Wednesday, 17 April 2019

part 6 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

Armaan lay in his bed tossing for a while. Then he sat up cross legged his chin resting on his interlocked fingers, deep in thought. Letting out a long sigh he whispered the words again,
"She was normal tonight. But how could she be, after everything...more improtantly WHY?"

He had in all possibility asked himself this question more times that evening, than the number of times he had cursed himself for the morning's harsh exchange, almost as if he believed that the answer was hidden in the question, and would reveal itself upon repetitions. Closing his eyes now he pressed his palms against them rubbing in circular motion in an effort to stimulate thinking, then abruptly he stopped and sat still. His mind of course made up for the lack of activity, it was racing with thoughts. Getting up from the bed he started pacing from edge to edge, frowning hard.

It was convenient to assume the obvious reason; she would not have wanted to make a scene before Gappu and Minnie. But there were also obvious loopholes which could not be quite as conveniently overlooked. There was no reason in the first place for her to have shown him any recognition at all, they could have maintained the pretense of having been strangers and waited for the round of introductions. She in contrast had not just identified his face but had also claimed being friends.


Pass that off for an impulsive reaction although it never could be just that. There was still no reason for her to have been so...genuine? What about the whole evening that followed. Not for a moment had it felt like it was an obligation on her part faced by the situation. Unless he was becoming an absolute misfit for his profession unable to read the evident emotions, she had been a complete natural. And this wasn't a random patient in question, it was the one person he knew he could read flawlessly, almost like he could tell what she was thinking even before she thought it, well it had been so, but tonight made him doubt if he had lost his touch.

When she had laughed, addressing or teasing him, or in making references to the past, to Cambridge - the basketball games, her favorite jasmines, the library his hibernation spot, their photography end of term combined submission, their eternal hangout spot the corner cafe and how he still had no clue about the taste of coffee there....nothing had been an act. It had all been in the earnest, no jibes, no taunts, no indirect implications.

He could not help but compare it to the time they met unexpectedly for the very first appointment in her office, it had been the exact opposite - formal introductions and several hidden meanings. Why then had it changed tonight, a complete reversal, especially after what transpired between them in the morning. Could it be...her sympathy? Was she trying to be nice to him because she felt sorry for him? Shaking his head he stopped pacing as he stood facing the mirror.

"Why was she normal with me?"

he said again, pronouncing each word with alacrity, ensuring his reflection in the mirror did not misunderstand the question he was seeking an opinion for. He was quiet for a few seconds, almost as if expecting it to answer back, then lowering his eyes he stared at nothing, and muttered to himself,

"Obligations, pretense, curtsy - all ruled out...pity? perhaps," he shrugged uncertainly then shook his head," No not quite, no definitely not. There never was and could never be any sympathy factor here what so ever." Suddenly he jerked up his eyes widening in a sense of realization.

"Wait a moment," he spoke to his reflection which imitated his look of sudden interest and ran its hands through its hair and holding them back just like him. Armaan saw it narrow its eyes at him as he said, "Now that I think of it, she did not once mention that I'm a client, or even that we ever met in Chicago before, leave alone the same morning."

Shaking his head slightly again at his lack of comprehension he saw his reflection doing the same just as perplexed. He had all the pieces of information, and yet they seemed to fit nowhere. He sighed deep. Slowly he slumped by the bed end resting his back against the wooden frame of the box, letting one leg stretch out straight while he crossed his hands across the other, which half stood bent at the knee. She had been cold, angry, indifferent, upset, professional - all of that and everything else from that family of emotions in the last couple of weeks since their first meeting after five years. But this was a whole new facet. All through the evening she remained warm, cordial, happy, accepting...and comfortably so. Everything that she could be to a friend she met after five years, perhaps much more so, considering the friend was one who had wronged her as much as he had.

How ironical was it then for him to be more disturbed by her sudden change than he had been by her initial attitude. When she had been the Ridhima he would expect her to be after what he put her through, he had to fight himself to accept it and let it remain so. Now that she was being everything he would want his Ridhima to be, he wanted to know why? Did it even matter? She was by his side all evening, and he could tell there was no discomfort, if he had felt any in the beginning, it kept going with each passing moment at seeing how effortlessly she was being truly herself. He had almost forgotten how long it had been since he had last shared a conversation with her with as much ease, even if the memory of each such time was a vivid picture in his head. Whatever had brought about this change in her, he could not think of what else there was to it. Only few hours before he had wondered if it was too much to expect her to ever see him without a bias again, and here she had offered him the relation exactly as it was years ago.

"You're complicating an issue which is solving out without your interference Armaan, " he told himself. "She called you a friend without asking why, what will it take for you to accept her as one without the compulsive questioning streak?"

He closed his eyes pushing away any conflicting thoughts to what he was willing himself to believe as real and accept without further questions. It did prove relatively less difficult this time, with images of her sitting by his side flashing in his head. Her easy smile, an untiring flow of wisecracks shot alternately at Gappu and himself and the comfort level she shared with Minnie, her unavoidable reactions of irritation at a trivial negligence like clinking of silverware against the china, or noisy chewing, her slight frown when she was contemplating what to say next and her excited exclamation to hush everyone at the table if a track of her liking was played in the background, her glass of water 'on rocks' - more ice cubes than water, none of which remained as she ate each one of them and her consistent action of pushing back the front bangs of her coffee brown hair, which refused to stay put, falling over her eyes every few minutes...

Slowly Armaan opened his eyes, this time to see a smiling reflection in the mirror across from where he sat. The smile widened at the sight of seeing himself having broken into one, just at the thought of her, that was the affect she had on him invariably, because essentially she hadn't changed a bit. He would never know when she drove away all his worries and replaced them with a sense of peace. Still thinking, his eyes fell on Lovely's picture resting on the dresser. His smile faded partially, and he hung back his head staring at the ceiling and sighed deeply.

"I have no idea where any of this is headed anymore. I resolve to keep away, and you, make sure you barge your way into my life every possible way. Then I swear myself to silence and you're determined to let nothing remain unstated. I behave like a heartless soul in my last efforts to drive you away, but you refuse as always to let me have my way, come all the more closer, and I can do nothing. I give up, cause I don't now how to fight this anymore. God save me Ridhima, when you're with me I see no other logic. Let me hold onto my sanity of whats real and has to remain so - I'm married, Lovely is my wife, yet you're the only one I ever loved and always will." He smiled bitterly pausing.

"Neither could facts be any simpler to state nor any harder to survive. And if that wasn't enough, now you're daring me to hope again, I know how much I've wanted to, these past years in your absence, without admitting its what I need. But I can't deny how terrified I am, scared to even hope to be happy, it never lasts, and one more time I lose it my life will be in desperate shambles if it isn't already. Spare me that misery again Ridhima, if thats where you're taking this. I really have faced my share, can't see how much more I will withstand. I'm imploring you to stay away from me, and if you refuse to, then this time stay till the end, even if I have to leave don't let me...cause I want to stay - with you...as us."

He sighed again closing his eyes sitting in the same position, hoping sleep would take over gradually, if not peacefully, then forcing its way somehow, it had after all been a long day, the complications several, both misery and happiness extreme...

******************
Rrrrrriiiinnnnngggg...Rrrriiiiinnnnggg...Rrrrriiiiii..."WHAT THE HELL DO..."

he paused mid sentence, and within seconds the sight of her standing there at his doorstep had driven away any traces of sleep, his eyes widened trying to register if it really was her. She made her way past him brushing him aside not quite gently, walking into the house as if there was nothing abnormal about her coming here and the moment she had chosen to do so, he thought, stumped completely as he glanced at the wall clock behind her, at this hour? Before he could express his anxiety, hoping everything was alright, she spoke up.

"What the hell do you guys think you are? I've been ringing the bloody doorbell for the past 10 minutes before you finally decided to let me in. So what if half the neighborhood was giving me skeptical glares out of their windows as if I am an intruder. But thats not half as bad as your friend. Sometimes I wonder if it is after all such a good idea to try to get him back into her life. She might not be at her best without him, but if he stays the same she will soon be at her worst. I hate this guy...I hate this mess...And I think I screwed things much worse by interfering with what..."

"RITU!"

She stopped as he interrupted in a fairly loud voice, frowning she looked at him, demanding explanation for not letting her complete, and he shot her a completely baffled look back, shrugging for an answer himself. Walking up to her Chirag held her by her shoulders and turned her around to show her the clock.

"Are you capable of reading a clock Ritu? What did you expect, I'd be waiting at the doorstep just in case you decided to make a curtsy call? Let's not even go to the neighbors issue, pray none of them plan to call cops on us or we might just make headlines tomorrow for no good reason, 'Randolph Associates designer knocks the door of a senior psychiatrist for treatment at 3AM...' For a moment there you scared me, I thought you were in some serious trouble, but I should have known better. Is this revenge for barging into your office unannounced last time?"

She looked away from the clock to face him opening her mouth to speak, then she closed it lowering her eyes. Getting free from his grip on her shoulders she sat down on the nearest couch, wordlessly lowering her head into her hands. Chirag frowned at not having her argue back, even though he was right. He rolled his eyes at himself cursing mentally for having said too much. Walking over to the couch he sat on the rug below facing her, and removing her hands he made her look back. He had known her for but a short time, yet enough to know that the expression on her face right now did not belong there, she looked exhausted and tensed. Most importantly, she was quiet.

"Ritu?" he started tentatively, "I didn't mean it like..." he stopped as she cut him off in a low voice,

"I'm sorry. I tried calling but you didn't answer, and I was getting all worked up, I just...don't know why I thought I could come over. I needed to talk and...you seemed like the one I wanted to talk to and..." ...

"What happened?" he said in quiet concern interrupting her, not comfortable with how low she was sounding. She looked at him again and said,

"Do you think its a mistake, to try and get them together?" Chirag frowned narrowing his eyes at her.

"Tell me what happened Ritu. I can't keep guessing."

"Armaan called Minnie for a third ticket, for Lovely," she stated simply. He waited for her to continue but then realized that's all she had to say. He frowned harder.

"And?" he asked anyways, just to make sure he wasn't getting this wrong. Had she really come all he way at this hour, looking so troubled because Ammy asked for a third pass? She looked at him incredulously and repeated his question but as her own.

"And? What and? What more do you want to know. Chirag he called Minnie and asked her for a pass for Lovely for the musical tomorrow. Don't you see what that means?" Chirag shook is head then nodded and said,

"I do. I mean I see it means he will not be alone with Ridhima as it could have been, but I don't see why that upsets you so much. This is just a beginning Ritu, and it most certainly is..." Ritu got up from the couch with almost too much force.

"Chirag!" she exclaimed, then shaking her head she said, "You really don't see it. Its what you said the other day about Armaan. He is attached to Lovely, he cares for her, too much I fear to ever leave her. He loves Ridhima, but what I know of him by now Chirag, he will never give this a chance. I don't understand what kind of hypocrite goes around telling stranger teen age boys to express their feelings without delay, and refuses to follow his own advice? He loved Ridhima, and still does, I see no way for him to have missed the fact that the feeling is completely mutual. Can't he see she hasn't moved on in life, still standing where he left her? One moment he convinces me of his intention to not let it remain so, but then he...Chirag I'm starting to get apprehensions. What if he never comes back to her, never gives what they had between them, and still have after all that happened, a chance? Is he ever going to actually grow beyond his responsibility for an abnormal wife who understands nothing and deserves to be in an asylum and..."

"RITU!" she stopped, second time that evening he had raised his voice as he too stood up. She could see he was positively livid, but she didn't care. There was nothing untrue about what she said and there was no easy way to say it. He spoke up before she could continue,

"You know what Ritu, I can't believe I'm having to say this but you force me to. How selfish can you get? This is not just about Ridhima, its about Ammy just as much. I am on this plan with you because we want them both to be happy, not just one. You are right, Ammy does see nothing over his responsibilities, but thats him, thats the Armaan your friend fell for, with or without your approval of it. And anyways why are we even going there, we never were working on creating splits here, we wanted a reunion. You need to be reminded that I want it as much as you do, but unlike you I don't chose to be preferentially fair to the people involved. If Ammy was to leave Lovely for Ridhima today, neither would be happy, lets not even mention what would become of Lovely, who didn't quite get to chose to be the way she is..."

"But Armaan chose to be with her instead of Ridhima, in his sane mind, if that can be called sane at all." Ritu retorted cutting him off

"I don't know anymore than you do as to why he ever got into this thing, but I know him enough to ascertain you the last thing he intended was a betrayal, its not just Ridhima who hasn't moved on, Ammy hasn't either. There is nothing in that marriage except the hollow name sharing."

Chirag looked away momentarily sighing deeply then then looking back he moved towards her. Taking her hands in his as her eyes held several emotions he lowered his head then said in a soft voice looking her in the eye again,

"Ritu you have to understand we agreed to make sure they could not escape each other and the situation here. And that is happening, but we have to give it time. It has to come from them, both of them, their acceptance of the fact that neither has moved on in life beyond the other. They can see it, but it should be a feeling compelling enough for them to work this one out together and not being apart in life. We can't just pull Lovely out of this, that resolves nothing. You know that just as well. They need to confess to themselves and to each other the love that has only grown with the distance, but we can do nothing more yet, except give them every chance to realize how vital this confession is. The decision has to be their own."

She held his gaze for several seconds even after he was quiet, then she lowered her eyes sighing.

"Chirag I..." she started in a low voice, devoid of the previous minutes of frustration, it sounded more tired, lifting her head she saw his intent eyes, "You're right its going to be their decision. But I just, I'm scared if this doesn't work out, all this effort will end in a situation far worse than before. You can think with more neutrality perhaps, you knew both Armaan and Ridhima. I did not. I never actually have met this man, all I know him for is the heartache he has caused my closest friend. I still took the chance, gave it a shot, its a bold step. I reopened chapters in her life which I should have helped her forget instead. I just don't want her to suffer anymore because I thought it was worth the risk. You're doing it for them, for me its just her and I can't deny that. I don't know how I'll ever forgive myself if any of this ends in a disaster much greater. I'm starting to doubt if I put too much on stake here, its her life I'm taking decisions for, and she has no clue. What if..."

She stooped as he placed his hand covering her mouth gently shaking his head.

"Has no one ever told you that you need to talk less?" She frowned at him, and the diversion in topic he was bringing but he continued in a low whisper now, she hung onto every word.

"Nothing will go wrong. We are responsible for their repeated encounters, but don't you see where all this started? It was destined to be so, why would Lovely of all the firms in downtown have chosen yours? What made both of them settle in Chicago after London, and then after they have been unaware of the fact for five long years they meet now? Its alot of time wasted if you think how they could have run into each other much earlier, but they did not. Perhaps they were meant to stand this test of time, to let them think about everything in great detail. Now when they stand before each other the wait has matured them. They will not jump to conclusions, but they need time to sort out thoughts first in their own heads, then with each other. And thats also why they have you and me. And then to think Minnie tells Armaan about her Sawyer, and when he tells me I know its Gappu and you got him on the plan. Now Minnie unaware of ulterior motives demands to see the two of them together at the musical. Its like every chance is playing in favor. Its too much coincidence don't you think, if all was only to end in a disaster? It can't, they lost what they had to, five years are quite a lot, now things can only resolve for the better."

She looked at him her eyes holding his gaze and he cupped her face gently, nodding his head with a reassuring smile on his face. Then she lowered her head nodding back. "I should get going now, try and catch such sleep, " she whispered dismissing the topic at last. He clicked his tongue indicating a no, and she looked up to see him shaking his head. He clicked his tongue again for her benefit this time with a curved smile. As she looked at him puzzled he said,

"You really think I'm going to let you sleep in peace after you killed my night? Its Ammy, the benevolent gentleman remember, I'm more your league" As she narrowed her eyes he put his arm around her shoulder then giving her a mean grin he continued, "You know the 'time for vengence' kinds? So sweetheart, now you stay back and entertain me. How about some coffee?"

"Excuse me?" she said in a loud voice with a horrified expression on her face as he winked at her, then rolling his eyes towrads the ceiling he muttered something she missed.

"What did you just say?" She demanded in a furious tone. Steering her to follow his direction, he smiled at her in an innocent way and said in a solmen voice,

"I was asking God to forgive you for misjudging me of motives..." ...

"WHAT?" she yelled almost into his ear and he shut his eyes at the impact then making a face at her he said,

"Gosh! You're one hell of a loud woman. Not to mention outspoken and never quiet. But just for records, coffee implies coffee, you know the simple beverage made out of milk and water and beans, what the hell are you getting offensive about?" then rubbing his ear gently he added in a solemn voice, "Ammy owes me one for all this, I'll turn deaf trying to hook him up with his girl."

She glared at his boyish grin and shrugging off his hand she said, "Where is the kitchen, I hope you have one?" The sarcasm hard to miss.

His smile widened and he pointed to the right. Following her disappearing back with his eyes he muttered scratching his head. "Chirag dude, get serious. Are you really falling for a big mouth like her. Man, its going to be one hell of a life, but then I guess love is always worth a risk...Wait...love? Is this it?" Smiling to himself he shrugged slightly, then shoving his hands into the pockets of his tracks, he followed her into the kitchen...

***************
"Calm down beautiful, he will be there soon, I'm certain its something unavoidable..." Gappu paused hearing a flustered Ridhima complain on the other end..."Yeh we understand lady, the fault is all his, you bear no responsibility for the delay. Take it easy, I'm sure he will show up any moment now. "

He smiled hearing Ridhima quit her ramblings as she wished him luck next, her tone changing to a sweeter note right away. Typical of her to switch mods at the snap of a finger, both the rough ones and those of affection. She did deserve to be with Armaan soon. He was the only one Gappu could ever think of as worthy of his massi. Gappu smiled saying bye and cut the call deep in thought as he handed it back to Minnie.

 Another typical act, he thought shaking his head, she loved him, Gappu, to bits, perhaps he could as far as saying he mattered to her more than anyone else, well so far...yet she had to put up that unconscious act of placing everyone before him in public, calling on Minie's cell rather than his own to wish them both luck, so Ridhima like. She would go out of the way for everyone in the world, except for those who mattered more than the rest of that same world receiving her nice side, for them she would never act special.

Gappu, like all those close to her, had grown accustomed to this side of her, it was almost as if her taken for granted attitude towards anyone was a compliment beyond any other. If she took you for granted and skipped the obligations you could safely assume you were among the highest in her list of 'my very own'. She would pass wisecracks, mock you at every instant, agree with nothing you say, and pay heed to none of your words, never go on to show by the little subtle gestures how much you meant to her.

But in times that mattered, even if the need was trivial, she would be an outrageous support, refusing to let you feel alone or face a fall. She was the kinds who got high on optimism, could thing recklessly and follow the ideas until eternity, she would always forgive yet never forget, and was extremely sensitive in ways that could never be detected. She talked like there was no tomorrow, and yet never any of what should not remain unsaid, you may mean the world to her but for all you knew she would let you pass with the perception that you were just like anybody else. Armaan of course had just joined the gang of victims, or perhaps he had always been there, Gappu only learned of it now that he was back in her life.

For most she was the dominating towering woman, who lost her temper as easily as she laughed and loved, who always had a solution to every problem that was not her own, and who you could not pass by without forming some opinion at least, even if all you saw her for was a mere five minutes. In brief her emotions were many and each stupendous in their own way, she made it absolutely impossible for you to ignore her, and whether it was her endless chats or her rare sullen and quiet spells she caught your attention and made you want to stay.

And she had been all of that with Armaan yesterday, without effort. Like she had lost the veil of their past, and he could tell Armaan had been caught by surprise as much as Gappu himself, it had not seemed likely to happen so fast. But then, wasn't that another typically - Ridhima thing, catch people off guard, even those who thought they knew her inside out, for what she would think or do next was something perhaps even she could not tell.

"I think there is something between the two of them, something we're unaware of, Buddy and Di i mean..." he heard her tentative words and responded with a spontaneous nod without much thought,

"Yeh, there is..." he replied.

Then realizing a moment too late what he had just implied he looked at Minnie quickly as she gave him a questioning look her eyes narrowed.

'Uh...I mean, they are friends right?"

He tried to sound convincing, but that only added a frown to her already skeptical look, he knew she did not believe him. He gave her a weak smile and she refused to alter her expression. He gulped looking away, dam it, how could he tell her he was trying to fix his aunt with her uncle who was already married. It wasn't quite normal, what would she say, this when he was planning to express his own feelings soon. Dam you man, what were you thinking...

"Alright I don't have forever. Apparently theres something I should have known...lets say, much before?" He turned back to face her with a guilty look and started,

"There is." Then glancing at his watch he said, "Fifteen minutes to start, guess I can outline the basic picture for you. Lets leave the colors and details to until after the show." Saying so he walked towards the green rooms and she followed hearing him say things which left her baffled.

*********************
She paced left to right then right to left, then back and back again and so on. She had done nothing but that for the past quarter of an hour. Well just that if you ignored the countless times she had cursed, in anger, in frustration, and although she would not admit, in worry. Where was he? The look on her face, which had started with a frown was now like a painter's palette - the expressions numerous like the colors, too messed to be distinguished individually, making it hard to envisage which one single emotion it was that they wanted to display.

Where was he, she thought again, and why would he not answer his dam phone. She stared at her watch again, willing it to show the time from an hour ago. This was a limit. Whatever he got held up with, did she not even deserve a phone call? Could he be in trouble? She did not know which she preferred to believe, this that he maybe in trouble, or the other that he had just decided to leave her waiting without a clue, like five years before. Cursing herself she wished he was not in trouble, and to further her frustration at self, she could not bring herself to go inside the amphitheater without him, to occupy herself with something other than thoughts of him and what could have delayed him so much.

She paced faster, the show would end in another 15 minutes. Would she make a fool of herself if they thought she had waited for him so long, neither coming inside, nor going elsewhere? Perhaps it would be best to leave now, before she had to explain herself to Gappu and Minnie, she could just say later, that she had been waiting for Armaan for about 10minutes past her conversation with Gappu, and then got a call from one of her sites and had to leave. She could in fact completely pretend like she did not know that Armaan had not shown up at all. What about the missed calls on his cell though she thought cursing herself for having made so many. Maybe she could say she just wanted to let him know that she had to leave? Yes, that would work she thought with a grim expression, thankfully I did not leave him a voicemail.

Turning around with the force of her new resolve she gasped sharply as she lost her balance, self stepping on a string from her sandal which had come lose, but before she could fall even half way, she felt a set of muscular arms take hold of her.

"You alright?"

She did not have to look at the face to know it was him. The voice was enough, she would recognize it anywhere. But she looked up anyways, and with a jerk, it was a spontaneous reaction, was he finally here? He was, becoming aware of his grip around her shoulder and waist she knew it was him alright, real in flesh and blood. She saw the concern on his face, and somehow it irritated her. She sprang back to balance on her own, not quite gently, and although she broke her look with him she could feel his eyes on her. Don't look at him Ridzi, she told herself the temper rising within her. True she had hoped he wasn't in trouble,but now seeing him by her side, appearing fine, all in one piece was making her furious not relaxed. He repeated, with an added caution to his voice, which made her wonder if her anger was so visible.

"Ridhima, you alright?" She would have wanted to turn around and yell at him, give him a piece of her mind. but she clenched her fists digging her finger nails in deep to pull a straight face before she looked him in the eye and said,

"Yes I am." then after a fleeting pause she couldn't keep herself from adding, "Why do you care?"

Armaan should have preferred to be anywhere that moment to escape her wrath except where he was, but he didn't feel quite so. He held her gaze reading her eyes. She was mad at him, for the obvious reason, but somehow he felt calm to see her that way. It was the an anger which exerted her right upon him, not the anger of indifference as she was trying hard to portray. It was insane but he almost wanted to smile.

Perhaps it was his unaffected look, for she frowned harder the next moment looking away. He allowed himself the smile which would refuse to be subdued still looking at her. He could hardly believe himself, after the past hour of trouble with Lovely, he was now facing the second half of his not quite happy evening with Ridhima perhaps ready to strangle him, and he was smiling? Shaking his head clear he wiped the smile off just in time, for she had turned to face him again, appalled by his attitude. Was he going to ever explain himself?

"Ridhima, I'm sorry I actually..." He stopped as she walked away with force and pace. He gulped looking up towards the sky with a look of plea before he broke into a trot to catch up with her. She walked faster seeing him by her side and he tried again.

"Ridhima please, just hear me out. I'll explain. It was Lovely, she..." Ridhima shot him a look which made him pause. She stopped walking and so did he looking at her in anticipation.

"Lovely?" she snapped, her voice was forcefully controlled and he could see she had intended to say much more but had let it stay at that one word. Then however she changed her mind, and spoke again, before he could,

"I really have no intentions of interfering in your personal life Mr. Malik, save yourself the reasons. Besides, why are you really bothered? This isn't the first time you've left me waiting without an explanation, and a couple of hours at that, should be nothing to compare with five long years."

As she walked off, he stood for a moment stunned by her words. But before his guilt could overtake, it struck him. Five long years...did she just say she had waited for him all through. Somehow the thought gave him more comfort than a sense of guilt which should have been more obvious. And now she had waited for him, outside the amphi, for close to an hour perhaps. He looked up and he saw her some 50 paces away and somewhere a car' buzzed unlocking, he guessed she clicked it so on her key chain operator.

He broke into a trot second time, to catch up with her on an impulse despite her cutting remark. As he neared she was getting in the driver's seat. He didn't quite know what made him do what he did next, but he raced the last few steps towards the passenger seat and opening the door got in. He could feel ger stare on himself as he concentrated on fixing the seatbelt into its lock. His head lowered, he fumbled with the lock, to not have to look at her for he was already starting to think this was an insane impulse he had followed. But then he closed his eyes momentarily and reopening, and he knew he would not regret it.

She did at that moment turn on the ignition without a word and reversed the car out of its spot, with a cut wider than was needed he realized. They got onto the street he saw her dodge cars, speed up and overtake, or brake suddenly juggling the traffic in a rash pattern. Out of the corner of his eye he braved a fleeting glance, after almost ten minutes of driving in silence. She was looking straight ahead, he noticed moments later as he dared a second glance, more lasting this time, her grip on the steering was an evidence of the intensity of her temper.

"Ahem ahem..." he cleared his throat after another couple of minutes, someone had to break the silence, and he couldn't decide if this was a streak of courage or reckless hope that was making him do things so unlike himself.

"This is Sheryl and you're listening to B96 top ten, its American Idol first runners up David Archuleta at number five with his new single, his very own Crush!..."  The voice from the radio cut him short as she raised the volume making her intentions to not hear him out obvious. He looked at her but as she continued to ignore his presence he looked ahead himself and the song blared into the silence between them...

"...Cause the possibility
That you would ever feel the same way about me
It's just too much, just too much

Why do I keep running from the truth?
All I ever think about is you
You got me hypnotized, so mesmerized
And I've just got to know "...

He chanced another look at her, and saw her expression was not the stony blank look anymore. Her grip on the steering was definitely more lax, but she still seemed...tense?or plain angry? She still did continue to look straight ahead. He wished she would not keep it inside anymore, her anger at him. He would prefer her yelling than this phase where she made him feel he didn't exist for her. The lyrics were running in his mind as he continued staring at her, willing her to spare him one glance.

"Do you ever think when you're all alone
All that we can be, where this thing can go?
Am I crazy or falling in love?
Is it real or just another crush?"

Ridhima missed nothing, neither his eyes boring through her, nor the lyrics of the song, nor how hard it was getting for her to ignore both. What was wrong with him anyway, why did he get into her car. What in the world was he up to, where did he have to go, more like where were they going, what was the destination...to this drive...to their life...She couldn't think why she had not told him get out right away, why did she let him stay and drive out of there. AND WHY WERE THEY PLAYING THIS DAM SONG.

"Do you catch a breath when I look at you?
Are you holding back like the way I do?
'Cause I'm trying and trying to walk away
But I know this crush ain't goin' away-ay-ay-ay-ayy
Goin' away-ay-ay-ay-ayy..."

A sudden silence enveloped as she turned off the radio abruptly, and it was only then that Armaan realized how loud the volume had been, he also realized how he had not quite minded that...the lyrics were still echoing in his head.

"I kind of like that song," he said suddenly and it took him all his effort to keep himself from cursing out loud. What did he just say? But the next second he was almost glad he did, for she finally turned around to look at him. He gave her an instantaneous smile, he did not know how it appeared just then, perhaps it was the relief of getting some reaction. She looked away and straight ahead again without returning his gesture. He lowered his gaze debating what to say next, but he didn't have to for she spoke up, much to his surprise, shock was more like it.

"I hate Archuleta, exceedingly juvenile. I'm glad it was Cook who won the idol." she snapped.

It took him seconds to process her words as he looked at her amazed. She was talking to him? About the American Idol finals? He wanted to laugh out loud, the relief, the happiness, a sudden warmth was gushing through his insides and he couldn't keep himself from breaking into a grin. She perhaps realized that and turning around she shot him a dirty look. He smiled back wider in response, he just couldn't stop himself, despite the knowledge that he might be annoying her further.

"Me too" he stated and as she frowned puzzled but looking ahead he explained, "Preferred Cook myself. I just said I kind of like the song, not the singer." he made his stand, the smile refusing to leave.

He saw her frown disappear replaced by an effort to maintain the defiant look, and he knew she was listening, In fact he figured she may finally be willing to allow conversation in the car. But he kept quiet, she would have to start this time, he had contributed his share of mindless initiatives for the evening. He smiled to himself lightly looking out of his window casually as instinct told him she would speak soon. It was several moments of silence before he noticed something that made him turn around towards her with a jerk. His sudden movement did not escape her and she looked at him in reflex reaction. His face grew into a frown as he seemed to be concentrating on something looking at nothing in particular. She cocked her eyebrows curious, as she maintained a side look on the road ahead.

"Ridhima, " he whispered not quite looking at her, still in seeming concentration, "The wheel..." he said and she had no clue what he was intending her to understand. He looked at her finally and said, "The car wheel Ridhima, its wobbly."

"Huh?" he nodded in response to her confusion. "Its either flat, or coming lose."

"What? Of course not. I just got it back from the garage on the way to the amphi." She said in a 'know-it-all' tone.

"Well then you should sue the mechanic. Something with the wheel is definitely not normal." He stated seriously, unaffected by her obvious stance to prove it was all in his head.

She gave him a stubborn look of defiance and faced ahead to drive on. He frowned at her incredulously as she pressed harder on the gas pedal, accelerating. Then rolling his eyes he shook his head slightly and said more firmly stressing his point,

"Ridhima, what are you trying to do? I'm telling you the it could be coming lose, the wheel, stop accelerating." She shot him a dirty look and he knew there was no straight way with her. Gosh, would she ever listen to him?

"Ridhima listen..." She snapped cutting him off.

..."Its nothing Armaan, first you get into my car, uninvited, now you're trying to scare me? Just to make conversation? Cheap stakes. Its my car, I know how to manage it, you can sit if you stay quiet or I can drop you right here if you're afraid of sitting in a car with a wobbly wheel."

He opened his mouth to respond then shut it. She really would not listen. How reckless could she...never mind right now Armaan, he told himself. This wasn't the moment. He had to convince her of the wheel first, somehow. As he felt the car accelerate more he had a sudden idea. Quickly he pulled both her hands off the steering as she looked at him shocked and furious.

"Armaan what the..." ....

"Sshhh" He said with a commanding streak she had rarely witnessed in him. Frowning hard he indicated ahead and she followed his gaze.

"What the hell are you..." She stopped mid sentence as she realized what he was trying to show her. The car wasn't going in a straight line anymore, it was deviating towards the right lane along a gradual virtual diagonal path. Her eyes widened and he hastily let go of her hands gripping the steering to bring the car back on track. She took over from him and said in realization almost to herself.

"The tyre is wobbly..."

"About time you concluded that. Now would you try and get out of this fastest right lane? We need to stop at the very next exit so I can have a look at it." She did not retort this time, neither did she get defiant, with a solemn look half embaressed, half worried she followed his instruction quietly. He saw her glance in the rear view trying to find a break to cut through the lanes. But it was a busy evening hour traffic, the dim light of settling dusk, and increasing number of glaring high beams made it no easier. He saw her frown deepen, and he knew it wasn't just in concentration. He sighed, it wasn't quite possible to switch drivers on the fast moving lane or he would have been glad to relieve her. Gently he held her hand on the steering, making her look at him.

"Relax, its going to be fine, " he whispered with a small but reassuring smile, and she nodded slightly before she looked up ahead and at the rear view again. Even in the anticipation of the moment she felt relieved; he was there by her side, and so she believed him at long last for what he said - it was going to be fine...everything...

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

NJ

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