The Arrangement

By: P.G. Van

“I… I didn’t do anything specific, worked with my mother mostly. Why do you ask?” It still worried her that people would find out who she was, and then they would fail to see the real person in her. She wanted Mahen to know her for who she was and not what the tabloids said, or the media thought about her.

He kept his eyes on the road. “Just curious.”

“I didn’t do anything as interesting as what you do.” She smiled.

“Says the person who called me a workaholic.” He snorted, making her feel embarrassed.

“I was… I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry.” Her voice was low.

He was silent for a long moment. “Thank you for talking to Raghav.”

“About?” She turned to look at him.

“If you hadn’t asked him the questions, I’d have resorted to a not-so-friendly way of getting their land.” His voice was stern, and she remembered the conversation that happened her first week in town.

“I overheard your conversation about the factory and since… he was eager to converse with me, I figured…” She stopped, realizing she sounded manipulative.

“Good timing, and you did well. I guess I have to take you to that party after all.”

She laughed. “I’m not the kind to party. I prefer pajamas and slippers over a dress I can’t breathe in and high heels.”

“Did you grow up in the city?” His words held mockery.

“Yes.” She rolled her eyes, smiling.

“How about you?”

“I spent a few years in the city before my parents were divorced, and then Naani brought me here.” He sounded casual.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m not.”

“Where are your parents?” she asked cautiously.

“No more,” he seethed his words.

“I’m sorry…I should not have asked.”

“Why do you apologize for everything?” he asked, his tone suddenly serious.

“I… I feel bad…”

“Don’t. I’m happy with how everything turned out. I’m glad I came back from London.”

“You lived in London?”

He nodded. “For six years.”

“Naani?” She could not imagine the elderly woman living in the huge house by herself.

“She lived with me, traveled back and forth, and that allowed me an opportunity to build out the newer part of the house.”

“Oh, will you live in the town forever? What if you want the city life, the buzz, the…”

He turned to look at her briefly, and she saw the excitement in his eyes. “What do you think I’m doing here? I’m building my own city. Creating opportunities for everyone.”

“Mahen… please find me a job. I want to be here forever.”

He went silent for a moment. “I didn’t expect that. I thought this was a break for you.”

“I’ll do anything to stay here.” She sounded desperate, looking at him, but he did not respond. Instead, he gestured toward a shack that was set to the side of the road. “We’re here.”

Niha felt a strange unease when he didn’t respond to her about finding her a job so that she could stay in the town. Her preference would be in the house, but she knew she should not overstay her welcome.

What had appeared like a shack from the car was a decent size restaurant with no walls on three sides of the building. It was a modest place, and she knew she was overdressed for the evening. Niha picked what she wanted to eat from the list that was written on a blackboard to one side.

After they ordered their food, Mahen stood up and made a gesture to the woman who was prepping the food, and she nodded, understanding. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Niha asked, unhappy about standing up when she had just sat down after adjusting her saree.

“Better view,” he said, walking away not really waiting for her to follow.

Niha picked up the skirt of her saree and was about to take a step down the stairs when she realized Mahen was on the lower step extending his hand to her. She murmured thanks under her breath and took his hand and walked down the set of stairs to one side of the restaurant. He kept walking toward a large tree that cast a shadow on the restaurant, and she stopped when she saw the sight in front of her.

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