Thursday, 2 January 2020

part 13 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 13. The journey of my lifetime.

As our cab pulled into our colony, my heart raced, filling each and every cell in my body with a mad thrill of something which was alien to me. Sure, I have been through this feeling of eagerness as well as anticipation a couple of times before but this time it was so intense that I couldn't ignore it. And then there is this grin on my face, which doesn't seem to fade away for a second. Rahul, sitting beside me, chuckled way too many times glancing at me but I couldn't help it.

I waited patiently, while Rahul paid the fare to the driver. There wasn't much luggage we have brought. Just a bag for each of us for all we had back in Hyderabad was formal clothes. Now, I don't think people would approve of me if I roam around in formal clothes in my own wedding, will they? Even the time taken for the elevator to slide down from fifth floor to the ground floor seemed to have taken few hours.

While we were waiting for the elevator, few of the aunties from the flats wished me, few of them said Riddhima was lucky- which made me almost fly in the air, few of them spared me curious glances and few of them enquired Rahul when he would get married- to which he turned red around his collar. I grinned at them as usual. They might be genuinely happy or might be curious as to know how on earth we Malliks have decided to let Riddhima into our family. But some things are out of the range of mind and logic, aren't they?



Finally, with God's grace, I stood infront of our door, waiting patiently. I couldn't help but remember my first encounter with Riddhima. My position was more or less the same; with the exception that now I was waiting to meet Riddhima instead of mom. Ofcourse I am as much eager to meet mom too. But you, my readers, know what I am talking about, don't you? And I prayed it would be Riddhima opening the door. For once, I wanted to see that surprise on her face. That's the reason why I asked mom not to mention anything to Riddhima about today.

As the door opened, I was glad I decided against hugging the person who opened it. It was our maid, smiling brightly. My grin would have been wiped off my face for a moment, for Rahul laughed out loud. I spared her a smile and rushed upstairs after dumping my bag beside the sofa.

"I am going to meet Padma aunty." I heard Rahul's voice.

"Fine!" I said briskly.

I came to a halt infront of Riddhima's room, adjusted my shirt and hair, and knocked at her door. Frowning slightly as the door was still shut after a couple of minutes, I opened the door slowly and entered her room. The frown only deepened as the room was empty. Disappointed, I turned around to leave the room, when her wardrobe caught my attention as its door was slightly opened.

To my utter shock, her whole wardrobe was completely empty. And so were her other shelves. Even her laptop was missing from her study table. Turning around, I found that the bed was neat as if it were not in use. With pinch of panic slowly gripping my nerves, I took my mobile and dialed mom's number. How could Riddhima disappear?

"Armaan?"

I heard Riddhima's voice and turned around quickly. I eased my breathe out realizing I held it. There she stood in one of her usual T-shirt and a Capri pant, hair tied back in a pony, not a pinch of make-up on her, yet looking absolutely beautiful. And at the very moment, I was glad I decided to get married to her the next week. With each passing second, my feelings towards her only turned intense and something deeper.

As I took a step in her direction, I realized the presence of our maid beside Riddhima and stopped. She was looking at me and Riddhima, as if expecting something. But Riddhima's entire attention was on me, her eyes big-to their complete size, sparkling and a shy smile on her lips. Oh, I just wanted to hug her!

"When did you come?"

"Huh?" I was disoriented for a second. "Just now." I added, composing myself. "Where were you? I mean, the room's empty."

"Aunty asked me to shift to Padma aunty's house. So my entire belongings are in Muski's room." She said slowly. "I just came to get another small box." She added and instructed the maid to do the same.

I stepped aside and waited patiently as the maid pulled a small box from under the bed. Riddhima stepped ahead and checked the contents. When she was satisfied, she nodded at the maid who took it downstairs. When the maid left the room, I turned around and found Riddhima standing beside the bed. She was trying her best to start a conversation, I could see that. But that was the last thought on my mind.

Taking a couple of steps ahead, I embraced her tightly, giving in to my heart's desire. She didn't expect that, for she stood stiff for a couple of moments. I almost released her from my hold when I felt her body slowly relaxing against mine. Discarding the thought, I held her against me, savoring a moment of togetherness. I don't know, but I just wanted it. Just to feel her.

"I missed you, Riddhima." The words left my throat of their own accord. I did miss her. It might sound funny as I was away from her only for a week, but it was true.

I felt her hands slowly and hesitantly rising up my back. I didn't understand if she was doing that deliberately, but it kind of sent some electric jolts right into my body. That soft brush of her fingers, that just-I don't know what to say- somehow turned me on. And her body which was soft and fragile, pressed up against mine didn't help it either. I wondered if she felt the same. But it being Riddhima, I knew she wouldn't let it out of her even if she felt something.

When I was lost in the most beautiful phase of my thought, I was brutally pushed away from her. Too dazed and stumbling to balance myself, it took me a couple of moments to realize that it was Riddhima who knocked me away. And I just stared at her flabbergasted, while she looked away from me. She then lowered her eyes and I lost my source to read her.

Now what did this mean?

Feeling guilty that I might have imposed myself on her way too much, I saw her about to run to the door. But I need some answer before she could do that. Turning around, I held her wrist to stop her only to leave it the next moment when my eyes took in the presence of the third party at the door. I am sure my eyes would have popped out of their sockets. Frozen at my place, I watched Riddhima run away in haste leaving me to face the consequences. Hell, I am about to marry her, so what's wrong in just a hug! Convincing myself, I tried smiling at them, already thinking about what excuse I could cook up at the back of my mind.

Standing beside the door were Padma aunty and my mom- aunty with a smirk on her face and mom biting her lips, probably to refrain herself from laughing out loud. Putting up a straight face, I walked up to them, hoping against hope that they haven't seen any of my intimacy with Riddhima. There are few things that I would like to keep to myself and this one falls into that category. Well, one more trait of mine- I absolutely don't like public display of affection. According to me they are the private moments between two people which should be kept to them. Even be it mom!

"What was happening in here?" Aunty asked, raising her brow.

I sighed. I knew where Muski got her devilish acts from. "I mistook Riddhima for mom." I said sheepishly smiling.

"Acha? Since when did you start wearing a shirt and a pant Raji?" Aunty turned to mom and asked feigning surprise.

I was sure I would have turned red with embarrassment as I felt hot around my ears. Who was I trying to fool? I scowled at her when she grinned at me. But mom came to my rescue immediately.

"Leave it Padma." She patted aunty's hand and hugged me. "Glad you came soon."

"As if you would have postponed the arrangements if I come late." I whined slightly, remembering that they had started with the preparation even before they had my consent.

"Why?" Aunty came barging ahead. "There's still time. We didn't send the invitations. We can set the date after dussehra." She said with a fake frown adorning her forehead.

"NO!!" The words left my throat before I could gulp them down. "I mean, I have already taken leave from my office and I have informed all of them. And also the auditorium was booked, so-" I stopped my rambling and found both the ladies grinning.

"I never knew you were desperate to get married." Aunty stated plainly yet dramatically.

"I still don't understand how uncle puts up with you." I tossed back.

"Shut up." Mom smacked my head, leading us downstairs to the living room. "Shashank loves her; he doesn't put up with her."

"And so do I." I added quickly when I found aunty's cheeks turning colour. It's always a wonder what love does to people. Aunty's blushing!! I wished dad would have been there to love mom the same way now. When I looked at mom, she smiled at me. I guess she had been thinking about the same.

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

In the afternoon, after lunch uncle joined us - me, mom, Rahul, aunty, Muski and Riddhima, to discuss about the budget and preparations. I felt strange somewhere- I am getting married !?! I glanced at Riddhima who was sitting beside Muski. Since the morning I didn't get time to talk to her, with someone or the other being tagged along with her. She appeared to be nervous. I wanted to make sure she is okay with the sudden decision of wedding date. I found her stealing glances at me every now and then

I took the notepad uncle had written something in and started going through the contents. He made a list of things to be done - ranging from sending invitations, guests list, miscellaneous shopping items, and then clothes. But he put a star mark against my name in the shopping-for-whom list.

"Uncle, why is there a star mark against my name?" I asked him. Everyone- mom, aunty and uncle turned to me suddenly looking serious. I wondered if I had asked something wrong. They looked at each other and then at Riddhima, before turning their attention to me.

"As a custom, your clothes must be bought by Riddhima's family. But-We thought of talking to the pandit before we go to buy." Aunty said slowly looking at me and then at Riddhima. Mom nodded at me.

I turned to Riddhima. She seemed to be upset for a brief moment before she put up a straight face. If I am not wrong, I have also seen a thin layer of water in her eyes. And I felt a pang in my heart.

"I have few savings. We can use them. I got them deposited in the bank." Riddhima said. But I could see the desperateness in her voice. And I knew what that desperateness meant. I recalled her words that day when I had asked her to marry me for the first time. She told me that I deserved the best. And now I could see her every attempt to make it the best. And for the first time, I was convinced that she is the best I could get.

"No, Riddhima, wait." Rahul interrupted when she stood to go to her room. He then turned towards us. "I was thinking about this from few days. But I didn't understand how to talk about this." He said nervously, glancing around. "I know may be its against your sentiments but I was just wondering -" I didn't understand where he was coming from and why he was hesitating so much. "Can I do all the rituals from Riddhima's side?"

Before we could understand his point, Riddhima spoke immediately. "No Rahul. Its fine. I can mana-" I was sure she was at the edge of tears.

"I want to be a real part of this marriage. Can I, please?" He asked, looking at Riddhima.

"I-"

"Please?" Rahul's eyes were pleading. These actions from him that make us love him more and more. I wished he was my real brother.

Riddhima looked at mom. She and aunty already had tears in their eyes. Uncle's face was lit up. I am sure Rahul will have his line cleared up when he finally decides to ask for Muski's hand. I can already see uncle counting on him. I guess Muski was already dreaming about him with that goofy smile on her lips. And then there was Riddhima, with Rahul standing beside her - two perfect people of my life. Mom nodded at Riddhima and then she turned to him. I could almost virtually see Rahul holding his breath or rather his heart.

"Thank you." Riddhima finally forced the words out of her mouth and Rahul, his breath. Rahul smiled at her and gave her a side hug affectionately.

"And I thought you were my brother." I added before hugging him.

And in the process my hand accidentally brushed past Riddhima's waist who was standing beside us. She jerked back immediately and I felt a few amperes of current flowing through the veins in my hand. Her face was flushed in a matter of a few moments and I felt my heart skip a beat at that. There was this innocent timidity in her that I couldn't help but wonder at. I mean, I haven't met a girl who was this shy at such simple physical gestures and for some reason it excites me to no extent leaving me craving for more. She is an ordinary girl, yet so interestingly unique. And I am happy to have her all to myself.

By evening, everything was settled - the budgets, the daily plans, the things-to-do lists and the work assigned to each person. Mom, aunty, uncle set about visiting the relatives and friends in the city and invite them. We had sent the couriers to the others. Mom asked Rahul and Muski to get done with their shopping for the wedding. Our wedding clothes were scheduled for shopping the next day. Muski was hyper to buy as many dresses as she wants and not to forget her mobile she had blackmailed me for - everything as my gift for her as she had termed it. Muski tagged a hesitating Rahul with her for shopping and he tagged me along. Grabbing the chance I pulled Riddhima with us. So when mom went for inviting, we went to the nearest mall for shopping.

When we reached the mall, Muski pulled Rahul to the mobile showroom. I gave her my credit card beforehand, so she didn't bother with me. When I saw them moving towards the store, I typed a message to Rahul.

'Enjoy shopping with your Juliet. ;) Riddhima and I will meet you in the food court in two hours.'

Having sent the message, I pulled Riddhima, who was silently following them, away.

"Sshh. Let them enjoy themselves." I whispered in her ear when she was about to scream.

Due to the force, she stumbled on her way and landed in my arms when I tried to help her. And it only added to my misery. Unlike her usual choice of clothes, she wore a jeans and a perfectly fit T-shirt. And she carried a dark black handbag which increased her oomph factor that I found in her suddenly. I was sure it was Muski's idea. I had thought she looked beautiful, pleasant, amazing etc till then, but today she looked absolutely sexy, giving me a hard time to keep my eyes and hands to myself.

As if that didn't do it, she had left her hair open. I noticed that she had cut her hair by a couple of inches and had done a bit of styling. All thanks to Muski, whenever her hair brushed past her cheeks or neck, I had to struggle not to put them back myself. Overall, Riddhima's attire today left more than half part of my brain to manage to keep my hands off her. And to my irritation, she attracted not only my eyes but also a few other guys' in the mall. And I had nothing left but to wrap my arm around her waist while we went past a couple of guys. And then too, I had to make sure I don't rub my fingers over the side of her waist. Everything in her tested my control.

Amidst my struggle, I felt a wave of sadistic pleasure when I found Riddhima quiver slightly when I touched her or brushed past her. Atleast, I had a company! I also found her stealing glances at me when we roamed around the mall randomly. She used to slip her fingers into mine and hold them sometimes whenever a girl passed a flirtatious smile at me. It gave me an odd sense of satisfaction to know that we were equal and that she didn't hesitate to claim what was hers. Though we spoke less, these simple gestures from our side did the job.

And I got to know about her taste when I pulled her to few stores to buy us a couple of casuals. As usual she hesitated when I said I wanted to buy clothes for her. But I requested, begged, intimidated and finally convinced her. She had inkling for simple ones without any flashy stuff on them- be it shirts, pants, jeans or her dresses. And to my horror, she was extremely choosy unlike me. I usually try 10 shirts and buy 8 of them while today she made me try almost 50 shirts for five. And I was glad there wasn't any providence for bargaining or I wouldn't have understood where to put my head.

Finally we bought a couple to jeans and T-shirts for both of us and a couple of her chudidars. When we decided to move towards the food court, I found a saree store with a display of black saree. That immediately reminded me of the day of her farewell when she wore a black saree. She was gorgeous. So I pulled her to the store., but she hesitated and the reason was quite different this time.

"I am not very fond of sarees, Armaan." She told me.

I was disappointed. "Oh, but I like you more in saree." I told her absentmindedly and she blushed. So I didn't make any attempt to change my comment. I didn't push her and turned around. But she held my hand and stopped me.

"Well...But.." She looked away putting her hair behind her ear. "You can buy me one."

Smiling, we checked the sarees. Well, I just told the choice of colours and she checked the material asking about the quality. She resembled mom while checking the sarees. She then told me that mom taught her about picking the sarees. After a lot of digging she finally settled with a purple one and a black one- that I chose for her.

By the time we reached the food court, Rahul and Muski were already waiting for us. Muski had a wide smile permanently plastered on her face and showed me her new mobile. But Rahul's face caught my attention. It was a bit flushed up and he didn't look into my eyes. And somehow I felt they had a cozy moment during their shopping. Though I knew Rahul wouldn't harm her, I wasn't comfortable knowing the fact. May be something like sibling possessiveness- which I felt towards Muski.

When we had our stomachs filled, I suddenly remembered that I haven't talked to Riddhima seriously about the quick marriage. By her face, I knew she was happy but I just felt like talking to her.

"Rahul, wait for us near the bakery beside the mall. We will be there in 10 minutes." I told him, giving him the car keys. Muski raised her brow at me with a smirk but I ignore it and pulled Riddhima to the secluded corner in the food court.

"What happened? Is something wrong?" Riddhima asked me worriedly. My face might have been serious.

"No." I smiled at her and the frown on her forehead eased a bit. "I just wanted to talk to you."

"Here?"

"Yes." I don't know when I would get this chance to be with her again. "Riddhima, are you comfortable with everything?" I asked her. "I mean, the marriage was quick and all. Can you adjust with everything?"

"Yes." She whispered looking down.

"Yes?" I probed again.

This time she looked up at me. "I was never this happy before Armaan. And I know I will be happy with you. I trust you." And that made my heart swell. I remembered mom telling me that Riddhima wouldn't trust anyone easily and listening to her words made me feel like I had done something extra-ordinary. "But-"

I sensed her hesitation and waited for her to speak. "But it might take some time for me to get used to it as I didn't...I mean haven't...I don't know how to handle all the relationships at once." She fumbled with words but completed it. "Will you give me a little time?"

She appeared so cute and earnest asking that I couldn't help but smile at her nervousness. I drew her closer with my arms around her waist and hugged her. She wrapped her arms around my neck and moved in closer by herself. It felt good as I held her. This time she was so relaxed, and so was I. And I vaguely felt her nuzzling her face in my neck. May be I was imagining but she didn't seem hesitant for a moment.

"What does your trust in me answer for that?" I asked. She didn't answer me. Rather I felt her fingers on my nape. I wondered if this would turn out to be a make-out session because her gestures only made my heart race faster. And that thought rang another bell in my mind. I recalled her words previously and wondered if it was what I was thinking. The naughty side in me kicked in.

"And don't worry; I'll make sure that you willingly make love with me." I whispered the words slowly in her ears with a deliberate touch of huskiness in my voice.

I didn't get any response from her for a couple of moments. But the next moment, she sprung back, her mouth agape. She then turned beetroot red when I grinned at her. The expression on her face was worthless. And I knew I had embarrassed her to the core. She looked away and walked out of the food court briskly while I followed her chuckling.
---------------

Later that night, as I lay across her bed, I watched mom take her jewellery out from her shelf. And then she showed me few other boxes which had some gold ornaments in them. I stared at them simply but my mind was stuck somewhere.

"Mom, when did you realize you were in love with dad?" I asked out of blue which left mom startled for a second.

"On our first wedding anniversary." She replied smiling.

"What? That long?" I asked surprised.

"Yes." she said, still smiling. "We both were highly educated, Armaan and we were practical. So it took us time to realize what we felt for each other.

"Oh!" I nodded at her. "How did you realize that?"

"I don't know. It just happened. I knew I was falling for him right since we were married but that day my heart convinced me that I am in love with your dad." Mom was almost blushing, I smiled at her. "Why do you ask that now?"

"I have an inkling I am falling for Riddhima." I told her frowning.

"You do?" She asked.

"I guess." I nodded and sighed at her. Ever since we had returned from the shopping, I couldn't wipe that stupid smile off my lips and Riddhima's face off my mind. It was as if both of them were etched. And I somehow felt it was past infatuation as I had crush on few girls before. So I could differentiate infatuation from what I felt towards Riddhima. It was something new, intense and deeper. It makes me happy.

I found mom smiling. "I sometimes feel guilty that I am getting you married in haste. I am sorry for that. You guys weren't even engaged due to the complications in Riddhima's kundali." I squeezed her hand in response. "Because during the time before wedding, when you spend time with your fianc, you experience new feelings- beautiful and honest. These feelings make or break the relationship between the couple. It's a beautiful journey of one's life time."

I smiled at her. She had a dreamy smile on her lips and I was sure she was reminiscing her moments with dad. Not to disturb her, I lay silent on the bed staring at the fan. Rewinding few hours of time I had spent with Riddhima, I had to agree to her. I knew I wouldn't have much time alone with her before the wedding. But I am glad I had spent the evening with her. We didn't talk about our life, didn't discuss about our future but whatever interaction we had non-verbally, it was more than enough to make our relationship stronger. If that is what mom had been calling as the journey of life time, I was sure I had mine.

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-Sushmita

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