blue, cotton t-shirt combined with a pair of shorts. She felt she was overdressed, but she didn’t have too many options for clothes. He pulled out the keys and unlocked the Mercedes sedan parked in front of the house. He opened the door on the passenger side and held it open for her.

“Thank you.” She smiled as she sat down and adjusted the pleats of the saree.

“You look nice in a saree.” His comment was casual, but it made her cheeks heat up, and she murmured a thank you just as he closed the door to go around to the driver’s side.

“What are you in the mood for? What do you feel like eating?”

“Something authentic,” she stated.

He turned on the engine and thought for a moment before smiling. “Authentic experience coming up.”

“Exciting.” Niha was looking forward to spending time with Mahen, but she was worried about her reactions and responses to his presence. She could not sort out those emotions and feelings, and she had been ignoring them because addressing them meant acknowledging that they existed and what she felt was real.

They drove in silence for ten minutes before Mahen broke the silence. “What did you do in the city?”

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