I ambled along the pristine beach, the white powdery sand sticking to my soles. The sea was a bright shade of turquoise. The breeze messed my curls, not that I cared in the least. The Maldives was indeed paradise.
There, in the scenic distance, was a horse. What?
I blinked. The magnificent white animal trotted towards me. I had some experience in handling horses, having volunteered at a farm years ago. I stroked the horse’s face and whispered reassuringly. She grunted.
“Trojan! You naughty horse!”
I turned sharply. The voice belonged to a chubby young man, red in the face from running.
Trojan Horse? How unimaginative!
Huffing and puffing, he caught up with us.
“Hi! I’m Vicky Mehta.”
“You’re the one getting married here!” I exclaimed.
“How do you know? Are you staying at the Conrad too?” Vicky eyed me suspiciously.
“No. I’m a backpacker, staying at an Airbnb. I saw the ‘Vicky Mehta weds Swagata Sahni’ banners at the harbour. Is this your horse?”
Vicky seemed to struggle to decide whether to confide in me or not. He finally shrugged nonchalantly.
“Trojan was imported for my grand entry at the wedding. I kidnapped her so that my superstitious father-in-law-to-be, Mr. Sahni, would consider it a bad omen and cancel the whole shebang. The horse took off amid my botched kidnapping attempt. “
I cocked a brow quizzically.
“This marriage is only a business deal. Mehta Exports is going through a financial crunch. Sahni Enterprises doesn’t have a male heir. Our families matched our companies, and us, two months ago. All thanks to my uncle Jatinder, not Tinder, mind you!
The more I get to know go-getter Swagata, I’d rather stay single! If I break this alliance now, I’ll never hear the end of it. If her family cancels, I’ll be let off scot-free. Do you know how lethal my aunt can be?”
I couldn’t help sympathizing with Vicky; hell hath no fury like an aunt scorned.
“What’s your name?” he inquired.
Before I could answer, Trojan neighed nervously, knocking down my backpack. Out of it flew a pack of Tarot cards. I caught the backpack deftly before anything else spilled out.
Close call. Phew!
“Do you read Tarot?” Vicky exclaimed.
“Why don’t you join the wedding? You can spook out our families with predictions of doom and divorce. Just don’t make it too obvious.”
“But Tarot doesn’t predict the future…”
Vicky continued unabashedly.
“I could also use an additional hand in keeping Trojan hidden.”
“You can stay at the Garden Villa room where I’ll hide Trojan until the wedding is cancelled. She likes you, anyway. The room is spacious, with an attached garden. Meanwhile, I’ll introduce you as a friend’s sister and an acclaimed Tarot reader.”
“What if I get caught?”
“The last place anyone would search for Trojan would be at the hotel. If they do, I’ll come clean, OK?”
I looked at Vicky incredulously. He was offering a stranger an all-expense-paid-stay at the Conrad.
“Thank you, Miss…”
“I think Chantelle D’Souza would be a perfect name for a Tarot reader,” I grinned.
Me, a guest at a five-star wedding? Some things are just on the cards.
He handed me a glossy invitation.
Vicky got Swag!
Vicky Mehta and Swagata Sahni are getting hitched!
Please be part of their big day at the Conrad, Rangali island.
Pre-wedding lunch at Ithaa Underwater Restaurant on March 14th.
Wedding Ceremony at the Conrad Ballroom on March 15th.
Gifts in the form of blessings or donations to the Maldives Climate Change fund.
No cameras or phones allowed on the premises.
I watched the dance rehearsals, with my backpack next to me, and my cards spread on the ground. I merged into the background, tucking into the free snacks, observing people around me, and marvelling at their exuberance. Thankfully, no one questioned my credentials.
Swagata had alabaster skin, silky locks, and a size zero figure. She gyrated gracefully to Munda Thoda Offbeat Hai. Vicky was more off-track than offbeat, forgetting most of his steps. Swagata blew her fuse, causing him to storm off.
I heard the rustling of silk as a woman approached me. This was Vicky’s formidable aunt Pammi, wife of Jatinder, the mastermind behind ‘Vicky got Swag’.
“Same, same. Do you read carrots?”
“Tarot, with a silent T. You can get insights about the past, the present, and the future.”
“Ofo! Past and present I already know! Tell me what is in my Bunty’s future.”
Pammi’s ten-year-old Bunty was Satan personified. He had even tried to steal my backpack. What a nuisance.
I shuffled the deck and asked her to draw a card. The Fool card. How apt!
“Bunty has potential. Unfortunately, he has a penchant for mischief. He needs to channel his energy into productive pursuits.”
“He is just a baby!” Pammi snorted.
More like a baby anaconda.
“Tell me about my husband’s future.”
She picked up another card.
“Ah, the Sun card! Your husband shines bright.”
Pammi nodded fondly.
“But he needs to watch his health, especially his heart.”
Wasn’t it obvious? Jatinder devoured umpteen plates of biryani like there was no tomorrow. The waiters ran around like headless chicken, trying to satiate his gluttony.
My ominous warning sent Pammi scurrying off to find her better half and save him from imminent heart attack.
Meanwhile, a petulant Vicky had returned. He walked up to me and lowered his voice.
“Chantelle, any luck convincing Mr. Sahni?”
“I spoke to him once. My prediction sent him into deep contemplation.”
“My cousin is sick, which means one spot has cleared up for the limited-seating Ithaa lunch tomorrow. You want to tag along?”
“The underwater restaurant? Sure!” I could barely conceal my excitement.
“You can continue your work on Mr. Sahni there.”
“Vicky, would marrying Swagata be the worst thing in the world?”
“Of course, Chantelle! Have you seen how she bulldozes me?”
I had to play my cards right. My backpack would come handy.
We descended a spiral staircase to reach the breathtakingly beautiful Ithaa restaurant, located under the sea. A transparent acrylic structure, offering a panoramic view of the aquamarine ocean welcomed us. Wherever I turned, I saw vibrant blue. I gasped at the mesmerizing coral reefs and the colourful marine life that flitted by. It felt like being inside an aquarium, only we were the exhibits, and the fish, the visitors.
Simply out of this world; truly an exquisite pearl in the ocean.
The DJ blasted one song after the other, and the vodka flowed freely. Pammi’s face glowed pink, as she posed with Jatinder in Titanic-fashion for the wedding photographer.
I found Mr. Sahni in a corner. He looked relieved upon seeing me.
“They still haven’t located the horse.”
If only he knew that Trojan was safe…and as healthy as a…..horse?
“Don’t worry. The cards never lie,” I stated solemnly.
Jantinder loaded his plate with yellowfin tuna and lime. A school of brightly coloured fish swam above, eliciting Oohs and Aahs. Pammi frantically covered the plate, pointing to the swimming fish.
“I don’t want to hurt their feelings. What if they see their brethren being served?”
As if that were the only fishy thing here!
The bride and the groom made their entry to cheers and claps. Swagata wore an elegant red gown with a train, and Vicky, a simple cream sherwani. Neither was smiling, the strain on their faces evident.
Mr. Mehta raised a glass of champagne.
“Vicky and Swagata, once you are married, please make me a grandfather soon! I have a special song for you.”
The DJ started playing ‘Baby Shark, doo doo’, accompanied by synchronized clapping, sending the guests into a tizzy. Swagata looked like she was going to faint.
I’m sure there was a shark up there sharing the same sentiment.
Vicky paled. I recognized the look on his face; the look of someone dangerously close to snapping.
“I’ve something to say!” he blurted out.
The guests stared curiously.
“Swagata, let’s go up, and talk.”
“Someone needs to hold my train up the stairs,” she retorted.
“I’ll go,” I volunteered, grabbing my backpack.
We reached the hut above the restaurant, leaving the worried families to speculate. Pammi probably had her ears glued to the bottom of the staircase.
Vicky cleared his throat uncomfortably.
“Swagata, you’re a wonderful woman, but I can’t marry you.”
“I don’t want to marry you either! You’re not my type.”
“Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”
“Because of our families, and also Chantelle. She convinced me that the Tarot card I drew, the Ace of Cups, predicted an epic romance for us. She also told my dad that the missing horse wasn’t a big deal.”
Vicky looked at me, shocked.
“I can explain,” I stammered.
Things were easier when they weren’t on the same team.
“Talk!” Swagata demanded.
Vicky was right. She was bossy.
“I’m a silly romantic. I only wanted you to come together. You both are amazing, “I fumbled.
“Individually, but not together,” retorted Swagata.
“I’m laid back and relaxed,” admitted Vicky sheepishly.
“I’m driven and focused. I’d make a great CEO,” Swagata sighed.
“Let’s tell our families we can’t do this. I’ll find some other way to save Mehta Exports. You tell your dad, you’ll take over Sahni Enterprises. I’ll back you.”
“If I may…” I interrupted.
I had one more card to play.
“Do you want to slip out of here, and let your families cool down a bit?”
“On a horse. Obviously.”
I threw them my room key card.
Together they would ride into the sunset on Trojan, only to go their separate ways. This was not what I hoped for, but I would make do.
When life throws you lemons, and you can’t make lemonade, settle for lemon pickle instead.
In the melee that ensued over the runaway couple, I slipped out quietly. My plane took off from Male International airport. I heaved a sigh of relief and opened my precious backpack. Out of it tumbled my Tarot pack, the one I’d randomly purchased from a tourist shop.
I then took out my trump card, my camera, that had secured exclusive footage of the almost-wedding, through the tiny holes on the sides of the backpack. The last treasure to be unearthed from the backpack was my Identity card that had my real name, Chandra Desai, and my designation, ‘Assistant Reporter-ExcitementVilla News’, inscribed on it.
I was sent on this assignment to click pictures of the wedding from the exterior of the Conrad. I hit a jackpot when I scored front-row tickets, thanks to Trojan. I felt sorry for deceiving Vicky, but he fell right into my lap, and I couldn’t bypass this golden opportunity!
Initially, ensuring that the wedding happened was imperative. No wedding meant no story. Ultimately, things didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but then you play with the cards you’ve been dealt.
My boss and a promotion awaited me!
Predictably, my boss was elated when I showed him the coverage of the almost-wedding. He was a tad worried that we might be sued.
“The families wouldn’t want anyone to know that the groom tried to sabotage his wedding. Additionally, I have photos of an exotic horse, housed in a hotel. I’m sure PETA will be interested. That should give us leverage. We’ll be fine.”
Vicky Got No Swag?
The much-awaited wedding of Vicky Mehta and Swagata Sahni has been cancelled, and the couple has parted amicably. While neither of them could be reached for comment, sources confirm that they abandoned their destination wedding in the Maldives, mid-way.
We have exclusive videos from the almost-wedding.
In yet another scoop, we hear that Sahni industries will now be headed by Swagata Sahni. We wish both Swagata and Vicky the very best.
You heard it first on ExcitementVilla News, Page Three’s new home!
Head Reporter, Chandra Desai.
This story was written for a prompt (Name, Place, Animal, Thing) by the HIVE publishers.
- Name: Tarot Reader
- Place: Ithaa Underwater restaurant
- Animal: Horse
- Thing: Backpack