Sunday, 12 January 2020

AR FF part 21 : "and then she said it"

 Shadows of past

"Who is it?" I mumbled into the phone as I took the call.

"Armaan, it's me, mom" I heard the voice and blinked my eyes slowly. They hurt like hell as I forced them open.

"Mom? What happened?" Though half dazed, I felt my heart racing slightly. I switched the light on and checked the watch. Its 5 am in the morning.

"When are you coming to Bangalore? Did you tell Riddhima that you would be coming late?" Her questions made sure I am completely awake.

"Riddhima? Why?" The mere mention of her name gave rise to some panic at the pit of my stomach.

It had been three days since she went to Bangalore. And she called me plenty of times the next day she went there. But I was tired and emotionally exhausted then. Acting in haste, I cut all her calls. She didn't call me after that and neither did I. I was strangely relieved. I needed some time to sort my mind and the next two days gave me ample time to calm me down.



The sole reason behind my hesitance to talk to her was that her reaction hurt me. The look she gave me that day somehow shook my insides. That fear in her eyes, the way she clutched her shirt when she emerged out of the washroom made me feel like I was forcing myself on her when she willingly responded to our intimacy. I doubted if she trusted me in the first hand because she only opened the door when I yelled that I would call mom. And that made me feel sick, because after all these days of togetherness I couldn't imagine her to be still afraid of me- be it emotionally or physically.

Somewhere I was also guilt-ridden. Many a time in the last couple of days, I thought maybe I behaved a bit desperate; maybe she wasn't ready for our physical relation yet. But then I couldn't help it. That day, watching her only in my shirt made me go crazy. And when I kissed her, the way she responded back with so much eagerness and fervor somehow snapped my control. And it scared me. Because all my life, I was always in control. I would just avoid any scenarios that I felt would let me go off my control. And this time too, I just did the same. I avoided that scenario ' Riddhima.

Moreover, she didn't talk to me what troubled her. I knew that she wasn't the person who would speak openly but then it was our relationship that was at stake. I would have been glad if she said anything other than that freaking same sorry. That one word made me sick to the pit of my stomach. It was as if she was saying that she felt sorry for what had transpired between us. Because that was one beautiful moment, a moment of pure bliss.

Amidst everything, I missed her. I missed her smile when she would wake me up. I missed her giggles when I would fight with Rahul. I missed the way she would shy away when I gazed at her intently. I missed the lunch bag. I missed talking to her. I missed kissing her. I missed sleeping next to her hugging her. I missed her presence. I just missed her; terribly.

"Armaan, are you there?" Mom raised voice broke my chain of thoughts.

"Yeah, yeah mom. What happened  to Riddhima?" I asked.

"I don't know. She told me that you would come last night itself, it being Friday. She was up all night, waiting for you." Her words made my heart skip a beat just like that.

"Mom, I told you I would come today afternoon." I reminded her. Since there was some urgent work at office last night, I called mom and informed her that I would be coming today. And true to my words, I stayed at office until something around 3 am.

"I told her the same, but she wouldn't believe me. And now, she is running fever and crying for some reason, she wouldn't tell me." She said, slightly exasperated and I almost jumped from the bed.

I was scared of Riddhima's conclusion she would have derived from my coming late. Every time something like this happens, she concludes something like I would leave her or that I was angry with her and she just flips out.

"Mom, is she" I cleared my throat "Is Riddhima beside you? Can I speak to her?" I asked, my heart now beating faster.

"Yeah, one minute." She said and I waited holding my breath.

After a moment, I heard mom speaking to Riddhima and then I heard her voice faintly. After a moment, I heard her uneven breath and then her sniffs. I knew she held the mobile.

"Riddhima?" I spoke and waited for her to respond. "Are you there?" I asked when she didn't reply. "Are you listening to me?"

"Hmm" I heard her whisper and I knew she was crying. I sighed.

"Riddhima, speak something." I pleaded. It pained to imagine her state.

"I-m-i-s-s-y-o-u" I heard her broken voice and felt something gripping my throat making it difficult to breath. "I-I am- I am so-sorry." She whispered and then I heard her sobbing.

"Don't cry Riddhima, please." I whispered, almost pleading.

"I-I-" I heard her hiccups. "I-am-sorry-Armaan. Don't-leave-me-please" I closed my eyes, when I felt them stinging.

"Riddhima, listen to me." I said, trying to keep my voice calm. "Listen to me carefully, Okay?"

"Hmm."

I heard her voice and continued, "I am not going to leave you ever. I am taking the next flight and coming there, okay? Now give the mobile to mom."

"What's wrong Armaan? Why is she so upset?" Mom sounded scared.

"Nothing's wrong, mom. We kind of had a fight before she came there. I will take an early flight. Ask Shashank uncle to give her a sedative to make her sleep." I told her, making my way towards the washroom.

"Are you fine, Armaan? You seem disturbed." I knew mom would never intrude into my personal space. I knew she was concerned but she wouldn't ask me what fight we had. And I only love her more for that.

"I am fine, mom." I replied. "Take care of her, mom." I couldn't help but add.

"I will. You take care of yourself." She said. "I love you, beta"

I swallowed the lump in my throat. She would use beta only when she knew I needed her. That word gave me an odd sense of relief. "I love you too. Bye" I said and cut the call.

I leaned against the wall and couldn't help but let my eyes turn moist, partly due to lack of sleep and mostly due to Riddhima's words. What have I done to her!

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After a lot of hesitance, I knocked at Rahul's door. Firstly, because he had also worked last night at the office along with me and secondly because of my behavior towards him two days back. A day after Riddhima had left for Bangalore, he tried to talk to me what the matter was. He also told me that she had been crying all the way to the airport and that she refused to stay back as I would be angry if she did. In desperate need to take my frustration out on anyone, I yelled at him to stay out of my personal matters. And since then, he stood by his words, just stayed away from me. I knew I had acted like a jerk but I couldn't muster my courage to speak to him, to apologize to him. Just like what I had done with Riddhima, I avoided him.

He just stared at me blankly when he opened the door. Then looking at my attire, he grew alert.

"Rahul, I am leaving for Bangalore." I told him simply.

"What?" He almost shouted. "Why? Is something wrong?" He asked, the frown on his forehead deepening.

"No, no nothing is wrong. It's just that Riddhima is not well." I replied and he gave me a nod.

"Just give me five minutes, I'll come with you." He said and turned around to go but I stopped him.

I hugged him tight. "I am so sorry Rahul. I didn't mean to shout at you." I said and drew back. "I was just out of my mind." I added.

"You sure were." He smiled and I knew I was forgiven. I was, as always, surprised at how easily he forgives people. I know it sounds weird but I love him as much as I love mom.

"I love you Rahul." I said, gleefully and hugged him again.

"Stay away from me saale." He jerked me away and went inside, with me following. He quickly brushed his teeth and put a set of his clothes in a small bag.

"What happened to Riddhima?" He asked me while I locked the door.

"She is running fever." I replied, without meeting his eyes.

"You didn't talk to her, did you?" He asked me and I looked at him surprised. He just smiled. It was always a wonder how he could read me so effortlessly. "You shouldn't have done that." He added when I didn't reply.

"I know." I said. I knew that now but I wished I had known it back then.

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It was 11.30 am when we reached home. Mom sighed in relief when she opened the door for us. I hugged her tight when she let us in. I just needed some comfort and only mom could give me that. She didn't question me anything, just rubbed my back and kissed my forehead.

"She is asleep. Shashank gave her two sleeping pills." She informed me before I could ask her. "Go and sleep for some time. I'll call you when the lunch is ready." She added.

When I headed for the stairs, I heard mom talking to Rahul. I couldn't help but wonder why I was blessed with these two wonderful people in my life. With the amount of imperfections I had, it's a blunder that HE granted me with them.

Entering the room, I found Riddhima sleeping like a baby curled into herself, hugging the blanket, at one corner of the bed. Removing my jacket, I sat on the floor beside the bed staring at her face. Her cheeks were still damp from the tears and I cursed myself another time for putting her through this. But I hadn't planned it, did I? Everything happened so out of blue that I had no idea where we were heading. What was my fault in that?

I wiped her cheeks with my thumb and lay on the bed beside her. I contemplated on hugging her but thought otherwise and maintained space between us. The last thing I wanted was to scare her more than she probably was. I checked her forehead and was relieved when her skin wasn't very warm. The fever must have been subsided; I thought when I saw her skin breaking out in faint sweat. I pulled the bedsheet away from her body and was astonished at the sight that greeted me.

Riddhima slept hugging one of my shirts. I stared at her trying to make sure it was real. But when I realized it was indeed real, I remembered her telling me how she used to hug her school bag in her childhood imagining it to be her mom. I smiled as I realized she wasn't scared of me the way I had imagined her to be. I knew there was something I was missing but I was determined to find it out before we head back to Hyderabad.

Carefully, I pulled the shirt out of her grip and pulled her closer gently. Though unconscious, she placed her head on my shoulder and wrapped her hand around my waist. She breathed in deeply and moved closer to me, nuzzling my neck. I turned my face just a little until my lips touched her forehead. I kissed her and let my lips linger there for a while. I closed my eyes when I heard her murmur something in her sleep.

"I am sorry Armaan." That was the last thing I heard before I slipped into a dreamless sleep with her in my arms after what I felt like ages.

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I opened my eyes slowly when I felt my stomach aching slightly demanding its feed. But all could see was strips of thick black darkness and bright light in irregular patterns. Stretching my body, I tried to take in the surroundings. After a couple of silent moments, I realized that the darkness is due to her hair covering my face. Taking a deep breath, I turned my face to find her sleeping peacefully with her lips slightly parted. Placing her head back on the pillow, I tried to get up only to be pulled back slightly. Looking down, I noticed her fist gripping my collar tightly. Kissing her fingers, I removed my collar from her grip and sat on the bed. She tossed and turned, pulled the bedsheet closer to her and went back to sleep. I smiled. I looked at the watch and found it to be 3 pm. I had got a good three hours of sleep but I felt more rested than the last couple of days.

Taking a shower, I went downstairs to find Rahul and mom chatting at the dining table. I noticed that they had finished their lunch.

"Hey!" I greeted them, my voice strangely cheerful. Rahul smiled at me but I found mom looking at me intently.

"What happened mom?" I asked sitting at the table while Rahul passed me the food.

"Nothing." Mom shook her head smiling. "You both have put on some weight." She added simply.

"Why not aunty? Riddhima's culinary skills are amazing. She makes us take lunch bags daily. And she would give a big lecture if we left any food." Rahul added with a chuckle.

"Mom, I am planning to take Riddhima to Nandi hills tomorrow." I said.

"That's good. She needs to get out of the house." Mom nodded. "She seemed troubled ever since she came here."

"It's simple aunty. She missed Armaan." Rahul smirked and winked at me. I smiled. It's not completely false after all.

Talking about random things, I finished my lunch. Not once did they let the topic of the tiff between Riddhima and me come up. Suddenly we heard hurried footsteps on the stairs and turned around to find Riddhima coming down hurriedly. She stopped in her tracks and stared at me with a blank face when she spotted me.

"Rahul and I have some work with Padma. We'll go down." Mom announced and I watched them leaving us alone. I was thankful.

Riddhima took slow steps descending the stairs but her steps came to a halt at the last one. She looked tentatively at me as if seeking permission to come to me. I smiled at her and took a step towards her. The next moment, she ran into my arms and held me tight with a death grip. I wrapped my arms around her and rubbed her back gently while she sobbed. I didn't stop her for I wanted her to vent it all out. When her sobs gave away to hiccups, I drew her apart gently.

"Sshh. It's okay, Riddhima. Stop crying now. I am with you." I whispered, cupping her face in my palms and wiped her tears with my thumbs. But she shook her head and hid her face in my neck. I felt her warm tears on my skin and sighed. May be a loving kiss would do! My heart reprimanded me the instant that thought took a shape in my brain. The idea was tempting enough but it could wait.

"What happened, Riddhima? Hmm?" I knew it was a waste to ask as we both were aware what her tears were for. But I wanted to know much more. Once again I wiped her tears when she looked at me with her big round eyes. "You scared everyone."

"I don't know; I was scared." She whispered slowly. "I thought you wouldn't come."

"Why wouldn't I come?" I asked, resting my hands on the back of her waist.

"I knew you were angry with me." She mumbled lowering her eyes, playing with the buttons of my shirt. I realized she does that every time she gets nervous.

I avoided that because I, myself, wasn't sure what I felt -anger or hurt. Instead I replied, "I missed you."

"You did?" She asked raising her eyes to meet mine. I smiled and she said, "I missed you too."

"Rahul missed you, too." I added.

She smiled slightly. "He was so worried that day when I cried." She said slowly and looked down again. I waited for her to say something which she did after a few moments. "Armaan," She looked at me and started. I knew what was coming. "I-"

I placed my fingers on her lips and cut her short. "Anything but that sorry, Riddhima. Please." I was fed up with her apologies and those sorries. "You want to say something?" I asked praying she would.

But she lowered her eyes, shook her head and rested her head on my chest. I sighed. This would be quite a task, making her speak. But I decided not to prober her further. I wanted her to speak it herself, to trust me and to share her secrets which were probably troubling her.

"Fine. Mom made khichdi for you. Come and eat it." I led her towards the dining table. She looked at me in wary but I gave her a smile and she returned it back.

By the time she ate and had her shower, Mom and Rahul came back along with Padma aunty and Muski. She wore a light green saree and looked fresh. Rahul went and gave her a bear hug when he met her.

"Wow, the color is back on Riddhima's face!!" Muski exclaimed the moment she spotted Riddhima. "We will ask dad to follow this, momma. Whenever a wife falls ill, the husband would be the best medicine." She added with a wink. Everyone chuckled while I shifted my position on the couch while the shade of the color, whatsoever, on her face deepened.

"And look at her dress. Last two days she didn't even care with what she wore. Now that Armaan is here, she dressed up for him in saree." Padma aunty played along but that caught my attention. I wondered if she did that to please me, taking into account the fact that she told me she was not fond of sarees.

"Armaan isn't any lesser. He went literally crazy without Riddhima." Rahul butted in. Padma aunty and Muski laughed while mom smiled and I kicked his leg. I had to admit that was partially true. I watched in amusement as Riddhima's face turned completely red. I always wonder how these small things affect her.

And we lazed around in the living room as Muski put forth Riddhima's probable tactics in my absence while Rahul complimented her with his exaggerated stories of mine in Hyderabad. Everyone's focus as on what they were speaking but mine was rested on them. I smirked as I felt sparks flying between them and wondered when Rahul would come up with his feelings towards Muski. Or maybe knowing him, Muski might reveal it first or who knows even Padma aunty or Shashank uncle might come up with the proposal of getting them married.

I diverted my mind from them to Riddhima when I noticed her looking at me. She looked away when I caught her but spotted her stealing glances at me when she thought I wasn't looking at her. She seemed happy or so I thought. Though I was happy, I was also disturbed. Whatever it might be, I will make sure everything gets fine before we leave Bangalore.
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As I observed Riddhima closely, I found her behavior slightly strange. Not that she was acting weird, but she appeared to be on wary every moment. Sometimes she appeared lost somewhere. And she was startled more than a couple of times when our arms touched accidentally. She hesitated to sleep or take rest in the evening in our bedroom. She sticked by me all through the evening, not letting me go out of her sight even for a minute. I found her searching around frantically until she spotted me when I went away from her. Not that I minded it, but she appeared as if she was fighting with something inside her and that troubled me, for some reason unknown to me.

Even now, she was sleeping beside me holding my vest tight in her fist. Though I knew she was extremely drowsy owing to the medicines, her eyes fluttered open the moment I made a slight movement. As decided, I didn't try to probe her hoping she would try to talk to me. But with every passing second of her silence, my hope subsided.  It hurt me to think about the fact that she was not opening up to me even after a little over a month of our marriage. But I knew, nothing could make her talk to me unless she wanted to. And I wished that moment would come before my patience gave away to frustration. And with these thoughts disturbing me, I dozed off.

I opened my eyes when I felt something pricking my cheek. Rubbing it, I tried to go back to sleep only to feel it pricking again. I raised my head and looked around to find out the disturbance. It took a little over a minute to realize that I was sprawled over Riddhima, my head on her chest and that the thing pricking my cheek was her mangalsutra. I found her in deep sleep with one of her hands around my nape. Smiling, I placed a kiss on her throat and made myself comfortable beside her.

She whined due to the movement and turned to me with a frown, making me chuckle. I looked at the watch and found the time to 5.15 am. I wondered what the hell was happening to me. Never in my life did I wake up before 8 unless emergency. But for the past few days, I was drifting awake in the wee hours of the mornings and neither was I able to get back to sleep after that.

Sighing, I turned my attention to her face and kept staring at her face wondering where we were heading. At this pace, I doubted if we will be able to consummate our relationship before either of us turning 50. I chuckled at my own thought. I found myself asking the same question again; why don't you say anything, Riddhima? I also had no answer for the question why I was hell bent on thinking about her comfort, her feelings, her emotions than my own when I knew I was hurt. Being her husband, it's my responsibility but I myself felt it strange. I felt something changing in me.

She stretched her body and opened her eyes after a moment. She smiled at me while I returned it involuntarily. She came closer, hugged me and nuzzled my neck, surprising me beyond my wits. I wondered if she was drunk again. But that was highly impossible. This woman was one hell of a mysterious one!

She drew apart and looked into my eyes as I stayed still. "Good morning." She wished me, after placing a kiss on my cheek.

"Huh?" That was all I could manage. Did I miss something? May be she was sleep-talking! May be she was not Riddhima at all!

I lost my ability to think when she came closer again and touched my lips with hers.  Except for her drunken state tactics, she never initiated a kiss and I didn't understand if I was dreaming or it was really happening. All my senses abandoned me when she slowly caressed my nape moving her lips. I knew this shouldn't be happening, I wanted her to talk to me first but I couldn't help it when her fingers threaded my hair. Giving in, I pulled her closer and eased her lips open. But the moment her breasts pressed against my chest, it all came rushing back –the fear in her eyes, the way she pleaded me to let go, the way she clutched her shirt to her body and the hurt. Amassing all my left over self-control, I pushed her back gently, both of us already panting.

"No, Riddhima." I whispered holding her by her shoulders. "I can't-" I left the sentence incomplete when I looked at her face and got off the bed. Running a hand in my hair, I walked to the washroom.

"Armaan, I am sorry I stopped you that day. I didn't mean to." She spoke hurriedly when I stepped out of the washroom. "I promise I-" She searched for words. "I won't stop you again."

"What the hell are you speaking Riddhima?" I couldn't help but raise my voice at her choice of words. Stop it? What was what!!

"I mean you can –we can –I mean –you can touch me and-"

"Shut up Riddhima!!" I cut her. "I don't want to have sex with you. I want to make love to you." I winced at my own bluntness of words. "You don't get it, do you? I am not bothered with you stopping me that day. I respect that. But what was that fear in your eyes that day for? I couldn't get it out of my head. You made me feel like I was forcing myself on you." I noticed tears filling her eyes and lost it completely. "I want you to talk to me damn it!! I don't want you to seduce me!!"

"It wasn't you Armaan." She whispered in her broken voice. As much as I wanted to cuddle her and wipe those tears, I couldn't get to do it.

"Then what is it, Riddhima?" I asked exasperated. But she looked down and the silence in the room greeted me with answer. "Fine!" I yelled and made my way towards the door of the room.

"I was molested Armaan!!" I heard her cry and stopped dead in my tracks. "I –I was sexually abused." She sobbed hiding her face in her palms.

I felt my heart beating fast, and numb. As I watched her hugging her knees and shaking with sobs, I felt my chest tighten, unbearable pain gripping my body. I didn't expect that. I stood still unable to comprehend how to react. But when she looked at me, her eyes red and filled with tears, I couldn't help but rush back to her.

"Do you hate me now?" she asked, her voice broken searching for something in my eyes.

"No no, Riddhima." I said immediately. "I can never hate you." I added.

"Can –can I hug you?" I heard her ragged voice and came out of my momentary trance.

"Though an orphan, I was happy until I was a mere child. But the moment, changes occurred in my body, people started noticing me. I was never comfortable with attention, so it bothered me." She said as if in a trance. "When I was in 7th standard, a couple adopted me. The woman was very kind to me and loved me, but her husband-" She choked.

"Ssh. It's okay Riddhima. You need not tell me if it hurts." I hugged her tight. I was vaguely aware of where it was leading. But I realized it was taking all her might to speak. May be she didn't want to reminisce her bitter past. That might have been a reason for her not telling me. I felt bad at that thought, for making her go through this. But I was also hurt, wasn't I?

But she continued, "He used to make me sleep between him and aunty during night saying that I would be scared if I slept alone. Aunty and I believed him. Infact I always wanted to sleep hugging my parents." She smiled, as if mocking at her own desires. "It was fine for a week but then I felt him trying to touch my legs, waist. I didn't say anything to aunty as I was scared that they would send me back to the orphanage. Then he started nuzzling my neck and fondling with- with my- my breasts. I didn't know what to do. I used to bear everything but cry all the night when he went to sleep. One day when aunty was not at home, he tried to –when I protested, he slapped me, ripped my dress open and –" She sobbed, gripping me tight, her nails digging into my back.

I closed my eyes as my tears threatened to spill. I felt as if knives were being stabbed in my heart.

"When he tried to rape me, aunty came back home at the same time and rescued me. She sent me back immediately to the orphanage. I never got enough time to forget it. Every step, I encountered those hungry eyes watching out for me -be it the workers at the orphanage or classmates at school or college. The more I tried to get away from it, the more those situations haunted me. People always seemed to take advantage of the fact that I am an orphan and that I had no one to lean on." She drew apart and looked at me, tears spilling as rivulets from her red eyes. "It was not you Armaan. I tried to forget it as time passed. But when you touched me, it all came back. For a moment, I was scared of your strength when you pushed me against the wall. I am so sorry, Armaan. I didn't mean to hurt you or your feelings. But I couldn't help that fear that suddenly gripped me." Her eyes pleaded me.

I hugged her tight not able to figure out what to tell her, how to soothe her. Now I understood why she was always nervous around men, why she took so much time in getting comfortable with me. She used to go stiff initially when I as much touched her –be it a handshake or a friendly pat on her back. She was so hesitant to hold me or hug me. Even now, she gets startled every time I touch her in her sleep, I recalled. 

"It's not your fault, Riddhima." I cupped her face in my palms.

"Do you regret marrying me?" She asked, holding my collar tight in her fingers.

"No." I kissed her forehead. "You are a wonderful woman, Riddhima. I am glad to have you in my life. You have a beautiful life ahead. Don't let your past ruin it, okay?" I whispered.

She nodded her head and few more tears rolled down her cheeks. "I was afraid you would leave me if I told you about me."

"I am telling you for hundredth time, Riddhima. I will never leave you, come what may; never. You can let go of that insecurity." I told her, my voice calm and firm. But her tears didn't seem to have an end. I leaned closer and kissed her tears away while she closed her eyes. "I know it might be difficult for you to believe me, but trust me Riddhima, I am ready to wait for you –in every sense." I whispered in her ear.

We lay back on the bed, with me hugging her tight as she fell asleep, yet again. I sighed involuntarily that she wasn't deprived of her dignity. I couldn't help but think about the brutal scar that was left behind on her innocent heart.

And now it's time to go to bed
My darling rest your weary head
But I have work I should begin
So I will tuck you in
And I will kiss your tears away

I never thought I'd run to you
I thought I'd better things to do
But now I can't wait for the day
When by your side I'll lay
And I will kiss your tears away

I will give you everything
I will make your every dream come true
I will be the one you need
You know I'm the one to see you through

I will give you everything
I will make your every dream come true
I will be the one you need
You know I'm the one to see you through

And now it's time to go to bed
My darling rest your weary head
But I have work I should begin
So I will tuck you in
And I will kiss your tears away

[Kiss your tears away - Smithereens]
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sushmita

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