Friday, 27 December 2019

Part 7 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 7 . Dreams vs. Happiness 

The next day was usual, yet unusual. Usual- as it was just another day where mom went to college, Riddhima stayed back at home as she had a trimester break, Rahul and I were lazing around in our room. Unusual- because of the way I had been observing Riddhima. Not as a paying guest or mom's friend but as a probable woman to be in my life, as a woman to share my life with. And I am telling you, my readers, that's weird. Especially when that girl was not aware of what had been conspiring around her.

Yes, you heard me right. Riddhima was not aware of the match making that mom, along with her new partner Rahul, had plotted. Mom told me that Riddhima would be approached with the matter only if I agree to go ahead with the proposal. And trying to arrive at a conclusion about marrying someone is tricky especially when that someone is quite an introvert.

I do believe in arranged marriages, especially after I had seen two beautiful couples. One- my parents and two- Shashank uncle and Padma aunty. So I wasn't against the fact with mom or aunty choosing a girl for me. Now that I had rejected one with Sanjana, who appears to be close to the woman of my dreams, I just needed a strong innuendo to consider Riddhima.



I tried to pick up some hints which would be obvious from her behavior about her feelings towards me; whether she likes me or admires me or just respects me. But there were absolutely none. I mean, as per mom's and Rahul's theory my behavior towards her had been obvious to them, so I was just waiting for one such hint from her. I was amused at how much self control this girl had. Not even once had there been an action of hers that she would be inclined towards me.

I didn't even have an idea why I had been pondering about the proposal rather than shelving it, when my probable partner wasn't even interested in me. Except for the fact that she had trust in me, there was nothing else. I tried weighing that factor of trust, but then she also trusts mom, Muski, aunty, uncle and I guess Rahul too.

So instead of gauging her feelings, I tried introspecting mine. It's true that I feel concerned for her. But as per me, that wasn't strong enough to build our world together. I tried examining myself if I was physically attracted to her. But there weren't many incidents that I had gotten into close proximity with her. Except for my dazedness when I found her in a saree, there hadn't been any. But then she was pretty that day. Any guy would admire her the way I did, even Rahul was baffled at her beauty. Then immediately popped in the thought that I had found myself checking her out a couple of times. But then, it was usual. I do check the other girls out.

That brought me to a dead lock.

A soft knock at the door relieved me of my preoccupation.

"Wow Armaan, who cares to knock on your door before entering?" Rahul mocked at me, without averting his gaze from the play station monitor. While I was immersed in self-examination, Rahul had been happy like a monkey who caught a coco-nut at having PS all to himself.

"Shut up!" I snapped at him. "The door is open Riddhima." I called out for her. She was the only one who cares to knock my door. And by now, I was used to it.

"Can't you tell me it's her?" Rahul whispered and immediately sat straight, putting on his T-shirt while it was my turn grinning at him. Somewhere my mind already started imagining her reaction had she seen him half naked. Since I came back, I made it a point to put on a shirt while roaming around at home, lest she would be embarrassed.

"Are you free now?" Riddhima asked me stepping in, while passing a smile to both of us. She wore a loose T-shirt and a Capri pant that I couldn't help but notice somehow.

"Yeah Riddhima, sit down." I pointed to the bean bag that lay aside as Rahul and I were sitting on the carpet on the floor. But she chose to sit on the floor instead, facing me.

"Will you sign this for me?" She asked, skeptically, putting forth few papers. Rahul paused his game and joined us.

"What are these?" I asked taking them.

"Company mailed them and asked me to mail the completed form back immediately." She told hesitantly.

I went through the papers. They are the documents asking about the details of one dependant adult family member or a guardian. That's mandatory in the hiring process. Ofcourse I am familiar with them, as it was my and Rahul's team's work at the company to recheck the documents mailed by the students. But then that wasn't the point of concern. Why was she asking me to sign them?

"Did you ask mom about this?" I asked her, while Rahul took the papers from me to read.

"I didn't call aunty yet. She would be late in the evening. But the company wants me to mail them back by 4 in the evening. So I thought to ask you if you would do it. Else I'll try reaching my recruiter requesting for some more time." She uttered her voice low.

"But Riddhima, I don't think I can sign this." I said handing back her papers and her face fell, turning slightly pale.

"Oh! That's fine." She mumbled, putting on a straight face, but I knew she was hurt. It was weird the way I could read her eyes sometimes.

I stared at her as she retreated from my room, closing the door behind her. I looked at Rahul. He, which I understood by the look on his face, and I remembered the same scene; him being in the same position two years back. He was so disturbed with that fact that he didn't even sleep peacefully for few days. He hesitated to even ask mom to sign it for him. But since I had received the same documents along with him, I got them signed it for him. That particular memory was still fresh in my mind. That day he broke down in mom's arms when she signed it for him, as his guardian. It might appear as just a sign, but for Rahul, it had been everything.

That memory pricked my heart. I shouldn't have refused it for her. I was confirmed of that thought when I looked back at Rahul. He gave me a mean look and went back to playing his game. Shit! In an impulse, I messed up with her sensitive emotions. The way I behave with her is so imbalanced. Sometimes I am very much concerned with her feelings and sometimes, I don't even think twice in hurting her, consciously or unconsciously.

Amidst my regret, another piece of information caught my attention. But then she approached me without any interference from mom. It wasn't anything legal. And moreover, she could have asked aunty, uncle or even Rahul, which she didn't. That does mean something, which I had to decipher. But before that I had to do something else.

"Rahul, I'll be back in a minute." I told him, got to my feet and ran out of the room, you -my readers- know where.

The door of her room was slightly open. So I didn't care to knock. She lay on her stomach, across the bed, her face buried into a pillow. The documents were sprawled beside her. Her laptop was switched on.

"Riddhima" I called out for her. She sprung back immediately and sat straight, adjusting her T-shirt. I couldn't help my smile at her consciousness. She collected the papers in haste and threw them aside on the table. She sat on the bed, crossing her legs Indian style, as I stood beside her bed.

"You need something? Lunch is ready already." She told, her voice devoid of any emotions. I also noticed her moist eyes, which somehow stung me.

I took the papers from the table and sat on the bed facing her. "Can I sign these, now?" I asked.

"I called aunty. She said she would try to come early. I will mail the company requesting some mo-"

"That's not an answer Riddhima." I cut her midway, looking at her intently.

"You need not do that Armaan." She whispered, her voice already breaking, eyes downcast.

"What if I want to?" I wish I had brought a pen with me. She looked up at me, her eyes filled up, tears ready to spill down. After a moment of hesitation, she gave me a pen. I filled in all my details and put forth the papers. But she wasn't looking at me. He face was lowered and I sensed her soft sniffs. "Riddhima" I said softly.

"I-" She tried to speak, but couldn't. "Thanks." She whispered after a moment, looking at me as a lone tear escaped her eye.

I looked at her helpless. The next moment, I saw her slightly shaking. I moved closer and she willingly came to my arms as I gathered her close. Just as Rahul broke down in mom's embrace, she sobbed in mine. I didn't speak anything. Neither did she. I just kept rubbing her back gently, trying to ease her sobs for I knew; she just needed someone to hold her. And I gave her just that. She cried, cried and cried silently. I felt my shirt getting damp just below my shoulder. Holding her close, I felt my eyes turning moist, my vision slightly blurred.

How many such situations, had she faced in her past? All alone? She still kept going. And at once I realized, she might be reserved around people but she was hell strong a woman. Atleast stronger than me. I wasn't even able to deal with the loss of my dad for a complete six months. And here she was going through such phase, or even worst, at each and every step of her life. Suddenly I could see her entirely different persona; rather than being a shy, nervous Riddhima, she was much more. I understood why mom is so fond of her, in a deeper sense.

"Are you fine Riddhima?" I whispered into her ear softly. I felt the movement of her head, as if nodding. It made me smile. I just let her stay in my embrace, with the silence doing the work for us.

Now that she was more or less fine, my mind drifted off to few out-of-the-place thoughts of Riddhima. Not emotionally but physically. And God, she was so soft! I might not have noticed it the other night when I hugged her. But now I couldn't help but think about it as that thought popped up in my dirty brain. This was the closest that I had gotten to her, ofcourse when I am conscious of it. And it felt good. Actually, more than good to be precise, also taking into account that I had been with a couple of girls before. It was as if I could feel her, completely. Testing my luck, I tightened my hold and pulled her in for a closer intimacy. I didn't know what made me do that, yet I just did that. And I also wanted to do much more.

May be I could also kiss her? Just on her cheek though, in the pretext of making her feel good?

May be I was attracted to her? May be-

"Armaan?" I heard her voice and pulled my hands back, releasing her of my hold instantly. She drew away and looked everywhere but at me. The first thought that came to my mind was whether I had I been thinking out loud. Did she come to know what I had been thinking? "I am fine." She murmured wiping her cheeks off the tears, her face still sober. "Thanks for signing them." She added.

"Anytime Riddhima." I said, rather cheekily. But she didn't seem to notice.

"Hey guys, shall we go for lunch." It was Rahul. He might have understood her plight; he didn't remark anything of her sullen face or puffy eyes. I got up from the bed and stood beside him. "I don't want to die of hunger after living a luxurious life." He added dramatically.

And she smiled. Rahul had this unique sense of spreading tranquility around him, calming the people of their intense emotions.

"We will wait for you downstairs. Come fast." I said, thinking she might require a moment for herself.

"You should have done that when she asked you." Rahul said as a matter of fact, while descending stairs.

"I know."

"Then why didn't you?" He asked.

"To sign it later." I said with a straight face. It took a moment for him to grasp what I was doing. When he did, he clutched my neck in his hand and smacked my abs with the other.

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

"Hey mom, where are you going?" I asked mom as she was preparing to leave somewhere along with Riddhima. It was evening and mom was back to home early. She gave me an approving look when Rahul told her that I had signed the documents. Well yeah I was slightly embarrassed!

"Just for a walk. We'll be back in an hour." Mom replied wrapping a shawl around her body while Riddhima put on a woolen scarf. I looked at Riddhima and she passed me a smile, actually a very sweet one, to which I couldn't help smiling back. It was weird how such simple gestures from her made me happy. I made a mental note of this in my analysis regarding mom's probable match.

"Can we come too?" Rahul butted in. But mom didn't appear like she liked the idea neither was I. I just want to lay on the couch and sort my mind out.

"No. Today's a day out for me and Riddhima. Just us." Mom quipped while Riddhima giggled and I chuckled at a sulking Rahul. "Bye." She added before leaving.

"Why are you in a foul mood?" I asked him. By the look on his face I knew something was bothering him.

"Nothing. Just got a call from Ankit." He replied making a face. "He cut down my leave by five days."

"Good. Then I guess you have to leave the day after tomorrow." I said, grinning, mentally counting the days.

"Yeah perfect for you too. Coz u have to accompany me." He added with a smirk. His words wiped that grin off my face. We were just like school children who would sulk at the thought of getting back to school after a vacation. In our case, even our vacation was cut short.

"Why is that so? We were granted leave." I whined.

"He said there was an additional project assigned to our teams. So we have to get back." He replied switching on the TV.

"I will screw him. I'll better resign immediately after that project." I added, my mind already aiming abuses at my manager. He gave me a I-know-it look. Well, that was my usual dialogue whenever I was frustrated with Ankit. He and I knew how much truth that statement of mine holds.

"Then how will you feed yourself? By begging?" He continued further watching some sensuous song on the channel.

"Oye Armaan Mallik doesn't beg. I'll be showered with innumerable offers from other companies." I gloated proudly. "However Riddhima would join the company by then. So her salary would be enough to feed us comfo-." I stopped midsentence, aghast at what I had been speaking. Rahul was no less. His mouth was wide open as if he was about to say something but fell short.

Where did Riddhima come from in our conversation? What the hell had I been thinking? I hadn't really made up my mind regarding Riddhima. Then how could I blurt something like that? Could this mean something? Well, I don't know. I was sure of one thing though- my mind was messed up.

"You-" Rahul opened his mouth to say something but the ring of my mobile saved me from further embarrassment.

I looked at the number thanking that person. It was mom.

"Yeah mom?" I spoke into the mobile averting my gaze from Rahul.

"Armaan, this is Riddhima."

"Yes Riddhima." I said turning my back to Rahul as I felt him gawking at me.

"Armaan, we had a small accident and-" My heart stopped beating abruptly.

"Accident?" I asked making sure I heard it right. Rahul sprung to his feet instantly. "Which hospital?" I grabbed the car keys while Rahul took the house keys.

"Sanjeevani." My head already started spinning with thoughts about mom, as we ran to the parking lot after locking the house. From her voice I could sense that Riddhima was fine.

"Are you okay?" I asked while Rahul started the car anxiously.

"Yeah I am but-" I cut the call. I didn't want to listen to that but. It could mean only one thing which I didn't want to face. This was my weakness. I would rather ignore the wrecked situation than face it. But now, my brain wasn't working. It was foggy.

Rahul hit my shoulder to yield an answer out of me. His face was pale as if he had seen a ghost, adding to my agitated nerves. "Sanjeevani. Drive fast." I mumbled, wiping my face with my hands.

The beat of my heart was so loud I actually felt I could hear to it. I started sweating.  My phone started ringing again but I just stared at it afraid to take the call. It was mom's number.

"Armaan, take the call." Rahul mumbled. But I just stared at it. "Armaan-" He shouted irritated at my lack of reaction. The car came to a rough halt at the entrance of the hospital and I jumped out of the car throwing the mobile into Rahul's hands. I ran into the hospital with my heart hanging in my mouth.

"Mom?" I wondered if I went mad when I found mom standing at the reception talking to Shashank uncle.

"Oh Armaan, where are the reports?" Mom asked me and her voice assured me the fact that I wasn't hallucinating.

"Rahul went to get them aunty." Riddhima answered it for me. I just stood staring at them agape, my heart beating faster than Schumacher's Ferrari. I turned to look for Rahul but he wasn't there.

"Mom? Accident? Phone?" I tried to form a sentence but in vain.

"Yeah, A small one. See I just got a scratch on my elbow." Mom showed the scratch which was bandaged. I breathed out. It was then that I realized I was holding my breath.

"What the hell? Couldn't you just tell that in that damn call?" I shouted, my fear slowly transforming into anger. I kicked the stool that was in my way and went and sat on the chair in the corridor, holding my head in my hands. There were few moments of complete silence in the corridor of the hospital. I could feel the gaze of people on me. But I didn't care. I just want to calm my mind.

"Aunty, reports." I heard Rahul's voice. I didn't care look up at them to explain my behavior. My mind was blank.

"Aunty is fine. Riddhima just called you to ask you to get her reports." Rahul said sitting beside me patting my shoulder. "I'll get you a coffee." He added and left.

I sat still, with my head in my hands, staring at the floor. My mind still stuck around the thoughts of something happening to mom and my heart still beating superfast. That mere thought knocked breathe as well as senses out of me. That fear of losing mom gripped my heart so tight that I felt dead few minutes ago. This was the first time that I came across something like this and I didn't understand how to react to it. I wanted to vent that feeling out of my body, but how?

Tears? No. I wasn't that weak. May be I am? I couldn't do that, atleast not in public. Come on, my readers, I am a guy. People around the hospital would think that I am mad if I sat and cried when mom was absolutely fit. Moreover, it being dad's hospital I was a known person here.

"Armaan?" I heard Riddhima's voice and blinked back the tears that stung my eyes. I felt so vulnerable which I didn't like. She stood infront of me. I looked up at her and she smiled at me. "Come with me." She took my hand and guided me towards the visitor's room.

She closed the door when we stepped in. It was empty. I sat on the chair. I wanted to be alone. That's the reason Rahul left me alone. He understood me well. But then Riddhima didn't go out. She walked towards me and stood infront of me.

"Tears don't make a person weak. They just show how much you care for the person behind them." She said softly looking straight into my eyes. Ofcourse they don't, with Riddhima being the prime example. I stared at her surprised at her words, fresh tears already forming in my eyes. This was probably the first time Rahul didn't understand me well. Well, I thought he did initially but now I know it was not true. Because I just wanted someone to hold me. A tear rolled down my cheek.

Riddhima took a step ahead and hugged me as I buried my head in her stomach, wrapping my arms around her waist. I don't know what she read in my eyes but she was right. I desperately wanted to cry. I felt her fingers in my hair. She ruffled my hair just as mom used to do. I relaxed against her and let the tears flow out of my eyes.

When that inexplicable fear of losing mom that grasped my senses slowly faded in the form of tears, I realized that it was not a mere physical reaction that attracted me towards Riddhima. It was much more. It was this emotional quotient. With her holding me, I felt good. I felt this weird sense of protection in her embrace, which I always felt in mom's arms. I might not have noticed it previously as I wasn't the one seeking it before. Now that I was at the receiving end, I realized it. Somehow, I didn't want to let go of it.

"Are you fine Armaan?" She asked me after a few moments of silence and I was immediately reminded of the incident in the afternoon. This was just the role reversal.

"I am fine." I mumbled moving back from her embrace. I looked up at her and she smiled at me. She didn't say anything about my stupid breakdown and I was thankful for that. "Thank you." I added smiling.

"Anytime Armaan." She replied giggling. I chuckled at that. She was using my words back at me. I thought she hadn't noticed that cheeky dialogue of mine then but she did. I stood infront of her not averting my gaze from her. Soon, as I had expected, she lowered her eyes and stepped back. "I'll go and meet aunty." She whispered before she fled off from the room. I felt strangely happy.

I stayed there staring into space, that smile still etched on my face. One more realization shook me. Riddhima may not be the woman of my dreams, but I am positively sure that she can be the woman of my happiness. Hell, I could already feel that happening.

"Armaan, shall we leave? Are you ready?" Rahul asked me entering the room.

"Yes, I am ready." I replied my smile only growing wider, my heart jumping in mad joy and my mind finally at peace

Sushmita

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