Friday, 17 January 2020

AR FF part 26 : "and then she said it"

Into her heart...

I never expected myself to be standing in this situation. But now that I am, I didn't understand what I am supposed to do. Riddhima was clinging to me, her eyes searching mine and when I turned to look at the guy standing infront of us, I didn't understand if I was shocked or surprised. He was looking expectantly at us with a normal smile on his face. Should I comfort Riddhima first or should I deal with her past first? If I was able to with stand one part of her past, it should not be that difficult to confront the other part, should it? All I have to do is keep my nerves under control. Taking a deep breath, I decided to handle both at a time. I put my hand around Riddhima's waist and pulled her almost limp body against mine and turned to face him.

I didn't know when his expression changed but he was staring at us in confusion.

"Hi, I am Armaan Mallik," I introduced myself, in a formal tone. "Riddhima's husband." I couldn't help but add.



The next instant I felt one thing and noticed another. I felt Riddhima's body turning as rigid as a stick I wondered she would break her spine if she tried more. I rubbed her waist trying to convey that I am fine. But I was anything but fine. However, I didn't want her to know what I was at the moment. The thing I noticed was the display of emotions on his face. For a brief second his face depicted some sort of gloominess before he put up a relaxed one.

"Sohail Sharma." He greeted me and offered his hand for s shake. "Glad to meet you." And then he turned his gaze to Riddhima who stood rooted to her spot. "How are you Riddhi?"

I almost flinched at his intimate way of addressing her. His gentle gaze and warmth in his voice added to it. For some weird reason, I wanted to punch him right in his face. How idiotic does that sound! Now, my readers, I know my thoughts are kiddish. But what the hell! Dill to baccha hai ji!!

"Riddhima. Ridhhima Armaan Mallik." Riddhima's curt reply snapped me out of my thoughts. "I am fine, thank you." She added with a serene smile.

His face turned white as if she had slapped him. And I wanted to jump high in air or somersault on the carpet on the floor. I wanted to swirl her around in my arms and kiss the breath out of her. I almost grinned at him.

When he opened his mouth to say something, she cut him off. "Excuse me," she uttered before she trotted off to our room with the dignity of a queen-her face held high, chin tight and back straight.

"Mr. Mallik," I took a step towards our room when he stopped me. "I understand your hostility towards me but I ' I-" He said when I turned to him. "If you have few minutes, I would like to talk to you." He ended.

Involuntarily my gaze flew towards the door of our room. Before I could refuse, he added. "Not now I understand, but later. Please."

I know I am not supposed to feel sorry for him but I felt all the same. Being a man myself, I know it is not easy to accept defeat and insult no matter what the past actions were. But looking at a young man almost of my age, standing before me with his shoulders slumped and appearing older that he was because of the pain in his eyes and voice, I couldn't help myself.

"Later." I said and his eyes sparkled with hope.

"I am staying in 416." He informed and gave me his business card which had his mobile number in it.

I took the card and nodded at him before leaving.

"Arma- Mr. Mallik, I am sure Riddhima and you will thank me one day." He said, just before I turned the knob of our door.

And almost instantly I had a bad feeling that he was not quite a bas***d I expected him to be.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a second before entering our room. Not knowing what is awaiting me, I turned the knob and stepped in. But the room was empty and I heard the water running in the washroom. So I went and sat on the couch. A couple of moments later, I lay back with my legs dangling down from the armrest, and closed my eyes running my hand in my hair.

More than Riddhima's behavior it was Sohail's that disturbed me. Ever since I came to know of him, I imagined him to be a screwed personality but suddenly he turned out to be the opposite. And for some reason, I wanted him to be the screwed personality. I remembered the night Riddhima had told me about him, about her and about them. Her voice held so much pain that made me ache. And her silence that answered my question of her love for him. That's one reason why I wanted him to be the bad guy. Because if he is not one, then I guess I have to compete with him where Riddhima was concerned. I don't want to be the second man in her heart; I want to be the only man.

"Armaan?"

I heard her voice and sat up straight. I had to blink once to clear my mind. She stood near the washroom door with a robe draped around her tightly. I recalled that she wore that robe only once: when she had very little underneath that robe, her lacy chemise to be precise. And my heart slammed in my chest at the thought that she might be wearing similar thing. But she wasn't looking at me.

"Come to me, Riddhima." I whispered, stretching my hand out for her.

She took slow tentative steps to me and sat beside me. She screeched the next moment when I rolled her to her back and covered her body with mine.

"Are you fine?" I asked her, caressing her cheek.

She nodded.

"Sure?" I probed.

She nodded again. "Are you?" She questioned back.

"I am, as long as you are." I said and kissed her forehead. I had so many questions in my mind, but at the moment nothing seemed important, except her. I half expected she would be crying when I entered the room but she gave me a pleasant surprise by handling herself very well. And that gave me ample amount of hope that she might be ready to handle it if I said I loved her. And that she might even reciprocate them. First thing in the morning, I promised myself.

"Thank you." She whispered, running her fingers along my jaw.

I smiled, for I knew why she was thanking me. When she smiled back, I dipped my head down and locked our lips together. She responded back immediately with equal ardor that one thing led to the other and before we knew we were making love on the couch.

When I was back in my senses, Riddhima had already dozed off under me, on the couch. I got up from above her and sat beside her. The next moment, she hugged herself searching for warmth. Smiling I covered her with the blanket I found on the bed and quickly put on my clothes.

I searched for the business card which Sohail had given me. For some reason, I wanted to know why he had abandoned her all of a sudden when it was apparent from his gaze and voice that he was fond of her. And I wanted to know what he wanted to talk to me. I dialed the number from the card and waited for him to take the call.

"Armaan here. Can we talk now?" I asked.

I cut the call when he agreed and left the room after placing a soft kiss on Riddhima's forehead.

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

Sohail tried to smile at me when he opened the door. I nodded at him politely before stepping in and closing the door behind me. I felt stupid and awkward, in my wife's ex-husband's room, trying to talk to him of their past. But my curiosity got the better of me. And I needed to know few things to understand Riddhima better. Sighing, I sat on couch near the bed and instantly shook my head when images of what I had done with Riddhima on the similar couch in our room flashed in my head.

"Brandy?" He asked me sliding the door to the small closet.

"No, beer would do." I replied. For some reason, since I had to go back to Riddhima, I didn't want to get drunk.

He gave me an understanding smile and came back after a few moments with two beer bottles in his hand. He handed me one and sat across me on the chair. As I shifted uncomfortably in the deadly silence, I watched as he leaned his head back after taking a large gulp of his beer.

"How is Riddhima?" His eyes were closed but I heard him all the same. "I hope you don't mind if I called her by her first name." He opened his eyes and looked at me.

I raised my brow at him but nodded anyhow. "You have seen her." I said, curtly.

"I wish we had met each other some other time." He said, as he sat straight. "Atleast not on your honeymoon." He added.

I narrowed my eyes at his wondering how he had known that we are on our delayed honeymoon. A question sprang immediately to me mind and I grew alert. Could he be stalking us? I knew it was absurd but it gave me some satisfaction that I can blame him for the same. For some reason, I didn't want him to be a good guy, which to my utter horror he was turning out to be.

He chuckled looking at me, as if reading my mind. "The room you are in, it's a honeymoon suite." He added and I was surprised at the pang of jealousy I heard in his voice.

"What do you want to talk?" I asked after another brief silence.

"I don't know, to be frank." He replied with a sigh. "When I saw her suddenly, I wanted to explain my actions to Riddhima, but by the look on her face I knew she doesn't want me around her. So I would feel better if I do that to you. I know it is awkward, but the guilt is eating me up." He said, looking straight into my eyes and I knew that he was speaking the truth.

"Riddhima doesn't talk to me about you much. She just told me briefly how you got married and how you abandoned her." I felt him flinch when I deliberately stressed the word.

"She is not the talking type." He replied calmly.

I nodded. "The nanny at the orphanage told me the rest of the story." I felt my temper rising suddenly at the thought of a young Riddhima finally coming to terms that she was discarded by her husband and that too in a hotel room, at an unknown town. "bas***d!! You left her in a hotel room, at the mercy of the staff! Couldn't you alteast explain it to her before leaving?" I shouted, banging the beer bottle on the table infront of me.

"I was young Armaan, barely 22." He said, looking down, playing with the bottle in his hands.

"So was she! And happy in her world she built around you and-" I took a deep breath, trying to force the words out of my throat. "-and in love with you!"

"But I was stupid and confused." He whispered. "Besides, she was not in love me."

"Oh yes, she is." I snapped, "So much that it required two suicides on her part and two years to get over you!"

His face turned white and he gasped at my words. My anger vanished slightly at his reaction but I didn't feel sorry for using the blunt words at him. We sat in stunned silence again.

"I messed up real bad, didn't I?" He asked after a couple of minutes. "I thought I was helping her, letting her free, but I failed to see how much it would hurt her."

I sipped my beer and sat in silence. "What about your family?" I asked, out of blue.

"My mom and uncle live with me, in London. I am here to attend a business conference." He replied.

"Your wife or children?" I probed further.

"I did not marry again." He said simply.

I was surprised. "Why?"

In response he just looked at me and smiled ruefully. With that look, I had my answer. Riddhima's ex-husband is still in love with her. Ofcourse, she is a woman with whom a man can fall in love without even realizing it. But the information didn't sit with me well. Suddenly I felt like an intruder, in their love story. I wondered how the situation would be had Sohail met Riddhima unmarried. By the look on his face, I had no doubt that he would have taken her back. But now that I am her husband, I wondered if he would pursue her again. And by the means of it, Riddhima did seem to have him in her heart still. I shook my head and snapped at myself. No matter what, Riddhima is my wife and I intend to keep her to myself.

"As you might be aware of it by now, I married Riddhima against my mom's wish." He started. "I hoped she would come to like her with time, but it seemed to only worsen. She didn't hurt her physically, but yes mentally she taunted her in my presence and absence. To make it even worse, Riddhima believed in every taunt my mom threw in her face. My mom once said she was inefficient in kitchen, Riddhima believed it and used to fumble every time she cooked. If my uncle grunted that she was not a good wife, she believed that too and tried her best to impress me so I would not feel the same. She was so damned bent on pleasing everyone that it suffocated me. I didn't understand her at all." He trailed of helplessly.

I understood what he was trying to say. It was so typical of Riddhima to try and please everyone around her that people would be glad of her company. I understood where she got that notion from. And I winced at the image of Riddhima trying to please his mother and uncle. How much she might have suffered!

"And then she was stiff with me whenever I tried to get closer to her." He looked at me warily and continued when I nodded. "She never let me touch her, Armaan. She was so damned afraid of me during night that we had to sleep in different beds. And that only increased my frustration." He sighed and closed his eyes.

"So you decided to leave her?" I asked bitterly.

"No Armaan. Riddhima has a vulnerable spirit in her. She has an invisible innocence and childishness in her. Those were the qualities in her that made me fall for her." He said with a smile on his face. "I treasured them as her priceless virtues. But our marriage started destroying them. My mother was almost successful in breaking that innocent spirit. And I was afraid I would not love her without those qualities. I know I sound stupid but I wanted to end it before it turned bad between us. Riddhima was far too lost in happiness of a secured life to notice what it was doing to her personality. She was happy to comply with everything. And I had to leave her, without facing her because I knew I could never leave if she looked into my eyes. Her eyes would be my undone, every time. I thought it was a wise decision then. But it seems that I was wrong." He ended and looked at me.

I sat still trying to come to terms with what he was telling me. In short he just told me that he left her because he wanted the best for her. I didn't understand how a person could do that. And how would Riddhima react when she comes to know about it. It was a complicated mess!

"I don't know what to say." I sighed.

"Riddhima used to look at me with so much awe and respect that I guess it hurt me bad when today she looked at me with such hatred. I just wanted her to know that I am not a bad guy." He added.

"She told me that you encouraged her to study." I said not knowing what to say.

"Yes. She was interested in finance and accounting so much." He said fondly.

"She completed her MBA in Finance." I informed him.

He smiled wide and from that smile I knew he was proud of her, being the person who recognized her interest in finance. And for some reason, it stung. I wanted to be the only person to know of her interests, her cravings, of her. But he was one step ahead of me. I didn't know how to deal with it.

"How did you marry her? I mean, know her?" He asked.

"She was a paying guest at our house in Bangalore when doing her MBA. My mom is her professor and very find of her. She asked me if I am interested in her and I married her later." I told him briefly not wanting to reveal the private matters of our life.

"You knew she was married before your wedding?" He asked

"Yes." I said. He smiled at me. I didn't understand what he found amusing but I did return his smile however.

Again as silence followed, I searched for my mobile to know the time. I found my mobile on the couch beside me and as I unlocked the phone, I was shocked out of my wits to see 42 missed calls. And I jumped to my feet when I noticed all of them were from the same person - Riddhima!

"What's wrong?" I heard Sohail ask me, but my heart was hammering in my chest that I could barely answer him.

"Riddhima!" I whispered and ran out of the room. Amidst my confusion, I also heard him calling after me and running behind me but all I could think of was Riddhima. 42 missed calls!

I didn't know what I had expected on pushing the door of our room open but I was strangely relived to see the room in the same position as I had left it, except that Riddhima was not on the couch. The dim light was enough to let my eyes search for Riddhima in the room. My eyes finally landed on a thin body lying against the wall in one corner of the room with knees drawn closer to her chest and face buried in them. It appeared as if she was - crying!!

As I stood stupefied at the scene, Sohail bumped into me from behind and that cleared my stupor. I walked to her tentatively and my breath caught in my throat on hearing her wrenched and muffled sobs. I kneeled infront of her and pulled her arm from her knees trying to make her see me. She raised her face at me and I was paralyzed as I took in her blood shot eyes and blank look in her eyes. Though her gaze was directed at me, it appeared as if she couldn't see me at all.

"Riddhima? What happened?" I asked, trying to pull her into my arms.

"Was she scared?" I heard Sohail's voice beside me but I cared less.

"Riddhima, look at me. It's me, Armaan." I shook her face but she just sat staring at me with a faraway look and tears flowing down her cheeks.

Something suddenly struck me. She might have been alone when she woke up in the room. She might have searched for me. And 42 missed calls! And she might have thought I left her. Because long back, her husband had left her in a hotel room and never turned back.

"Oh God!" I exclaimed and pulled her into my arms, rubbing her back. My heart beat fast as if I had run a mile and my entire body tightened "I am with you, Riddhima. I didn't go anywhere. You can feel me, Riddhima. I am here." I whispered in her ear and was scared when I didn't feel any change in her body.

When I drew back, I panicked when I saw that she was looking at me but quite not at me. And I had to do something to snap her back from whatever she was hanging on to.

"Sohail, please leave." I told him hoarsely.

"But what happ-" He sounded concerned.

"Later, please leave for now." I repeated.

For a moment, he hesitated but the got to his feet and left the room. The moment, I heard the door click shut, I pulled Riddhima to my lap and wiped her tears. Taking a deep breath, I placed my lips on hers, hoping it would work.

It should work, or else I will be damned!

Though my heart was pounding against my ribs and my breath was coming in short pants, I didn't let go of Riddhima. Because I didn't know any other means to make her realize my presence. Her soft body was stick stiff and limp at the same time. Her hands were lying lifelessly beside her and her lips were tight against any response. Slowly, I raised my hand and caressed her nape with my thumb, just the way she liked it. With the other hand, I took her palm in mine and placed it against my cheek. She always used to laugh when I rubbed her palm against my stubble. She told that it made her ticklish. I hoped it would penetrate whatever wall her brain had formed in her head. Inspite of Riddhima being in my arms, for the first time, I couldn't feel the pleasure. My mind was filled with all those imaginary images of Riddhima the way the nanny had told me when Sohail stepped out of her life. I desperately prayed that she was not going through another attack of depression.

I jolted out of my thoughts when I felt Riddhima pull back forcefully. Panting and clearly out of breath, I saw her watching me blankly. And then I noticed it happening. She blinked her eyes and hesitantly placed her palm against my cheek. As her eyes started filling with tears, she placed her other palm against my other jaw and cupped my face in her hands.

"I am here, Riddhima; with you." I whispered softly. "I jus-"

I was cut short when she pulled me roughly and placed her lips on mine. For a moment, I was startled and then relaxed when I felt her lips moving desperately against mine. It felt as if she was just making sure of my presence. When I wrapped my hands around her body and was about to deepen the kiss, she pulled back again, abruptly.

"Oh Armaan!" She breathed against my lips, crying. "I- I thought-"

She choked on the words and hugged me tight, with a death grip, knocking whatever air was in my lungs out. Though our awkward position on the floor and her grip around my neck started hurting me, I sat still trying to give her whatever she was trying to take from me. She drew back once more to look at my face and then buried her face in my neck yet again, where I felt her warm tears soaking through my cotton shirt. I placed my chin against her hair and cradled her closer to my chest. I didn't know what to say to soothe her, so I just sat there with her. I felt her shiver after a few moments and realized that it was very cold and both of us were on the floor.

I picked her in my arms and stood up. When I almost placed her on the bed, I realized that the blanket was still lying on the couch where I had left it. To bring it back to bed so I could cover her with it, I turned to go to the couch but she sat up with a start and clutched my wrist in her palm. It was like I received a sharp blow in my stomach when I saw the glazed and horrified look in her eyes.

"Don't leave me Armaan!" She whispered brokenly.

I slumped back on the bed and cradled her into my arms. "Oh Riddhima!! I am not leaving you. Not now or ever!" I tried to reassure her by my words but she just hid her face in my neck and held on to me tight, as if I would disappear if she leaves me.

She drew back and looked up into my eyes. Her eyes were swollen, blood red and full of tears; and she was close to hiccups. "I woke up...I thought...washroom was empty....I waited.....dark and scared.....I thought.....called you....mobile....it was ringing....and..." She started rambling what happened and though her words made little sense, I got what she was trying to tell me and it only made my heart burn. What did I put her through!

"Sshh Riddhima! It's okay. You have me with you. I won't leave you." I whispered.

"Why?" She asked after a couple of moments. "Everyone tends to leave me one day or other." She added.

"I am not everyone, Riddhima." I said, placing a kiss on her forehead.

"It was same like that day, Armaan." She said slowly and I understood she was talking about the same day Sohail had left her. "I thought we came on a honeymoon. He told me so. I was so happy. I even let him kiss me." I tightened my grip on her at her words. The new found information didn't sit well with me. He might be giving her a farewell kiss, that bas***d!!

"I thought he went for some errands. I waited for him for few hours before calling his number." She shuddered and drew closer to me. "He-he didn't take the call. I kept on calling him the whole night. I was scared something happened to him." She stopped and drew back to look at me "You see I don't be happy for a long time." She then placed her head on my chest and continued. "I cried the whole night for him. By morning I was frightened and somehow had a bad feeling. It was then the hotel service person came to me and told me that the cab was ready to take me to the orphanage. I didn't understand him and said that I was waiting for my husband and he was missing. I insisted on calling the police. How stupid I was!"

"You were not stupid, Riddhima!" I suddenly remembered nanny telling me that Riddhima never told her what happened that day except that Sohail had left her and suddenly realized she might be talking about it for the first time. The pent up feelings in her heart have been one reason for her insecurity, I thought and encouraged her to speak.

"I was, until I was given a note. I recognized his writing at once. I still remember the words exactly, Armaan. They destroyed my world completely." She stopped, closing her eyes.

"What was there in the note, Riddhima?" I probed her.

She shuddered once again and looked at me, fresh tears filling her eyes. " It was two lines, Armaan, just two lines. It said 'Sorry Riddhima. Go back to your orphanage. It's for the best. Good bye, forever.' I sat reading it for hours until I finally understood what it meant." She paused for a couple of moments. "When I didn't find you, I thought I was back to where I had started. Abandoned and alone." She said the last word and broke into sobs, so heart wrenching that I felt my eyes pricking.

I rocked her back and forth like a baby but her sobs were persistent. I didn't understand what to do. I knew she would fall sick if she didn't stop crying but at the same time I wanted to let her bring everything out that was buried deep down in her heart. I wanted to get to the deepest corner of her heart. Why? Because I wanted to find out if I was present in it or I was too late in her life for her to make some room for me.

While I sat in silence, I felt her body growing heavier in my arms and realized she was falling asleep. But she was still mumbling something. So I bent my head down to listen to what she was saying and her words gave an answer to all my questions.

"I loved him Armaan, so much that I was afraid of falling in love again."

You know I got this feeling that I just can't hide

I tried to tell you how I feel
I tried to tell you but I'm weak
Words don't come easily
When you get close I shiver
I watch you when you smile
I watch you when you cry
And I still don't understand
I can't find a way to tell you

I wish I was your lover
I wish that you were mine
Baby I've got this feeling
That I just can't hide

Don't try to run away
There's many things I wanna say
No matter how it ends
Just hold me when I tell you

I wish I was your lover
I wish that you were mine
Baby I got this feeling
That I just can't hide

All I need is a miracle
Oh baby all I need is you
All I need is to love you girl
Oh baby all I need is you
Baby you

I wish I was your lover
I wish that you were mine
Baby I got this feeling
That I just can't hide

Just wanna be your lover
Just wanna be the one
Let me be your lover
Let me be the one

[Wish I was your lover - Enrique Iglesias]

sushmita

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