Sunday, 19 January 2020

AR FF part 28: "and then she said it"

The Grey hues


"Is everything fine, Riddhima?" I asked as I noticed her standing near the closet staring at something in her hand for the last few minutes.

Riddhima jumped startled and in her hurry, shut the closet door on her fingers and yelped in pain.

"Shit Riddhima! Be careful!" I ran to her concerned and took her fingers in mine for examining the cuts. The delicate skin on her fingers turned reddish purple but I was glad that there wasn't any cut or bleeding. "I think an antiseptic ointment would do." I mumbled, searching for the tube in the closet.

When I didn't hear any response from Riddhima, I turned to her and was surprised at her smiling at me. Now that smile wasn't a normal one, it was the one I realized she saved only for me. There was serenity in that smile but there was also a pinch of shyness and something else which was deep and captivating.



Though distracted for a few moments, I got back to the task at hand and blew air on her finger gently to soothe the pain. Satisfied with my work, I raised my gaze to her eyes and asked, "Does it hurt?"

"No Armaan, it doesn't." She replied still smiling.

"What?" I whispered letting go of her hand and pulling her closer by her waist.

She shook her head and hugged me tight for a moment before turning back to leave the room. And I know just like that I was forgiven for my stupidity once again. I sighed as the rude way I spoke to her flashed across my mind.

Now, my dear readers, before you guys jump into conclusions about what had happened, let me clear it for you. After our meeting with Sohail during our Darjeeling trip a month back, he came for dinner last night. I was slightly pissed when Riddhima told me about the dinner plans in the morning yesterday. I didn't know but all evening I was uncomfortable watching Riddhima prepare so many dishes for him. May be it was due to the fact that he was her ex-husband or that he still had deep feelings towards her or the excitement I saw in her whenever she mentioned him. To add to it, he brought red roses for her. I knew I embarrassed him when I raised my brow at him and glared at him when he gave the flowers to her. He mumbled that they were here favourite flowers. Ha! As if I didn't know that!

Whatever, but the fact that Sohail was a good guy didn't sit with me well.  And I wasn't interested in continuing this friendship with him as I was not sure of how to introduce him to the third person if he were to enter my social circle, definitely not as her first husband. Why? I had no idea!

My control snapped when I heard Riddhima inviting him for the Christmas next month when he mentioned that he would be in the city during that time on some business conference. I sat with them counting numbers in my head, smiling at them till my jaw hurt. And when he left, I unleashed all my frustration on Riddhima. I didn't quite shout at her but I knew the way I spoke to her and told her that she should have taken my permission before inviting him was pretty harsh. I respected her wishes and had no problem if she invited any one home for dinners but this guy fell out of that category somehow.

Sohail was not to be blamed here, I knew it. He was a decent man with good intentions. So who was to be blamed? May be myself, but being the thick-headed idiot I was, I blamed Riddhima for it. It only added to my guilt when she apologized for it and promised that she would call him up later and somehow cancel the invite. How can I explain it to her that I am not comfortable with this side of her past when I married her after knowing that she was married once and when I promised her that her past would never affect us? Especially after the way she accepted the indirect taunts from my ex-girlfriend?

Of course I made it up to her with sweet lovemaking last night, apologizing in my own way but I still felt bad for hurting her. And now her smile and hug only added to it. I sighed, how did this become such a mess!

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

"I am sorry Ankit, I couldn't take this project. I think I would like to be here for the New Year's Eve." I said, taking a set in Ankit's cabin, discussing my next prosed project.

"No problem, Armaan. We just thought you would be the best person to sort this out for the client since you have already done two similar projects." He added, pouring coffee in two cups from his flask. "Moreover, I know why you want to be here. First New Year after your marriage, isn't it?" He winked and passed me a cup. When I smiled, he continued "And I also know that Rahul is getting engaged on 12th Jan. I just approved his leave and sent in my recommendation for his transfer."

I nodded. "That's what I wanted to discuss about, with you. I am thinking of applying for internal transfer back to Bangalore as well." I said.

"Ah, yeah. I was expecting it. Rahul kind of mentioned it." He said, taking a sip of his coffee. "What about your wife, Riddhima?" He asked.

"She talked to her HR and they are working on it." I answered.

"Well, I don't have any problem. But I think I will miss having you two guys in person here in my team. . I will still haunt you for my projects." He said, with a chuckle.

I smirked.

"You go ahead and talk to the staffing manager. I will send in a recommendation for you as well. I just have to copy it from Rahul's and change his name to yours."

"And the service line too, from finance to HR." I added quickly.

"Yeah, yeah, I know."

"Thanks Ankit. I will leave then." I collected my laptop bag and stood to leave.

"Nice flowers." He smiled looking at the small bouquet of red roses peeking from my bag. "I heard that your wife likes red roses."

I shook my head and left his cabin for home. I looked at the flowers and smiled remembering Riddhima's reaction when I bought them for her for the first time.

"Hey Armaan, ready to leave?" Rahul met me in the corridor.

"Yup, lets go."

"Is Mr. Sharma coming tonight for dinner?" He asked casually taking the car keys from him. "Isn't Riddhima coming with us?"

"Riddhima took had day leave today. She said she had some work at home." I said and paused for a minute. "Sohail's not coming." I added, in a small voice.

I remembered my conversation with Riddhima last morning.

"Armaan, when you are returning from the gym, can you get eggs from the market? I am thinking of making cake for Christmas the day after." She shouted from the kitchen when Rahul and I were leaving for gym.

For a moment, my heart sank thinking she is making a cake because Sohail's coming over for dinner. "Rahul, keep walking. I will join you in a while." I told him and made my way to the kitchen.

She smiled at me when I entered the kitchen. "I am also planning to try Shredded Chicken." She said when I stood by the fridge. "What?" She turned around confused when I didn't say anything.

"Isn't Sohail vegetarian?" I asked slightly uncomfortable.

She was surprised. "He is, why?"

"Then why are you making cake with egg and chicken?" I asked back. I didn't understand what made her frown.

"Oh!" She sighed as if she realized something. "I called him last week and told him that we are going out for Christmas. He is not coming." She replied and turned back to the stove when the cooker let out a whistle.

I was stunned. She really cancelled the invite? We didn't really discuss about it in the last few weeks. But I didn't expect she would do it as it would be slightly embarrassing asking a person not to come for the dinner which you yourself extended invite to.

"I am sorry, Riddhima. I didn't really mean it that day." I whispered hugging her from behind. "It's just that I am not comfortable with him around us."

She turned around in my embrace. "It's okay Armaan. I understand." She replied playing with the collar on my t-shirt.

And I knew that she wanted to tell me something but was hesitating. She always played with my short buttons or collars when she would be contemplating about telling something to me. I held her hand in mine and raised my brow. But she just smiled and placed a soft kiss on my jaw momentarily surprising me.

"That's not how it is, Riddhima." I grinned while taking her lips for a deep kiss.

"Hey Hero, where are you lost? We reached the bakery." Rahul's voice broke my trance and I shook my head at him stepping out of the car. I was glad that he remembered about buying a cake for Christmas. Though we don't celebrate it much, I know Riddhima used to celebrate it when she was at her orphanage. Mom also mentioned that she bought a small Christmas tree last year when she was at home.

After placing the order, I turned around and stopped short, my body frozen in shock. In the lawn across from me was Riddhima smiling and hugging Sohail. I thought I was mistaken but the saree that Riddhima wore was like a punch in my gut. It was the same black one I bought for her before our marriage. Confused for a moment, I took my mobile and dialled her number.

"Riddhima, where are you?" I asked when I heard her voice.

"I.." I realized her hesitation for a moment. "I am at Kavita aunty's flat, Armaan. Where are you?"

I cut the call immediately. "The hell you are!"

"Want to join me for a drink?" I asked Rahul, enraged at her blatant lie.

Though he was confused at the sudden change in me, he knew better and shrugged his shoulder when I made my way towards the bar beside the bakery. From the glass door I saw Sohail holding her hand and say something to her for which she nodded and smiled. That only infuriated me further.

"Vodka please!" I almost shouted at the bartender and shrugged Rahul off when he tried to talk to me.

First shot.

I know Riddhima would never cheat on me, but the fact that she lied to me to go and meet him hurt me and wounded me deeply. Hurt me because I was in love with her and wounded me because I never realized when this gap crept into our almost perfect lives where she had to lie to me to go and meet her ex-husband. Ex-husband!

Second shot.

As much as I tried to think of something else, all I could see was the way Sohail looked at her and the way his eyes would travel along with her unintentionally whenever she was around. I knew that because that's what my eyes do as well.

Third shot.

And then there was Riddhima who told me that she loved this man and was excited at his arrival last month. She even came here to meet him.

Fourth shot.

Sohail loved her and Riddhima once told me that she loved him. Where do I fit in all this? Suddenly I felt like an outsider who somehow landed in the wrong time. That thought disgusted me.

Fifth shot.

And then I felt my eyes burning. What should I do if I come to know that Riddhima is still in love with him?

Sixth shot.

Will it change her mind if I told her that I love her?

Seventh shot.

Will she love me back?

Eighth shot.

Will she want to go back to him, if I let her go?

"Enough Armaan, let's go back home. Riddhima might be waiting. What's with all this drinking?"

I turned to look at Rahul and chuckled to myself. Riddhima waiting for me? Oh well, let us see about that! When I stood up, I felt unfocused for a moment and shook my head. I was high, I was sure of that.

When we reached home, as I expected the house was locked. While Rahul looked at me confused, I stumbled with the lock twice but somehow unlocked it and stumbled inside. Feeling my throat burning, I went to the fridge to have some water and that's when she came back.

"Oh you are back!" I heard her slightly chirpy voice and threw the bottle against the kitchen slab before turning back to her.

Rahul came running out of his room while Riddhima stood paralyzed, at the door. My eyes fell on the wine bottle in her hand. My favourite wine, how ironic!

"RASA Shiraz?" I asked stumbling forward to her. "Left over after your dinner date with that ex-husband of yours?" The words left my mouth even before I processed them in my drunken brain. The bottle slipped from her hand and rolled on the floor and so did some envelope and a file. "Also dressed to kill, as I see." I drawled.

I derived some demonic satisfaction when I saw her already pale face turning paler. I chuckled to myself for no apparent reason and tried to take a step towards her but stopped short when I saw her sway on her feet clutching her stomach. I watched in horror as she dropped to the floor but Rahul reached in time to save her head from hitting the floor.

"bas***d! What the f*** was that about?" Rahul shouted at me while he laid her on the couch. "Get some damn water!"

For some reason, the envelope lying on the floor caught my eye. I ignored Rahul and picked it up, trying to read the words written on it through my clouded brain. It took some time but when I made sense of what those papers are and the date stamped on it beneath, I felt like I received another punch in my gut, this one painful than the first. I saw Rahul sprinkling water on her face but all I did was take my mobile out and dial a number.

"Ankit, I am ready to take up that project in Munich. Book me a flight for tomorrow morning."

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sushmita

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