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"Love. Love is timeless. We fall in love every day but the real love is with those who are not only our soul mate, but our friend. That friend who helps us in our time of need, that person who only wants what's right for you, is true love." The classroom roared with applause as a shy ten year old school girl said a speech to her classmates.
Jhanvi Sharma stood right at the back of the room smiling and reminiscing about that one person who not only saved her seven years ago, but became her life. She closed her eyes and thought about that imperfect yet perfect man. The way he protected her from that ravenous monster, the way he always joked when she was the one serious, the way he wanted the right thing for her. Raghav.
She opened her eyes somewhat hoping that he was in front of her, she wanted to see his warm brown eyes looking lovingly at her, the lips which will always have a smile indented in them. She wanted to hug him, hold him, anything – but she couldn't. He wasn't here; he wasn't in front of her. Her heart sunk slightly as she found herself thrown back into reality. She had left him – for his own safety – and came back to her hometown Manali, as if nothing had changed. No Viraj, no Raghav.
"Ms Sharma!" Mrs Malhotra, the school's Maths teacher called, walking towards Jhanvi. She was in her mid 50's, somewhat strict but one of Jhanvi's advisors and friend. "What a beautiful speech Sonya had said, right?" She smiled looking at the girl talking to her group of friends. Jhanvi nodded. "Seriously, I felt as if I could relate to her words. I thought about my husband when she was talking." She gushed like a teenage girl, slightly blushing. "Tell me, didn't you think about anyone?" Mrs Malhotra edged on.
Jhanvi hadn't told anyone about her past, her other identity as Sia nor what she had been through. People only knew that she had once been married; nothing else was said because she wanted to forget everything. Those atrocities, that pain she had been through but most of all, she felt guilty at leaving him, leaving Raghav.
"No, I didn't." Jhanvi replied quietly, her eyes avoiding Mrs Malhotra's. She lied: she had thought of someone.
"Okay." Mrs Malhotra replied, nodding her head slightly. A moment of awkward silence passed through them. Jhanvi sighed; glad that Mrs Malhotra didn't edge the matter further.
"By the way, when are you going to England?" Mrs Malhotra asked.
Siya, Jhanvi's sister was getting married and after what had happened with Jhanvi, their parents took the initiative in checking the potential groom's background before pressing the matter forward. It was a lesson which they all had learnt: never to trust anyone, nor matter how suave they may appear to be. Jhanvi thought back of the day when she first met Viraj. He was instantly inviting, the way he impressed her by his simple words. He had told her that he would keep her to himself, he would protect her from the rest of the world - little did she know that he was being quite literal.
"My flight is tomorrow." She said calmly. Everyone else had gone with Siya to Goa, couple of days earlier. Jhanvi had decided to stay behind until the school semester was over before heading there.
"Oh really?" Mrs Malhotra gasped. "Then you must leave right now, for the packing and getting ready!" She nudged Jhanvi towards the cloakroom, where the teachers belongings were.
Jhanvi shook her head furiously. "No, Mrs Malhotra. I can't go now, at least until the school is officially over. I'll be fine." She stopped and thought about that last line. I'll be fine. Seven years earlier, perhaps Jhanvi would not have been able to travel on her own, live on her own but since running away to save her life, she had learnt how to live for another day. And it was due to only one person: Raghav. She smiled, "I'll be fine." She assured Mrs Malhotra.
"I know you'll be fine." Mrs Malhotra rolled her eyes. "But you need to go home to rest right, for tomorrow? And anyway, you never have a break." She insisted, dutifully taking Jhanvi's bag from the table and giving it to her. "Go, I'll take care of these children." She smiled.
"But Mrs Malhotra..."
"No, I won't listen to you any more." She interrupted. "Jhanvi, go." The fact that she used the name Jhanvi, instantly turned the conversation personal and Jhanvi could not help but oblige her friend. She nodded and put her bag around her shoulder before walking off towards the door. Jhanvi looked back and said goodbye to the children. "Oh! And tell your sister that I said congratulations, okay?"
Jhanvi nodded, smiling before walking to the car park. In the last few years, she had decided to become completely independent by learning how to drive and even purchasing a small flat near her parent's house in Manali. She opened the door to her black coloured car and sat in the driver's seat. She placed her key inside to fuse the engine and drove to her flat. She opened the door and entered her home, the warm air hitting her instantly. She smelt in the faint aroma of coffee from the morning, placing her bag down on the side table, she walked into the kitchen. Jhanvi opened the fridge and took out bread to make a sandwich, and turned the kettle on to make tea. She walked out with her food and turned the television on. Whilst biting her sandwich, she flicked the remote to change the channel onto something suitable.
"- Have you been in an accident lately?"
"- Apply now for a free consultation..."
"- The businessman of the year award goes to Raghav Singh!"
Jhanvi stopped. She quickly turned the volume higher and listened to the news report. "Raghavendra Pratap Singh, son of Gayatri Singh has won the award today for the businessman of the year. The Singh's company has grown over the last few years, gaining a mass yield of profits, and this is all due to the hard work of the Gurgaon, most eligible bachelor, Raghav. Watch on for more information." Jhanvi smiled, a tear falling down from her eyes. She got up and went towards a cupboard where she pulled out a small box. She unlocked it using a key and opened the silver box, taking out a small picture. It was the last picture they had taken with each other: him in his signature checked shirt and her in her pink salwar suit. She reminisced the moment when Krish, Raghav's nephew had taken a picture of them using a polaroid so that Jhanvi would remember him. She had made Krish take another picture for Raghav, which he refused to take. Her heart had sunk in that moment, he didn't want to remember her. But who could blame him? She had just become free from the clutches of her controlling husband, she didn't know whether to trust love again. She herself didn't know she had fallen in love, fallen for him. But, by that time - it was too late. She wanted to stay in Gurgaon, but more than that she wanted Raghav to stop her, tell her that he loves her, tell her that he wants her, that she will only be his for all of eternity. But, he didn't.
A tear fell onto Raghav's face, Jhanvi wiped it off using her bare hands. She brought the picture closer to her lips and softly kissed where Raghav was. She looked back at the photo - looked back at Raghav - and laughed. "You did it, you really did it Raghav." She started to laugh, tears of happiness fell streaming. She thought back at the time when Raghav had told her to become a teacher as she loved children, she in turn had told him to look after his mother's business. She didn't know he'd actually do it, that he'd bring the company to such a big height. She wiped the tears from her eyes and placed the picture back into the box and tucked it away.
Jhanvi sighed. She missed Gurgaon. She missed him. Despite being brought up in Manali, those few months in Gurgaon had become her life. It was the city that gave her a new identity, a new way of living, a new love. Even though it had been years since, she never felt at peace, at home in Manali. She felt as if it was incomplete, as if something was missing. But, she pushed that feeling from her heart and became what Raghav wanted: a teacher. She loved children, their playful nature, their never ending laughter: it was something she wished to have herself. She wanted a child. She wanted to hug him, kiss him, nurture him and bring him up in the world. Her Krishna. She had not forgotten about him, she couldn't. Who forgets their child that had cruelly left the world before its life even begun? Not Jhanvi. She had found her Krishna in Krish, and now found her Krishna in the children at the school. It was this new found happiness that Raghav had shown her.
She hoped she could find Raghav again, even if by chance. But that was near impossible, she wanted him to find her, and he wanted her to be set free. She sighed again, the only thing to look forward to is the morning after when she would be getting on the plane to England, for her younger sister's wedding. She got into her bed and closed her eyes: the image of that certain someone flickered in her mind and she found herself falling into a deep slumber.
Raghav hurriedly placed every file into his suitcase and closed it shut. It was getting late as he stayed up in his office, fixing the presentations for future meetings. It wasn't something that he needed to do right now, but he needed to become busy and it was better that he accomplished a task earlier (if weeks earlier) than late. For the past seven years, Raghav had taken the family business to a new height, and he had gradually allowed himself to become a workaholic. He had left his work as a mechanic, lazying about on the streets and worked hard as a businessman because it was what Sia had told him to albeit indirectly. It was also because he wanted to forget her, therefore he needed something that would keep him busy. His sister in law, Komal had called a minute earlier complaining of his lack of time keeping and insisted in him coming home. It was only after Krish shouting at him in mock that Raghav left everything to come home. He had become distant from his family, due to his work, but his close relationship with his nephew remained as tight as ever.
He rushed out of his office, not even waiting to see if the door was closed and ran across the hallway to where the guard was. Raghav looked at his watch, past twelve and bit his lip. He didn't realise how late it was.
"Sir, you're going?" The guard asked.
"Yeah, aren't you going to go?" Raghav asked. "You should have gone, why wait for me?"
The guard smiled. "What are you saying Sir? I work for you so obviously I have to lock up after you're gone."
"Well, next time if I'm this late. Go home, I'll lock up."
"When does the businessman of the year ever take over the job of a guard?" He joked rhetorically.
Raghav smiled. Just recently he had been given this award for his accomplishments but he didn't want to take the congratulations and commendations because he didn't feel as if he had done anything that big. He had only helped his mother, he had maintained his promise he made to Sia, that he'd become someone. And he did. He didn't want someone to award him on that.
"By the way, Ajay Sir had told me to remind you about your business trip to England tomorrow." The guard said as he locked up the gates and accompanied Raghav to the car park.
Raghav nodded, "Hm. Yeah I remember." He said thinking deeply. Ajay was his personal secretary and had been reminding him about the trip for weeks. A couple of British investors where contemplating on making a hotel in Gurgaon and wanted Raghav to manage it: it was why he was travelling there, to seal the deal. This was how his life was now, always some sort of meeting and then travelling. He never had any time for himself - well, he didn't even allow himself to. Raghav said his goodbyes to the guard and drove away in his car to his home.
The car pulled up along the driveway and Raghav made his way, groggily up to the stairs and into the house. There, on the white sofa of the living room sat his mother waiting in apprehension for him. He gave her a slight remorseful look, a sorry for being so late.
"Raghavendra?" She said sternly. He stopped and instantly closed his eyes automatically, the fact that his mother had used his full name, he knew he was in trouble. Even though he was a grown man, he still disliked it when he unknowingly hurt his mother. "What time do you call this?"
"Ma..." He moisturised his lips in nervousness. "I didn't know how late it was." He replied.
Gayatri Singh sighed. "Raghavendra, when are you going to learn? There's a certain time to do things. Just because you want to forget Sia does not mean you have to forget us."
The words struck him by force. Just because you want to forget Sia does not mean you have to forget us. He looked at his mother with a slight sadness, her confident eyes looking back at him.
"You know I'm right." She said softly. "Just because Sia has gone from your life, does not mean you stop living yours." She huffed. "It's been seven years, Raghav. She isn't going to come back, when are you going to start living your life?"
Words stopped in his throat, unwilling to come out. "I...I know Ma." He sighed before focusing his eyes onto the floor. He didn't know what to say, he had the chance to bring her back but he didn't because at that time, he wanted what was best for her. She had just gotten her own life back from Viraj, so who was he to bind her into a relationship?
His mother shook her head, as silence crept into the room. She left him to go upstairs to sleep, leaving him alone. He walked upstairs, making sure that he was silent as to not wake up anyone else. He switched the light on and walked inside his bedroom before closing the door behind. It was here where Sia stayed, pretending to be his wife as a plan to play by Viraj's game. Raghav touched the bed and smiled. It was here where Sia slept as he dutifully slept on the floor. He remembered the way she brought up his tea, only for him to make her drink it. It was in this room that they had fought like teenagers in love because he had hid something from her. He missed her. But that time was gone.
Raghav walked over to the side of his bed and pulled the mattress, under it was a small photograph. He looked at it and smiled, caressing the picture. It was of him and Sia. The last picture together. Sia had made him take the picture as a way of remembering her but he had declined and left. Later, he had managed to find it, keeping it hidden away from the rest of the family members. He had tried so hard to act strong, to keep a happy face not for himself but for Sia. It was only this photograph that he cherished, he didn't want anyone else to know that he himself couldn't forget her. He wondered what she would be doing now, did she ever become a teacher, just like he had become a businessman? Did she do something with her life? Take chances or risks? He smiled at just the thought of her. He loved her, and she knew that, but he'd never rightfully admit it.
He stared amicably at the photo before hearing footsteps behind the door. He quickly placed the picture back in its place, hidden from the world.
"Chachu?" A voice called from behind the door. The handle turned and in entered Krish, yawning.
"Krish?" Raghav asked, signalling him to come in. "What are you doing up so late?"
"Chachu, I could ask the same to you." He replied, sitting on the bed.
Raghav laughed lightly. Krish who had been Raghav's companion throughout the hard days is fifteen now, a teenager. Raghav's once baby nephew is all grown up. He felt proud of how well he had been despite how much his nephew had gone through: his father's death, his muteness, Viraj's games. Besides Raghav, Krish was the other person who thought of Sia almost every day. She was his governess, but most of all for Krish, she was Raghav's Sia.
"I got home late from work." Raghav explained. "You?"
"I couldn't sleep." Krish said, his voice becoming quieter.
"Why? Is everything okay?" Raghav became concerned.
Krish shook his head at once, "No no. Everything is fine." Raghav took a slight sigh of relief, "I was just thinking..."
"About Sia?" Raghav asked. They would have conversations about almost everything, their favourite was about Sia. Raghav was glad that there was someone else there to talk to - other than his best friend, Sundar.
Krish nodded. "Chachu, are you ever going to meet her again?"
"I don't know." Raghav replied timidly, shrugging. "I can't exactly go to her and ask her for us to have contact, now can I?"
"I wish she comes back." Krish replied after a moment of silence.
"Me too." Raghav whispered. He glanced at the clock as Krish yawned. Raghav smiled. "Go to sleep. I'll see you in the morning before I catch my plane okay?"
Krish nodded, "Okay. Goodnight Chachu."
The door closed and once again Raghav was alone. He pulled out the picture and got into his bed. He looked at the picture and sighed. "I wish I could see you again Sia, even for just a bit." He whispered and placed a delicate kiss to where Sia was. He closed his eyes and dreamt about her, like he did every night that he could sleep.
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