Ria was treading on eggshells when Gaurav was around. Her anxiety had touched the ceiling in these two days and she had been extra clumsy when Gaurav was at home. For instance, last night at dinner she had dropped the serving ladle four times throughout and just couldn’t ingest a single morsel with his hawk eyes trained on her, watching her every tiny bit of movement and expression. She had added extra spoons of sugar to her coffee which she had prepared post dinner… and had to discard it. This morning she had startled as she had heard him enter the drawing room for breakfast and had dropped the ceramic cup and saucer unit on the table spilling the hot coffee on the parathas kept for him. He hadn’t said a word and just walked back into his room. He had left for office soon without the breakfast and she had texted Karuna to see that he took it in office. Her guilt weighed her down so terribly it was getting directly proportional to her apprehensiveness… and that had risen to epic proportions. Gaurav too wasn’t his normal self and barely spoke to her in the last two days. They had dinner together and retired to their respective rooms after he got back from work. Keith too was behaving strangely quiet. She tried making small talk with him but he barely responded. She missed Gaurav terribly but she also missed her camaraderie with Keith. What was brewing here?
Today she was to meet the lady in the mall. After Gaurav left for work, she told Keith about visiting the mall for shopping. He however only nodded and returned back to his cooking. Ria wanted to shake him and make him talk to her but currently she had other priorities so she just sighed and went back to her room. She was very anxious about hearing so-called secrets about her husband though this time, she was better prepared. Somehow, she was not ready to accept that he was some low life criminal. She had known him enough for what felt like a lifetime. Irrespective of his mood swings she couldn’t believe he would be even remotely violent…let alone kill someone in cold blood.
She had made up her mind. She trusted him wholeheartedly, irrespective of the contrary evidence she found today. She hoped she could prevent anything untoward happening to him. She loved him too much to be a bystander as he got caught in any kind of judicial whirlwind. She had to know the enemy well before she could do something for him.
Keith drove her to the mall by 10.30A and she shopped at a ceramic store for replacing the crockery she had broken… while being vigilant about Keith’s location. He always followed them even when she was with Gaurav, but she could never see him. However, the last time she had been out with Preeti to help her with her wedding shopping, she had seen him stealthily watching them from behind the newspaper as he had tried to camouflage himself in the crowd. Even last week when she had been to the local hardware store to select the tiles for her center, she had seen him check out the perimeter and make himself invisible but then she had known his position immediately… She chuckled holding the intricately designed cup towards the light pretending to check it out as she saw Keith standing behind the large panel right outside the shop. She was getting good at this!
At 11AM sharp she sat in the last corner table as told in the message. She took out her novel and pretended reading it as she sipped her fresh lime soda. She knew Keith was somewhere around watching her… but this time though she felt his eyes on her she couldn’t make him out and she didn’t want to call for attention. She tried to act casual though she was a bundle of nerves inside. Just like the lady had messaged, the small restobar got filled with student crowd. Only the seat across hers was available for the shaky old lady who walked in wearing a green gown, with a huge bag in one hand and a walking sick in the other. She looked around as if searching for a seat and then came up to her.
“Hello dear…” the lady spoke in a shaky voice. “…may I sit here?” She gestured to the empty seat across Ria.
“Yes sure…” Ria spoke softly. She tried to keep her expression as neutral as possible.
The old lady…at least that’s what she looked like… pretended to glance on the menu. She had placed her bag on the outer edge of the table. She held the menu card with her right hand and slowly put out her left hand ahead. It had a packet. It was concealed by the Menu card on the top and a huge bag on the left. No one would have noticed. Ria shifted her book to her right hand and bent forward. She slowly took the packet from the lady and slipped it into her bag kept beside her on her seat. She then continued to sip her soda. The old lady had ordered tea and sandwich and gestured as though offering Ria. To anyone else watching them it would have looked like two strangers being cordial to one another.
Ria nodded and accepted a small sandwich part. As she ate the old lady spoke gesturing around as if she was talking about the weather.
“My… name is Sujata Chaudhry. The packet contains proof about the kind of a monster he is. He had lured my sister, married her, and then she got pregnant. But he had a roving eye and often cheated on her. She went into depression and soon became a liability for him. He killed her… actually burnt her alive…. She was six months pregnant with their child. …” The lady sighed to control her emotions. “…. We had a witness to the heinous crime. Everything fell into place and Gaurav was to go away for a long time… but fate had other ideas. The witness tuned hostile all of a sudden and refused to complete his testimony. He was dismissed and Gaurav’s lawyers spun the case around in his favor. He spent only six goddamn months in prison… But Ria… you have a sister too… so you will understand these emotions… he… that man…he deserves to rot in hell for what he did to my sister. My father had died long ago and mother died with the shock of my sister’s death. I became an orphan overnight….” she wiped her tears and pretended to laugh as though telling a joke. Ria was shocked to hear everything but pretended to smile…if she had thought keeping up the pretense before Gaurav was tough this took the prize. And this woman knew about her… everything about her… how come…?
The lady continued. “…. when that man was acquitted, I made it my life’s ambition to find ways to punish him. I moved to Pune last year. I had a business in Dubai which I had to wind up. I couldn’t stay there anymore…. My sister was an innocent …just like you. She fell for the wrong guy and paid with her life. I don’t want that happening to you… She was convenient for Gaurav, his Casanova lifestyle and whatever crap he was into. What he didn’t expect was for her to get inquisitive about his…er… extra marital activities. My sister would call mom and cry for hours on the phone… about the ways he would torture her. My mom would tell her to stay in the marriage, to hang on. Marriage was sacred she used to say… I wish my sister had told me… I would have gotten her divorced. At least she would be alive. Her pregnancy was the last straw. Her torture increased. She stopped meeting us altogether. And then….one day a neighbor called us about smoke coming out of their house. She was dead before we knew it. Charred beyond recognition… we lost her…”
Ria had seen the pictures. She nodded and just then her phone buzzed. It was a private number… It was either Gaurav or her uncle and she was in no mood to speak with either of them…. She couldn’t show her weakness now. She disconnected the call and checked the time. It was over an hour in the mall now and Keith would get suspicious. Ria rose and shook hands with the old lady. “…I…um… I have to leave now… its getting late…” The lady nodded in understanding.
Ria was quiet on the ride home and Keith didn’t speak either. She came home and shut herself in her room opening the packet given to her by the lady. It had similar articles and photos like in the pen drive. All evidence available pointed to Gaurav’s role in murdering his wife…. She immediately hid them in the corner of the drawer in her wardrobe.
Somehow… Ria was not convinced and her intuition told her the real story was something totally different. The lady who acted weird didn’t mention anything about the recent court case…. But she knew a lot of Ria’s personal information… it was clear she was fed the information. But who would do it? Sujata would have surely followed the court case…. Ria had always known Gaurav was framed in the recent case and she had always known there was a lot more than what was projected. Swara too now seemed like a pawn and the poor woman was dead… or was she killed…? Sujata may be accusing Gaurav because she had lost her sister. It was way too personal. But her uncle…. why would he blame Gaurav? Her uncle never spoke anything without being sure about it. Ria was getting a headache… She wanted this to be a bad dream…
Her mobile pinged with an incoming message. It was from Sujata.
‘Nice to meet you dear. I hope you saw the evidence. Leave that man. He doesn’t deserve you. I worry about you dear. Take care.’
Ria didn’t want to reply to her. She ignored the message and was lost in thought. Once again, her mobile buzzed with an incoming message. It was Sujata again.
“If you need any help to leave that bastard, let me know. I will arrange what is necessary. We have to take our revenge…. Get whatever you can lay your hands on. Any file, folders, pen drives…anything. Call me soon.”
The incongruity of the situation intrigued her. She was now surer than ever of Gaurav’s innocence all those years ago. She found so many loopholes in the stories mentioned in the articles, she wondered why her uncle didn’t catch them. Maybe his judgment was clouded by his love for his niece. But her verdict was further tilting in Gaurav’s favor…was it because she loved him? No, it was more than that. She believed in him.
She had made her decision, once for all…
That evening Ria prepared Gaurav’s favorite dinner of paneer butter masala and naan, as an amused Keith looked on. She wanted to break the ice and talk to Gaurav today… actually talk. She wanted him to trust her…to be able to tell her about his past. But most of all she wanted to come clean about what she had been shown and told. She was worried for his safety and wanted to warn him about the possible danger…
Gaurav came home earlier than usual looking very exhausted. He only nodded at Keith who couldn’t wait to leave as soon as he arrived. What the hell…? Ria smiled at him and went to the kitchen to heat up the dinner and then got busy laying the table and his favorite spread, while he was in his room freshening up. She looked up and saw him standing across the table in his polo neck t shirt and black trackpants, staring at her with a blank expression….but the pandemonium in his eyes not hidden from her. She forced a smile and said, ” Um… why don’t we have dinner…I have…prepared your favorite paneer….”
“…I am NOT hungry Ria. I don’t want anything….” He abruptly stopped her mid-sentence and picking up a water bottle, started walking towards his room.
Ria ran on the other side of the table and held his hand to stop him. “…wa…Wait….Gaurav… please …don’t do this…”
He shook her hand off. “…Don’t do what Ria?” He stared her down.
Ria was an emotional wreck for a while now and she wasn’t able to take it anymore. “P… please have your dinner… ” she whispered.
“…or what? You will complain to uncle dearest or…wait a minute…to the CBI…?” He said with a stern voice and hands on his hips. Though his tone was of anger his eyes were full of hurt. Then before she could say anything he continued, “…oh no …no…wait… you have other well-wishers, too… namely Miss Sujata Chaudhry sister of Mrs. Shilpi Chaudhry-Chopra. So… did she give you some special tips…? How to live with a monster of a husband or even better… send him to jail…?” He was breathing heavily and his hand fisted in his sides.
Ria closed her eyes. So, he knew about her uncle and her meeting with Sujata. She whispered, “…That’s…that’s not fair…”
“You know whatis not fair Ria…?” He spoke suddenly startling her. “…Getting conned into a marriage is not fair… Getting cheated by your spouse is not fair….” He started walking closer towards her. “…Losing your career for which you have slogged your guts out is not fair… Losing your family’s trust in spite of your innocence is not fair…” He came even closer, almost touching her and she hit the wall behind. He spoke with emotion clogging his throat, “… Spending time… in prison… for NO fault of yours is… not fair. Being looked down with contempt…. blasphemed all the time… again, for NO fucking fault of yours is NOT FAIR...” His voice broke as he kept his hands on the wall on either side of her face and bent down till, he was so close she could feel his breath. She closed her eyes. He whispered. “…and… not being trusted by the… by the woman you love more than life itself….is JUST NOT FAIR…”
He loved her… oh God Almighty… finally…
As his words sank in she was beginning to savor the moment …when she felt wetness on her cheeks. She immediately opened her eyes and saw that he had bent his head hunched over her and was crying with his eyes closed. That broke her heart so much and she lifted her hands to cup his cheeks. He opened his eyes and abruptly moved back as if jolted out of his reverie. Her hands dropped to her sides. He was breathing heavily and turned his back towards her.
She knew it was now or never. “…I never ever doubted you Gaurav…” she said loud enough for him to hear. “…But…I need to know the truth. The real truth… about the man I love, greatly respect and believe in…”
He abruptly turned around. “…What…what did you just say…?”
Ria went up to him and cupped his face and this time he didn’t move away. “…Gaurav…in case it hasn’t been obvious all this time…I just said, I… love you. We all have our baggage Gaurav… But I trust you enough…. that you will tell me about your past someday… Your story, your truth… I will wait for that…”
Gaurav slammed his mouth on hers and kissed her hard. It was as if he was unleashing pent up emotion in that kiss. She was overwhelmed too and put her arms around his neck and kissed him back. After what seemed like an eternity, he lifted his head up and hugged her. He kissed her head. They stood like that for a while. He then held her at an arm’s length and said, “…uh…Ria…I…I don’t deserve you… but… but it killed me to think that you …would leave me….”
Ria shut him by keeping a finger on his lips. With tears she said, “I am NOT going anywhere…even if you push me away. This marriage… this has always been real for me…. I …I… love you. With all my heart…”
He held her hand and pulled her to him.
“…I love you too darling…always have…tried not to… but…I find myself in you… I love you so much it hurts…” He kissed her again. But this time it was gentle. He lifted her as he continued to kiss and took her towards his bedroom. He dropped her on the bed but didn’t take off her clothes. He just released her salwar and tore off her panties. He opened his trouser, freed his cock. He positioned himself above her. Seeing his intensity Ria was so overwhelmed she closed her eyes reveling in the moment. She too needed this, so much like her next breath…
“…Open your eyes Ria… I want to watch those beautiful almonds when you come”. She almost climaxed just hearing those words. Before she thought about anything, he slammed into her and went still. His face was contorted as he looked at her. He slid out and slammed in again and again…. grunting with some kind of raw energy. Finally, she came with a loud cry and he emptied himself into her as he screamed out hoarsely …”…I-LOVE-YOU-RIIAAA…”. He fell on top of her and she held him tightly to her not wanting to let him go.
As they came down from their pinnacle, he lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. She lay in his arms on her side facing him and drawing patterns on his shirt.
“…Ria…” he uttered softly.
“Hmm…?” she was too satiated to say anything.
“…I …I want to…tell you everything…uh… about my past…” He said.
She raised herself on her elbow to look at him. “You don’t have to tell me anything now if it troubles you…. You take your time… but just remember…I love you…all of you. Your past will not change anything…“
He sat up straight. He stood and went towards his bedroom window.
“No Ria… you are my wife…. My best friend… my li…life… Your trust means the world to me. It’s…just that…. I am a package. My past is ugly…I… I am… ugly. You may not like what you hear and…see. But….but…its time…I think you should know. …” He turned towards her and without giving an eye contact he continued, “…If…if…if you chose to le..le..leave me…. I won’t stop you….” He sighed and started pacing slowly.
Ria sat still waiting for his turmoil to boil and overflow… he needed his space too to vent out and she was giving his just that…
Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dead or any community is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.