by Sheryn Munir
Leela knows all about second chances. She picked herself up from personal tragedy, and stepped up as the single mother of a teenage son, respected principal of an alternative school, and keeper of peace with her demanding parents. But when a chance meeting with an old flame rekindles forgotten passions, her well-ordered existence threatens to fall apart.
Twenty years ago, Leela and Nandini had been each other’s first loves, though life eventually took them in different directions. So when Nandini tumbles back into Leela’s orbit, she is surprised at her instant attraction. They fall back into easy camaraderie and clandestine trysts. Leela knows that as long as they can keep it that way, it’s fine. She can’t afford to fall for Nandini.
Of course, Leela falls in love, bringing her world tumbling down around her ears. Her son is embroiled in a crisis of his own, her mother is horrified that her daughter might be a lesbian, and an anonymous source threatens to out her at her place of work. In “respectable” middle-class India, the resulting social and professional ostracism would be instant.
The only way to keep the shadow of scandal from consuming her is for Leela to walk away from Nandini. But doing that will destroy her.
Kaye C. - I'm so glad I read this f/f second chance romance set in India. What makes this book stand out is the own voice of the author. I love the food, clothing and other cultural aspects that really take this story to the next level.
Della B. - This is Sheryn Munir’s second novel and I am impressed with her personal growth as a writer. Her writing has become tighter with less superfluous descriptive narration. Munir conveys the essence of her characters’ lives in India without bogging down in the minutiae. Munir’s strength lies in the building of the romance between Leela and Nandini. She takes the time necessary for the readers to feel the love and closeness growing between the two women. The story as well incorporates a number of twists and turns which is sure to keep your nose between the pages. A Period of Uncertainty is an engaging love story you will not want to miss.
Cheryl S. - I enjoyed this book very much. The romance is a slooooow burn and secondary to the story. I felt that India and their traditions, food, schools, clothes etc...was the main story. That was a real treat. I know very little about modern day India. In this story you learn a lot about their laws regarding homosexuality and how older traditional Indians regard it. Thank you Sheryn Munir for this entertaining and informative story.
Bonnie A. - This was a second chance romance novel and I enjoyed it. I thought the characters were great and quite relatable. Leela and Nandini had amazing chemistry. The story was well executed and I highly recommend, 4.5 stars.
If Leela Saldana hadn’t been only half asleep, the black leather bag would have most certainly fallen on her head. Fortunately, she spotted it losing its fight with gravity from the corner of her eye and put her hands up in reflex just in time.
The elderly Sikh man sitting in the seat across the aisle from her gasped loudly. He sprang from his seat as Leela caught the bag. It was neither heavy nor as big as it had seemed when it had been bound for Leela’s head. In fact, she managed a very neat catch, and held it out to its owner, who leaned across from the seat right in front of Leela, a horrified expression on her face.
“Oh, I am so very sorry,” she said, grasping the bag with both hands and taking it away. “I hope you’re not hurt.”
“No harm done.” Leela looked up, a smile on the ready to emphasise her statement.
“You okay, madam?” the man from across the aisle called out.
With the train only minutes from pulling into its final station, the chair car compartment was empty except for Leela, the manhandler of the bag, and the old gent.
“Perfectly fine,” Leela assured him. He sat down, giving the other woman a disapproving look.
“I am really, really, so very sorry,” the woman continued. “I just…I don’t know what happened, it just slipped.”
“Really, it’s fine.” Leela flashed her most reassuring smile. “It wasn’t heavy.”
“Still. It’s not done, dropping your luggage on fellow passengers.”
There was a disarming charm about her—Leela could acknowledge that despite the fact that she had almost dropped a bag on her head.
“I’m sure you don’t make a habit of it.”
Her eyes were bottomless pits that regarded Leela in relief, and there was a part of Leela that struggled to look away.
“Well, then, you’re too kind,” she said. Her shoulder-length hair was tied back into a ponytail with just enough strands escaping to make it appealing rather than untidy.
Though Leela appreciated a good-looking woman just as much as the next person, it wasn’t just the easy charisma that made her want to continue the conversation. Something else drew her towards this one. A stirring of familiarity nudged Leela as she studied the woman looking down at her. That slight tilt of the head and the curve of the mouth… In fact, if she were perfectly honest, they reminded her of—
“Nandini?” The name escaped Leela’s mouth even before she realised it.
The woman’s eyes widened. Leela pulled back a bit. Had she made a mistake?
Then the woman’s face cleared and her mouth fell open. “Leela?”
“Oh my God.” Leela’s face broke into a smile. “It really is you.”
The grin was mirrored in Nandini’s face, and in an instant Leela was thrown back about two decades in time. Apart from the beginnings of crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes and the filled-out face, this was indeed the same Nandini she had known so well.
“Well, I’ll be damned. All these years, and I drop a bag on your head.”
“Almost drop a bag,” Leela corrected. “You’re still a klutz, I see.”
“And your reflexes are still top-notch, I see.”
“You trained me well. Fancy meeting you here, all the way in the back of beyond. It’s good to see you.”
“Likewise.” Nandini’s smile seemed genuine. “I thought you looked so very familiar.”
Leela grew a bit warm under Nandini’s probing gaze. But then, she couldn’t help studying Nandini back herself. It was all rather surreal, running into an old ex—that too the only woman she had ever been involved with—in an almost empty train headed to a remote mountain town.
A throat cleared, making Leela jump. “Madam?” Leela tore her eyes away from Nandini to find the elderly gent staring at her, a bewildered expression on his face. He glanced towards Nandini and back. “Are you…Is everything all right?”
Leela flushed, feeling inexplicably like a seven-year-old caught with an empty box of chocolates. “Er, yes, thank you. I’m fine.”
“Okay, then.” The man turned away, back to attending to his own luggage, and Leela took a moment to gather herself.
“So, how long has it been?” she asked Nandini.
“Let’s see.” Nandini scrunched her face in reminiscence. “We graduated in ninety-seven, right? So, twenty years. Wow.”
“Wow,” Leela echoed. She gave Nandini another once-over. “You look…good.” She had been going for “fantastic.”
“And you…” Nandini’s penetrating eyes took Leela in one more time. “You look great.”
Leela was saved from blushing by the train’s staticky PA system announcing their imminent arrival at their final destination, Amrudpur. She stood up, thankful of something to do, and lifted her bag from the overhead luggage rack.
“There, that’s how you do it without knocking your fellow passengers out,” she said with a grin.
“Ouch.” Nandini winced. “Guess I deserved that.”
The train stopped with a slight lurch. As they gathered their things, a handful of porters peeped into the coach, but, seeing there were less than half a dozen passengers, most of them disappeared in search of greener pastures.
“You take care, madam,” the Sikh gent called as he made his way out.
“I will, thank you.” Leela smiled at his retreating back.
“He doesn’t trust me,” Nandini whispered.
“No, I don’t think he does.”
She followed Nandini down the aisle, into the vestibule, and onto the platform. Out of the air-conditioned carriage, the nip of a Himalayan autumn engulfed her, the smell of clean air filling her nose. A pleasant change from inhaling the fumes of Bangalore. She pulled her hand-knit cardigan around herself. Hopefully, the warm clothes she’d brought would be enough.
Amrudpur was a sleepy little hill station, a population of under 3,500, as her cursory Google research had told her. It did have some pretensions as a tourist destination, but that was mainly due to the presence of a famous residential school called Woodfern on the outskirts of town, which drew parents during the start and end of terms, and sometimes during weekends. Woodfern was in fact what had brought Leela here: to attend a weekend conference on digital innovation in education.
As the principal of a small but exclusive school in Bangalore, Leela had minions she could pack off to gatherings like this one. But with the Dussehra holidays on, there hadn’t been anyone else available this time. Anyhow, the idea of an all-expenses-paid trip to a cosy mountain town had sounded appealing enough for her to volunteer.
She cast about on the tiny two-platform station of Amrudpur trying to figure out which way to go. It didn’t need much brainwork. The main road was visible just beyond the tiny hall that served as the town’s railway hall.
Given the way the smattering of people who had just disembarked were looking around, trying to orientate themselves, Leela wondered if they were all conference attendees as well. She turned to Nandini.
“You wouldn’t by any chance be here for the Woodfern conference tomorrow, would you?”
“I was just going to ask you that,” Nandini replied. She surveyed their surroundings as well. The place was sleepy enough that even the taxi drivers seemed disinterested in the newly arrived passengers. “I would be very surprised if there were two exciting happenings in this town this weekend.”
Leela laughed. Nandini had always had a dry sense of humour. “Where are you staying?”
“The Glen. It’s supposed to be a three-hundred-metre walk from the station. The question is, in which direction?”
Leela waved her mobile phone at Nandini. “Should I check on my GPS?”
“Oh, well, I can do that too.” She reached for the pocket of her jeans. Leela couldn’t help noticing the excellent fit—definitely designer jeans. They were tucked into ankle-length leather boots. The grey woollen jacket that Nandini had on also fell in delicious soft pleats around her. Also noteworthy were the additional curves that Nandini had acquired since their college days.
“Where are you staying?” Nandini asked, tapping away on her phone.
Leela looked away hurriedly. “A place called Himalayan Nest. Also supposedly walking distance from the station.”
“Ah, there it is,” Nandini said, squinting at her phone. “And it seems to be very close to my hotel. I think we go”—she pointed over Leela’s shoulder—“that way.”
“Madam, taxi?” a man in a thin cotton T-shirt called out.
“No, thank you,” Leela said as they stepped out onto Amrudpur’s main street, pulling her little bag on wheels behind her.
Shops selling everything from kitchenware to underclothing lined both sides of the street, which was barely wide enough for two large cars to pass. The traffic, fortunately, mainly comprised two-wheelers and a throng of pedestrians. For all one knew, all of Amrudpur’s 3,500 residents were outside and this was what rush hour was all about here.
“If you don’t have any other plans,” Nandini said as they walked through the street, dodging enthusiastic Friday-evening shoppers. “Would you like to have dinner with me? It would be great to catch up.”
“Yes, I’d love that too.”
Her eagerness surprised her. Never in a million years had she imagined she would run into Nandini Mirchandani again, at least not this way. Despite all the excitement between them in college, Nandini had eventually become just a footnote in Leela’s otherwise quite eventful past. She didn’t mean that in a mean-spirited way—just that she had always considered her Nandini chapter to have been well and truly closed.