"Come on through to the lounge room,"she said."It's pretty shabby, though.I started renovating the kitchen and then ran out of enthusiasm."
Tonight, however, riddhima was surprised.She hadn't drawn the curtains and the lounge room, now flooded by moonlight, had taken on a strangely ethreal beauty.The shabiness had all but disappeared and the garish colours of the cotton throws she'd used to cover the tattered upholstery had taken on a subtle glow.
"I might leave the lights off,"she said."This room is definately improved by moonlight."
"everything's improved by moonlight."
She studiously ignored this comment in the same way that she avoided the sofa and flopped into a deep, comfy single chair instead.
With a-be-my-guest gesture she directed armaan to the other chair.Then, as the dogs settled on the floor, heads on paws, niggles of disquiet returned to haunt her.It was such a long time since she and armaan had been alone like this.
"Try some wine and apple,"she said, diving for safety by offering him the plate."Have you tried them together?Its a nice combination."
Armaan obliged and made appropriately, appretiative noises.
Riddhima took a sip of wine.In many ways this was one of her favourite fantasies--talking to armaan late into the night.But in the fantasies there'd been no awkwardness.They had been as comfortable and relaxed as they were ten years ago, before they'd drifted apart.
Riddhima wondered what they would discuss now.Armaan had hinted that he had specific things he wanted to talk about.Would he raise them now?She wasn't sure she was ready to hear his thoughts on marriage and babies and being over the hill.
Perhaps he still felt that tonight wasn't the night to be deep and meaningful.She searched for a safe topic that didn't include weddings, or honeymoons, or babies.
"So, have you started hunting for a new job?"she asked.
"I haven't put in any applications as yet."armaan settled more comfortably into his chair, crossed an ankle over a knee."But i have found a few positions i might apply for.There's even one in Armidale, at the university."
"In armidale?"So close?To cover her surprise,riddhima said "I have trouble picturing you as an academic behind a desk."
He shrugged."I thought it would make a nice change, after years of hiking over deserts and mountains looking for rocks."
"There's that, i guess."She couldn't resist adding."I suppose geologist is a one man's job."
Armaan smiled into his glass, took a swig, then set it down.
"I imagine your parents would like you to take up farming,"she suggested.
"They've never mentioned it.He sighed."They're actually talking about selling up."
"Really?"riddhima stared at him horrified.
"My motther's been bitten by a traveler bug."
"She must have caught it from you.
Armaan smiled crookedly."Perhaps."
"But your family's been farming Tambaroora for five generations."
"And now they have come to the end of the line,"armaan said dryly.
Nervous now,riddhima chewed at her lower lip.Already they were treading on sensitive ground.Everyone in the district had always known that armaan's brother sid, was expected to take over the family farm.
Sid'd death had changed everything.
She didn't have to ask what armaan meant.The fact that they had never really talked since sid'd death had been like an unhealed wound inside her."Ther wasn't any chance to talk,"she said defensively."You went away straight after the funeral."
"There were lots of good reasons for me not to stay.Your father didn't help."
"After sid's funeral, i tried to phone.I turned up on your doorstep, but your father wouldn't let me near you."
Riddhima stared at armaan,"I didn't know that."Her eyes stung and she blinked back tears.If she'd known armaan had called, what would she have done?What might have been different?
Armaan's shoulders lifted in a shrug."Your father was probably right to protect you.I...I can't imagine that i would have been of much help at that time."
Riddhima swallowed to ease the aching lump in her throat.She'd been in a terrible state after the funeral and the miscarriage.The really awful thing was that everyone thought she was grieving, and she was, of course, but a huge part of her distress had been caused by her overpowering feelings of her guilt."Did you know......about the baby?"
"Muskaan told me at that time,"armaan said quietly.And the, after a beat, "I am really sorry, riddhima."
He sounded almost too apologetic, as if somehow he felt responsible.But that didn't make sense.
Riddhima willed her hand to stop trembling as she held on the plate to him and he made a selection.For some time, they sat in silence, nibbling walnuts in the silvered halflight, and then armaan changed the subject.
"You've done so well here,"he said."I am hearing from everyone that you are a fabulous vet."
"I love my job."
Armaan nodded, then he asked carefully,"So you're happy, riddhima?"
From force of habbit, a lie leapt to her lips."Of course.""I am perfectly happy.I love this district.I love my work."
"But is it enough?"
Oh, help.Riddhima covered her dismay with a snappy reply."What kind of question is that?"
"An important one."
"You answer it then."She knew she sounded tense, but she couldn't help it.Armaan's question unnerved her.It was too searching, too close to a truth she didn't want to reveal."Are you happy, armaan?Is your work enough?"
It wasn't the answer she'd expected and she took a moment to digest it. I suppose that's why you are looking for something different?"
"I suppose it is."He circled the rim of the glass with his finger."I've had a bit of a wake up call."
A swift flare of shock ripped through riddhima."Armaan you are not sick, are you?"
"No, thank god, but i've had a close shave.I haven't told my family this.I didn't want to upset them, but there was an explosion in an old mine we were surveying."
?Yes."His face was suddenly tight and strained."The two men with me were both killed.Right in front of me.I've no idea how i escaped with a few scratches and bruises."
"Oh, god, armaan, thats terrible."Tears threatened again as riddhima tried not to think unthinkable--that there had almost been a world where armaan didn't exist.
"I went to their funerals,"armaan said,"And they really opened my eyes."
"In what way?"
In the moonlight, she could see the sober intensity in armaan's face.
"my one friend was a bachelor.No ties.So his funeral was a simple gathering of family and friends.But the other one was a family man, always thinking about his wife and three kids.And at the funeral his son spoke."
Armaan sighed."He was such a courageous liitle guy.He couldn't have been mre than ten years old.And he stood up there in front of us.His voice was squeaky, and threatning to break, but he told us all how proud he was of his father and how he wanted to live his life in a way that would go on making his dad proud."
Riddhima's throat ached at the thought of that little boy.
"I can't stop thinking about that kid,"armaan said.
Riddhima reached for the hankerchief and dabbed at her eyes.
"I am sorry,"armaan said"i am talking about funerals when we've just been to a wedding."
"No, its OK"She sniffed and sent him a wstery smile."ITs just happened to you, so of course its on your mind.Anyway, thats what life's all about, isn't it?Births, deaths and marriages."
He smiled sadly."I guess i am a slow learner.It wasn't till i was sitting in that church that i suddenly got it.I could finally understand why muskaan went to so much trouble to have a family, and why niki was prepared to undergo something so amazingly challenging as a surrogate pregnancy."
"Yes" riddhima said, but a single word came out too loud and sounded more like a sob.
With a cry of dismay, armaan lurched to his feet.
"I am so sorry,"he said."I should be more sensitive.I shouldn't be burdening you with this."
He was referring to her miscarriage.Would he be shocked to hear that she still longed for a baby, that her need was bordering on obsession?
With an angry shake of his head, he went to the window.Despite her tention,riddhima was mesmerised by the sight of him limned by the moonlight.
Without looking at her he said,"I am surprised you haven't found someone else and settled down to have a family."
Oh, help.Riddhima sniffed.Again, armaan had gone too far and she hit back."I could say the same about you."
"Ah."He turned back from the window and said in a dry tone,"But i am the vagabond and you are the homebody."
However, riddhima couldn't help remembering how he'd come rushing back to australia when she and sid had announced their engagement.
She'd always wondered why.
But there was no way she could open up that discussion now. Not tonight.
She felt too vulnerable tonight and she was scared she might blurt out something she'd regret later.It would be too embarrassing and shameful to confess that she'd finally gone out with armaan's brother, hoping that word would reach armaan and spark a reaction.
If she told him that, she'd also have to confess that the plan had backfired when she'd become pregnant.
It was more than likely she would never be able to talk to armaan about this.
Nevertheless, tonight's conversation felt like an important step.It was almost as if she and armaan had picked up their friendship where they'd left off.
It suddenly felt OK to say,"I've actually become quite desperate to have a baby."
Armaan spun around from the window and his chest rose and fell."You'd make a wonderful mother, riddhima"
The compliment made her want to cry, but she gave him a shrugging smile."Its a terrible waste, isn't it?"
She hadn't expected to say more but, now that she'd started, it was surprisingly easy to keep going."To be honest, i worry about my biological cycle"
"The old biological clock?"
She nodded."It runs in my family.That's why i am an only child."
Armaan frowned."But i have it on good authority that you have turned down at least three proposals of marriage."
Heat flooded through riddhima's face."I suppose muskaan told you that?"
"OK, so i am fussy, but thats because i am not so desperate that i'd settle for just any guy as a husband.I'd rather be a single mother.
Abruptly, armaan came back to his chair and sank down into it, long legs stretching in front of him."Why would you want to be a single mother?"
"Because its better than not being a mother at all."
He looked surprised and thoughtful.
Riddhima made herself comfortable with her legs curled and an elbow propped on the chair's arm."I've been to a fertility clinic,"she told armaan."And i've already tried one round of IVF."
"IVF?"he repeated, sounding shocked.
"Isn't that a bit...extreme?"
"It seemed logical to me.It worked beautifully for niki and muskaan.But unfortunately, it didn't work for me."
Armaan made a soft sound.
"I am sorry.Thats probably too much information,"she said.
But armaan shook his head and a moment later, a smile played around his lips."Its a pity, niki can't have a baby for you."
Riddhima knew he was joking."Don't worry, that thought's occured to me but i imagine niki has some other plans now she has a husband."
"I am sure she has."armaan scratched at his jaw."But its a pity there isn't someone who could help you out."
"Do you mean a good friend?Someone like you, armaan?"
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Edited by harshikarocks - 10 January 2011 at 9:29am