Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Relationship Goals

‘He smells great.’ That was the single thought that was going through Pranay’s head when he picked Rehan for the date.

“Hi.” Pranay said awkwardly. It had been two years since he had asked someone out. His last relationship had lasted barely a month and ever since, he put all his focus on his work.

“Hey buddy!” Rehan said smiling. The word buddy pinched Pranay slightly but he ignored it. He had known Rehan for a few weeks and Rehan didn’t take anything seriously. Rehan was a small guy with a smile that could lit the whole room. Slightly balding, Rehan joked about himself a lot. He had changed more than five jobs in the past three years, never staying at a place or city for more than a year. Yet, all his employers talked generously about him. It seemed, Rehan was the perfect guy no one could have.

“You seem nervous.” Rehan asked as the two went into the elevator.

“Yeah. It’s been two years since I went on a date.” Pranay said honestly. Pranay had learnt that it is better to be upfront about your life. People find out the truth anyways and this weeds out people who can’t handle the situation.

“Busy or just not interested?” Rehan asked opening his mobile phone.

“A bit of both.” Pranay said a little annoyed. He had over a period come to accept that mobile phones were part of a human being now — an extra limb. However, looking at Rehan giving preference to his smartphone, oblivious to Pranay, was not a great start to the evening.

“It’s alright. Dating is anyways overrated.” Rehan said as his fingers swiped.

“Are you using a dating app as we speak?” Pranay said indignantly.

“Kinda.” Rehan said and showed Pranay his phone. The app showed pictures of girls.

“You are swiping girls? But aren’t you.. Are you bisexual?” Pranay asked confused. The lift opened and Rehan moved without answering. Pranay followed. He was in half mind to cancel the date. What could be worse than a guy looking at a girl while on a date with another guy? Has he converted Rehan into a straight guy just by asking him out? Pranay’s mind was about to burst with shame and anger when Rehan spoke.

“I’m not bisexual but thanks for being jealous. It’s cute.” Rehan said bringing Pranay back to the current plane.

“Then what are you doing?” Pranay asked.

“Helping a friend. His taste is extremely poor in girls so I swipe for him. If it matches, he can continue.” Rehan said nonchalantly.

“Ok.” Pranay said only understanding half of what he heard. He was relieved that at least his date wasn’t already planning his next date.

The two spent most of the date talking about random things that Pranay decided were proof of the date going decently well. Rehan wasn’t very open about his life and while he would joke a lot, he rarely went into the depth of the topics, either in his life or in general. Pranay felt it was understandable too as it was their first date.

“So, Pranay, answer this question and I promise I will go on a second date and that time, I will pay for it too.” Rehan said jestingly.

“Really, you would pay. That sounds unbelievable.” Pranay said with a straight face. Rehan stuck his tongue out at him.

“Ok. Shoot.” Pranay said smiling. Rehan had made Pranay completely at ease.

“So Pranay. At what point were you going to tell me about your daughter?” Rehan asked without any expression on his face.

Pranay gulped. Few people in the world knew about Sanya — his ten-year-old daughter from a failed marriage.

“How did you know?” Pranay asked.

“I have worked with your ex-wife. We are still in touch. When I told her about the company I’m going to work for, she told me about you.” Rehan said, his smile absent from his face. Pranay’s heart sunk. This was all a sham, he thought.

“Why did you agree on a date with me if you already knew?” Pranay whispered.

“You answer my question first Pranay.” Rehan said unmoving. “Why didn’t you talk about Sanya?”

Pranay took a deep breath. This wasn’t the first time his relationship had gone to rocks because of his daughter. As much as he loved her, he sometimes did wish he had divorced her mother before she was conceived. Had he known then what he knows now.

“I didn’t tell you because it’s immaterial. She lives with her mother and she has no connection with me. I didn’t tell you because it’s not your business. This is our first date and I would have told you later if you hadn’t spied on me already.” Pranay said with his voice increasing in decibel with each passing word.

“And you are sure that you don’t care what happens to her?” Rehan asked Pranay tentatively.

“Yes. I’m sure that I don’t care what happens to Sanya. You know why? Because I’m not allowed to care. I can see her once a week and other than that, I am not allowed to care about her life. I have tried to get more but I didn’t get permission to care more. You happy. You can date me easy-peasy as the baggage you are worried about doesn’t exist.” Pranay said almost to tears. He realised he had stood up. He sat down, ashamed at his outburst. The date had crashed and burned and Pranay felt responsible for it. He should have simply said a yes or no.

Rehan hadn’t smiled since he had asked the question. He stretched his hand towards Pranay and kept his hand on Pranay’s.

“I’m sorry.” Rehan said almost inaudibly.

“No. I should be sorry. It’s just that, I want to be with Sanya so much but I can’t. All I get is a lousy Thursday with her.”

The rest of the date went with mostly silence. Pranay had lost all interest in talking about random topics. Rehan also was mostly occupied with his smartphone, which Pranay found relieving. Pranay showed Rehan a picture of Sanya on his request but other than that, they simply ate.

“Sanya’s mother said that you weren’t ready to take the responsibility of the kid.” Rehan said as Pranay dropped him back to his house.

“Yeah. She wasn’t thrilled when we got divorced. It wasn’t her fault either. You can sustain a marriage between a straight girl and a gay guy for only so long.”

“I can’t give you more time with Sanya. However…” Rehan said and bit his lip.

“However?” Pranay looked at him curiously. The two were in front of Rehan’s door — the place where his evening had started.

Rehan opened the door and asked Pranay in. Pranay walked in slowly and suspiciously. He knew the date had tanked.

“JASMINE.” Rehan said and a girl darted towards them.

“Dad! You are back from your date. How did it go?” Jasmine said jumping into Rehan’s arms. Jasmine was around ten years old and was a splitting image of Rehan.

“Surrogacy.” Rehan whispered at Pranay’s inquisitive face. Pranay nodded.

“Jaz.. This is Pranay. Say hello to him.”

“Hello.” Jasmine said with excitement and then hugged Pranay. Pranay hugged Jasmine strongly, imagining he was hugging Sanya.

“Now go. You should be asleep.” Rehan said and patted her on the head. Jasmine ran back to her room yelling bye to both the men.

“I can’t believe I am meeting your daughter on our first date.” Pranay said.

“I believe in being open about my life, both to my daughter and anyone I date. She’s the most important person in my life and her say is important in whom I date.”

“Why did you ask about Sanya?”

“I wanted to know your relationship with your daughter. I can’t be with a guy who doesn’t treat their children well. I have had bad relationships before, guys who treated their children poorly, relationships where the guy treated Jasmine poorly. I can’t accept that. I have no place in my life for someone who doesn’t treat Jasmine as his own daughter. So, if you can’t do that, this is DOA.” Rehan said waving his finger between the two.

“I think Sanya would like Jasmine too. She’s too serious in life. Jasmine would bring some fun in her life.” Pranay said softly.

“And you?” Rehan asked.

“I would love to have another daughter.” Pranay said smiling at Rehan. His eyes were moist.

“Good. Because I really like you.” Rehan said kissing Pranay.