Monday, 6 January 2020

part 17 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 17.  I wanna take care of you...


We took a cab after landing in Hyderabad. It was 4 am in the morning when we reached our flat. Throughout the drive, Riddhima struggled hard to keep her eyes open while I passed the time stealing glances at her and Rahul readily dozed off. I left Hyderabad 10 days ago as a carefree bachelor and now I landed again as a husband who had to look ahead for his woman. I looked at Riddhima beside me. She turned to me as if feeling my eyes on her. She smiled and so did I.
"You stay far away from the airport?" She asked.

"A bit. The airport here is in the city out skirts." I told her. She nodded and looked away hugging herself and I noticed she was feeling cold.

I asked the driver to switch the ac off. Her face was slightly pale with her nose pink. She appeared kind of cute. I touched her arm to check for any temperature. It was slightly warm. I rummaged my bag and pulled my jacket out. Placing it around her shoulders, I moved closer to her wrapping my arm around her. She went stiff for a moment and then relaxed. I mentally made a note to talk to Shashank uncle and ask for an antibiotic if her temperature persisted.



I looked around when the car came to a halt. We were infront of our apartments. Riddhima got down and looked around curiously observing each and everything. I woke Rahul and by the time we unloaded our luggage from the car, she came and stood close to me. After paying the driver, I held her hand and guided her towards the lift.

"I'll go tell Ramulu to send us breakfast." Rahul told me and left, while we got into the lift.

"Ramulu is our watch man. His wife runs a small mess nearby. He sends us food every night. That's our take away." I told Riddhima and then smiled remembering how she asked me about the take aways yesterday. Now when I think about it, I wonder why I didn't get what she was trying to make me understand then.

"17th floor?" She exclaimed, with her eyes big and mouth curved in a big O.

I laughed at her expression. "Yes, it's a pent house."

She lowered her eyes embarrassed when I grinned at her. A gush of cool breeze greeted us when we stepped out of the lift. It being a summer morning, the sun rose slightly and the city was still sleeping. As we walked to the flat, I heard Riddhima's words.

"This place is nice."

I don't know why but I felt good listening to her words. And by the look on her face I knew she meant it. I smiled at her and signaled her to come to me. She walked up to me, waiting for me to unlock the door. Instead I gave her the keys. I don't know what made me do so. With a bright smile, she unlocked it and pushed the door open. I held her hand and we stepped in. The next moment, she sneezed once; then twice and thrice. The bout of her sneezes continued for about five minutes until Rahul returned back.

Riddhima's face turned deep red when she was done with her sneezes. She looked around the house and I thought she appeared slightly irritated with its cleanliness. Well, dirtiness would be the appropriate word. Being bachelors, we never bothered with cleaning the house since we didn't have any visitors. Once in every month, we asked the watch man's wife to mop the flat. We never realized there was so much dust deposited on the furniture until Riddhima broke into a fit of sneezes. Well, what do you expect out of two bachelors living alone!

"I'll ask Sita to come and clean the house. It's almost two months that we had it mopped." Rahul told me, while she surveyed it.

"Two months!" Riddhima screeched. We both smiled at her sheepishly.

"Ankit called me. I told him we'll come to office at 11." Rahul informed me before moving towards his room. I nodded at him and turned to Riddhima.

"Come." I took her to the bed room. Thankfully it was a bit clean. Well, I tend to clean it every week as that's the only room I use often after coming home.

I dumped the entire luggage in one corner of the room and slumped my body on the bed, exhausted. But Riddhima went to the luggage and started searching for something in her suit case. She pulled something out and stood beside the bed facing me. Turning to her, I balanced my head on my palm supporting it on the elbow and raised my brow at her.

"I'll change the bed sheet." She replied.

"Now?" I asked, surprised.

"Yes." She nodded pointing at the sheet in her hands. "This one is not clean" she made a face at the existing one. And I realized at once that she is a cleanliness freak, just like mom. But she had her own ways of getting the things done. She stood obstinately, until I sighed and got off the bed. She is one stubborn woman!

She made the bed and took the bed sheet to the washroom. I wondered if she decided on washing the bed sheet then and there. But she came out of the washroom, with the bed sheet in her hand. She searched for something around the room.

"What are you searching for, Riddhima?" I asked her, stifling a yawn.

"Huh?" She turned around. "A basket for clothes." She replied. "Where do you put your unwashed clothes?"

"In the wardrobe." I replied and turned on my stomach, closing my eyes. Her eyes were almost dropping half an hour ago. I didn't understand where she got that interest to clean everything now.

I heard the click of the door and then a loud gasp of hers. "This is so messy." She complained. I supposed she wanted to sit and set everything right now. "Where shall I put these?" She asked something.

I groaned and got up. I pulled her to the bed and made her sit. "Sleep for now, Riddhima. I am damn sleepy. I'll tell you everything later. Okay?" I almost pleaded.

She opened her mouth to say something. I raised my brow and I guess she got her cue. She shook her head and moved back on the bed. I lay on the bed but she sat still staring at me. I had to stifle my laugh as I glanced at her. Her face had a weird expression. Slowly she slid down and lay down beside me. It being a single cot bed, my body almost brushed hers when I turned to my side. And that sent few sparks flashing down my body. The mattress moved and I felt her moving away from me a bit, probably making some space between our bodies. And I closed my eyes, with a smile on my face.

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My eyes flew open with a jerk when I heard someone scream. I recalled the voice realized it was Riddhima's. I found her dupatta on the bed beside me. But where was she? Cursing under my breath, I ran out of the room towards the living room, bumping into an equally confused Rahul midway. We saw Riddhima emerge out of the kitchen and then shut the door tight before latching it. She appeared frightened.

"What happened Riddhima? Why did you scream?" I asked holding her by her shoulders.

She looked up at me and I found her eyes already filled. "I opened the tap in the kitchen and so many cock roaches emerged out of the wash basin. I got scared and screamed." She replied, wiping the tear that escaped her eye. "I am sorry."

I sighed, relieved and took her shivering form in my arms. She hugged me tight and I realized she was really scared. Rubbing her back gently, I let her relax in my arms. "It's okay."

"But why did you go into the kitchen. Riddhima?" Rahul asked.

"To prepare coffee before you wake up." She drew back and replied looking at us. "But there was nothing in the fridge except for juice; nor in the kitchen." She complained.

"I'll take you to the grocery store in the evening. You can get everything you want. Okay?" I told her and guided her to the dining table, which appeared surprisingly clean. She might have cleaned it. "When did you wake up?" I asked her.

"I wasn't able to sleep." She replied.

"Don't clean anything Riddhima. You still appear pale. I'll ask Sita to send a maid." I said. Rahul brought a glass of juice for her. She took it and sipped slowly. Rahul left for his room. I looked at the watch and it said 10.15 am. "We'll come back by 6 in the evening. I'll ask Ramulu to bring lunch for you." I said and she nodded at me. "Take rest in the afternoon." After she had the juice, I moved to the bed room to get ready, while she followed me.

By the time I had a shower and stepped out, few sets of my clothes were placed on the bed. I looked at them surprised.

"I didn't know what you would like to wear. So took all of them out." I heard Riddhima's hesitant words and turned around. But she lowered her eyes when our eyes met. She shifted uncomfortably on her feet and I realized it might be due to the fact that I was half naked except for the towel on my lower body. She turned to leave the room, but I stopped her.

"Tell me which one suits me better." I asked her, smiling. I wanted to let her choose it for me.

"Blue looks good on you." She whispered and left the room, with a shy smile on her lips.

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

I rang the doorbell and waited for the door to be opened by my wife. It gave me a sense of warmth, or maybe it was completeness, in addressing Riddhima as my wife. I didn't understand why!! Everything was completely new- my feelings, emotions or even my timings.

Talking about timings, I was the center of attraction when I reached office in the morning. They were almost shocked. That's because, earlier Rahul and I used to report for work at 8 am though our shift starts at 10 am. We went to the gym in the office, played some indoor games with the other staff and returned back to our desks when it was time for our login. And so everyone started pulling my leg when I signed in promptly at 11 am. And they bugged me until I promised to throw a party for them next weekend. However, I had been planning for a small reception party for my colleagues and friends at Hyderabad.

Amidst my work, I found myself stealing glances at the clock for every five minutes. I tried finding excuses to call Riddhima. I called her, -once after reaching the office to let her know that I have reached, -then I waited patiently for the lunch time and called her once again on the pretext of enquiring if she had her lunch- then I called her once again in the evening to ask what she was doing. She told me she was watching TV. All through the day, my hands itched to make a call to her.

And then in the evening, they were more than surprised when I tried to leave the office promptly at 6 pm. My shift ends at 6 but earlier I used to log out at 8 or 9 in the night spending half of my day in the office. It was as if I used to go back to the flat to eat and sleep. But today it was different. Ever since the clock struck 4 pm it was as if my eyes were glued to the clock, waiting impatiently for it to strike 6 pm. I bid a quick bye to everyone and left for home. Since Rahul was in a conference I left him a message.

And so I had been waiting for Riddhima to open the door at 6.32.45 pm. But I frowned when she didn't open the door even after five minutes. I turned the door knob and to my surprise, the door opened. Stepping in, I almost gasped at the sight that greeted me. The living room was shining brightly, spotless and dustless. The furniture was rearranged giving it a brand new look. For a moment I wondered if I had entered the wrong flat. But the sight of Riddhima asleep in the couch confirmed that I had entered the right flat.

She was sleeping peacefully, curled up into a small ball, on the couch. There was a small bucket of dirty water beside the couch. I assumed she dozed off, tired, after cleaning everything. And she was in her usual loose T-shirt and Capri pant. I closed the door behind me and placed my laptop bag on the table without making any noise, lest it wakes her. I walked closer to her and my eyes automatically noticed the skin of her waist that was exposed as her T-shirt crept upwards. And that was more than enough to make all my senses conscious of her presence. Somehow I was glad Rahul didn't accompany me. I didn't want Rahul to have at glance at Riddhima in such a form. Neither of them would have been comfortable.

I also noticed she was covered in sweat and realized that the fan was switched off. I watched as a small drop of her sweat originated from behind her ear and trailed down across her neck, base of her throat and disappeared behind her top at her cleavage. And somehow it made me start sweating. I didn't know why I started aching but I certainly wished to do something. And before my craziness got the better of me, I looked away shaking my head off the dirty thoughts. I switched the fan on, and walked towards the fridge to gulp down something to cool myself.

Drinking a bottle full of water, I was surprised to find the door of the kitchen open. Peeping in, I was astonished at its cleanliness. We never used the kitchen ever since we came to the flat and you, my readers, could imagine its form. I guess it had been a perfect home of cockroaches or something else. I remembered Riddhima's frightened face in the morning and wondered how she had cleaned it taking into account her fear for those one inch long ugly creatures. I almost imagined her with a shield and sword fighting against them and chuckled. All of a sudden, my house transformed into my home. Amidst everything, I also realized that Riddhima is a cleanliness freak way above mom and that Rahul and I would have a great time irritating her with our sense of cleanliness.

With a grin on my face, I moved back to the living room and found Riddhima still sleeping. I let her be and made my way towards the bed room. It was also clean and organized as I had expected, so were my clothes in the wardrobe. But half portion of each of the shelves was empty. I assumed she wanted to place her clothes beside mine and smiled to myself. Grabbing a casual shirt and jeans, I went into the washroom.

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I received a message from Rahul that he would come home in 20 minutes and thought it was time to wake Riddhima. For the past one hour, I was just shuffling the channels in the TV in mute waiting for her to wake up but in vain. She tossed and turned but never woke up. And I was bored. Neither was I able to concentrate on anything on the screen nor was I able to sit idle. My eyes would dart across her sleeping form every now and then making it impossible for me to keep my mind pre-occupied.

I kneeled beside the couch and tried to shake her arm slightly. She just frowned and stretched her body which resulted in her T-shirt raising a bit more, making my heart race in mad pace. I didn't have it in me to take anymore and so I placed my hand at the rim of her top to pull it down covering her bareness. But my hand accidentally came in contact with her bare skin and she sat up with a jerk, her face devoid of its color. She stared at me for a moment before closing her eyes placing her hands on her chest. And I realized I had scared her.

"Relax, I didn't mean to scare you. Sorry." I whispered while rubbing her back gently. I gave her the water bottle and she gulped it down. She opened her eyes and I noticed them red and tired. "Did you clean and organize everything by yourself?" I asked her with a frown.

She nodded her head in a yes, and I scowled. "I told you I would ask Sita to come and clean everything." I added, my tone a bit serious. Mom would kill me if she comes to know about what she had done. She wasn't in her perfect health and such cleaning would only add to her weakness.

I watched her face fall at my words. "I thought you would like it." She mumbled, looking down into her lap.

"I like it Riddhima. But I am concerned about your health. I don't want you to fall ill again." I told her softly, squeezing her hand.

"You like it?" She confirmed, looking at me expectantly.

"It's perfect." I replied and she gave a triumphant smile, as if satisfied with her work. I couldn't help but return her infectious smile. "Are you fine now? Did your temperature raise again?" I asked holding her arm. It wasn't warm.

"I am fine. " She replied. "When did you come? Where is Rahul?" She asked.

"I came one hour ago. Rahul is on his way." I said.

"One hour?" she asked with her eyes big. She looked at the clock and gasped. "You should have waken me up." She added, apologetically.

"That's fine. You were in some dream land of yours when I came in. So I thought to let you dream. Dreaming about me?" I asked with a naughty grin and the color was back on her face. She lowered her eyes immediately and I desperately wanted to kiss her red cheeks. "Now go and get ready. We'll go out for dinner when Rahul comes."

"Where?" She asked excitedly like a child making me laugh. "We should also go to the grocery store." She added after a thought.

"I'll take you to the store tomorrow. Its Saturday and an off for me. For now, we'll go and have a nice dinner. Okay?" I smiled when she nodded.

She nodded and almost ran to the bed room, conveniently forgetting about the bucket of water that lay abandoned beside the couch. I picked it and placed in the wash area in the balcony of the kitchen. I then noticed few of my shirts hanging on the rim of the balcony. Did she wash them; I wondered and mentally made a note to buy a washing machine. That thought made me think about few other appliances that Riddhima might need at our new home. So coming into the living room, I took out a note pad and started listing all the electric appliances that I need to buy.

1.      Washing Machine

2.      Micro wave Owen

3.      Gas Stove

4.      Water Purifier

5.      Grinder

6.      Electric Cooker

7.     

"Woah, is this our flat?" I heard Rahul's voice and looked up to find his shocked expression. I grinned at him while he inspected everything around him. "Who did this, Riddhima?" He asked sitting beside me.

"Any doubt?" I snorted. "Go and check the kitchen. You would probably faint." I added.

"Muski told me about it." He replied. "What is that list?" He asked peeping into the notepad.

"A list of appliances Riddhima might need. And we have to find a maid to do the cleaning every day." I told him.

"We can ask Sita to suggest someone." He replied. "Where is Riddhima, by the way?" He asked moving towards his room.

"She is getting ready. And Rahul, you have exactly 15 minutes to freshen up and come. We'll go for dinner." I informed him.

"Dinner? Are you sure you want me to come?" He asked with a straight face, while I raised my brow at that. "I don't want to be an intruder at your candle light dinner." He grinned.

"Shut up, saale." I threw the cushion in his face while he expertly ducked. "You have 10 more minutes." I let him know the time line again.

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"We are going on a bike?" Riddhima almost screamed when we came to the parking area to leave for the restaurant. Rahul left 5 minutes early to reserve a table for the three of us.

"Yes. Why?" I asked puzzled at her outburst.

"uh'nothing." She said, looking nervously at the bike, putting a strand of her hair behind her ear. And I understood this would be her first time, sitting on a bike.

"Don't worry. I won't let you fall off it." I reassured her. But she still seemed unsure, while sitting behind me. Since she was in a saree, she sat with both her legs on a side.

Smiling at her nervous face, I took one hand of hers and wrapped it around my waist. "Hold on to me tight." I whispered while pressing her hand gently. She nodded her head and I watched her through the side view mirror as she closed her eyes.

As the bike jerked ahead once, while I started the engine, I could hear to her chanting something and refrained myself from laughing out loud. As I increased the pace slightly, she held me tight with both her hands, almost leaning on to me. I could feel her breasts pressed against my back and her warm breath tickling me at the base of my nape. I didn't understand whether to enjoy the closeness or to concentrate on driving safe. Because without her knowledge she was doing few things to my body which I couldn't ignore. And the friction caused by the gentle rubbing of her softness due to the bumps on the road, was highly seducing. Thanks to the roads of Hyderabad; by the time we reached the restaurant I was almost turned on and extremely embarrassed at that fact.

We found Rahul waiting for us at one corner table when we stepped in. I guided Riddhima to the table and then excused myself for a minute and ran to the washroom to calm down my throbbing body. I was bewildered at the feelings Riddhima awakens in me without her knowledge ' be it physical or emotional. And she does it so effortlessly that sometimes makes me crave for something more. And many a time I don't know what I was craving for.

By the time I returned to the table, Riddhima was smiling brightly with her eyes sparkling. "Aunty called from Bangalore." She told me and I understood the reason behind her happiness.

We placed an order for the famous Hyderabadi Biryani and Chicken Kababs. Riddhima was in tears by the time she had three spoons of biryani owing to its spiciness. She emptied two bottles of water and was able to eat only one fourth of a bowl. I ordered for a gulab jamoon for her and she readily relished on it, while Rahul and I enjoyed the Biryani. I realized Riddhima has very less appetite when she was full even without touching the kababs. She had one piece of kabab when I forcefully made her eat, leaving the rest to us.

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It was late in the night when we reached home. After a quick good night to Rahul, Riddhima and I went back to our bedroom. While Riddhima changed into one of her night clothes in the washroom, I changed into my vest and three fourths. By the time Riddhima emerged out, I lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. I looked at her and she smiled nervously at me. For some reason, she appeared extremely conscious of something ' may be it was my presence. She lay down beside me on the bed, after switching the main light off; but she was too stiff for sleeping. I wondered what the reason might be. I thought she was par that uneasiness with me around her.

 I turned towards her but she had her back facing me. I knew she wasn't asleep. "Is something wrong Riddhima?" I asked her.

She turned to me slowly and shook her head negatively. But I knew something was bothering her. I tried to read her face in the faint glow of the bed lamp. Was she uncomfortable sharing a bed with me? That was the first thought that came to my mind. But then I brushed it off; we have already shared the same bed after our marriage. But then, either Riddhima had fallen asleep even before I joined her on the bed or I had, the couple of times earlier. And this was a small bed comparatively, in size.

"Do you want me to sleep somewhere else?" I asked her. "You can tell me if you are uncomfortable." I added.

"No no. Nothing like that." She replied immediately and I was glad. "I-uh- I was- I-" she stammered.

"What happened Riddhima?" I asked, my voice soft and tender.

She looked into my eyes for few moments before she spoke again. "It's just that I am used to sleeping alone since my childhood. So maybe I am just-I don't know." Her voice trailed off.

But I frowned slightly at her words. She was married once earlier. She might have- I shook my head not wanting to think about it.

"Do you want to speak about it?" I wanted her to let it out.

She shook her head negatively. But as I started at her intently, she continued. "I used to be so scared to sleep alone during my childhood at the orphanage. I used to keep my school bag beside me and sleep hugging it, thinking it to be my mom." Her voice cracked as she spoke and eyes turned moist. "Night mares used to be very common to me. And eventually I couldn't sleep at all."

I didn't understand how to console her for I never experienced anything like that. I used to sleep between mom and dad until I was seventh standard. Even after that, dad used to sleep with me whenever I had any night mare.

I moved closer to her, wrapping my hand around her waist. "You can sleep peacefully now." I said, softly. I placed a light kiss on her neck, and whispered, "You should get used to me Riddhima, because I am never going to let you sleep alone." She smiled at me and turned on her side placing her hand on mine that was around her waist. I couldn't see the color that adorned her cheeks but I was sure they would have turned deep shade of pink. And by the time I closed my eyes, I knew we were more connected now.

When the daylight disappears
When you're haunted, I'll be near
When the shadows come to call
When you're too scared to stand tall
I can stand tall
Dream and let your dreams go
It's your turn to fly
As long as I'm standing by
You can close your eyes


I will take care of you
Long as you want me to
Whatever else I do
I will take care of you
Don't you worry, while you sleep
All my love is yours to keep
All you wish for, all you know
Will be yours when you let go
You can let go

Smile, if you can now
Smile through your tears
Here where your fears are known
Know you're safe at home
I will take care of you
Long as you want me to
Whatever else I do
I will take care of you

All you have to do
Is say good night
And close your eyes
Fly, fly into the light
I will take care of you
Long as you want me to
Whatever else I do
I will take care of you...

[I will take care of you- The Bangles]

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