Monday, 30 December 2019

part 10 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 10 . Yes, I am happy now!

Hyderabad.

I felt good to be back here. As soon as we got into a cab, I closed my eyes and breathed in, my heart's full. I always felt glad to be here, as it was the world I, myself, had built for me. But this time, for once, it gave me a sense of comfort. Now that I was here, I felt as if I had been suffocating for the last dozen of hours at Bangalore. It was weird the way in which the place which soothed away all my worries was the reason for my suffocation. Just because of one particular decision.

During the journey in flight, somehow, Riddhima invaded my thoughts to the fullest. As much as I tried, I couldn't wipe out that one last look she gave me. There was something in her eyes. And that particular something left me disturbed.

Even the ride back to our flat, the company had provided us, was refreshing. The weather was just like I had anticipated, not so chill and not so warm, when our flight had landed. This place was always close to my heart, for it gave me support when I had been in a mess after dad's demise. And I hoped it provides me the same now.



The moment we stepped in our flat, we gasped out aloud simultaneously. It was a mess; a complete garbage. Ofcourse why wouldn't it be? We had left it that way. The entire evening flew out in our attempt to make the place worth living. After a vigorous session of cleaning for three hours, we were able to clear the dust off the living room. Not having any strength left to clean our bedrooms, we just slumped our sore bodies on the floor in the living room and drifted off to sleep, conveniently forgetting the fact that we didn't had dinner.

The next day, Rahul and I were back at work. And I had never felt this happy being back at the company. Like expected Ankit was on cloud 9 the moment we logged in.

"My boys, you are back!!!" He exclaimed spotting us at the canteen in the morning. He pulled us into rib crashing hugs.

"Yeah we had been dying to be back." Rahul muttered in a voice high enough to be audible. I chuckled at his face. Thought not very pleased, I was a bit happy to be back to Hyderabad. "Seriously Ankit, you didn't keep your words of granting us leave. So after the completion of the project, we are heading back to Bangalore to finish our left over vacation." He added.

"Yeah Yeah. We'll see to it." Ankit added. And by that words of his I knew the status of our future leave application. He dragged us along with both his arms around our shoulders. Ankit was almost a fatherly figure for us at the company. He played a pivotal role in helping me out of my sorrow when I had joined the company. Apart from being the Zonal head he was also the legal advisor of the company.

The rest of the day went in a flash with Ankit introducing us our new clients and the team members. For once, I was able to push Riddhima to the back of my mind. That's the way I am. When at work, nothing would bother me.

Finally to my relief, our new project kept me occupied during the day. But in the evening, I was back to my stupid thought process. And the weekends we absolute horror, whenever Rahul and I went for shopping. At the sight of any tall and lean girl, I would find myself thinking about Riddhima. Or sometimes, I would just stand and stare at the military shorts in a mall. Even the color black didn't appeal to me somehow for it reminded me of Riddhima in black saree.

The more I tried avoiding Riddhima in my thoughts, the more she came closer.

And somehow after a couple of weeks I let myself think about Riddhima, hoping it would help. But in vain. My mind was never tired even after thinking about the same thing again and again. I found myself asking why I had been thinking about her, very well aware of the fact that she was married. The reason was something I couldn't comprehend.

I was sure of two things. One- that I didn't want to think about her. Two- that I couldn't stop myself from thinking about her.

Do those two things make any sense? They don't; atleast for me.

And so I had been thinking until days gave away to weeks and weeks to months.

During these days, neither did I call her nor did she call me. There was absolutely no communication between Riddhima and me. Sometimes when I called mom, or vice versa, my heart used to race faster when I heard her voice in the back drop. But never did I amass my strength to speak to her. The reason being I didn't know what to speak to her.

Sometimes I found myself staring into space as if counting the molecules in air. I was sure of one thing though amidst the mess. Something was eating me up, preventing me from staying happy. I wasn't comfortable staying at Bangalore for the last 24 hours and I almost ran away from there. And now, I didn't want to stay at Hyderabad. Maybe I was going insane!

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"Hey Armaan, done with the planning of Induction Program for the hires?" Rahul asked me as I stared at my laptop. "Induction Program?" He repeated once again, sighing exasperated when I looked at me perplexed.

"Oh yeah, I am done with that. Will mail you in a minute." I told him as he sat infront of me in my cabin.

"Fine. He said after a moment. "I'll deal with that. Sign these welcome letters and dispatch them to the mailing section." He added and pushed forward few letters.

"Oye wait!" I shouted, stopping him, immediately when he got up to leave. "What are these?" I asked him pointing to the letters.

"Welcome letters." He said the obvious. "To the campuses we have visited for extending offers."

"Oh okay." I nodded at him.

When he left, I picked up the letters and read. They were the letters of appreciation we mail to the Placement offices of the B-Schools for their support and cooperation. Also including were the final list of the students offered the position in our company, welcoming them officially to the company. It was a routine process every year. So I overlooked the matter and set about signing a couple of dozens of letters.

All of a sudden, our college emblem caught my attention among one of the letters. I stopped signing and pulled the letter out. Immediately my eyes darted down to the list of students until my eyes caught my target. Just as I glanced at that name, all the weird feelings I had been experiencing came back to me in a rush. I moved my eyes to the columns beside her name.

The details were the usual ones, the first one being her of specialization of study. Next it had her date of birth. She was three years younger to me as per that. The next being her contact number. Looking at it closely, I realized it was mom's mobile number. I recalled mom telling me that she didn't have a mobile. The next column made my heart race faster. It was the details of her guardian. And proudly printed was my name there. - Mr. Armaan Mallik, g/o Ms. Riddhima.

I sighed heavily leaning back on my chair. As I closed my eyes that days' events flashed infront of my closed eyes. God! She was so delicate that day crying in my arms. That moment I just wanted to shield her away from all the sorrows of her past. It felt good holding her close to me. And then the tables had turned the other day, with her being my support at the hospital. Not even mom nor Rahul had understood my plight that day! She just held me as if I was a little child. There was this emotional connection between us that I couldn't dismiss. And then came the biggest blow. She was married? I mean like really married? That was one thing I couldn't digest.

As that thought crossed my mind, I stared at the paper infront of me in shock! Why was the column of her guardian filled with my name? If she was married, wasn't it supposed to be the place of her husband or even her in-laws in the worst case? My eyes moved back to the first column in haste.

Ms. Riddhima. Just Ms. Riddhima? Why just Riddhima? This particular question never crossed my mind once. Or maybe I was too drowned in myself that I didn't pay attention to this.

Now coming back to the point, if she was married, where is her husband, her in-laws and why was she living in my house? If her husband was deceased, then she would have her in-laws to take care of her. If she was divorced, she would have the alimony with her. But going by Muski's words that she was studying with scholarship, none of them made sense.

These random thoughts made my head spin, making me frustrated. I looked at the watch which said 4.30 pm. I still had 2 hours before I could step out of the office. But I didn't have anything in me to bear another two hours of confusion. So I pulled out a paper and scribbled on the sheet in a writing that one could barely make sense of it, determined to put an end to the never ending confusion in my mind.

I barged into Ankit's cabin and put forward the sheet of paper. "Rahul's and my application for half day leave." I told him before leaving his cabin.

I made my way towards Rahul's cabin. He was in a discussion with his assistants. "Sorry guys, excuse him for today." I told them and pulled him out of the cabin while everyone including Rahul stared at me bewildered.

"Oye Armaan. Where are you dragging me to?" I heard Rahul's protests but ignored them. "Saale, leave me." I attracted the confused looks of many of our colleagues but didn't bother myself with them.

"What the hell happened to you? Did to go completely mad?" Rahul yelled at me when I tugged him along with me to our bikes in the parking area. "I am not going home now. I have to comp-"

"I want to talk to you about Riddhima." I told him when he didn't appear like he would make a move until I opened my mouth. "I submitted our half-day leave application to Ankit. Now will you drive?"

That shut him up. He stared at me for a moment before he sat on his bike and we drove back home.

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"Beer?" Rahul offered me a tin of Beer when we sat in the sofa in the living room. I took the tin glad that he had brought it. It was a usual habit of ours. We would always discuss something serious with a couple of tins of beer. "So?" He raised his brow at me when I didn't speak anything.

"Rahul, did mom speak to you before we left Bangalore?" I asked him straight away.

"Yes I spoke to her the evening before we left." He said casually.

"Did she say anything about Riddhima?" I probed further.

"Why do you want to know now?" He questioned me back. "That day when aunty wanted to speak to you, you just shut yourself in your room." He added, his tone accusing me.

I sighed closing my eyes. "I know I acted like a stupid that day. I was too shocked to make sense of everything that happened." I admitted. "What did she say about Riddhima?" I asked once again.

"Not a stupid Armaan, your behavior was childish." He said, his voice depicting his frustration clearly. "Tell me one thing, why do you always run away when you are in such situations? I accept you were shocked. But you could have sat with aunty and talked to her about why she took that decision. And then Riddhima, why didn't you speak to her once before leaving? Even when she came to the airport, you didn't try to understand her." He was irritated with me then. I was sure of that. "Why do you want to think about Riddhima now?"

"I don't know Rahul. I don't understand why I had been thinking about her. It's just that I couldn't forget that look on her face when I left her in the airport." I replied equally frustrated. "Not only me Rahul, Riddhima's behavior was also weird." I added in a small voice.

He looked at me, narrowing his eyes. "Okay fine! Tell me what mom told you about Riddhima?" I tried once again.

"Can you be specific?" He asked me. "About what you want to of her?" I wish I could kick him for doing this to me. Couldn't he just answer to my question?

"About Riddhima's past, you know." I said, not quite comfortable under his gaze. But then he appeared as if he wasn't satisfied with my way of framing my specification. "Fine! I want to know about Riddhima's husband. Where was he and why was she living with mom if she was married?" I asked frustrated.

"Why do you want to know that?" He asked, his posture cool, sipping his beer.

"Please Rahul. Tell na." I almost begged him. He choked on his beer as the words left my throat. It was usually rare that I plead him to this extent for anything. But that didn't work either.

"Okay!" I took a full breath. "I am attracted to Riddhima, Rahul. I am sure of that. I keep thinking about her whenever I am free. And I feel bad. I guess I regret my decision." I spoke, telling him my feelings for the first time. But the realization shocked myself as much as it did to him. "Before I think further, I want to know few things about her."

"Finally, after three months, you realized that?" He said smiling.

"Saale, now tell me." I threw the news paper at his face when I found him smirking at me. But then, he sat straight, his face serious once again.

"Aunty told me that Riddhima was married by a guy four years ago." Rahul said slowly reading my expression. "Aunty said that the guy had loved Riddhima and married her against their parent's wish."

"Oh!" That was all I managed to say. "Then what happened?"

"I just know that after two months that guy abandoned Riddhima, as he was pressurized by his parents. He never tried to reach her since then." He said looking sober.

"What? How could he leave her just like that?" I asked already angry at that guy.

"May be he came to know something about her past." He shrugged his shoulders. "Just like you left her midway." He added.

But his words stabbed me somewhere. I couldn't bear that comparison. May be I was similar to some point, but I would never do something like that. But I did leave her side abruptly, didn't I?

"I am sorry, I didn't mean it that way. " Rahul apologized immediately. "Then Riddhima went into depression for an year. When she was out of that, she studied for CAT and got into the college." He concluded and looked at me.

But I couldn't speak anything.

He continued. "Riddhima's behavior was never weird Armaan. I am not sure, but I felt she had some feelings for you." My heart somersaulted at his words. "She was just waiting for assurance from you."

"But she, herself, told that she didn't want to get married to me." I tried to argue.

"Check it out Armaan. That day, she never told that she didn't want to marry you. She just said that you wouldn't want to marry her. " He pointed it out. "And you just proved her right."

That was true, she always repeated that I wouldn't want to marry her. But I didn't give it a thought. Now that Rahul pointed it out, I felt what Rahul said might have been true. And my heat fluttered at that thought she might have feelings towards me. I felt strangely happy.

"Armaan, for the last couple of months, you have been saying that her eyes had been different that day when she came to the airport." He recalled my words. "Don't you think her eyes had been pleading for one chance from you then?" He asked looking straight into my eyes.

That left me dumb folded. It was true her eyes had been intense with some emotion. But had she been asking for a chance? The way she held me tight, as if she didn't want to let me go. It explains that. Had she been scared of letting me go when she said that she was scared? And then she asked me if I would come back. To her? That might be the reason she came running to the airport in tears.

Oh my God! I held my breath. All the while she had been pleading me not to go. As my mind processed everything, I found myself asking the same question. Why doesn't she say it?

"Rahul, how could you understand Riddhima so well?" I asked him amidst my realizations.

He just smiled. "May be because we belong to the same world; being orphans where we come across love which is only conditional. I have the same fears and insecurities in me that she probably might be facing." He said, his voice depicting pain. "You always said that I deserve happiness just like you. If I do then so does Riddhima." He added. "It is up to you which happiness you want to give her. Conditional or unconditional."

Rahul left the room, leaving me in a whirlwhind of thoughts and emotions. I lay back on the sofa closing my eyes. This time strangely I didn't find the sight of her eyes when she came to the airport. Neither did I see the events of that day when I was told that she was married. Instead I saw the flashes of our time spent together happily. Be it near dining table during our eating sessions or the day we spent after I met Sanjana or the days when I took her out for movies or restaurants after she was assaulted by her class mate. All I could see was a smiling self. And at once, I realized why I had been happy then and unhappy for the last few months.

The ring of my mobile broke my chain of thoughts.

"Hello?" I took the call but I just encountered silence on the other end.

"Hello, is somebody on the line?" I asked once again. But it was quite.

"Hello, can you hear me?" I tried once again.

"Hel-" I swallowed my words when my brain hinted who the other person might be when I checked the number.

"Riddhima?" I whispered softly. I head a gasp and the line went dead, but only after leaving a wide grin on my face. I was right on the target. The std code in the number was that of Bangalore's. My heart jumped up and down in inexplicable joy.

Finally, the fog in my mind was cleared. I knew what I wanted.

"Rahul?" I called out for him reaching his room. "Can you book a ticket for me to Bangalore by tomorrow's early morning flight?" I asked him. He just stared at me baffled for a second. I winked at him and his face broke out into a smile. "I'll talk to Ankit mean while." I added.

I went back to my room literally jumping and dancing. I was sure of one thing.

Yes, I am happy now.

sushmita

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