Chrissy didn’t remember much of her journey back home from Central London. She was in a limbo all throughout the tube travel. She wondered, how could things change so drastically in less than three months, when they had just started getting better?
Chrissy didn’t have it easy. Far from it. While she had a nice childhood, she lost her father in a car accident when she was not even seventeen and her younger sister was just twelve. Her mother drowned herself in her sorrow and developed a sickness from which she never fully recovered. Chrissy had to drop out of school and forgo all dreams of higher education. Instead she had to find means of surviving, keeping a roof on their head and food on their table. She had to ensure her sister completes her school. Her mother’s healthcare meant additional necessary expenses.
She was a smart girl but with no knowledge of the outside world. Her simple and shy nature didn’t help either. Those initial years were terrible. They were dependent on distant relatives who had no interest in taking responsibility of two young girls except for what was must as per decent social norms. Within days Chrissy knew she had to move out and take care of her family on her own.
But she didn’t have any experience nor any inherent skills. Even her looks were more or less, ordinary. With medium height and a slim built, she was usually dressed in jeans and shirts which did nothing to enhance her shapes. Her round
face was surrounded by dark brown straight hair running down till waist. She would usually tie them up in a ponytail to keep them out of her face while working. Nothing in her looks made her feel special, except for her green eyes. She liked her eyes but given she hardly had any time to dress up or make up, she didn’t think much about them. Yes, she was very different from the girls she would see in London city.
Her family used to live in a small town outside the capital but had to move to London after her father’s death because of the relatives and later for more job options. She started with odd jobs like waiting on tables, babysitting, attendant at departmental stores, etc, where she was recommended by her parents’ old friends.
After struggling for almost a year and a half, the lowest period of her life, because there was hardly any money or respect in those jobs, she met a kind lady in down town who was looking for a person to manage her antiques business.
Mrs Janet had been in the business for several years and knew all the traits but with age, she was finding it difficult to do all the running around required to meet and keep contacts with antiques dealers. That is where Chrissy joined in to do all the fieldwork for her.
Being intelligent, she had quickly picked up the business and its working, managing dealers, suppliers and customers efficiently because of her ability to simplify the most complex matters. Slowly she had learned the threads of the business from Mrs Janet who treated like her own daughter.
She worked with her for two years before Mrs Janet decided she cannot continue any longer and moved to her home town. She encouraged Chrissy to start her own business. She even loaned her some money to set things up.
And that is how Chrissy started antiques dealing on her own. She worked relentlessly for days and nights to create a space for herself. All she knew was that this was her way to survival. It was not easy. She saw a greater number of doors being closed at her face than the number of fruitful opportunities, but she continued. With time, people started noticing her honest way of work. She developed very few but devoted customers who believed in her.
Slowly, very slowly she managed to start saving from her mere earnings to invest better in the business. That meant living on the bare basics, but she knew it was required if she wanted her sister to go to college and better medical care for her mother in future.
Sometimes her mother would ask her to slow down but that was not a choice. It was only last year that she was able
to rent this place of her own to work from. She had named it Dreams.
The shop being in Regiment Estate worked for her because the place was known for its history. She would have an interested customer to visit her shop almost every month if not every week. People would hesitate when they saw her on her own, her young age and simple appearance, making her look inexperienced. Such experiences made her doubt her looks even further. But what she lacked in looks, she made up with her sincerity and her knowledge about antiques.
Her job demanded her to be meeting new people, speaking to them, convincing them to make the deal, apart from other things. She would do her best but because she was an introvert by nature, she felt drained at the end of each day. She would drag herself home late at nights, only to be back at her Dreams the next day. Sometimes she just felt like sleeping in the shop but still towed herself home for few hours to ensure her mother and sister were all right.
This continued till things started changing almost three months back. New people started turning up at Regiment Estate almost daily. At first, she thought it was better for her business but soon things had started folding out.
There were men in black suits coming in black cars. Then there were more people coming in more cars, vans, trucks, as if they were part of some large teams. Even then she had not recognized what was about to hit her. There were rumours going around but she was too busy with her work to focus on them.
One morning when she had stepped out to see off one of her regular customers, Rick, she saw a large car stop in front of the complex. At the same time two men dressed in dark suits stepped out of the small café in the opposite building. There was something about them which made her conscious, but she didn’t know what. So, tried to ignore it till she locked eyes with one of the men. He was looking straight in her direction.
He was very tall, above six feet and had broad shoulders. His hair was combed neatly and set despite the slight breeze in the air. The suit he was wearing screamed money. She could see he must be someone important even before she heard her companion, Rick, say,
“Oh, isn’t that Nikloi Swaroski? What is he doing here?”
Somehow the name made her feel wary, at the same time, familiar. Then, there were these eyes which seemed to be stuck on her. But she couldn’t think of anything she had in common with a man like him. She tried to brush aside the feeling of uneasiness.
Rick continued, “He is the richest businessman in the town having businesses in almost everything. He has steel factories, shipping, hotels, retail chains, restaurants, etc. It is said he makes money even while sleeping because he has businesses all round the world.”
Chrissy could see he was extremely good looking though in a stark sense. He wasn’t like anyone she had seen before and he had a distinct allure about him which made her want to look at him again.
She turned towards him innocently but the moment their eyes met she quickly lowered her eye lashes. What was in those eyes? Even at the distance she could feel her breathing get laboured just by that look. Before she could try to get herself together, he abruptly turned away and left in his car.
“There must be something important to bring him here,” Rick was saying but she could barely register his words. Her mind was still with those eyes she had briefly witnessed.
Had she been free she would have spent much more thoughts about the fascinating man occupying her mind, but she had lots of work to do and as the day progressed, she got busy with the tasks at hand. That fleeting encounter, if it could be called one, was quickly pushed to the back of her mind.
Men continued to come to Regiment Estate. Chrissy continued to be busy with her shop. It was couple of weeks from that morning, that the bomb finally dropped. The news was all around in newspapers, on television and on the internet. Nikloi Swaroski had bought the land in Regiment Estate and was going to build his luxury hotel there. All the
surrounding area, including the commercial complex housing her shop, was also bought and was to be demolished as per the plans.
The news hit her hard. She couldn’t let her shop be demolished. She went to meet the owner of the complex to see if he could be dissuaded from selling the complex, but he had been rewarded well, at a price much higher than the market rate. All the paperwork was already completed. In fact, she was no longer his tenant since rights have been passed on to Nikloi Swaroski. In a quick change of events, Nikloi Swaroski was the single party owner of the whole of Regiment Estate. Her shop now belonged to him!
When Chrissy had received the official letter from his office, telling her to vacate shop within two months, she had almost cried. But she couldn’t let her mother or sister know the turmoil she was going through. So, she had dressed immediately and left for her shop. As luck would have had it, she saw the same car parked in front of the complex, that she had seen the day she saw Nikloi Swaroski for the first time.
She was already in a distress state of mind. Seeing that car triggered something inside. Instead of going inside her shop, she headed towards the car, that dreaded letter still inside the bag she was shouldering. She went up to the car and stood right in front of it.
As if on cue, a door opened and the man in question stepped out of the café. Looking at him up closely, she found him far more intriguing than earlier. He was again in one of those expensive suits on a crispy white shirt with a navy-blue tie. Right from his clothes, his cufflinks, his watch, to his shoes, he looked one rich handsome man. She couldn’t tell his age but guessed it not be more than thirty. He had a blank look and the moment his eyes landed on her, his face further stiffened.
He had a strict air around him which spoke of no nonsense but despite herself and the letter in her bag, she found herself staring at his attractive face. He reached up to her and when she still didn’t say anything, he narrowed his eyes as if questioning what she was doing there.
She realized she was blocking his way and had to say something quickly before he left. She remembered all the hurt and anger she had experienced on seeing his letter in the morning and said,
“Mr Swaroski, I need to speak to you,” but her voice didn’t come out as strong as she had intended. There was no reaction on his face.
She cleared her throat and tried again, “I am Christina Smith. That antiques shop at the back belongs to me,” she said pointing her hand towards the shop.
The moment those words left her mouth, she realized her mistake.