Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Part 5 AR FF : "and then she said it"

           part 5 . Jealousy.........or gallantry? 

"Abe wake up!" I heard someone shaking me not so gently. Turning to the other side, I pulled the bed sheet over my face to block that disturbance. Why does everyone want to wake me up early in the morning? I thought irritated.

"Saale, get up. Enough of your dreaming!" I heard that voice again, though faintly. My sleepy brain tried processing it. Who could it be? Mom wouldn't wake me up this early. And definitely it was not Riddhima, for she wouldn't use those words. Muskaan, no way was she going to try waking me this peacefully. Saale- I am only addressed with that word by Rahul.

"Rahul?" I jumped awake at the realization. It's still a wonder as to how much his presence excites me. Even at 27, I couldn't help but rejuvenate at meeting him, though I stay with him 24x7 at Hyderabad.



"Thank God, you didn't take the name of Shakira or Madonna." He chuckled.

"Oye Rahul, when did you come?" I asked jumping onto him. It was 6 am in the watch. "I didn't even hear the ring of the doorbell?"

"Yeah, as if you heard it anytime." Came his quick retort. "Some girl opened the door. She didn't allow me in until she confirmed it with aunty. Who is she?" He asked sitting beside me on the bed, while I picked up my shirt and put it on, it being chilly.

"Oh, she is Riddhima. Mom's friend" He made a confused face when I paused. "Remember, mom told about a paying guest." Then he got it.

"You want to sleep?" I asked making place for him on the bed, noticing his slightly red eyes. Now don't get any ideas, my readers, since our house is a three bedroom flat, I and Rahul have to share a room since Riddhima was using the guest room.

"Yeah. I am dead tired." He fell on the bed instantly. "That stupid Ankit made me work my ass out in your absence." He sighed throwing his jacket on the table beside. I knew that. Ankit is one hell of a perfectionist, who wouldn't take a wink till everything is set right. "And in the morning that girl didn't let me in for an entire 15 minutes, till she got it confirmed I am not a burglar."

I grinned at the last sentence of his. "That is so like Riddhima." I thought aloud.

"Ri- who?" he asked his eyes still closed.

"Riddhima, the girl about whom you have been taking." I said as I lay back down. I didn't get any reply from him. He might have been asleep already. So I closed my eyes to join my goddess of sleep, yet again.

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"Armaan, please get up." I heard mom's voice this time. I opened my eyes and glanced at the watch. It is 10 am already. "I am going to the college." She added and I sat up on the bed rubbing my eyes. By then Rahul also woke up.

"Good morning aunty." He said yarning.

"Good morning, both of you." Mom replied, pushing the curtains aside and picking up Rahul's jacket which lay on the table.

"Mom, but didn't you take leave for a couple of days?" I asked when my brain started working.

"Yeah, but today, there is a party at college. So have to go." She told coming to me. "And yes, one more thing. Drop Riddhima at the college evening at 7.30. We have a late night party. So don't let her come alone. Okay?" She told kissing my temple as usual.

"But then why are you going early aunty?" It was Rahul.

"Because I am the organizer of the party. It's the first farewell to the MBA out going batch." She replied, placing a kiss on his temple too. "Now get up both of you. Have your breakfast. If you need anything, ask Riddhima." She said before stepping out of our room.

As you might be wondering, let me clear it. In our college we celebrate two farewells, one in the fifth trimester, after the first spell of campus hiring and the other in the last trimester. So it was the first one now.

Rahul fell back on the bed, while I got off the bed and went to the washroom.

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"Hie Riddhima." I greeted her while coming downstairs. She was watching TV. So I joined her waiting for Rahul to have breakfast. I was amused at the show running. It was Tom and Jerry. I smiled at her while she just changed the channel, embarrassed I guess. She then gave me the remote.

"I'll prepare the breakfast." She said moving towards the kitchen. As usual I switched on the music channel.

"Hey Armaan, had your breakfast?" Rahul came down after 10 minutes.

"No, waiting for you. Let's go." I said switching the TV off.

When we sat at the dining table, Riddhima brought us bread, cheese and omlette. She served us the slices of bread and then made her way to the living room.

"Riddhima, one minute." I called for her. "He is Rahul, my friend." I introduced him cheerfully. "And Rahul, this is Riddhima." I added.

"Hie." Rahul's voice was calm and strong as always. I turned my attention to Riddhima, she gave a nervous smile and an equally nervous Hie. The next moment, I noticed her lips curled up completely. I then noticed her struggle to refrain herself from smiling.

"Is something wrong with me?" Rahul asked perplexed.

After a moment, it hit me. "You were my gay partner, according to her theory." I chuckled looking at his horror stricken face, before bursting into laughter. I then narrated him the whole scene and we again burst into a fresh fits of laughter.

"She must be crazy." He remarked after a while. She indeed is crazy and mysterious too, isn't she?

The next two hours, I and Rahul sat in the living room chatting about the company and our colleagues. Riddhima disappeared into her room the moment after we had our breakfast. From what I have understood of her, that was expected.

After sometime, Rahul thought to head towards our hospital, Sanjeevani. He is also the financial advisor of our hospital. With his MBA in finance, Shashank uncle requested him to take care of the financial aspects of the hospital to which Rahul gladly accepted.

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It was almost 6.30 pm when we returned back home. We had our lunch at a restaurant nearby hospital after Rahul was done with his work.

When we were in the elevator, mom called me on my mobile.

"Armaan? Where are you both? Riddhima was so worried. Couldn't you just tell her that you wouldn't come for lunch?" Mom blasted me the instant I picked up the phone. "That poor girl prepared lunch for you both,"

Oh! How was I to know that Riddhima would prepare lunch? "Did she? But she didn't tell me." I replied.

"Okay but where are you?"

"Almost home mom, in the elevator." I said Rahul rang the bell. "Mom is Muski not going for the party? Shall I drop her too?" I asked.

"She is; but she is at some parlor with her friends. She'll go from there. Do you have some work? Shall I send Raghu back?" She questioned back.

"No mom, I am free. I'll take Shashank uncle's car when he comes. I'll drop Riddhima in time. Don't worry." I smiled. "I'll call you later mom. Byee" I added and then cut the call.

After five minutes Riddhima opened the door. She looked as if she woke up from sleep. And I was right, for the moment she realized it was us, she rubbed her eyes stifling a yawn.

And I was surprised. There Muskaan was leaving no stone unturned in dressing up extravagant, since something like afternoon, and here this girl was probably sleeping in glory. I mean, come on my readers, she is a girl too. And most of the girls, if not all, would atleast spend minimum of two hours in getting ready for some parties. Even mom or Padma aunty takes an hour.

"Hie Rith-" Rahul stopped his word, looking at me seeking help.

"It's Riddhima." I helped him. "Hie." I greeted her moving in while she adjusted her hair, smiling slightly. God, this girl is a great miser when it comes to spending a smile.

"And yeah Riddhima, mom called me. Sorry we had our lunch out. But you should have called me when you prepared lunch." I said turning back at her.

"Oh! I thought of calling you." She started slowly. "I even took your number from aunty." She quickly added.

Rahul smiled at me, moving towards kitchen and I simply stood waiting for her to complete.

"But then I thought I would disturb you if you were busy, in some work. So" She left the sentence incomplete. There she goes again. The gist of her three statements- She was scared to call me and ask me to come home for lunch.

"Oh wow Riddhima, you made Biryani?" I heard Rahul's voice from kitchen. He was already fond of her. While our drive back home, I told him that she was an orphan and his eyes sparkled as if he had found his long lost friend. I guess he empathized with her, fully aware of the consequences in which she had grown up that led to her nervousness. "Armaan, my mouth is watering. I am going to eat again." He added.

Riddhima's eyes twinkled in joy at his words. Well, that kind of amused me. I was dying to understand her from the past five days and here he was right on the target. "Really?" she asked excitement clear in her voice. She smiled wide when he nodded. Didn't I just remark that she was a miser when it comes to smiling? I kind of felt ignored, so butted in quickly saying I would join him too.

And I had to admit one thing. Neither was the food extraordinary nor was it ordinary. It was good. She made aloo kurma with biryani and then raitha. And I was baffled when Rahul, who was not so interested vegetarian food, showered praises on her culinary skills till she turned red in embarrassment. When she looked at me expectantly, I nodded in his response. "Yeah Riddhima it was very good." And there was no end to her smile. Me and my theory of her misery!

It was 7.30 when we were done with eating with me and Rahul chatted in glory while Riddhima sat in silence at the dining table. I was surprised when she joined us at the dining table. I somehow expected she would go to her room or the living room after serving us the food. Rahul also talked a lot about managerial economics which was her area of interest keeping her involved in talks. That totally stumped me. Rahul, being a reserved person he is, started a conversation and that too with a girl. Well I guess I would have stared at them agape. And I somehow felt out of place. I know what you might be thinking. NO, I am NOT jealous. It just irked me that Rahul was able to gain her attention in just one day, while it took me five freaking days to befriend her.

"Riddhima, when should I drop you for the party? It's already 7.30." Being the attention seeker I am, I quickly changed the topic, trying to catch her attention. It was weird what I was doing. I felt it myself.

"Oh yeah." I guess she realized the same. "I'll be ready in 15 minutes." She added picking up the plates from the table.

I chuckled inwardly. A girl, getting ready for a party in 15 minutes! That is next to impossible. Rahul and I went to the living room while she disappeared into her room.

I checked the watch. Its 7.45 pm. "Well, let's see if Riddhima turns out to be a wonder girl." I smirked at Rahul, while he hit my abs, sitting in the living room.

"I somehow feel she is going to come down in time." He replied, while I frowned. "Armaan, is she orphan from her birth or ...." He started the question but couldn't complete it. Rahul wasn't an orphan by birth. He was abandoned by his parents when he was four years old, as per the records.

"I am not sure Rahul. Mom must be aware of that. I didn't actually talk to her much." I replied. "She is always so nervous and uncomfortable when I am around. I had to frame my words twice so as not to scare her. Infact our encounters were a bit sour." I told him about how I had shouted at her the very third day almost scaring her to death.

"Oh" That's all he said after listening to me. "Well, maybe that's why she is still nervous around you. But she spoke to me well."  He added. "I guess your charms didn't work well this time."

That irked me more. I was very popular among the female clan right from my school days. Be it at college or the company, I was ahead of Rahul in reaching girls; the only exception being Riddhima. And another point to be noted, is the gist of our discussion. We, being guys, often discussed about girls but mostly about their figures and oomph factors. This sort of discussion, that too about Riddhima, is something unique.

"Rahul it's already 20 minutes now. I told you that girls couldn't get ready in 15 minutes for a party." I said, as a matter of fact, shuffling the channels. But then I didn't get any reply from him.

"Abe what happened?" I asked him once again, my eyes stuck on some chick doing belly dance in some song.

"Rahul" I turned around to face him. "What happ-" I followed his gaze and gulped the remaining words down.

There, on the staircase, stood Riddhima in a black saree adorned with rich silver work. She didn't put on any make up, I could notice that. Neither did she put on many accessories except for a usual thin chain around her neck, small earrings and a watch on her left hand. She left her hair open and for the first time I noticed how black and thick her hair was. She was pleasing in a graceful and delicate way, not to forget quite attractive. The saree accentuated her height and petite figure very well.

And her appearance and that saree was very familiar. I wondered why and then it struck me. It was mom's saree. Mom being the person she was would have insister her on wearing it. And mom was right on the choice. The dark shade of the saree added to the glow of her skin.

Suddenly realizing that I was gawking at her agape, I shut my mouth and turned sideways to face Rahul. And I chuckled looking at his face. He was no less than me, probably too shocked to speak. "Wow." He uttered when I shook him.

Riddhima noticed us staring at her and shifted her weight to the other foot nervously and that's when we averted our gaze away from her. From the corner of my eyes I watched her come downstairs and stand infront of me.

"umm.... shall we leave, Armaan?" she spoke slowly putting a strand of her hair behind her ear.

"Huh? Yes, let's go." I said stammering. "You want to come Rahul?" I asked him. What would he do at home alone? It would take atleast an hour for me to drop her and come back. He might as well keep me company during the drive for I am not sure what crap I would speak to Riddhima if I open my mouth infront of her. She was looking so awesome.

"No. you guys carry on." He replied. "And by the way Riddhima, you look awesome." He added and I stared at him. That was my thought!

Riddhima mumbled a shy 'thank you' before we left for the college.

Throught the drive, I had been thinking about one thing. The guys of Riddhima's class would have a tough time around her. And it being a party, I am sure it would be celebrated in the campus ballet hall. In MBA party meant one thing. Booze. And I was not quite sure how she is going to handle that. Mom would be busy with her colleagues and Muskaan with her other friends. And as far as I am aware of, I am sure Riddhima didn't had any other friends. Well, I was worried.....for her?

It was little past 8.30 when we reached the campus. I tried calling mom, to make sure Riddhima stays with her. I called Muskaan later. But none of them picked up the calls. When I got off the car, she stood by me, gaping at the arrangements made outside the ballet hall. She wouldn't have expected that. I could comprehend that from her facial features. And she was also nervous, as always.

"Mom and Muskaan aren't taking the calls Riddhima. Will you be fine inside, alone?" I asked her skeptically.

She looked up at me, into my eyes before a feeble 'yes' escaped her lips. And as always her eyes gave away everything. May be she wouldn't admit that to me. But she wanted me to stay. I could see that though the uneasiness etched on her face. And for some reason I didn't want to leave her alone either.

"Never mind. Come!" I locked the car and turned to face her. "I'll stay with you for some time, till you find Muskaan or mom." I felt her sigh in relief as I said. I walked ahead to the entrance of the hall, while she followed me. Outside the hall, I spotted few of the professors who taught me. I greeted them. I tried to find out where mom was, from them but they were probably delighted with my presence that they pulled me to the hall, insisting that I stayed for the party. While I was being pulled in, I caught Riddhima's wrist and tugged her along, while she stumbled a few steps before gaining her balance.

The moment we entered the hall, the strong smell of cocktails hit me. I was right. It still meant the same in MBA in my college. Work hard. Party Harder. The music was very loud and I saw guys and girls sprawled across the dance floor. My professors who dragged me in, requested me to make myself comfortable and left. After a moment, the music grew louder and I felt Riddhima clutch my shirt at my upper arm.

I looked down at her and if I am not wrong she wasn't comfortable. I wondered why mom, inspite of knowing her so well, pressed her to attend it. But then again, this is a part of life. If Riddhima wants to make a career with MBA she should get used to this. And that might be the reason for mom's assertiveness that she attends it.

I scanned the faces of girls for Muskaan. And then I noticed a guy coming towards us grinning. By the look on his face, I am sure he is going to ask Riddhima for a dance. I squeezed her hand that still clutched my shirt.

"Do you know him?" I asked her pointing at the guy coming to us.

"Yes, my classmate." She replied releasing my shirt from her fist.

"Hie Riddhima, may I have a dance with you?" The guy asked her politely, and Riddhima looked up at me frightened. He looked at me confused, when she didn't reply. "And you are?" he asked me.

"Armaan Mallik, HR- Global Insight Inc." I introduced myself offering him a hand shake, which he took after a moment of hesitation.

"Oh! Good evening Sir." He greeted me politely. "If you don't mind, may I have a dance with your lady?" He asked me again.

I wondered what I should say. He was polite in his approach and her classmate. I could see couples dancing on the floor. "Yeah sure." I replied after a moment of thought. "Give us one second." I sought excuse.

Riddhima looked at me surprised. "Relax and enjoy the party. I'll be right here, keeping an eye on you. Okay?" I said before placing her hand in the outstretched hand of her classmate, who waited patiently.

Riddhima reluctantly walked with him to the dance floor. I guess this was her first experience at all this. But then it has to be her first sometime. Its better she learnt it now. But when she was leaving, she gave me a look, which I failed to comprehend. May be I should have asked her once before. Was she hurt?

I helped myself with a mini tin of rum and stood by the bar watching Riddhima, as promised to her, being swayed to music. She looked at me for every few seconds as if making sure I was around. Mean while I sent a message to Rahul that I would be late. I smiled at her whenever our eyes met. She tried to return back the smile but it somehow didn't reach her eyes. I also observed his classmate who was dancing with her. Well, he kept his distance from her body. I watched her as slowly her other classmates I guess took turns in dancing with her. She appeared as if she was trying to let go off her fear and enjoy their company. Well, atleast I thought so.

"Heya Armaan!" Muskaan's chirpy voice right in my ear broke my stance. "What are you doing here?"

Muskaan was dressed in a black saree too. She was looking pretty too. Infact every one is dressed in black in the party. Guys in black suits and girls in black sarees. I stood out from the rest of the guys due to my clothes. May be that's the reason Muskaan spotted me amongst the crowd.

"I came to drop Riddhima here." I replied giving her a side hug. "She is there." I pointed at Riddhima who was on the dance floor.

"Oh okay. I thought she wouldn't attend. That's why I didn't take her along to the parlor." She said surprised.

"Well, where is mom?" I then asked.

"Aunty is in with her colleagues. They were busy with formulating the alumni records with the student representatives." She said showing me the conference hall.

"I'll meet mom and come." I told her and made my way towards the room to meet mom.

As I entered the room, I saw mom sitting with few students filling up their details in the computers. "Hie mom." I greeted her.

"Oh Armaan." She moved to me. "What are you doing here? Where is Riddhima? I hope she didn't back out at the last moment." She said searching behind me for , probably, Riddhima.

I chuckled at her. She knew Riddhima too well. "Riddhima is on the dance floor with her classmates." I said. "Shall I leave mom? I am bored here. I don't know anyone."

"Riddhima on the dance floor? With whom?" She asked me. She didn't even listen to my latter sentences.

"Some tall guy, with a French beard. He asked Riddhima for a dance when we came." I told trying to recollect the features of the guy.

"Oh!" She looked disturbed for a moment. "Ask Riddhima to meet me once. I'll be right here. Then you can leave. I'll be late. I'll bring Muskaan and Riddhima along with me." She said.

I wondered what was wrong suddenly. "Sure mom." I nodded and left the room.

When I came to the dance floor, I didn't find Riddhima. Nor did I find that guy who was with Riddhima earlier. Surprised, I looked around for her. It was difficult in the not so bright light with all the girls wearing similar sarees. Nevertheless I found Muskaan near the bar.

"Muski, did you see Riddhima?" I asked her.

"Yeah" I sighed in relief. "A while before when I met you. She was on the dance floor."

"Not then. Where is she now?" I asked her again.

"Umm I don't know Armaan. She might be round." She replied searching around. "Why?"

"Nothing. If you find her, ask her to meet mom immediately." I told her and moved back to the room, after scanning the hall for Riddhima. Where did she disappear?

"Where is Riddhima?" Mom asked me the instant I entered the room. I noticed the urgency in her voice.

"Relax mom. She might be somewhere around the hall. She is not at the dance floor." I said.

"And Shekar?" She asked and I raised my brow. "That guy with French beard?"

Who was he? "I didn't find him there mom. He might be with his friends. What happened?" I asked confused at what mom was arriving at. Why were we discussing about this Shekhar guy and why is mom panicking.

"Look Armaan." She pulled me aside. "Please go and search for Riddhima once. Or Shekar. Call me if you find her." She told worriedly.

"Mom whats happening?" I probed her.

"Armaan, Shekar has been hitting on Riddhima for the past few months." She told me. Whats the big deal? Its common. "But his records aren't clean. So go and check on Riddhima once.

I felt my head spin once. "Does Riddhima know about him?" I asked one last question.

"Yeah. She told me he tried to misbehave with her once. Now go." Mom literally pushed me out but my brain stopped working for a minute.

If Riddhima knew about that guy, why didn't she refuse it when I agreed for his request to let him dance with her? Oh my God! I now understood the meaning of the look she gave me. Why didn't she say anything then? With a speckle of fear slowing taking its origin at the pit of my stomach, I ran to the ballet hall. I tried finding Riddhima but in vain. As much as I tried to block out the thoughts, my mind was flogged with the probability of that guy misbehaving with Riddhima again. What the hell did I end up doing?

"Excuse me; do you know where Mr. Shekar is?" I asked a group of students. When raised their brows at me, looking not so interested, "I am Armaan Mallik, HR- Global Insight Inc." I added and noticed them standing erect. I knew the effect my position would have on them. Probably few of them might have been placed in my company.

"Sorry Sir." One guy apologized instantly. "I guess I saw him head towards the guest room at the other end of the block." One more guy replied.

"Did you also notice a girl with him?" I asked and by the look on the guy's face, I didn't want to listen to his answer.

With panic slowly gripping my nerves, I then ran to Muskaan who was still at the bar. "Muski, call me if you find Riddhima." I told her and ran out of the hall, bumping into few people on my way.

By the time I reached the other end of the block, I was panting badly. I was scared and more I was angry. Not at that guy as much as I am at Riddhima. Couldn't she tell me that she didn't want to dance with him? That anger might be a result of my guiltiness at having agreed to it without asking her. But then, she was at fault, isn't she?

I kicked open the door of the room which was probably unlocked. The sight infront of my stung me bitterly. Riddhima was pinned against the wall, with a palm over her mouth, probably to refrain her form shouting. That French beard guy's face was buried in her neck while she was whimpering against him. I lost my head. I pulled the guy back and punched him hard on his face. He fell on the floor mumbling something and I realized he was also drunk.

I looked at Riddhima. She stood still. I felt bad for her but my anger surpassed the other feelings and I pulled her harshly out of the room. I didn't even want to imagine what would have happened had the guys in the ballet room not noticed them. I headed straight to our car and pushed her on to the passenger seat and shut the door with a loud bang that she flinched at the sound.

"Mom, Riddhima is with me." I called mom immediately. "Yeah she is fine." Pause "I am taking her home. You continue with your work." I said and cut the call. She didn't further question me. She might have noticed my cold voice.

I sat in the car and while I put my hands on the steering, I noticed stains of blood on my palm. I looked at Riddhima's hand. Her watch wasn't present on her left hand and there were scratches in its place with blood oozing out. That only increased my temper.

I drove back home roughly. From the corner of my eyes I also noticed Riddhima clutch her seat tightly. But I didn't care. When we reached home, I pulled her out of the car and to our flat. The door was open. I pushed her inside not so gently and locked the door behind me.

"What happened Armaan?" Rahul jumped from the sofa with the bang of me closing the door. But I ignored him.

"What the shit were you thinking? Couldn't you just say to me about that guy when he asked for a dance?" I yelled at Riddhima. This was the second time she had been at the receiving end of my temper in the last five days.

"Armaan, stop shouting." Rahul tried to stop me, taken back.

"You shut up Rahul." I blasted at him. And he shut his mouth. He very well knew about my temper. "And you?" I took two steps towards her and she stepped back. "Speak." I glared.

"I- I thought- thought to say- but-" She tried to speak wiping her tears, her voice breaking. But that didn't melt me.

"But what? You thought to wait till he forced you to warm up his naked body?" I seethed with rage and she looked up at me mortified.

"What the hell Armaan! Shut your mouth." Rahul shouted back at me and pulled me by my collar to our room. While leaving I also noticed tears rolling as a rivulet down her cheeks.

I shook his hand off my collar when we reached our room. I went and sat on the bean bag beside the bed with my head in my hands. I knew I shouldn't have spoken the words I have, I regretted them the moment they left my mouth. But I don't know. I was angry, hell lot of. May be at that guy. Or may be at Riddhima for staying mum back then. Or may be at myself for somehow paving the way for all this.

"Why were you shouting at her? What happened?" Rahul demanded in a strong tone. I told him. He listened to it silently. "But why on earth were you shouting at her? She would have been already hurt and-" He demanded again.

"Cut the crap Rahul. She brought it on her, herself." I yelled at him, pacing to and fro. "Couldn't she just tell me a word?"

"By now you should have known that she isn't the one who would tell that to you." He said calmly.

I stopped dead at my tracks. Ofcourse, I should have known. And deep down I knew that too. Being the person she was she wouldn't say anything to me. Even if she wanted to tell, what would she say? 'No Armaan, I don't want to dance with him because he tried to misbehave with me.' That too right on his face? Well I guess it was my fault, isn't it? I should have asked her first, if she wanted to go with him or not. And I shouldn't have left her and gone to mom when I promised that I would take care of her.

"What are you searching for?" Rahul asked me, irritated, when I went to search for first-aid kit in my shelf.

"Cotton and dettol. I saw few scratches of Riddhima's wrist." I said calmly and Rahul smiled at me. It still surprises me as to how he could handle me so well when everyone else backs out.

"Was she hurt?" He asked not looking at me. "I mean, u know what I am asking."

"No." I almost shouted in haste. "I reached in time." That pricked my heart badly, even the thought. "I'll be back." I mumbled and went to Riddhima's room.

The door of her room was slightly open. I pushed it open and peeped in. Her bed was empty and so was the chair beside her bed. Even the door of her washroom was open and empty too. Now where did she go again? I thought of leaving the cotton and dettol on her bed. I don't even know if she has them. So I went in and placed the kit on her bed. When I turned around, I gasped as my breath got struck in my throat looking at a body against the wall.

Riddhima curled herself into a ball, hugging her knees her face buried in between them. She was still in the saree. I didn't understand if she was crying. But if she was, I am not yet ready to face her. What would I say to her? When I approached her with the kit and kneeled beside her, she was so still.

"Riddhima?" I spoke softly so as not to scare her, but in vain. She woke up with a startle and looked at me frightened for a second before relaxing. I put forward the kit and waited for her to take them. "Your wrist is hurt." I said slowly when she looked confused. Her cheeks were full of stains of dried tears. She took the cotton and cleaned her wound. I noticed her eyes filling up again.

"I am sorry Riddhima." I whispered. For uttering crap. For not keeping my words of taking care of you. "But you should have told me. Why did you agree to go with him?" I asked again.

"I thought you wouldn't let anything happen to me. When he tried getting close to me, I searched for you but you were not there. I was scared and by the time I realized, he pulled me to the room." She told looking straight into my eyes, her eyes questioning me.

In short, she trusted me to keep her safe. But I failed that. It hurt me bad. I felt as if someone stabbed me. I didn't understand why it hurt me to that extent, but it really did. "I am sorry." I mumbled looking down. What else could I say?

"I was so scared. I thought you wouldn't come and I-" She couldn't complete.

I pulled her into a bear hug. I didn't understand how to comfort her. I wish mom was here. "I'll be there for you Riddhima." The words came out of my throat before I could rethink. I didn't mind that. And surprisingly, she didn't recoil back. I felt her moving closer in my embrace. So I tightened my grip on her and pulled her closer gently. "You will be fine." I whispered into her hair.

I still can't comprehend what I was doing? Why I was doing? But I felt this strong need to protect her, to soothe her. I am not sure if I would have felt the same towards any other being. But with Riddhima being so delicate and fragile, I wanted to take care of her. Was it gallantry? I think not. May be it was this aura of her that binds everyone to her. That makes everyone like her; love her.

I sensed her hands at my back. I also sensed her hesitating to hold me back. I felt mom was right. Riddhima was truly an innocent child searching for a world of her own. I don't know what hardships she had faced in her past. I somehow felt, with her in my arms, she was asking for something. It was as if she was tired of herself, tired of her loneliness and tired of her solitude. Could she be asking for comfort? Could she be asking for support? Could she be asking for.....................

The autumn leaves are falling,
Like tears from her eyes,
There's no reason recalling,
The pain you felt inside,
And I know you're feeling like,
You should run away, run away,
And I know you're wondering,
Oh why you should stay,
Why you should stay

Oh Sweet, sweet Isabel,
Just believe it will be alright,
Sweet, sweet Isabel,
No, you don't have to leave tonight

You feel that change is coming,
But you're so afraid inside,
I know your hearts been broken,
Oh way too many times,
And i know you're feeling like,
You should run away, run away

Oh Sweet, sweet Isabel,
Just believe it will be alright,
Sweet, sweet Isabel,
No, you don't have to leave tonight,
You don't have to leave tonight,
No, you don't have to leave tonight,
No, you don't have to leave tonight,
No, you don't have to leave tonight,
Nooo, no you don't

Oh Sweet, sweet Isabel,
Just believe it will be alright,
Sweet, sweet Isabel,
No, you don't have to leave tonight

The autumn leaves are falling,
Like tears from her eyes,
There's no reason recalling,
The pain you felt inside.

[Sweet Isabel by Enrique Iglesias]

------------------(complete)----------------


Love

Sushmita

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