He opened his eyes with a sudden jerk, not knowing what woke him up, neither what let him slip into a slumber. His brow wrinkled, Armaan removed his half rimmed glasses, and rubbed his eyes clear of haziness. It seemed that the clarity of vision was slowly fading away the fog in his head as well, as realization dawned upon him - he had dozed off on his desk in the study despite an obviously uncomfortable position and a preoccupied mind. Perhaps the latter of those conditions had actually eventuated his falling asleep, courtesy the mental exhaustion.
Consciously coming awake now, but still passive in response, he was startled by the hour gong of the wall clock. Looking up, he saw the hands coincide at twelve, to ceremoniously herald a new day. He narrowed his eyes wondering for a whole minute if the ancient piece which had traveled places with him gaining preference over the present day digital gizmos, had finally come of age.
But as he followed the seconds hand to a count of sixty he found no such signs and concluded that the clock was working fine, it was indeed just midnight. Which was strange, considering he had this seeping sense of having been knocked out for several lasting hours, when facts indicated it was a couple at the most, an hour and a half was more likely, since he had retired to his study after dinner around half past nine.
His eye lids still feeling heavy, tempted to give in to the urge of shutting again, lowered, as his gaze fell down on his desk. Lying before him was a white A4 sheet, which looked anything but white and his thoughts returned to where they had belonged. Ridhima...reading the name in the scribbled mess, the sinking feeling returned to him.
Ridhima's demand for explanations, long overdue had cost him his poise and focus. And apetite. Sitting on the dinner table his almost untouched plate had raised the obvious question from Lovely.
"Why don't you eat Ammy?"
She had asked to which he mumbled something which hopefully had sounded like he wasn't hungry. When she persisted further saying it was his favorite chicken lasagna he decided to force in some food before she related it to anything from the incident in Ridhima's office. He never ceased to be surprised by this little contradiction to truth- for a woman who lived a half life between reality and fantasy, who was for a moment a mother expecting her second baby and the very next a woman who knew she was barren, Lovely was unusually careful about trivialities.
She never forgot his favorites - food, music, books...he had never felt the need for a planner or reminder alarms over the past 5 years, she would invariably remind him of dates to wish family and whatever few friends they had, of his appointments and schedules. Nonetheless, every time he would begin to marvel at how meticulous she was for her condition she would make some random pass before he left for office,
"Ammy don't forget to pick up packets of diapers, " or just when he was getting ready to crash after a long day,
" Ammy lets go to starbucks, I'm craving for an almond mocha frappuccino, I think the baby takes to my taste as far as beverages are concerned...".
While she could giggle away, not knowing half the problem when she was her real self, and escaping all of it when she was not, he had to tell himself more often than not that it wasn't her fault. Sometimes it was impossible to not yell out the truth, so when she went to sleep he would talk to her, knowing she couldn't hear a word. It was his vent, he had to speak the words out loud or the pressure inside would kill him.
Tonight was one such night. Looking back at the paper he gave a small smile. Dr. Galvanaukas, one of the professors he idolized at Cambridge had mentioned a crude tool for psychologists, something he named 'doodle the answer'. He claimed to have found solutions to some of the most critical problems in life this way, doodling unconsciously on a piece of paper lying around while his head worked at an unrelenting problem.
He called that unconscious mind a creative guy at work, the part of our brain which thinks outside the box, or more often thinks of the obvious which was evading us for long. Armaan used it for his patients all the time, he would purposely leave scraps around on his table, readily available but not appearing so, when they sat down and talked to him. Some who were reluctant to open up initially would unintentionally leave behind written words which were indication enough of what he should probe further with them.
He stared at his own paper now wondering how long he had scribbled before falling off to sleep. His eyes settled on the name sprawled in bold all through the center, the lines forming each alphabet thickened with re etching them over and over again, then moving his gaze off it reluctantly he scanned the sheet and something caught his eye. Just above the 'R' was a small heart, also re etched multiple times leaving a grooving impression.
He looked at it strangely, then on an impulse he picked up a sharp pointed pen and re etched the heart till the grooves turned into slits in the paper. Carefully he carved it out and placed it on his palm, a tiny little paper heart, the ink from its outlined edges having smudged into the white center. Looking back to where the name Ridhima was written he whispered to it rubbing his thumb over it,
"I love you...", and he felt much lighter than he had in days.
He had never actually uttered those words, not even to himself, not even when they were in Cambridge. The disadvantage of being a thinker, all yours words and thoughts remained unspoken, mostly forever. He had confessed he loved her many years ago, but never out loud. Perhaps if he had actually reached the stage to propose her he would have spoken the words, practicing before a mirror the traditional way? The point was, he never had said them, to her or anyone else.
But as he allowed the words to escape him he felt a void start to fill, braving the moment he continued, "I love you Ridhima. I always have loved you. From the time I saw you laughing out loud in the first class of photography, it was my love for that laughter, wholehearted and content, something I never felt in all the years I remembered. It touched my heart, I wondered if I was capable of knowing this feeling, and somehow in that one moment I wished you would be the reason for it, if it was ever to happen to me in this lifetime."
He paused, then smiling to himself slightly he said his eyes closed as he pictured the day,
"I have wondered often after that, and still do, if you had read my mind in the next moment when you caught me staring at you. If there's one memory I know I will die with its that look of yours Ridhima...curious at first...as you looked away...with a slight frown...then the uncertain faint smile when you turned back to look at me again. I never knew anyone to express themselves more even in a thousand words as you did with that one gesture of accepting me and returning my smile. "Its the smile I was enslaved to, the smile I live for, and the smile that keeps me going." baba used to say that to mama all the time, and at that moment those words which I had not heard in many years then, flashed back. I wished he was there and I could tell him I found the smile I wanted to live for."
Armaan stopped his eyes moistening, as the images of the ones he loved most were a vivid picture in his head. Opening his eyes he turned them away from the paper to the heart in his hand, a scrap, lifeless and nothing but garbage. He spoke again, his voice hoarse, not facing the name on the paper, which was bearing the brunt of his confession, a burden he had carried too long,
"I am sorry Ridhima, you never asked for anything, but you deserved it all along, my heart..." placing the small cut out shape on her name he completed in a tearfully strained voice, "it is all yours, it was, and always will be."
As he continued to stare the name with the small heart lying on top of it became a blurred image through flowing tears as he finally broke down, another thing he had not done in years, ever since mama left him. A grim calm descended upon him eventually, after several minutes of weeping, but he felt much less wound up. Wiping away tears that remained, he got up from the desk and walked over to his window. Looking out at nothing he spoke again, in a low voice,
"But I can't change what is, it has to remain this way. Why do you seek answers now, can you not see I can tell you nothing? It will do us no good, neither you nor me, nor those around us."
Saying so Armaan let out a sigh, running his fingers through his hair pressing down on the scalp almost too hard as he quietly resolved to maintain the silence. How, he did not know, but he would have to.
He glanced at his wrist, it was almost twenty minutes that he had been waiting for her now. Not that he was complaining, if something would make her call off this confrontation he would be only too grateful. But it wasn't like she was making him wait outside, she still had not show up in the office, and according to her apologetic assistant her cell was switched off offering no real answers.
Part of him was tempted to tell this girl to inform her boss that he had to leave due to other prior commitments; but it was unlike Ridhima to be delayed for an appointment, leave alone without a message and then a chance to interrogate him one on one...he was inevitably starting to worry. What could possibly be holding her up?
At half past nine, he knew he had to leave or he would genuinely be delayed if he was ever to make it to Oak Tree. Reluctantly, he walked to the reception again to announce his leave for then, unsure of whether he should call off the brunch promise he had made and wait instead to see if Ridhima was fine.
"I was uh...I have to be another place soon, could you try one last time and..." ...*THUD*
They both turned around to see what had caused the noise only to be greeted by a flustered Ridhima bent on her knees trying to gather bundles of chart paper rolls which had fallen out of her grip. From the corner of his eye he saw her assistant move swiftly towards her to help, and he took the cue.
Bending down to pick up the ones which had rolled close to his feet, he hesitantly allowed his gaze to wander towards her face and saw her muttering in an undertone as she looked completely annoyed about something. He could not help but smile at her expressions for a second forgetting everything, but a second was all the smile lasted for. The very next moment he realized her obvious fowl mood spelt more trouble for him, if that was even possible. Cautiously he handed her the charts held in his hands as she spoke to the girl without acknowledging him quite yet,
"Molly tell Ritu I will see her in an hour, and I need a pack of 25 ivory sheets, get them out for me from the storage right away, and no calls or outsiders to disturb me for the next one hour ..."
Molly spoke in a cautious voice, "But Ms. Gupta, Mr. Malik has been waiting for you for..."
Ridhima cut her off, "Yeh no one else I meant," turning to a bemused looking Armaan she went on,
" My apologies Mr. Malik, to have kept you waiting. It was an unexpected situation, please give me a couple of minutes before you join me in my cabin." At that moment the phone on the reception desk rang, and Molly upon answering with a hello spoke louder to call out to Ridhima who was already walking towards her cabin.
"Ms. Gupta its your nephew, he says its..." Ridhima cut her off without turning back,
"I told you no calls Molly. Tell him I'm busy with work." Molly nodded, her confusion rising further, he obviously must have heard Ridhima on the other side, how was she supposed to tell him now...but she did not dare cross question, it was definitely not the moment to do that.
Armaan stood through the scene as if transparent, except for the one quick line she had shot at him, meant as an apology but in pretty much the same commanding tone that she had used with Molly. Her nephew...that must be...Gappu? Armaan had never actually met the boy, but he knew all about him that there was to know, Ridhima could never tire of talking about him and her sister's family. Ironically, she could hardly have claimed knwoing much about Armaan's family, she always had talked more than asking, and he conveniently let it be so until the right moment, which never came.
But she just refused to take his call? Gappu's Call? She must be majorly ticked off he thought, still working out his reaction to the last five minutes of the unexplained chaos, when Molly spoke up,
"Mr. Malik! Ms. Gupta will see you now."
Moving towards her door, he wondered if it was worth a try to run away for his life? But it couldn't be forever like last time. He decided instead to implore to God to save him from whatever disaster was awiting beyond that door, it had never quite worked out, between him and God, he still gave it a shot.
"Please..." was all he said looking up before he knocked.
"Are you insane? You have no idea how mad I am at you Gappu. What the hell were you thinking? Driving off with my car in the morning, not even bothering to leave a note about the failed brakes of your own. Was it not obvious I would take yours if you took mine? If you really want to see me dead at least give me the liberty to chose how, there are less painful ways I would prefer and..."
She stopped as she swiveled in her chair to face where he stood at the door. He worded a sorry soundlessly and turned around to leave when she spoke up louder, "Mr. Malik, please stay," then into the phone, "I'll call you later." Facing him again she said in a curt voice,
"Shouldn't you have knocked?"
At these words from her, he finally lifted his gaze, to meet hers this time and said in a flat tone, "I did...thrice..." Her stern expression turned to a crimson creeping into her cheeks but he spoke before she had to explain herself,
"Its ok. I realized you were on the phone, but I really need to be somewhere soon so I thought I could request interruption."
As she responded with nothing more than a nod he asked in a softer voice, cautiously, "Are you alright? I mean, I'm sorry I overheard the part about failed brakes and...I hope you had to face nothing too serious." He feared she might tell him off for eavsdropping next, but her expression softened and she said in a low voice looking him in the eye,
"Well I survived, the car did not, its at the garage now," then with a smirk she added, "Everyone wants to get rid of me, and I just wont let go...Thanks for asking anyways, still intact, all 206 bones in place, unfortunately, not even a scratch. The least I could have had is a fracture, at least that would buy me some sympathy and..." he cut her off,
"Ridhima!" She looked at him almost startled at having him finally say her name. He would have been equally surprised by himself except that he didn't stop at it just then to give much thought,
"Do you ever talk sense? Thank goodness nothing happened, failed brakes don't particularly add to the fun of a ride, I'm sure you had that much figured out after sitting through one. And no one wants to get rid of you for heaven's..."
He stopped realizing too much had been said, and before she could reply, shocked as she was by his words and and by what seemed like the concern behind them, he said turning back to his mechanical voice,
"Please take care, you may mean more to people than you think, with the kind of family you have."
Although he added the last line in the stride of the advice, she wondered if he had meant to include himself among those who cared for her. Unwillingly she found herself wishing to believe that he did. At that moment they were interrupted by a knock followed by Molly entering the room with a box in her arms. Ridhima got up to help her settle it next to her table, for the mere reason of giving herself something to do. As Molly made a move to go out without a word Ridhima spoke to her in a soft voice,
"Uh...thanks Molly..." who turned around to see Ridhima was earnest, and gave a small smile.
"Do you think you could order me a quick breakfast from the Denny's across the street please? Make it a pancake platter of 5, with syrup and cream, and a large shot of expresso"
Molly nodded smiling, it was so typical of her boss to run into a temper, but it never lasted long, and she knew nothing said at that time was ever intented. She said
"I will have the food on your desk without further delay Ms. Gupta...blueberry I assume will be the toppings as always?"
Armaan blurted before Ridhima could approve the order, "Blueberry?"
As they both turned to look at him he lowered his eyes momentarily, then said in what he hoped would sound convincing, "I mean...uh...I thought... strawberry would be it...I mean, Denny's is known for them..." he concluded his random words not quite linked into a sentence.
As Ridhima narrowed her eyes, taken aback the second time in the last few minutes, Molly spoke up in a cheerful voice,
"They are known for the strawberrys? Its the pancakes they bake Mr. Malik, the strawberries are same everywhere."
Then realizing she had perhaps embarressed a client she quickly covered up, "I mean, would you like me to add a platter of those to the order as well?"
Armaan shook his head mumbling again, something which resembled a 'no thanks'...With that she left the office, leaving behind her two people struck in an awkward silence. Ridhima finally broke it speaking in a low yet intended voice, her eyes steady on Armaan's face.
"I almost feel tempted to assume that might imply you remember my favorite pancake topping Armaan, should I flatter myself with the belief?" Armaan looked at her for a moment before replying,
"Apparently not your favorite anymore, blueberry seems to have taken the spot. Did they finally start tasting as sweet as strawberries?"
Ridhima smirked, he actually remembered her exact words. Almost with a tinge of bitterness she said in a matter of fact way, "I figured the sweet things are not quite for me in life, neither strawberries, nor love."
Just like that, she had stated her truth. Not like it was hidden between the two of them, Armaan had only been trying to find a way around it all, but she left him no option. It had to faced head on, and right away, or he did not know when he could be more prepared.
"I uh...I actually had to apologize for yesterday, on Lovely's behalf, and...and thank you so much for letting the issue pass off for what it was not. You saved me in more than one way." She looked at him still not speaking, but as he too remained quiet now, she realized he was done with whatever he had to say. Narrowing her eyes she said,
"Thats it? You think I called you to humiliate you by demanding apologies? Whatever you think of me, I am hardly saidistic enough to do that. I want to know what happened yesterday? As you probably did already figure out, there was no misunderstanding on my behalf, your wife did indeed demand a nursery for her kids only to tell me after all the work I did that she has no kids? If this is a game I refuse to play it anymore. Not until I get my facts."
Armaan looked at her knowing she meant each word spoken. Quietly he replied, maintaining his calm,
"Ridhima there is nothing I can add to it. But you can put the charges for your extra work into my bills. I am just a client, you can't deny me my right to privacy. I prefer not to reveal my personal life."
Even without looking at her he knew how offensive his words may have been, but as she spoke, he realized he underestimated her reaction far too greatly.
"Its Ms. Gupta for clients Mr. Malik, not Ridhima. You can't ever pay me enough, if you had to repay all of what you owe me you would be bankrupt in no time, not to mention the many things which can never be paid for in cash. And save yourself the sorry and thank you and privacy right speech. This is no personal unexplained fact I'm asking you to justify, although God knows and you do that there is no dearth of those issues either. This is different. I was accused of professional incompetence here by your wife, and I took it upon myself, all of it, just for you...the least you owe me is facts, I demand to know WHY?"
Armaan saw her look at him the restrain on her obviously rising temper was a a weak one, on the threshold of breaking away. He sighed lowering his eyes. It was his last shot, and he had no alternate to taking it much as he had wanted this to work out an easier way without him having to say any of it. Looking at her he spoke, each word balanced in a monotone, no display of whatever the hell he was going through,
"She is suffering from Schizophrenia - halluciantions, depression, derisive thinking, occasional physical violence...all of them and more. Lovely has a mental disorder, and was in the ICU just two days ago. I fear it could have been a relapse if you had not played along with me yesterday, and for that I am grateful, even if you refuse to accpet any credit from me. Usually her medicines keep her normal at least for the duration of their influence, perhaps she missed a doze unknown to me whenever she shared about kids and all. I guess I should have come along each time, it would have saved you the extra meaningless work, but I will insist you add that to my bills, not intending any offense of course. And that I hope Miss Gupta, answers your questions. I apologize again for the inconvenience, its just another thing I owe you for, among many others as you just mentioned. Perhaps sometime, I will get my chance to repay, until then I just live in your debt."
With that he got up from his seat, in complete awareness of how baffled Ridhima must be to hear all of this. That was exactly the effect he had aimed for. And now before she could recover he had to get out of there so he said,
"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to excuse me for now Ms. Gupta, there is, as I said earlier, someplace I need to reach right away. I will see you with my wife for the next appointment. "
And he let himself out of the room hastily almost colliding with Molly at the door as she held a tray of pancakes. Giving her a quick courtsey smile he rushed out of the place keeping his fingers crossed until he unlocked his car in the parklot. Slumping into the driver's seat he let out a long sigh. Looking skywards he did something quite unlike himself, banging his fist against the stearing he cursed out loud, then holding his head in his hands he whispered, "I'm sorry Ridhima, will you ever forgive me?"
Ridhima sat stunned as the words refused to stop echoing in her head. She pushed aside the breakfast Molly had brought her minutes ago, no apetite remaining as she sank deeper, into the chair and into her messed up thoughts. Why did everything in her life become more complicated with each passing phase, as if by rule. She had hardly slept a wink all night worked up about how she would finally get answers to all her questions. She had promised herself to move on in life for good, after this morning.
But how was she expected to have seen something like this coming? Lovely, correction, his wife Mrs. Lovely Armaan Malik was a retard? Ridhima almost rebuked herself mentally for the crude term, but thats what the woman was right? A retard? And he had chosen her over Ridhima? How could he? Yeh he was more God like in his kindness and humanity, perhaps compelled by the demands of his profession, but to the extent of actually marrying someone who was fit to be nothing more than his patient? What the hell did he think he was, philanthropy personified?
Somehow Ridhima refused to let the goodness of his act overshadow her frustration at his insanity. He could do whatever he wanted to with his life for all she cared, but why did he ever make her a part of it? She had been a part she knew after today, he cared for her...he even remembered her love for strawberries. She smiled ruefully, and her eyes fell on the plate of pancakes lying abandoned. She had stopped eating strawberries, she had infact done away with most likes which would have described her five years ago. All because of him.
She wanted to get rid of anything that had been while she was with him. But somewhere inside her the hope had lived, that he had loved her, and would confess to her someday. The hope had been futile, she knew that all along. But then she had hoped to see him again someday, and it had happened. She had hoped to get answers from him as well, and she now knew everything for what it was. If only he would tell her why it had to be the way it was, perhaps she would finally regain the peace and content she had lost to him years ago.
Sighing she realized she was tired. Tired of palying a role which wasn't her, trying to be someone she wasn't, just so she could escape who she trully was. Looking again at the pancakes she picked up the receiver on an impulse.
"Molly, I know this will sound crazy, but I do feel like strawberries today, can me order me a platter of that?"
Replacing the reciever she smiled faintly, she could have ordered herself, but she wanted to announce to anyone who would listen that she was going to be back to herself. Yes, that was it, she would grow out of this phase of resignation to facts as they were, she would now find out exactly what went wrong, where and why, for there was nothing more to lose now, things not capable of getting any worse, had to get better.
If Armaan Malik had rejected her, she had to know why, she could not live telling herself she wasn't good enough for him, or she would never get back to what she had once been and had loved being. She could not refuse she still loved him, she would stop telling herself from now that she didn't; but this wasn't just about him and his feelings for her, it was now about getting back into life with a wish to live it, perhaps that's why he had come back, to set her free...
As the minutes passed he began to get back his almost rehearsed poise. It had to be done. His hard words must have put her off, now she would never again ask him what was what for the fear of hurting him. It was incredible for someone like him, who never helf any expectations of those around him, to have always expected her to understand him, and his silence. He had expected her to understand his expectation when their eyes had met the first time as strangers, then he had expected her to understand and accept his love for her which grew unconditionally with each passing day, and he had later expected her to understand also, without questions, that he had to deprive her of what he had once expected her to accept as her own, now he expected her to ask no further questions, would she comply by his wish one last time?
As he pondered over questions only time could answer he heard his cell ring. Looking at the caller ID his eyes widened and he cursed yet again before answering the call, "Hey Minnie! I am so sorry sweetheart, I was put on call, a patient of mine got critical. It was an emergency. I am so sorry sweetie, don't be mad at me please I will definitely..." he paused with his chain of lies, listening instead as she spoke cutting him off from the other end. Finally he spoke again,
"That sounds great. No I will not disappear this time, I totally understand how much you need me." then smiling he added, "Besides, how can I miss the chance of a dinner double date, you and him, me and this fascinating massi...what? ur talking more about her, than poor Sawyer himself!...Alright Giordano's it is then, 8PM, I will be there.
Cutting the call he gave a smile. Minnie was a wonderful girl, and he would be glad if this worked well for her, atleast someone deserved to be in love and not suffer...
Stepping inside, the sweet
mix of fragrances greeted him, so did the familiar tinkle of the wind
chimes at the entrance. It was invariably the same every time, a deja
vu sensation. Which should make sense since he came there once almost
every week, if not for the flowers then for just dropping in to say
hello...but wasn't the whole concept of deja vu a greater mystique? -
related to memories long lost and forgotten, things you could not
recognize right away, even though they felt awfully like an experience
from before? He never could understand what it was that he felt.
walking in, as his vision was starting to adjust to the room lighting
which stood nowhere in competition with the bright shining autumn sun
outside even in the waning hours of late afternoon showing no signs of
fading into an early evening glow, he saw her in her usual spot.
Settled comfortably into the rocking chair in a corner, her nose, with
the glasses resting at the very tip, buried deep into a book, another
Austen novel he presumed. Before he could offer his greetings to her,
Mrs Douglous, who owned the shop and every beautiful flowered stalk in
it, he heard the chimes play their jingle again, and then a cheerful voice from behind him boomed into the small florist shop,
"Someone looks gorgeous today, how about a cup of coffee girlfriend?"
turned around to realize that the deep and partially Brit sounding
clipped syllables belonged to a young boy, most likely in his late
teens, who walked up crossing past him - dressed in a chest number 4
Arsenal club jersey clinging wet to his distinctively outlined chest
muscles and soccer shorts, the gear a complete picture with the shin
guards covered by long stockings and securely fastened studs. His hair,
in wet flicks fell over his head band, and Armaan analyzed moving up
ahead to get a better view that he was coming straight off the field,
as the boy moved to give the old lady a tight hug and she pushed him
away scrunching her nose and making a face.
"Get away from me
you freak, asking a woman 5 times your age out for a date, and that
when you're sweating like a pig and smelling like a skunk, my poor
flowers will die of the horrible odor...get out of here, and don't
enter until you look human...disgraceful and far from anything civilized"
she finished in a disdainful voice, with a prude air of pretense,
Armaan shot a look at the boy who looked unruffled and was grinning.
There was an appeal about him, an air of being carefree yet thorough in
his mannerism. His next words came to Armaan as a pleasant surprise.
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed
Not by our feeling, but by others' seeing.
For why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?"...
better to be bad, than to be thought bad, when you have done nothing to
be thought of as so. People will think you're vile whether you are or
not, why then should you forgo your wishes and happiness for the fear
of being accused of being improper, when that will happen irrespective
of your thoughts and deeds.)
Armaan looked wide eyed as the
young boy still holding his expression befitting the recital looked up
at Mrs. Douglous his eyes with cocked eyebrows challenging her to
respond to the smart justification. But before she could Armaan
Intended as a question, it
sounded like he stated a fact, making the boy reel around to finally
realize the presence of a third and he said with a smile,
"The accent still gives me away...or is it soccer this time?Or maybe both?"
smiled nodding with a thoughtful look, "Actually the rare combination
of all three - idolizing the celebrated soccer midfielder Fabregas...quoting
Shakespeare...sounding not prominently Brit yet unmistakably so -
that's far more an English touch than a regular American teen should
The boy raised his eyebrows in amicable appreciation
and said, "Indian by origin actually, but British by birth
yes...definitely not hard to figure out. I still have to give you one
thing, you made it sound like an analyzed fact, not an obvious guess!"
Armaan's smile widened his dimples deepening, as he shook his head dismissively but the old lady spoke up,
of his profession. He is a pschologist, and as his ex-patient I can
tell you he's a master at his job. Never fails a patient, no he
doesn't, right Doc? "
"Stop embarrassing me Mrs. Douglous,
this Dr. Psychologist tag is not quite a charming
addition..."..."You're a psychologist? Must be my day to meet the whole
lot of you in Chicago I guess." the young boy exclaimed cutting off
Armaan who raised his eyebrows seeking explanation.
oblidged, "I am meeting another psychologist for dinner, " seeing
Armaan give a slight frown he quickly added, "No nothing wrong with me,
"Unless you count a disobeying cupid struck
heart as one!" said Mrs. Douglous meaningfully with a mischievous smile
cutting off the young boy.
Armaan gave him a
'oh-I-see-what-you-mean' look, as the red from the heat of the game
turned a crimson in the boy's face and he mumbled indignantly,
"Girlfriend! What are you talking about there is no one I..." She cut him off again,
is. No way have you been buying flowers for your living room every
other day for like three weeks now. This mystery missy really is the
one you should be taking out for a date young man, not me. But make
sure your appearance isn't such an obvious turn off, or even
Shakespeare himself would fail to save you a rejection."
this Armaan broke out laughing, but realizing how uncomfortable the boy
had become specially in the presence of a man he knew not beyond his
profession, he walked up to him and said smiling looking him in the
"I'd say asking out is a chance worth the shot. Its
better anyways to get a no, than to never say what you had to, and
unless you picked someone completely unworthy of yourself, I don't see
you being rejected"
The boy smiled hesitantly, but realizing
the man before him meant what he said entirely he relaxed and his smile
deepened as he nodded ever so slightly. Armaan moved towards the
flowers and picked up three identical bunches - all a mix of fresh
daisies and gerberas and placing them on the counter as he fished his
wallet he heard the boy say in a curious voice,
soon as he said it and Armaan turned around to face him he looked away
and mumbled quickly, "I mean, I apologize, none of my business."
it is mine, why three Doc?" Armaan turned back to face Mrs. Douglous
and he smiled mysteriously placing the cash on the counter without a
word. Then he picked all three, walked to the boy gave him one out of
the three and said,
"Ask her out without delay, soon enough to
give her these flowers while they're still fresh, " then turning around
he said to the old lady pointing to the other two bunches in his hand,
"One for my niece, one for...I still don't know...Have a good day Mrs.
The young boy, left alone with the the lady spoke
talking to himself, "Daisies and gerberas? - Now how in the world could
he guess Minnie's favorite combination..." he frowned puzzled...
he drove back home, Armaan was unconsciously smiling at every passing
sight. He was unable to determine what about the boy he just met, and
was unlikely to ever meet again, had brought this spirit of elevation
within. The confrontation with Ridhima in the morning had caused an
instantaneous sinking feeling, inflicting what had seemed like another
blow, perhaps one harder than all before; the conversation was still
playing in his mind, after almost 8 hours were past but something in
the last few minutes changed the impact it had on him all day long.
the boy, though was all but a random encounter, felt like more than
just that. His happiness had been infectious. Armaan felt light,
actually happy if he dared to admit, something he had not experienced
in years, like there was a motivation to be so; perhaps the last time
he felt it this strong was when he saw Ridhima the very first time.
Ridhima again. He shook his head hard. No, don't think of her Armaan,
not for now. Forcing himself to be distracted as
he parked his car in the garage, his eyes fell on the abandoned
basketball lying in a corner.
An image of the boy, his messy
out of a game look flashed again, it made him smile. Then checking his
wrist watch for the time, he realized he still had 2 hours before
dinner, Lovely was staying the night at Keerti Bhabhi's house to have a
change of place. On a sudden impulse he picked up the ball and
tentatively tried to twirl it on his forefinger. It was as perfect as
it used to be many years before, his smile widened. Whistling
unintentionally he unlocked the main door and let himself in, then ran
up the steps two at a time to his bedroom to get changed into his
After a long time he felt like playing
basketball, not knowing how in the world he could explain this sudden
feeling of being high. How could the gloom from the morning, as intense
as it had been, be fading away with an encounter so inconsequential,
after the way he had talked to her? But somehow the regret was fading,
the loneliness which had refused to leave was for the moment something
he had to remind himself of feeling. The only certain sense was that of
a settling peace, maybe it was a start, a new beginning. He rumaged
through his wardrobe looking for his sports gear while his mind was
racing with thoughts.
Perhaps telling Ridhima the facts had
gotten him partially rid of his guilt and helped him in a way he had
not realized immediately? In fact now that he thought about it wasn't
he somewhere deep inside almost relieved that she would now be
compelled to reconsider her likely perception of him living a happy
life after betraying their love.
He had tried bearing the
brunt of the situation upon himself, from both ends, his family and
Ridhima; but perhaps in that intention he had damaged more than he
realized. Changing into the pair of shorts and jersey he finally found
he sighed. Had he let himself be doomed to an everlasting melancholy,
at the same time also keeping Ridhima from the truth she rightfully
deserved to know? She would not know the whole of it, that would go to
his grave, but at least this may ease out the grudges.
too much to hope for, to think she may..." he sighed speaking the first
words in over 20 minutes, as he stood in front of the mirror talking to
his image, his hand brushing through the hair stopped midway and he saw
his reflection was deep in thought..."She may...still...could I hope to
rediscover at least the friend in her?"
over the years thought it was appropriate to never go back to the past
and correct any opinions she may have held of him post his unannounced
departure from her life. Yet this had now come upon the two of them,
another rendezvous...and inevitably so. Now she knew facts, at least
more than before, perhaps it had been the right thing to do all along.
If he could expect her to understand unspoken emotions, could she not
be trusted with handling facts? He never really gave it a chance. He
picked up the ball again taking a deep breath, and looking his
reflection in the eye he exclaimed,
"I need to stop being an
escapist and running away from her. I still stand my ground, and she
knows nothing more, its way too complicated to be revisited. I wonder
how she will react at the next appointment though. Guess I have to let
her decide this time, its not and can not be just about me." And
nodding in grave satisfaction he walked out of the room, his stride
much more purposeful...
into the dim lit pizza place, he felt the temperature drop by several
degrees, from the warm and humid autumn night air outside, to the
intensely air conditioned inside of Giordanos. He walked to the seating
"Hi! I am Armaan Malik, looking for a certain Minnie Singh, its a table for four."
hell Gappu I almost, "... "Massi..." Gappu emphasized his interruption
to Ridhima with a forced smile as the three of sat on a corner table
facing the window overlooking the winding multiple laned Chicago Loop,
Gaurav, please?" Minnie giggled as Ridhima shot him a mock apologetic
smile for letting slip his rather embarrassing nick name and continued,
"And its not massi, its Ridzy, Mr. Gaurav Bansal, " she
retorted with a sugar sweet smile teasing him, then turning to Minnie
she asked, "Whats wrong with Gappu anyways, suits him don't you think?"
Gappu looked at her with daggers in his eyes, a look Ridhima was aware
of but preferred to ignore as Minnie now broke out laughing, managing
to say in between,
"I thought Sawyer was good as well, but he
insists on being called Cesc...you know how it goes - him and his love
for Arsenal, its like I'm always second..." she paused as Ridhima
raised their eyebrows at her choice of word and the meaning she
intended, Minnie added hastily, "I mean...everything else is secondary
to his devotion for Arsenal and their superhero Cesc Fabregas..."
finished kicking herself mentally and lowering her gaze to focus on
diligently unwrapping her silverware. Gappu stared at her in surprise,
pleasant surprise as a smile slowly set in until it was wide and deep
and he too lowered his eyes to his silverware. Ridhima did not know how
to fight the urge to laugh out loud, so she too occupied herself with
the same task, then looked up within moments as she remembered again.
mean C.E.S.C.," she said spelling out the letters with emphasis, "Did
you tell Minnie you spent an hour deciding what clothes you should wear
tonight?" Minnie choked on the water she was trying to drink and Gappu
glared at Ridhima, and kicked her under the table.
Minnie exclaimed looking at Gappu in shock and slight pain of the hit,
as he gasped and said quickly, "I'm so sorry Minnie I was..."...
"Trying to kick my massi, " Ridhima completed realizing what had happened and looking at Minnie in concern she asked,
fine?" as Minnie nodded with a slight frown Ridhima looked at them
solemnly and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not exactly trying to make this
hard. Its just, I wish you both would not be so awkward with each other
over the obvious."
They both looked up at her, Minnie's look
conscious yet anticipatory, while Gappu's anger at Ridhima suddenly
softening and she continued speaking, looking them in the eye,
know, if you ever feel for someone, they really deserve to know about
it. And there never will be a better moment than right away. I am not
saying it should be an unthoughtful impulse, but if you know what you
she paused lowering her eyes, then looking back at
them she smiled warmly and said, "I am always there, for both of you,
and I just want to see you happy." Then taking their hands next to each
other she held them in hers and said,
"I love you..." she paused
suddenly as her gaze stopped on his face standing across from her,
"both..." she completed her sentence but her eyes could not move from
his face as he looked back at her stunned just about as much. Minnie
and Gappu puzzled by her sudden distraction forgot for the moment how
conscious they were and turned around to follow her gaze.
buddy!" she jumped off her chair to give him a hug, and Armaan broke
the eyelock with Ridhima sitting across. Now looking at Minnie he
returned her hug, then breaking off he gave her a bunch of daisies and
gerberas with a smile which he hoped would hide his rising sense of
shock. Then in the effort of avoiding Ridhima's gaze his eyes fell on
Gappu who got up from his seat with a smile of recognition and offering
his hand he exclaimed,
"Hello Doc! I didn't expect to see you
again, so soon" Armaan returned his handshake and said with a smile,
"Me neither. And you do seem ummm..."
he paused looking at
Gappu's formal fawn collar shirt, worn with a casual caution the
sleeves folded up to his elbows and top couple of buttons left open,
tucked into a pair of blue denims and semi formal closed suade shoes,
transformed from when I saw you last a couple of hours ago," seeing the
anticipation in his youthful brown eyes, he added, "Looking good!"
smiling as Gappu acknowledged his approval relaxing.
worked hard hoping to make just that impression on you Armaan," All
three of them turned at Ridhima's words, Armaan narrowing his eyes not
knowing what to expect next, neither how to respond, but Gappu solved
that issue for him,
"You know him?" before either of them could answer Minnie couldn't not intervene,
a minute, " she said turning to Armaan, "You know Gaurav? And you know
Di?" Armaan shook his head and said, "Him, Gaurav that is, we met at
the florist, and just talked generally, I didn't even know his name
until now...and her, I mean..." Ridhima cut him off,
friends from Cambridge." she said looking at Minnie, then turning back
to Armaan she moved forward taking the second bunch of flowers from him
and exclaimed with a smile,
"Thanks for the lovely flowers
Armaan. You never forget them do you? But I want my usual jasmine
stalks next time." Armaan stood rooted to his spot, his look blank the
face not knowing which of the many emotions inside was god enough to
display. Was this real, she was talking like it was five years ago
again. And did she just say they are friedns? No this can't be
happening, not after this morning, someone wake me up.
yeh...I, no we...uh...together at Cambridge, yes." Hastily he smiled
not sure of how convincing it was in comparison to the warm smile
Ridhima was flashing at him, strangely it was genuine. Then drawing in
a a quick whif of air he said more coherently, "Ridhima was same year
as me, I'm just, surprised to see her, uh...here I mean."
Minnie and Gappu smiled at each other, then at Armaan and Ridhima and Minnie said,
surprised alright, I can see that, you look like you saw a ghost. Is
that how you greet the charming ladies you went to school with?"
Ridhima answered for him, "
Well no guy can be pleased to meet
the only girl who beat him at basketball when he claimed being
invincible." Armaan narrowed his eyes at her, what was wrong with her,
how could she be talking like...like nothing had happened, like the
past five years had evaporated between the two of them. Then it struck
him what she had just said and he spoke up, "Can I get a seat before
the discussion runs into memoirs of trivial victories?" Ridhima moved
making space on her couch before he could sit anywhere else and he had
no option but to follow the cue.
"So uh, Dr. Armaan?"
said tentatively unsure of how he was expected to address the stranger
from the florist shop, now that he was a stranger no more, Armaan
smiled, at him forgetting his personal discomfort for then and said,
"Armaan is fine, I'd rather you drop the Dr. Tell me what's your preference - Fabregas or Gaurav?"
he was almost startled as both the girls on the table broke out
laughing, and hi fived across the table, while Gappu muttered in an
undertone looking not quite pleased with the joke on him yet again.
Armaan looked from one to the other and said obviously puzzled,
"Uh, am I missing something here? Something I ought to know..?"
this Ridhima and Minnie broke into another spell of giggles and Armaan
shot a questioning look to Gappu who just shrugged away shaking his
head, looking back at Ridhima, Armaan opened his mouth to ask again but
stopped. Now this definitely was deja vu, she was laughing exactly as
she had been the first time he saw her, perhaps this was a new
start...again...he could almost understand why meeting Gappu at the
florist had made such a difference, it runs in the family he reasoned,
happiness just seeps into the air around them. Lowering his eyes he
smiled, and unwrapped the only remaining sealed set of silverware on
the table for four...
After the bills and
a generous tip had been paid off by Armaan before any of the other
three on the table could realize, the four of them decided to walk up
to an ice cream place close by. As they strolled, Armaan and Gappu
continued the discussion they had started at the dinner table revolving
around the current season of football leagues in Europe, while Ridhima
and Minnie certain they could not endure another minute of it looked at
each other exasperated. Ridhima let out a slightly irritated sigh and
looking at the backs of the two of them walking ahead deep in
conversation and exclaimed,
"Gappu!" It was bull's eye, he
turned around immediately hearing her use the nick name again and
frowned hard as Minnie looked away hiding her smile and Armaan looked
up at her as she stood frowning slightly.
"I agree with Minnie about the soccer second to nothing factor now. How rude is this?"
saw Gappu turn slightly red with the blatant statement hurled at him,
he decided it was time to help the poor guy, Ridhima was born to make
life hard for the men who dared to be a part of hers.
You can't expect him to get involved and actually enjoy the girl gossip
you and Minnie were indulging in, I mean save him some peace."
now looked at Armaan with narrowed eyes, and retorted, "What did you
expect us to do, wait in silence like forever in the futile hope of
getting some attention from you?...Until you both were finally done
with your discussion on who lost to whom and why and what should be
done and how it never was and...Why don't you both try to go coach the
teams they might just finally learn what the game is all about."
mostly missed the second part of her remark, it was the beginning he
was stuck at, 'wait in silence like forever'...Then realizing with a
start that she was quiet and he was expected to respond he said,
uh..." he fumbled for a moment before turning to Gappu and Minnie, "I
forgot to ask you both, hows it going with the musical? The shows start
from tomorrow right?"
Gappu nodded, givivng Ridhima a side
look of disapproval for acting dominating as ever, and Minnie was just
uncertain about something here, she felt like she was missing a piece,
her uncle had been...almost awkward tonight, it was like him to not
speak much, but this was definitely an edge over that. Now she heard
"Oh yeh, ummm we never got around to talking about that, good idea Armaan."
was more puzzled than ever, now the last part sounded like she was
almost apologizizng for her retort before. Something between these two
was passing her by not quite understood, one moment she felt they were
old friedns from school, hence the ease of communication, no formal
airs, but then there were moments like this, when Ridhima and Armaan
just got...conscious, of what, she did not know.
"Its going pretty well Armaan, we're all set for the opening tomorrow,
It starts with a song from Minnie, believe me the audience will be
enchanted." Minnie blushed slightly at the compliment forgetting her
confusing chain of thoughts and Gappu smiled, he was trying to take
Ridhima's advice, maybe he really should let her know what he felt, and
soon, it was apparent anyways, just needing to be stated soon.
song Minnie?" Ridhima asked, "Why don't you give us a trailer?" she
finishes smiling in encouragement. "Oh yeh that sounds like an idea
Minnie, go ahead..." Armaan added, and Minnie looked at them then at
Gappu, who nodded,then back at them and stated,
as the three of them looked at her frowning she opened her handbag,
then taking out two envelopes she said handing them to Ridhima, "You
come and watch us. These are the VIP passes. I want to see both of you
in the first row, together and cheering for Gappu and me." she
finished, Gappu smiled at her, and she smiled back her mind deep in
thought as she glanced back at Ridhima and Armaan who looked at each
beautiful! Still awake?" Ridhima saw Gappu come and stand next to her,
facing the view outside her bedroom window again she nodded and said,
"I like Minnie."
He smiled then turning his face to look at her he said simply, "And I like Armaan."
She looked at him with a jerk, frowning hard, "What?" ...
he answered back, "Is it so hard to like him? Hes a great guy, and I
thought you said hes your friend whats so shocking about me thinking
well of him?"
Ridhima looked away quickly and trying to mask her initial shock by her next words,
mean it was a strange thing to say after I said I like Minnie." Gappu
didn't let sight of her expression as she said this and answered now,
"Hmmm, I thought it was our moment to confess approvals so I gave mine after you gave yours."
turned to face him again, this time without a word but the question was
evident in her gaze, after a couple of silent moments she spoke, "I
have no idea where the hell you' re taking this, but its ok, I ain't
that interested to know, " then pausing a second she went on in an
intended voice of her own this time,
"When are you telling her
what she means to you? She knows it anyway Gappu, but hearing you say
it will still be a moment that will last her a lifetime, don't delay it
Gappu looked at her and smiled lowering his head at
first, then he took her by surprise pulling her into a hug, "You're the
best, and I love you."
Ridhima smiled deeply hearing his
whisper and returned the hug. As they parted she said in a naughty way,
"Was that rehearsal for the real confession?"
He looked at her
breaking into giggles, gripping her shoulders firmly so she would look
straight back at him he said, "Is that how you would want the real
confession to be?" Ridhima's smile lingered, but a slight frown formed
on her face as she nodded uncertain of his double meaning statements
"Gappu?" she asked tentatively as he continued looking back at her, his gaze steady, "What are you trying to imply here?"
shrugged in response and said simply again, "The obvious..." which did
not quite make his intention obvious to her and her frown deepened. He
added after the long pause, "What are you so confused about massi, I'm
talking fairly straight ain't I?"
She nodded still uncertain but dismissing her doubts. She could ask him
but then she would have to bring Armaan into the picture and she wasn't
sure if this was the right moment. She decided to call it off for the
moment and said,
"Just want you to be happy. And Minnie too. What way you go about it is
at your discretion, do what would be special for her." Gappu smiled at
her again nodding and whispered goodnight bending to kiss her forehead
lightly. Reaching the door he truned around to see her gazing at the
Tentatively he said, "Is this Armaan the same Ammy you talked about in
London?" She debated for a second before turning around to face him,
"Ammy?...ummm yeh, thats him."
To her relief he did not pursue this issue any further and left with a
smile. She sighed out loud. Then turning back to the window she closed
her eyes momentarily. What was with his comments right now, they had
sounded so allusive. No Ridzy its just you, guilty conscious. He was
just a kid that time, there is nothing he implied, its you thinking
more than is as usual. She sighed. Armaan Malik. How many more ways
would name intrude her life she wondered.
But did she mind it as much as she should? Something about the dinner
was almost a pleasant feeling. She was glad to have acted on her
impulse deciding to behave the way she had with him. It would have been
the most immature thing to have let her differences with him come
between Gappu and Minnie. But that had not been the sole reason and she
knew it whether she would admit or not, it was this compulsive need
to give him a chance anyways, and somehow the situation presented it so
She gave a small smile now and whispered ton herself, "I can't believe
I'm allowing you into my life again. Its like I've been hoping for this
day for the past five years, and I still don't know why. Part of me
wants you back to be able to show you how perfect my life is without
you, to be able to hurt you half as much as you hurt me. The other part
refuses to see sense, it wants to forgive you, just to be with you, to
spend time with you, to hear you talk when you rarely do in between my
endless rambling. But what should I forgive you for Armaan, I can't
seem to connect the pieces here, Lovely and you, Minnie your niece. I
don't see where any of this is going anymore. I just know tonight was a
time I dreamed of many nights. A family-like dinner out, ice creams
after that, chats and laughter and dimwit jokes and more laughter, but
most importantly, you by my side all through it. I don't know how to
fight this feeling, I know you are married, but Lovely's truth doesn't
make it any easier for me to accept truth for what it is, and you
refuse to talk anymore. You can't stay silent forever, I just won't let
you. You have to tell me everything, from scratch. I need to know, and
I deserve to know."
Moving towards her bed, she saw the passes to the musical for the next
evening lying on the bedside stool. Picking them up she flipped them
with her thumb deep in thought. Then putting them back she got into her
bed and snuggled into the comforter. Sleep for now she told herself,
tomorrow maybe a long day.
"Ritu Di, hi! Gaurav this side. I think the plan is starting to work,
at least on massi, well on Armaan as well. I still can't believe he
turned out to be the same man I met at the florist shop, its like a God
willing thing. He is a wonderful guy, if he is like that with
strangers, how could he have intentions to hurt massi. I mean he could
not stop looking at her all through dinner. Everytime he thought we
were busy among ourselves he would steal looks at her. I can still not
figure out what was on his mind, but he feels for her, thats an
unmistakable fact. And yeh Minnie gave them two passes for tomorrow,
they will have to show up tomorrow, and together!" he paused hearing an
excited Ritu on the other side, and slowly his smile widened. Tomorrow
would be fun no doubt...
alright...heres part 5 super long...its almost as long as a part and a half to make up for the delay....i thot i would exclude the last two bits of the update but then i put them in anyways....enjoy reading people!!! hope ul enjoy......and comments pleasssssse!!!
ps: Cesc Fabregas is a central midfield position soccer player for the english club Arsenal, his chest number is 4, and national team is Spain.
pps: the passage i used is shakespeare sonnet, i realized its not the obvious english to understand but part of my hometask for this week was to include it in the writing so i had to, i did add the translation in there, if theres anything u dont understand leme know....
Edited by spln - 28 September 2008 at 9:38pm