Sunday, 21 April 2019

part 8 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

He cursed. Within a second he cursed again, more forcefully this time as plausible scenarios were beginning to take form in his mind and he got into a rush. Racing down the stairs, taking two at a time and jumping over the last four onto the landing beneath he grabbed his jacket from the closet besides the main door, and the car keys lying on top of the chest next to it. Then turning the knob on the handle to auto lock mode he shut it behind him, harder than he normally would have, cursing the loud sound it made therefore, and disturbing in the process the silence of what would have seemed like a rare peaceful night.

For something about that night was not usual, or nothing was so to say. He would have noticed, if the ambiguity of circumstances was not as daunting as right then, that there was a spell of calm around quite unlike the city. The stars shimmered, too many of them visible for a downtown sky, mostly in irregular patterns; the moon was a bright almost half circle spreading a silvery haze to a considerable circumference around itself in the uniform blue black base of the sky, evened out for no irregularities from blotches of clouds, an uncommon sight for Chicago's night sky. Nor was there a sign of the piercing cold wind which was common both to the place and to the time of the year.



It was in his perplexed state of mind a definite bliss that Chirag paid attention to none of the details; he would have failed to appreciate the beauty of it anyways, it would to him have signified a lull before the storm. The forty five minutes drive was marked by nothing worth a special mention and could easily be defined as the scissors paper stone game: either he was cursing, or just driving in silent musing, or hearing Armaan's voicemail the calls remaining unanswered as they had after that incomplete frantic call from him. One of the three happened at a time and there was no exception, ever.

********************
"AMMY..."

He stopped. After yelling his name all over the house when he finally found him in the closet hearing some sound, it was a sight which would remain with him forever and in the later times the memory of it would remind him that of all the unusual sights from that night that his eyes had seen but not registered this was the only one unprecedented for him, and something he would never see again. On the floor Lovely was lying still and by her side Armaan sat his head lowered oblivious to his surroundings. Chirag frowned and moved forward with unintentional caution, uncertain of what any sound from him might disturb here. His eyes darted between Lovely and Armaan and he forbade his mind to make any sense of what he was seeing. Slowly he lowered himself to kneel down forcing his gaze to stay on Armaan alone for the second.

"Armaan?"

He whispered, then realizing he was inaudible even to himself he moved his hand and shook Armaan by his shoulder, ever so slightly and repeated in a hoarse whisper of one who was starting to feel that ignorance of facts here may not be a bad idea.

"Armaan..."

As Armaan raised his gaze to face him, Chirag saw a listless look in the hazel eyes, a look which seemed to lack either recognition or comprehension or both of who and what. Chirag realized it was harder to face this than a look at Lovely and so he shifted his gaze to her.

"Where was she Ammy, you completely freaked me out. What happened?"

There was much more he wanted to say and ask, but couldn't dare to for the fear of what he would learn, so he put forth a vague question, a wide one, hoping to be spared the details as his mind was refusing to obey and not conceptualize what was happening here, or what had happened. He turned back to look at Armaan feeling a brushing moment and saw Armaan get off his spot by the wall. Moving towards Lovely, he pulled a random dupatta from the hangers, and pulled it over her body almost mechanically except a look which flickered on his face as he covered the face last. Chirag gasped unable to fight the obvious comprehension anymore.

"I killed her..." The words hung mid air between the two friends as they looked into each other's eyes.

********************
She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it not knowing what to say. Lowering first her eyes, then her body she slumped into the couch by her side a weakness creeping into her knees forcing her to seek support. Unexpected things can often result lack of reaction. But this was more than just unexpected, and so it wasn't lack of reaction she experienced, it was more like no reaction. Gapuu stood grim by her side his eyes not leaving her face, he cursed mentally to have to be the one to inform Ridhima of this, but there could be no one else Ritu had argued out with him when she informed him, since neither she nor Chirag could break the news to Ridhima, they were supposed to know nothing here; and Minnie? Would she not tell Gappu first? Armaan himself would never call Ridhima, not now anyways and so Gappu had no option but to give in. He wished he knew what to say now, but then she spoke up saving him the trouble.

"How?" she whispered condensing her many thoughts into a monosyllable.

"She..." he paused shifting his feet but Ridhima did not notice his discomfort. He took in a deep breath, "She hung herself. It was suicide."

He did not know how he brought himself to state that fact, it wasn't a new word to him, not even uncommon or rare, yet being up close with a reality as harsh, he felt the word struck him in its true essence the very first time, as more than just a word, and for once he felt he was after all still not an adult. It did not take you to be a 19 year old to know death was inevitable, in the least so when you lived in a world as unpredictable as now, when everything was up against the basics of humanity.

Yet when you faced it so raw, the death of someone who was more than an unknown name, you realized what it means to be no more. Never again. He knew her not beyond having met her at Minnie's house some random times as Mrs. Malik, and as Armaan's wife for the past couple of weeks, and yet he felt eerie in knowing he would not see her again. He did not long to, he did not care at all, why then was he trying to remember when he met her last, what she was doing then, how she had sounded and looked, and then he fought to keep the image of her smile away.

There was no bonding here, but he could not explain this strange sense of insecurity, he couldn't think of what made him so uneasy. His first encounter with death so real, perhaps. He was just unable to recover from the sinking sense of what even little children knew, those once gone can never come back...he was more troubled by the next fact, its an inevitable fate, everyone has to go. He struggled to fight images of his loved ones as he thought of death. Unconsciously he sat down besides Ridhima and hugged her tight. She maintained her silence, but somewhere her shocked nerves welcomed his embrace, and she hugged him back, the numb spell finally starting to wear off.

Lovely was dead. Suicide hanging. Armaan's wife Gappu had called her...Armaan...she had to meet him. He would need someone. Perhaps he would need her?

*****************
"Have this," shaking his head he looked up but she spoke before he could refuse.

"Its ginger tea, I know you don't have coffee." It was more of an assertion than a simply stated fact so he took the cup from her without further resistance.

"Thanks..." he mumbled getting up knowing tea was not all she came for, only the excuse for being there. "I think Keerti Baudi was looking for me in the..." He paused as she tugged onto his arm to make him sit again.

"Stay Armaan...please. Its not hard to observe the trend of how someone seems to be looking for you everytime I'm around, but I insist this is important. We need to talk."

"Ridhima can this wait?..." he paused sighing. "Alright. What do you want to talk about?"

He said in a flat voice giving her a direct non expressive look. He had ignored her for most part of the past 3 days, making conversation only when it was unavoidable, and limiting it to formal small talk. But she was persistent, refusing to be discouraged and he knew he couldn't evade this forever. Perhaps the best way was to get done with it, in a way so she would not call for a second round.

Ridhima sensed in his voice what she had in his actions for 3 long days. A tendency to avoid her, almost shove her off. He is shutting himself up Chirag had explained, and Ridhima did not disagree. But somewhere she felt the distance he maintained from her was greater than that from all others, and intentionally so. After much pondering she concluded she would have to take initiative, and with an unfailing resolve since he wasn't likely to make it any easier for her.

"Quite a few things actually," she stated in an unperturbed voice now. "How about starting with us. Why are you avoiding me?"

"You want to discuss us? How insensitive to the situation here can you possibly be? Anyways, just to satisfy your ego, no I'm not ignoring you. I've just been through not the best week of my life and I apologize if my hospitality was not at par with your expectations. I am human you do realize?"

Ridhima swallowed her reaction to his harsh words and tone. She had expected something similar to happen if she broached the topic, but that did not make bearing the brunt any less unpleasant. He was making no secret of how unwelcome this talk was for him, neither of how he was expecting her to drop the topic for good. That wasn't quite her plan though. She spoke again, her voice still calm.

"If I asked about Lovely and you, about facts of your married life, if I said I want to know about what exactly happened, and why you are blaming yourself for it; you will say its none of my business. But I know the you and me bit here is linked to the you and her bit, and so do you. So I'm asking what I rightfully can. She did not die a normal death, it was suicide, and I'm not trying to rub in any of this Armaan. If you would answer straight, we could both be saved much frustration."

He was certain she knew her argument held conviction, but she couldn't have realized how close to facts she was. And that she said it without agitation even in the face of his cutting remarks was bad news for him, but he couldn't not marvel reluctantly at her sense of calm, the resistive curt exterior was getting harder to maintain. It was one of the reasons he had made it a point to avoid confrontation with her. She disturbed his placid facade like no one else. Of course the main reason to avoid her was his own guilt. He saw her looking at him now, unblinking, waiting for his response and lowered his head.

"Ridhima...its just...I don't know what I could possibly say, or what it is that you want me to..."

He said in a low voice, seeking a closure. She did not rest her look upon him even though he was clearly evading it, but she remained quiet. The physical void between them was filled with a wordless one, but it wasn't a comfortable silence as it offered no relief to either of them. Armaan knew the talk was best left alone, perhaps she had temporarily abandoned it. But after another minute of quiet he could take it no more.

"Ridhima...I didn't...I mean are you offended? Please don't be."

"Isn't that what you intended Armaan? You haven't succeeded yet."

He knew she meant it cause she was so balanced, she had not spoken one reckless word, not even a thoughtless retort. Suddenly he wished she would say something, perhaps thats what he needed, someone to tell him how unreasonable and how wrong he was, he was tired of self reproach now, it did not work on him anymore.

"If I haven't then say something...why do you refrain from further talk?" he said. There was the slightest hint of desperation to his tone Ridhima noticed. She looked him in the eye and said,

"I was saving you from what is evidently not going to be what you want to hear. What do you want me to say anyways, I'm not the one with secrets here Armaan, its you. You conveniently presume at every step that I will understand...that I should understand. And I think all this while in trying to make myself worth us I have made the biggest mistake in this relationship, by never seeking explanations. It couldn't have just escaped your notice how everything of real significance between us remains unsaid...always..."

Armaan raised his eyes and looked at her. Then slowly he nodded and looked away.

"You could have been saved perhaps the only miserable part of your life Ridhima, if we never met. I can't even say I wish I did not know you, but I wish you would not have had to know me back. I'm sorry. I think its my defining trait, loss and pain for those I..." he checked himself from saying what he was going to..."care about. I fear emotions in myself now, they spell premonition."

She got down to kneel on her feet before him looking up into his eyes. Then holding his hands in her own she spoke in a solemn voice.

"You told me once I mattered more to people than I realized, its not any different for you. Why do you refuse people who care for you a chance to be a part of your life, and of everything in it. Its not just about how much you suffer trying to cope with everything alone, but just as much about how they suffer in knowing you don't trust them enough."

She didn't break the look, and for once neither did he. For several long moments that is, before he looked away sighing. Then he withdrew his hands out of her grasp and shook his head slowly at first, then more vigorously.

"You don't see it do you Ridhima, the full picture..."

"I can't Armaan, I don't know what the full picture is." Her persisting calm was strangely making him restless. It was like they had reversed roles.

"Alright. She committed suicide. You want to know why? I am clueless why you want to know, and worse lost about why I am telling you any of this. She left a note. It said she couldn't bear to have me live through the obligation of such a marriage, she thought I was not happy..."

"Was she wrong? Were you happy?" Ridhima cut him off. He opened his mouth to reply then shut it. Then crossing his fingers he interlocked them with force, it appeared to Ridhima he was trying to hold back an outburst.

"Was I happy? Does it matter? I was not with her that night when she had a depression attack because I was happy being with you. It cost me her life Ridhima, and that's definitely not making me any happier than before. The wedding was arranged by my family but I consented for it."

"And why did you Armaan?" she shot back this time, still calm, but her voice held much more force.

"Because I..." for a second she thought he had finally let go of the restrain on himself as he raised his volume, but he paused looking away and she knew the moment was lost and so was the confession after coming so close to it. She waited for him to complete anyways.

"I had my reasons."

The strain in is voice was evident, he must have known that just as well, for he got up abruptly.

"I need to get going Ridhima, there are some pending calls to answer back. Thanks for the tea." As he walked away, she stared at his back for a whole minute but he did not turn back to look at her. Not that she had expected him to. He never had turned back to see how she was doing after him. She sighed, tired herself and slowly she got off her feet to sit down completely, crossing her legs and lowering her head into her hands.

"Atleast you know your reasons to have married her. I know neither yours to have left me behind, nor mine to have never moved on." she whispered as silent tears traced down from her cheeks until she could taste the familiar saline tinge on her lips, as they had countless times since the day he walked out of her life. Then abruptly she lifted her face and wiped her tears forcefully, getting up she followed in the direction Armaan had gone.

*******************
"I can't stand it Ritu. He is just building this inpenetrable shield all about himself and I can't connect with him anymore. I thought Ridhima would, but he refuses to let her reach out to him."

Ritu looked at him as he paced the floor of the Armaan's study. She had no solace to offer him, being at no greater ease than herself. She sat in silence and that was indication enough of her despair. He paced more, the frustration was growing upon him, cause his speed and force increased with each time he walked the length again. Ritu spoke at last.

"Please sit down Chirag. This isn't helping us anymore." He shot her an agitated look.

"Well what is going to help us then Ritu? Lovely is dead and out of the way, just as you had hoped. But dare I ask, why you don't look delighted my dear? Then again, how could you, it hasn't brought them closer, only increased the rift between them like never before."

"Chirag...please! You can accuse me if that makes you feel any better, at least one of us will be relieved of some stress. But you know I had never wished for things to get this ugly, I was seeking happiness for them, just like you, not circumstances as harsh. I wanted to bring back Armaan, and his love into Ridzi's life, I never saw the stakes so high. We didn't intend for it to happen this way you know it. Do you really think I deserve the blame?"

"I'm sorry..." he mumbled looking away, then looking back at her he said, "No you don't. No one can be blamed. It was her medical condition. I wish Ammy would understand that too, I can't take the way he holds himself responsible anymore. His negligence he said it was, of not having been with her. It almost makes me wish we had not set them up for the musical date that evening. Here we were trying to bring them closer so they accept their feelings, and it..."

"YOU WERE TRYING TO WHAT?" Their eyes widened in horror hearing Ridhima's voice but reeling around they saw not just her. Armaan stood there too. Chirag sought to read the expressions on his face, but it seemed more blank than ever.

"Ridzi...Armaan..." Ritu started..."We can explain. It is not what..."

"You don't need to."

Armaan spoke up finally, his voice revealed nothing more than his expressionless face and in addition to Chirag and Ritu, Ridhima shot him a shocked look too. He ignored the attention, or appeared to do so at least said simply.

"Chirag I need to wrap up a lot of paper work here, legal and financial. Do me a favor, book me tickets for whatever is available at the earliest after a week from now?"

Chirag spoke up despite himself before Armaan could complete, "Tickets?"

"Yes, for home. Its hardly an announcement I can make through a distant call. One way for Kolkota."

As he walked out of the room for a second the shock of his declaration made Ridhima forget she was upset with the other two and she asked in an uncertain voice looking at Chirag, "One way?" But she got no reassurance as Chirag stood stunned himself, Ridhima's question playing in his head along with Armaan's words.

*********************
It was a year now since he had been gone. Chirag stood slightly stopped forward as his hands held onto the railing of his balcony. So much had changed in this year he pondered in retrospection, as he did every day since Ammy left. It had not been all for the bad. Gappu and Minnie were a steady couple now, still young to be engaged formally, but there was hardly a doubt they were meant to be together for a lifetime, Ritu and he were already bound that way, after they tied the knot 3 months ago.

The empty spot for his best man in the wedding however reminded him every second of Armaan. Ridhima's happiness for them did not hide the void in her life, she had not pressed any issues with him or Ritu after the moment Armaan announced his plan to leave for India. Something in her had died he had known now for a while, from the instant the fact started to sink into her that day about a year ago. She had found her escape in pushing herself into work to extreme limits, that was all she ever did now, or talked about anymore. One could think the professionalism may have turned her into a cold mechanical being, but fact was she had become a stoic person, resigning listlessly to the fate she was condemned to, expecting nothing out life anymore, nothing at all.

He heard from Armaan every once or so in a while, but they talked of anything except what he was doing, where he was, or if he ever planned to return. In fact he did not even have the details of his essential contacts, postal or telephonic, there was none permanent Armaan would say to change the topic in a subtle way when he would ask, but Chirag saw his firm resolve to not reveal one, if there was any.

He would analyze in every moment of solitude whether it was the reuniting plan for Armaan and Ridhima which could be blamed for this permanent separation with no further hope. He seeked answers, without caring anymore about whether they justified his decision to have supported Ritu in her plan or gave him severe pangs of guilt, but the answers never came. He wondered if he would indeed die without putting the issue to rest ever, he hoped not. If there was one wish he desperately wanted for to come true, even if it was the last he could ask for, he wished for a fair chance to rectify the unintentional mistake. While Ritu put efforts to revive life for Ridhima in any way that was possible, just to have her move on, Chirag lived by the faith that his wish would come true when the time was right.

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

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