Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Part 16: Unleashing What Remained Unsaid

This one is mine."

Ridhima said in the voice of a politely jaded host who has been through the ritual of showing guests around the house possibly more times than she had bothered to survey it herself in its entirety otherwise. And then beyond that predominant lack of interest, the moment she opened the door to the last of their destinations, her own bedroom, she felt an inkling of a reluctance kick in at baring something of a private zone before him who had imposed intimacy much more than was permitted by norms to an almost stranger. She suddenly thought of that which had not crossed her mind as every other nook of the house had undergone his inspection receiving subsequent approvals, more often candid than pretentious, his seeming intrepid intrusion. For wouldn't a gentleman, more real, prove the non interference of his intention by declining the offer of entering a lady's bedroom, or in the least offerning some reserve to the same, when he could not boast of knowing even the first things about her?



On an impulse she blocked the narrow crevice she had opened, as her guest betrayed no intention to hesitate accepting her obligatory offer, and hastily scanned her room with a critical eye for any embarassing tell tale proofs of feminity, which were expected to be there, and yet not to be flaunted in display. She saw none, at least not in the quick sweeping glance and as he shifted his foot slightly, perhaps even unintentionally, behind her she rolled her eyes with a streak of annoyance. Obligation however bade her to overcome this as well and she walked into her room with him following her lead.

After some quiet moments, in which she scrutinized her room over again, she turned back to her guest and saw his look intent upon her wall. Gappu had designed the creation, on her sixteenth birthday, with Anjali helping him for substantial parts of it given his age. But the essential idea had been his, to create a wall size collage of pictures from over the years. It had been on the wall overlooking their bunker bed in London where they had shared the room which was solely his after she moved out for college, and after it travelled with them to this new house she had placed her rightful claim on it, he had for once gladly resigned.

Now it adorned the wall facing her full size glass window overlooking the Chicago skyline, the first ray of the dawning sun would hit the top of the chart and by the time Ridhima would wake up it was one gloriously lit world of memories before her, every single morning. She had placed it so, measuring the accurate angles of ray inclinations on the wall for several nights before she had got the collage fixed into a made to order wall size rosewood frame and placed it precisely. It was one of the few moments in her routine which had made her smile despite her gloom every morning for the past 6 years, the very least she had benefited in a personal way from her professional qualifications. Observing now, his awe struck look gave her, at the same time, a pleasurable sense of content for the obvious appreciation and a further dab of irritation at his visible interest in what was not just merely personal but dearly so. What she did not pause to think about, was the fact that anyone other than him observing the wall, or the room itself would perhaps have not been any potential issue in her mind, but he was...somehow...

"Ahem..." she cleared her throat with an intention to distract his attention, for reasons she found unexplained even inside her own mind at the moment. He obeyed her impulse turning around to meet her eye, smiling wide- distinctly impressed?

"That is quite a possession Ridhima, not of mere pictures but the memories they hold..." he started tentatively and somehow she couldn't help but give him an unexpected smile.

"Its quite the way I have wished for the wall to be analyzed Vivek. Its my special start to each day."

Even as she spoke her heart she wondered at the back of her mind why he was the one hearing it from her. But somehow he touched a chord in understanding the eminence of this particular set up. He smiled in understanding and glancing back at the wall, and with no indication of objection from her this time he spoke after some more quiet seconds of observation,

"Does it cover your life as completely as the wall?" Turning around to her raised eye brows he explained, "I mean...is it an essence of everything that matters or ever did?" Ridhima wasn't unsure about his underlying question, she was however taken aback by him having asked it. Promptly, to avoid any confusion yet not be a target to his confrontration she said,

"Its from the day I turned 16. The years of my life preceeding that day is what the wall displays."

His direct gaze did not reveal much to her of what he made of her answer. He remained quiet another couple of seconds, as if in consideration of her response and then said in a tone as carefree as it could sound but the words well thought of.

"Any significant additions thereafter?"

"What do you mean Vivek?" She asked despite a complete understanding of him, or perhaps because of just that.

"I mean Ridhima, without commiting the offense of asking your age, I hope to safely assume there have been a sufficient number of years after your special birthday in which you would have lived moments missing here. Were they significant enough for you to plan a second wall perhaps?" He said it with a light smile of harmless curiosity but the glint in his eye indicated otherwise to Ridhima. She observed, much in his indirect way,

"The number of years have been significant, why would the memories be any less?" with a slight pause she continued, "I have been fortunate to have met some wonderful people, and the most dear among them except my family, have been in the years past this creation." she added the latter with an emphasis and he did not miss it. With a smile, betraying no disappointment she had almost hoped to cause him, he said,

"The fortune Ridhima must have been on most part their own in having known you." he paused then added, "Have you retained the bonds over the years with many among them?"

Part of her wished to snap at him to keep his exceptionally long nose to himself. But the other part of her, the dominant impulsive one, decided contrary to the her better head. She had to give it to him. That which he was asking for. She had decided to anyways, now he was presenting her the chance.

"Yes the best of them have stayed on." With a reckless second thought she added, "Including, the man I love."

The flicker in his eyes was fleeting, but she had maintained an unwavering gaze on his face saying it and the reaction she had hoped for less than a minute ago came her way soon enough. Yes, the disappointment had been evident, even if he did not let it persist in expression. But a new look built on his face, one she could not read and the lack of comprehension made her uneasy.

"The man you love?"

He whispered in a low voice, and although the emotion in it was as impossible for her to read as his face, she felt an instant pang of regret at having been so crude. He had in all humility accepted his feelings for her, and his attempts no less, for a moment now his quiet voice made her reel in self reproach at being ruthless and at what? The fact that his love did not match Armaan's? Or that whatever it was, or could be, she would never give it a chance? Or simply the fact that anyone who expressed their feelings for her simply lost their worth?...Perhaps it was the latter. Had it not always been that? She had rejceted, some with scorn, others gracefully, all the proposals that had ever come her way in a frank admittance. All except Armaan's, the only one who had not only never admitted when she hoped he would, but also made her await, through the prime of her life, his confession, if it was to ever come. This wasn't about Armaan, his reasons, his righteousness. It was about her, she suddenly realized. The human nature of craving that hardest to attain if not utterly unattainable. Perhaps it was the reason she had never moved on after Armaan left her.

"Ridhima?"...She jerked out of her frenzied chain of thoughts, and the shock of it was etched across her face. As the concern on Vivek's face made an impact she hastily tried to compose herself. Turning towards the wall she said,

"There is much to add here, I'm waiting for the right moment." Then turning to him as he waited in silence for her to talk on she continued, "I'm sorry Vivek. Perhaps I considered your interest too causally, or perhaps, in all honesty, I did not give it a thought at all. I should have clarified before that my heart is engaged. Has been so for many years and is devoted to the same man I plan to spend my life with. My family unfortunately is unaware of somethings currently. Like I said, I await the right moment. I hope you will understand me. Its the most I can say or do, even if it seems so trivial."

"Would it be too much to still seek friendship?" She looked at him in partial doubt as he said it, but she knew no way to turn him down on this. He was one hell of a man she had to admit, frank in a way she had possibly known no one to be; it was this precise trait in him that she was compelled to admire, and the very smae which unnerved her. Her doubts had to be temporarily shoved away, as he spoke.

"Friends?" His extended hand cut through the silent musing and she knew, there were many amorphous thoughts in her head which she was ignoring as she gave her hand into his with a nod and a small smile replying in affirmative, "Friends!"

**********************
"Armaan my coach called an hour ago. He thinks its best if I move in with the team at the earliest."

Armaan, at his voice, jerked up from the same sheet of paper he had been staring at for about an hour now, thoughts of her not allowing him to concentrate.

"Gaurav?"

Gappu realized Armaan had missed his spoken words. A while ago he would have found another thing to vex the wits out of him, but after the call he felt a sudden dip in his spirits. The look on his face concealed poorly whatever, if any of the same emotions, and Armaan soon realized he had missed hearing something of consequence. Before he could ask for a repeatition however, Gappu saved him the effort.

"The coach. He called to inform they found me a spot, and that he thought it appropriate that I move in with the team."

"By when?"

"As soon as I can pack my bags and catch a cab he said." Armaan frowned.

"What's the sudden rush? I thought you requested a week long extension. Besides Rahul drops you off for the camp everyday doesn't he?"

"Coach said the camp is for hunting prospective football talent not for socializing with family."

"What the..." Armaan stopped himself from cursing. Gappu shifted his feet on the ground. Taking a deep breath Armaan tried to rethink. Reason rendered him helpless as he looked up to face a dimly expectant Gappu and for once his own expression betrayed him as he saw the flicker of chance of the boy's face fade away.

"I'll go pack my bags," he muttered turning away.

"Gaurav..." he turned back and Armaan signalled him to sit on the vacant rocking chair by his study desk. Gaurav sat down with a heavy sigh bending forward staring at his shoes his hands interlocked.

"What did Minnie say yesterday?" He looked up confused at this sudden topic, then realizing there was no mistake and Armaan indeed had a fair idea of what he was speaking he replied in a low voice, "Nothing much. I apologized. And explained. She got it. Think it was just a mood swing, and I added to the trouble by speaking too far."

"Perhaps..." said Armaan and Gappu noticed his thoughtful voice as he continued, "But it was all true. Every word of it."

Gappu now was definitely puzzled. Why were they discussing this, when all was resolved between Minnie and him, and apparently between Armaan and Massi as well. There was a whole new issue to be taken care of, or was it not as significant for Armaan that Gappu would have to go live in the dorm now. He half sighed thinking of how attached he had become to the family, in just over a week, and how much he would miss them. Perhaps people when they grew more mature did not take farewells as hard? He made a face at himself. Armaan noticed all of his passing expressions, and felt his heart take an equal plunge. But he knew also how much the camp mattered to Gappu, and how technically his coach had been all but unfair. He spoke on.

"Gaurav, you know I've been a certified psychologist for half a dozen years now, an accepted grave intellectual for as many years as I went to school before that, and certainly something of a thinker from the moment I became a life I'd guess, in all modesty." He paused and Gappu frowned clueless of what he was to make of all that he was learning. "But with all due respect to my best sensibilities, I can't believe it took a 19 year old to knock some real sense into my head." He returned a small but genuine smile to Gappu's now blank look. "But it did." He paused and Gappu lowered his eyes to himself in thought. Armaan spoke on a grin creeping to his lips, "Don't curse me for this, but I can't think of a better time for you both to have fought." Gappu gave him a curious look. He had been intending to know what exactly had triggered Armaan's sudden confession. Perhaps it was coming.

"I won't," said Gappu quietly, "But what's the link?"

"It was a snap of a realization. Perhaps all I ever had needed was for someone to wake me up from the nightmare I was living. You did a commendable job."

"How did Chirag not manage it much before? Or even the unexpected encounter with Massi last year?" Armaan shrugged.

"I don't know for certain. Maybe I never gave them enough credit to offer any advice. From you the advice came contrary to my expectations. I've been far too accustomed to resolving problems for others and was doing the same for you I thought; for once I think the process backfired. Perhaps if I had seen you as a potential source of advice I would have shunned away just as much as from the others."

"That's a bizarre compliment but I'll take it I guess." Armaan broke into a smile at that, Gappu remained solemn.

"I bet Ritu was in on the plan. And Minnie?"

"Formally no, neither of them," Gappu said breaking in to a small smile now, "Chirag was the mastermind. Minnie and Ritu Di knew the essentials. But somehow it was me he thought a worthy accomplice."

"He thought well."

"You can't snatch away the credit of a psychiatrist's mind."

"Not after this supreme plotting." Armaan moved to sit down on the floor by Gappu's side resting his back against the wall. "Gaurav, I can keep meandering forever. But I think I'll quit. You've given me what I can't repay with my life."

"You did. The moment you confessed to massi."

"I wish you could stay here longer," Armaan said in a direct voice, no sympathy but the intention still intact.

"I wish I could." Gappu sighed and Armaan suddenly chuckled which made him frown. "What?" he asked Armaan who shook his head lightly smiling wider. "Come on now...WHAT?" Gappu insisted frowning hard. Whatever in the situation could possibly humor him now, gosh he was a hell of a man, Gappu thought to himself.

"I was just wondering," Armaan started finally looking at Gappu still smiling, then he shook his head and Gappu figured he was not going to complete his sentence. He did however speak up. "How come you didn't ask me about your cell again?" Gappu narrowed his eyes at Armaan. Was he for real? How the hell was he thinking of the phone at this moment when they were discussing...stuff.

"Are you trying to distract me away from the gloom?" he asked incredulously finding his voice. Armaan shook his head again, more vigorously this time.

"Oh no, the candy trick for a crying baby doesn't even work on infants anymore. No no no...I was just," he broke out laughing and Gappu rolled his eyes upwards shrugging his hands in resignation. Armaan stopped laughing a couple of moments later. Then he wore a solemn look, but the twinkle in his eye could not be hidden putting a lose arm around Gappu's shoulder he exclaimed, "You're just like Ridhima." Continuing to answer his questioning look he explained, "Let me guess. You were not half as upset about coming all the way to India, leaving your own family, even your girlfriend behind, as you are at this moment to depart from the Malik Niwas, when you will be less than hour away." Gappu frowned for the umpteenth time, but this once it wasn't at Armaan. Unconsciously, in his thoughts, he let the weight of his back rest on Armaan's arm which now gripped him more firmly.

"I wasn't," he concluded after several moments of pondering, "It didn't occur to me quite this way." he completed looking up to face a once again smiling Armaan.

"Pray I don't mention this to Minnie in that case," he quipped and Gappu couldn't help but smile in response.

"What's the trade off for keeping my secret?" he replied playfully.

"Go pack your bags." His smile faltered but he turned away to walk out before seeming a kid anymore. Armaan smiled at the door in thought, then moved towards his desk. Clicking his tongue at the sight of the scattered papers on his desk he muttered, "Later I guess..." leaving them unsorted.

************************
Her eyes followed the car until it turned around the bend standing at the threshold of the main door, then sensing the threat of tears she muttered, "Can you get the gate Rahul?" turning away without acknowledging his nod to her request. He sighed at the door and his eyes met Daadu's who nodded in assurance and followed her inside. Rahul rolled his tongue inside his mouth shaking his head ever so lightly and moved to shut the gate, standing there a few moments in thought, staring at the same bend she had, when Gappu left with Armaan less than a minute ago.

Muskaan heard Daadu's following footsteps and knew it would be worthless to try and make an escape to her room. Instead she moved towards the refrigerator in the kitchen.

"Water Daadu?"

She asked her voice normal, surprisingly, and she felt her throat starting to choke at avoiding the tears. Hastily she grabbed a steel tumbler from the shelf and poured herself a glass of chilled water from the jug. As she gulped it down, she felt the rising emotions subdued.

"When will you give up on this Muski?" she heard her Daadu's quiet question and turned around to face him, much more calm now.

"Give up on what Daadu?"

"Hidding your emotions beta, if you must have me spell it for you. Your tears, most precisely."

"Daadu!" she exclamied in a cheerfully strained voice, "Its nothing like that. I just...I mean I wonder what food they will give him to eat, you know how mess food is. And Rahul and Dada and you and him, you all were getting to be so close, I guess you will all miss Gaurav...I was just thinking that and..."

"And you of course are unlikely to give him a thought while he is gone?" Muskaan turned her eyes away from his.

"It will be one less person to fight with. Sure I'll miss that."

"Muski..." she felt her eyes brim and turned her back to him again.

"I'll get the lunch set Daadu."

"Muski six years is a long time beta. How much longer..." She turned back to hug him and and he patted her back lightly as he felt her cry softly in silence. After several moments she whispered still hugging him,

"I'm sorry Daadu. I try to be strong. Its just...when anyone leaves...I fear its forever..." and she cried a little more. Daadu rubbed her back gently and whispered in response.

"Hush beta. It's not the tears that will make you weak. Its just a baseless insecurity you need to rid yourself from. No one is ever going to leave you."

"No one who matters at least..." They broke from the hug as Rahul who had stood several moments witnessing the scene could no longer remain quiet much as he had wished to keep his presence unknown. "Lunch?" he proposed as a careless afterthought, and then moved towards the dining hall having interrupted when he least wanted to wishing to save her any more awkward moments. It hurt like always. To have been the one who wiped away the most of her tears that had been, and yet to be also the one before whom she was most reluctant to shed anymore, it hurt indeed.

Pouring water into the tumblers which had been set from before, he heard Daadu walk in from behind. Then he felt a hand grip his shoulder and he braved a look back into the old wisened eyes. Reassuring as ever they were, he gave a small smile in response nodding lightly. Yes he would understand. He had shared a life with Muskaan as her best friend before, and they shared another now as soulmates. He had loved her in both the lives; and he could not complain for she had indeed loved him back atleast in the latter even if it had taken her a while to realize the love. But it still hurt him unbearably, everytime she had to pull back. Nonetheless he would understand, did he not always? He loved her so...

The meal was a quiet one- Daadu preferred to not make light conversation in a situation where it was neither needed nor would help; Rahul was trying to think of all pending tasks for the week ahead so he would be distracted long enough to overcome the jab of pain; Muskaan, having sent away the househelp after lunch had been prepared earlier in the day, initially served them both, then joined them for the silent meal, stealing glances at Rahul as he did not look back even once. Stubbornly, trying to not react, she stuffed in spoons full of rice and curry. Kaka and Kaki were out for another puja which would go on until midnight.

***********************
With thoughtful steps he walked towards the kitchen, as Daadu had retired for his afternoon nap after lunch, and Muskaan had moved to the kitchen to put away the essentials. He put the jars of pickles he had carried from the table onto the counter soundlessly. Muskaan, having finished packing enough food for Armaan's lunch in a hot case, put the rest of the leftovers into the refrigerator. Giving a quick look and deciding things were wrapped up for her part she turned around and almost lost her balance as she walked into him.

She had not realized he was right behind her, and he, in walking towards her had not realized she would turn around that second. Reflexively she gripped his arm to maintain her balance then let it go getting steady on her feet and her eyes darted about unable to meet his gaze now that she knew he was finally looking at her. But she looked into his eyes the next moment as he cupped her face lightly into his hands, and the moment after that she burried her face into his chest pulling at his cotton shirt. He was taken aback for under a second, right after which she felt his arms wrapped around her securely.

"Please don't be mad at me..." she mumbled warming the skin of his chest bared by a V-neck tee, not crying this time but her whisper hoarse.

"I'm not honey, I can never be mad at you unless we are both normal you know that."

Inevitably a slight giggle escaped her at his words and he kissed her hair running his fingers through them. She pulled back lightly and looking into his eyes she spoke in the earnest, "I don't want to be this Rahul...I don't want to be weak or helpless or cry ever again...I don't ever want to be scared again."

"There is nothing to fear Muskaan."

"I know..."

"Then accept what you know to be right." She closed her mouth at his interruption and lowered her eyes. He stared at the lowered features of her face, and wished she would just take it all out of her system once and for all and never look back.

"Look at me Muskaan...and talk to me. Please."

"I don't know what to say Rahul." she said in a low hesitant voice.

"Just say what you're thinking. Say what you always think, and never spell. Sweetheart, I am selfish and want you to myself...every bit of you, every single thought. But more than for me do it for yourself. If you let it out you will be able to let it go. Completely." She looked into his eyes and he added, "Trust me..."

"I just don't want to ever be a wreck again." She whispered lowering her head again and he caressed her cheek encouraging her to speak on. "There is this sentimental upheaval I feel everytime I find myself giving in to emotions, specially any which make me tearful. I just...I feel like...like if I cry I will lose myself again and become what I had when..." she paused and Rahul could sense her strain in having to say it, but she had to fight this out herself. He could only be with her and for the first time she was letting him be, not shunning him away for hours in the relapse of a low mood. He sensed hope, and prayed desperately for riddance from the ghost of her past forever.

"When Vivek left me alone forever..." her bitter words in a whisper caught his attention; he narrowed his eyes slightly and at that moment she looked up to find him so. "I don't care for him anymore Rahul," she added in urgent haste and he realized she feared he may misunderstand. Gently pulling her closer he kissed her forehead and mumbled into the lose strands of hair falling over her eyes, "I know honey..." And she closed her eyes sensing his calm seep through her in that touch. Of course he knew, he had always understood her, even before and much more than she understood herself. In quiet resolve she looked back into his eyes and continued,

"Its not him I care for Rahul. But you know how he left me in shambles? You saw me...you brought me out of it and I realized how I had always found in you the man I would spend my life with, while I lived in the ignorance of thinking it was him I loved. I saw your love only after the illusion of him faded away, but never as a replacement to him. Your love...our love...it wasn't my second option, it had always been my first only I never saw it then." She paused and he only stared at her. She rarely confessed her love in words, it was only in gestures and physical proximity that he had sought it for the most by far; And now though he knew he had to hear her out, he was suddenly feeling giddy under the gravity of her words. It was all he could do to stay still.

"You stood by me steadily and at first I thought it was a situational compromise which defined our relation, only I felt too compromised to actually fight back. With time it became apparent that what I felt was more than gratitude towards you, and you had always felt beyond our friendship. I took my time to let it grow, and you gave me all of it. I'm not thankful to you for anything Rahul, because that is not what we share. Its just plain love between us, and its that which has healed me back to myself, as neither sympathy, nor obligation ever could have. But..." She paused again and saw her face clouding, instinctivly he held her hands in his own firmly.

"I just...fear letting emotions grow over me to an extent where I would lose control. I know I won't survive it a second time if I..." He kissed her full on the mouth, gently at first, then passionately as she seeked him, his assurance, and he responded wanting her to believe there was nothing she had to fear. Nothing at all. "I love you Rahul," she breathed onto his lips and opened her eyes slowly to look at him, but he kissed her again wrapping her torso in his arms and pulling her to himself in ardent possession. She responded to his passion and felt her body go limp relaxing in the hold of his embrace. At the back of her mind, a hazy thought floated and she wondered almost sub-consciously what there ever was to fear when she was with the man she loved. "Slowly they broke from the kiss and she rest forehead against his chest breathing heavier onto his skin suddenly tired.

"I love you too honey, I love you too," he whispered into her hair, then pulling her apart lightly he looked into her eyes and said, "Whatever did happen was only a means for us to unite sweetheart," pausing he lifted her in one clean sweep as she lightly gasped shutting her eyes in reaction to his sudden act, "And I will never let go." She opened her eyes and he was smiling at her. Not only was he the man she loved loved, but also the one who loved her back unconditionally more than any other. Thinking so she smiled back at him.

**************************
"Ridhima!" She turned away from him hearing Anjali call out loud and hastily pulled away her hand from his with a slight shrug. He let it go with a smile of understanding.

"The music collection is right there besides the deck, and black book shelf on the left contains only recreational reads, none of my mundane architectural journals. Help yourself to whatever you prefer and I'll be back in a bit."

Saying so she walked out and Vivek looked first at the door then slowly turned around. He let his eyes survey the room from his spot at leisure, taking in every minute detail. The designing of her room vouched for her professional proficiency. A silvery grey formed background score in her room, but while there was a dab of color casually intended in the decor every bit here and there, black most certainly seemed to hold her favor. Her music deck, her book shelf, a bath towel draped over a black leather couch, a black laptop lying on a bed draped in black and greys- it indeed seemed like a pattern. The wall of memories was colorful indeed a contrast to its surrounding greys, and the view from the window running the size of a wall was breath catching, a shimmer of many colors and lights visible upto horizon. But black was unmistakably dominant, even trivial things like her hair brush lying on the dresser was black. He walked towards the book shelf and fingered lightly the spines of the books in the top two rows which were most conveniently reachable. He was not much of a reader a look at the titles may prove of help in knowing her person. A cursory glance however was all he cast before shrugging to turn away as something caught his eye. It was hard to miss, thick as it was a width of about three reasonable size novels combined and on the black colored spine it said in silver 'My Daily Journal'.

After moments of thought, and a seeming debate against his obvious temptation he shrugged off the concerns and extended his hand towards it...

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

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