Friday, 23 November 2018

Chapter 8: Where Did I go Wrong


Settling in the corner of an empty classroom, Riddhima decided to pour out everything she could about her past. The unhealed wounds were beginning to rip more, but she was used to the pain. Taking a deep breath to steady her pumping heart, she began recalling how it had all started'



*Flashback*


"Smriti' No, bring it a bit down, its uneven still ' Yes. Perfect" said Riddhima grinning in satisfaction.



The college annual day was just a few days away and the decorations were being hung artistically under Riddhima's skilled guidance.




"Have the carnations for the entrance arrived yet?" Riddhima shouted to one of the boys over the loud dance rehearsals back stage.

"They should be here in about 5 or 10, meanwhile, why don't you go and have lunch" one of them had suggested.



Lunch? It struck a cord, "Thanks dude, guess I lost track of time" she said, punching him lightly on the shoulder and then hurried downstairs to the cafeteria loosening her hair from the knot and letting it flow.



"Hi Sam" Riddhima said winking at her junior, "cafeteria duty this week?"



"Yeah well, so what could I get the beautiful lady?" he replied, leaning on the counter.



"I don't have time to grab a bite, but a chocolate milkshake should do?" she said, casually smiling.



"Coming right up, Madame"



She laughed along with him and waited looking around the cafeteria unconsciously tapping the table, when a loud but pleasant voice wrung her ears. "One cheese sandwich, and please apply cheese rather liberally"



She turned around to look at the man who by the help of his elbow was leaning on the counter. He looked back and to her utter surprise he smiled and said hi. Raising her eyebrow she half smiled reluctantly and returned the customary greeting. Her surprise turned to bewilderment when he laughed, a barely audible laugh, like it was just for her to hear. This time she stared at him "what is so funny?"



"You are" he replied, as if it was the most obvious thing on the planet.



"Excuse me?" she retorted.



"Well, technically it's your head, which is buzzing with questions like "Who is he? I don't seem to recall ever seeing him? Do I know him? Does he know me? How? Etc etc?" he said, pleased with himself.



"Weirdo" she muttered, gaping at him, of course he had been quite right about her thoughts but she wasn't the one to acknowledge that aloud. Ignoring his peculiar technique of beginning a conversion she tuned to another station. "Aren't you a bit too old to be in college? The cafeteria facilities are extended only to the college pupils" The prefect spirit had just kicked in.



"Ah, Miss Prefect" he acknowledged noticing her gold gleaming badge, "The facilities are a bit extended until the college annual day completes"



"I'm not aware of such rules, Mr.'?"



"Mallik, I'm here partially sponsoring the annual day event and came around to see the preparations merely out of curiosity and so I think I'm allowed in the cafe"



Riddhima spluttered, "What? So you're Armaan Mallik?" she gulped, she was definitely supposed to be a lot more respectful, he was in the high priority list. She laughed hesitantly to herself, "I'm sorry Mr. Mallik, and I didn't mean to be rude, not intentionally, though I don't very well comprehend how you know me?" she quizzed.



He just waved the matter off, "No need to be sorry, I've been watching you all day today, reminds me of myself when in college, I was a student here, a few years back" Armaan said, looking around the cafeteria, and then adding "not changed much from the last time saw it"



Before Riddhima could respond Sam was back with the sandwich and milkshake.



"So, will I be privileged to sit with you then?" Armaan prompted, pushing his luck.



"Sure" Riddhima said, not giving it much of a thought.



They sat on the table nearest to them and they were off, introducing each other a bit more elaborately first and then discussing topics from the horrid weather to their myriad interests or dreams that everyone thought were rather absurd when infact it sounded perfectly swell to each other, talking about their similar dislikes whether it was on television entertainment or the weird scary seeming movies the people created merely wasting time that they currently hardly had to spare, talking about the daily zoom gossip to the much negotiable politicians in the various news channels.



Riddhima was astonished, he was a complete stranger, she couldn't believe that she had spoken so much to him; so much to somebody she barely knew enough to comprehend. His versatile nature made it all the more easy for her to adapt, she almost felt as if she was succumbing to him. They had both just stopped laughing at his latest cracked joke on global warming when her phone beeped indicating a message that promptly reminded the owner what she was supposed to be doing. "Oh no" she said, glancing at her watch, "I'm not supposed to be having a tete-a-tete like this, I'm supposed to be working on the stage settings" she hurried on, bustling around and shoving the mobile back into her jeans pocket and gulping down the 2nd glass of milkshake she had ordered.



"Hey, wait, give me your number" he asked her, nonchalantly. Turning back at him she questioned nonplussed, "Why?"



"So I can call you to know when exactly you're free enough to spend time with me and even so we could carry on this very amusing conversation" he replied easily, non-committal.



"You know Armaan, you're really one of a kind" she said, amused.



"You are that one specie I have never come across either" he said, complimenting her in a way that left her a little lost. She shook her head unbelievably, smiled to herself and handed him her number.



"I'll call you, soon, I guess" he said, walking her outside of the cafeteria and stopping before they parted ways.



"Sure" she said, approving and turning yet again to walk her direction.



"Riddhima?" he called out, before she went too far.



"Yeah?" she said, now facing him and watching him walking the distance to her.



He came close enough to bend a little giving her a quick kiss on her cheek "see you soon" he whispered after that and mysteriously smiling at her he walked away, looking back just once to see her pretty astounded face.



She was so bemused at herself; she wasn't angry or put off by what happened. The bemusing part was that she liked what he had just done. Unanticipated she thought, trotting away.



The days to the annual function were closing in, the preparations were full on, yet Riddhima did not feel the pressure, everyday Armaan was there, putting in his bit of experience and talent. The days ran by. Riddhima was sure that the clock was ticking faster than its usual pace.



Finally the day arrived and it had been a grand success. Now as Riddhima sat relaxing in her apartment she re-encountered the week where Armaan was constantly on her side. To her utter surprise, she never felt suffocated by this constant unending presence of his, instead she enjoyed every moment. He had been there tagging along wherever she went lending a helping hand in no matter what she did. She remembered that late evening when curiously she had interrupted their conversation about his days in college to uncertainly ask him "You aren't obligated to help me so much, still you do, why?" to which he answered rather diplomatically unlike his usual straightforward behavior "because I'm sponsoring it, I wouldn't want it to go waste now, would I?" and then politely but rather firmly diverted back to the older topic in discussion.



Funny how she felt rather lonely to think that he wouldn't be around to make her laugh, somehow she didn't want to think how her day would pass without his presence.



She had been wrong to think that way, they had often met even after the annual day, a minimum of 3 to 4 times a week, and the days they did not meet he would call her up and engage her in a fairly long conversation she had so much enjoyed and obliged.



6 months went by in a flash, it was widely evident that there was a lot more than just friendship between them, neither wanting to acknowledge aloud nor deny, it was like they were just happy about it subconsciously, why confess and spoil the friendship was what either of them thought.



One fine day when Riddhima had been pondering about the same thing over and over again her phone rang her out of her usual latest reverie. Her heart thumped fast as she answered the most common 'Armaan calling'.



"Hi" she said, keeping her tone calm, something she ever so tried to do for the last month.



"Hi" he responded, much less enthusiastically than the usual and hurried on, "Is it possible for us to meet today, its important"



"Today?" she questioned, glimpsing at the time and then confirming "Ok, where?"



"I'll pick you up in 15, ok?"



"Sure, I'll be ready".



With that they ended the call, the shortest call ever she thought as she brushed her hair and then adjusted her clothes. She tried anticipating what was so important that he had so urgently wished to meet her. By the time she was down, he was there, waiting for her, on seeing her he just opened the passenger door of his car allowing her to get in.



Besides the 'hi' he never said anything else as he drove on. She was getting more and more anxious now at the stretching silence. He abruptly stopped and she heard the waves of the sea.



"Beach?" she said, confused.



"Let's go" was all he said.



The wind was blowing fiercely this late evening. He took her to one far end of the beach close to the rocks which was almost deserted and maintained the discreet silence. She was getting more and more impatient now, finally not being able to take it anymore she timidly asked "what happened, are you ever going to tell me or not, what are you waiting for?"



He stood now, looking at the never ending ocean ahead. Unable to take it anymore, she walked to stand right in front of him, blocking his view. "What?" she almost shouted, trying as much as possible to keep the curiosity out of her tone!



He took a deep breath and let it out with a gush, then looking at her full on the face he said in a straight tone, "I'm getting married"



She stared at him, a look of unpleasant surprise crossing her face, recovering quickly she turned to face the sea so he couldn't see her face. Her throat felt tight, like there was no passage for air to pass, she felt he eyes sting and a tear drop to join the sea, the realization struck her then, she had taken a great liking for Armaan, it was even more than a liking she accepted, this realization was not helping her to get a grip and then she managed to compose herself enough to say "wow, that's great news, who is the girl?" wondering if it would be one of his many friends she had known.



"You are" he answered, not even the slightest bit bothered to be incoherent.



Her mind went blank, of all emotions; she was apparently like a live statue, her hair flying across her face with the wind. Her mind was whizzing with what he had just said, it kept ringing in her mind, and she knew she ought to be happy, some part of her head was telling her so, but she still couldn't believe what he had just said. She didn't even swallow his first statement when he gently turned her around the spot to face him, held her arms firmly and said clearly in a tone slightly above a whisper.



"I love you Riddhima" and she found herself being pulled into a hug, not being able to find her voice which seemed to be lost deep in the sea, but now that she was regaining feeling in her arms she hugged him back, trying to tell him all the feelings her apparently sealed voice couldn't bring out.



The sun was setting; it lowered down coming in contact with the sea forming a horizon, its beautiful rays adding a glow to their faces as they broke apart from the hug, each still standing in the circle of the others arms.



Riddhima sniffed, "What took you so long to say it?" she muttered, now playing with the collars of his shirt and not meeting his eyes. He sighed and took her hands, made her look up to meet his eyes. She noticed those worry lines on his forehead before he said "Believe me Riddhima, I wanted all this to be more elaborate, more precise, I had so much planned for this day, but I had no choice, it had to be today, I know its all in a rush but this was a necessity. Do you remember what's the first thing said when we arrived here?"



And then she had remembered I'm getting married.



"Explain Armaan? I'm listening" she said, puzzled but determined to resolve his problem.



He sighed yet again, letting go off her hands he walked a few steps until he had his ankles submerged in water. "My mother wants to get me married by the end of this year, according to her I'm coming of age. She isn't even ready to delay it a bit when I said I'm not ready for this marriage business, she even arranged a meeting of our very old family friends' daughter who was a good friend of mine some 15 years back, I haven't even seen her for all these years, let alone think of getting married to her when I love you, so when I persisted on delaying it a bit more, she asked me to give her a reason for the delay and in irritation I told her that I loved someone else, at last she agreed to meet the girl which is you, but on one condition that the one I loved would marry me by this year end."



Riddhima's mind was working under pressure, her heart beating fast. He is coming of age she thought; in a matter of months he'd be 27, and she'd be just 19. She was slowly beginning to understand Armaan's worry. Even if somehow his mother approved of her, however would she be able to convince Armaan's mother to give her some more time and postpone the wedding?



"There is one other thing Riddhima, something that is worrying me all the more, I don't know how you will take this, but my mother won't allow you to complete your education post marriage"



A dull ache stirred the pit of her stomach. Coming to stand right next to Armaan she deliberately looked at the horizon avoiding his gaze "How long do I have before I come to a decision?"



"Just a week, I can't say when my mother will change her decision" he said, noticing her delicate features in the setting sun.



The prospect of losing each other was preposterous; Riddhima suddenly wished she could look up to someone right enough for guidance, but she had been an orphan for sometime now, forced to take decisions by herself, this decision was left up to her as well. The sea water that now surrounded her ankles was the only soothing consolation for her.



She had been quiet for too long Armaan thought, not being able to take it anymore he swirled her around snapping her out of her thoughts, the look he gave her was almost intimidating, before even she could comprehend what was happening his lips was on hers. This was it, there was nothing more to think about now, nothing left to worry about, all they felt right now was the feeling of each other lips, her body tingled when he pursued her more, his lips lingering and moving lightly over her wondering if she was demur, but when she didn't make any attempts to resist, his hands reached to hold her face, deepening the kiss. At last they broke off; she could still feel Armaan's lips brushing against hers, every breath of his coming ragged. A sharp sense of intimacy rippled her body, but she wasn't troubled with it, she just accepted that she never desired for anything more than him.



"I want you Armaan, for the rest of my life" she whispered, leaning her head against his. "I love you too" she added, taking the initiative to tilt her head and kiss him again, her hand wounding into his hair pulling him closer so that there was no space in between their bodies. By the time they drew apart their bodies had been warmed by the close proximity.



"I could just think of doing one thing right now, so to make this moment better" Armaan said, going down on one knee, "Riddhima Gupta....'." he started, while taking her left hand in his left, and with his right pulling out a ring out from his jeans pocket holding it out for her. "'...I Armaan Mallik, promise to love you more and more everyday of my life, I'll love you until the world that knows no end and in return I ask you to marry me, will you take the privilege of wearing this ring on your finger which will be a sign of my endless love for you?"



_____________________________________________

Steff

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