Tuesday, 9 April 2019

part 2 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

Ridhima's eyes widened in astonishment and she stood gaping for a couple of seconds. Then shaking her head in awe, she first turned to look at the girl standing next to her, then redirected her gaze to the disappearing back of her nephew. She had managed to delay office by an hour today for meeting up with them.

When Gappu had initially auditioned for the role in this musical, Ridhima had been surprised. Not to suggest that acting was an unfamiliar domain to him, but one of the sign up terms demanded the actor to be present for rehersals 5AM to 9AM each morning, for a month worth of summer break. It was not the wake up early fact either, which could be termed unusual. The change of reason for waking up early was what caught her attention.

Having been on the high school soccer team, Gappu had religiously followed the 6AM to 8AM field workout and net session regime. Overshadowed by American football, soccer in Chicago was unmatched with it's splendor when compared to London, both as a sport and in fanship. But for Gappu, the term 'football' had always signified exactly what it meant:a ball game to be played using feet alone. NFL for him could never replace FIFA or EPL as football leagues.



At the end of his freshman year at University of Ilinois-Chicago, in April, rumor had it that his current form had not escaped unnoticed by the coach, and he was likely to be selected to UIC's varsity soccer team. Gappu had confirmed to her a strong possibility of more substance to this news than could be overlooked. His dedication to the game had been unshakable, in Ridhima's opinion.

Why then had he preferred morning rehersals for a mere musical over this obvious oppertunity he had long awaited? He justified informing her that it was not a mere musical but a show to be staged in the City's Summer Fest, which had been recently conceptualized by the administration after dismissing hosting the usual Lollapalooza end of summer fest from this year.

She had not been entirely convinced, and he had been unsuccessful at keeping to himself the real reason. When he told her about a girl who had overtaken soccer on his priority list, she knew it was not a regular crush. Thereafter, she blackmailed, pleaded, commanded, bribed, and tried every other possible alternative to those mentioned, in order to convince him to arrange a meeting, before he confessed his feelings to the miracle lady! The fateful encounter with Armaan had lost her the chance once, but she ensured to not let it repeat.

Presently, still struck by this new side of him she had witnessed in the past ten minutes of a conscious introduction and exchange of pleasantries, she spoke her thoughts out loud "No kidding! Here I have had my share of misgivings about his capability to even spell the word 'chivalry' and now I am reintroduced to the character of Don Quixote in the post 20th century times, dressed ironically as Twain's crass creation, Sawyer!...Wow! He really must love..." Ridhima stopped mid sentence biting her tongue, and turned hastily towards the girl by her side, to observe the damage done.

Hearing the words Minnie turned a bright shade of red, and lowered her eyes as a reflex, although the sparkle in them was as hard to miss as the dimples of her smile which had certainly widened at the intended remark of a possible alliance between her and the boy who had stubbornly occupied her thoughts over the past few weeks. Ridhima did not miss this reaction as regaining her composure, she now concentrated on self assessing the situation.

Still clad in her stage costume, she looked like she had come alive from the pages of history dating back to an America over two and a half centuries ago. Just short of her calves, with drum like quarter sleeves, her single piece red frock with tiny white polka dots was a distasteful misfit for a 17 year old in the post second millenium era. It had evidently been a luxurious fashion statement available only to the wealthy like Rebecca Thatcher, popularly known as Becky, the character she was enacting for the musical; Gappu was her male lead.

They made quite a pair, Ridhima pondered. The arrogant yet infatuated Tom Sawyer, a character identified for it's notoriety over the many years past it's first appearance on bookshelves, with his charming yet mindless rebel girl Becky, versus Gappu- the latent knight in him surfacing for his gracefully shy ladylove Minnie; the contrast was inescapable. However, so was the chemistry, even in those few minutes they could not stop blushing, oblivious neither of each other's presence, nor of Ridhima's marked side smile .

They seemed likely to have the audience in splits once they started the public shows next week, she could not wait to be in the front row herself. It was a musical based on Mark Twain's celebrated work, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, directed as an inspiration from Broadway's blockbuster Big River, which had been focussed on Sawyer's mate Huck, a character formally known as Huckleberry Finn.

"So you..." they stopped, both breaking into a grin each having spoken identical words to interrupt the silence. Ridhima smiled and indicated Minnie to go first. "No I was just, I mean, you both grew up together in London Gappu mentioned. Do you miss being there?" Ridhima, smiling at Minnie's attempt to make conversation replied "London is a wonderful city, I went to Cambridge in my last years there and..." she paused, her gaze faltered for a moment before resuming.

"Yeh, I miss it, " she said in a slightly distant tone, then added firmly in a quiet voice "Chicago is home now. I prefer not to dwell in the past." Realizing that the sudden dip in enthusiasm might be misinterpreted she smiled brightly again and said, "What about you? Has it been this midwest metropolitan all along?" Minnie nodded, her nerves gradually relaxing as the conversation was beginning to build.

"Well if you chose to ignore the stringent records, I have been here long enough for me to not embrace any other place as home enough. We moved here when I was less than a year old." Ridhima was surprised, though her accent and basic appearance stood testimony to the facts she stated, something about the girl's essential nature was quite unlike the usual American Indian teens.

Tentatively she probed further, "So family here is just parents? siblings?" Minnie shook her head replying "Just me and my parents, Dr. Shubhankar and Dr. Keerti. But we are a huge family, mostly everyone is here, and sometimes it appears like there cannot be a hospital of repute in this country where I will be unable to claim family." She paused with a grin shrugging, then added,

" In a family of doctors, I seem to be the one breaking tradition opting for fine arts. Nobody disapproves, but my only strong approval comes from an uncle, I think he is dad's nephew some distant way, personally however, there is no one I am closer to, not even Mum and Pa. Uncle..."

They were both interrupted from further interaction as they heard a car pull up behind them. Turning around, they saw Gappu indicating them to hasten up and get inside. Ridhima deftly went for the rear door facing them, smiling warmly at Minnie to go ahead and take the passenger seat next to Gappu. Intuition told her, if she was to rely on it once again, that her approval here was not going to cause regret.

************

"Ritu, you are telling me to be professional? How can I design a house without any preference outline from the inmates?" Ridhima paused shutting her eyes stressfully, then before getting a reply, reopening them she continued "I don't understand why in the first place you shoved this case at me, YOU OF THE ALL THE PEOPLE KNOW THE WHOLE STORY..."

She paused again, this time long enough for Ritu to speak up, "Yes I know it all Ridzi, that is exactly why I got the case reassigned. When I saw his name in the client list on my desk I verified the details, and after I was satisfied I ensured you got it. It is the only chance you have of..."

Ridhima cut her off, "What part of 'I do not want any chances to get back with him' are you incapable of comprehending Ritu?" As she struggled to control her rising temper Ritu completed her interrupted sentence "It is your only chance to LET GO OF HIM was what I was going to say, if only you would let me complete. Besides there is no chance of getting back, since you were never with him really."

Ritu paused sighing, she had known this would never be easy but then it was the only option. There was no way any less harsh than to have Ridhima deal with the truth barefaced. She continued "It has been five years you claim, and three out of those I have seen you live through it. You eat, sleep, work cause that is the routine of life. You even smile and laugh for those around you. But deep inside you have not stopped hurting, it has only grown worse with time. You are not ready to give another chance to life, you will not date anyone no matter how eligible the bachelor, you refuse without second thoughts any lifelong alliance proposals...WHY?"

She paused again, but as expected Ridhima did not have answers so she continued yet again, "I want him out of your head Ridzi. For good this time. You have to be professional. If you are as over him as you tell me then treat him like any other client. Is that hard for you to comprehend now?" Ridhima, deep in a mess of conflicting thoughts slightly nodded her head absentmindedly, then realizing she was on the phone she spoke in a low solemn voice "I will. No more complaints. I need to get back to work now, see you for lunch in an hour Ritu. " With that she cut the call.

Ritu closed her eyes. She had delivered the message without a trace of ambiguity, and it was undeniably what she wanted her friend to do. The motive however, contrary to what she was projecting, was to bring back two people who belonged together. When she joined the firm three years ago, she was an intern just like Ridhima, only with an acceptance almost 8 months past Ridhima's, she was assigned to the same senior for the same project. Days passing, saw the start of a wonderful bond blossom.

Over three years after, they were now both senior designers, still working for the same firm, more often than not on the same projects. They had shared every secret there was from the years before they met and became the friends they had come about to be. As can be expected, among the first topics broached on the personal front, the girls had discussed their love interests, the men who came and went by, some of consequence, others becoming tales to be recounted almost like achievements from the teen years.

Two individuals however, could not differ more about their quick takes on love life. Ritu was the one to adorn banners announcing her relationship status, single, committed or in transience! Ridhima did not pose a strong verbal opposition, since her story would only contradict the faith she placed in keeping a low profile and bidding for the right time. Ritu initially tried talking her out of this philosophy which was almost unbecoming of an extrovert like her friend, but she soon realized that any discussions revolving about these talks hurt Ridzi.

She decided to observe silence, making a quiet resolution to be with her, in her phase to get over the past and move on in life. Next time, she told herself, she would not allow anything to go wrong, if only she got a chance. Armaan Malik. Reading the name on her client list she had this urge of desperation to do something, ANYTHING, which would hurt him the same. She put herself to the task.

Using her contacts, professional and personal she conducted exhaustive searches ranging widely in terms of the sources of information. At last she had facts, and suddenly several missing pieces from Ridhima's narration seemed to fall in place. She now saw the big picture, almost complete- there were still a couple of kinks, and they might be crucial, but even without them she knew her course of action had to be reversed. Her motive was no longer to seek vengence on behalf of her suffering friend but to relieve her of the pain altogether, the panacea was bringing Armaan back.

But he was not making it any easier for her than her friend. After the first unexpected meeting, he had ensured, on pretext of one alibi or another, to have Lovely keep the appointments with Ridhima, who was taking the indifference extremely hard upon herself. If his disappearence had enveloped her with a sense of rejection, his avoidance now was adding an insulting streak to it. And this time Ridhima could not take refuge under the benefit of doubt factor, his intention was candid and unmistakable.

Ritu was tempted to spill out the story, but that would work only one way. It was bound to soften Ridhima, but Armaan's end of the issue would remain unresolved. She wanted everything to work out with mutual consensus, no other way could serve as a sound foundation for this vulnerable relationship. She rolled her tongue, narrowing her eyes deep in thought now. Then giving a sudden smile she lifted the receiver. "Hello Dr. Chirag! I apologize if I am interrupting anything, but I was wondering if we could meet for coffee in the evening?" ...

*************

"My baby! " standing at the door he heard her exclaiming and she continued to murmur soothing words walking to and fro in slow strokes across from the bed. The scene was heart warming: a beautiful young mother cuddling her baby. Except that he knew she was not a mother, for what she had securely wrapped up in an embrace was not a baby but a plastic doll. It was the same thing four out of seven nights. He grew accustomed to her routine hallucinations, at least the harmless ones. There was no real cure to her condition, except to be gentle, let her live in her make believe world.

A strong connection exists between psychological and psychiatric disorders, he let the medical authorities handle the prescriptions, but did not limit his task to the payment of bills alone. He had worked hard at gaining her confidence, that was one thing Armaan mastered in these past initial years of psychology practice, it was the key. If the patients trusted you, they would be more willing to interact and that was the only way around for most of these problems.

Medical conditions rarely underwent a change, but when handled the suitable way things were much easier for the patient to bear. Lovely, suffered from Schizophrenia, a complex mental disorder which could result in spells of depression, lack or excess of emotional display, delusions and hallucinations, disordered thinking, occasional physically violent actions...and in between all those, she lived many hours, a normal healthy individual's life who remembered none of the bizarre symptoms.

He had never shared anything beyond a common surname with her as a married couple, but in her happy thoughts she believed they had and did, and he let her. When she was normal she would yearn for a usual married life. In mutual consent with her doctor and his mate from Cambridge, Chirag, they had prepared fake reports which declared she could never be a biological mother.

Armaan convinced himself it was for her benefit, with her unreliable responses to situations nothing could be risked, least of all any hormonal changes. Deep inside he knew this was not the only reason, in fact if he admitted in complete honesty, not even the primary one. Though he hated himself for it, he was almost glad it could remain so. He could live in self denial of physical pleasures but he could not break this last cord of fidelity he still maintained for the woman he loved, for her whom he had dreamed of sharing his life with, a home and a family.

In his head this was his redemption from the guilt for the pain he knew he had inflicted upon her even if unwillingly so. There never had been confessions or announcements; it was like a silent commitment, yet he could not convince himself that it was single sided and he had not betrayed her for any rights she may have assumed as rightfully hers. She had expected something from him, which he had been only to willing to give, but that was not quite what happened in the end.

Currently coming back to the issue at hand, he sighed looking down at his feet. Recently Lovely had taken to this illusion of expecting another child. As before he let her be happy with the fantasy. He humored her with fake reports, planning visits to the gynecologist, shopping at Babies R Us, and all the usual procedures prospective parents would go through.

Then she demanded on the eve of their anniversary that they needed to redesign the house to make place for the new member of the family. He had submitted to that as well, after giving it some thought. But never in his worst nightmares had he imagined that the designer she would hire could be Ridhima.

If only he had supervised her selection of the firm he thought later in his frustration, but the usual trend of her symptoms reflected greater chances of normal behavior when she was allowed to have her way, and so he did not interfere. Ridhima's spell to make people fall in love with her had become a family trait he realized when his attempt to talk her into hiring another firm for designing was faced with an indignant reply,

"Oh no Ammy, " Lovely had said showing her disapproval to his suggestion "she is just the person I feel like I can trust my house with." Armaan had not said another word as the unintentional implication of her statement hit him in it's complete meaning. In quiet resignation, he just decided to stay out of this as far as possible, he certainly was not capable of bearing Ridhima's presence ever so frequently, designing a home for him, his home, what could have been their home.

Now he lifted his gaze back to Lovely. He had come to tell her for the fourth time that he would not be able to accompany her for the appointment with Ms. Gupta. Crossing his fingers he hoped she would agree without much problem. "Ahem Ahem..." he cleared his throat tentatively, as she looked up signaling him to stay silent or else the baby would wake up he nodded quietly, waiting for her, restless inside in anticipation of how she would take it this time.

*************
NJ

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