“There you are!” exclaimed Amit as he threw open the door to the terrace. “Everyone’s been looking for you. The event starts in 40 minutes. Come down, will you?” he added with a smirk on his face. Tina took a long drag of the cigarette and felt the menthol vapour fill her throat and windpipe. It was a welcome contrast to the chilly London air. She looked back at Amit and smiled. As he came closer, she blew the smoke onto his face. Amit instantaneously retched and took a couple of steps back. “I’ve told you not to do that. It’s bad enough that you want to kill yourself smoking. I’m not going to die from passive smoke. I love my lungs, thank you very much!” he said in mock anger. Tina shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the view she had been enjoying until Amit had suddenly made his appearance. She really liked Amit, but it was moments like these, she felt he was really uptight. “Leave me alone for a bit longer, Amit. I’ll be down shortly. I am calming myself down” she said, as she gestured to Amit to leave. As Amit muttered something under his breath and left, Tina leaned against the wall. She was going to have to somehow get through today. And from the looks of it, it was just the beginning. Having been an introvert all her life, she'd often politely declined being part of any kind of public gathering. But this time around, she hadn’t been able to excuse herself. After all, the event was being thrown in her honour. A glimmering light drew her attention to one of London’s iconic buildings - the Gherkin. Within minutes, lights of different colours and intensities had lit up the city of London. Standing atop the tallest building, not just in London, but also in Western Europe, Tina felt a strange surge of satisfaction.
“It’s funny how things sometimes work out!” Tina thought to herself, as she wrapped her sweater tighter around her. She’d never even dreamt of being a writer. Though she’d found solace in books, it had just been a much-needed escape from all the routine problems of her world. As she grew up, so did her choice in books. The Enid Blytons were replaced by other literary classics, which were then soon replaced by books on modern literature. Considering her love for the written word, she had often contemplated doing a degree in arts and creative writing or even journalism. The only thorn in her side had been her father. Though he’d been in the UK for years, the urban lifestyle hadn’t quite rubbed off on him. He was still very traditional and was adamant that he was going to get both his daughters married off as soon as they finished their basic education. Her sister, Nina, had been a really good painter and had been even offered a scholarship from the esteemed Slade School of Fine Art at UCL. But her father had been obstinate and in no time, she had been married off. Unfortunately for her sister, she’d fallen pregnant soon after and was now a homemaker looking after their two kids. Tina had known all along that she was going to have do something drastic, if she was to avoid her sister’s fate. So during her final year of high school, she decided to grab hold of a work internship with a London financial firm. Her father had vehemently disagreed stating that he’d almost finalised her marriage with a “nice Indian boy who had his own corner store”. “As if I’m a piece of property!” Tina had thought whilst she quietly packed her bags in the night to leave for London.
That had been five years ago. She’d only met her father once since, which was for the second birthday of her sister’s first child. The internship had gone smoothly and they had even offered her a full time position, which she’d quickly grabbed. Her penchant for numbers and ability to think outside the box had ensured that she was promoted regularly. She’d even managed to complete her business degree whilst continuing to work full time for the firm. And that’s when she’d met Amit. A few years older to her, he’d been pursuing his MBA in the same university that she had been enrolled at. Amit worked part time at a publishing company and she was often privy to a lot of gossip about stories that they had either rejected or ones that had been delayed indefinitely. It had initially been exciting to listen to the stories, considering her affinity for reading and books. Soon that excitement had turned into a reality check; a realisation that she should try her hand at writing. She was fortunate that Amit too pushed her to follow her heart. As with most newbie writers, she too had tried her hand at blogging. Amit had managed to persuade his publishing company’s editor to give some of her short stories a read, and fortunately for her, he’d been impressed. Shortly after, she’d started contributing articles for Metro & The Evening Standard. Buoyed by her almost-overnight success, she’d decided to write a romantic novella, which unfortunately had not found many takers. Dejected, she’d vowed never to write anything ever again. And she hadn’t, for almost a period of six months. But everything changed, late one winter’s night, when they’d encountered 7 year-old Monisha decked up as a bride in the alleyways of Brick Lane, in East London.
“Tina. It’s time!” Amit’s sombre voice snapped her out of her trance like state. Flicking the cigarette butt away, she slowly walked towards the exit to the terrace, where he waited. She smiled and gave him a tight hug. He smiled back and gave her a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder. Together they descended to the mezzanine floor of the Shard, where the event was scheduled to take place. Tina squinted against the bright spotlights that adorned the ceilings of the building. She saw Mark, her literary agent, pointing towards his watch and gesturing towards the seat that had been reserved for her. She slowly walked towards the front of the room, vaguely aware of the camera flashes that were snapping her every move. As she took her seat, she glanced absentmindedly towards the far end of the room. For a moment, she thought she recognised an elderly gentleman in a worn out beige blazer. Almost instantly, a photographer’s flash temporarily blinded her, and she was forced to look away. When she looked up again, he was gone. As she glanced down at the table she was seated at, Mark promptly slid across a copy of her best-selling book. “Great, another copy to sign” she mused as she slowly ran her fingers over the gold-embossed title of her book - “MONISHA”. Grabbing a pen from the table, she slowly turned the cover to write the so-called personalised words that she’d written at least a hundred times since the book released. Realising that she didn’t know who she was signing it for, she threw a questioning glance at Mark, who seemed to be busy on the phone. A small note slid out of the book and fell onto her lap. She picked it up and glanced at the hastily scrawled writing on it.
Teary-eyed, Tina looked up at Amit, who was smiling at her, a short distance away. She smiled back and silently mouthed "Thank you!"