The Cottage

My eyes gently flickered as they carefully scanned each line of the small box-shaped advert, tucked away in one of the nondescript corners of the travel catalogue. ‘Most people wouldn’t give it a second look!’ I thought, focussing on the image that accompanied the advertisement. But for some reason unbeknown to me, I was drawn to it, despite the price per night being well above my budget.
I had been searching for bed and breakfast hotels in Mumbai, and one of my neighbours had passed along an old edition of a travel brochure.  The image that had caught my attention, was of a three-storey stone cottage, a large chimney on one side and a small one of the other. A large French window with blue shutters occupied the centre part of building’s top floor, and an enormous tree stood overshadowing the cottage, its branches embracing the building tightly. It sat on the crest of the hill, staring out to what I hoped was the lush greenery of the countryside.
There was something soothing about the picture of the cottage. To a bibliophile like me, it appeared to have jumped right out of the pages of a children’s fairy tale book. And everything about it, reminded me of her - Avantika, who I had often mused was the one who had gotten away. We had been friends first, and then a bit more than that, and eventually a lot more. Perhaps, she was one of the few people who I had bared my soul too, and who at times, knew what I wanted, better than I actually did. She knew my dreams, hopes and aspirations, and I knew hers. Her own little space - a cottage that she could call her own and design from scratch - had been her dream for as long as I could remember. And of all the places in the world, she had her heart set in Mumbai. Imagine! A quaint little cottage with a picturesque view, in the middle of a city with chock-a-block traffic and high-rise buildings.
Sadly, our relationship had turned sour and last thing I remembered telling her, when she walked out of my life, on a wet, snowy evening, was that with so many budget hotels in Mumbai, she would never find anyone to stay in her rustic cottage. As she had shut the door behind her, she had replied, “You just wait and watch!"
I turned the page to locate other affordable hotels in Mumbai, that would fit well within my modest budget. However, I found it difficult to focus on anything but the cottage. Everything about the building had my mind screaming out her name, but there was nothing in the contact details that offered hope. ‘Just call and find out.’ my mind said, as I landed back on the page and looked at the image once more. On an impulse, I pulled out my laptop and entered the website address that accompanied the advert.
I clicked on the three-dimensional image of the bedroom and gasped slightly when it loaded. Everything looked exactly like how she had described it about a decade or so ago. A reasonable sized room, that looked like the perfect magazine cover. Polished wood floors, dark and free of clutter, with the occasional rug thrown in, greeted you as soon as you entered. A cream coloured couch, inlaid with fine green silk and little leaves delicately embroidered on the back rest, sat opposite the large French windows. A king-sized bed, lined lavishly with fluffy pillows and a vibrant duvet, with intricate designs carved into the headboard, depicted an act from a famous Shakespearean play. Soothing instrumental music played in the website background and I was sure that if I could take a whiff, the mixed aroma of light cilantro, rain and freshly cut grass would float up my nostrils. A rustic writing desk, remodelled to include tiny LED lights, sat in a corner, waiting patiently for its next guest to place perhaps, a gadget or a good old-fashioned hard bound book, on the surface.
‘Yes, it had to be her. It would be too much of a coincidence, otherwise!’ my heart said, as I clicked on the ‘Contact Us’ link. I  copied the phone number and started to dial. As the phone started to ring, I nervously tapped my fingers on the table, still wondering if it was her.‘And if it is, would she remember you?’ asked my mind, trying to play devil’s advocate to my heart’s voice. “Hello!"
The woman who answered, had a rich, silky tone. It sounded smooth, like butter, yet peppered with professionalism.
I replied, my voice starting to waver. There were traces of the Avantika I knew, in the voice that had answered, but I was still unsure. What if it was someone else? I had no intention of shelling out so much money for a room in the cottage if it wasn’t hers.
“Yes, Hello. Can I help you?"
The voice continued, the silkiness replaced by a sterner tone, one of a headmistress chiding a naughty student. It was a tone, she had often used on me, when I became too playful.
“Avantika?” I stuttered, the beads of sweat that had formed on my forehead, slowly starting to race each other down the sides of my face. I nervously waited for an answer from the other end of the phone.
There was a brief silence as she paused, before replying.
"Yes" she said, in a low cautious tone. "Who is this?".

Note: This is a work of fiction, written for a sponsored campaign.
Image Courtesy: