Friday, 9 November 2018

Part 20 : Chance Encounter

Riddhima wished she could disappear. Somebody would flick a magic wand and she would vanish into thin air, just like that. However, as she continued to be persistently present, she shut her eyes tight and hoped that  she was atleast having a terrible nightmare. When she'll open her eyes, everything will be alright. She will be lying in her own bed, in her own apartment and for heaven's sake, wearing her own clothes!! She most definitely won't be standing at the door welcoming Anjali into her house wearing her clothes and with no non-embarrassing reason for her presence.

 Moments passed or maybe eons and suddenly a voice cut through her happy thoughts.

"Umm, Armaan," Riddhima heard Atul speak up, "I know the weather is nice and all but don't you think we should all go in? If we are having an open air picnic or something, I'm cool, I'll just go in and keep the bags, Okay?"

Riddhima jerked open her eyes and realized the obvious. She was still blocking the way and Atul and Anjali were smiling at her politely, but now the smiles looked a bit strained.

"Yay, picnic!" Gappu shouted and pushed past Riddhima into the house while she jumped back stepping on Armaan's foot in her haste.

"Oww," Armaan winced but ignoring the throbbing pain he forced himself to smile, "Di, Atul bhaiya come in, why are you still standing at the door? Let me help you with the bags."

Riddhima nodded her head vigorously still unable to do anything more. She wished she had something to say, anything to say but her knowledge of pleasantries deserted her completely. 2 years of preschool, 13 years of school and then 5 years of medical school but still, a simple hello eluded her.

Anjali smiled at Riddhima before walking in, which she returned shakily, almost a grimace than a proper smile. After Anjali had moved into the living room, she turned her attention towards Atul, the horrible imitation of a smile still plastered on her face.

Atul heaved the suitcase over the threshold and grinned at Armaan.

"And here I was arguing with Anjali about taking the later flight," Atul muttered loud enough for both Armaan and Riddhima to hear, "I tell you Armaan, listen to your wife, they are always right. I wouldn't have wanted to miss this for the world!"

With that little word of advice, Atul walked away towards the living room, trudging the suitcase behind him while Riddhima turned a deeper shade of scarlet.

Riddhima was playing the last two minutes over and over again in her mind and surprisingly a plethora of words and actions presented themselves which she could have said and done. She could have atleast said hello or helped with the bags or just acted like a normal human being instead of a dumb imbecile. This, by far had to be the most embarrassing moment of her entire life.

"Let's go," Armaan whispered near her ears and Riddhima was rudely brought back to reality. She looked up at Armaan  surprised, and he reiterated his statement, "Let's go, Riddhima."

Riddhima's face lit up instantly with a smile and her heart overflowed with love for Armaan. She had found the perfect guy, her knight in shining armour, her soulmate!  Armaan was just fabulous, reading her mind and instantly offering a wonderful solution. He was a genius. She wanted to hug him there and then but there wasn't enough time. She grabbed his hand instead and dragged him towards the open door.

"Yeah, let's go. How come I didn't think of it? We can catch a cab and we can go to my apartment. Niki will?" Riddhima stopped abruptly when she realized that Armaan hadn't budged.

"Come on, Armaan," Riddhima pulled impatiently, "Let's go."

"Riddhima," Armaan interrupted her with a half smile. He walked up to her and placed his hands on her shoulder in an effort to calm her. "I meant, let's go to the living room and meet Di and Atul bhaiyya, we can't stand in the hallway and pretend to be an umbrella stands or something. Or for that matter, run away."

"What?" Riddhima squealed, clasping a hand over her mouth, "Go into the living room?"

"Yes, I didn't even get a chance to introduce you guys."

"Introduce us?" Riddhima looked incredulous, "Don't you think it's too late for that?"

"Too late? You've only just met and.."

"In her house, early in the morning, wearing her clothes, behaving like a nutcase. There is no way we can talk ourselves out of this situation. Whatever are we going to tell them?"

"The truth!" Armaan answered her frantic queries at once.

"Truth?" Riddhima asked, her voice getting squeaky again, "We are going to tell them the truth?"

Armaan grinned, "We have to tell them Riddhima!"

"Yeah, I know, but right now?" Riddhima screeched, the pitch reaching alarming heights.

"Yep," Armaan laughed, "We have to tell them 'right now'!"

Riddhima shook her head, "I don't think we should tell them about....."

"About how it was raining yesterday," Armaan interrupted, "And how the roads were cordoned off and the gentleman that I am, I offered to let you stay. And how you just couldn't refuse the Armaan Mallik." he added with a wink.

Riddhima stared at Armaan  for a whole 5 seconds and then a ghost of a smile appeared on her face.

"That doesn't sound too bad."

Armaan shook his head and grinned, "No, it doesn't!" He kissed the back of her hand and continued in a reassuring tone, "Now let's go meet Di and Atul bhaiyya or they might get wondering about what we are upto."

"Right!" Riddhima nodded her head, "We wouldn't want that."

"We wouldn't want that," Armaan agreed, laughing, "Don't worry, Di and Atul bhaiyya are alright, you'll like them."

"Yeah sure," Riddhima mumbled to herself, following Armaan with laden feet, "But the question is, will they like me?"

Armaan and Riddhima walked into the living room to find Anjali sitting on the couch staring at the two empty cups of hot chocolate on the table and Atul standing near the television set flipping through an upside down magazine. Riddhima turned her face away from the imminent interview panel and stared outside the window. She saw an auto speed past the house and was subconsciously calculating how fast she had to sprint to catch it when Armaan, as if reading her mind, clasped her hand in his. That action didn't go unnoticed and Atul snorted,

"Armaan, Riddhima isn't running away."

Armaan however didn't find the comment too funny and gave Riddhima a questioning look. Riddhima sighed and shook her head- she wasn't going to run away. Armaan smiled and gave her hand a squeeze which she returned gratefully and braced herself for whatever fate had in store for her.

"So," Atul spoke up breaking the prevailing silence, "What's for breakfast?"

"Umm," Armaan grinned, glad about the diversion, "Anything you wish, I'll just go tell Mohan bhaiyya." He started to move towards the door but was dragged back with force by Riddhima who fixed him with a glower. "Err?he'll come here shortly. I don't need to go. Atul bhaiyya, why don't you sit down?"

Atul snorted but stifled his laugh immediately. He sat down beside Anjali and looked at Armaan expectantly. Gappu, who till now had been watching the grownups with mild interest now decided to make his presence felt.

"What about the picnic? Aren't we going for the picnic?"

"Looks like we missed the picnic, Gappu," Anjali finally broke her silence, and twisted around to face Armaan and Riddhima, "We just have to hear the details from Armaan."

Gappu looked crestfallen, while the recipients of the jab looked at each other in alarm.

"We missed the picnic?" Gappu asked running towards Riddhima who bent down to console him, glad to have something to do, while Armaan sighed and started on his story.

"Oh, actually Di, it was raining yesterday?"

"Yeah, I know," Anjali interrupted, "Saw the news."

"I mean," undeterred, Armaan continued, "It was raining really heavily?"

"Will you cut out the weather report," Atul interrupted this time, "You are not even that good looking to hold our interest while you rattle off crap about rain and thunderstorms."

Armaan awarded Atul a fierce glare but taking a deep breath resumed his story.

"Di, actually, Riddhima was wet," Anjali glanced at Riddhima who looked down immediately, "Umm?the rain was quite unexpected and we both got wet," he corrected himself quickly, "So I thought we could come home and dry up a bit, but the rain got worse, so I invited Riddhima to stay."

Atul clapped excitedly, "So far so good, Armaan! Carry on. What happens next?"

This time both Armaan and Anjali glared at Atul who immediately stopped grinning and pulled a somber expression. Even in the throes of acute embarrassment Riddhima marveled at how quickly Atul brought about that change of expression. Years of practice she deduced with a smile which disappeared almost as fast as Atul's when she felt Anjali's questioning gaze on her.

"Hmm," Anjali sighed and repeated Atul's question sans the excitement, "So, what happens next?"

"Err," Riddhima finally found her voice, "Armaan gave me your suit to wear. Mine was.."

"Wet," Anjali interrupted, "Figured that out. Then what happened?"

"We had dinner and went to bed," Armaan finished in one breath before Riddhima could say anything, "Mohan bhaiyya fixed the guest room for Riddhima and we went to sleep."

Armaan surveyed the room cautiously while Riddhima observed Anjali through the corner of her eye. There was an unusual silence following Armaan's declaration, which Riddhima presumed to be the calm before the storm. She chanced a glance at Armaan who by the looks of it was equally anxious about the reactions, but Anjali and Atul both remained frustratingly reaction less. Finally Atul put his vocal cords to use.

"Phssst," Atul snorted derisively, "That's it?" He looked really disappointed, "You had dinner and went to sleep? That's your story?"

Armaan stared steadfastly at Atul, "Yeah, that's our story!"

"How boring," Atul made a face, "Not at all what I expected of you Armaan!"

Armaan was about to make a scathing reply but his words remained unsaid as a frantic scream filled the living room,

"Armaan baba!!"

"Mohan bhaiyya?" Armaan muttered and ran out of the room closely followed by Atul, to check what the matter was,. They didn't however have to go too far as Mohan bhaiyya came running and bumped into Armaan at the doorway.

"Mohan bhaiyya? What's wrong? Why were you screaming?"

Mohan bhaiyya looked too flustered to answer calmly.

"Armaan baba," he gasped , "Dr. Didiji, I took tea, her room, terrible!" He covered his face with his hands, and then spoke very fast as if to get the worst off his chest quickly, "Armaan baba, Dr. Didiji is not in her room. Her room is a mess, broken glass everywhere; I think something terrible must have happened. I think?" Suddenly he stopped blabbering as he realized the presence of others in the room. His eyes travelled from a startled Anjali to Atul to Gappu and finally stopped unblinkingly on Riddhima who was trying her best to melt into the wall.

"Dr. Didiji?"

Riddhima hung her head in embarrassment and if possible shrunk even further into the wall.

A clearing of throat disturbed the stunned silence and all of them turned towards Anjali

"Mohan bhaiyya," Anjali said, her voice surprisingly calm, "As you can see, Riddhima is perfectly alright. Why don't you make tea for all of us? I think I'd like a cup of tea while I hear the rest of the story."

Armaan avoided Anjali's piercing gaze while Mohan bhaiyya left to make tea.  Atul clapped his hands in glee and made himself more comfortable on the couch,

"Ooooh!! I knew it! Twist in the tale. Picture abhi baki hai mere dost!"

As Riddhima risked turning into a wall hanging Armaan tried to regain control of the situation.

 "It was just the storm, Di," he said defending himself, "Not a big deal."

"Again the weather report," Atul sighed exasperatedly, "Change the channel, Armaan."

"Umm, actually," Armaan fumbled glaring at Atul, "One of the windows opened in the storm and we couldn't get it shut."

"We?" Anjali asked, her brow cocked. "You and?"

"Me," Riddhima croaked from the corner. "I couldn't get the window shut so I called Armaan."

As the attention shifted from Armaan to Riddhima, she extricated herself from the wall and stood up straight.

"And?" Anjali asked, the menacing edge in her voice more apparent.

"And then we had hot chocolate and watched Roman Holiday!" Riddhima finished the story not bothering to hide anything anymore. She had enough of all the warping of data and presenting the truth in a twisted manner.  Heck, she was a doctor not a lawyer and she was coming clean, no matter what it cost her.

"I fell asleep on the couch and I swear, that's all that happened!"

Anjali and Atul shared a knowing glance while Armaan looked down, shaking his head. Finally Anjali looked at Riddhima, her face devoid of any expression.

 "I meant to ask, and did the both of you get the window closed? But thanks Riddhima for clearing out all confusion. I needed a good laugh."

Riddhima thought she was hallucinating as Anjali started laughing, followed by Atul. She chanced a glance at Armaan who looked equally puzzled and was gaping at his sister and brother-in-law.

"Di," he called tentatively, "Are you alright?"

That made Anjali laugh harder while Armaan caught Riddhima's eye and shrugged.

Finally after what felt like ages, Anjali stopped laughing and walked up to Riddhima who tried her best not to flinch. Anjali surveyed her from up close and to Riddhima's shock and utmost relief, she smiled. The smile was so unexpected that for a second Riddhima thought she was imagining it. Her doubts however were cleared with Anjali's next statement

"Riddhima, I've heard so much about you, it's great to finally meet you."

"Me too," Riddhima muttered uncertainly and before she knew what was happening, Anjali pulled her into a hug. Riddhima looked at Armaan who smiled and winked.

"I am so sorry for embarrassing you," Anjali said, "It was just such a golden opportunity, I couldn't help myself."

"I understand," Riddhima muttered, totally not understanding, "I deserved it."

"No you don't," Anjali laughed, pulling back from the hug, "But my idiot brother sure does. I was just taking revenge for the numerous times he has got me into trouble. Brothers are always such a pain."

"I know," Riddhima smiled, a genuine one since the time she had opened the door in the morning, "But they can sometimes be a lot of fun."

"Are you talking about my brother," Anjali asked innocently but Riddhima didn't miss the teasing edge.

"Yes,err, no," Riddhima replied hastily, trying her best not to blush, "I was talking about my brother.

I have a brother too, Rahul and we are very close."

"Oh," Anjali said, her arm still around Riddhima's shoulder, "Then you'll know exactly what I am talking about."

As Anjali led her to the couch, Riddhima felt oddly at home. She felt she knew these people forever and wondered why she was so embarrassed a few moments back. She smiled at Atul who returned it with equal warmth, moving forward to give Armaan a hug. As all of them sat down with cups of tea, Gappu came running back. He was apparently in his room as he came back holding one of his comic books. He surveyed the room and grinned.

"So are we going to the picnic now?" Gappu asked, his eyes gleaming sending all of them into fits of laughter.

It was hours later when Riddhima finally took her leave and Armaan offered to drop her home.

"So?" he asked, in the car, "How did you like the Joshis?"

"Fantastic," Riddhima grinned, "They are so much fun. Now I know the reason why Gappu is so cool."

"That would be me," Armaan laughed, "But let me tell you, you created a fabulous second impression."

"A second impression?" Riddhima asked, frowning, "Why's that?"

"Well, the first impression was of a nutcase," Armaan smiled and added, "Quoting you! But the second time, you proved that you indeed are from civilized society and not some fumbling idiot! Oww," Armaan winced as Riddhima hit him, "Okay, okay I am sorry! You were wonderful."

"You think?" Riddhima asked broodingly.

"Absolutely. Di loved you. The last person I know of, that she was this glad to meet was the plumber!"


"Yeah, there was a leak in the toilet and the first floor was reeking of," Armaan stopped talking abruptly when he saw the furious look on Riddhima's face, "Umm, long story, not important! The point is Di loved you and you bagged Atul bhaiyya as soon as you said you'll make Gajar  ka halwa for him. Smart move, I must say!"

"Armaan," Riddhima laughed, "It wasn't like that. By the way, can I ask you something?"

"Yes Riddhima, I will marry you!" Armaan said solemnly and then grinned.

"Armaan, seriously!"

"Okay," he smiled, "What is it?"

"Umm?Armaan?" Riddhima said, fidgeting with her dupatta, "What was your first impression of me?"

When Armaan didn't answer immediately, Riddhima looked up. She realized that they had reached their apartment building and Armaan was looking straight ahead, deep in thought.

"Armaan?" Riddhima nudged softly.

Armaan finally turned to look at her.

"Well Riddhima, you know when I first saw you that night at the hospital. I was shit scared about Gappu, and Subhankar uncle said he wouldn't be able to come. I didn't know what to do, I felt so helples and then you walked in. I know, this is going to sound terribly unromantic but the first thing I felt when I saw you was relief. There was something about you that felt familiar; I knew deep in my heart that I could rely on you, and you won't let me down. It was this instant connection I felt more than anything else and yes, I did notice, that you had beautiful eyes!"

Riddhima was listening to him with rapt attention and blushed at his last compliment. Armaan noted the blush with a grin,

"Beautiful, beautiful eyes," he reaffirmed making her blush even more. "By the way, now that we are talking of first impressions, what did you think about me, the first time you saw me?"

Riddhima took one look at his expectant face and burst out laughing.

"What's so funny, Riddhima?"

"Well," Riddhima laughed, "I thought you were attacking Dr. Subhankar!"

"What?" Armaan exclaimed, "Why ever did you think that?"

"You were almost dragging Dr. Subhankar and the poor old man was cluthching onto the table and shaking his head vigorously. What am I to think?"

Armaan made a face and huffed back into his seat,

"You make the hero sound like a villain. Okay, how about second impression? I'm sure you thought that I was drop dead gorgeous and something out of your wildest fantasy."

Riddhima chortled,

"I assure you, no such notion entered my mind. I thought you were married, with a son and I try not to have amorous feelings about married men!"


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