CHAPTER 4 – THE CHOSEN ONE
The flight landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport forty-five minutes late.
The three hours layover was quiet and the flight for Cochin took off at 4:45 PM, exactly an hour late. Ahad and Moomal both slept through the whole time.
Just before leaving, she called Naveed. It was evening and That is when she and her colleagues were expected to leave for Goa – at least That is the lie she had told Naveed.
“Uncle, I am at the airport. We are leaving now. My phone will be switched off until I land.”
“Okay, beta. Call me when you land.”
“I will try. If I don’t get signals, I may not call you. Don’t worry about me.”
“How can I not worry?”
“I will contact you as soon as I can,” she clenched her jaws hard to throw back the lump in her throat that threatened to erupt.
“Take care, beta.”
“Take care, chachu. I will be fine.”
Two hours and Fifteen minutes later, the captain announced.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are reaching Cochin airport. The weather is sunny at thirty-seven degrees Celsius. Please remain seated and make sure your seatbelts are always fastened. We will begin the descend in five minutes. Cabin crew, please prepare to land.”
“What do you do?” he asked her.
“I am a data scientist.”
“Oh, that is interesting. What does your job entail?”
She went on and on about her job. Then, she added, “I was, to be specific. I left my job,” she replied.
She pondered for a minute. I cannot tell you the reason.
“It is fine if you don’t want to share. I was just curious. You seem to love your job,” he noted.
“I am just tired of the corporate culture. I have not taken a vacation in the past two years, so…” she said. What a lame excuse, Moomal!
“Where are you staying in Cochin?” he ventured.
“At a friend’s place.”
“Why don’t you come with me, enjoy your free life a bit before going back to corporate life?” That was smooth, Ahad. You must have sounded like a psychopath.
“Thanks for the offer, but no,” she said.
The flight reached Cochin. Ahad wasn’t surprised when she got down without so much as a look towards him, let alone saying goodbye. Ahad wondered if he should offer his business card, or ask for her number, but he refrained. Serves you right. You scared her.
He smiled to himself. I need to talk to her more, even if she doesn’t agree to be my fake girlfriend.
He leisurely walked to the arrival lounge. The restless passengers waited around conveyor belt 4. Everyone tried to get to the head of the belt where the bags would be deposited. The flight had only landed a few minutes before and the belt wasn’t even rotating.
It is going to be a long wait. I was one of the last few passengers to check-in. I hope that my bags would arrive first.
He looked around to kill time and spotted his co-passenger Moomal sitting on the steel bench near the prepaid taxi counter.
Perhaps she is waiting for her taxi. But where is her luggage? We checked-in together. Her bag would come with mine. That duffle bag is all she had. She travelled light, much like I would have preferred if it wasn’t for my family. Get a grip, Ahad.
He looked at the belt again. It still was not moving. He couldn’t resist but look at Moomal again. Her phone was pressed to her ears as she incessantly tapped her feet waiting for a response. She blinked rapidly and rubbed her temple. Is she upset about the taxi not being on time?
Let’s just talk to her. It will be forever until my bags arrive.
He walked towards her and sat next to her. She continued to stare at the floor without noticing that she was being stared at.
“Hey,” he greeted.
She was so captivated by a flurry of thoughts that his voice startled her.
“Hey,” she said and looked away. This time Ahad did not fail to notice tears.
“Is everything okay?”
“Of course,” she said and blinked her eyes rapidly to stop her tears.
“It doesn’t look like You are okay. May I ask?”
“No,” she said firmly. She unlocked her phone and opened Google Maps. Ahad could see her screen, but it did not seem to bother her. She typed ‘Girls hostel in Cochin’. Then she opened Google Chrome and typed ‘Cheap accommodation in Cochin’.
“Weren’t you meeting your friend here?” he asked.
“She is not picking her phone,” she replied without thinking. Then his words sank in and she quickly corrected. “She is out of town. I just need a place to crash until she returns.”
“Come with me,” he said. What are you saying, Ahad?
“I mean, you can crash at my place.” Her facial expressions changed so rapidly it amazed him and scared him. “I mean, I live with my family. We have a joint family system. You can be my guest until your friend picks up your call.”
“Well,” she bit her lips. “I don’t even know if she is in India. I had thought I would…” I must agree because I have no place to live, very little cash. Besides, this will allow me to live an adventurous life, even if it is only briefly.
“Fine,” she said.
Ahad smiled. Hurrah! “We will collect our bags and go,” he said as his phone started to ring.
“Hello? Yes, I am at the airport. The flight was delayed,” he said and listened to the other side. “Yes, I remember. I am waiting for the baggage claim. It will be at least an hour. Okay, bye.”
“Moomal,” he addressed her, “Miss Moomal, I just heard that there is a party at my house. We should freshen up here. It would be awkward if we arrive all tired and dull,” he said and crossed his fingers. She should not flip out.
He looked at her for a moment longer than needed, eying her outfit – a pink formal shirt with dark grey palazzo pants and matching pumps. She doesn’t need to wear heels. He hesitantly said. “Once your bag comes, you may want to change,”
“I don’t feel the need to change. We are going there straight from the airport. We should sound and look authentic. You are wearing a formal shirt anyway. It is your party.”
“That is a fair point. Why don’t you freshen up? I will collect our bags in the meantime.”
“Sure,” she said, got up, and took her rucksack with her. She doesn’t trust me.
He watched her walk towards the ladies’ room. She has grace and a terrific figure. If she was not wearing those loose pants, she would attract a lot of attention.
The moment she said left, Ahad’s efficient businessman inside him took charge. First, spread the news and ready the scene for the big announcement. Second, spread the rumour without spreading it.
Start gossip mills required minimum efforts. In this age where social media trends are a rage, paparazzi was always present at the airport hoping to get some juicy bits for their account. Someone would certainly capture him with a gorgeous woman, and it will become a piece of vial news.
For the second one, he sent a WhatsApp message to his brother.
Mazhar, I am bringing someone special. But don’t freak out about it and don’t mention that you did or didn’t know about us. She will kill me.
Then, he texted his sister.
Beena, sweetheart, if you are still home, have a nice party dress ready. I am bringing someone special. Don’t tell anybody.
He switched off his phone and smiled.
Mazhar and Beena would certainly share it with everyone. Half of my job is done. Everybody will either be excited or upset about it. They will speculate and assume things and I would let them. I must call Abhishek and thank him for his brilliant idea. And, I hope she doesn’t back out. And, I hope she never finds out about my little plan. Well, sooner or later she’d know but she doesn’t need to know that tonight.
He collected the three bags in her absence and loaded them on a cart. Ten minutes later, she returned from the washroom looking prettier than before. Her full lips showed a hint of shine and her big eyes were highlighted with a black thick coat of kohl. She looked at him expectantly, a look that demanded appreciation.
“Don’t you have any darker shades of lipstick?” he said.
She frowned. “This is lip balm, Ahad.”
“Oh, let’s go then,” he said. I need to take a detour and get her ready for the party.
His driver was waiting outside the arrival lounge and rushed to take the cart from him.
“Sir, please wait here. I will bring the car from the parking.”
“Leave the luggage here,” he ordered.
Within two minutes, an SUV halted in front of them and the driver humped out of the driving seat to load the bags in the trunk.
“Let’s go,” he said and opened the backseat’s door for her. She sat without saying a word.
Oh god! What have I gotten into? He is like a rich billionaire man who has a big car waiting at the airport and people to do chores for him.
“If you want to close your eyes and relax a bit, now is the time. The party will be long and tiring,” he said. She nodded and shut her eyes; apprehension visible on her face.
He smiled and shut his eyes, too.
Their arrival was noticed and captured by paparazzi. The local newspapers would make headlines. He could already imagine the headline:
Local billionaire spotted with girlfriend heading home for the party.
A runaway girl, a reluctant guy and a compromise for mutual benefit…
Moomal Khan is a data scientist from Bhopal. She holds a job profile that was regarded highly and paid handsomely. But she is forced to leave her job and run away.
Ahad Siddiqui is from Cochin. He is handsome, highly regarded in business circles as a self-made invincible billionaire entrepreneur. But he is forced to get hitched. When his friend suggests hiring a fake girlfriend, he hates the idea but cannot seem to rid of it.
Their paths cross as they wait for their flight to Cochin. He is desperate to get his mother off his case. He tries to woo her, and she tries to shoo him away.
“Once Upon a Contract” is a sweet and saucy romantic comedy based on a contract marriage romance trope.
Book 1 – Once Upon a Crush – Hiba & Ubaid
Book 2 – Once Upon a Stalker – Zoya & Onir
Book 3 – Once Upon a Contract – Moomal and Ahad
Click here to buy on Amazon.in or enter B08S7BGR7P in the search field for other Amazon marketplaces.