Had someone put up a bounty on his head? Or had he pissed off some heavenly deity in some obscure way? Something must REALLY have gone wrong. He had half a mind to stare at his palm - maybe under the pretense of wiping his hands? - to see if he could see some line crossing another at an inappropriate angle. But no, he didn't have even an iota of knowledge of palmistry. Nor was he privy to heavenly chatter or mafia murmurings. No, he was just a victim. A lamb for slaughter, he was sure. She was here. And so was she.
Wait a minute. Back up. A brain-freeze is known to induce ambiguous usage of pronouns. She was here. His ex-girlfriend. And so was she. His present flame. A less-than-amicable breakup flashed before his glazed eyes. A reminder and an omen portending an impending doom. He stared at his ex, E, walking up to him with a funny look in her eyes. He stole a glance at the girl of the present, P, happily munching on the KFC chicken, entirely oblivious of the events that were soon going to lead to a position where she was going to be undoubtedly playing a pivotal role.
E and P?? What the fuck? But he knew what his brain was doing subconsciously. Saving him from the conflict for some more time. Any attempt at uttering both the names in the same space could lead to setting up of internal fireworks and alarm systems associated therewith and would send him scurrying to safety, for sure. He was fully aware that running off from a date you have fought for is generally acclaimed to augur an incruciating death to the relationship. And by the look in E's eyes, the P-E meeting was going to happen irrespective of his presence in the same frame. And any possibility of salvaging some unburnt ties from the ashes of the aftermath was contingent on his ability to stay rooted to the spot against all the machinations of his now-overworking brain.
PE. Private equity. Physical Education. One more E and his urge right now. STOP MEANDERING!! He shouted to the little doom-demons doing the death-dance in his deranged head.
The sudden freeze-frame was bound to attract P's attention sooner or later. Out of the corner of his eye, he could sense her staring at him, half-mutilated chicken piece in hand and a small spattering of crust crumbs on her lips. And he could also sense her following his gaze to espy E, her mandibular mechanism stopped in a mid-chewing stance. The raised eyebrow was giving him goosebumps. He was pretty sure it was the goosebumps who noticed P's noticing before he noticed her. Did he have a sixth sense, something that was now awakening in response to this heightened sense of danger? No, that couldn't be. Not warning him of being in E's vicinity was enough reason to write off any ESP.
E in a KFC? Didn't she use to be a vegetarian, one of the few commonalities with him that remained in the course of their relationship running its due course. The bounty-theory he had started with, must be the real culprit. No other plausible explanations came to his mind. And then it struck him. Like a 18-wheeler striking into his puny car at full force - one of his favorite nightmares despite the fact that he had never even seen a 18-wheeler. Alas, after today, this particular nightmare would fade away as a fond memory, to be replaced by whatever-was-going-to-happen here-and-now. And the growing weight in his chest was that of information asymmetry.
Really? His econ lectures coming to the fore? But this was hell - anything and everything was possible and plausible. This wasn't really information asymmetry in the strict sense anyway. So the deal was this. He knew E and P (duh!) and he suspected E knew about P, given her intent expression bearing down on him as she strode down. P, however, was going to know about a few things only a few moments from now - things she should have been told more than a few months ago. Not that he hadn't intended to. But he had insufficient data to model her behaviour in order to predict her reaction and besides, a status quo involving a relationship status that reads committed, takes a lot of courage to meddle with.
The silence was deafening. He was stuck between the eyes-boring-into-him and the clicking-heels-walking-towards-him. His mental ruler was doing the required countdown in inches, with real time conversion to centimeters - just to avoid calculating the possible aftermath scenarios. He braced himself, steeling up for whatever it was that was about to happen, while doing a mental summation of the investment he had made in the relationship with P, wondering if it would be enough to survive the sudden depreciation it was going to be subjected to. A back of the envelope calculation told him he'd done well and might have a slim chance of surviving this catastrophe with the aforementioned status quo. And here she was.
"I see you've started eating meat for HER."
The tone. The emphasis on 'her'.
Staring at the contents of his hand, he knew he was as dead as the chicken he was holding.