Sunday, 5 May 2019

Part 15: Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

When he walked down to the breakfast table fifteen minutes later than usual that morning all four pairs of eyes on the table were on him. It could be for any reason. But his own little secret did not stop him from wondering awkwardly if they could possibly know. He let his eyes fall to his only partial ally and the twinkle in Gappu's eyes made him lower his own. Clearing his throat he pulled a chair for himself and mumbled something which remotely sounded like 'good morning'. He would have sat like that all through the meal, concentrating on his omelette like it was the most complex thing he had ever laid eyes on, fumbling with his silverware as he had not done even when he was all of 5 years old and fearing desperately that his heartbeat could be heard on the table. Through it all however, unconsciously he maintained a faint smile, a dazed one, Gappu concluded, deciding it was time to interrupt the dream.

"Well?"

Armaan heard Gappu's question, had a fair idea it was aimed at him, but refused to believe it was so, until several seconds passed and he heard no reply. It was for him he realized uneasily and looked up. He saw Gappu's lopsided smile, and the mischief was evident. Armman clutched his fork too hard and raised his eyebrows in response. As innocently as he could manage, not daring of course to look at any of the others on the table.



"Well aren't you going to tell us?"

Armaan reeled from Gappu's question incredulously in his head. On the exterior he maintained his look. This couldn't be happeneing he tried to tell himself, Gaurav could not have already told them...or could he? Sorry sweetheart, he thought in his mind gritting his teeth, I think I'm going to beat up your nephew after this meal for his cheekiness. Somehow gathering his guts he said, hoping he sounded something close to his usual self,

"Tell you what?"

Gappu cocked his right eye in a way that made Armaan want to run out of the room and lock himself up for a year before returning. The boy really was calling for trouble. Just this meal and then he would show him why it was a very bad idea to not keep secrets. His thoughts were interrupted with Muski's words.

"Tell us why you're late for breakfast Dada, what else?"

Armaan turned his his head slowly towards his sister as her question sunk in. Why he was late. Oh god, he thought with relief washing over his guilt, thats what they had been staring at him for. Of course he scorned himself in his head, Armaan Malik late for a meal, it happened as rarely as Rahul and Muski not fighting over the same table. He gave a sheepish grin, from the corner of his eyes he could see Gappu give him another look, the look of a prankster who had escaped being caught. Later to you Gaurav, Armaan swore in his head, he had never believed he could be caught and beaten at a mind game, and that by a mere teen. Ridhimaaa, he pleaded in his head, what the hell are you doing to me.


"Ammy?" Armaan looked at Rahul hearing his expectant tone, giving another sheepish smile, deciding to speak before Daadu questioned next.

"I...eh...I overslept." He said the first thing that came to his mind. And that made the last quiet spectator on the table contribute his bit.


"You what?"

Armaan wanted to whack himself at Daadu's disbelief, for having been the discipline freak all his life. Would no one ever believe he could mess up a routine like once in a lifetime. He heard Gappu chuckle and he knew if the other three were not on the table he was capable of murder with the butter knife today. Then Ridhima will kill me, he thought miserable to be stuck, with no answers, and a face which was blushing hard. The truth was he had not slept a wink. Even after the long call had ended he had sat on the floor for almost an hour his mind full of too much. that until he realized he had missed his morning practice hour already and was going to be terribly late for breakfast if he didn't get up and move right away. He had barely let the water drain over his limbs when he would have so much wanted a hot long shower, and still been late for the meal. And here he was now. He was going to get caught about lying any second he feared.


"You're kidding right?"

Muski said after several quiet seconds of disbelief at the table. He shook his head then clearing his throat he decided to end the 'Catch Armaan's lie' game Gappu had started.

"No Muski, I really did oversleep. I..uh...I worked on a case, ummm very complicated case for most of the night and..."

He paused, they still looked shocked but he knew they were buying it anyways, all except the only one who knew his secret. Oh well thought Armaan, I won't leave evidence too long, I'm so gonna kill you kid. Aloud he concluded with an apologetic look, "Sorry about being late. I was terribly exhausted I guess."

Everyone would have gotten back to their meal, but Gappu went for the final kill.

"So did you work a solution to the case?" Armaan looked at him again gritting his teeth, but Gappu's smile was so full of life, his eyes so expectant that Armaan felt his resolve to murder fade away to nothing. He smiled back with a shrug and said,

"It was just a case. What's your sudden interest in Psychology?" Gappu gave him a look of silent admiration for the comeback. Armaan accepted it just as silently.

"Oh well you're right, I don't care as much." He paused and Armaan congratulated himself for the last win but too soon as Gappu added, "Besides the smile on your face says everything I could possibly care about I guess." Armaan for once in his life had to agree he was losing his touch. He wasn't invincible anymore and ruefully he he accepted defeat.

"What the hell are you both talking about?" Muski asked suspiciously, "Is this some kind of prank?" Before Armaan could think of an answer Gappu said,

"Prank? We don't have all the time in the world to sit and plan pranks Muski ji. We conceed and leave that area of expertise to the master herself." And he gave her a slight mocking bow which left everyone on the table laughing.

I guess I won't kill him after all honey, Armaan thought smiling wide, even blushing, he is after all the one who knocked sense into me, and he possibly is the only one who could have done it. For that I forgive him anything in the world. Gappu looked up and saw Armaan smiling at him. He responded with a wide smile of his own reminding himself to call Chirag again. Which reminded him,

"Armaan..." he said tentatively, "Where is my cell phone?"

Armaan jerked up instantly, his free hand wrapping protectively around the quiet cell in the pocket of his track pants. He had not parted with the object since the call ended, and for the first time in his life he knew he had found an inanimate thing he would not part with for the rest of his life. The cell was special to him after that call, and it would remain so forever now.


"Uh...the cell...it broke..." He said sheepishly, for a second time in less than 10 minutes he felt all the eyes on himself again.

"How?" Armaan swore mentally, Muski should have tried for the FBI, how many questions did she ask?

"I forgot it was in my pocket during the game and when I took a shot it fell down n broke.."

Gappu almost choked at this one. He had never attended a more entertaining meal. Gathering a huge bite onto his fork he stuffed his mouth with it so he would not laugh out loud and spoil the fun.

"But when did you go for the game? I thought you said you overslept?" Armaan rolled his eyes for less than a second, maybe she was an FBI agent, under cover and all and so he had never known?

"Yesterday's game Muski, yesterday morning. The LCD, it cracked, and it fell in a puddle so the chip got damaged as well. The cell is beyond repair, and I forgot to tell Gaurav in the hectic events of the day..."

"And the night..." Gappu added faking a serious look, almost like he was sorry for his cell phone. Armaan clenched the fist around the cell phone in his pocket and nodded briefly before agreeing,

"Yes, the night as well. It just slipped my mind and Gaurav also must have forgotten to ask me for it..." Armaan shot Gappu a warning look to agree and with a playful glint in his eye Gappu complied nodding and stuffing another huge bite into his mouth. This sure was one hell of a meal. He couldn't wait to call Chirag. On second thoughts maybe he would call Ridhima first, if Armaan was being such a clown he couldn't wait to catch Ridzi in a similar state. Grinning anew paln started forming in his head. Hah! This was so much fun!

***********************
Ridhima glared at her screen. Why had she not taken the day off. She could barely keep her eyes open after having stayed up all night thinking about Armaan and herself, and their future. And her mind seeped back into the thoughts of him. He had earned her respect now, if the endless love for him had not been enough, after he had explained to her the last most vital bit. Not that she had needed him to word it for her, she had guessed it right as she had claimed. He told her, and she was not surprised that through that whole fateful night he had weighed his options, typically Armaan she thought with a dreamy smile.

He had realized he had lost Ridhima for good. There was no way he could go back to her and tell her all of what she needed to know if she was ever going to become a part of his family. He had dreaded just the thought of her reaction to knwoing everything about him. Everything. No he had concluded heartbroken so deeply that he thought he would never feel emotions the same way again. She deserved better than him, his complicated messed up life, and an association with the cursed Malik Niwas. There was too much in his past which he would expect her to understand, and even if she did, how would he ever explain this whole new issue. Half of Bengal was murmuring behind his back, and most of Kolkota to his face, about his relation with Lovely. He could make her sit down and hear him out, but could he force her to believe him? Even if she did, was it fair to let her suffer the harassment for no fault of her own. Rahul and Muskaan's relation was still such a vulnerable bond, there was way too much here, he would never be able to rpomise her a happy peaceful life it was not his to promise her. The one thing he could do for her, the only thing, was to leave her alone and let her live in peace. She was a wonderful girl, and even if she felt betrayed she would move on eventually, he never would of course, but he didn't care about that anymore. There was nothing more to lose in life after he would let her go, and so that was that. And then because life seemed so utterly meaningless without her anymore, he decided marrying Lovely was the only reasonable thing to do. That was the least he could do for Rahul anyways.

Her laptop beeped again and Ridhima came out of her thoughts. After a second of staring at nothing she smiled. It was all in the past. Now she would make everything right, theyw ould make everything right. She did not know where this relation was going to head, but as long as she knew he was there, nothing else mattered. Smiling she looked at the laptop, and then she frowned.

She was definitely going to mess up this report here. The dimensions of yet another boring living room for some random Mr. X...did she care? If only she could just get out of the office right now. It was a beautiful snowy day she would love to be out there taking a walk down the Michigan Avenue looking at the stores bustling with people all smiling as they engaged themselves in the holiday shopping. Less than a day ago she had ignored all the happiness around her, gosh how the hell had she been surviving she thought smiling as she remembered Armaan's image on the webcam from the previous mroning. Nothing could deny his macho looks, she thought blushing slightly at her daring thoughts of his bare smooth chest revealing from under the open buttons of the rust brown kurta. She had to tell him how much the color suited him she thought wistfully and then her laptop beeped again. She swore under her breath. If she had not taken half day just yesterday she would shut down the darn office and leave the same second.

The report Ridzi, she reminded herself with a sigh and then as she looked at her laptop she scowled. If her absolute lack of motivation wasn't enough, the laptop had decided to ditch her as well she thought, swearing at it as the menu bar stated 'Document Not Responding' again. Too tired to fight back she folded her hands before the laptop with a soulful look seeking mercy and muttered,

"Dude please, not today...any other time you wish, but not right now..."

And that was what caught Ritu's attention as she was passing by Ridhima's office, her door slightly ajar. Ritu raised an eyebrow at the scene before her. Why did she seem like she was praying to the blissfully unaware machine before her. Love really knocks off senses after all, Ridhima had lost it worse than she had imagined. Giving a sly grin she pushed her head through the slight openeing to her office.


"Ridzi?" She said tentatively trying to look innocently puzzled, "What the hell are you doing?" She almost jumped out of her skin as Ridhima slammed her laptop shut facing up with a crazy look. Ritu didn't know what she wanted to do more, break out laughing or maintain the puzzled look and enjoy the fun. She decided on the latter.

"I hate this job. I want to go home and sleep." she complained. Before Ritu could say something Ridhima continued, "Have I ever blamed you to possess a brain which was the slowest processor ever?"

Ritu really wanted to laugh, instead she said, "Er...no. You've accused a certain Dr. Malik of the same like a billion times over the past 6 years however."

"Well I take my words back. Its my laptop which beats all records to claim that position. Its like they stole some Gothic processor from the dark ages and fit it inside the body of a 21st century Apple Mac." Ritu lowered her head to hide the grin which had erupted despite her efforts to keep it away. Biting her lip she looked up again somehow pulling a straight face and offered sympathy.

"Oh. That doesn't sound good. Is that all?" She said tentatively hoping Ridhima would give her the big news soon, it was hard keeping the excitement inside herself for long.

"Is that all?" Ridhima shot back incredulously. "As if the thoughts of that certain Dr. Malik were not distracting enough, this dam laptop decides to conk off today as well. Hanging up on me every 2 god dam sentences I type, Dam the Apple guys, I'm gona sue them if I get fired, and then I can live the rest of my life comfortably off the cash I win in the law suit without having to type out another god dam report on this dam system again."

"Wow, that sounds like one hell of a dam fun life. Did you ask Dr. Malik if he would approve of it as much?" Ridhima looked up furiously to retort, then closed her mouth narrowing her eyes. The next second she closed her eyes to shut out the image of the smirk on Ritu's face. Dam you Armaan she thought angrily, telling me to keep a secret so we could surprise them only so you could tell them all and have fun while they sit here mocking me making a fool of myself? I'm going to kill you, and that is going to be rather sad since we only just made up. Damn. She opened her eyes simply because she could not keep them closed forever and as Ritu stood there before her with the same smirk Ridhima said,

"Out of my cabin Ritu, NOW" Ritu stood rolling her eyes crossing her arms across her chest indicating no intention of following the order. Instead she said sarcastically, amused herself,

"So you can go back to your Dr. Malik dreaming phase?"

"Ritu get the hell out of here," Ridhima said in a warning voice and Ritu simply clicked her tongue in a no tossing her hair off her shoulder casually in defiance.

Ridhima held her head in her hands pushing back her own lose strands then said ina defeated voice, "Alright what?" Ritu just stared back straight into her eyes.

"Fine," Ridhima said, "He called..." Ritu raised her eyebrows, "And...confessed." Ritu gave a wide smile.Then said in a matter of fact tone,

"I know." Then before Ridhima could react again, she moved quickly to her seat behind the huge desk and pulled her into a bear hug, "Oh Ridzi...I'm so so so happy for you guys." Despite herself Ridhima smiled. Then she returned the hug and thought, Don't even get me started on how happy I am.

*************************
She entered the house humming to herself and Anjali was rather surprised. She looked at Ridhima with narrowed eyes, as the latter remained oblivious of her observation, and concluded she was missing something big here, a development in her sister's life which she had to know. It had been nagging her.

Ridhima had been much more of a first child in her life, and much less of a sibling. With a gap of mere 7 years between her and Gappu, Anjali had found her hands full as a parent and thankfully Atul had accpeted her decision to not have more than one biolgical child of their own. That was Atul, he would understand her so well, she never knew where she would be in life without the friend she had in him. Friend before anything else.

When she had married him many years ago it had been mostly friendship spiced up with romance for her. For him she knew over the years it had always been deep love. She had been taken by his senstivity in the early days of freindship followed by three years of courtship during undergrad. They had tied the knot soon after graduation and Anjali, though she realized her love for him would never match his, had been thankful to have him in her life. At every single step.

She may not love him the way he loved her, but she loved him the most she could love anyone, perhaps that was what she was. She had been the practical one caring and valuing the relations in her life but never crazy in love or obsession. She had had to handle too much, and too early when her parents passed away, and time coupled with circumstances had matured her into a woman of feelings, but not a woman of passion. There were times when she saw that fire in her younger daughter like sister that she felt she may have missed something in life, but everytime she turned around and found Atul standing beside her, and she knew she had missed nothing. She had a family, a home, of people she loved, people who were her life and nothing would change that for her.

The love she received back from her two kids, one real one pseudo, was similar. She meant a world to them they were fond of her and adored her, but the click she saw between the two of them as siblings for far more stronger. She had a mother's heart she realized, when instead of feeling jealous of their bonding she felt happier than ever in knowing that two people who mattered so much to her would always be there to take care of each other, with or without her. And so it had been in the family. Atul's love for Anjali, her reciprocation of what he knew was all of the emtions she had in her, Ridzi and Gappu's crazy bonding for each other, and their adorable love for her and Atul. She had known at many points in her life that what the two of them shared with other was far more than what they shared with Atul or her, and for once over the past week she had felt Gappu's need terribly, as she found herself incapable of understanding completely her younger sister's life.

The call from Vivek popped in her head again. Actually it had not left her at all. Anjali, for the way she was, believed in a stable life. Love mattered, passion was an optional bonus only. She believed if one was happily settled with someone who cared for them enough the love grew in its own sweet time. The moment she had met Vivek the other day, she had seen how well he had handled Ridhima.

It had been obvious that Ridhima had politely accepted his support, only politely so. But that by itslef was tremendous progress. In the last few years Ridhima had shunned away from the mention of relationships like never before. And Anjali's anxiety had grown with every passing day. It wasn't about Ridhima being a girl nor about her 26years of age. It was about her sudden repulsive attitude to ever settling down in life. She had not spoken up in words but Anjali had sensed it and it had made her worry not more often than not.

When Vivek had walked her home Anjali had felt for once that things could indeed fall in place. He had been aware of Ridhima's mere formal acceptance of him, but it had seemed to not bother him much. He had been calm about everything, as if willing to give her the time to grow into ease with him. And in someway that reminded her of Atul's relationship with her.

She had felt an instant high and given Ritu a call about it at the first chance. Before much else had happened Vivek himself had called her last night, a courtsey call he had made it seem, but she could sense the disappointment in his voice to know Ridhima was not home. It had made Anjali happier still and in her effort to help this possible relationship she had invited him for dinner tonight.

And now Ridhima was home. Ridhima. Anjali looked up again to see she had moved to the kitchen already after replacing her coat and snow shoes in the closet at the enterance at their usual spots. Smiling to reassure herself she moved towards the kitchen.

"Go freshen up Ridzi I'll get you your cup of coffee," She quipped moving towards the coffee maker to set it up. She stopped at Ridhima's reply.

"No Di don't. I wont have coffee at this time."

"At this time? Ridhima...sweetie you're saying no to coffee?" Ridhima kicked herself mentally for having made such an obvious exception in her dazed happiness, then sort to rack her brains for a plausible excuse.

"Eh yeh. I decided to cut down on caffeine, you're always telling me to...and I feel bad never listening to you. Besides I wish to sleep tonight."

She gave Anjali a smile she thought seemed innocent enough. It was true, she couldn't wait to crash into her bed tonight she was so extremely tired. But she knew once she was in their her thoughts would go back to him and then...

"Ahem..."

She jerked out of her reverie. The smile had not worked apparently, Anjali may not have known the name of the love of her life, but she had reared Ridhima from the age of two. She did not buy something as fake.

"Ridzi, truth...that's all I want to hear."

Ridhima tried to hide her nervousness and picked up a glass filling it with tap water to occupy her fidgety hands. In between that she added as casually as she could without looking Anjali into her eye.

"Ritu and I took off early today and went out for coffee. I had my evening cup." She turned around to give a sheepish look then added, "I was just trying to act the angel child or pretend so for once. You're right I can never give up coffee." Saying so she gave Anjalia light hug before she could question her more.

"Love you Di," she chirped happily, and Anjali wanted to smile back without thinking, but she couldn't not think there was nothing to know. Something was definitely not the same, and for once she really wanted to know what had changed.

"You seem happy, " She tried again with a smile.

"Hmmm," Ridhima replied, smiling back, then realizing she had to now explain why she was happy she kicked herself mentally again. "Uh yeh, we got a huge project today. Boss was so pleased. That's why we went out for coffee, Ritu and me, just to celebrate."

She patted herself this time, and cursed Armaan for making her lie so shamelessly. The things love was making do. But then she mused, none of this was anywhere close to the 6 long years she had given to her love. For him she would do anything she knew, and he had proved last night that he was worth it all. She smiled again, her dreamy smile and Anjali wished once more that Gappu was here. Oh well she told herself, if she is happy why should I worry. Whether she tells me or not, all I care for is her happiness. I'm thinking too much. As she looked up again she saw Ridhima running up the steps to her room. Slapping her forehead she yelled,

"Ridzi!" Ridhima paused and turned around still smiling. "I invited Vivek over for dinner tonight. He will be here in an hour." Ridhima frowned. Vivek...again?

"How did you invite him Di?"

"On the phone Ridzi what a silly question."

"How did you get his number I meant?"

"I didn't silly. He called. Yesterday. He was asking about you and when I said you're not home he sounded disappointed. So I invited him for dinner tonight. I would have mentioned it yesterday, but you came back and went to bed right awaylast night so..." Ridhima frowned.

"Di please, not again. You know how much I hate..."

"Its not like that Ridzi. I just called him because you guys seemed like friends. You hardly ever invite anyone over, except Ritu and Chirag. And ever since they got married I missed even that. I just called him for dinner." Anjali said as smoothly as she could, but somewhere Ridhima sensed the same uneasiness of not knwoing something which Anjali had felt minutes ago. Nodding for then she went to her room. Anjali smiled to herself before moving to the kitchen.

Locking her door behind her Ridhima threw her things on the bed and sat down on the love seat couch by the door deep in thought. Vivek. Gosh, why did the guy not get her point. And where the hell had he found her number? Ritu? Quickly she dismissed the thought. No, Ridhima had made it clear how much she had disapproved of his moves their first time and she trusted Ritu enough to not have given him her number. She thought more, and then it struck her. How silly Ridhima Gupta, he knows where you live. How hard is it to look up the yellow pages for your number?

The realization deepened her frown. She had to get this straight with him. Explain to him that she was in love with someone else. He may fancy me, she thought, then correcting herself, he does fancy me, but he seemed like a reasonable man. I just have to explain and then it will all be right.

But Anji Di? She sighed again slouching further into the couch. No matter how plausible her excuse had been, Ridhima knew it was another attempt by her sister at match making. And it was time Ridhima decided to call off this game between Anjali and herself. I have to tell her about Armaan. Starting from scratch. I know she will be disappointed that I'm telling her so late, she thought, but she loves me too much, she will understand. Armaan will make her understand too when he...Ridhima paused her thoughts again. Would Anjali understand her love for a man the relationship with whom was anything but predictable? It was not going to be simple for one, possibly very hard.

"I love him," she whispered to herself, "She will have to understand."

With a quiet determination she walked towards her bathroom to shower. Before anything else she had to get Vivek out of this story. It was about her, and Armaan, and her family and his family. Vivek was an outsider, almost an intruder. He had to be shown the way out. Politely but firmly.

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

NJ

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