I picked up Pia after school. I didn’t tell her where we were going and she didn’t ask. She looked around in surprise when I stopped near the ice cream parlor.
Pia turned to me, glee written all over her face. She couldn’t believe her luck! I am sure she was expecting to be punished. An ice cream treat must have been the last thing on her mind.
I laughed out aloud as I watched Pia run to order her cone. I hadn’t seen her this excited about anything before.
I made my way slowly to the ice cream parlor keeping an eye out for Shantanu Ray. I didn’t know what he looked like, but the place was almost deserted, so I didn’t worry too much about it.
I spotted him almost immediately. He was the only guy there. The rest of the sparse crowd consisted of mothers picking up their children after school. Mothers or aunts like me.
I had to admit, he was nothing like what I had imagined he would be. To tell you the truth, he reminded me a little of Santa Claus. A younger Santa Claus. He was talking to someone when I approached him.
“Shantanu Ray?” I asked gingerly.
He turned around to face me. “Khushi?” I nodded. He looked beyond me, “Where’s Pia?”
“Ya.. About that.. I was wondering if I could talk to you alone, before you meet Pia.” I had to assess this guy before I let him anywhere Pia.
“About what?” He was trying to suppress a smile as though he knew what I had planned.
“I’d like to know something about your qualifications and your experience. Forgive me if I’m being rude, but I think its important for me to check.”
He laughed suddenly, his laugh echoing in the small ice cream parlor. Everybody was staring at us. I couldn’t imagine what he had found so funny. I kept my face stern to show him I didn’t find this entire thing remotely funny.
Pia came running to me. She looked up at Shantanu, who immediately bent down to greet her. His eyes twinkled as he spoke to her.
“Hey Pia, I’m Shantanu..”
“How do you know my name?” Pia asked suspiciously. She was wary of strangers.
“Well.. Your mom told me..” Shantanu was looking at me.
“She’ not my mum..” Even though I was expecting it, the vehemence with which Pia said it, stung me.
I looked away for a moment, when I turned back, Shantanu was looking at me thoughtfully.
“Will you watch her for a moment? I’ll get the ice creams and come.” I didn’t want him scrutinizing me.
I watched them from a distance. I was so mesmerized by the effect he had on Pia. She was holding on to his every word. Whatever he was saying to her, she was totally in sync with it.
I walked back awkwardly, not wanting to disturb their conversation. Pia turned around as she heard me approach. She snatched her ice cream and ran to sit on swings next to the parlor.
After watching Pia and Shantanu together, I didn’t doubt his ability to help her. Turns out, neither did Shantanu.
As we walked towards Pia, he commented “I think I can help Pia” he looked closely at me and continued, “And maybe even you..”