Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Part 8 : In My Heart

there's a leap of 3 years in the story in this part. 


Leeds, UK.
Today her vision of bringing her father's desire to life had come true. Sanjeevani Leeds, a name that would soon become synonymous with excellence, was finally inaugurated. She was glad to see the pride and love in her family's eyes for her. Everyone was ecstatic, celebrations were being held in the auditorium of Sanjeevani and here she was sitting in the hospital's fire escape, alone. This place had become her favorite spot since the construction began. It had become her refuge from the hustle n bustle of the world. She spent time over here just sitting, revisiting memories and thinking in eerie silence and darkness. It was her day; she was supposed to be enjoying every moment but all she could feel was a piercing pain in her heart. Her thoughts were disturbed by the opening of the door. Prem had come down with a cup of coffee. She smiled at him.



Prem (Pm): What is this Rhea, you can't spoil the mood today, its' your day sweet heart, be happy & stop thinking of the past. What's done cannot be undone, so just live in the moment. Hmm. She nodded. Now smile. He said making a smile with his hand. He hugged her close to himself & rubbed her back. Prem knew what she was feeling and wanted her to end this torture, cry her heart out, but this girl was adamant on punishing herself for something she never did.                                                                     

Thank you Prem, I love you. She said hugging him.                                                      Me too sweets. If you want you can go back, I'll manage here. He said moving his hand on her head.    Yea I'll go back in a while. She spoke parting from the hug.
She returned to her thoughts as Prem left. She was grateful to the Al Mighty for Prem's presence in her life, for it was due to him that she was still alive. She chuckled at the thought of being alive. She was dead the day fate had played cruel with her. Today she was physically present but from within she was far from all this, she was a living corpse. These 3 years had helped her master the art of faking happiness. She would put up a smile to hide her anguish from her parents and friends. They deserved better than to see her suffering every day. Only Prem knew about her discomfort and encouraged her to live and let go of the past. But how could she? She remembered how everyone appreciated her efforts after the tour of the hospital tonight, but they didn't know what agony she had to endure through this entire phase, when her heart would ache seeing everything being done the way she had wanted but the most important part was missing, HIM. He was not there to support her as he had promised to. She stood up heaving a cold sigh, gathering herself for the day ahead and left the premises of the hospital.

Mumbai, India.

A loud shriek echoed in the huge Mallik Mansion and everyone rushed to the source of it. Armaan rolled his eyes and followed his parents inside the room, which at present would give a tough competition to a junkyard due to its current condition and all thanks to one and only Muskaan Mallik. She had thrown her whole wardrobe on the floor in the process of packing her stuff. I reminded her that our stay in UK was for just a week and not a year, only to shut up by a glare from Maa. Maa inquired why Muskaan was screaming and she just put up a shirt with a big ketchup stain in front with a pout. Dad & I were amused seeing how hard Maa was trying to pacify Muskaan to leave this shirt for the trip but she was adamant on taking it along as it was a gift from her soul sister cum best friend forever. I used to wonder whether all that they said about how a bride to be threw tantrums was true or not but now that I am witnessing it, I feel sorry for myself. It's been a month to when Muskaan's wedding got fixed and since that day; she has a new demand, a new concern each day that needs to be attended as soon as she says it. She was a drama queen earlier as well but now she has become all the more of an emotional melodramatic, attention seeker I tell you. Well I'm leaving for my room to confirm the final preparations that have to be done. Tomorrow we'll be leaving for UK, for Muskaan's engagement to her bff's brother. Muskaan fell in love with him during her stay in Leeds for her studies. I am really happy for her. Armaan plugged his hands free earpiece and tuned the radio frequency in his mobile, entering his room. This was his routine; he would listen to this particular show whenever possible, people would talk about their love stories and he would revisit and cherish those moments spent with her, despite the betrayal. Today he was late in joining the show and the first dedication was on its way. He sighed hearing it;

Jhoothe yeh vaadein, jhoothi thi kasmein
Mujhko nahin tha yeh pataa
Sach keh raha hoon, yeh bhi na jaanoon
Mujhse hui hai kya khataa
Mann mein milan ki aas lagi hai
Honton pe mere hai duaa.



Leeds, UK.

The Garewal Mansion was engulfed in darkness after a chaotic day at the hospital. This week had been a busy affair for the Garewals but it had brought immense joy as well for all except one. Riddhima had gone to bed once her family had returned from the hospital but now she lay wide awake hugging her bunny, tossing and turning in bed contemplating over the games destiny plays.

I had always been a bright student, a teacher's pet as my friends called me, not only in academics but other curricular activities as well. I knew no one could be perfect but always aimed to reach as near to it as possible. Blessed i was to have such loving n supporting family n friends, who always stood by me in my decisions. This had given me the confidence i needed to progress and become independent. But at times the love of my family for me stopped me from taking few decisions, like the one to visit Dadi in India. Papa and bhai had been against it but later allowed only due to mom's emotional drama. How i wish now that i would have stayed back then, today i would have been a completely different person. Anyhow there's not much that could be done in this regard now. In my whole high school & college life, i had many friends both male and female but i never had a boyfriend. I was asked out by many guys but i would always decline them politely because i didn't want to be called as someone's' ex and all. I had always wanted to be associated with someone whom i felt a connection with and that too forever and to be honest i never felt it for anyone until my trip to India. His mere sight had created emotions in me that were so foreign. He looked so perfect on his birthday and just every normal day. I was surprised at how easily i had bonded with him. I never shared my secrets with anyone, but with him it was so different. I wanted to tell him everything & ask for his opinion in all matters. The festivals had helped us to come closer and know him better. I was touched by the efforts he had made to fulfill my wish to view the sunrise on beach and that he had wanted to begin his new year with me. As the interactions between us increased, i had understood that this strange pull between us is more than mere attraction but what, i couldn't understand. His sudden departure for an official trip and the nightmare had really shaken me. I couldn't get why there was a dull pain in my chest whenever the thought of return and leaving him behind occurred to me. He had changed after his trip, there was something in his eyes that always had me captivated and conveyed a silent message that i couldn't decipher. His visits had become frequent and he would stay back till we spent some alone time. I had told him about my return and he had shown no emotion until i blurted out that i thought he would ask me to stop. I remember how his face broke into a breathtaking dimpled smile and he asked whether i would stay back if he wanted. I had pondered over this a lot after he left that why did i want him to stop me and was a little scared at the response of my heart; that was ready to stay back for him. Later when we got busy with our presentations he would come after dinner and stay till early morning daily. His actions and words both had given me the indication that whatever we shared between us was mutual. Those close moments between us had confirmed this. I was looking forward to our projects' eve to see what surprise he had planned for me. Little did i know, that he had decided to throw me out of his life like a used discarded toy. He had accused me and sentenced punishment of staying away from him forever, all without letting me speak a word and abandoned me at the beach. All that followed is something i don't want to repeat to myself, because how many ever times i think about it, my heart sinks. I had returned back after a month of that incident and resumed my University and daily activities after another month but i was not the same. I had shut myself from everyone. Nobody in my family knows about what happened with me, just this that it was an accident except Prem. Muskaan and Prem had broken my heart's barriers and prompted me to live again. But how could i? I couldn't forgive him but my heart wasn't ready to forget him and move on. In all this Muskaan had become as close as family to me, a sister i always longed to have. As the time passed by, i understood that i had fallen in love with him, despite the hurt he caused; i deeply and irrevocably loved him. I wonder why destiny always makes me a target of its wicked game. Muskaan and Rahul bhai had fallen in love too; i was the happiest about it until i found out that she was his younger sister. It was too late to move away from Muski and it wasn't her fault that she loved my bro. I will not let anyone come in between my bro n bff, not even myself. I knew he would reject the proposal if he got to know me and so always hid when he visited Muski at Uni. But for how long could I run, tomorrow I'll face him again after 3 painfully long years. All I've felt in these years is an intense sting in my heart, everywhere I went, all that I did remind me of HIM, & of the memories we made. I am scared, edgy but still yearning to see a glimpse of him, though i know he will leash out his anger on me as he considers me a culprit but i am helpless in front of my heart. I will maintain my distance from him and fulfill his wish at all costs. If only one of us can have our wish fulfilled, i pray to God to let him be the one. He'll always be my untouched desire, my Armaan.

Yaar kaise tujhko main bhulaaoon
Zakhm dil ka kaise main dikhaaoon
Koi zor mera ab chale naaa
Kya hai bebasi main, kya bataaoon

Bitaay dino ki yaadein rulaaye
Kaise bhulaaoon main tujhe
Jee chaahta hai saari kahaani
Aake sunaaoon main tujhe
Saasein thami hain, sapne jale hain
Aankhon mein ashkon ki ghataa.

Mumbai, India.

Muskaan's wedding has come as a pleasant change for me. The past three years have been really tough for me, I had immersed myself in business to such an extent that I would at times stay back in the office for nights, and at home I would stay locked up in my room. I had cut connections with friends and stopped attending any sorts of social gatherings. I know my family had to suffer a lot due to my aloofness but I was helpless. I agreed to get engaged to Naina, my childhood friend, just to fulfill Maa's wish. It's been three years, but I can't get over the heartbreak I suffered at the hands of my love. My heart & dreams had crumpled into ashes after she deceived me, yet I can't move on. I had thrown her out of my life but still can't forget her. She's taken an integral part of me along with her. She broke my trust, my heart, and my dreams of a life just with her, yet I am mad at myself for falling for her. How could i not see through the mask of innocence she had put up? Even now I'm stuck in my past whereas she must have found her love or a new target. Urghh, I need to stop thinking about her and concentrate on giving Naina the happiness I have promised and that she deserves. This trip is my chance to reduce the distance between us and try to establish a bond beyond friendship. I will try my best to keep this relation intact, just for Maa.

Tune mere dil ka sheesha toda
Beech raaste mein mujhko chhoda
Ho, maine tujhse maangi jo hasi to
Aansuon se naata mera jodaa.


Leeds, UK.


Sujal & Rahul had received Malliks from the airport. Malliks were staying at the Garewal's Mansion. Muskaan had been her chirpy self throughout the way, constantly babbling about her journey & how much she missed this place and all of them. Sujal was pleased to have her back. It was due to Muskaan's presence now that he got to see his Princess, his Riddhima back. He was glad this bundle of joy was coming to his house forever.

I had stayed out the entire day on pretense of an urgent work that needed attention, only I knew how much of it was true. It's almost midnight now and the whole house is dark and soundless, much to my liking. I was dreading an encounter with Muskaan, she would be highly pissed is an understatement, I am dead, so much for staying away. As I approached the room next to mine, my heart beats rose sensing him near, i could feel his presence and his smell, all I wanted this moment was a glimpse of him but this was impossible, whenever we meet, it will be pure agony. I closed my eyes absorbing his presence n stood there for a while before moving into my room with a sad smile. I went to sleep pondering whether he knows about me or felt my presence, just like i did? I had started early with my morning routine to prepare breakfast for everyone, and decided to serve tea & coffee in bed, a small measure to apologize for not turning up yesterday. I realized I was being unfair to Muski, Anurag Dad n Prerna Maa who love me to bits, just because I wanted to escape him, which wasn't even possible now. So I've decided to spend the day at home and make it up to them.
All of us assembled in the dining room for breakfast. It had taken a lot of pleading & promises to pacify Muski. Papa & Dad had taken the seats opposite each other on the rectangular table. Maa, Muski, Rahul bhai, sat on one side whereas Mama and Prem had settled on the other. I could barely breathe; my heart was thumping in anticipation. I was just getting jittery feeling him come close. Mama called out his name and I froze in my steps. My back was facing him so he couldn't see my face. I heard him and a girl greet everyone, oh his fianc was here too, how could I forget? Muskaan suddenly stood up and rushed to Armaan pulling him in my direction.

"Come here I want you to meet someone."

I knew she was speaking about me and believe me I could feel my head getting dizzy. I felt Prem give my hand a little squeeze as he stood up from his chair, I looked at him and he blinked at me assuring me of his presence. I gulped hard before turning to face him and saw the display of emotions on his face, from shock to disbelief to a hint of joy to hurt and finally hatred. We were drowned in each other's eyes oblivious to the surroundings when Muski nudged me out of my reverie.

"Bhai meet my soul sister cum best friend forever cum future sister in law, Rhea as in Riddhima." I couldn't help but smile a little at the enthusiastic introduction by Muskaan. I looked at Armaan and knew he was trying to control his anger by fisting his hands tightly; he simply gave a nod and said hi dryly. My heart broke more seeing the rage in his eyes for me. I couldn't look at him any longer because of his penetrating gaze and slumped in the chair nearby.

"It's a pleasure meeting you Prem, have heard a lot about you from my sister. I really owe you a big time for taking so good care of her when she was new here." Armaan said holding out his hand.

"I wish I could say the same for you Mr. Armaan Mallik." My head shot up to see Prem holding Armaan's hand in a tight grip and glaring at him.

"I'm sorry." Armaan asked confused.

"I'll make sure you are." I could see everyone staring at the duo with confusion and thankfully Prem noticed it too. "What, I was just kidding, relax guys." Everyone relaxed including Armaan but I knew it would be a hard task to make Prem stay away from breaking Armaan's neck.

Naina and I exchanged smiles when she sat next to Muskaan leaving only the chair next to me available. I could see from the corner of my eyes Armaan stiffened at this but came around without complain. The breakfast went in planning for the day ahead, where Armaan & I barely spoke.



The youngsters slumped on the comfy sofas in the lounge of Garewal Mansion after returning from a hectic day at the jewelers and boutique. Riddhima served them coffee and excused herself. She was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. She dropped herself on the bed and closed her eyes to rest for a while but images of Armaan & Naina together earlier from the day kept playing havoc with her senses. Armaan standing too close to Naina while choosing the jewelry, Armaan forcing her to take the ear rings he chose despite her disliking it, Armaan choosing a gown for Naina and then ordering the food as she likes it. Riddhima sighed and dragged herself up, with her head on her knees. She knew Armaan wouldn't like her to company them as she saw disproval in his eyes when Muskaan was forcing her to come along but she had to give in unwillingly. Her heart bled seeing Armaan ignore her as she didn't exist the entire day except for once when he disapproved of her choice for Muskaan's dress. Riddhima's jaw had dropped down hearing him say that the dress was so plain, although his eyes had held the same appreciation as hers a moment back till she spoke it loud. He kept rejecting all the dresses she picked for Muskaan. Riddhima saw a small smirk on his lips and realized he was doing it intentionally to show her down in front of everyone. She stood patiently calming a fretting Muskaan despite her sinking heart and excused herself when Muski was done with her dress, the dress which Naina had chosen n Armaan had so willingly approved of, saying she'll grab something to eat while the rest pick dresses for themselves, in reality she had wanted to run from seeing Armaan n Naina sticking together. Riddhima just sat at a corner table with her head bowed down waiting for others so that she could get over with this. She had decided to stay away from Armaan and respect his decision beforehand but his ignorant, rude and distant behavior was killing her from inside, she needed to avoid him at all costs to avoid this stinging pain in her chest. They returned back after the rest had snacks.

Riddhima couldn't stop a sob from escaping her mouth thinking how wrong she had been when she had fallen for Armaan and had thought the feelings were mutual. She was an ordinary girl and Armaan could do much better without her. She had somewhere hoped that Armaan would forgive her for whatever reason he held her responsible for and that he wouldn't have moved on despite being engaged. But her hopes were crushed just like her heart, he had moved on, she didn't matter to him at all, the time they spent together meant nothing to him. That kiss had happened in a weak moment and was nothing special for him. She hadn't had anything properly during breakfast, didn't eat lunch and yet she wasn't hungry but she knew she had to go down n cook dinner as Kashish wasn't back yet from the event organizer's office.

It was the engagement eve and the elders had already left for the venue to receive the guests leaving behind the youngsters. Riddhima helped Rahul in getting dressed for the evening before she rushed towards Muskaan's room downstairs only to be stopped by an arm outstretched on the door. It didn't take her a second to recognize the owner; she lifted her gaze and saw him glaring at her. "I need to help Muskaan in getting ready." She spoke softly. "No you don't. Muskaan doesn't need a stranger's help when she has her own bhabhi. Leave." She felt a stab on her heart hearing these words from Armaan. She turned around lowering her gaze n bit her lip to prevent the tears from spilling out of her eyes and quietly went back to her room. After an hour all were ready and assembled in the living room. Muskaan told Prem that he would have to stay as Rhea wasn't ready because she had to leave for some important work. Prem eyed Armaan suspiciously but decided to leave this for later. After they left he went in Riddhima's room and found her lying face down on her bed. He softly caressed her head saying "what did he say?"  "Who said what?" she pretended to be ignorant. "Stop it Rhea, stop this all, how can you let him go always without a complain? If you won't say anything, i will, i will not spare him for any of this." Prem spoke with anger running in his blood. "You promised me Prem that you won't ask or say anything to anybody, remember?" Riddhima said softly caressing his arm. "Why are you doing this Rhea? All I'm asking you is to question that man, is it something so wrong?" Prem sighed closing his eyes. "I will ask him myself when time comes but not now, i don't want to spoil the atmosphere for Muski and bhaiyya. I'm thankful to him for not creating a scene as i thought he would. It's just 4 days more and they'll leave. Please control yourself, i know you are hurt and mad at him, but please for me." she whispered the end, hoping Prem would agree. She didn't want to talk to Armaan because she feared his anger and another heart break. Prem pulled her up in his arms into a hug. Riddhima smiled thanking him for being so understanding.

As Prem and I reached the venue, he held my hand and whispered "Be yourself today and don't let anyone ruin it. Just be there for Muski, it's her day. No one can do anything, I'll be there for you." i nodded at him although my heart was about to explode with anticipation of what was to come.

By the time we reached the stage, all eyes were fixed on us. I pulled Prem's hand "i told you this dress will not suit me, now look how everyone's staring at me." "It's because they can't take their eyes off you baby. Didn't you look in the mirror?" Prem said smiling at everyone. "I saw and that is why i am saying this." i was getting conscious with all the eyes fixed on me. "Shut up Rhea, you look gorgeous." he pulled me with him towards our parents. Anurag dad was the first to come and embrace me. I couldn't help but smile. I loved him so much; he always treated me like his daughter. "Now look everyone's forgotten that I'm standing right next to you and you were saying you don't look nice." Prem said complaining. Papa chuckled and hugged Prem. "are you crazy Rhea, you look stunning, haina Armaan?" Naina said tugging at Armaan's hand. I heard him say "hmm" but didn't dare look at him, because i couldn't stand the hatred in his eyes. I got busy with the guests but could feel his gaze following me everywhere. I stood in front of a huge window away from the hall to receive a call and that's when i saw his reflection. He looked as handsome as ever in the black suit with a turquoise tie. He was still looking at me; I felt my cheeks change to a deeper pink seeing the appreciation for me in his eyes. Just then Naina came and stood next to him bringing me back to reality. I reprimanded myself for thinking about him.

The rings were brought and Muski and bhaiyya stood opposite each other. Just when bhaiyya was about to take the ring i said "wait. This engagement will only happen if i say." i could see everyone was shocked. "What the hell?" I heard Armaan say and move towards me but i continued "I have a condition, if Rahul Bhai fulfills it then it's okay." "What are you saying Rhea, which condition?" Maa asked. "Rahul bhai has to propose Muskaan now and if i like the proposal then I'll accept him as my best friend's fianc, otherwise I'm sorry." "What rubbish, who do you think you are and who gave you the right to take decisions for Muskaan?" Armaan spoke in anger. "I gave her the right." Muskaan piped in. "What is all this?" Rahul bhaiya asked confused. "Actually Rhea n I had promised that we'll only get married if the other approves of our choice." Muskaan continued. "Wow. And don't you two think it's still a bit early for deciding." Rahul bhaiya said in a sarcastic tone. "Oh common bhai don't make me open my mouth now. How could i do anything when the two of you kept it a secret till she left for India? Now stop grudging and propose her." i said irritated. Rahul bhai looked at the elders and sighed when they all shrugged in response. He came forward and held Muski's hand and spoke "Muskaan will you Marry me, please?" and then looked at me. I showed him thumbs up, and his face broke into a smile which turned into frown when i turned it down. I heard Armaan chuckle and controlled my thoughts before they ran wild again. "Are you sure you are my sister and not Muskaan's?" Bhai asked me. "Of course i am your sister but please you can't call this a proposal. Do you even know how to propose a girl" i said and in response he raised his eyebrow. "Go down on your knees, confess what you feel for her and then ask her to marry you, simple." i said as a matter of fact. "She's right man." Bhai cut Prem's sentence before it ended saying "you just keep quiet, Rhea ka chamcha." i giggled at this, these two will never end fighting over me.

Bhai looked at Muski for a minute and then went down on his knee: "Muskaan i'm sure by now you know I'm not much of a romantic but whatever I'm going to say is from my heart. The first time i met you, your laughter had captivated me, and it was different just like you were. We had met at a time when i was going through a bad phase and yet being a stranger, you had supported me. I admired you for spreading happiness all around you. Both of us quarreled just for no reason, i knew you did that intentionally but as time passed i had developed a habit of fighting with you, i loved to irritate you just to see you all fiery, because you looked so beautiful in anger. I don't know when exactly i fell for you but all i remember now is you, your smile, your laughter, your eyes full of mischief and unspoken love for me. Before you came into my life Rhea was my life, my only joy, which had lost its charm due to some accident but your presence and love instilled the hope of living again in her. I owe you my life for this Muskaan because if it wouldn't have been for you that day, i would have died without her. If Rhea is my life, my heart, soul and world only revolves around you Muskaan. I love you a lot, more than anything else in this world. I promise to keep you happy as long as i breathe, to fulfill all your wishes, to be by your side throughout thick and thin, will you please accept me in your life? Will you marry me Muskaan?" I couldn't stop the tears which were flowing freely from my eyes and knew Muski was in no condition to say a word after hearing this confession from bhai and so she meekly nodded her head weeping silently. Both of them exchanged rings and hugged each other amidst the sound of cheers and claps. They parted a little and Muski beckoned me to join them in the hug. I just ran and wrapped my arms around them crying. We stood there for some time till a jealous Prem cleared his throat a little too loud and enveloped us in a bear hug. I parted from the hug and kissed Bhai and Muskaan on their cheeks. "Thank you for coming in our lives, you've been true to your name, bringing smiles on our face and being our strength in distress. I love you a lot Muski." i said kissing her again. "We love you too." Prem said kissing me and Muskaan on our cheeks. The atmosphere had become too emotional with all the rona dhona so i decided to end it by asking the couple of the evening to perform the first dance. Both of them swayed to the rhythms in each other's arms forgetting the world.

It had been two days to bhaiya's engagement. Today a pandit was called to look for an auspicious day for the wedding. The elders were sitting in the study talking with pandit jee on skype, who was in India with Dadi. I took a tray of snacks and coffee from the kitchen and made my way upstairs. I stood at the door thinking whether i should go in or get the snacks served by the maid because i didn't want to intervene the fun, i could hear laughter from behind the door and i knew Armaan wouldn't appreciate my presence and honestly i couldn't bear to see him ignoring me like plague. Before i could move back he opened the door and looked at me with a raised eyebrow. I just moved the tray in front of him and looked inside. He covered the door and said: we are spending some family time, so i don't want any outsider to ruin it.

I just looked at him once before going in my room next door. I wasn't already planning to go in but hearing Armaan say it made me feel so unwanted and trashed. I could not believe this was the same Armaan i knew 3 years back. I wiped the lone tear that escaped my eyes and plugged in my earphones to block all the noise and rushed to my personal gym that was adjoined to my room. Strenuous workout was an escape for me from all the mind boggling thoughts, i would deprive my body of as much as energy as possible, and now i had made a decision to not face Armaan at all.

Muskaan would come to my room at night daily and we spent the entire time reminiscing our university days and planning for the upcoming days when Muskaan would join us forever. Early morning i used to join Dad for a jog and later with a cup of coffee in his room before everyone woke up. It was a pleasure to be in his company. Maa told me that Dad never spoke to anyone as freely as he did with me, not even his kids. It was Dad's routine to visit my room daily at night and kiss my forehead. I would hug and wish him good night. I couldn't help but think that if things wouldn't have turned this bad between Armaan n me, i would have had been a part of this beautiful family.

Today the Malliks were leaving; the wedding date was set for 2 months later from now. I had spent time with Dad, Maa and Muski accordingly and i wasn't going to accompany them to the airport because i didn't want to come in front of Armaan. It had been two days since i last had an encounter with him but i had this nagging feeling that something bad was coming up. I just tried brushing the thoughts away and looked at the photo frame in my hand. It was a picture of Naina & Armaan standing arms linked & smiling at each other. I had got it framed in a beautiful royal blue frame with a pink bow on the left corner for Naina. I didn't know much of her likes so thought this would be a good gift for her. In these few days i realized Naina was a sweet girl along with being extremely beautiful & lucky.

I was going down the stairs when a hand clasped on my mouth and dragged me towards the terrace. I struggled to get rid of it but couldn't. With a jerk i was released from the grip, i unbalanced and collided with the wall. I turned back to see an enraged Armaan staring at me, so my intuition was right, i thought.

"I thought i had stated clearly that i want to have nothing to do with you and that you'll bear the consequences of otherwise. I guess you underestimated me or did you think I'll fall for your trap again?" Armaan spoke. Before i could grasp a word, he pulled me towards him by my arms. "What do you want now?" he said. "I..i don't understand what.."

"Oh shut the hell up! Just stop this pretense and come out clean, now!" he said seething in anger. "I thought i wouldn't have to see you again in my life but i was wrong. You trapped my sister to get your revenge from me. I can see that you've done a pretty good job in making a place in my family's heart. How couldn't you, after all you are such a good actress. I know it was your plan to hide yourself until all the wedding matters got finalized. I wanted to reject this proposal the day i saw you, because i can't risk leaving my sister near you, but stopped seeing the love in Rahul's eyes for Muskaan. I can't believe you two are real siblings, i mean both of you are so different, one good, the other evil. I had wanted to stay away from any interaction with you but it looks like you were really anxious to meet me that's why you planned on joining us in India." "what?" I looked at him with bewilderment.                                             

"See there's no one here and so you can drop this mask of ignorance & innocence." he said moving the hair out of my face. "Listen to one thing very carefully Riddhima Garewal, i will not tolerate you or your interference in my family matters. Just stay away from us and specially Muskaan. The poor thing doesn't even know what she's got in for a best friend. You will cut all contacts with her, understand?"
"She's my best friend, i can't leave her."

"Oh common, these talks don't suit a person like you, who doesn't value other's feelings a bit. You can tell me what price you want for leaving Muskaan?" i felt so cheap when Armaan said this.

"Wh..what have i done?" i said swallowing the lump in my throat.

"I guess you don't want to solve things easily between us. Okay, as you wish." he gripped my arms in a death grip and spoke " just stay away from my family, i don't want you near them, I'll pay you as much as you want but just leave Rahul and Muskaan alone. Because if something wrong happened with them, i swear I'll kill you."

"You already did." i whispered. "You al..already did Mr. Mallik, three years back when you left me str..anded on the beach. Today I'm not the same as before, I'm a living co..corpse, i had finished this physical to..rture but y..our sister di..dn't let me die th..that day." i felt his grip on me loosen as i stuttered to complete my sentence. "I ne..ver knew she was y..our sister until you visited her at the university. I didn't come in front of you because i didn't want to hurt you more and neither did i know that bhai and Muskaan loved each other. I got to know at the same time as you. I've come to love Muskaan as my sister in all this time; i wouldn't do anything to harm her or her happiness. I assure you Mr. Mallik, that I'll finish myself off without a second thought or complain if i am the reason for Muski's sorrow." i completed with helplessness that i felt at not understanding what had brought this change in Armaan, helplessness in not being able to convince him that i never wronged him and helplessness at being so weak in front of him. I looked at him and saw him in confusion, i could clearly see he was confused whether to believe me or not. I pleaded him silently through my eyes, i knew he could still read my eyes, but he chose not to.
"Stop this act now, don't ever think I'll fall for your trick again. Just Stay AWAY from MY FAMILY!" he pushed me down and went away banging the door shut.

I stayed like that for don't know how long, staring blankly at the sky changing its color from purplish pink to dark blue to jet black. Everyone came up in search of me, i quickly made myself presentable and turned towards them with a smile, while my heart was exploding from pain. I told them i was on a call with a client and thankfully they believed it. It was time for them to leave and Muski was adamant on taking me along to the airport and i couldn't deny her. I rushed back to my room to change.
"Rhea promise me you'll visit us soon." Muskaan said at the airport. I smiled cupping her face "Muski, you are going to come here forever very soon, so i have lots of preparations to make for a grand welcome for my bhabhi. I hope you'll understand."
"No Rhea, you are supposed to join us next month for the wedding shopping. I can't tolerate her tantrums alone." Maa said. "You won't be alone, Muski's bhabhi would be with her, haina?" i smiled and glanced at Naina, who shook her head. I raised an eyebrow and she told that she was leaving back for USA next week. "See, now you can't leave your Maa alone with this drama queen, can you?" Maa pleaded me and i felt like crying but i couldn't, because they had dried long back leaving me alone just like Him. I nodded at Maa and both of them hugged me together. I couldn't stop the whimper from leaving my mouth, oh just great, i thought. In a hurry i hadn't paid attention to a burning pain in my arms and now i realize they were badly bruised because of his gripping. Nobody noticed except for someone who shouldn't have. Prem dragged me behind a counter and rolled my sleeves up. I just closed my eyes in fear not knowing how to stop him from exploding. I held his hands and calmed him saying it was nothing and it backfired. He looked at me and i could see his eyes were dark and he was fuming in anger. I bit my lip and shook my head at him, he jerked my hands away. I knew i was being unfair to him, but i just didn't want the whole family to know about Him and me. I stood in front of him and cupped his cheeks forcing him to look at me and whispered: for me. He closed his eyes in defeat and hugged me tightly to which i responded. I felt a bit relieved, as if someone was there for me as well. We bid farewell to them and returned home.

It had almost been a month since the Malliks left for India. During this time we had done preparations for the wedding, renovated bhai's room as per Muski's likes, arranged the venues and event management and supervise the interior decor at the Mallik mansion. Yes, the Malliks were shifting here after Muski's wedding and it was her wedding gift from Dad. Nobody in their family knows about it. Dad had requested me to do the interiors of their house as i was the only one who knew everyone's taste and i had to do it, though i knew He would be mad at me again. Speaking of Him, i don't know what will happen when i reach his house in India. I am supposed to leave tomorrow, it's a surprise for Muski and all, i don't want to go but i can't stay back due to my fears and spoil everything for bhai. I just hope all goes smoothly and i don't have to encounter Armaan in such a rage.

It's been 3 hours since i arrived in Mumbai and since then I'm just sitting in the balcony of my suite at Sheraton Hotel thinking and rewinding the memories associated with this place. However much i try i cannot forget them and move on. I didn't go the Mallik Mansion straight because i know He wouldn't like me stay there and honestly i cannot survive in such suffocating atmosphere, i have to think of something to make Muskaan and above all Dad agree to this arrangement.

I rushed to the reception pushing everyone in my way and inquired an old nurse: "emergency case- Muskaan Mallik." She pointed towards the emergency. Muskaan was being checked by doctors and so i couldn't get in. The doctor came out and i rushed to him: is she alright Doc? Is there something serious? Is she conscious now?

Dr: who are you and how do you know her?

I' m Riddhima, her sister in law. Please tell doc, how's she?

Dr: see Ms. Riddhima, she has a major deep wound on her abdomen that's still bleeding after the treatment. I'm afraid we'll have to go through a surgery if it doesn't stop in an hour.

I was shaken and lost. I couldn't grasp all these sudden happenings and stumbled to a bench nearby. I had called Muskaan from my hotel to ask about her whereabouts and in turn a stranger had received the call and told me that Muskaan was hit by a car when she was crossing a double road and now some people had brought her to a nearby hospital.

My thoughts were broken by a nurse standing with a letter pad in her hand, asking me to complete the formalities, to which i nodded and proceeded to the nurse station. It was raining heavily by now, looks like the first monsoon spell. Everything was hampered by it, i couldn't get in touch with anybody to inform about Muskaan, by now they would be searching for her as the weather was so bad.

I heaved a sigh of relief when the doctor informed me that the bleeding had stopped but still they needed to give her blood. I thanked the Al Mighty and asked him to go ahead but he said that they have run short of O+ blood group and need to arrange it from some blood bank. I quickly told him that my blood group matched Muskaan's and that he doesn't need to wait anymore. The doctor told the nurse to transfer my blood after a test of my blood sample. Luckily when i was going in i had connected to Mallik Industries landline and informed the person who picked up about Muskaan, though i couldn't hear anyone. I came out of the ward after blood transfer and heard people telling each other of the bad condition of the city due to the rains, i realized it would take time for everyone to reach here.

An hour later i saw Armaan running in the hospital corridor frantically through the glass window. I went towards him and tapped his shoulder. He turned towards me and i could see he was shocked to see me there. I opened my mouth to say something but stopped on seeing him raise his hand. Armaan held my wrist and dragged me out of the hospital. The entire people present there were staring at us, i kept telling him to stop but he just dragged me along. He left me at the entrance of the hospital. I had only managed to say "I" when a harsh slap hit my cheek and i lost my balance due to the unexpectedness of it and hit my head on the stairs edge. I could feel a stinging pain on my cheek and a warm thing flow down my forehead, i touched it to confirm what i thought it was. But Armaan was too far from noticing anything and anybody; he pulled me up by arms and screamed: "how many times will you prove me wrong? Last time i thought maybe you really cared for Muskaan and would not harm her so i should give you a chance, but no. I knew you were a bad omen for her but still kept mum. Look what you've done now dragged her to the hospital where she's lying lifeless."

"I didn't.."

"No. Not a single word from you. Let's close this chapter now and forever. You leave Muskaan and my family forever. I don't want you anywhere near them and if you don't do what i said I'll kill you. Just get lost from here and never show me your face AGAIN." he pushed me away from him in a jerk and went inside the hospital. A person came from behind and gave me a parcel saying it was for me. I looked around to see who had sent it but found none. I stood there dazed not understanding what i saw in the parcel was the truth or was I dreaming?

Nimra

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