The loud shrill of the baby echoed through the empty corridor of the hospital. He immediately stood up from the bench to run to the source of sound only to meet the doctor walking out.
"Doctor?" he asked hesitantly.
"Congratulations Mr. Khurana, it's a girl," the doctor announced, smiling.
His chest swelled in pride at her announcement but the next second a frown creased his forehead, "Geet?" he asked his question laced with worry.
"Your wife is doing absolutely fine and would like to meet you," she said. "Give us a few moments, we'll have the baby cleaned and you'll be good to go."
"Thank you," he said gratefully shaking her hand and thanking the lord for a safe delivery of his child and strode into the room to meet the woman who had captured his heart and soul. He walked into the room to be greeted by his exhausted but smiling wife. He smiled back, "Thank you Geet," he said kissing her forehead. She was about to say something when the nurse brought a little pink bundle into the room. They turned to receive their little angel and the nurse carefully placed the baby in Geet's waiting arms.
Geet steadied herself and cocooned the little one in her arms while he peeked at the tiny little rosy face sleeping peacefully with her eyes tightly shut. And that one look had given him a new meaning to life. He looked awed at the tiny life while a lone tear escaped from his eye to fall on Geet's hand. She looked up to see him staring at their daughter, almost dazed. She reached up to caress his cheek and smiled when he tore his eyes off their daughter. She moved a bit to give him room to settle down beside her and gestured him to take their baby. He eagerly put his hands forward to take her but quickly recoiled them. She looked at him in confusion, scrunching her eyebrows. He shook his head in the negative, fear evident in his eyes.
"Kya hua Maan?" she asked in confusion.
"Voh I'm scared Geet," he said hesitantly. "I don't know if I can hold her properly. Tum pakdo I'll just look," he offered looking back at his angel.
Maan reached forward to softly touch the baby's tender cheek when the baby slightly shook her legs as if on cue. They chuckled while Maan delicately held her little pink feet and reverentially placed them near his eyes and kissed them.
"Daddy!" a loud voice squeaked across a very quiet room filled with people who were intensely concentrating on the video presentation in front of them. Maan instantly stopped talking and his eyes grew wide in shock and anger. Who had dared interrupt him in the middle of his very important discussion? He glared furiously at Adhi who was sitting on to his right, nervously shifting in his chair. Before he could open his mouth, the voice called out again. "Daddy," her voice nearing him. His gaze shifted to look down at the most delicate pair of hands wrapping around his legs, her brown and silky hair bouncing with her every move. "I missed you," she said with a hint of pain in her voice. He looked around the room uncomfortably while the curious clients looked at the scene unfolding before them. He smiled nervously before hissing, "Adhi what's all this?" Before Adhi could concoct a comprehensible reply, he turned towards the crowd, "I am sorry ladies and gentlemen, I am going to call that a wrap and shall see you all tonight at the party," he said smiling. The people in the room reluctantly filed out dejected they couldn't get a whiff of the happenings.
Maan Singh Khurana, a name people shivered even to utter, was for the first time tongue-tied. Orphaned at a tender age of five and abandoned by his aunt in the slums of Bombay, grew with the only aim, to be successful. He managed to slough through his childhood doing odd jobs while getting some education through an orphanage that sponsored his studies. He had grown to become a ruthless and successful businessman gaining every material wealth in this world yet lacking any kind of emotion. His abhorrence towards women as a repercussion of his bitter childhood was well known to everyone so they hadn't dared to interfere. He stayed away from women rejecting them as mere creatures only fit to accompany the weak and even hated children for they were only annoying little twits who were good for nothing. And yet here was this child claiming to be his daughter. He was sure he was having a nightmare!
As soon as the people were out, Maan unbuckled her arms off his leg and stepped back, looking quite annoyed. Before he could give a piece of his mind, the little girl continued, "Daddy guess what? I sneaked out of school and mamma ko batana mat," she smiled cheekily. "You don't come back home early nowadays and I miss you lot," she offered an explanation to a confused Maan. She continued to chatter while Maan looked at her incredulously wondering if he was dreaming. His expression changed from shock to annoyance to finally anger as the little one continued to blabber on.
"Listen kiddo, who are you? And why are you calling me daddy?" he asked finally, scrunching his eyebrows.
"Are you angry on me daddy?" she asked her hazel orbs widening. He gave her a confused look. "How could you forget your little principesa* Riya? Are you kidding with me daddy?" she grinned knowing his tactics of fooling her.
"Do I look like I am kidding?" he scoffed. "Adhi! Yeh kya ho raha hai?" he growled looking around the room for his confidante but only to find it empty except for him and the little girl who claimed to be his daughter.
"Dadd'" she began only to be harshly interrupted by Maan.
"Stop the nonsense!" he hollered. "I am not your daddy! Do not call me daddy, samjhi tum?" he said shaking her a bit. A fat teardrop formed in the corner of her beautiful doe-shaped eyes. She stared back at him as the drop slid down her rosy cheek. "Samjhi?" he asked, as if the tear had no effect on him. She nodded her head reluctantly as she was unable to figure why her father was behaving strangely. He had never raised his voice at her and now he was literally venting his anger on her. She wondered where she had gone wrong.
Maan was sure this was a drama set to extract money from him and thus he wanted to end the drama before it even began. The girl looked earnest but he knew looks could be deceiving and he was not going to fall for those innocent looks. He shoved away any bits of sympathy residing in his heart before glaring at her. "Listen, we are going to find your mamma, until then go sit in the corner couch there," he ordered, without flinching a nerve.
"Please don't call mamma, I'll go back da'" she began only to cringe her shoulders in fear, "I'll go back to school," she whispered, her eyes cast down in sorrow and pain. Anybody seeing the plight of the child would have melted but Maan Singh Khurana didn't even bat an eye. Emotions were for the weak and nothing could melt his ironclad metal shield he had built around himself.
"Mohan!" he roared calling his driver. "I want you in my cabin in the next two minutes."
"Ji saab," Mohan replied meekly before rushing to fulfill his master's order or receive the pink slip.
"It's alright you don't have to call Mohan uncle, I'll go back myself," Riya whispered, pain and hurt evident in her voice.
Mohan uncle? Why was she addressing him as though she knew him for ages? His thoughts were interrupted with Mohan's entrance as he stood meekly, removing his cap. "Mohan, iss bacchi ko uski school main drop kardo," he commanded pointing to the cowering Riya.
Mohan turned to look and his face beamed. "Arre Riya bitiya!" he said forgetting he was standing in front of his boss. Maan was appalled and stared at the scene wondering if he missed the invitation for reality show drama. Riya looked up to Mohan and smiled weakly.
"You know her?" Maan asked surprised.
"Saab yeh aap'" he began enthusiastically but stopped suddenly as though lightning struck him. "Ji saab, yeh mera padausan ka mallik ki beti," he whispered.
Maan sensed something fishy but soon brushed it off. "Anyways, just do the job given," he dismissed before turning around to study the file at hand.
"Ayiye bitiya," Mohan called, filing out of the room.
Tears flowed freely from Riya's eyes, clouding her vision. Her daddy would always play around with her and never shout or make her cry. Even before a teardrop left her eye by chance, he would run to her aide but now he stood like a statue, unmoved by her pain and tears. As she saw her daddy bark orders to Mohan and refuse to recognize her, she knew something was wrong. She had sneaked out the school to catch a glimpse of her daddy, as it had been almost a year since she saw him or talked to him. Her mother had always found an excuse when she asked about her father citing business trip or meeting. They had even moved to a different house in a different part of the city as her mother had told their old home was under construction and her daddy was going to surprise her with a new room. But today's events seemed completely new and shocking for her. Her own father had shouted at her for addressing him daddy and had refused to recognize her. She followed Mohan like a zombie and the tears clouding her vision prevented her from seeing an obstruction on her way out causing her to trip. And as she was about to fall, she heard him scream.
"Riya!" Maan screamed lunging and catching her before she fell on the ground. "Are you alright?" he asked frantically checking to see any physical wounds. The lost sparkle in her eyes seemed to ignite seeing her daddy save her and she began to smile when he cleared his throat, "Can't you walk properly?" he asked icily, "look ahead and walk carefully." He turned her around and urged her to move forward almost shoving her away annoyed at his own caring action.
Maan had seen her walk away gingerly without another word, her shoulders slumped and her head down. But before she made her way out of the door, she tripped by the small table at the corner of the doorway. Almost instantly he lunged to catch her before she could hurt herself. His brain ceased to work as he went ahead to catch her, without his knowledge and anxiously began checking her face and arms for any visible wounds. As he turned her face side-to-side holding her chin, he saw the twinkle return in her eyes and her lips began to curve into a smile. It was then he realized his foolish act of panicking and chided himself. He hardly knew the girl yet he had mindlessly lunged to save her, if there was anybody worse than a fool, it would be him. Before the girl could read into his action as a gesture of kindness, he pushed her away.
Maan had got back to his work, pouring himself into the files and putting the incident behind. He chided Adhi for leaving him stranded with a strange child and yelled at the other staff members for digressing in their work and indulging in gossip.
The evening was fast approaching and he looked at his watch that showed it was nearly quarter to four. He had to leave early as he had a party in the evening and he had to finish some work back home. Maan left the office informing Adhi to report at the party to make sure everything was set right for the clients. He called Mohan to bring the car to the front while he exited the building. He slid into the seat as Mohan held the door for him and to his curiosity he saw something clinging to his waistcoat. He scrunched his eyebrows and narrowed his eyes to take a closer look only to find a greenish-red clip stuck to his waistcoat button. He wondered how the clip ended up with him when the morning events came rushing back. The familiarity of the clip that stemmed not only from today's event nagged some corner of his heart. Suppressing the emerging emotions, he put a straight face and asked, "Mohan did you leave that girl in the school in the morning?"
Mohan's eyes widened in fear before he fumbled, "Ji, voh saab."
Irritated by his wishy-washy answering, "Spit it out Mohan!" he commanded harshly.
"Voh saab, Riya bitiya ne zidd ki, ki use uss park mein chod dein," he spilled before looking fearfully at his boss.
"Kya!" Maan yelled, anger simmering through his bloody red eyes. "Mohan tume pata bhi hai tum kya keh rahe ho? Maine tumhe saaf saaf bataya ki uss bacchi ko school mein chod do, aur tum!"
"Magar saab ussne," he paused.
"Agar uss bacchi keh rahi thi toh tumhara dimaag kahan tha? Agar usse kuch hua toh?" he yelled on top of his lungs. "I cannot believe you would be so careless," he said gritting his teeth. "Abhi isi waqt uss park leke chalo jahaan tum chod ke aaye," he ordered, anxiety written over his face. Without another word Mohan slid into the driver seat and rushed to the park.
Maan's heart tugged at the thought of the little one in trouble but masked his compassion with anger for Mohan and the fact that he may land in unnecessary media attention in case the matter leaked. Throughout the ride he tightly clenched his fists secretly hoping the little girl was fine.
Mohan hurried through the busy streets of Delhi, not wanting to enrage his master anymore. He had insisted he would drop Riya in her school before her mother found she had sneaked out but that little girl was stubborn on her decision. It had not surprised Riya took after her father in her personal characteristics and the stubbornness gene had been royally passed down to her. No amount of cajoling worked and without an option he left her in her favorite park, few blocks away from her school, praying her mother would soon find her for it was common place where Riya visited with him.
The car drove to the outskirts of the park. Seeing the car halt, he thought he would get down only to find his boss through the rearview mirror deeply engrossed, worry etched on his face. "Saab,"he called softly, "hum pahunch gaye."
"Huh?" Maan broke out of his revere and looked out of the window as the park spanned the huge space through the wired gate. It oddly looked familiar yet nothing eminent flashed to remind him of this place. He got out of the car and walked slowly to the gate. He tried hard to scramble his brain to find why he found this park so familiar. It was nowhere enroute to his office or house. He definitely could not remember riding through this area even for the sites he had to visit yet he felt a sense of calm settle as he walked through the grassy pathway. He brushed away all the thoughts and began to look out for the girl. He looked around the common children's area only to not find her. Tiny tots were scattered around the playground area scuttling hither and thither, their peals of laughter echoing through the park. He scanned the crowd to find the face that had been quite evidently registered in his mind by now. "Damn it!" he cursed mentally. He walked towards a group of people chatting, asking whether they had seen a little girl with her backpack roaming alone through the park. Seeing them shrug their shoulders he rushed through the park, on his way enquiring about the little girl and describing her to the best of his abilities, hoping to locate her, but luck was not on his side. What was the need to get himself involved in searching for a strange child, his mind chided while his heart felt guilty for losing the little one. He coursed through the playground, around the lake, and even the little fountain on the north end of the park only to return empty handed. He clutched his temple before running his hand through his hair in frustration. He kicked sending a small stone flying across the lonely grassy patch and began walking into what seemed like a wooded area. He didn't realize he had gone quite far into the woods until he heard a faint sobbing. He quickly walked towards the noise and was surprised to find a clearing with a tree house and a small artificial stream to it's left. A large wooden bench lay right opposite to the tree house and the source of the sobbing also seemed to come from the same bench. He inched forward a familiar figure crouched in the corner of the bench and sobbing softly. A big wave of relief passed through him and he lunged forward crying, "Tumhe pata hai where all I searched for you?" He kneeled in front of the bench and touched her shoulder.
Riya slightly peeped through her fingers and her joy knew no bounds when she found him staring intently at her, worry creased on his forehead. "You found me da'" she began, her face lighting up with pure happiness only to be abruptly stopped as though she feared something. "Voh, voh," she stumbled in between her hiccups.
"Don't you dare scare me like this, samjhi?" he said a bit harshly, trying hard to mask his concern.
"J-ji," she stammered, shaking her head vigorously.
"Now get up and get moving. I shall drop you at your house and after I need to attend an important party," he said ushering Riya to get going.
"Party?" Riya wondered a bit loudly. "But you hate loud music and parties. And Mumma also hates those micro-minis who come and stick to you," she blurted forgetting her fear for the man who stood in front of her.
Maan stood rooted at her comment wondering how Riya knew he hated parties but the second half of her statement got him more curious. "Kya?" he asked.
"Nothing," she tried to brush away realizing he had heard her. She tried to pick her bag and struggled because the bag was heavy for her. Maan came forward to pick it up on her behalf and headed out of the clearing when he heard her speak again. "Nahi it's alright, aap chali jayiyega. Main, main hi chali jaungi," she said her voice nothing above than a whisper.
"Ab aur nahi, just come along will you," he resigned not wanting to go through another searching spree.
"Fine, I won't trouble you but just give me a minute I need to pick up something,"saying she rushed to climb the tree house. Before he could object Riya had climbed up the tree house and disappeared into it. It was a few moments before she emerged again but with a little package in her hand. She stood a few moments contemplating on how to get down with her hands holding package tightly. She tucked the package under her chin and holding the sides of the ladder she began to climb down slowly.
Maan held his breath watching her wobble a few times, trying to juggle the package along. He quickly went forward and stood near the ladder. "Riya stop right there," he ordered. "Don't you dare take another step; hold the package tightly and let go of the ladder, I shall catch you, okay?" he instructed her.
"But," she hesitated.
"Trust me Riya. I am here for you," he said calmly before positioning himself right beside the ladder and stretching his arms.
Riya seemed to hesitate for a few seconds but quickly shut her eyes and held the package tightly before letting go of the ladder. Forceful air rushed passed her as she clutched the package closer to herself. But before she knew it she felt herself being safely cocooned in his warm embrace as he held her delicate form in his hands. She still had her eyes shut tightly as he held her and looked with deep adoration. In trance he brought her closer and lightly kissed her forehead before whispering, "You are safe Riya."
Riya fluttered her eyes open and a slow smile spread across her face, as though she knew she would be safe. "Thank you da'" she began excitedly but soon changed it, "Thank you uncle," she said with great difficulty, her eyes portraying her deep felt pain when she uttered the last word. Maan noticed her ushered and low voice and felt something prick inside but he quickly put her down before he let his heart explore those feelings.
"Alright chalo," he said walking ahead. Riya ran to the bench and opened her bag to carefully put the package in. Then she followed Maan out of the clearing, through the park and finally into the car. "Where do you live?" he asked settling beside her in the car.
"Normally toh Khurana mansion mein magar mamma said my room is being reset toh me and mumma moved here. We stay two blocks away," she chirped away happily forgetting that the man she was speaking questioned her identity and character.
Maan looked at her incredulously and smirked thinking they had trained the kid well that she even lied perfectly. Not wanting to incite any further talks with the little one he asked the driver to take them to her house with the help of her directions. They reached the house and she asked the car to be parked a few houses behind so her mother wouldn't be mad at her. She got off the car thanking the driver and Maan while taking her backpack and inching towards her house. Somewhere he felt guilty for shoving away the kid but his mind screamed everything was farce and she was just acting. He waited for the girl to get inside the house before he headed back home but was surprised to find her come out of the gate and stand dejected. He wondered what might have happened and whether her mother might have punished her for coming home late. He asked Mohan to drive a little further near her house to see what had happened. She stood rooted to the place, her head hanging low as the car came to halt in front of her. He lowered his window glass, wanting to know what was happening.
"Mumma is not home yet. The house is locked," she explained her voice still low.
Maan cursed mentally frustrated at the turn of the events. Neither could he leave the child in the deserted road nor could he go searching for her mother. He was expected to attend the evening party, as all the delegates finalizing the deal would be present. He wanted to ask if she could stay over in the neighbor's house until her mother returned but bit it back for he didn't have the heart to leave her alone without her parent although his mind told him she was just an actor. He asked her to jump back into the car while asking Mohan to drive home.
"Hum kahan ja rahein hain?" she asked innocently as the car drove out of the locality into the main road.
"To my house. I need to change and get ready for the evening. We'll come back here right before I leave for the party and drop you home. Teekhai?" he said maintaining his rigid posture. Riya nodded and was about ask something but seeing his stern features she sat back quietly.
The drive back to Khurana mansion seemed to take a bit longer than usual because there was some major accident on their way home. Maan checked the time to see that he hardly had three hours to reach the party venue. Cursing his ill-luck he impatiently tapped the seat waiting for the traffic to clear. Meanwhile he heard a faint rumble; he turned around to find the source of the sound only to find none. Few seconds later grumbling was heard louder and this time clearly sourcing from the person sitting right next to him, Riya. He looked at her quizzically as she smiled sheepishly before confessing, "Voh it's my tummy. I didn't have anything since morning." He shook his head disapprovingly and clucking his tongue simultaneously. He then saw her eyeing the nearby gol gappa vendor hungrily. He knew he was strict and took no nonsense from anybody but he definitely was not inhuman to emotions such as hunger, especially a small child who was hungry.
"Tum kuch khaoge?" he asked her. Riya nodded her head incessantly before looking at the chat stall again. "Not that unhygienic food magar aur kuch," he said reading her mind.
"Pasta!" she exclaimed without second thought. That was his favorite too he thought but his thoughts were overtaken as he looked around to find a suitable place to eat. Eyeing the place he ordered his driver to let him know if the traffic cleared while Riya and him went to pick up something to eat. He headed towards a little restaurant on the corner of the road with Riya following him while he held her hand tightly. People eyed him curiously as he walked with the child in the midst of traffic. Ignoring them, he managed to reach the restaurant earning a mild gasp from the people in it. He saw them whispering at his arrival and looked around to see what might have ignited such crude whisperings when he realized he was holding Riya by the hand and guiding her. He knew, Maan Singh Khurana, a man who kept himself away from women was holding a child could turn a few heads and hoped there was no media to give him unnecessary headaches. Not wanting to take any risk he stopped and turned around, pulling Riya into the corner of the restaurant so that they were away from the prying eyes.
"Do me a favor and stay here while I go pick up a sandwich for you, alright?" he said shoving her into the dark corner of the restaurant before hurrying to order something to go. Riya stood puzzled at his sudden change attitude and tried to hold on to him tighter. But he just shrugged her off and went away without a second glance. The corner was a bit dark and shady so she stood silently hugging herself as time ticked by.
Meanwhile Maan ordered a small sandwich and stood waiting for the order when he received a call from his client. Forgetting everything he stood immersed in his call while an hour passed by. He finally finished the call to see the waiter had left the package on the table. "Oh shit!" he cursed realizing he had forgotten the purpose of his visit to this restaurant and grabbed the package while making his way to the little dark corner where he had left Riya. Reaching the place he heard loud sobs, panicking the worst he rushed to find her crouched and shaking uncontrollably. "Riya!" he called hoping to calm her only to find her look at him and cry more loudly before recoiling into a fetal position. "Riya are alright? Kya hua?" he asked worried.
"Mu- mujjhe andere se darr hai. Aur aur aap mmujjhe akele chod ke gaye," she stammered to complete in between her sobs and hiccups. "Where were all this while?"
God he had completely forgotten about her while he was on call! Ugh! How he wished he could have been a little aware of what was happening around him. "Voh I, I am sorry. I got a call and I forgot everything," he apologized. She only continued to sob more loudly. He was already facing enough problems in the office front on top of that getting this child home safely took a toll on his already high temper and he shouted, "Chup! Bilkul chup! I told you I am sorry. Now get and get going I have to attend a very important business party," he ordered sternly.
Riya quickly swallowed her sobs and looked at him with her eyes wide. Her daddy definitely knew about her being afraid of the dark but the man in front of her seemed oblivious to that fact and on top of that shouted at her. She wondered what had gone wrong with her daddy today; since morning he was acting weird and even shoved her away as though she was never his little princess. Unable to take the pain anymore she quietly followed him to car that was waiting for them at the front.
The ride back to Khurana mansion was a quiet one, as Maan seemed peeved while Riya looked out the window. He had shoved the food packet into her hand but didn't bother to check if she ate or not. On the other hand even she didn't touch it. They reached mansion and Maan hurriedly got out in order to get ready for he had hardly any time, leaving Riya behind without any word. She still shrank back in her seat unable to voice her pain.
"Chalo Mohan, we are terribly late," Maan said getting into the car backseat. Only then did he realize Riya was still glued to her seat, looking away from him, her food packet still untouched. "Oh by the way, I don't know why I didn't think of this before but here," he said jutting his cell phone in her hands, "call your mother." Riya simply took the phone dialed her mother's number only to find nobody was picking up her call. She tried again to find the same response so she looked at Maan with a forlorn expression. "Kya hua?" he asked.
"She isn't picking up the phone," he whispered.
"Very convenient," he said shaking his head before taking the phone from her with an exasperated sigh. They had reached Riya's house but still found it locked. "Nice," he remarked sarcastically, "I guess your parents have planned perfectly to let their kid stray into other's lives while they left to enjoy on their own."
Riya had not said a word when Maan had scolded her or commented about her but hearing him speak ill of her daddy and mumma had her blood boiling. Her daddy never spoke ill of anybody and here this man was tearing her parents apart. This definitely could not be her sweet daddy who would bend the world and bring it to her feet at her mere nod. Moreover, she was a Khurana by birth and anger, ego, pride, and self-respect ran through her blood too. "Stop it!" she said, her voice reaching the high octave. "If you keep my parents out of this conversation it would be good," she said icily. "Your job is done here so please carry on with your work," she said without hesitation and got down pulling the bag along with her. She went to quietly sit on the steps without a word.
"Chalo Mohan, do you need any special invitation,"
Maan barked at the turn of the events. He never expected her to reply back to him so her reply shook him a bit. Frustrated a mere child spoke back to him he growled at Mohan, wanting to get out of her presence as soon as possible.
Edited by Maaneet099 - 06 October 2014 at 8:27am