Thursday, 11 April 2019

part 3 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

Chirag braced himself seeing Armaan past the glass windows, waiting for him no doubt, as he paced the floor restlessly. Hearing the door knob, the latter turned around and their eyes met, each speculating the likely outcome of the next few minutes of conversation but for different reasons.

"Well?" said Armaan, breaking the silence, not wanting to waste any more time in coming to possible conclusions about what the grim look on Chirag's face could imply.

The sound of his grave voice, forced to appear calm did not mask his anxiety from his best friend. Chirag has been skeptical about this whole idea of scheming, it was a professionally unethical act; but the moment for debating the righteousness of this plan was past, since a chance to implement it had come his way sooner than expected. He was partially relieved that it was not a completely fabricated course of action anymore, the situation had offered its consent. Hoping his eventual well meaning intentions for Armaan would somehow justify this unacceptable deviation from the established code of conduct he decided to proceed. Holding Armaan's unwavering gaze, he said, in a solemn tone

"The cut looks bad Ammy, she barely escaped being pronounced guilty of attempted suicide, God alone knows how the vein remained unscathed."



As he paused letting the news sink in, he saw Armaan slump into the closest chair heaving a sigh of relief. But the frown reappeared next moment itself as he ran his hand over his recently cropped hair looking upwards. Lowering his head back several seconds later, he pursed his lips looking ahead. Then he covered the upper half of his face in his long fingered usually deft hands and Chirag knew that the series of actions were his attempts to ease out the stress and steady himself. That was typically Armaan: no spoken words, while the inside of his brains worked overtime. Assuming that pause had lasted long enough, Chirag spoke again in a conclusive tone,

"Ammy it was a depression attack."

He saw Armaan nod slightly indicating his attention, but not looking up to meet his eye. Taking the cue he continued, cautious about his next words,

"Tell me what happened."

Armaan looked up with a surprised frown, it was unusual for Chirag to extract information with direct questions. He had always allowed Armaan his time for composure before he was ready to elaborate on the issue. Not that there much unknown to Chirag; he just had this compulsive streak to sort out thoughts within before he related them elsewhere.
As if reading his thoughts, Chirag explained himself,

"The degree of depression compared much worse with her past records, and this, when she was actually showing a positive response to the enhanced dosage of anti depressant drugs? She resorted to a physical reaction Ammy, that gives me reason enough to worry."

Now he saw Armaan's look turn grim, his brow wrinkled, lowering his gaze momentarily. Chirag kept quiet, knowing he had done his share of talking, at least for the while. Sure enough, Armaan spoke up, in a contemplating tone,

"I am not sure if I know it all myself... "

Armaan paused frowning in thought while Chirag continued waiting wordlessly. He had no doubts about what he would finally advise Armaan to do, irrespective of Armaan's narration; it was a well rehersed speech, but he had to listen to estimate the best moment to say it. The sudden dip in Lovely's improvement graph was a definite bonus. He had not wished for things to get hard on her, well not directly at least. He had only hoped to be presented with a chance to be able to advice Armaan as planned. With Lovely going as far as slitting her wrist in a seize of depression his words would sound authentic, the lack of conviction which he had feared would interfere was no longer present. Presently, Armaan spoke up again.

"I guess I should have realized something was wrong when she quietly accepted my excuse to not join her for the appointment with Ridhima tomorrow evening. I told her, and she nodded her approval, then she said it was time we both went to bed."

Armaan paused running his hand over his head again, then sighing he looked at Chirag and confessed,

"I think the relief of not having her protest or demand explaination swept over my better logic. Next thing I heard was a crashing sound and I woke up with a start. It took several seconds for the fact to dawn upon me- the sound was not a dream, her side of the bed was empty. Another crash and my suspicions were confirmed. I figured it was downstairs."

He paused lowering his head, then taking a deep breath he closed his eyes as if trying to shut out images from his mind but they must have persisted because he described them next.

"She sat slumped by the kitchen counter, a stained knife by her side, blood oozing from the cut, and a couple of crashed china pieces, which I assume she may have knocked off in the process of a faltering balance. She kept murmuring she was sorry to not have given me the family I deserve"

He finished off in a quiet voice, listing the highlights of the night, and opened his eyes. Looking up he saw a strange expression on Chirag's face, the troubled look from before which should have intensified, was replaced by a poise, like it was something he had expected and was prepared for. Before he could question, Chirag said

"I have been meaning to tell you this Ammy, we need to shift her to the trauma observation unit for a while."

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

"Chirag! What are you doing here?"

He saw her rush past him towards the door of her office, look out into the corridors on either side and then shut it firmly. Turning around with a frown Ritu saw him smile. She folded her arms indignantly waiting for him to explain both, the reason he had barged into her office unannounced and whatever it was that he found so amusing. Chirag shook his head at her reaction breaking into a grin. Seating himself comfortably into a side couch by the door, with no sign to hasten his moves, he started toying with a paper weight on the coffee table.

"Chirag?!" he heard her exclaim again, clearly exasperated now and looking up he shot her another smile as he said in a suave voice,

"What are you doing tonight?"

"WHAT?" she yelled back with a shocked look, unable to check her volume in reaction to his absurd question.

"What...are...you...doing...tonight?" he repeated, emphasizing upon and pausing after each word, still maintaining his calm smile.

She looked at him in disbelief at first, then narrowing her eyes she grit her teeth and hissed,

"Quit repeating the question, I got you. But you came all the way to my office just to know what I am doing in the evening? If Ridzi saw you here, you know what trouble that would spell for you and me, not to mention Armaan?"

She paused glaring at him as he seemed unaffected, then letting out an angry sigh she said,

"Chirag? Will you bother to explain? I should have done better than to be seeking a random, stranger doctor's help just because he shared his story with me claiming he..." she stopped as he suddenly pulled her hand making her sit beside himself on the couch, and before she could react he said,

"Ssshhh! Are you always like this Ritu? I mean the amount you just talked and all of it irrelevant- you still have not answered my simple question, " as she opened her mouth to retort he went on, "Feminine trait hard to escape I guess. But before you launch another tirade of accusations, Ridhima is out for an hour I confirmed at the reception. I came here to update you about the plan- but no details for you, till I hear your reply. What are you doing tonight? "

"No prior commitments after 4PM. Now tell me the news, " she said impatiently. He smiled again, "Awsome! How about a movie?" As she gave him a murderous look he said hastily "I get the point. Dinner it is then, " switching to a serious expression he resumed without giving her a chance to interrupt.

"The news- bad first. Lovely was in the emergency last night, she slit her wrist, seized by depression."

Ritu's eyes widened, then she lowered her gaze with a grim expression. "I am sorry to hear that. That must be why Armaan postponed the appointment by two days. How is she doing now?" she asked looking back at Chirag.

He shrugged and said, "The vein was safe, it was the act that bothered me more. Let's skip the details for now. The point is..." he paused seeking complete attention from her "Much as I feel disgusted by myself for saying this, it could not have been timed better. I told Armaan to shift her into the Trauma Unit without needing to explain, for obvious reasons. He did not doubt my intentions for a moment. "

"So he agreed?" Ritu asked, but her expectant look flickered seeing him shake his head negatively, replying,

"He did not. Which wasn't completely unexpected either. I have been trying to persuade him for this long enough but he says she is his responsibility, and he has lost everything there was to be lost. It would be better than to have nothing more worth living for. When he refused yesterday as well, I told him he was harming her more than he could imagine with this stubborn stand." Chirag paused.

Ritu listening in rapt attention realized that this pause was not conclusive so she quipped, "Then?"

"He asked me for any alternate to that," Chirag replied, resuming the narration, "and I thought of what to say. Then suddenly I realized that our idea was to compel him to stop avoiding the appointments with Ridhima. The focus is to keep them meeting, and then we let things take their own course, hopefully for the good. That could be implemented another way. I told him if he insisted on taking care of her, then he had to be dedicated to the cause. He could not let her be on her own. From now on, I told him, he would have to ensure he was with her all the time. He nodded and I felt like he had not figured the catch yet so I spelt it out for him. I told him he could not send her for appointments to Ridhima alone."

Chirag paused again, flushed with a triumphant look, and his smile widened as Ritu threw her arms around his neck and said in an excited voice,

"Brilliant stroke Chirag! That was smart and spontaneous, I am impressed. "

Then realizing what she was doing, she let him go almost hastily, and looking flustered she fumbled with her words, "So you...managed to...I mean did Armaan agree right away?" she finally completed a whole sentence and looked up at him hesitantly. He nodded with a warm smile which put her at ease again as he said,

"I did not leave him much of an option. I told him that Ridhima did not know about Lovely's medical condition. What if a conversation between the two women went down an unwanted path? Worst still, what if Lovely showed sudden symptoms in the middle of an appointment due to something unexpected? Would he prefer that to being there and handle it himself? I won the round hands down, there wasn't much he could oppose in any of that."

Ritu nodded her head vigorously in appreciation and said,

"That is even better than what we planned. If Lovely had been temporarily taken out of sight, Armaan may have conveniently decided to call our office, pay up the penalty and cancel the contract. Now that is never happening, and with Lovely present I am hoping a situation will present itself soon for Ridhima to witness facts she kept herself from knowing. This is just perfect."

She beamed with happiness looking ahead but Chirag said in a solemn voice, "This is for Armaan and Ridhima, but I hope something will work out for Lovely as well. When she is normal, she can be a sweet friend. Armaan is attached to her Ritu, even if he does not view her as his life partner. He is eight years younger than her, yet she is the child in the house and needs constant care and..."

Ritu cut him off "EIGHT YEARS YOUNGER?" Chirag nodded giving her a sarcastic smile,

"Yes. I never have been able to figure out why his family expected this sacrifice out of him, and what in the world compelled him to be the lamb. He walks off at the very mention of the topic. I gave up trying to ask him after the first couple of months."

Hearing the resignation in his voice, she squeezed his hand supportively and said "We will make it work out for them Chirag. I did not know I would find in a stranger as complete a concern for the issue, as my own, but I am glad we met."

Chirag smiled at her. Then giving her a mock hurt look he added, "Stranger? That is exactly why we need to go out for dinner, so you stop calling me that."

Saying so he got up and moved towards the door, then opening it he scanned the corridors and said without looking at her "6PM, Millenium Park," turning around he winked at her before leaving the room before she could turn him down again.

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

""Just a moment," she said hearing the knock, and turning on the coffee pot she moved to the door and held it open. Her greeting was forgotten for a moment as she saw him standing before her, not alone of course, but she recovered much faster this time and said,

"Mr. and Mrs. Malik! Please come in!"

saying so she moved aside making way for them to pass through. after the first couple of meetings they had mostly stuck to first name basis. But today, it just rolled off her tongue that way. Perhaps, she thought, it would show him that is what he was in her life now, a client married to another lady. She walked from behind them and around the table to her side of it and got seated. Why had he decided to show up today, she mused, but she kept herself from making any snide remarks indicating her desperation to inquire. Instead she turned to Lovely,

"I have the tentative layouts ready for the two rooms you wanted to start with Mrs. Malik." Saying so she drew out three charts from the rolls lying in the tray beside her.

"This one is for the master bedroom, I thought a contrast of light gray walls and turquoise blue ceiling would go well, " she said handing the first chart to Lovely while Armaan fighting his urge to look at her clenched his fist, digging nails deep into his palm to avoid showing any reaction.

"Shades of blue and gray? Could you manage to get any more dull 'Ormaan'?"

He could still hear her laughter echoing in his head, as she had said those words when he had told her his color preference as they sat at a cafe in Cambridge over 7 years ago. He had always been 'Ammy' for friends, but she had heard his daadu address him as 'Ormaan' when she answered a call for him once, and ever since she had taken to teasing him about this distortion in his name, brought about by the Bengali way of pronouncing Armaan.

"What do you think Ammy?" The words brought him out of the memory as Lovely asked his opinion, and he knew she was not the only one waiting in anticipation for him to reply. He desperately wanted to tell Ridhima how much it mattered to him to know that she remembered every minute detail about him, as he remembered hers, but when he spoke loud, all he said was,

"Whatever you like honey, " giving a small smile, not daring to meet Ridhima's eyes; this was bound to have hurt her. Lovely smiled widely, first at him, then at Ridhima simply nodded in response. She was certain if she spoke that second her voice would give her away, could he not even acknowledge her work as a professional, least of all the fact that she had done it completely crediting his taste?

She got up abruptly, then walked to where the coffee pot made a dripping sound, busy at it's task. Pretending to fix something in it she asked "Coffee?"

"Sure, " she heard Lovely say, and Ridhima knew Armaan's answer even before Lovely continued, "Ammy never has coffee. It is tea for him or nothing."

Placing the two cups of coffee in a tray containing CoffeeMate, a bowl of Domino sweetners, and a packet of stirrers, she said,

"In that case I will have to offer you nothing Mr. Malik, because its coffee for me or nothing. "

Armaan did not miss the intended edge to her cutting remark and after a slight pause he said in a quiet voice, "Nothing will do, thank you."

Ridhima felt frustrated at how much she was letting him affect her. But reminding herself of her resolution to be professional, she forced in a deep breath, then she walked back to the table with the tray. Settling down again she unrolled the second chart and placed it before them.

"This one is for children's nursery Mrs. Malik, a random mix of pink and blue, since you wanted a common one for your daughter and the baby boy you are expecting, " Ridhima said all of this in a flat voice, looking at neither of them. That was not just a sentence to her, it was a self proclamation that she had accepted facts and let go. Swallowing hard she composed herself to look up when she heard a hardened voice,

"Is that your idea of a joke Ridhima?" at Lovely's words, she lifted her head looking up from the chart, to see a rare sight, Lovely without her smile. Frowning she turned to look at Armaan who looked back wide eyed, meeting her gaze, perhaps for the first time that evening, his lack of expression had been replaced by a shocked one.

"I beg your pardon?"

she ventured tentatively, her voice an obvious indication of her confusion. Armaan made a quick assessment of the misunderstanding, he was certain Lovely had talked to Ridhima about her non existent babies, in some prior meeting. How, he could not think, since he dissolved pills in her milk each morning and made sure she returned the glass back empty. Perhaps she had drained it? Think later, he told himself, and before Lovely could answer Armaan spoke up putting his arm around her shoulder,

"Relax honey! I am sure Ms. Gupta confused our assignment with that of another client." Turning back to Ridhima he said with a pleading look in his eyes,

"Ms. Gupta, you know of course that we could not ask for a nursery design, it is just the two of us, there are no children in the house. There must have been a mistake right?"

Ridhima stared at him for a long moment, as he tried desperately to convince her to agree with him with his silent expressions. She had no idea of what was happening, but she knew there was no mistake. How could there be? THESE WERE ARMAAN MALIK'S CHILDREN IN QUESTION HERE, there was no way she had any misconceptions. But she knew from the look in his eyes that he was imploring her to confirm his stance. She did not know where from she felt the evil urge to deny what he was claiming, because it seemed to mean so much to him. Slowly however, she nodded her head, pushing away the mindless inclination, as she turned back to Lovely, and was shocked to see her tearful.

"I apologize Mrs. Malik. I do remember now, the nursery was for another client who I will be meeting next, my assistant must have misplaced the requirement outlines from his file in here. "

Finishing off she was surprised by her own spontaneity at telling a lie. But her thread of thoughts was broken as Lovely got up from her seat and said "I understand Ms. Gupta. I would appreciate if this does not repeat, it projects negative vibes about the responsibility level of the firm. And I would expect you need more time to design for my correct requirements now? It is the living room, I mentioned not a nursery since..." her voice trailed off as her eyes looked moist again.

Armaan got up quickly and said, "We should be leaving Ms. Gupta. Would it be convenient if I made an appointment for day after?"

Ridhima nodded without a word, she was baffled by whatever was happening, but she was also beginning to feel angry about being accused of a careless mistake she had not made. Or perhaps she was infuriated about doing all this for him, one pleading look and she gave in, what about the years she had suffered because of him; she still was suffering. As they reached the door Ridhima said on a sudden impulse,

"Mr. Malik, I forgot to mention there were some problems encountered with your account, I need to discuss those with you."

Armaan saw the look on her face, and heard the tone in her voice. She was demanding an explaination from him. "I will get in touch with my bank and see if they can work it out Ms. Gupta, " he said uncertainly, wondering if she would once again just accept his answer and not ask for reasons, but her unwavering look told him a different story. She said,

"I am afraid Mr. Malik, I will have to inconvenience you this time. 9AM tomorrow?"  The message was crystal clear, she was not going to take a no. Lovely spoke up,

"He will be here Ridhima, just make sure the paperwork is in place, without confusions."

Ridhima knew what Lovely was hinting at but she focussed on Armaan who looked back at her wondering if she would react to Lovely's passing comment. She simply added,

" I will Mrs. Malik, hopefully we will sort out everything this once. Until tomorrow then..."

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

NJ

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