Thursday, 16 January 2020

AR FF part 25 : "and then she said it"

 Facing the unexpected

"Armaan, how many shirts shall I put? 4 or 5?"

I heard Riddhima ask for fifth time that evening and let out a loud sigh. She had been packing and unpacking the same bag for the last one hour. It was Wednesday evening and I booked for a late evening flight to leave for Darjeeling. She had been hyper active since the last two days and her enthusiasm is almost infectious; so much that even Rahul started fretting over our packing. If left to me, I would allow her to put three pairs each. Hell, I would prefer no clothes at all!

"Do you think two sweaters are enough?" Riddhima asked once again, her cheerful voice cutting through my line of thoughts.

"When I am with you, do you think you need sweaters to keep you warm?" I drawled out and that caught her immediate attention. Her sweater came with jet speed and kissed my face an instant later. I lay back on the bed and chuckled, mentally recalling all the things I would like to do for the next five days.

Ever since I showed her the tickets a month back, Riddhima had been literally counting days. We made the hotel bookings and hired a car for the local travel through an agent. She jumped in delight when she told mom and Muski about our trip. My heart warmed immediately watching her happy. Oh how much she missed happiness for the last 24 years! I was determined to give her all that she deserved: happiness and my love.



And I had also planned to tell her, when we were in our honeymoon, that I loved her. I am still not sure if my words would make any impact on her for we had been happily married for over four months now. Many a time, people remarked that we are a couple very much in love. But anyways, I decided to let it out of my heart. The more I carried it, the more difficult it became.

"What are you thinking?" She patted my knee and I sat up on the edge of the bed.

"Just wondering what is there in the parcel Muski sent you." I whispered as I pulled her between my thighs. There was this parcel delivered a week back for her and she very deftly kept it away from me.

"That's for me, confidential." She added, as she put her hands around my neck and smiled at me, slowly caressing my nape. Oh how much I love that caress!

"Done with packing?" I asked as I drew her closer wrapping my hands around her waist.

She nodded. "When will we leave?" She asked again running her fingers in my scalp.

"In an hour, as soon as Rahul comes home." I said, suddenly feeling drowsy under her massage. I rested my head against her belly and sighed. Riddhima and I managed to office early and Rahul offered to drop us at the airport. We were waiting for him to return from the office.

"Hey! Uh-sorry." Riddhima jumped away from me as we heard Rahul's voice. I turned to Rahul and he grinned at me. "So, ready to leave?" He asked, thumping my shoulder. "Packed everything?" He then asked Riddhima.

She nodded. "I will change my dress and then we can leave." Saying so she went to the washroom while I grabbed my jacket and left the room with Rahul, looking forward to the exciting 5 days alone with Riddhima. 

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It was 11pm in the night when we reached the hotel we had booked in Darjeeling. And in spite of wrapping herself in a woolen shawl, Riddhima was shivering from cold. I collected the room keys, took the brochure for sight-seeing and rushed to the room pulling her with him. The room itself was very cozy: dim lit and filled with wooden furniture. I was surprised at not finding a fan or AC in the room. But then chuckled at my stupidity. I told Riddhima to change her clothes and went into the washroom to change mine.

By the time I stepped out of the washroom, even I was shivering a bit. Surprised at finding Riddhima sitting on the chair beside her bed, I threw my clothes on the table and went to her. I smiled at her pale face, trembling lips and cluttering teeth. She was a scene to watch. The moment she spotted me, she rushed to me and held me tight. I walked back to the bed with her clinging to me and the next instant she pulled the blanket and buried herself in it. I chuckled at her and stretched out beside her.

"It is so cold." She mumbled after a moment.

Smiling, I pulled her closer to me. "Let's see if you are not warm in a few minutes." I whispered in her ear and nibbled on her earlobe.

She sighed and there was no stopping. I nuzzled her neck, my hand slowly lifting her kurta to her waist. She let out a loud gasp when my cold palm brushed her warm skin at her navel. She arched back and whimpered when I nipped at the skin on her nape. Slowly, I shifted my attention to her throat and felt her erratic pulse at the base. When my palm on her waist moved upwards she turned to me and her lips met mine the next second. She threaded her fingers in my hair while I kissed her.

After helping her remove the kurta, I kissed her chin and covered her body with mine. I almost groaned at the friction of our bodies touching. She snaked her hands around my neck and held me tight when my lips moved down her throat. She quivered yet again when my lips caressed her front and I knew her tremors are not from cold but from need. When my lips trailed further south, she pulled me up by fisting my hair and sealed my lips with hers.

When I pulled back abruptly, she whined and opened her eyes with a frown on her forehead. Balancing my weight on my elbows, I stared at her with a grin.

"You are sweating." I whispered, when she looked at me in daze.

It took a couple of seconds for my words to penetrate into her foggy brain. When they did, her eyes widened and her already flushed face turned deep red. I just laughed at her. She slapped my back and opened her mouth but I swallowed all her protests with a deep kiss.

And amidst my laughter and her half hearted struggles to push me away, what followed was a pure bliss. Ah! I am already in love with my honeymoon!

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"Riddhima, its freezing out here." I shouted slightly irritated when she paid no heed to my words. I sighed.

It was almost the same for the last three days. Be it in Darjeeling or here at Manali, she preferred staying out till late in the evening. When she had enough, she would snuggle closer to me like a creeper whining about the cold until we both were soaked in sweat and passion. We had come to an agreement that the planning for the day would be hers and the night would be mine, which worked well for both of us.

Giving up on trying to get her walk back to our hotel, I pulled the camera out and started clicking her pictures. She was so focused on her design of the snow man that she didn't even notice when I placed a woolen cap on her head, covering her ears. I sat back on the bench and stared at her. The sun was setting down and the light from the lantern mixed with the golden-yellow sunlight made her hair shine, making her appear as a blonde. Her face was pale with her nose slightly pink. She was almost drowned in her layered thermal that fell down to her knees. Her palms were covered with gloves, I was thankful for that.

"Armaan, can I have your stole?" She didn't even wait for my answer, just pulled the stole from around my neck and wrapped it around her snowman. She wiped the snow from her clothes and stood beside it and beamed at me. "How is it?" she asked. She appeared just like a kid waited for a huge compliment. I clicked a picture of hers and smiled.

"Just like you." I drawled and pulled her into my arms. "Now we'll go back." I said, pecking her lips.

She tensed slightly when we got into the car, I looked at her confused but pushed it aside. Unlike her chattering self as she had been for the last three days, she was unusually calm. Taking it as a sign for her exhaustion, I asked the receptionist to send our dinner to our room and made our way to the elevator.

Once we entered the room, she gave me a nervous smile and rushed to the washroom. I scratched my chin staring at the washroom door. Couple of minutes back she was high in spirits and all of a sudden she was nervous. Shrugging my shoulders, I pulled my nightclothes from the bag and waited for her to come out.

The dinner arrived, I watched 1 hour news bulletin, talked to Rahul and mom but Riddhima was still in the washroom. I even changed into my nightclothes. I walked to the washroom and knocked the door.

"Riddhima, are you there?" I asked. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah yeah, fine. I am just coming out." She said hurriedly and a minute later the door opened, revealing a slightly flushed Riddhima with a robe secured tightly around her body. "I forgot to take my clothes." She mumbled, when I raised my brow at her.

She rushed past me to the dinner placed on the table and started serving our dinner. She fumbled with every bowl and smiled too many times at me. She talked about the roads in Manali, the hotel room in Darjeeling and our house maid back in Hyderabad, never giving me a chance to speak. She sat across from me and never looked into my eyes. Overall, she was acting weird.

She rushed back to the washroom the moment we had finished our dinner. I sat on the bed, waiting for her, wondering what was happening. Before I could give it one more thought, I heard the door click.

And what I saw took my breath away. Leaning against the door was a sexy Riddhima clad in an ever sexier lacy transparent black chemise that did nothing to hide her treasures. Moreover, it ended a good inches above her mid-thighs only enhancing what she had. And with the slow and hesitating steps she took towards me, she had me undone.

"Are you planning to give me a heart failure?" I whispered as I pulled her slowly towards me and trapped her with my arms around her. That action only made my heart pound more. Her back was bare under my palms. I lowered one of my palms and sighed in satisfaction when I felt the silk only just above her hips. Her back was all available to me.

"I wanted to surprise you." She replied and hid her face in my neck.

When she tried pressing more into me, I drew her back and held her away from me. "Not so fast. Let me have a good look at you first." I winked and chuckled when her face turned red. "Where did you get this from?" I asked as I ran my hands over her curves ever so lightly, just the pads of my fingers.

"Muski bought it for me after our wedding." She breathed out as she held my shoulders, when I dipped my head to nuzzle her neck.

"So that courier packet contained this?" It was more of a statement than a question.

She gasped and then sighed when I took her into my mouth and nipped at her sensitive skin.

"Why did you leave it at Bangalore then?" I asked as I pushed one of the straps off her shoulder.

"I wasn't sure about it then." Her voice was muffled but I heard her all the same. And much more. "I know I don't have a perfect body."

I knew she had shed last of her inhibitions with this act. And I was glad. I also knew it might have taken all of her courage to flaunt her body in that sexy thing given her preference for conservative dressing. But she had done that for me, I sighed as I felt my chest swell. I took immense pride in the fact that she would have never done such a thing for anybody else. For the rest of our life, she was mine.

"Your body is perfect, Riddhima." I turned her around and left earthy kisses along her nape and back down, feasting upon her bare back. She started trembling.

"Is it? Don't you think my breasts are small? Am I not too tall for a girl? My legs are too long and I don't have much flesh on my body." She murmured as I nibbled on her earlobe.

"It would have killed me if you had anything better." I drawled as I cupped her curves with my palms and gave her a deep kiss. "You have the right things at the right place in the right amount."

She let out a startled squeal when I carried her to the bed. When I settled beside her, I was overcome with the strange feeling of contentment. Her face was flushed, her lips swollen and eyes glazed. That one piece on her body that barely covered her body was settled in a heap at her waist and she was looking at me in daze. In that very moment, I wanted to tell her I loved her but was lost in the same love for her when she drew me by my shoulders and sealed our lips. And with that I lost all my ability to think.

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I lay on the bed staring at the ceiling, trying to gain my senses back. What happened a couple of minutes back almost blinded me. The feelings were so intense that they almost scared me to death. I had never felt such deep emotions for anyone and this little woman in my arms had done me inside out. Earlier I thought I could tell her I loved her and would wait for her to realize her feelings. But now, for some strange reason, I wanted her to crave for me just the way I did for her. I wanted her to feel these deep emotions just as I had felt. And I wanted her to love me just the way I love her.

"Armaan?" Her voice dragged me out of my thoughts.

"Hmm?"

"I wanted to talk about'.I mean how much more time before'I thought maybe'."

I ran my hand along her spine as I heard her stammer. "What is it, Riddhima?" I stopped my ministrations and looked down at her.

"When can we plan for a baby?" Her body turned rigid when she finally forced the words out.

And I was stunned for a moment. And then smiled. I never thought about it seriously. Ever since we made love in that cottage in Bangalore, we had been taking precautions for I didn't want to jump in to have a baby before I finally understood her. Lost in getting comfortable with each other, I never realized that we didn't even have a serious chat about a baby. How weird does that sound? And now it was almost 5 months that we have been married and finally she brought it out before me. I wonder how many days she had been pondering about the very same thing before she talked about it. Though there was a pinch of uncertainty in me about having a baby soon, one look at her eager face and I couldn't tell her what was in my mind. She was staring at me with her heart in her eyes. I knew one wrong word and it would break her, for she appeared extremely fragile and vulnerable at the moment.

"Soon," I smiled at her and she released the breath she was holding.

"I want a boy." She said slowly, hiding her face in my neck.

I squeezed her in my arms and kissed her forehead. From what I have understood of her, I could imagine why she wanted a baby soon. A baby might have been her vision of a secure relationship with me. Though she never showed any signs of insecurity in last couple of months, I knew she was still holding on to a small thread of uncertainty. If a baby could get her past that, I wouldn't refuse it.

"Why? What plans do you have with him?" I asked as I rolled her on to her back and blanketed her body.

"Quite a few." She whispered and kissed me, pulling me closer. And I knew she didn't want to reveal her plans for me.

"What do you want tomorrow?" I asked, kissing her cheek.

"Do you know how far Shimla is from Manali?" she asked, fisting my hair in her fingers when nibbled her chin.

"Not sure, why?" I drew back and looked down at her.

"4 hours. Can we go there?" She asked looking straight into my eyes.

"You want to go to Shimla?" I questioned.

She nodded. "Only if you want to." She added.

Since our return flight is in the evening the day after tomorrow, I didn't find any fault with going to one more place. Moreover, I wouldn't have refused anything she asked me tonight.

"Sure. I'll find out if the same cab driver would drive us there." I said and her eyes twinkled. The next moment she gave me a loud wet kiss. "If I get this for taking you out somewhere, I would resign my job and take you all over the world." I quipped as I drew her in for a proper kiss.

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I wondered where we were when Riddhima asked the cab driver to stop the car near a small two storied building. I almost turned to ask her but then thought otherwise and kept mum. The entire day had been a roller coaster ride.

First, she was excited at the mere thought of visiting Shimla. She didn't even let me sleep till 7 in the morning. She dragged me out of bed, pushed me into the washroom and commanded me to get ready fast. You are right, it is 'commanded'!

And then all of a sudden she turned mute and distant. She barely talked to me, replied in monosyllables and had been slightly cranky the whole journey. I wondered if she was the same Riddhima. I even doubted if she was in her PMS, but dismissed the thought after few math. She had very little lunch, seldom smiled. But then she never ceases to surprise me, does she?

And now we are standing infront of this building, with her staring intently at it. For the past one hour, since she had given the directions for the driver, I had been bugging her to let me know where we were going. All I got in reply was a stare, so unusual that I decided it was better to wait till she wants to speak. I don't want to spoil our honeymoon on the last day, do I?

"This is the place where I stayed for 22 years of my life." I would have missed hearing her words had I not been gazing at her. Her voice was low and gruff with emotions. "Stella Mary Orphanage." She added.

Now that explained everything yet nothing.

I gave her a small smile full of questions about our sudden visit to this place. But this visit had been sudden for me, and now that I recall her actions, I knew she had been planning on visiting this place.

"Are you sure?" I asked hesitantly. If this would pique her insecurities or her distant nature, then I was sure I didn't want to step inside.

She slipped her hand into mine, which I gladly held. I didn't know if she was seeking strength or support but anyhow I wanted to give both. "As long as you are there, yes." She replied with a faint smile.

And that was all I needed. I grinned at her gave her a side hug. I couldn't help it. I let her lead the way.

The moment I stepped in, I noticed that though the building is small, it had a huge ground adjacent to it. We spotted few kids, who first looked at our faces and then at our hands and finally their gaze settled on her handbag. Their eyes held an unusual hope that it made me unsteady for a moment. They expected us to get something for them. The thought that she might have been in the same situation some years ago didn't go good with me.

While I stood contemplating what I was supposed to do, Riddhima pulled out a small cover from her hand bag and signaled for the kids come to her. Their eyes twinkled and they ran towards her when she unwrapped the packet and held out the chocolates for them. I was slightly surprised for I didn't know when she had bought the chocolates.

"Riddhima, is that you?" We heard a voice and turned around to face an old lady in a white saree, adjusting her thick-rimmed glasses on her nose.

"Nanny!!" Riddhima flung her arms around the lady and hugged her tight.

"Oh Riddhi!! I never thought I would meet you again!" She exclaimed and held her, her eyes already filled with tears.

I stood still not understanding what I was supposed to do. But before I could give it a thought, a tight blow came in my face.

"Is he Sohail, your husband?" The lady asked, squinting her eyes at me which I supposed was to get a better look at me, shocking both of us. "I knew he would realize his mistake and take you back."

Too shocked to speak anything, I watched as Riddhima's face turned pale all the blood draining off her face.

"No aunty, uh nanny." I replied for I knew Riddhima was in no state to answer. "I am Armaan. We are married recently." I added.

"Oh I am so sorry. Forgive me. I didn't know." She apologized as she patted my arm, her face worried. "You can also call me nanny. Everyone does." She added.

I gave her a reluctant smile. For the first time since our marriage, I realized that I would be referred to as Riddhima's second husband. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. Though I knew she was married once, I least expected such situation given the fact that she had cut her earlier life off.

Though nanny was talking something to her, Riddhima had her gaze fixed on me, her posture still and rigid. I knew she was asking me for some sign that it would be alright and that I am fine with it. I didn't know what made me uncomfortable. But uncomfortable I was. May be it was just in my head, I thought as I walked to Riddhima and stood beside her. She just stared at me with her face devoid of any expressions. I wound my arm around her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze and rubbed her arm to relax her or myself, I didn't know. But we both were together in it, I am sure of that. And unlike the last time when I ran away from her when I came to know her past before our wedding, I didn't want to avoid facing it. If there was anything I had learnt from Riddhima, it was to face any situation with fierce determination. Leave the rest aside. And that was what I did. I gave her a smile and she relaxed.

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"Riddhima is with the kids upstairs." I heard nanny's voice and turned around. "She will be down in a few moments."

"That's –uh- That's fine." I said awkwardly, though all I wanted to do was leave the place and go back to our hotel. I thought we would stay for a couple of hours and leave but it had been more than 5 hours. And we had even had our dinner at nanny's insistence.

"Riddhima is very happy now. I can see that." She said and took a seat infront of me. And I knew that it was a start of conversation.

But her words helped relaxing me for I heard the sincerity in her voice. I smiled and nodded.

"Thank you." She said and I was startled. I didn't expect her to be this caring for Riddhima.

"No no. Please don't mention –" I started only to be cut by her.

"I mean it." She said placing her hand on mine and patting it. "After all she had been through, I didn't expect to see her in such a good state." She added, her voice shaking.

I nodded. And the silence prevailed in the small room until I decided to break it one of my deep concerns.

"Nanny, were you there with Riddhima when she was – I mean when she tried to – I mean when she attempted suicide?" I managed to complete the question and sighed. It was more difficult than I had thought.

"Yes, I was. I was the one who took care of her and made sure she stayed safe and alive." She said. Her face had a faraway look. "She was in deep depression then but didn't mean any harm to herself or others. But please don't let it come between your lives. Riddhima, as you can see, is perfectly fine now. She was completely cured from her trauma." She hastily added.

I almost smiled at the way she defended Riddhima. I wondered if it would be the same had Riddhima had a family and I was to talk to her mother. But then this nanny appeared more or less the same.

"Don't worry. I won't hurt her, ever. I just wanted to know about her past, now that we are here." I said, squeezing her hand and assuring her of the same.

She was silent for a moment and then started speaking. "Riddhima had been an unusual child from her childhood. She was silent, undemanding and always yielding. She carried an aura of calmness around her that drew people towards her. And as you might have noticed she is very beautiful," She said "even as a child." She added with a chuckle. "And the same beauty became her discomfort gradually. I made a mistake when I decided to let a couple adopt her when she was 13 years." She stopped and looked at me. From her confusion I knew why she was hesitating.

"Riddhima told me that her adopted father tried to assault her." I said slowly.

She sighed. "And that incident left a deep mark on her innocent heart. She begged me to let her study in girl's school. But I knew that she would never be able to overcome her fear unless she faces it. When she stopped asking me for changing her school, I thought she was comfortable with boys. But she withdrew completely from men since then. She developed immense fear for them. She used to stammer and fumble when she had to be around them. And then Sohail came into her life." She paused to look at me. When I blinked at her to continue, she did. "I met him only twice or thrice but I was pleasantly surprised at the change I saw in Riddhima's personality when he was around her. There was a hope for future in her eyes that I had never witnessed in her. And I was happy for her. He encouraged her to study and helped in building her confidence. I heard that he was a good person and was glad when she told me that he wanted to marry her."

"Did you meet his family?" I asked when she paused.

"I met them only once before wedding. They didn't seem very happy with Riddhima but Sohail had been adamant on marrying her. I was somehow convinced that he would stand by her. For the first time I observed Riddhima behaving like a young girl dreaming about her life and couldn't say no to him. And that was my blunder for which I could never forgive myself." She said, wiping her tears with saree.

"What happened after that?"

"Riddhima came back to the orphanage three months after her wedding with a small bag. One look at her and I knew she wasn't the same Riddhima. She was pale and thin, and her eyes lost that hope that I had noticed in her. I didn't know what had happened between them. A private hotel taxi service dropped her here and left. Infact she didn't even speak to me or anyone for more than a week. She just hid herself in her room. Finally after two months, a lady from Sohail's office told that he had left for London with his family. And that day Riddhima broke down in my arms and cried for an entire night until her eyes had dried up. It was then she told me that Sohail had left her forever."

I felt a lump in my throat and had to swallow it. My eyes also started stinging and I felt my heart wither in pain.

"The next day she attempted suicide by swallowing pills. We admitted her in a hospital and the doctor referred her to a psychologist. It took more than an year for her to come out of her trauma and depression. And when she was, she had lost her belief in people around her. I didn't want to force anything upon her but she overheard my conversation with a guy who wanted to marry her. And that was when she swallowed pills again. And then I understood one thing. She would never be the same again. I dismissed the thought of getting her married and promised her the same. I tried to divert her mind onto her studies and encouraged her to study for CAT. I didn't want to send her to Bangalore when she got a seat in some college but for the first time I saw a fire in her to get back to her normal self and realized that she had been genuinely trying. I tried to be in touch with her when she left for Bangalore but somehow she detached herself even from me. On our last conversation, she told me that she had found a friend and that she would be fine."

I wondered if that friend was my mom or Muski. But then it didn't matter.

"I am sorry. I was just talking to few girls." I heard Riddhima's voice and had to blink back the sting in my eyes. She sat beside me and held my hand giving me a small smile. "Nanny, there are no male workers now?" She asked hesitantly.

"No Riddhima. All the workers here are mid-aged ladies." Nanny told. "I have learned from my mistakes." She added. Riddhima shifted uncomfortably in the chair.

"Shall we leave, Armaan?" Riddhima asked me.

"Now?" Nanny exclaimed before I could answer. "It's almost 11 pm. Why don't you stay here and leave in the morning?" She asked.

"No uh.. We'll take a cab." I said skeptically when Riddhima didn't speak anything.

"It is risky driving the hair-pin roads in the night." Nanny said. "I know we don't have extra beds right now, but I could arrange a cot for you." She added, looking at me.

"No, that's not a problem." I said quickly. I turned to look at Riddhima. "Shall we stay?" I asked Riddhima.

She appeared to be in deep thought for a few moments and then nodded. Nanny smiled at us.

"Riddhima can sleep with me along with the girls. I will ask another maid to arrange for a cot. Most of the boys sleep outside in the porch towards the ground. You can sleep there or here." She left the choice to me and turned around to leave.

"I'll sleep with the boys in the porch." I said before she left the room.

I turned to Riddhima and sighed. "How am I to sleep without you, Riddhima?" I asked as I pulled her into a hug.

She hugged me tight instantly. She was stiff for a few moments but then relaxed when I rubbed her back slowly. "Thank you Armaan." She spoke into my chest.

I drew back and lifted her face upwards. Her face was pale but her eyes were calm. She smiled at me then. And I somehow knew that everything is fine. I smiled back and gently brushed my lips against hers. When I looked back at her, I was satisfied to see the color back on her face. I touched my lips to her forehead and let them linger there for a few seconds. She drew back when we heard some footsteps approaching us.

"Your cot is ready." Nanny said giving me a thick bed sheet and a pillow. "Shall we go, Riddhima?" she asked Riddhima.

Riddhima smiled at me and left with nanny. I sighed and was about to leave when I heard someone rushing towards me. I was surprised when Riddhima came running to me and placed a kiss on my cheek. "Good night." She whispered and then disappeared into the darkness.

And I walked to my cot with a smile on my face.

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I felt someone tugging on the bed sheet covering my face and grunted. All I wanted to do was get a soft bed unlike the jute cot I was sprawled on and sleep peacefully for an hour or so. I hoped the person trying to wake me would leave me alone if I chose not to open my eyes. But I realized that the person was as stubborn as I am. I pushed the sheet down till my chin and opened my eyes. But I had to shut them immediately due to the direct sun that blazed above. However, after blinking them for a couple of times, I opened my eyes and let out a loud yawn.

"Did you see Riddhima? Did she tell you that she was going somewhere?" The nanny asked me.

"She is sleeping inside." I mumbled and pulled the sheet above my face.

"But she is not there. She is gone." She replied, catching my attention. Her face clearly showed her worry.

Pulling the sheet down till my neck, I stared at her. "What do you mean she is gone?" I asked, trying to flex my limbs and back off the stiffness due to the hard cot. "She might be in the washroom or with the kids." I added.

"We-" She started, but her words were cut by an irritated grumbling.

While my eyes widened, the nanny stared at me perplexed. And then there was a movement. The nanny's eyes almost popped out of their sockets when Riddhima's hoarse voice reached our ears. I tried to connect the dots and as the realization dawned, I tried to clutch the sheet but I was late. Nanny pulled the sheet down and Riddhima's head peeped out of it. And that's when I felt her soft body glued to mine under the sheet, our limbs almost entangled.

"You are sleeping here!!" The poor old woman almost screeched.

I might have turned red, and I felt hot around my ears. I could imagine the compromising position of our bodies and so I hurriedly pulled the sheet to cover our bodies. I didn't want to imagine the form of Riddhima's saree.

"Ofcourse, you would be here." The wrinkled cheeks of the old woman turned deep red, while she smiled at me sheepishly. "I should have thought. You are newlyweds. I should have tried to provide a big cot for you both." She rambled on.

And I was shocked out of my wits at her words. Could she be thinking that we were -? I blocked the thought and tried to speak something.

"No no, aunty. Riddhima slept with you inside the entire night. I don't know when she-" I blurted out but was cut by another voice.

"Psht Armaan. Let me sleep na!" She drawled. "You were pulling on the bed sheet the entire night. You didn't even let me sleep while-" I placed my hand on her mouth to stop her from blurting out something inappropriate.

The woman looked at me appalled and then smiled, shaking her head. "I guess you both didn't have good sleep last night. I will ask the kids not to let anyone come this way so you may sleep for some more time." She said and strolled off inside.

After coming out of the initial shock, I looked down at Riddhima. She was sleeping happily unknown to the chaos she just caused. I wondered when she had come and snuggled close to me. I chuckled, remembering the expression of the nanny. She appeared positively scandalized. Unable to refrain myself, I laughed out and pulled her closer in my arms while closing my eyes. I was sure it was going to be an eventful day after the successful start.

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"Riddhima?"

We heard someone calling for her and turned back to notice a guy standing at the other end of the corridor of the hotel. He wore a business suit and shades. He was taller than me but lean. He took a step ahead towards us and removed his shades.

There was a momentary silence followed by the loud crash of the clay pot shattering into pieces. Instantly I turned to Riddhima to realize that she had dropped the vase in her hands. When I looked at her face, I was astonished to notice her as pale as a ghost. I looked back at the guy. He seemed equally surprised. And then Riddhima sagged against me as if she was about to faint. I looked back at them appalled, wondering what on earth was happening. He took another step ahead and I realized that he appeared a tiny bit familiar. As I tried to recall him, I held Riddhima close for she seemed to be trying to press herself more into me.

The hotel staff came running towards us and asked if everything was fine. As Riddhima and the other guy stood rooted to their spots, I apologized to the staff and asked them to clean the mess. They nodded at me and left to get the cleaning staff. I looked down at Riddhima and tried to make her look at me but her gaze was firmly fixed on the guy infront of us.

"Are you fine, Riddhima?" I asked worried. "What happened?" I patted her cheek trying to get some response out of her.

Finally she turned to me, with her eyes shining due to the tears. She looked back at him and whispered. "Sohail!"

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sushmita

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