Tuesday, 24 December 2019

part 4 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 4. Kept me wondering


"Good morning mom." I said cheerfully coming downstairs to the dining table.  "Hie Riddhima." I added as I noticed her coming out of the kitchen. Riddhima smiled at me slightly. I felt good somehow.

"Good morning Armaan, how come you are up this early?" Mom asked faking surprise. I looked at the watch which said 9 am. Well, since my stay in Bangalore this spell, I didn't wake up before 11. And surely my coming downstairs to have breakfast with her is surely the first time.

"I couldn't sleep well. How are you feeling now?" I asked her diverting the topic. It was true, I wasn't blessed with a peaceful sleep last night. After apologizing to Riddhima, somehow I wasn't able to sleep. She invaded not only my house, but also my thoughts. To my horror I also remembered dreaming about her vaguely last night. As I realized I was dreaming about her, I woke up with a start and didn't dare to sleep the rest of the night, until it was early in the morning.



"I am fine. But what's the reason behind your sleepless night? Dreaming about someone?" Mom asked me with a frown, yet smiling.

I choked on the roti, of which I took a bite. I looked at mom. She couldn't be serious, could she? I then looked at Riddhima. She was trying hard to suppress her smile.

"Yeah, dreaming about Rahul." I replied slightly irritated.

 I couldn't say that I had been dreaming about Riddhima, could I?

 The next moment, it was Riddhima's turn to choke on her roti. She then coughed pretty bad with tears slipping down her cheeks while trying to drink some water. Mom patted her head lovingly while I simply stared at the sight. She stared at me strangely, once she was fine. I didn't quite understand the meaning of her look. So I averted my gaze away from her and concentrated on my roti.

"When is he coming by the way?" Mom asked after a moment.

"Who? Rahul? He said he would be here by tomorrow." I replied and then looked at Riddhima, who had the same strange expression on her face. She looked at mom and then back at me. I tried to recall if I missed something, but failed.

"Who is Rahul?" I heard Riddhima asking my mom.

"He is Armaan's friend. He works in the same office too. They stay together at Hyderabad." Mom replied reading the news paper.

"They stay together?" Riddhima asked again surprised, with a big frown adorning her face. I looked up at her trying to understand what's so surprising in that. She then gave me a disapproving look.

And then it hit me. Could she be thinking that I was a gay? I replayed the events that took place five minutes back. That strange expression on her face only existed after I said that I had been dreaming about Rahul. She even choked at that revelation. God, this girl doesn't have a sense of humour. Could it possible that she took it serious?

"Yes they stay together. And Rahul is his best friend since childhood." Mom replied casually. And Riddhima's eyes widened at that confirming my doubts about what she had been thinking. She stood up from the dining table and moved towards the kitchen.

"Riddhima, we are not gays, if that's what you have concluded." I said hurriedly and she dropped the plate she was holding. "I was joking when I said that I was dreaming about him."

Mom looked at me shocked at my words. "If I am not wrong, she thought that I was seriously dreaming about him." I told my mom and we burst out laughing looking at Riddhima who turned red by then. She quickly picked up the plate and ran into the kitchen.

"Thanks for talking to her. She looks happier today." Mom added, smiling, still staring in the direction of kitchen. That was true, Riddhima's face had been sparkling with happiness. There was a remarkable difference between yesterday's Riddhima and today's Riddhima, which I couldn't help noticing.

"And so do you." I said. "You love her so very much, don't you?"

"Not as much as you. But yes, a pinch or two less than you." She replied, patting my cheek.

I and mom went to the living room and sat on the sofa; mom with some magazine and I with the TV remote shuffling the channels, before settling with some music channel. Mom had taken leave for two days and so did Riddhima.

After a while Riddhima joined us. And the song in the music channel suddenly changed to 'Maada ladla bigad gaya' from Dostana. I looked at mom while she stared back at me for two seconds. We then simultaneously looked at Riddhima and all of us burst out into fits of laughter. I wished Rahul was there too.

While we were still laughing, I noticed mom suddenly stop laughing. I followed her gaze and then spotted Riddhima whose eyes were full of tears ready to spill out. I first thought they were just due to excess laughter but only when mom went to her hugged her, did I know that they were for different reason.

"Sshh Riddhima. Now stop crying." Mom wiped her tears.

I looked baffled. What happened all of a sudden? Two minutes ago, she was laughing with us and now? Mom then signaled me to leave, with her eyes. I looked at Riddhima. She was trying to hide her face in mom's embrace. Maybe she is not comfortable with me watching her. So I got up to move upstairs.

"Okay Riddhima. What happened?" I heard mom asking her. I stood near the staircase. I didn't want to go. For some reason, I wanted to know what was wrong.

"Sorry aunty. I don't know. I never laughed this much." Riddhima's voice was hoarse and low but I managed to hear. "I don't want to leave you."

"I don't want you to leave either." Mom's voice was choked too. The scene of them hugging and talking brought a smile to my lips somehow.

"Okay. Both of you aren't going to leave each other anywhere soon. So stop crying." I said, loudly coming back to the living room. "I should be crying to go back to Hyderabad in 10 days."

"Who asked you not to?" Mom asked me while Riddhima quickly wiped her tears and moved away from mom. I still don't understand. Why is she, still, scared of me? Or is it something else?

"Fine, I and Rahul will both cry hugging each other when he comes." I said and then noticed Riddhima smiling slightly. "Let's go somewhere today."

"Where?" Mom asked back. I just shrugged my shoulders. I looked at Riddhima and mom. They were in some non-verbal conversation, talking through their eyes.

"Fine we'll go to Nandi Hills." Mom said after a while. And Riddhima's face broke into a wide smile, one of its kind. "That's Riddhima's favourite place." Mom added and Riddhima's smile faltered a little and she looked at me apologetically.

"No I am sorry. I mean, we'll go to some other place." Riddhima clarified quickly.

"No Riddhima. We'll go to Nandi Hills." Mom insisted. But I knew its Riddhima who wanted to go there.

"Fine mom. Get ready. I'll ask Muski if she wants to come." I said getting up to go to Muski's home.

"Muskaan has class today." I heard Riddhima's voice instantly. "No I mean, she may come but I thought-. Sorry." She added, lowering her eyes, when I frowned at her.

'Okay. I'll ask Padma aunty then." I told her and moved out of the house.

I didn't take the elevator. Rather thought of taking steps. My thoughts wandered around Riddhima, yet again. Today I could see that she was just any normal girl, with a usual share of excitement in her. She was happy, she was sad and she was nervous. But she wouldn't speak her heart out. Amidst everything, one thing kept me wondering. Why doesn't she say it? It might be something related to her past. I don't know.

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The serenity of Nandi Hills calmed my disoriented and disturbed mind. As per mom's request, which is weird as she never asked to drive slow during the hair pin turns, I drove almost at snail's speed while Riddhima who sat in the front beside me peeped her head out and enjoyed the ride. The excitement and joy were clearly etched in her eyes, but she only restricted them to her eyes, not letting them to reflect the same on her face, which I managed to spot when she would turn her face to look and mom and Padma aunty. And that's when I realized why mom had asked to drive slow.

As Riddhima had said, Muskaan had a class at college and surprisingly she decided to go for it inspite of the tempting ride to the hill station. So in the end, Padma aunty decided to come with us to enjoy some time with mom, alone. We started at 2 in the afternoon to as to reach the place by 4 in the evening, spend a couple of hours there and head back. She and mom sat in the back seat of the car enjoying their leisurely talks about everything under the sun, with Riddhima joining them now and then.

I don't know why but today I could see a different Riddhima. Not in physical presence but in an emotional stand. She was happy as I already mentioned but she was full of life since the time we stepped out of our colony. She started speaking joyfully to mom or aunty sometimes, but then would abruptly shut her mouth when she realized my presence beside her. Somehow her personality was intriguing me.

Come on, my readers, if you find a person with weird-in a positive way- individuality, wouldn't you show some interest towards them? But the point to be noted is that, why I, even though she is absolutely not inclined to me, am I racking my brain to understand her. I don't think any guy would be interested in a girl if she doesn't reciprocate the same. Well, atleast I think so.

"Don't you think so Armaan?" I heard aunty's voice and though startled for a moment, pushed my thoughts aside. The side line being I am not aware of what they were speaking about.

"Yes, yes aunty." I replied playing safe.

"See Raji, I told you so." Aunty squealed happy.

Now that bothered me. Such a voice from aunty could only mean one thing. Some plot regarding my marriage. I looked at mom from the back view mirror. She smirked at me. I then turned to Riddhima who was smiling, well only half heartedly, point to be noted.

What the hell did I agree for? I wondered.

"So Armaan, I'll ask Sanjana to meet you this Sunday." It was not a question, a mere statement. But wait, who is Sanjana? An another match for me?

"She is way better than Akshara." Aunty added, confirming my doubts.

Shit!

Well Akshara was another girl I met some eight months ago. Well, she was a nice person, very practical. So practical that she insisted that after marriage we shall not stay with mom. Not that I am planning to stay with mom, which though I would love to, I am sure mom isn't anywhere to agree, but that mere statement irked me to no end. Well you could guess the rest. And now, what's her name? yeah Sanjana. Why is that I am always stuck at such a place when people around me start planning about my marriage. It's embarrassing I tell you. I couldn't leave the car and walk away now, could I?

So I stayed mum, with Riddhima keeping me company in silence, sometimes listening to their chats and sometimes cursing Rahul for delaying his arrival.

"Aunty, we'll stop here for some time and enjoy a small walk?" Riddhima asked mom slowly. Shouldn't she ask me? I was the one driving. But being the person she is, I guess not.

"No mom, you are not completely fit. I don't think it's a good idea for you to walk." I said butting in before mom could speak. But when I glanced at Riddhima for her reply, she just looked at me for a second before lowering her eyes. I could see a speckle of hurt.

"Armaan stop that. Riddhima knows better than you about Raji's health." Aunty retorted quickly. "Raji is fine now."

Oh! Did I sound like that? I didn't mean it that way nor was I finding faults with Riddhima. Somehow it appeared like something else. "I didn't mean it that way aunty." I defended myself. I didn't want to appear like a villain accusing a person who had been taking care of mom for a little over two months.

"Stop the car near the pathway Armaan." It was mom's order this time. And I knew by the tone of hers, that it's better that I shut my mouth. So I obliged. I stopped the car near a horticulture exhibition and the ladies stepped out. Aunty pulled out the shawls from the bag we carried and they draped themselves, as I sat on the bonnet of the car staring at them. To my absolute horror, none of them talked to me before leaving. And Riddhima's sullen face added to my worry. So I followed them anyhow inviting myself.

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"Wats up Rahul?" I asked cheerfully as I picked up my mobile. That was the only good thing happened to me from the past two hours. With mom and aunty firing their cold shoulders at me and Riddhima-well I don't expect her to amile and talk to me after the little scane back in car, I wandered behind them like a puppy. Well, I couldn't leave three ladies in a crowdy area.

"What's the fuss around? Where are you?"

"I am horticulture exhibition at Nandi Hills. When are you starting?" I asked him, keeping an eye on three of them. I still don't understand mom and aunty come to this exhibition once in every two months, whats there for them to enjoy the bushes all over the place. We don't even have space for a garden back at our home.

"I'll be taking midnight flight. Will reach there early in the morning." He said, sounding happy. "Is aunty near you? Can I speak to her?"

"Ye-" Shit! I muttered to myself. Looking down I saw myself and Riddhima with our dresses drenched with some deep brown colour liquid. May be mud water. MUD? Well the damage was very less to mine when compared to that of hers for her entire upper front was totally wet upto her waist and the dress clung to her body, umm a bit revealingly. I averted my gaze quickly, while she pulled the shawl closer to her body in horror.

"Sorry, I wasn't looking and-" Riddhima started with her apologies. I knew pretty well that the fault was mine. I had been following them. May be they had stopped moving further when I was on phone and then I bumped into her.

"That's fine Riddhima, relax." I mumbled looking around for mom. "Go get your dress cleaned." I added.

I spotted mom and aunty near a nursery and went to them. "Mom, Rahul wants to talk to you." I said giving her the mobile. I looked back and saw Riddhima walking somewhere probably to a wash area.

"What happened? What's this?" Aunty asked twisting her nose at my stained shirt. Mom moved little away to talk to Rahul.

"I bumped into Riddhima when she was holding some liquid. So-" I left the sentence incomplete, wiping the stains with a cloth which aunty gave.

"That's not some liquid budhu, its mud water." Aunty laughed at me softly, while I mumbled a whatever.

"Where is Riddhima?" Mom asked coming back and giving me my mobile.

"I am here aunty." Riddhima answered for me coming back from washroom, her dress all wet. "Aunty, I'll go out for sometime till the dress dries up." She added and mom nodded hesitantly. I watched Riddhima move towards the entrance of the exhibition. I wondered whether I should go with her as it's getting late in the evening.

"Armaan, go and stay with Riddhima till we return." Mom told me when I was staring in the direction Riddhima has retreated. I smiled at her and nodded. Well I was thinking on the same lines. It's not safe to let a girl wander on a hilly area all lone, you know. Stop grinning, my readers, if you are doing so. It's just out of courtesy, you see.

"Hey Riddhima" I ran upto her and fell in steps with her. She looked at me surprised, probably due to my presence. "Mom sent me to keep you company till they return."

"No, I am fine. You can go back if-" There she goes again.

"What if I change my previous statement to 'I came to keep you company'?" I asked cheekily. I don't know from where I got that filmy idea. That's very rare of me. But she didn't say anything. Just smiled and we moved out to walk along the road side.

"Riddhima, I didn't mean it what I said in the car earlier. I was just worried about mom." I said slowly and calmly. I felt like apologizing.

"That's fine Armaan. I am used to it." She told her voice equally calm.

"To what?" I asked.

"To rejection." I heard her words and stood rooted to my spot while she continued walking ahead. "Change your mind about keeping me company?" I heard her voice again, this time a bit faint. Looking ahead I spotted her a furlong ahead of me.

"No. But that doesn't mean rejection. I mean, I would never reject you." I fumbled with words. What the hell, I would never reject you, where did that come from? It somehow sounded some other way and I looked at her if I needed to clarify that. But she was drowned in enjoying the sunset amidst the hills. It was a sight to watch. Not her, well it also was, but the sunset.

"You like greenery, don't you?" I didn't mean to startle her but she was startled.

"Yes. And you?" she asked back. I was happy she was trying to make some conversation with me rather than getting scared. She is different today and that difference kept me wondering about her, yet again.

"I like, I guess." I said scratching my chin. She just smiled. Then silence prevailed again as we walked ahead. The shrill ring of my mobile put an end to the silence. It was mom.

"Yeah mom."

"We are done Armaan. Where are you?"

"Uh'" I turned back and tried to identify how far we have walked. I then realized we have walked pretty far. "We are nearby by mom. Come to the parking and wait for us. We'll be back in 10 minutes." I said and cut the call.

And then we headed back. After a moment, I received another call from my colleague so I stopped walking for a minute while she continued ahead. I kept an eye on her though. I cut the call and followed her.

While she was walking ahead, I noticed few guys going by bikes hooting at her. I couldn't help but smile at her nervous steps. Well, she is pretty, who would leave a chance in admiring her? Then a biker stopped by her whistling. She stopped walking and turned around, for me I guess. I quickly walked up to her.

"You need something dude?" I asked the guy on the bike while wrapping my arm around Riddhima's shoulder gently. I felt her stiffen and then relax after a second. The guy just shook his head and I guided her ahead.

"Thanks." She mumbled when we took a couple of steps and I removed my arm from around her shoulder.

"For taking care of you?" I asked. "I am used to it." I shot back her words smiling. "Taking care of Muski, mom or aunty when we go out."

"But they are your family." She replied.

"You may not be our family Riddhima, but you are much more important than that." I said, looking straight into her eyes, while she just smiled, yet again.

We reached parking area in a little more than 10 minutes. During our ride back, though the three of them we talking in glory, my mind kept wondering about the last words I spoke to Riddhima. You may not be our family Riddhima, but you are much more important than that. Is it so? I found myself asking that. I guess so, some voice in me answered it for me.

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Luv
Sushmita

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