Two years later
Padma rushed to reach her school building. She was running late today… like she usually did these days. As her car turned towards the main gate she saw Seema waiting as usual. She smiled at the newly married woman whose cheeks turned red at every mention of her new husband, Keshav. They were married last month and Keshav had plunged into the Royal treasury-related work while Seema had continued to dedicate herself to Padma’s residential school.
The massive buiding was built in mere six months, mainly because of the support of the people from their province and Koini and surrounding talukas. It was already houseful and the new construction of the additional building was in full force. The state government and local agencies too had come out in support of the initiative and Padma could never be happier. She had also got her mother’s charitable hospital remodelled and it now boasted of state of art facilities.
Padma had achieved all this in a little over a year and managed an infant who was now almost a toddler. Her son, Kartik. Shiv and her son…
Shiv… the very remembrance brought tears flooding so she tried to push his memories into the subconcious. But one look at Kartik, a miniature version of his father, and it all gushed back.
Padma sighed as she handed over Kartik to Seema, who had taken a strong liking for the kiddo, who in turn returned the favour! There was a small play unit for the children of the staff involved so thry could focus on their work without having to worry about their little children. Padma had seen to it that the play unit had an extended daycare center. Kartik loved his time there…
Padma kept herself occupied throughout the day and Kartik kept her busy but the nights were torturous. Her thoughts and dreams were filled with Shiv. Where was he? Did he even remember her?
As she sat on her office chair she stared at her name plate on her mahogany desk.
Ms. Padmavati Raje, Principal.
She looked up at her mother’s garlanded photo frame.
“Aai… our dream has come true. A lot more girls have enrolled in our school than our expectations. And by the way… the Archeological Society of India has given us the go-ahead for the fort restoration. So, just as you had envisioned, the fort will be done thoroughly and the Idol of Maa Bhavani will be reinstated with complete rituals…”
She sighed as she remembered the turn of events in the last two years…
She had woken up to an empty infirmary room and though Seema kept coming in on and off to keep her company, she had already known Shiv had gone. The void in her heart had remeined ever since.
She resumed the final walk of her studies and went through her fieldwork in auto pilot. The days were spent getting the papers for the school building construction, ready and going to different government offices for the needed permissions. The King used his influence and the work was done faster than ever. She then got busy in the other detailing and Seema, and many others had joined her in her endeavors. Keshav helped her a lot and she was witness to the romance blossoming further between Seema and Keshav. She tried her best to convince Chitnes kaka and her father and eventually succeeded.
A couple of months after Shiv had left, Padma felt dizzy at her field work and extremely nauseating. She attributed it all to her hectic lifestyle till she realized she had missed her cycle. She couldn’t even remember when she had it last…
Her fears came true when she saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy kit. The King was upset but left the decision to her.
A month later, she declared she didn’t want to become the Queen or be a part of the Royal household. To her surprise, the King and the Royal court didn’t force her to change her decision. In fact she was now much closer to her baba who made it a point to visit her every evening. She took up residence close to the Palace. Seema moved in with her to take care of her during her morning sickness and rest of the pregnancy and she was only too grateful. She knew the baby was conceived on the night Shiv had come to deliver her locket.
The King had apologized to her about sending Shiv away.
“My darling, it was for your good. That man had no future. His father was a great man but never there for him. He has been through a lot in the Army and special ops… He wasn’t the right man for you, my child…” her baba had once told her during their meets when she was through her first trimester. “…But then watching you pine for him makes me question my decision…. I have tried dear… tried to contact him. But he seems to have disappeared… but my dear, if he loves you, he will come back for you. So just hang in there and we are all there for you…”
Padma had waited ever since.
Bhosale kaka, she now knew as her biological father, met her once to apologise. “My wife told Aarti everything when she was barely three and when we were struggling a bit financially. We couldn’t have anymore children too. I didn’t know this would impact Aarti…particularly after my wife passed away soon after. Then Majumdar took advantage of that and she tried to kill her older sister…I am so sorry…”
Padma had forgiven Aarti despite everything. Aarti was in a mental asylum, seeking treatment for Bipolar disorder way up north and Bhosale kaka had left the court to be close to Aarti to take care of her.
The new political atmosphere was conducive to development in Koini, and Majumdar’s cronies were all behind bars. Shiv had left his original house keys for her and transferred the property in her name. She often visited Koini to take care of the house and the luscious mango orchard that she nurtured. It was after all…the same place where she had first met Shiv.
She spent a long time in the groves on the weekends with Kartik. He had just begun to walk steadily a couple of months ago and loved the grove. He attempted to hold the trunk of the trees and stand steadily in an attempt to climb them and would then plop on the muddy ground. He would then turn back and look at Padma guiltily smiling his cherubic grin.
Padma would often blink back tears because Kartik reminded of Shiv smiling at her with his eyes full of love.
Would Shiv ever be back?
The chiming of the clock brought her back to the present.
Padma blinked back tears and spent the rest of the day engrossed in paperwork regarding the new building and the latest sports arena she had planned for the girls. Her main focus was self defense training for young girls. There was a file full of new applications already for the new building.
Her alarm rang a little before 6PM and she knew why she had set it for today. Seema walked in with a squirming Kartik.
“Are you sure Padma di? Do you want me to keep Kartik with me?” Seema asked
“No.. Seema. Kartik needs to go. Its important. And we have to do this alone. Its fine…” Padma began to pack her things.
She put a sleepy Kartik on the car seat and drove her way to Shiv’s home in Koini. As per her instructions the compound outside the house had been cleaned and the reconstruction of the house was also through. She laid Kartik on the bed and walked into the kitchen. She cooked a simple meal of Khichidi and placed it in a plate before the photo frame of Maa Bhavani. She has specially commissioned the frame. It was a simple sparkle-coated lami frame enclosing the beautiful picture of Maa. Tuja Bhavani.
It was Shiv’s mother’s death anniversary today. Padma also placed a box with a single anklet.
“Hey Maa, Please accept my prayers, and I hope her soul rests in peace….I don’t have any of her pictures except for this anklet that belonged to her.”
She joined her hands and blinked back tears. Shiv had mentioned his mother who was murdered but it was made to look like suicide. He never spoke anything else but now that Padma was a mother herself, she understood the emotion involved. She couldn’t bear to stay away from Kartik. Even a common cold would keep her awake for nights.
A few hours later she put Kartik to bed after dinner and sat outside on the stairs leading to the house. A string of lights lit up the path to the outer perimeter, where she had grown bushes filled with marigold. She sat leaning against the outer pillar and was soon fast asleep.
A little later some noise woke her up and she sat up to see a jeep halt at the entrance of the compound. She stood up, dusting her clothes and wondered if she had to rush and pick Kartik, but then the driver got out and began walking towards her. In the headlights, she first saw his silhouette and her heart began to pace wildly… As he reached the compound the lights fell on his facial contours, and she bent forward on her knees, trying to breathe.
Tears fell unhindered as she heard him rush towards her…
She almost fell off the stairs but he held her, pulling her up close to him. He hugged her tightly as she cried her lungs out. Two years of pent-up emotions made their way out, threatening to drown everything around her in its wake.
She inhaled his Vanilla fragrance as he patted her back.
“Princess…my darling… please don’t cry…” his voice cracked and she looked up to see his eyes with unshed tears glistening in the lights she had newly installed.
“I… am no longer a Princess, Shiv. I am just…Padma. Shiv’s Padma…”
His tears fell as he closed the gap between their lips. He kissed her like he was starved for days and she was his first plate of food. Their arms were all over each other, and he lifted her taking her inside the house.
Right then, Kartik woke up and began to cry, startling Shiv. Padma chuckled and held his hand, dragging him along to where Kartik sat up puzzled and cried even more as he saw he was getting attention.
“Shiv… meet our son, Kartik…” She declared as she walked towards the bed and lifted the crying boy.
She saw Shiv staring at them as if in a daze with tears streaming down his face.
“So… it was all true… there was a child…My child… my son…” Shiv uttered hoarsely.
“What?” Padma was confused.
Shaking his head, Shiv walked toward them and held up his trembling hands. Kartik stared wide-eyed and looked back at Padma.
“Kartik, baby… it’s Papa… would you say hello?”
Kartik smiled and waved. Shiv tickled him, and Kartik jumped into his waiting arms in a couple of minutes, nuzzling his sleepy head against Shadow’s stubble.
Padma chuckled at the similarity between the mother and son. They both loved Shiv’s stubble!
Kartik slept a few minutes later, and Padma helped Shiv place the baby in the bed. He hugged her as they stood watching their creation sleep without a care in the world.
A little later, she took him towards the photo frame of the Goddess, and he sighed.
“You remembered…?” he whispered.
“Yes… I did. Since the house was ready, I thought she should get her due…”
Shiv turned and hugged her bursting into tears.
She held him rubbing his back, and found herself crying too. “Shiv… its ok…she knows…”
He held her away and grasped her shoulders. “Padma… I am sorry I was away… you had to do all this alone… but thank you. Thank you for bringing Kartik into this world…I… I have something for you…”
He opened his backpack and removed a pouch. Then, drawing out an anklet, he held it up.
“This belonged to my mother… her only possession with me… I wanted to propose to you and found nothing personal to give you….” He went on his knee and said, “…Padma, for what I have put you through, I don’t deserve you. But I can’t live without you anymore… will you marry me?”
She smiled and rubbed her eyes.
“Yes Shiv… I will. And there is something I have to show you.” She walked towards her bag and took out the box she had earlier placed before the Goddess’s frame. Then, she took out the other anklet even as he appeared stunned.
“Shiv, my mother had taken this with her that day years ago. She said she didn’t want your mother’s name to be tainted. So I had taken it after she passed along with a few other items from her chamber because this reminded me of the young boy crying alone in the grove when his mother died.
Shiv helped her wear the anklets.
Later as they lay satiated, staring at the dark ceiling, Shiv held her close and kissed her forehead.
“Padma… I am back for good.”
“I know, Shiv. I knew you would be back… but where were you these two years and why didn’t you keep in touch…?” She fought back the tears.
His hold got tighter as he said, “Padma I had to become worthy of you. I got back to the field for a year and then officially retired. I then put my plan into action, and I am all set to open my own security service. Manav, Avinash and Anandi will be joining me eventually. They are all completing their last missions as we talk.”
“Wow… really?” Suddenly the two year old turmoil was washed away.
“And I had my eyes on you… after initial months. I was told you were seen with a child and I couldn’t belive my ears… I only hoped it was mine, Padma and … I can’t even express what this means to me…”
She pulled him closer. “Shiv… this is real. You me and Kartik. We are a family… got it? So what are your plans now?”
He chuckled as she changed the topic.
“Yes, my darling… I have registered the name Special Protection Services where we will cater to bodyguard requirements across the country and abroad if needed. In addition, I have mobilised men and women from across the country who would be interested in taking up assignments…”
As he continued to tell her about his plans, Padma’s heart swelled. How much she loved this man.
“…And Princess…there is something very important I have to tell you…”
“I am not a Princess anymore…”
“To me, you will always remain my Princess.” He kissed her deeply and under the flickering rays of the crescent moon peeping through the window, he continued. “…I love you, darling… I love you so much, both you and our boy…I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you…”
They kissed and went ahead to cover up for the time lost.
Later as Shiv slept, Padma looked at his face and smiled… she was glad to have her family complete.
Here was the man who had stolen her heart ever since she was a little girl.. he was her man… her bodyguard.