Friday, 17 May 2019

part 21 : Unleashing What Remained Unsaid



"Ms.'fibb and crib forever' if you're done jading the poor guy to hell, toss over the phone over."

Rolling his sleeves higher to above his elbows, he teased her easily out of habit, even as he concentrated on getting the folds right, expecting a similarly habitual prompt retort;  it did not come. He looked up casually surprised, finishing on his sleeves to take the cordless from her, but his hand never made it. Even in that turned away side look he did not like the hint of what he saw on her face. She had not even heard him, in fact, she was oblivious to his presence in the room, or anything else.



"Da...?" Rahul, stepped forward towards her, the casual part of his surprise fast being replaced by an unknowing concern. "DADA!" The exclaimation was high pitched in anguish, startling him in his steps right behind her now, "DA!....Talk to me Dada...What happened?...Tell m..."



He spun her around, too fast, and snatched the phone out of her grip as she let him in her shock.





"Ammy?"



Her breath shallow with fear, she looked at him, forgetting to resist, her mouth parted for a whole second and then her eyes followed him lower the phone and click the cancel call tab, and raising them back to meet his face, she saw him staring at her queasy in questioning, and she stared back. Hoping he would explain things and put her at ease, she licked her lower lip, weakly, absent mindedly, then she saw it on his face. An expectation for the same from her. Letting out a shivering sigh of rapidly fading hope as she slumped onto the cold marble of the floor...almost. Rahul caught her firmly just in time before she fell, dropping the phone to do so as she shocked him with the sudden lapse. The phone crashed loudly instead. His frown was turning into a deeply etched worry, on account of the unknown and impending.



"Muskaan..." he spoke shaking her, his rising alarm not harming his gentle touch, but she remained lost her eyes distracted and blank. "MUSKAAN!" he spoke louder than he ever would have, but she was freaking him out, and releasing one hand from around her, he tipped her chin, not completely gentle this time to make her face him. "What happened?" He stated emphasizing his words in a held back calm. "Tell me."



"Ra...Rahul..." she started, and her eyes started to fill up as she swallowed nervously to not gasp from the choking she felt in her throat, and her eyes darted aimlessly like a rabbit frightened out of its hole. He tightened his arm around her waist and she slumped further into the grip as if on cue, her knees weak and unsuportive as the name echoed in her mind, loud and harsh. Rahul noticed the paling expressions of her face and patted her cheek, more for his own assurance.



"He..." she started again then turned suddenly in his arm and bent abruptly to pick up the phone which had scattered open. "Dada, " she said pointing to it with a hysteric urgency, as her eyes brimmed to a haziness now, "I was talking to him..." she paused to suck deep and Rahul sensed her trouble in breathing in the stiffening muscles of her back against his hold. Fighting to keep his calm he caressed her back in soothing strokes without a word,



"And then...he said...he..." She let the phone slip out of her hand, as suddenly as she had picked it up, and it crashed a second time, even louder. But it went unnoticed, cause she was now gasping visibly, to the extent of hyperventilating as tears flowed down her cheeks freely and she frantically tried to talk but couldn't.



"MUSKAAN..." Rahul held her together from her shoulders shaking her in his own desperation now and saw her raise a shaking hand to her temple in a feeble attempt to push her hair back when her eyes fluttered to shut and then did. In less then a second he felt her go limp in his grip and he had no account of what kept him strong enough to not drop her in the shock of the moment. Instead, he lifted her off her feet, swiftly yet with utmost caution and placed her on the bed, before picking up the detachable pieces of the cordless with shaky hands, commanding himself mentally to calm down, fixing the set to its working condition he clutched it with a hard hand to steady his hold, and his nerves as he dialed a number.



"Dr. Bannerjee?! Hello auntie! This is Rahul Grewal. Muski...she fainted... a minute ago...just like that in my...uh....you will? Alright...I'll be there in 15." Still speaking he rushed out of the room, with a last look of despair at her unconscious form from the door before he went to Daadu's room.



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

It was a second, a long one, of stillness, as the word he had spoken echoed into his mind which was suddenly devoid of everything else, hollow hence, and the sight of that face before him matched the conclusion, every piece fell into place. And then everything happened fast. Too fast in fact, in a close blur for her, as Ridhima struggled to keep her balance when Vivek with his unrealistically quick turn around knocked her half off her feet and before she knew that he had dashed out of the place; then she felt herself roughly shoved away from the door as Armaan moved past her.



"AAHHH!"



She yelled and he felt a tug pulling him back. Without an understanding of anything except what occupied his only and most immediate thoughts he turned to face her, and her face agonized as she pulled the long, lose strands of her hair stretched in pain. With an impatience that made him unsteady, in action and thought, he saw they were stuck to the hook of his kurta neck. There was understanding of facts, and yet far too distant for him to pay attention to it, in a hasty reflex as his blood raced his raging mind, and his head felt like a battlefield with the face he had just seen, of the man who was escaping him...once again...he tugged roughly at her hair.



"AAH! Armaaan," she whined in inevitable physical pain but no less from his insensitivity towards it, she didn't know how to believe the agitation on his face. "Armaan what..."



But he was out of the door before she could speak another word, she glanced at her released tousled strands, then just in time back up to watch his retreating back as he dashed out of sight. She stared. And stood just so for several seconds ticking away. Unable to believe what she had just seen, then believing it forcibly and unable to make sense of it. Any at all.



At an overwhelming sense of discomfort, physical, she realized she was holding onto her breath, and forced herself to resume with the routine body act as she lowered her eyes, swallowing hard to bring feeling to her momentarily parched throat, and she saw a bunch of roses, yellow and pink and one red, her mind registered the minute details while her eyes observed the obvious- they had been dropped, abandoned, run and trampled over, ruthlessly. Running her fingers through the messed part of her hair she winced silently at the tug on the tousled knot in them, then sort it out without concentrating on them really. Her eyes continued to stare at the flowers, in her mind the last image of his face, seconds ago was like an indelible stamp. Armaan had looked...the most she could think or maybe never could have thought, unlike himself.



Slowly, only to get out of the stillness which was starting to numb her, she lowered herself to lift the bunch of fresh flowers. They had been long dead before this moment, but she was almost certain she could feel the pain they were in, or maybe it was a stab of pain which was piercing her instead.



"Armaan..." she whispered inaudibly to no one and nothing around and her hands, unknown to her, shook as she collected the scattered stalks.



"Ridzi!" she did not hear her name being called, not even when it was repeated two more times, the last one of the calls was from right behind her. Not until Chirag stood there, before her, facing her, and she saw the vibrant smile on his face fading into a slowly forming frown.



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

Vivek ran like a pro, a track sprinter making the run of his life, only it was going to be way more than 100 metres here, or even 4 times that. Within seconds he had turned around the bend of the street which was a part of her address. He did not try to look back, but his instinct told him Armaan was not there yet. Faster than all the physical pace he was mustering up however, was the pace of his mind which ran wild at the speculation of what had just happened, and he dared not lax a moment in disbelief at what had resulted from all that he had intended to make a wonderful surprise for Ridhima.



For every bit of it had to be true, it was suddenly falling in place. Her nephew in Kolkota, the man she claimed to love, the phone call and the voice on it which had left him unsettled for its familiarity. It had been Armaan- his family that the boy had stayed with, him the man she loved, and his voice that he Vivek had heard on the phone. That husky unmistakable baritone, how had he missed it, he thought now, in a bitter tweak of venegence. He increased his speed with a fresh bout of energy to make it to the next turn the approximate distance of a block away.



For that inkling of moment where the emotions within him wished to get the better of him he wanted to stop, turn around and meet the guy he had to settle scores with. But he knew the real issue was much bigger, and somewhere logic did not completely desert him, keeping him aware of what his position was like right now.



Officially an illegal immigrant, he was still a dubious identity and the last thing he needed to deal with was an investigation which would force him to either abandon the life he was currently leading and make another escape, or to be deported back to his native land, where the governtment was still, technically, completely capable of punishing him for more than one fradulent act. He could actually live under cover there, India was going to be an easy place in terms of living a free man's life even despite an obvious dark history. But he knew better than to assume that, with the Maliks there, and his own brother. Once more, he swallowed at the bitter pang of vengence.



No it was a risk he couldn't take. He had to leave Chicago, and get back to Mexico. Once he crossed the border he could manipulate things his way, and they wouldn't know where to look for him.



At the threshold of this next bend he turned over his shoulder for a quick look and rushed into the new street, before it struck him- Armaan had just turned into the street he had left. Yes it had been him. Did he see me, he thought, a inevitable fear gripping his mind as he willed his limbs to run faster pushing every other thought back for later consideration. One more block and he would be in a centrally located downtown area where he could mingle in the crowd easily, hail a cab to O'Hare and leave the country for good. He cursed the heavy winter clothing, forgetting to be thankful for the cover he was gaining with the onset of twilight's dusky darkness, as the downtown began to glimmer into another night of being Chicago.



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

"Ridhima..." he spoke tentatively, the look on her face was anything but happy, but what was it. Then he saw the flowers in her hands and her own eyes lowered to them as he looked at them in question.



"Armaan..." He started to ask if this had been a part of the proposal unknown to him but Ridhima shook her head before he could complete. "He just...ran away." She said, wihtout realizing how absurd her words sounded. Bizzare in fact, to him at least, as he repeated them with a height of uncertainity inside him and in his voice,



"Ran away?" She nodded her head lowered to the flowers she was still staring at in lack of belief. "Why...where?" he continued, baffled more than ever as she shook her head again, absent mindedly. In rising impatience he held her shoulders lightly and made her look up at him.



"I don't know, "she explained, but it made no greater sense than it could.



"What don't you know? Where did he 'run away' Ridzi? And these flowers?" He said in a barely maintained calm.



"I don't know where he ran away. And Vivek got the flowers." she answered mechnically while trying to sort out her own confusion, in which, she failed to notice the sudden change of his expression as his eyes widened. Then he spoke, after a pause of several seconds, startling Ridhima out of her unobserving daze,



"VIVEK?" She nodded to him, wondering if she was suddenly feeling intimidated by the whole crazy turnout of events in the past couple of minutes. "Vivek Khanna?" he asked again, lowering his voice to a sudden whisper, and she nodded again, frowning in complete attention to him now.



"Why?" she asked him, speaking her rare words.



"Oh my god!" Chirag muttered in a self audible tone but Ridhima caught his words and clutched his arm to catch his attention.



"What? Tell me Chirag."



"What was Vivek doing here? Tonight? No...What is Vivek doing in your life Ridhima?" He said, and his array of questions puzzled her more.



"I don't know. I mean, " she added at his sharp incredulous look, "I mean...I didn't invite him. We didn't invite him. I don't know why he was here. And...he is not in my life. What the hell do you mean Chirag?" she said suddenly angry about the confusion that was not being explained to her. Chirag let out a restless sigh running a hand through his hair.



"Vivek Khanna," Chirag started, "I forgot to tell Ammy about him."



"What about him Chirag." Ridhima asked agitated, "Are you going to explain anything to me? Or do you plan to run out on me like your best friend?" Chirag paid attention to her at her last words and nodded in aprtial guilt, for no reason.



"I don't think Armaan likes him much Ridhima. I mean...he told me once Muskaan loved him but she is married to...Rahul. Which is strange, its not like Armaan to have not let her marry the man she loved but..."



"Oh my god!" Ridhima interrupted him with a sudden frantic gasp. "Its him. Its him, the guy Muskaan loved. Oh god..."



Chirag stared at her trying to make more sense of her mumbling but he couldn't. She suddenly seemed like all her confusion was gone. It did nothing however, to cure her of the worry on her face, it grew much more grave in fact, if that had been possible to start with. And then she leaned back against the frame of the door seeking support and Chirag watched her aggressively push her hair back as she bit her lower lip.



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

Rahul paced outside the door shut upon him, beyond which their family doctor was doing her job. Muskaan had not regained consciousness in the 20 minutes during which he had rushed to inform Daadu the broken details which linked in no way to make sense to either of them, before rushing back to carry her to the car and drive to the clinic which was a 15 minutes drive in reasonable traffic. It had been reasonable today, and for that rahul would have been thankful if he had thought about it in that way. Only, his mind to was preoccupied only with worry for her; so much that the whole issue which had lead to her sudden strange behavior was forgotten for the moment.



The moment he saw the gracefully greying lady step out of the room he realized how the fact that she was clad in her green scrubs offered him no more solace than her words had before she had entered that room where he was not allowed. He rushed to her clicking his knuckles relentlessly in his worry. Before he could ask her the obvious however, she spoke up.



"To my cabin Mr. Grewal. And don't worry, your wife is asleep, there is nothing to worry about. Now."



He had almost allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief, but it stuck half way up his throat at her last, quietly added word. Now? Then he realized she had not addressed him by his first name. It was, like everything else had been until then, no more solace than before.



Visibly fidgety he sat on the seat facing her across her grand display of desk, she was a senior doctor at the local hospital, and one of significant repute and stature, an apt family doctor for a name like the Maliks and Grewals hence.



"She is sleeping from the effect of the anaethesia currently, with a light fever, but thats normal. I expect her to wake up in a few hours time. Were you aware of her condition Mr. Grewal?" He narrowed his eyes rendered wordless for an instant at her question.



"Well she...she just got nervous and worked up...and..."



"Rahul, " she interrupted him with a sigh, looking into his eyes intentionally without blinking. "Muskaan just suffered an early miscarriage."



He was silent was several long moments,and then as the truth sunk in, so did he, deeper back into his seat, suddenly exhausted. "She was..." he left the whispered words in the air, clearing any doubt she had about his complete ignorance of the fact.



"Pregnant," she completed the sentence for him when it was obvious he would not. "Yes. Roughly three weeks." He ran a helpless hand through his hair trying to believe facts, and then shove away the bitter unfair part of them. The old lady watched his change of expressions with a kind sadness. She had been linked with the family long enough to have known the kids, they had grown up before her own eyes. And she had been there with them, when some years ago, Muskaan had suffered from severe depression. She had seen her suffer and then recover, but not the reasons behind either, for she believed what she knew was not all of the facts she had to know but she had let it be as the family wanted. She had seen however, with passing time, the wonderful warm relationship the two of them had shared as a couple; and now she wished things at the moment were not what they were.



"Are you sure?" She heard him word a coherent sentence at last, even though his voice was low and coarse.



"I am Rahul. She was in her early pregnancy and..."



"No. I mean...about her...about her losing...the...baby." He forced the words out loud at last. The baby. It twisted his heart, to want to call it his baby, their baby...but what was the point. "How?" he said looking up at her, physically and mentally distraught.



"The symptoms indicate a condition of maternal trauma," she said cautiously, trying to read his reaction, and he shut his eyes sinking back into the chair and running his hand through his hair, roughly. When he sat back up straight and looked at her in resignation she spoke again, "What happened Rahul?" He shook his lowered head, slowly, more to himself, then whispered, mostly to himself again,



"I don't know..." looking back up at her, "I don't know Auntie. She was talking to Ammy on the phone. He's in Chicago at the moment," he added to her questioning look, "And when I walked into the room...she was just...a wreck...yelling into the phone but the call was cut and..." Abruptly he rubbed his hands hard over his face, then looking at her he concluded, "I don't know. I forgot all about it and haven't called back Ammy...yet." Neither has he. He left the latter of the thought unworded. Why had Armaan not called back, he suddenly wondered, and a new worry started to shape in his mind, which was a burden his overwrought nerves threatened to not handle. He forced himself to stop thinking about it for then.



"Auntie," he addressed her instead, and she saw the first streak of control in his eyes, "Does she know?" The old lady took a moment to understand his question and shook her head.



"In my opinion she was completely unaware of it, and she still doesn't know she has undergone a surgery. Rahul gulped, to hold himself together at the thought again.



"Can you tell her something else, I mean, can you...not tell her about...the baby?" The pain he was trying to shove away hit with a double impact, at the words again. She considered him for a long moment then spoke,



"She needs to know it." he started to implore in protest but she raised her hand to stop him, "I won't tell her, if you will instead. But she has to know. Because this is likely to cause some complication in her future pregnancies." Rahul widened his eyes at this new information. "Oh..." was all he could say, then nodding his head slowly he said, "I will tell her. In time. Please don't let her know anything at the moment." She nodded in response and got up from her seat indicating the end of conversation, but Rahul remained oblivious and seated still. She sighed to herself, this was the harsh side of her profession, and even though they were trained to mask it all, it was just as disheartening every single time. Walking up to stand by his side she gently pat his shoulder giving it a light squeeze.



"It's going to be fine Rahul. She is a fighter, we have all long known it."



He smirked in gloom at her words and their dual meaning, fighting the welling in his throat, then looked up into her eyes which were not a doctor's but a mother's, impulsively he got up to give her a hug. She let him, patting his back, just like a mother. She was almost one to him, she had been an intern assisting the senior doctor who had delivered him less than two and half decades ago, the second person in the world to hold him after the main surgeon. It also happened to be the first case of gynae department she had been assigned and the first baby she had seen, covered in blood, and wailing loud, unimaginably tiny. And as she felt him break down silently on her shoulder now, she knew only before a mother perhaps, would his kind of a yound man, ever cry the way he did just then.



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

Ridhima paced the floor of the deserted living room slowing down to almost zero speed at moments and others it was a frantic pace. Intermittently, she had gotten dizzy from this only form of action she had indulged in for over a couple of hours. The worry was weighing upon her mind like a burden ever increasing with every second that ticked away, exhausting her unbearably in seconds during which she jabbed hastily, clumsily into her cell to dial his number for another 'nth' time to hear his voicemail without a single ring again; in other moments she felt an intolerable fear of where he was and all the ways in which things could go wrong.



She had always been a woman of will, even in the most depressing moments of her life, but tonight, she could not force herself to focus on why and how everything would be alright. He will be fine, she told herself every little while, nothing can happen to him, but if...and a chain of all the possibilities, not one of which was good, would follow thereon, the list growing longer with each time her mind meandered into that territory she was incapable of shutting herself out of.



Slumping onto the couch now, tired again, as her knees felt weak from the constant pacing, she sat biting onto the nails of her left, shaky hand, running the other just as unsteady hand through her hair which were a mess she had made unknowingly.



Vivek was that guy, she had ruminated over the thought more than she possibly could or should have. He was the guy who had, in most factors, runied everything for the Maliks, for Muskaan, for Armaan, and consequently, for her. She glanced at the grandfather clock on the wall facing her one more time trying to calm her nerves by concentrating on the second hand as it ticked away, but her mind could not not think of him.



"Armaan," she whispered his name in a half cry but swallowed hard. She was not going to cry, because NOTHING HAD HAPPENED TO HIM, she reminded herself again. And she got up abruptly, to pace the floor between the couches, around the low glass top, centre coffee table.



"DI!" she screamed startled out of several beats of her heart, and Anjali seemed just as flustered, not having intended to scare her at all.



"I'm sorry Ridzi," she said quickly, then pulling her down to sit on the couch she sat kneeling on her knees before her and spoke before Ridhima could, "Tell me Ridhima, please. What is wrong? Armaan just disappeared, and you've been freaked out ever since, you wont let us talk or explain anything yourself. Everyone has gone back home now as you wanted them to, and the rest of them are in bed." Anjali paused at the latter lie, almost relieved at not being brushed off by her sister as she had been in the past hours of her overwhelming stress. "Please tell me Ridhima, what is wrong?"



Her last words, insistent and louder than a mere whisper were all Ridhima heard, oblivious to whatever she had said before that, and she snapped shaking lightly all over her body, "Di please. There is nothing to talk about. I'm just waiting for Armaan. He is going to be back any second now. He has to come back...to me." Ridhima paused at the choking in her throat and shut her eyes tightly for a couple of seconds then opened them and said as calmly as she could manage, which was mostly a redundant effort, "Please Di. Go and sleep. I want to alone...till he returns."



And she got up to walk to the kitchen for a glass of cold water. Anjali watched her helplessly, and sighed in resignation. She was as clueless as everyone had been, no one except Ridhima seemed to know anything. Armaan could be the other one, but then he was the one who had suddenly gone missing, and then everything about the right evening had become wrong. She would worry for him, if she could stop the maternal instinct inside her from feeling inevitably and increasingly furious at him. Where the hell was he leaving everything so complicated and unexplained, most importantly, leaving Ridhima in the state she currently was.



Shubhankar and Keerti had been as troubled and unaware as she or Atul were, they knew nothing, Ritu had tried hard to talk to Ridhima but she had told both Chirag and her to leave right away and go back home. Ritu would have argued, and not agreed, but Chirag, who had been frowning in an unusual silence all that while had agreed with Ridhima, hugging her before taking Ritu away, and she, Anjali, was certain he had said something to her which she could not hear and Chirag did not elaborate upon. More words of comfort, she had assumed and let it go. But over two hours had passed now, and nothing was changing, Armaan had not come back, Ridhima was getting worse than ever, Atul was doing what Ridhima was, except on a floor higher, in their own bedroom, pacing the floor endlessly and wordlessly. Anjali looked upwards pushing her hair back and saw a dark shadow leaning against the railing of the stairs at the top of the flight.



Gappu. Ridhima had not even talked to him. Anjali looked towards the dark kitchen with a narrow stream on light slanting across the floor into the family room, from the refrigerator she guessed. Sighing she decided to go up and talk to Gappu instead because she could think of nothing else, any better. Gappu looked at her, as the first step at the bottom creaked under her feet and tried to turn away to walk to his room but she motioned for him to stay silently and he did. When she reached the top she tugged him into a half hold and together they walked to his room.



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



NJ

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