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I'd never been good at goodbyes. In fact, was anyone...?
I'd never heard of anyone ever saying they really enjoyed saying goodbye.
I certainly detested them.
Especially when it meant the person was so close to my heart, that saying it out loud as if confirming I was breaking that part of my heart and pushing it away, was sure to leave me broken beyond repair.
It had been the same, maybe a thousand times worse when I went to see Diya.
Everything had felt so much louder that night. Realisation. Complete awareness. Control.
They always used to talk about stuff like that when I'd been in Yoga class and I'd never really appreciated it, nodding away enthusiastically with the rest of the class eventhough inside I was clueless.
But that night, I knew what I was doing, were I was going when, after talking to Sid, it had been normal when I'd quickly tip-toed down to the lower ground, along the hallway and into Diya's room.
I had supersonic hearing; everything had been so much louder in the dead of the night. The eerie creak of the door, the sound of my heel softly landing on the floorboards as I had approached her bed. The hum of her light breathing as she rested fast asleep, and the way I'd whimpered as I'd kissed her forehead, quickly before moving my face away lest my tears could fall onto her skin and disturb her peaceful slumber.
And that was the last time I'd seen her before leaving.
It had been two days.
And for the eleventh time this day I had found myself looking at photos on my phone which we'd taken together at the Charity ball.
Selfies. Diya and me pulling silly faces, some with our tongues sticking out, others where we'd each taken a strand of my hair and pulled it across our top lip as if we had matching moustaches our round eyes filled with mischief. There was one particular favourite where the aftermath of all these multiple attempts had clearly taken a toll on our sanity.
Diya had grabbed a hold of my cheeks with her tiny palms as my face nestled further towards and into her touch, my eyes were clenched shut as both of us laughed joyfully, laughter so genuine, we were free of all inhibitions. But it was the adoration in Diya's eyes as she had looked at me, a moment caught perfectly by the camera that had stupefied me when I'd first managed to look back at the photograph.
I'd promised I'd never go.
That was then and now look where we both were.
Blinking away, I caught the tear that had escaped my lashline with the tip of my finger.
"No...no, can't today" I sighed as I locked the phone screen, raising myself from the bed before straightening out the creases of my primrose yellow cocktail dress and securing the bun at the nape of my neck.
It was the day of the wedding.
Riddhima and Armaan's.
Exhaling, a smile plastered to my lips but the girl in the mirror infront of me had such sad eyes.
The smile quickly vanished before me in the next second.
I'd kept myself locked in Dr Abhimanyu's spare room since we'd reached the farmhouse yesterday afternoon.
At first, I'd wanted to distract myself by making myself useful in the kitchen or around the house but of course, Dr Abhimanyu's kind and gentlemanly ways meant I was reassured of my status as a guest at every possible opportunity.
I had successfully avoided Sid too.
We'd only met again at the dinner table for meals, so dinner last night and breakfast this morning, yet on both occassions I'd politely excused myself when coincidentally Dr Abhimanyu had occupied Sid's attention in a serious conversation which didn't concern me.
This morning it had been regarding travel arrangements over the wedding weekend. Where we were staying, was Dr Modi's farmhouse, located conveniently close to the venue approximately a few miles drive away but if we were held up then the decision was whether we were going to stay a night at the nearby hotel with all the other guests. Apparently Riddhima and Armaan and paid for all the rooms in advance and left the decision up to those attending when they chose to use them.
Hmph, nothing that concerned me whatsoever.
Well, since I would be gatecrashing my sister's wedding anyway, as I had not been formally invited, I felt like a trespasser if I was involved in anything else related to it.
The easiest thing was to dodge everything if I could so control it.
And this was one of those things.
I'd cleared my throat, dabbing my chin with my napkin, mumbling a timid, "'scuse me" before pushing my chair out and dispersing back into the four walls of my temporary abode.
I was both humbly grateful and yet confused that Sid hadn't gone out of his way to see me yet.
Then again, he had troubles of his own...if Riddhima was my sister, she was his former wife and first love.
It was obvious he was thinking about her, now more than ever.
It was a place she'd taken in his life mind and heart. Although maybe it was a place that she'd left vacant now with her departure, she could never be replaced.
Not even by me.
A knock on the door startled me as I turned to the door.
"Erm, come in..." my voice shaky and low, granting permission to enter for a room which wasn't mine either.
The door opened slowly as I entwined my fingers together in anticipation.
My breathing quickened.
Dr Abhimanyu's head popped around the door as I felt myself deflate in the next second.
"Dr Shilpa! W-..."
I watched as Dr Abhimanyu gave me the once over.
"Erm, very nice dress..."
These Modi brothers, I grimaced glancing down at the custardy yellow which threatened to blind me before glancing back, they could never learn to lie.
"Morning Dr Modi, and yes, I know..." a sheepish laughter escaped my lips as I awkwardly pinched at the material, "it's not very traditional but...this was the most appropriate thing I could find of all the clothes I brought with me. Do you think it's okay?"
I would have asked Sid...
"Oh Dr Shilpa, you should have said! Well, how silly of me, of course you wouldn't expect Sid or myself to have anything appropriate but...I...hmm, I'm sure Nikki, sorry my wife Dr Nikita, must have kept something here as an emergency backup..."
He contemplated to himself before his expression fell on my face, recoiling abruptly he raised his hands in defence, "Oh unless you have a problem with -"
Dr Abhimanyu observed me wearily as I realised he must be imagining me with scrubs and a face mask on inspecting Dr Nikita's clothes with contempt.
"No, that's very kind Dr Abhimanyu-" I interjected in a bid to rid both him and myself of the visual, " I mean I ...there's no problem, but I don't want to cause any trouble". I shrugged, pulling at the sleeve of my canary outfit, "Personally, I'm happy wearing this, that's not an issue..."
"Oh, right...Well-" his shoulders slumped as he thought of something productive to say.
I let out a deep sigh under my breath, "Then again, I would be grateful if I could borrow something of Dr Nikita's, I wouldn't want to stand out for the wrong reasons" I smiled as I witnessed Dr Abhimanyu's eyes light up.
"Ah great, erm...actually-" rushing over to the wardrobe to my left, Dr Abhimanyu calculated under his breath but in the empty room each word reached me as if he was speaking into a megaphone "I'm sure. It -There was one...Sid had chosen-" He sweeped the doors open before rustling through a pile of packages of rainbow outfits, a mad man on a mission as I inhaled suddenly, watching as his motions became slower...
Turning, now in his hand dazzled a white and silver ensemble.
"This" he smiled handing the package to me as I felt a weight greater than what had been put into my hands consume me, "will be perfect".
Pulling up the cuff of my sleeve, my watch read "18.09"
"Okay Sid, remember you have to be out the house for quarter-past five latest, it'll take a couple of hours atleast to read there and with the long weekend, who knows how bad the traffic will be on the roads"
I recalled Bhai's words to me of earlier this morning.
Now, I knew that I could give myself a half-hour window to Bhai's deadline. There was a difference between a safe-driver and an overly-cautious one and Bhai definitely belonged to the latter.
The problem was, I wasn't travelling alone.
Shilpa had managed to evade me since our conversation upon our arrival at the outhouse. Even Bhai had noticed something strange was going on and had questioned me when Shilpa had left the dinner table at breakfast. For Bhai to have such perception, that was a huge deal, or maybe it was because we'd made it so obvious...
My eyes had followed her as she'd ambled away from the table, her movements robotic and dull, had bothered me.
"Not speaking to each other? Ha, not at all Bhai" I'd nonchalantly responded to his concerns with a smile, "I'm just a little preoccupied with arrangements for the wedding this weekend that's all. And there's a lot of catching up to be done on files for when I resume work at the Hospital next week". I'd counted off a list with my fingers, "There's that presentation I have to deliver to the board about the success of the project on Friday" I'd cleared my throat before collecting our dishes from the dinner table to avoid his observing gaze on me "so it's just a little manic at the moment that's all. Shilpa knows it too..."
The truth was that of the presentation, the saved document on my laptop for the same contained two words, "Good Afternoon"; the pile of case folders on my desk had only been touched for when I'd taken them out my briefcase and the wedding preparations, had consisted of one conversation for when Bhai and I had decided he would take the overnight luggage and I would travel with Shilpa.
A somewhat lie, though I had been preoccupied but it had only been with thoughts about Shilpa.
I'd tried to be direct with my approach and having a conversation with her, it felt as if that's all I was doing lately. Maybe that had been the reason why I'd accepted her implied wish for space this time round.
I didn't want to be the person constantly demanding her attention when she didn't want to give it, I'd secretly hoped she would come round by the wedding day but again, with her footsteps that had moved away from me at the breakfast table and no effort to make conversation, that hope had slowly diminished too.
I guess we were both reeling from the aftermath of everything had happened in Sanjog, Ansh, all that before the party and then after the party.
Suppose Shilpa had felt it more than me, but then again she had been in the centre of it all.
Then again when Bhai had voiced the general nature of his own conversations with Shilpa over the weekend, it had just meant she was very polite and friendly or a painful confirmation that she really just didn't want to talk to me.
In hindsight, maybe I should have asked Bhai to take Shilpa instead...
But I hadn't wanted to.
In the hour before Bhai was preparing to leave, I had opened my mouth many a time to propose the suggestion, but for my own selfish reasons I had physically been incapable of saying the words aloud.
This had been another opportunity to spend time together and I really treasured Shilpa's company. In fact, the more I'd not spoken to her, the more I could feel a longing burning within my chest, I was fighting the temptation to make the first move myself and reach out to her again, contrary to what I'd fixed in my mind.
Now, stood outside her door, we were an hour behind schedule, there was no sound coming from inside the room, so far as I could gather.
I was getting worried.
What was taking Shilpa so long?
My mind would have to take a back seat on this one.
I raised my fist hesitantly before rapping on the door in one swift movement. I couldn't be sure what it was, but it almost sounded like muffled whimpering.
"Mnf" the reply was a little louder, undoubtedly muffled.
I could feel my pulse racing as I took a deep breath, "Erm, is everything okay in there?"
A bang as I jumped, the sound of Shilpa's voice rang in my ears as she shrieked, "Oh for goodness sake!"
My hand found the door knob as I stepped forward -
I felt a weight push against the door, blocking me from coming in as Shilpa's hassled face appeared in the gap.
"Shilpa?" I peered at her. She seemed to be distracted by something on the floor behind her.
"What's going on in there?" I cranked my neck to get a look at what or who was behind her, "Are you okay?"
"Erm yeah, Sid...it's fine. Um-"
She'd still not acknowleged me.
"What's going on in there? What are you hiding...?"
I watched as her eyes swivelled round till they found me.
"Hiding?!" she cried, I huffed when automatically, she'd inched even further behind the wooden block.
She blinked, clearing her throat, her voice now somewhat composed, "Um...nothing. I just - "
Shilpa's eyes flickered up to me again as I felt my focus on her, resolute. "I'm really sorry you've had to wait...I just -" I felt the crack in her voice as a word disappeared, "-just not feeling too good. Maybe I should call a rain check on this one. Can you tell Dr Abhimanyu for me?"
"Bhai's not here".
"No he left a couple of hours ago..."
Her gaze lowered again as her hair draped across her cheek, "You should go. You need to be there".
Shaking my head, there was only one solution to this.
I watched as Shilpa turned, almost disappearing fully from sight, swinging the door behind her as my hand reached up holding it firmly in place.
Startled from the sound, Shilpa pivoted again her eyes questioning me.
Exhaling, my fingers took a hold of the door, close to where her own hand was resting below on the other side but still not touching it, as I heard myself say calmly, "Let me in..."
"Wha- No..." she responded immediately.
"Sid. You can't - "
"Why must you?"
"Because you're hiding something from me. I know when you're lying..."
"Don't even bother. You know I'm right-"
The cogs were whirring in her head, I hadn't expected her to accept defeat so easily. Her shoulders drooped as she bit her lip. Something in my expression had told her that we could work this out as I realised she was willing to give me another chance.
"Fine...Wait here. Please"
Relief swam through my veins as I felt a new energy surge within me, stretching my shoulders, I put my fists together as the seconds dragged, wishing Shilpa would hurry with whatever she had to show me.
A hand carrying a sheet of some sort materialised our of thin air, landing just before my chin as I cautiously stepped out the way till I realised it was Shilpa...
I frowned, my fingers inching towards the papery drape.
"What's -? Wait, this is-" my eyes had identified the sari albeit a moment too late but how had it come to be with Shilpa?
"Dr Abhimanyu let me borrow it. I hope you don't mind but..." she took an exhasperated breath as my own vision glazed over to her " I can't tie a sari!".
I blinked "Really?"
"Well I've never needed to. Massi had shown me for a play we did for Diwali when I was younger but that was years ago...I thought I may have remembered but-"
She drifted off as if she were bored with the conversation, "Look Sid, there's no point wasting any more time. I have nothing to wear, this sari isn't going to tie itself and there's no time to find an alternative. Just leave me and go please, it's not even important for me to be there. They- Dr Abhimanyu will be searching for you and -will you go please?"
"Can I try?"
I nodded towards the bundle in my hands.
"How do you...?" she raised an intrigued eyebrow.
"Well...sort of picked it up when me and .." I wavered, "Riddhima"
"Oh, Um..." she sighed, "I'm not so sure that's a good idea..."
"I won't look- I mean..." it was my turn to become familiar with the tiling laid on our floors, "I promise, I won't cross any boundaries. You can trust me-"
I kept silent so that I could hear her answer.
"Okay, do you have a shawl or something in there?"
"Something that you can drape across yourself. I just need to sort out the sari for you, like the pleats and everything. You can do the rest yourself. I'll guide you..."
She held my gaze for a couple of seconds as I felt my lips turn up in a sheepish smile. Turning away, ensuring to give me a last glimpse before she'd vanished from view again, I heard her nimble footsteps moving away.
Eerily reminscint of this morning, there was something that told me these ones were moving to ultimately come closer to me.
"Ok...you-you can come in now"
I stopped breathing.
There was a hot flush in my cheeks which was slowly making it's way to my head, making me feel woozy. Coupled with the lack of oxygen, this was a very dangerous combination. It was as if the rising temperature had emanated from Sid's stature as he stood before me.
Without looking, my eyes boring into the tiny specks on the tiles below, I felt him gently take the glorious material in his hands, the shine from the border adding to the beauty of his fair hands as he weaved the fabric through his fingers to and fro, folding the pleats, effortlessly arranging them till they were of the same length before holding them out to me.
Cautiously, my hands trembling as I took them, my grip tightened so that I didn't loosen any of the perfect folds.
I glanced up as Sid gestured for me to fold them into my petticoat, near my navel.
I cringed, my mind in shambles as I hurriedly stuffed them away, a clear contrast to the way in which Sid had treated them.
I wonder what he saw when he looked at me.
Wasn't it strange that he'd probably bought this sari for Riddhima and I was wearing it now. It had been freshly packaged, had they separated before she'd had a chance to wear it? Maybe he'd bought it as a wedding present and she'd worn it once before storing it away again?
Swallowing, I sneaked a glimpse up to find Sid beaming at me. Embarassed I looked away again, a burst of air filled my chest when I felt Sid brush his arm against mine as he walked around me.
"Shilpa, you need to tuck the extra material away like you just did before. Can you do that?"
Looking down, I noticed the sari sticking out the top of the petticoat from where Sid had wrapped it around my waist and I adhered to the request, wondering if I had done it right when I heard him murmur, "Thank you".
I continued following Sid as he moved round me again and just as he halted infront me, I slowly reached for the cloth when I found his hand on mine.
I turned up to look at him, as always, I had miscalculated how close we were, our noses had collided forcing me back.
Sid remained unaffected as I heard his voice above my head, "You don't need to do it anymore-"
I pulled my hand out from beneath his, immediately allowing it to rest by my side as I stood there, motionless, a puppet.
"Can we go now?"
"Um...it's just the last bit now".
Pleating the pallu of the sari, I felt his body stiffen next to me as he hesitated.
"Erm...This needs to go over your shoulder but...I need to measure the length-so it doesn't touch the floor"
I frowned, that sounded pretty straight forward to me. Why was he being awkward about it?
"Okay...?" I murmured uncertainly.
"-Kay..." he took my wrist in his hand before extending it out so that I was mimicking a plane wing.
Moving a step closer, I saw his leather shoes inch towards me so that they were nearly touching my toes.
Automatically, my eyes widened as I went to step back, faltering again only this time, I'd tripped over my own foot. My arms reaching out as Sid caught me. Breathless, I could feel my whole body shaking as I gawked at him. His hands were burning me, the feel of his skin on my back was sending tremors through to my spine as the other one held my elbow.
It didn't last long as I witnessed Sid's eyes dodge mine as he helped me regain my footing. It had been a very deliberate move which I couldn't translate before I felt the cool air of the AC on my shoulders.
My shawl, it had fallen off.
Mortified, I placed a hand across my chest, turning away before I felt Sid hold me, " Shilpa wait..."
I felt his fingers brush against my wrist lightly, as if asking for permission before he made a move. Since I hadn't protested, I was somewhat grateful that he had understood my silence, holding up my arm as he had done so just before the fall. This time I kept it in place for him as he reached around my waist, pulling the cloth with him as he did.
I could feel his cheek near my own as I fought a temptation to act on the desire that was filling my heart. It had been one of the reasons why I hadn't wanted Sid to do this.
"Your mother didn't know how to tie a sari either! " Dad's bemused voice rang in my ears, "when we were first married, I used to have to help her get ready..."
I had found it endearing story when Dad used to recollect Mom's stories to me as a child, this had been one of my most favourites. Something so simple had turned into an adorable bonding exercise that had strengthened their love and care towards one another.
But...Sid wasn't my husband, nor my boyfriend.
Even the relationship we shared couldn't warrant something so intimate.
Closing my eyes so as to block out the view of Sid's presence which was beginning to nag me, it didn't help as now every other one of my senses had been isolated to work in their element. I could smell his musky cologne, the sound of his soft breathing against my ear, I clenched my fist as I felt his fingers near the nape of my neck as he dragged the material across the hand resting on my beating heart.
"Shilpa, look at me"
My eyes fluttered open to find his own looking back at me.
I nodded once, solemnly.
"Move your hand"
My fingers trembled and yet he didn't look away once, our eyes bore into each other for those few seconds as I let my hand fall down to my side.
Even as he pulled the remaining material across my shoulder till it had covered me, Sid didn't drop his gaze away from mine.
What was he trying to prove?
I wouldn't make the same mistake of doubting him twice. He could take my life and I wouldn't utter word. I trusted him that much.
I just couldn't say the same for myself.
This wedding would surely be the death of me.
How could I be happy to see him longing for someone else who couldn't be his? It was so tragic.
I was so tragic stood here in Riddhima's sari, adorned by a man who could never love me.
The vicious circle.
All I wanted was for Sid to want me too.
Was I so bad?
To an outsider, this was a lover's tale revived.
To me, it was my fairytale that would never come true.
I felt my vision turn hazy and I glanced down, Sid securing a pin to the back of my blouse to hold the cloth in place as he moved away.
"Perfect" he grinned.
I turned to the mirror behind me, the girl looked back, the one with the sad eyes.
My focus turned to the left of her where Sid was stood beaming, titling his head to the side as he inspected me I watched as he twisted his mouth appreciatively my way.
In the next instance, he'd brushed his shoulder casually before winking at me forcing a chuckle to escape from my lips.
The girl in the mirror watched me as I saw the dazzling smile linger over hers, the flicker of light dwindling in her eyes for a second was unmistakeable...
Perfect, I thought to myself.
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