Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Part 21 : In My Heart

The sun rose slowly illuminating the dark horizon with its first rays of light. Hues of pink and orange spread across the sky clearing the dark grey clouds which were looming over the city for the past two days. The freshly rain washed trees moved freely with the soft breeze as if dancing on their tunes and a few birds chirped along. Despite the calm atmosphere and a beautiful sight I stood lost staring out of the window. My heart was dropping and it was getting difficult to breathe. I knew the reason. It was because MY life was lying unconscious.

Riddhima had fainted during our drive back to Garewal Mansion. Everyone was shocked to see our condition but I hadn't stopped to explain anything. I rushed to her room and right now she was being checked by Anjali and Nikki. I heard soft sobs of Maa and Kashish aunty as they sat next to her. My eyes shut tightly as Anjie dipped cotton in antiseptic lotion and dabbed it on Riddhima's lip.

"Riddhima is ok for now. Us ka blood pressure bohat low ho gaya tha is liye behosh ho gai. It's due to stress and dehydration. I've put up a drip to help recover the nutrient loss. We have to keep a check on her temperature; aisi halat mein high fever won't be safe. Theek hai na?" Nikki said gripping my shoulder from behind. I just nod my head in response.

A sharp pain shot through my heart as I took in the sight of Riddhima. She seemed to be sleeping but her bruises, pale complexion and a frown said otherwise. I steeled myself and made an exit from the room to announce our marriage and give an explanation to her parents.

All men were gathered in living room discussing about the night while they waited to hear about Riddhima's condition.

"I'm sorry Sujal uncle; your family had to suffer so much due to me, especially Riddhima. I.." I apologised but Maa cut me in between.

"It's entirely my fault. Everything happened due to me. Rakesh wanted to take revenge from me for his brother's death and so he targeted my loved ones. Sujal, Kashish, Anurag, Armaan, everyone I'm so sorry. Please forgive me."

"Maa please don't say this. It wasn't your fault at all. We were all framed by that wicked man." I hugged her as she cried.

"Yes Maa, Armaan is right. Ap ki is mein koi galti nahin hai. Infact agar ap na hoti tou aj hum yahan itne sukoon se nahin hotay." Arjun explained hugging her from other side.

"Initially I had no plan. We were just supposed to go through whatever Rakesh said. When Maa recieved that note from him, I thought of taking a chance though it was risky. We had proof against him but a confession from his mouth meant our victory and so I sent Maa there. I had planted a chip in her mobile through which I tapped and recorded his conversation. What I didn't know was Rakesh is a big fool, in his misconception of trapping us he told Maa the location where Rhea was held. That's when I formulated the plan. I asked Anurag uncle to go in the Mansion and as I thought Rakesh didn't suspect anything. So I told Armaan to hold back the lawyer till we reached Riddhima. Finally we arrested him and his men. He did try to escape but couldn't do much in shocked state." Arjun explained.

I shifted uncomfortably as Maa and Dad's gaze settled on me. I adjusted my collar while inhaling deeply as I felt short of breath.

"Sujal uncle, Kashish aunty, Dadi, there's something I have to tell you all. Please don't come to conclusions before I finish what I have to say. I.. Riddhima and I.. We've done court marriage." Several gasps echoed through the silence and the room suddenly felt thick with tension.

"I was perturbed after Arjun informed me of the developments in Rakesh's case. I sat uneasily with my head in hands at the bed's edge as I was reconsidering my decision. It had been 4 days to Riddhima's arrival in India. Since that day it was a ritual for me to stay from morning till night and leave after putting Riddhima to sleep. I broke from my trance as Riddhima's arm went around my waist and she leaned into my chest. I embraced her tightly pulling her closer.

"Kya hua? Tum aise gum sum kyun baithe ho?" she asked me.

"Riddhima, will you answer a few things honestly?" My serious tone alerted her. She nodded her head.

"Tum mujhse pyaar karti ho?"

"Armaan, yeh kaisa sawaal hai?"

"Jawab do Riddhima."

"Haan main tumse pyaar karti hoon Armaan."

"Do you trust me?"

"Khud se bhi zyaada. Armaan tum ye.."

"Sshh.. Do you want to marry me?" I continued seriously.

"Of course I want to."

"What if your parents don't agree with our relationship?"

"I know they will approve of my choice but God forbid if they don't, I will still marry you only otherwise no one."

"Kya tum unki marzi ke khilaf mujhse shaadi karogi?"

"Agar koi aur option nahin hua tou I will marry against their will but I will only marry you."

"Can you do something for me?"

"Anything." she replied confidently.

"Agar main kahoon ke blank papers pe sign kardo tou kya tum kardo gi?"

"Yes I will."

"What if I misuse your signatures?"

"You won't. I know you."

"Will you sign these papers?" I asked placing a file in her hands. Riddhima sat straight and opened the file. The contents shocked her to the core. She looked at me with wide eyes not understanding the reason behind them.

"Don't take me wrong. I don't have much choice. Please don't ask questions because I won't be able to answer them at this stage. Just know that these papers are for my satisfaction and I won't submit them until necessary."

"Armaan, what will I say to Mama, Papa? What will Maa and Dad think of us? How will we explain this to them? Why don't we go and convince them first and then think of this as the last option." she asked.

"I will talk to them like you want and this will be the last option. I will not submit them now. Nor will I use any of my rights on you till you wish. I will not force you if you're not sure about your decison of marrying me?" he replied in a small voice.

"Of course I am sure. It's just that I want our families to be a part of our union."

"I want the same too but I'm scared of losing you again, Jaan." I spoke looking at our entwined fingers. Riddhima signed all the papers at once and handed me the file back.

"You don't have to be scared any more. I'm all yours, only yours! Believe me baby." she cupped my cheeks in her palms forcing me to look at her. I kissed her forehead and let my lips linger there for some time.

"Thank you Meri Jaan." I whispered joining their foreheads and tears rolled down my cheeks as I looked into her eyes filled with immense love. Today a weight had been lifted off from my chest; a fear had been overcome as my love was marked as mine. We had signed the marriage papers and devoted ourselves to the other; though the submission was left we were now, One." I glanced at everyone after I narrated the incident from when we took this life changing decision.

"I had submitted those papers four days before you all arrived. I had got hold of all the pictures and videos Rakesh was sending you of us. I was afraid you would take Riddhima away from me without giving me a chance to explain as all of you were angry with me. I got the papers signed only for my satisfaction but once I realized his intentions, I was left with no option but to submit them. That was the only way I could safeguard Riddhima's life. Please believe me; I didn't do any of this to take undue advantage of her. I can never do that to her." I said kneeling in front of Sujal uncle.

"I'm sorry for breaking my promise to you and Riddhima too. I didn't tell her about the submission because I didn't want to disturb her and I couldn't tell her about its approval as she was kidnapped on the same day." I was pulled up by shoulders as Sujal uncle stood up abruptly. My eyes widened as he raised his hand to slap me but instead caressed my head and embraced me.

"I'm proud of you My Son." He spoke softly.

"You're not angry with me?" I asked in disbelief.

"No one is angry with you. We all understand and support your decision. Whatever you did was to protect your love. And you must have heard 'all is fair in love and war', haven't you?" Dadi said kissing my forehead. I sighed in contentment as my parents and friends mirrored the same expressions.

"Why do I feel that guys aren't surprised at all hearing this? Tum log ko pehle se pata tha, haina bolo?" Seriously hardly anything goes unnoticed from Anjie's gaze. I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes as the gang started arguing.

"Enough guys, stop it! Haan larkon ko pehle se pata tha. Chup, bilkul chup. I had to tell Abhi and Atul because I needed them as witness or Rahul and Prem ko Arjun ne bataya. You all are not any less important to me than them. I didn't inform you because I didn't want to put you in danger."

"Kya Ammy, itna acha chance khatam kar dia tumne hamare ye explanation de kar. Humne socha tha tumse gifts or treat lein ge per ab rehne do.." Nikki twisted her nose in annoyance.

"Your gifts are due on me, bus Riddhima theek ho jaye. Phir jo chaho ge wo miley ga." They squealed and ran over to hug me.

The clothes landed in a pile on the floor as I peeled them off and stepped in the shower. It felt so good and relaxing as the warm water ran over my stiff muscles. How much ever I didn't want to stay away from Riddhima, I realized this bath was much needed. Everyone had retired to rest after breakfast. I decided to freshen up and then eat. But the relaxation was short lived as I heard the door of Prem's room open and close thrice. My heart thumped frantically as I pulled up the jeans and rushed to the next room. Kashish aunty, Nikki and Prem were trying to calm a restless Riddhima. I quickly pressed her shoulders down to keep her from moving while Nikki prepared an injection.

"What the hell? She's burning in fever." I panicked.

"Riddhima. It's okay Baby. Don't worry." I patted her head as she mumbled incoherent words.

"Go away. Don't touch. Armaan." My eyes shut tightly due to anger. Rakesh's one stupid step had caused this poor soul so much pain.

"Open your eyes. Look at me. You're with me Jaan. Nobody can touch you. Please look." I pleaded with her. She went back in to a deep slumber with the medicine. Kashish aunty and Prem left on my insistence and Nikki stayed back.

"Maine kabhi soche nahin tha ke The Armaan Mallik, Supercool Dude aik din yeh sab kare ga." Nikki gestured towards me as I placed cool strips on Riddhima's forehead to lower the temperature.

"Me neither."

Riddhima's temperature had lowered within the past 5 hours. I admired her angelic beauty as she slept peacefully with my hand under her cheek.

An hour had passed since I lay awake tossing and turning in bed. Sujal uncle had forced me to relax a bit while he sat beside Riddhima. I had given in one because I didn't want to upset him and two the exhaustion and stress from two days was getting too much to bear. Still I couldn't get myself to sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes, Riddhima's bruised and distraught state flashed before me. Groaning in frustration, I pulled the comforter apart and messaged Arjun to wait for me for the meeting that was scheduled with businessmen whom Rakesh had cheated. This was the only thing I could do to divert my mind and hence left informing Sujal uncle.

I sprinted upstairs to Riddhima's room as soon as I returned from office. She had been up for some time now. My legs halted on the entrance as she came out of the washroom clad in a fluffy peach towel. A chuckle escaped my lips as she squealed and turned around closing her eyes on seeing me.

"Why are You closing your eyes when I'm fully dressed and You are partially nude." She shivered as I whispered in her ear. Her intoxicating smell made me lightheaded. I traced her bare shoulder up till her fingers grasping the knot on towel and entwined our fingers. I traced her neck and shoulders with my nose while my fingers did their own quest. "Armaan.. Koi.. Ajaye ga." My eyes drooped as she whispered breathlessly. I smiled understanding how our proximity was affecting her as well. "Anay.. Do.." I spoke in between my kisses. "Pleasee." She whispered. "Please... What?" I asked turning her to face me. My body stiffened as soon as i saw her bruised lip. The meeting had successfully erased this picture of a wounded Riddhima but now it was all ruined. I stepped back and turned around immediately.

"What happened?" My teeth clenched to control my emotions and eyes shut as my heart dipped on hearing her hurt voice.

"Sorry, I got carried away. I came to call you for dinner. Come down, everyone's waiting for you." I strode out of the room.

I stood up to help Riddhima sit down next to me on the dining table. I knew she was confused and hurt by my earlier behavior but I ignored everything and served her the soup before starting with my dinner. My brows furrowed as Riddhima dragged her chair out and rushed upstairs mumbling: "excuse me." I went after her when she didn't return even after ten minutes. I became worried as she didn't response to my knocks on the bathroom door. She was crouched on the floor near the toilet bowl throwing up as I pushed the door open.

"Feeling better now?"

"My mouth tastes bitter." I supported her to the wash basin to brush her teeth with the mint flavored toothpaste. Riddhima leaned back in to me like a lifeless doll as I lead her outside.

"Come let's get you something to eat."

"No, I feel nauseous with its smell." Riddhima gripped my hand as I stood to leave.

"Don't leave."

"I'm not going anywhere. Just bringing you a glass of lemonade." I caressed her hair but she just shook her head. I settled with her head on my chest and palm resting on my heart.

"Jaan, is it hurting somewhere? Should I take you to.. Riddhima..are you ok? Nikki, Anjie.." I yelled as Riddhima's palm dropped down.

"This girl you know seriously is crazy. Why didn't she tell any of us she wasn't feeling well? We could have treated it immediately." Muskaan ranted in tears.

"She'll be fine, don't cry Muski." I heard Rahul sooth her.

"What did she say Armaan?" Anjie inquired checking her bp.

"She vomited thrice. I told her to eat something now so she said food's smell was making her nauseous."

"Armaan are you sure you have nothing to do with her condition." I was confused at Maa's words and later at the teasing smiles which everyone passed.

I ignored them and held Riddhima's hand tightly. My conscious was eating me up. I couldn't overlook the fact that I could not protect her once again. There was no limit to how much I hated myself in this moment as due to me she was dragged in this mess. She was an angel who deserved the world's joys but all my presence contributed in her life was constant pain.

"What happened Nikki?" I became worried when she started crying. She just shook her head and continued to cry loudly.

"Shh.. Basket jaag jaye gi." I dragged Nikki out of the room.

"Pata hai.. mujhe .. lagta tha.."

"Kya lagta tha?" I snapped as she exaggerated the words by sniffing.

"Dekha.. Mujhe pata tha.. Ab tumhien meri koi fikr nahin hai.. Main ro rahi hoon.. Or tum mujhe daant rahey ho." I face palmed myself mentally at her nautanki but kept quite.

"Batao kya hua Nikki? How can I help you? Oyye kahin us Abhi ne tou kuch nahin kaha tumhien. Main uski tou abhi bajata hoon.." Nikki held me back as I started to go down stairs.

"Us ne kuch nahi kiya. Main tumhari wajah se ro rahi hoon. Haina Muski?" I scratched my forehead as Nikki and Muski nodded their heads together.

"Tum ne aik baar bhi hamare baray mein socha? Agar tumhari ye body or six packs flat ho gaye to hum sab ko kya chehra dikhain ge. I mean tum humien hero style mein gundo se kaise bachao ge?" Nikki lamented. By now we had reached the dining table and Nikki just pushed me in to a chair while Muski quickly piled food on my plate.

"Aur kya bhai, Riddhima ke baray mein socho. Jab wo jaage gi or ap ki body, I mean aap ko dekhe gi to us ko aik jawaan pujabi munde ki jagah aik 50 saal ka buddha nazar aye ga. She might change her decision of being with you." Muski babbled. My gaze moved from one to the other as they kept on uttering nonsense but my heart swelled with love for both of them as I knew they were doing all this to make me eat something.

"You both didn't eat? I had seen both of you stuffing your mouths with kheer sometime back. Okay sorry no, it wasn't you, someone else." I joked with them as I ate my dinner.

I shifted my weight from one foot to another in confusion and slight nervousness. I had been standing here for 3 minutes but it looked like an hour to me due to the tension in air. I was here as Sujal uncle wanted to talk. He was sitting on the love seat in his bedroom and I could see he was debating with himself. This talk was giving me cold sweat.

"Armaan, when do you want to take Riddhima with you?"

"Take Riddhima where?"

"To your house.. You know both of you are married and she's supposed to be there. That's her home now. I want to know because we wanted to hold a function or two before she leaves."

"I understand uncle. I'm not taking her with me. I will take her once we get married according to the rituals. I had promised Riddhima to not use any of my rights on her until she wished. I want her to spend time with her family and friends just like how any to be bride would. I don't want to ruin her dreams because of anything. I want her to enjoy every ritual of the wedding. So we'll continue with the wedding plans just like before."

"Thanks, I really appreciate your concern for Riddhima. She sure is lucky to have you."

"I am lucky to have her by my side." Sujal uncle patted my back as we made it to Riddhima's room.


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