Saturday, 13 April 2019

part 4 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

He opened his eyes with a sudden jerk, not knowing what woke him up, neither what let him slip into a slumber. His brow wrinkled, Armaan removed his half rimmed glasses, and rubbed his eyes clear of haziness. It seemed that the clarity of vision was slowly fading away the fog in his head as well, as realization dawned upon him - he had dozed off on his desk in the study despite an obviously uncomfortable position and a preoccupied mind. Perhaps the latter of those conditions had actually eventuated his falling asleep, courtesy the mental exhaustion.

Consciously coming awake now, but still passive in response, he was startled by the hour gong of the wall clock. Looking up, he saw the hands coincide at twelve, to ceremoniously herald a new day. He narrowed his eyes wondering for a whole minute if the ancient piece which had traveled places with him gaining preference over the present day digital gizmos, had finally come of age.

But as he followed the seconds hand to a count of sixty he found no such signs and concluded that the clock was working fine, it was indeed just midnight. Which was strange, considering he had this seeping sense of having been knocked out for several lasting hours, when facts indicated it was a couple at the most, an hour and a half was more likely, since he had retired to his study after dinner around half past nine.

His eye lids still feeling heavy, tempted to give in to the urge of shutting again, lowered, as his gaze fell down on his desk. Lying before him was a white A4 sheet,  which looked anything but white and his thoughts returned to where they had belonged. Ridhima...reading the name in the scribbled mess, the sinking feeling returned to him.

Ridhima's demand for explanations, long overdue had cost him his poise and focus. And apetite. Sitting on the dinner table his almost untouched plate had raised the obvious question from Lovely.

"Why don't you eat Ammy?"

She had asked to which he mumbled something which hopefully had sounded like he wasn't hungry. When she persisted further saying it was his favorite  chicken lasagna he decided to force in some food before she related it to anything from the incident in Ridhima's office. He never ceased to be surprised by this little contradiction to truth- for a woman who lived a half life between reality and fantasy, who was for a moment a mother expecting her second baby and the very next a woman who knew she was barren, Lovely was unusually careful about trivialities.

She never forgot his favorites - food, music, books...he had never felt the need for a planner or reminder alarms over the past 5 years, she would invariably remind him of dates to wish family and whatever few friends they had, of his appointments and schedules. Nonetheless, every time he would begin to marvel at how meticulous she was for her condition she would make some random pass before he left for office,

"Ammy don't forget to pick up packets of diapers, " or just when he was getting ready to crash after a long day,

" Ammy lets go to starbucks, I'm craving for an almond mocha frappuccino, I think the baby takes to my taste as far as beverages are concerned...".

While she could giggle away, not knowing half the problem when she was her real self, and escaping all of it when she was not, he had to tell himself more often than not that it wasn't her fault. Sometimes it was impossible to not yell out the truth, so when she went to sleep he would talk to her, knowing she couldn't hear a word. It was his vent, he had to speak the words out loud or the pressure inside would kill him.

Tonight was one such night. Looking back at the paper he gave a small smile. Dr. Galvanaukas, one of the professors he idolized at Cambridge had mentioned a crude tool for psychologists, something he named 'doodle the answer'. He claimed to have found solutions to some of the most critical problems in life this way, doodling unconsciously on a piece of paper lying around while his head worked at an unrelenting problem.

He called that unconscious mind a creative guy at work, the part of our brain which thinks outside the box, or more often thinks of the obvious which was evading us for long. Armaan used it for his patients all the time, he would purposely leave scraps around on his table, readily available but not appearing so, when they sat down and talked to him. Some who were reluctant to open up initially would unintentionally leave behind written words which were indication enough of what he should probe further with them.

He stared at his own paper now wondering how long he had scribbled before falling off to sleep. His eyes settled on the name sprawled in bold all through the center, the lines forming each alphabet thickened with re etching them over and over again, then moving his gaze off it reluctantly he scanned the sheet and something caught his eye. Just above the 'R' was a small heart, also re etched multiple times leaving a grooving impression.

He looked at it strangely, then on an impulse he picked up a sharp pointed pen and re etched the heart till the grooves turned into slits in the paper. Carefully he carved it out and placed it on his palm, a tiny little paper heart, the ink from its outlined edges having smudged into the white center. Looking back to where the name Ridhima was written he whispered to it rubbing his thumb over it,

"I love you...", and he felt much lighter than he had in days.

He had never actually uttered those words, not even to himself, not even when they were in Cambridge. The disadvantage of being a thinker, all yours words and thoughts remained unspoken, mostly forever. He had confessed he loved her many years ago, but never out loud. Perhaps if he had actually reached the stage to propose her he would have spoken the words, practicing before a mirror the traditional way? The point was, he never had said them, to her or anyone else.

But as he allowed the words to escape him he felt a void start to fill, braving the moment he continued, "I love you Ridhima. I always have loved you. From the time I saw you laughing out loud in the first class of photography, it was my love for that laughter, wholehearted and content, something I never felt in all the years I remembered. It touched my heart, I wondered if I was capable of knowing this feeling, and somehow in that one moment I wished you would be the reason for it, if it was ever to happen to me in this lifetime." 

He paused, then smiling to himself slightly he said his eyes closed as he pictured the day,

"I have wondered often after that, and still do, if you had read my mind in the next moment when you caught me staring at you. If there's one memory I know I will die with its that look of yours Ridhima...curious at you looked away...with a slight frown...then the uncertain faint smile when you turned back to look at me again. I never knew anyone to express themselves more even in a thousand words as you did with that one gesture of accepting me and returning my smile. "Its the smile I was enslaved to, the smile I live for, and the smile that keeps me going." baba used to say that to mama all the time, and at that moment those words which I had not heard in many years then, flashed back. I wished he was there and I could tell him I found the smile I wanted to live for."

Armaan stopped his eyes moistening, as the images of the ones he loved most were a vivid picture in his head. Opening his eyes he turned them away from the paper to the heart in his hand, a scrap, lifeless and nothing but garbage. He spoke again, his voice hoarse, not facing the name on the paper, which was bearing the brunt of his confession, a burden he had carried too long,

"I am sorry Ridhima, you never asked for anything, but you deserved it all along, my heart..." placing the small cut out shape on her name he completed in a tearfully strained voice, "it is all yours, it was, and always will be."

As he continued to stare the name with the small heart lying on top of it became a blurred image through flowing tears as he finally broke down, another thing he had not done in years, ever since mama left him. A grim calm descended upon him eventually, after several minutes of weeping, but he felt much less wound up. Wiping away tears that remained, he got up from the desk and walked over to his window. Looking out at nothing he spoke again, in a low voice,

"But I can't change what is, it has to remain this way. Why do you seek answers now, can you not see I can tell you nothing? It will do us no good, neither you nor me, nor those around us."

Saying so Armaan let out a sigh, running his fingers through his hair pressing down on the scalp almost too hard as he quietly resolved to maintain the silence. How, he did not know, but he would have to.

He glanced at his wrist, it was almost twenty minutes that he had been waiting for her now. Not that he was complaining, if something would make her call off this confrontation he would be only too grateful. But it wasn't like she was making him wait outside, she still had not show up in the office, and according to her apologetic assistant her cell was switched off offering no real answers.

Part of him was tempted to tell this girl to inform her boss that he had to leave due to other prior commitments; but it was unlike Ridhima to be delayed for an appointment, leave alone without a message and then a chance to interrogate him one on one...he was inevitably starting to worry. What could possibly be holding her up?

At half past nine, he knew he had to leave or he would genuinely be delayed if he was ever to make it to Oak Tree. Reluctantly, he walked to the reception again to announce his leave for then, unsure of whether he should call off the brunch promise he had made and wait instead to see if Ridhima was fine.

"I was uh...I have to be another place soon, could you try one last time and..." ...*THUD*

They both turned around to see what had caused the noise only to be greeted by a flustered Ridhima bent on her knees trying to gather bundles of chart paper rolls which had fallen out of her grip. From the corner of his eye he saw her assistant move swiftly towards her to help, and he took the cue.

Bending down to pick up the ones which had rolled close to his feet, he hesitantly allowed his gaze to wander towards her face and saw her muttering in an undertone as she looked completely annoyed about something. He could not help but smile at her expressions for a second forgetting everything, but a second was all the smile lasted for. The very next moment he realized her obvious fowl mood spelt more trouble for him, if that was even possible. Cautiously he handed her the charts held in his hands as she spoke to the girl without acknowledging him quite yet,

"Molly tell Ritu I will see her in an hour, and I need a pack of 25 ivory sheets, get them out for me from the storage right away, and no calls or outsiders to disturb me for the next one hour ..."

Molly spoke in a cautious voice, "But Ms. Gupta, Mr. Malik has been waiting for you for..."

Ridhima cut her off, "Yeh no one else I meant," turning to a bemused looking Armaan she went on,

" My apologies Mr. Malik, to have kept you waiting. It was an unexpected situation, please give me a couple of minutes before you join me in my cabin." At that moment the phone on the reception desk rang, and Molly upon answering with a hello spoke louder to call out to Ridhima who was already walking towards her cabin.

"Ms. Gupta its your nephew, he says its..." Ridhima cut her off without turning back,

"I told you no calls Molly. Tell him I'm busy with work." Molly nodded, her confusion rising further, he obviously must have heard Ridhima on the other side, how was she supposed to tell him now...but she did not dare cross question, it was definitely not the moment to do that.

Armaan stood through the scene as if transparent, except for the one quick line she had shot at him, meant as an apology but in pretty much the same commanding tone that she had used with Molly. Her nephew...that must be...Gappu? Armaan had never actually met the boy, but he knew all about him that there was to know, Ridhima could never tire of talking about him and her sister's family. Ironically, she could hardly have claimed knwoing much about Armaan's family, she always had talked more than asking, and he conveniently let it be so until the right moment, which never came.

But she just refused to take his call? Gappu's Call? She must be majorly ticked off he thought, still working out his reaction to the last five minutes of the unexplained chaos, when Molly spoke up,

"Mr. Malik! Ms. Gupta will see you now."

Moving towards her door, he wondered if it was worth a try to run away for his life? But it couldn't be forever like last time. He decided instead to implore to God to save him from whatever disaster was awiting beyond that door, it had never quite worked out, between him and God, he still gave it a shot.

"Please..." was all he said looking up before he knocked.

"Are you insane? You have no idea how mad I am at you Gappu. What the hell were you thinking? Driving off with my car in the morning, not even bothering to leave a note about the failed brakes of your own. Was it not obvious I would take yours if you took mine? If you really want to see me dead at least give me the liberty to chose how, there are less painful ways I would prefer and..."

She stopped as she swiveled in her chair to face where he stood at the door. He worded a sorry soundlessly and turned around to leave when she spoke up louder, "Mr. Malik, please stay," then into the phone, "I'll call you later." Facing him again she said in a curt voice,

"Shouldn't you have knocked?"

At these words from her, he finally lifted his gaze, to meet hers this time and said in a flat tone, "I did...thrice..." Her stern expression turned to a crimson creeping into her cheeks but he spoke before she had to explain herself,

"Its ok. I realized you were on the phone, but I really need to be somewhere soon so I thought I could request interruption."

As she responded with nothing more than a nod he asked in a softer voice, cautiously, "Are you alright? I mean, I'm sorry I overheard the part about failed brakes and...I hope you had to face nothing too serious." He feared she might tell him off for eavsdropping next, but her expression softened and she said in a low voice looking him in the eye,

"Well I survived, the car did not, its at the garage now," then with a smirk she added, "Everyone wants to get rid of me, and I just wont let go...Thanks for asking anyways, still intact, all 206 bones in place, unfortunately, not even a scratch. The least I could have had is a fracture, at least that would buy me some sympathy and..." he cut her off,

"Ridhima!" She looked at him almost startled at having him finally say her name. He would have been equally surprised by himself except that he didn't stop at it just then to give much thought,

"Do you ever talk sense? Thank goodness nothing happened,  failed brakes don't particularly add to the fun of a ride, I'm sure you had that much figured out after sitting through one. And no one wants to get rid of you for heaven's..."

He stopped realizing too much had been said, and before she could reply, shocked as she was by his words and and by what seemed like the concern behind them, he said turning back to his mechanical voice,

"Please take care, you may mean more to people than you think, with the kind of family you have."

Although he added the last line in the stride of the advice, she wondered if he had meant to include himself among those who cared for her. Unwillingly she found herself wishing to believe that he did.  At that moment they were interrupted by a knock  followed by Molly entering the room with a box in her arms. Ridhima got up to help her settle it next to her table, for the mere reason of giving herself something to do. As Molly made a move to go out without a word Ridhima spoke to her in a soft voice,

"Uh...thanks Molly..." who turned around to see Ridhima was earnest, and gave a small smile.

"Do you think you could order me a quick breakfast from the Denny's across the street please? Make it a pancake platter of 5, with syrup and cream, and a large shot of expresso"

Molly nodded smiling, it was so typical of her boss to run into a temper, but it never lasted long, and she knew nothing said at that time was ever intented. She said

"I will have the food on your desk without further delay Ms. Gupta...blueberry I assume will be the toppings as always?"

Armaan blurted before Ridhima could approve the order, "Blueberry?"

As they both turned to look at him he lowered his eyes momentarily, then said in what he hoped would sound convincing, "I mean...uh...I thought... strawberry would be it...I mean, Denny's is known for them..." he concluded his random words not quite linked into a sentence.

As Ridhima narrowed her eyes, taken aback the second time in the last few minutes, Molly spoke up in a cheerful voice,

"They are known for the strawberrys? Its the pancakes they bake Mr. Malik, the strawberries are same everywhere."

Then realizing she had perhaps embarressed a client she quickly covered up, "I mean, would you like me to add a platter of those to the order as well?"

Armaan shook his head mumbling again, something which resembled a 'no thanks'...With that she left the office, leaving behind her two people struck in an awkward silence. Ridhima finally broke it speaking in a low yet intended voice, her eyes steady on Armaan's face.

"I almost feel tempted to assume that might imply you remember my favorite pancake topping Armaan, should I flatter myself with the belief?" Armaan looked at her for a moment before replying,

"Apparently not your favorite anymore, blueberry seems to have taken the spot. Did they finally start tasting as sweet as strawberries?"

Ridhima smirked, he actually remembered her exact words. Almost with a tinge of bitterness she said in a matter of fact way, "I figured the sweet things are not quite for me in life, neither strawberries, nor love."

Just like that, she had stated her truth. Not like it was hidden between the two of them, Armaan had only been trying to find a way around it all, but she left him no option. It had to faced head on, and right away, or he did not know when he could be more prepared.

"I uh...I actually had to apologize for yesterday, on Lovely's behalf, and...and thank you so much for letting the issue pass off for what it was not. You saved me in more than one way." She looked at him still not speaking, but as he too remained quiet now, she realized he was done with whatever he had to say. Narrowing her eyes she said,

"Thats it? You think I called you to humiliate you by demanding apologies? Whatever you think of me, I am hardly saidistic enough to do that. I want to know what happened yesterday? As you probably did already figure out, there was no misunderstanding on my behalf, your wife did indeed demand a nursery for her kids only to tell me after all the work I did that she has no kids? If this is a game I refuse to play it anymore. Not until I get my facts."

Armaan looked at her knowing she meant each word spoken. Quietly he replied, maintaining his calm,

"Ridhima there is nothing I can add to it. But you can put the charges for your extra work into my bills. I am just a client, you can't deny me my right to privacy. I prefer not to reveal my personal life."

Even without looking at her he knew how offensive his words may have been, but as she spoke, he realized he underestimated her reaction far too greatly.

"Its Ms. Gupta for clients Mr. Malik, not Ridhima. You can't ever pay me enough, if you had to repay all of what you owe me you would be bankrupt in no time, not to mention the many things which can never be paid for in cash.  And save yourself the sorry and thank you and privacy right speech. This is no personal unexplained fact I'm asking you to justify, although God knows and you do that there is no dearth of those issues either. This is different. I was accused of professional incompetence here by your wife, and I took it upon myself, all of it, just for you...the least you owe me is facts, I demand to know WHY?"

Armaan saw her look at him the restrain on her obviously rising temper was a a weak one, on the threshold of breaking away. He sighed lowering his eyes. It was his last shot, and he had no alternate to taking it much as he had wanted this to work out an easier way without him having to say any of it. Looking at her he spoke, each word balanced in a monotone, no display of whatever the hell he was going through,

"She is suffering from Schizophrenia - halluciantions, depression, derisive thinking, occasional physical violence...all of them and more. Lovely has a mental disorder, and was in the ICU just two days ago.  I fear it could have been a relapse if you had not played along with me yesterday, and for that I am grateful, even if you refuse to accpet any credit from me. Usually her medicines keep her normal at least for the duration of their influence, perhaps she missed a doze unknown to me whenever she shared about kids and all. I guess I should have come along each time, it would have saved you the extra meaningless work, but I will insist you add that to my bills, not intending any offense of course. And that I hope Miss Gupta, answers your questions. I apologize again for the inconvenience, its just another thing I owe you for, among many others as you just mentioned. Perhaps sometime, I will get my chance to repay, until then I just live in your debt."

With that he got up from his seat, in complete awareness of how baffled Ridhima must be to hear all of this. That was exactly the effect he had aimed for. And now before she could recover he had to get out of there so he said,
"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to excuse me for now Ms. Gupta, there is, as I said earlier, someplace I need to reach right away. I will see you with my wife for the next appointment. "

And he let himself out of the room hastily almost colliding with Molly at the door as she held a tray of pancakes. Giving her a quick courtsey smile he rushed out of the place keeping his fingers crossed until he unlocked his car in the parklot. Slumping into the driver's seat he let out a long sigh. Looking skywards he did something quite unlike himself, banging his fist against the stearing he cursed out loud, then holding his head in his hands he whispered, "I'm sorry Ridhima, will you ever forgive me?"

Ridhima sat stunned as the words refused to stop echoing in her head. She pushed aside the breakfast Molly had brought her minutes ago, no apetite remaining as she sank deeper, into the chair and into her messed up thoughts. Why did everything in her life become more complicated with each passing phase, as if by rule. She had hardly slept a wink all night worked up about how she would finally get answers to all her questions. She had promised herself to move on in life for good, after this morning.

But how was she expected to have seen something like this coming? Lovely, correction, his wife Mrs. Lovely Armaan Malik was a retard? Ridhima almost rebuked herself mentally for the crude term, but thats what the woman was right? A retard? And he had chosen her over Ridhima? How could he? Yeh he was more God like in his kindness and humanity, perhaps compelled by the demands of his profession, but to the extent of actually marrying someone who was fit to be nothing more than his patient? What the hell did he think he was, philanthropy personified?

Somehow Ridhima refused to let the goodness of his act overshadow her frustration at his insanity. He could do whatever he wanted to with his life for all she cared, but why did he ever make her a part of it? She had been a part she knew after today, he cared for her...he even remembered her love for strawberries. She smiled ruefully, and her eyes fell on the plate of pancakes lying abandoned. She had stopped eating strawberries, she had infact done away with most likes which would have described her five years ago. All because of him.

She wanted to get rid of anything that had been while she was with him. But somewhere inside her the hope had lived, that he had loved her, and would confess to her someday. The hope had been futile, she knew that all along. But then she had hoped to see him again someday, and it had happened. She had hoped to get answers from him as well, and she now knew everything for what it was. If only he would tell her why it had to be the way it was, perhaps she would finally regain the peace and content she had lost to him years ago.

Sighing she realized she was tired. Tired of palying a role which wasn't her, trying to be someone she wasn't, just so she could escape who she trully was. Looking again at the pancakes she picked up the receiver on an impulse.

"Molly, I know this will sound crazy, but I do feel like strawberries today, can me order me a platter of that?"

Replacing the reciever she smiled faintly, she could have ordered herself, but she wanted to announce to anyone who would listen that she was going to be back to herself. Yes, that was it, she would grow out of this phase of resignation to facts as they were, she would now find out exactly what went wrong, where and why, for there was nothing more to lose now, things not capable of getting any worse, had to get better.

If Armaan Malik had rejected her, she had to know why, she could not live telling herself she wasn't good enough for him, or she would never get back to what she had once been and had loved being. She could not refuse she still loved him, she would stop telling herself from now that she didn't; but this wasn't just about him and his feelings for her, it was now about getting back into life with a wish to live it, perhaps that's why he had come back, to set her free...


As the minutes passed he began to get back his almost rehearsed poise. It had to be done. His hard words must have put her off, now she would never again ask him what was what for the fear of hurting him. It was incredible for someone like him, who never helf any expectations of those around him, to have always expected her to understand him, and his silence. He had expected her to understand his expectation when their eyes had met the first time as strangers, then he had expected her to understand and accept his love for her which grew unconditionally with each passing day, and he had later expected her to understand also, without questions, that he had to deprive her of what he had once expected her to accept as her own, now he expected her to ask no further questions, would she comply by his wish one last time?

As he pondered over questions only time could answer he heard his cell ring. Looking at the caller ID his eyes widened and he cursed yet again before answering the call, "Hey Minnie! I am so sorry sweetheart, I was put on call, a patient of mine got critical. It was an emergency. I am so sorry sweetie, don't be mad at me please I will definitely..." he paused with his chain of lies, listening instead as she spoke cutting him off from the other end. Finally he spoke again,

"That sounds great. No I will not disappear this time, I totally understand how much you need me." then smiling he added, "Besides, how can I miss the chance of a dinner double date, you and him, me and this fascinating massi...what? ur talking more about her, than poor Sawyer himself!...Alright Giordano's it is then, 8PM, I will be there.

Cutting the call he gave a smile. Minnie was a wonderful girl, and he would be glad if this worked well for her, atleast someone deserved to be in love and not suffer...


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