Friday, 3 January 2020

part 14 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 14 . Oh! Not so warm welcome!

"But Raji, she is an orphan. What's the need for Armaan to marry such a girl?"

Mom sighed in exasperation listening to the same complain probably for more than a dozen times. For the last four days, since the invitations were sent, someone or the other of our relatives or family friends visited our home. Few of them had enough decency to let mom explain about Riddhima before they jumped into judgment. But few of them, like my paternal aunt in the above case, just complained that Riddhima wasn't the one for their nephew. Mom, expecting such commotions, made sure that Riddhima spent her time away from home during the day in the last four days. Most of our relatives living in Bangalore itself, we only had daily visitors.

First two days we had been busy with shopping for our wedding clothes and jewellery. Next day, Muski took Riddhima to a beauty clinic where they spent an entire day accentuating their beauty. The other day Rahul took Riddhima to the Sanjeevani auditorium to supervise the preparations. Today, Muski was to keep an eye on Riddhima not allowing her from her room, while Padma aunty, mom and I were dealing with my loud mouthed aunt. Mom made sure that Riddhima wasn't home whenever anyone visited us, shielding Riddhima from their accusatory glances.

"It's not a need, bhabhi. We choose Riddhima because we liked her. She is a very good girl." Mom explained to her patiently.

"And moreover Armaan likes her." Padma aunty added, while I nodded. But Sudha aunty wasn't satisfied.

"But that doesn't change the fact that she is an orphan." Sudha aunty started again.

"Leave it na Sudha. If Raji is confident about that girl, she might be a nice one."

"You don't understand Raghu." She snapped at her husband. "As if Rahul is not enough in the family, Raji is hell bent on adding one more orphan to it."

My temper roared high. I knew my aunty is not pleased with Rahul's role in our family. She had made it clear to all of us. But in dad's presence she never spoke it loud as dad was equally fond of Rahul as mom. He never tolerated any taunts against him. And now, I knew she is taking advantage of dad's absence. Moreover, we have decided not to tell anyone that Riddhima was married once as that would only lead to a small scale commotion among our families.

"Enough aunty!" I almost yelled, standing up. I was fed up with mom cajoling her for half an hour. Mom and Padma aunty stared at me mortified. "Rahul is a part of our family, you accept it or not. And now Riddhima is going to be my wife. It's my decision. And when we don't have any problem with Riddhima's background, why do you have to worry?" I asked her, my nostrils flaring.

"Armaan!" Mom reprimanded me. "Don't make it worse. Please be quite." She pleaded, trying not to make it nasty between the families. Sudha aunty is dad's elder sister. With my grandparents passed away, she is the eldest person in our family and mom wants her to accept Riddhima for some reason.

"Okay, I am sorry." I forced the words out of my mouth and sat down.

"Bhabhi, Riddhima might have been an orphan but I knew her closely for the past five months. She is staying at our house as a paying guest. She is very responsible." Mom tried to pacify her. "You'll love her if you knew her."

"Fine!" Aunty huffed and stood up. "If you have already decided, do as you want." She made her way towards the door.

We took a deep breath. But as she made her way towards the door, she bumped into someone. When she stepped back, we saw who she bumped into and again held our breaths. Rubbing her forehead, and looking confused was Riddhima with few sarees in her hand. What a perfect timing!

Mom took the sarees from her hand and pulled her in quickly. "Bhabhi, this is Riddhima." She introduced her to Sudha aunty. Riddhima looked at us dazed, trying to understand the proceedings. "Riddhima, this is Sudha ji, Arvind's sister and this is Raghu ji, her husband." She informed Riddhima. It was the first time, she was being officially introduced to our family members.

Riddhima was snapped out of her stupor and quickly touched aunty's and uncle's feet, taking their blessings. And I could see that they were pleased. Riddhima wore a green chudidar and her hair was tied in a careless plait. I was glad she didn't put on her usual T-shirt and Capri pant. But she looked beautiful, as ever. Uncle smiled at her but aunty just stared at her with a straight face, making her nervous.

"What are you doing now?" Aunty asked her.

Riddhima almost jumped at her stern voice. "I-I c-completed my MBA this year." She stammered slightly.

"You got a job?" Aunty questioned further.

"Yes a-aunty, I mean ji, sorry." She looked at mom and then me for help. But I knew my aunty being an educationalist was cooled a bit down with Riddhima's qualification. So I just stared at her in amusement while mom nodded at her assuringly. "I got an offer from Armaan's company."

"Okay." Aunty nodded at her and left the room.

"Don't worry Raji. I can already see that she is impressed with Riddhima." Raghu Uncle whispered to mom but I heard it. Riddhima was way too nervous to hear it. She was just staring in the direction of Sudha aunty.

"Congrats beta!"  He wished Riddhima and left with mom and Padma aunty following them downstairs.

I couldn't help but smile at a slightly scared Riddhima staring at their retreating figures. She appeared something sort of cute with that wary expression on her face. She was startled when I cleared my throat to catch her attention.

 "I am sorry. I didn't mean to barge in like that. I just came to give those sarees." She said turning to me. "Was she angry that you are marrying me?" She asked, her voice shaking with apprehension.

"Relax Riddhima. It's fine." I took her small hand in mine and squeezed it. "She is not angry. She was upset but you did a great job impressing her." I added, slightly patting her back.

"um- Thanks." She smiled shyly, while I guided her downstairs to where mom and aunty were.


"Why are you pacing to and fro like a caged tiger? Go and ask aunty." Rahul stated exasperated.

"Rahul, I don't think mom would agree." I replied frowning.

"Fine! Then don't go. Or else go alone." He said, a scowl on his face, and got up to leave the room.

"You know, I can't go alone." I returned his scowl.

"Then who asked you to promise them?" He didn't hide his irritation.

"Oh Rahul, understand yaar! They didn't leave any choice for me." I sulked.

"Who didn't leave any choice for you?" Mom barged in with a few shopping bags in her hands. "Check the fitting of your suit." She told me and turned to leave, her mind preoccupied.

"Mom!!" I wanted to stop her from leave but my voice came out as a yell that it startled her.

"What's wrong with you Armaan? Why did you shout?" Mom asked bewildered, looking at me and then at Rahul.

"Nothing. I want to talk to you." I said meekly.

"Then talk. Who asked you not to?" Perfect timing for mom's irritation. Well, how could I talk to her if she's in foul mood?

"What happened Armaan?" She asked again, her voice soft and calm this time.

"Nothing happened Aunty." Rahul replied before I could. "Sandeep called a couple of minutes before. They wanted to meet Riddhima today."

"What? Today?" Mom's reply came quick and sharp that I winced.

Now, my readers, before you start wondering what was happening, I'll let you know. Before 20 minutes, my life was smooth and calm. Just a phone call turned it upside down. In the afternoon I called my B-School friends to invite them to the wedding. They were surprised, happy and pulled my leg. We chatted for a long time. All was well then. But I don't know what had conspired behind my back but later in the evening Sandeep, one of my friends, called me giving me an ultimatum that they wanted to meet Riddhima before the wedding- today to be precise else they wouldn't take the effort to attend the wedding.

Well, now you might be wondering what's the deal in that. The deal is that it is three days away from the wedding. I was almost positive that mom wouldn't agree to me taking Riddhima out for a dinner, would she?

"Mom, please. Just a couple of hours. For dinner." I pleaded.

"Dinner? No way?" Mom almost screeched. "Ask them to come home. They can meet Riddhima here. Sudha bhabhi would eat me alive if she comes to know that you both went out for dinner together today."

Well, that was indeed true. "Mom, aunty wouldn't come to know about it. I'll take care." I tried one more time.

"Acha! You think Ishitha wouldn't come?" I winced at Rahul's words.

Ofcourse she would come. I had a vague idea that it was her plan to meet Riddhima before the wedding. And she being aunty's neighbor, I don't think it would be long before aunty comes to know about it.

"Armaan, don't you think Ishitha would be a bit rude towards Riddhima if she meets her?" Mom asked, her face covered with worry.

How could I forget the friction of few years going on between me and her? Ishitha would surely try to take an advantage of Riddhima's background to taunt her if she comes to know about it.

"I'll take care of Riddhima mom. Please." I continued with my pleading session. But mom wasn't satisfied.

"Don't worry aunty. Riddhima's big brother will make sure nothing of that sort happens." Rahul grinned like a monkey showing his teeth, with his arm around mom's shoulder. Mom chuckled and so did I.

"When will you leave?" Mom asked.

I looked at my watch which showed its 6 pm now. "At 7 pm." I answered.

"Fine. Get back before 10." She nodded.

"Oh! Thank you so much mom. I love you." I almost jumped in glee. Apart from this dinner plan, there was a part of me dying to spend time with Riddhima.

"Tell Riddhima to get ready." Rahul told me after mom left the room. "I told Sandeep to pick me up. So don't bother with offering me a lift." He winked at me and left.

Shaking my head at my crazy friends, I dialed Riddhima's mobile number. It rang for almost two minutes before she took the call.

"H-hel-llo, wh-ho is it?" I heard her voice and frowned. It was forced and heavy. She was panting.

"Armaan. What happened? Why are you panting?" I asked.

"Huh?" There was silence for a couple of moments. I guess she was surprised at my call. "Nothing. I and Muski -uh- we were-um" She fumbled with words. I heard Muski's voice at the backdrop and she was yelling and I made out that they had been fighting.

"Okay listen Riddhima. We have to go out for dinner at 7." I told her coolly. "My friends want to meet you."

"What? Me? Why?" I chuckled at her words. So typical of Riddhima!

"Just like that. Don't get scared." I laughed imagining her face. "I'll come down at 7. Be ready, ok?"

"Hmm." I heard her mumble.

"Bye." I cut the call and moved towards the wash room when my mobile rang.

It was from Riddhima. "Yes Riddhima, any problem?"

"No nothing." She hesitated. "I was wondering what I should wear. Is it anything formal?"

I laughed at her words. "Oh Riddhima, it is just a casual meeting. Few of my friends wanted to meet you before wedding. That's it."

"Oh okay." She mumbled and cut the call.

I smiled staring at my mobile. But then I remembered something again. With Riddhima being comfortable around me and Rahul, I almost forgot the earlier nervous Riddhima who would be uncomfortable at receiving undue attention. I forgot about Muski's words that she would not be at ease with men around her. And she was right. I remembered that Riddhima who used to fumble with me around. She hardly looked into my eyes then.

So much has changed between us, I sighed sitting on the bed. So much has changed in Riddhima too, I couldn't help but add. I am glad that there might be a tiny possibility that I was responsible for that change. Well, that I could only know when she speaks it out and it being Riddhima that's quite a task.

And yes, so much has changed in me too, I could feel it. I was in serious relationships before. Hell, I have been in physical relationship too. But I never felt this thrill or this excitement before. Be it just a mere touch or a smile of hers, it rejuvenates me. Its different, quite different.

The shrill ring of my mobile snapped me out of my thoughts. It was Sandeep.

"Yes Sandy?" I spoke into the mobile.

"You are coming right?"

"Yes yaar! I am coming. I'll be there by 7.30 with Riddhima."

"Fine! I'll get a table reserved for us. Bye" I was about to cut the call when he yelled. "Tell Rahul that I am on the way to your home to pick him up." I cut the call and ran into the washroom after sparing a glance at the time which was 6.30 now.

In exactly 25 minutes, I was waiting in the living room of Padma aunty's house waiting for Riddhima. She smiled at me when I went down. And by that smile I knew that mom had passed the information downstairs. She told me that Riddhima was getting ready-or rather that Muski was getting her ready. I just wished that Riddhima didn't wear jeans with a hugging T-shirt today. Is she does, God help me, I would have a hard time keeping my eyes focused on my friends.

How wrong I was!

I almost gasped when Riddhima emerged out of the room. Clad in a long white skirt and a black halter top, she appeared bold and sexy, yet again. She also wrapped a stole around her neck with her hair left open. I had seen Muski in that dress before but it had been different. I was sure my eyes had been out of my sockets as I gazed at Riddhima. Well, it might be due to the fact that I had never seen Riddhima in western dresses as these before, the only exception being her capris.

"You guys match with each other." Muski's voice compelled me tear my eyes off Riddhima. I looked down at myself and realized I put on a white shirt with black jeans. "How romantic!" she added again and Riddhima's cheeks turned pink. But she wasn't looking at me since she came out of the room. "How does Riddhima look, Armaan?" Muski asked me.

At this, Riddhima raised her eyes to mine. I smiled at her. "Beautiful." I said. I couldn't say that she was smoking sexy, could I? Atleast not infront of Riddhima. I am sure she wouldn't look into my eyes for another two days if I said she was sexy. I chuckled when I remembered that she didn't even look at me for the next two days after my little wicked reply in that caf after shopping.

"Shall we leave, Riddhima?" I asked her.

"Umm-yes." She replied shyly putting her hair behind her ear. I let her move ahead. When she moved, I quickly kissed Muski's cheek mouthing a 'thank you'. She winked at me before I turned my gaze to Riddhima who was walking before me with her hair and hips swaying in a rhythm, as she took small steps.

It's going to be a long evening! I sighed to myself.


As we got into the elevator at the restaurant, I noticed Riddhima's conscious moves- sometimes adjusting her skirt, sometimes pulling on her stole and sometimes playing with her. She was anxious and uneasy, fidgeting with her fingers. May be it was due to her dress- I am sure this was one of the first times she was wearing such an outfit May be it was due to the fact that she was going to meet few strangers.

As the elevator was empty except for us, I moved closer to her and entwined her fingers with mine. She looked up at me startled. I smiled at her and put few strands of her hair behind her ear.

"You look great Riddhima. Don't get nervous. I am with you." I whispered gently, squeezing her small hand.

She looked unsure for a moment but smiled. Nodding slightly, she took a deep breath as the elevator came to a stop and the doors fluttered open. I held her hand in mine and guided her towards the open terrace dining area where my friends had booked a section for us.

"How many of your friends are going to be there?" She asked while we walked.

"I guess 5-6." I told her nonchalantly, searching for some known face.

"Oh okay." She said in a small voice.

I felt her grip on my hand turn tighter and looked down at her. I followed her gaze and found Sandeep and Akash coming towards us with a wide grin on their faces. I returned them a grin and turned to Riddhima. "Don't worry, they are going to serve food in sometime." I told her smiling. She looked at me confused. "They won't eat you. Relax." I left her hand and wrapped it around her waist as we made our way towards them.

Sandeep pounced on me giving me a tight hug, followed by Akash.

"This is Riddhima, I guess." Sandeep said smiling at her. When Riddhima smiled back at him, he added to me. "Damn, you are lucky man. You make a beautiful couple."

I grinned at him and turned to Riddhima. "Riddhima, this is Sandeep and Akash." I introduced them to her. She smiled at them with a small 'hie'.

"Let's go. Everyone is waiting for you." Akash guided us to others who were catching up with other.

Rahul beamed at us when he noticed us. "Wow, Riddhima, you look awesome. Come." He pulled her gently with him, while she tucked me along with her other hand in mine. I wondered if she would let go of my hand!

"Hey guys, this is Riddhima, my fianc." I announced, when we reached the centre of the table. That's when I noticed Ishitha, standing opposite to me, smirking at me. I stiffened for a moment, trying to gauge the look on her face.

"Hie Riddhima, congrats." Simran hugged Riddhima and I turned my attention to her. "I am Simran, Armaan's ex-colleague and his classmate in MBA. Rahul was telling that you are our junior at college." Simran started with her usual pleasantries, trying to make Riddhima feel welcome amidst them.

"Riddhima, this is Siddharth." I introduced her to the others.

"Hie Riddhima." Sidharth smiled at her.

"And this is-"

"I am Ishitha" She cut me off. "Armaan's ex-girlfriend." She added with a smirk.

Everyone fell silent at her arrogant remark. I dreaded this moment. I looked at Riddhima, wary of her reaction. But she seemed calm and unperturbed.

"Oh, hie. Glad to meet you." I stared at Riddhima, slightly surprised. Ishitha made a face, clearly depicting her reply- The feeling is not mutual.

"Sudha aunty was telling you were an orphan." Ishitha was hell bent on making it nasty, I could see it in her face. The deadly silence followed. Rahul turned pale and I was sure so was I. I regretted coming here. Mom should have refused it.

"Yes, I was." Riddhima met her gaze, head on. "But not anymore." She added wiping that smirk off Ishitha's face. I might have gaped at Riddhima, had I not been conscious. I know it was difficult living with a troubled past. The way she held up made my heart swell. I had never been proud of her before. But now I was- proud of my sweet, little, not so vulnerable fianc.

"Let's order something." Sandeep broke the tension, glaring at Ishitha. "I am starving."

The rest of the dinner was smooth and relaxing except for few witty remarks from Ishitha, but the others made up for it. They made sure Riddhima felt comfortable, joking around, pulling our legs, revealing few secrets of mine. It was fun.

By the end of dinner, Riddhima was completely relaxed, chatting with them as a long lost friend. Rahul appeared furious at Ishitha as if he would attack her if given a chance. Simran feeling his rage, kept him pre-occupied all the time. It was eventful evening. When we were about to leave, Sandeep stopped us.

"We have a surprise for you Riddhima." He smiled at her and called the waiter, who came running to us with a huge box in his hand. Simran unwrapped it and put it on the table infront of us. "Please cut the cake."

Riddhima looked at me, smiling slightly, her face already flushed up with all the attention she was receiving. I joined her at the table where a large cake was placed. Rahul, passed her the knife. I held her hand while she held the knife and we cut the cake with everyone clapping for us.

Riddhima had that sparkle in her eyes as she fed me the cake. I was glad, the evening went well. Well, I didn't know it would turn out to be a small celebration. I glanced at Rahul. He smiled at me. Somewhere I had this doubt that the cake was Rahul's idea. Generally, in our family, the couple cut the cake in engagement welcoming the partner into their lives. But well in the ruckus at home, I almost forgot about it.

I fed Riddhima with a huge piece of cake. She was beaming at me, her earlier nervousness all forgotten. I hugged her tight and whispered into her ear. "Welcome into my life."


It was almost 11 when we reached home. After parking the car in our lot, I turned to Riddhima. She was tired and her eyes we dropping. But she had that glow on her face. I realized one more thing about her. Just small things make her immensely happy. She would be a very cheap date, I mused. The parking area was almost dark, except for the faint light coming from the tube-light at the other end.

The ambiance seemed so serene and sort of romantic, that I couldn't help my eyes that darted across Riddhima's lips. The air started heating up in the car. Well atleast I thought so as I felt suddenly sweaty. Riddhima was waiting for me to speak something, but I felt tongue-tied somehow. The evening went great. A gentle kiss would be a perfect end to a perfect day. My heart raced at the thought.

Risking a chance, I bent towards her, while she bent back slightly. She shut her eyes tightly, her breathing coming short and shallow. I smiled at her. She appeared something like scared ' or maybe it was her apprehension. She then held her breath. Taking a deep breath, I placed a gentle lingering kiss on her cheek, just at the corner of her lips and whispered. "Thanks for coming. Good night."

She opened her eyes and stared at me for a moment- I guess- dazed. She opened the door of the car and clumsily ran out. Smiling, I got out of the car and followed her after locking it. As it was late, the lift was switched off, so we took the steps. We stopped at floor of Padma aunty's house. I waited for her to get inside. She took a couple of steps ahead and then stopped. She turned around and looked at me. She appeared to be in deep thought.

She took two quick steps back and reached me. While I frowned at her, she raised herself to her toes. Holding one of my cheeks in her palm, she placed a soft kiss on the other. "A warm welcome to you too." She mumbled and ran away disappearing into the house.

I blinked and wondered if what I felt happened had happened in real. I touched my cheek in daze. It was slightly moist. Maybe it did happen, I smiled to myself. Soon the smile gave away to a grin. Wow! It did happen, I thought dreamily as I recalled the last minute again and again. My heart somersaulted in joy. I never realized a small kiss would result in such joy. But I was wrong! That moment would be a perfect romantic moment of my life.

And what did she say- a warm welcome? The welcome wasn't warm. It was hot and sizzling, leaving me pining for more!


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