Monday, 23 December 2019

part 3 AR FF : "and then she said it"

                            part 3 . Revelation and Acceptance


I was dead to the world, asleep, until I was hit by a thunder. This thunder, I tell you my readers, is anything but tranquil. Oh sorry, thunders are usually violent, I knew that and perhaps that's the reason I refer her to thunder. You might not leave, or even die, in peace until you acknowledge her presence. She is Muskaan Gupta, my cousin. She invented a unique way of waking people when she was in eighth standard. Do you know who her testbench was? Who else? It was me! You might be wondering what the protocol of her invention was. Imagine you were sleeping like a pig on your bed, drowned deep in your dreamland. Then you, all of a sudden, listen to a loud scream of someone right in your ear. What would your reaction be?



Similarly, I woke up with a start, my heart's beat already ready to beat Schumacher's racing speed. I knew what might have caused it. So I turned to my side to find Muskaan smirking at me, pleased with herself. I also knew it's a waste of reprimanding her. So I dragged myself to the washroom and was set about getting ready.

It was already 11.30 am. It had been three days that I came to Bangalore. My mom, as usual leaves for college daily at 10 and so does Riddhima. So I was ordered by my aunt, Padma- Muskaan's mom, to have my breakfast and lunch at her house daily.

I got ready in half an hour, locked the house properly and went to aunt's house. As soon as I opened the door, I found Muskaan sitting on the floor with one of the hair serums I had brought for her from Poland, trying to read its catalogue. She had given me a long list of things I was supposed to purchase for her at Poland.

"Armaan, come have your breakfast." I heard aunt's voice and moved to the dining table. I glanced at the dishes on the table. That's when I heard my stomach growling.

I better have my lunch.

"Aunty, I'll have lunch directly." I told her sheepishly while she smiled.

This had been my routine for the last three days. I wake up around noon, have lunch, have a chat with aunty and uncle Shashank, if he's home, then go back home, play some video games and wait for mom to return. I wanted to relax to my best when I was her. Afterall I deserve it, after working day and night for that project back there, don't I?

"You better get married. Then your wife will make sure you are up by 6 in the morning." Aunty remarked sitting beside me at the dining table. Ahah! I knew she would say something like that. She and mom had been plotting for the same behind my back. I knew that. At some point of time they even thought of getting me married to Muskaan. I found it absurd and told them the same. We both grew up together, almost like siblings. I always feel I am an elder brother to her.

"Muskaan, why didn't you go to college?" I asked, partly to divert the topic and partly out of interest. First case being I don't know what else to do. Second case since Riddhima had been to college. I knew that she and Muskaan were in same class. So if Riddhima attends the classes, Muskaan was supposed to attend them too.

"Because we don't have any class scheduled today due to the placements." She replied, still absorbed, I guess, in the pros and cons of her hair serum.

"Oh." I said. "But Riddhima attends the classes."

"That's because she volunteered to help." She said.

I finished with my lunch and sat beside Muskaan on the floor, resting my back against the sofa, switching on the TV. I sat flipping the channels for some time until I was bored and switched it off.

"Muskaan, what about Riddhima's family?" I asked out of blue. For the last three days since I had seen her PAN card, I sometimes found myself wondering about that. I thought of asking mom, but it somehow went off my mind.

"Why do you ask that suddenly?" she asked me back raising her brow.

Why can't she answer me once without tossing back a question?

"Just like that. I happened to see her PAN card. There is no last name. So I was wondering." I admitted.

"Oh, didn't you see her father's name then?" she asked again, putting the bottle of serum aside. By then Padma aunty also came and sat on the sofa.

I tried to recall. I didn't remember. Her name caught my attention and I guess I didn't have a look at other rows.

"She doesn't have a family, Armaan." aunt said. "She is an orphan."

"Yeah, she studies on scholarship now. Even she did her graduation with scholarship." Muskaan added.

"Oh." I said again. Somehow I respected her as I heard that. I knew the hardships one has to face being an orphan and living in some orphanages. Rahul told me about them. And she being a girl, if she surpassed them and was doing her post graduation in a decent college, I must admit she is worth the respect.

"Did you atleast talk to her?" Muskaan asked me. "She is placed in your company. She even did her internship there."

"Yeah, a couple of times." I said. That's true. In the last few days we didn't talk much except for few pleasantries and some stuff about her electives when we were discussing with my mom. She wasn't comfortable with me, for some reason unknown to me.

"She is a reserved person. She doesn't mingle easily. It took me almost an year to befriend her." Muskaan said. "And she gets all nervous when she is around men. Inspite of her good score in the entrance, she couldn't make it to other colleges because of that. She told me she was rejected in most of the college admission procedures in group activities."

"But now she is better and happy. Isn't it Muski?" aunty asked. "In the beginning she was so scared of Shashank." She laughed softly. That was no big wonder, I chuckled. Even I am scared of uncle sometimes.

"Armaan, Raji told that you are on wary with her presence at home. Why is that? If you are suspicious of her, then don't be." Aunty said suddenly.

"Nothing like that aunty. I am worried with mom getting too much attached to her. I mean she knew her only for the last two months. How could she trust her so much? She even leaves the money locker unlocked now-a-days." I said in random. Not that I am suspicious of her, or maybe I am, but I don't understand why everyone is inclined towards her?

"Don't be jealous of Riddhima, stupid." Muskaan smacked my head lightly. "You are aunty's son."

Padma aunty laughed out loud at that. "Riddhima is worth that trust Armaan. She loves and respects Raji so much. I can see that. She takes good care of her." She said smiling.

Well, I have been observing that too. She makes sure that mom takes her medicines regularly. She helps her in the kitchen and with other works. I don't mind that either, as long as she doesn't hurt her. Everyone around me seem to Riddhima. They had known her for such a short span, only a couple of months to be precise and somehow, she had become a part of their lives. I don't think it could be possible that they were mistaken. So, I assumed its better that I let it be.

I smiled at aunty. She patted my shoulder and went to the dining room. Muskaan followed her to have their lunch. We then chatted for some time as usual. Then uncle joined us. I left for home around 4 pm.

-----------------------------

I was waiting for mom and Riddhima to return, as usual, lazing in the living room. It was almost 5.30 pm. They should have been here by 5. I took my mobile and dialed mom's number. It rang once, twice and thrice. She didn't pick up. I tried once again. It rang once again and this time I heard the ring tone of her mobile faintly. They must have been in the corridor. I cut the call and went to the main door to open it.

The sight infront of my eyes as I opened the door and looked towards the corridor stopped my breath. Mom was leaning onto Padma aunty, her eyes slightly closed and face pale, and supported by Riddhima on the other side. Our driver Raghu was following them with mom's hand bag. As soon as Muski, who was rushing behind them, spotted me she ran to me and took my mobile from hands and called Shanshank uncle.

What the hell was happening?

As they reached the door, I helped mom inside and made her sit on the sofa. Riddhima ran to the kitchen to get water.

"Aunty, what happened?" I asked Padma aunty who was checking mom's pulse. When she didn't reply, I stood up and went to Raghu who was standing by the door worried. "What happened Raghu?"

"I called dad. He is on the way." Muskaan said at the same time. My uncle, Shashank, was a general surgeon. He and my dad were classmates when they studied medicine. Later they both, after completing post graduation in surgical treatment, established a multi-specialty hospital here in Bangalore with the help of their other colleagues. After dad expired, uncle took care of the entire hospital.

I lost my patience by the time he opened his mouth. "I don't know sir. Madam was fine till we reached the parking area down. When she got down from the car, she suddenly fainted." He said.

"Aunty, what happened?" I asked, almost yelled, freaking out. Mom was a healthy person except for the low blood pressure and she never fainted before. I knew that at this age, feeling giddy sometimes can be critical. And with no one answering me, I was going mad.

"Nothing Armaan, she is fine." Aunty said after checking the pulse. She was a doctor. But now withdrew from practicing it. "It happens sometimes when one is reduced with the dosage of the medicines."

 "What? Why was the dosage reduced?" I asked restless sitting beside mom. When I looked at her, she opened her eyes and squeezed my hand. She was shivering and I guess I lost my mind then for I lashed out everyone after the answer I received.

"Riddhima enrolled aunty for one week yoga classes a few weeks back. She told us they asked aunty to reduce the dosage." Muskaan replied and I noticed Riddhima rush in with water with something mixed in it.

"What? Who the hell is she to do that? What would she do if something happened to mom because of that?" I yelled my voice increasing its level with every word I uttered. I didn't know what I was speaking and why I was yelling at her. Somehow the soft corner that developed in my heart for her due to my discussion in the afternoon went out of the window. All I knew was one thing; Mom's not feeling well due to something which was done by her.

"Armaan-" Muskaan tried to stop me when I stood up.

"Don't you dare Muski." I glared at her. At home everyone knew about my temperament. If the fuse of my brain was blown out, I would yell at everything and everyone until I was worn out. So no one dares to reply me back when I was in such a state. And so did Muski; she went and sat beside mom scowling.

"And you-" I turned to Riddhima who stood at the corner, probably scared of me. But I didn't care. "you are a paying guest, so behave like one. Don't you dare interfere in our lives. Stay in your limits." I roared and I could see she was terrified when she dropped the glass she was holding and stepped back.

"I....I.. thought-" she tried to speak, tears already filling her eyes.

"What? What the crap did you think? Who asked you to-"

"Armaan" Uncle shouted at me. He was the only one who could make me shut my mouth. "Riddhima, go to your room." He said, his voice soft almost instantly. She didn't move as I glared at her. "Go, please." He repeated again and she ran upstairs to her room.

This pissed me off. Even now, they were supporting her. Uncle glared at me once before going to mom. He injected mom something, while aunty got a glass of water and Muski went to clean the floor dry off the water Riddhima had spilled. Aunty helped mom drink water and then went upstairs to Riddhima's room.

"I am fine Armaan." Mom whispered when I sat beside her. She probably might have understood my outburst. After dad's demise even the slightest illness to her and I would go mad. Probably it was due to the fear of losing her. I somehow managed it after dad but I am don't even want to think of something happening to her.

"Don't try anything stupid, mom" I glared at her softly. "Why did you reduce the dosage?" asked I, giving her a side hug, my agitated nerves calming down slowly.

"Armaan, Riddhima informed me beforehand about the yoga course. I asked her to go on after talking to the yoga teacher." Uncle said, still angry with me. "Infact Raji's BP improved to normal after attending the classes, with the reduced dosages. Riddhima cares for her way more than what you think she does."

Shit! What the hell did I do!

"I know you were worried. But you shouldn't have yelled at her." Mom said slowly looking at me, not pleased.

I knew, by the look of her, how much damage I have caused. "I know." I whispered. I really knew that as I recalled her face when I had screamed at her. Had it been any other family member, I knew I wouldn't have shouted at them. I don't know, may be deep down I was worried with this girl gaining importance in our lives that everything and everyone around me revolved around her. That would have triggered my temper. May be I was insecure. I wished Rahul was here.

"Take care Raji, You will be fit and perfect by morning." Uncle told as he got up.

"Why don't you continue with yoga again?" aunty asked coming down. "I am sure Riddhima would be glad, if you do that." She added.

"I'll think about it." Mom replied. "Didn't she want to come down?"

Aunty shrugged and smiled. "Take care." She said and moved out with uncle.

"Bye aunty." Muski came out from the kitchen.

"I'll be back." I told mom and followed Muski. When she was about to step out of the door, I stopped her. "I am sorry Muski."

"You better be." She glared at me. "Reserve that for Riddhima anyhow." She added and left.

-----------------------

Later that night, Muski brought us dinner. She placed it in three plates and gave me two. I took them and went to mom's room. I saw Muski taking another plate for Riddhima. She didn't step out of her room the whole evening. I felt bad. Very bad indeed. I knew I was wrong but hesitated to apologize to her. The reason being I don't even know why I yelled at her in the first place. I was so messed up.

"Padma aunty sent us dinner." I told mom as I entered the room. She was reading some novel. She was fine after resting for two hours in the evening.

We had our dinner in mom's room in silence. I took the plate from mom and headed out of the room to dump them in the sink. But just then Muski barged in to the room and took the plates from me.

"Did she have dinner?" Mom asked her.

"She promised she would eat later." She replied. "I am not sure about it. Good night aunty."

"Good night Armaan." She turned to me. I didn't expect that. "Talk to Riddhima once. She was scared."

Scared? Of what? Me?

"Shall I apologize to her now?" I asked mom, sitting on the bed beside her.

"Do you want to?"

"Yes." I said. She gestured me to lean down. I lay down and placed my head on her lap.

"Riddhima is an orphan Armaan." She said caressing my hair.

"I know." I whispered, closing my eyes. "Aunty told that."

"Before coming here, she lived in her own shell. Even in the beginning, she felt lonely and lost sometimes. I tried to reach out for her. I knew she had been yearning for some companion, for some support, for love. She takes time to open up to people due to the troubles she faced in her past. Infact, it took her a month to talk to me comfortably. When I told her to trust me, she hesitated but eventually did. You know Armaan, I had always craved for a girl child after you. I feel as if I found one now." She smiled at me as she said that. "Now she says I am her gift after living lonely life for twenty-four years. She is just a lost child, Armaan, who is trying to find a way out. She is learning to live her life."

"Do you know why everyone around her loves her?" she asked me and I opened my eyes. I shook my head negatively. I didn't know that. That was one question I always found myself wondering about. "Because she always does what one expects of her. She just searches for happiness in the smiles of others. Just offer her little support and love, just a pinch, and then she will love you forever." She said smiling.

I sat up as I heard that. It only made me feel guilty all the more. Her state reminded me of what Rahul was when I met him for the first time in high school. Initially I thought he was crazy for his behavior but later when I came to know about him, I did like him. I just offered him little support and love back then. And the result, he was my best buddy, who stood by me whenever I needed him and when I didn't need him. That changed his view of life eventually.

"Talk to her once in the morning." Mom said breaking my stupor. "Just smile at her and she will welcome you with both her arms stretched wide."

"Sure mom." I said smiling. "Good night."

"Good night." She kissed my temple and then I closed her door and went back to my room.

As I sat on the bed thinking about how to talk to Riddhima, I heard a knock on the door. Mom never knocks my door before entering. Nevertheless, I said "Door is open mom."

When the door opened slowly, I found Riddhima standing on the other side. She was in the same dress which she wore in the morning. Her hair was still in the pony and then I noticed her eyes. Didn't I tell you how expressive and beautiful her eyes were? I guess I did. But right now, they were just lifeless and red and not to mention swollen. Since the evening, I found myself muttering this second time. What the hell did I do!

"Riddhima?" I stood up and took few steps towards her. She was looking scared. Of what? Of me? "Is anything wrong?" I asked her and mentally kicked myself. Ofcourse everything was wrong.

"Can I come-I mean can I talk to you?" her voice quivered.

"Yes. Ofcourse. Come in." I said moving back so she could come in. She hesitated but stepped in after a moment.

"I.....I am sorry. I mean....I didn't mean to hurt aunty." She said slowly, fumbling with words, looking down.

It hit me hard. Very hard. "Riddhima why are you sorry? I yelled at you for no apparent reason." I said but she didn't pay any attention to it. "I should be sorry."

"No, you were right. I should stay in my limits and I-"

"Riddhima?" I interrupted her. She looked up at me, into my eyes.

"You won't ask me to vacate your house. Will you?" she asked.

Oh my God! Was she scared of this?

"Riddhima, I-" I started immediately but she cut me.

"I promise I will not interfere in anything. Let me stay, please" She pleaded.

I felt miserable. I didn't understand how to assure her. In any other case I would have preferred giving a hug but I don't think she would allow me for that. Hell, I could still see that she was probably scared of me. Taking a deep breath, I walked up to her and placing my hand at her back guided her to the bed to let her sit. I gave her the bottle of water to drink but she didn't.

"Drink, please." I said softly. Her jaws were tight and clenched. I could see her holding back her tears. When she drank little, I kneeled down infront of her.

"Riddhima, you can stay here as long as you want to. Nobody will ask you to leave. Okay?" I asked her and she nodded still looking down. Before I could apologize to her, I should wipe out the fear that was etched in her brain. "Don't cry." I added almost in a whisper.

She then looked up and I smiled slightly. She wiped her tears and tried to smile, but failed badly.

"I am sorry. I shouldn't have shouted at you." I said. "I didn't mean any of it. I was just worried, you know, for mom." I felt good after I said that.

"I know." She said slowly. She then smiled. Well technically it couldn't be termed as a smile but I did notice her lips curled up at the end. Then an awkward silence prevailed in the room.

"I'll go." She said and I stood up and stepped aside. When she reached the door, I called for her.

"Riddhima?" she turned around surprised. "Did you have dinner?" I asked. And I am sure she didn't.

"No." she said. I expected she would lie somehow. "I'll eat now."

"Don't bother with that now." I said and moved out of the room. "Come downstairs with me." She followed me to the kitchen. Well I have brought her to the kitchen, but what now? I didn't even know the ABC of cooking.

"You know to prepare an omlette?" I asked her. She looked at me confused but nodded. "Good, make two of them." I said giving her two eggs that I took out from fridge.

In about fifteen minutes, she made them and placed them in a plate and offered me. I took the plate and offered it back to her. "That's for you." I told her. She hesitated as usual. "Eat" I repeated not softly this time. She flinched little but took the plate and moved to the dining table. I sat in silence and stared at her till she completed two of them and dumped the plate in the sink.

 We then moved upstairs quietly. When she was about to enter her room, I asked "You will forgive me, won't you?"

She smiled a genuine one with that twinkle back in her eyes. "I already did. Good night." She said and disappeared into the room.

"Good night." I whispered into the air and headed back to my room smiling.

Not only in others' lives, somehow, I felt that Riddhima was going to create a place for herself in my life too. And this time I didn't hesitate to accept her. Infact, I was glad for that, for some reason unknown to me.

Sushmita

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