Gaurav’s revolving chair creaked as he relaxed into it and Ria looked back at him… again. She could still feel the tension between them and decided to take charge of the conversation. They were stuck here the awkward silence stretching long enough to rile her emotions and it was time for some answers. “Um sir… I had a question for you. May I… ask?”
He kept looking at her with that perennial frown. He slowly nodded once; at least she thought he did.
“Ok… why do you hate my work so much? Or is it me?” She raised her voice as she remembered those long working hours and the mental stress she had been put through last month. “… I know my work… was not bad at all. In fact, some reports were outstanding, if I have to recall my training in college. If my work was substandard or unsatisfactory, I would not have been offered the promotion to my current position…. So I want to know what the problem is here. Maybe… I can …rectify it…” She had lost steam by the end of her tirade, her throbbing leg and pounding head not helping. Gaurav kept staring at her as if she had grown two horns. Probably the entitled man didn’t like to be questioned but he was in for a surprise… because she had had enough too…
He didn’t say anything for a while just gave her a look devoid of expressions. Suddenly, he stood up and went towards the window. For what seemed like an eternity he kept looking outside the slight opening with hands in his pockets. Ria looked at his taut back and wondered if she had bitten more than she could chew all that act of bravery suddenly losing its sheen. She probably shouldn’t have taken up the topic but then there was no other option if she had to confront him. Slowly he turned around from the window and sighed as he sat on his chair. He looked at her with an expressionless face. “I only wanted you to raise the bar. I wanted you to be an example for others …to motivate them to work hard.” He then looked away.
Ria was angry now, the events of the past ten hours or so not helping to stop the underlying subdued emotions from surging their way upwards. The molten lava simmering in her heart couldn’t be held any longer. She slowly removed the blanket and kept her leg down, panting with the miniscule effort. Holding the arm rest of her chair and using the table for support she stood up on the wobbly leg. Gaurav immediately stood up to support her but she held up her palm in front of her and he abruptly stopped.
“With due respect, Sir… You have been unfair with me right from the day I joined your organisation… be it my decisions or proposal…just anything… you shot down the idea only because I was involved. You have acted tyrannically with me for the entire last month and made my life a living hell… All this… just to MOTIVATE other workers? Do I… do I look like a fool to you? Do you even know… what I have gone through?” She was so clogged with emotion that she couldn’t speak anymore even as the hot tears streamed down her cheeks. Her recent past swam before her and before she realized, the dam burst threatening to drown everyone around her. She just seemed to lose control of both her life and her emotions. Everything was just slipping away like the sand held in the palms and she was a mere spectator. She had enough of the taunts for no fault of hers… her parents giving her the time of the day for not being appealing enough to their close relatives, her stupid fiance who had stooped to new lows every time they had a conversation and her boss who left no stone unturned to make her like a living hell. She just sobbed clenching her chest… like never before in her life. The sorrows bubbled up drowning all her defensive control barriers in their wake.
She didn’t know who made the first move but in the next instant she was in his arms. But unlike Vikram… she didn’t flinch at his touch…it seemed comforting. circling her hands around his neck, she buried her face in his chest and cried. She cried for her inability to stand up against her parents, inability to face her sister’s and relatives’ bullying with confidence, inability to connect with Vikram, inability to oppose her exploitation, as she called it, at work and most of all… her inability to control her feelings towards this man holding her… in spite of the pain he had inflicted on her tender heart. He kept lightly kissing her head as he caressed her back with one hand while he held her with the other. She breathed in his cologne… she had always loved the fragrance whenever she entered his cabin at work and even earlier she had found traces in his coat as well. She realised she had gripped his shirt.
No…she couldn’t crumble down in this manner, she was a strong young woman…her thatha always said. She stopped her crying bout still holding his shirt lapels, deeply inhaled and sighed. She realised she had been leaning onto him because of her foot and felt mortified… mainly because she was loving it. Oh… God did she cross her boundaries? She still held his shirt and looked up into his beautiful stormy black orbs, his face etched with a concern she had never seen before. Right then she felt something prodding at her stomach… Was that…what she thought it was? As if reading her thoughts, he quickly released her, still holding her arms. He seemed shocked as he looked at her wide eyed. She balanced herself on the table as he left her arms.
“Fuck…” He swore shaking his head. He moved away rubbing a hand over his face and walked out of the room…
Ria held his coat closer and inhaled the traces of his cologne as she sat on his chair… it gave her a strange sense of warmth and comfort. She was back to reality after that outburst moments ago, she didn’t know what triggered it but it was more than her injury and being held up overnight in this place with her boss. Gradually the gravity of the situation started dawning on her. She couldn’t even stand for two whole minutes… how could she manage alone at home…? In fact how would she reach home in this condition? Her gown was torn… it was literally in rags. Oh God Preeti would be furious. The gown must have cost a fortune… Would Preeti or Tusshar or any one of them even bother if she was fine? Didn’t they miss her when they travelled in their vehicles back home? Were they so intoxicated not to care? Her eyes filled…. The thought that they would have left her back on purpose also passed her mind. Why? What was her fault? That she was exceptionally good at her work? That she needed this job desperately enough that she tolerated crap from the bossman… She hadn’t asked for the promotion, had she?
She still remembered overhearing a conversation in the hospital three weeks ago. She had gone to the store room which was near the cafeteria, to check some old files. She had closed the door accidentally instead of leaving it open and without bothering she had continued with her search. It was then she had overheard the biggest hospital gossip Sudhir talking to someone. They probably had taken a break from the NICU wing and come down for a tea break. It was barely a week since she had been promoted.
“Hey man… whassup…? Didn’t like the tea…?” Sudhir had asked someone.
“No…man… too sweet… looks like excess sweeteners are a part of the package to move upwards…?” the other man had replied making her wonder what they were talking about.
Sudhir then spoke “ Oh yes …didn’t take long eh? Super success at twenty four…department lead… what do you think?”
The other voice had replied. “….oh you get to be in your twenties only once… Swara was there till a while ago…it was Ratna before that and so many…. now it’s her…miss righteous tightness…”
She had been shocked to the core… she knew people talked behind her back but she had always thought it was about her colour or something about treading on other’s toes. But here they were…
Sudhir had again said, “Hypocrites all over man… just the other day my hand touched Ms. Holier than though tightness… by mistake… just a little brush on that ample boob…and madam had flared up. Gave me a stare and… said she would complain to HR…” He was lying… the asshole had purposely touched her not just once but a couple of other times as well. She had seen him do it to other women as well who usually giggled or gave him stares but he didn’t bother. She had given him a piece of mind but not in front of everyone. Now standing in the dusty storeroom as she thought about it, she felt she should have insulted him before the staff.
“…aww then? What happened after that…?” The other voice asked.
“Common man who would want to have a faceoff with the boss’s flavour of the month…?” Sudhir had aid with a malicious tone. The piece of shit deserved to be flogged, she had thought as tears streamed down her face.
“…Oh yes… of course… how could I forget that…” The other asshole had jested.
They had giggled and Sudhir had said, “She still doesn’t bother dressing up well… or use a pint of make up, does she?”
The other voice had said, “Oh who needs an overdone pretty face… so long as the oral is given well…” and they had burst out laughing.
Ria had broken down in the empty storeroom… she had been mortified. What the hell was wrong with these educated idiots? But could she actually blame them? She was called into the bossman’s cabin almost every day… after regular hours. People didn’t know that she just waited outside for hours before his highness called her in… they didn’t know the torment she had to put up with every time her reports were rejected for flimsy reasons and what she had to face at home because of the odd hours she put in. NO one knew how important her earnings were for her family.
And now… if they got to know of this ‘situation’ would they speculate on her apparent rendezvous…? She was chagrined at the thought of what would transpire… Sometime back it was only her pain and seeing him right in front gave the right breeze to the subdued embers hidden deep below for the last three years. Now that she was back on earth, she was terrified thinking about what was in store for her…
What would her parents say? She dreaded being the centre of gossip in office. Lewd remarks behind her back, based on speculations… was different but now she would be providing the fodder for their maniacal comments laden with personal gibes. She shuddered at the very thought of being the butt of jokes beyond her colour… She didn’t know if Preeti would support her anymore and probably would join the others if her attitude yesterday was any indication. She remembered Tusshar and some of the other guys trying to feel her up and how she had to struggle to just lay off their attentions. They had eventually understood and moved away but not before disgusting her… The other young women including Preeti had no qualms about hands all over them. She didn’t judge them at all and just wanted the same treatment from them as well. Why couldn’t she just let her hair down for God’s sake? Why couldn’t a girl get a work promotion and not be subjected to jeer comments and get her character maligned?
Then there was her housing society… oh heaven forbid if anyone got to know about her not being at home last night… tongues would wag for sure. She remembered the last time, six months ago her father’s good friend and colleague Mr. Joshi’s daughter had eloped to get married to a boy of a different religion there was so much of chaos in the society with the Joshis washing their dirty linen in public. Their daughter had come home with her new husband to receive their blessings but the Joshis had brought the skies down. There had been exchange of words between the daughter and her parents and even Ria’s father had gone to support his friend. Later that night her father had told how the Joshis had become a mockery in the society because of their daughter who didn’t have the right values. What her father probably didn’t know that Padma Joshi, the daughter had been seeing the guy Jonathan Nadar for over five years and they had married the moment Jonathan had secured a plum job abroad. Padma had been Ria’s classmate in school and was a good friend too. She was an architect and had a good job. Occasionally when they met she would tell Ria about her plans which included marrying Jonathan. Her parents had tried their best to find a guy amongst their own but Padma had always put her foot down stating one reason or the other till she married Jonathan. She was now in Dubai well settled though did miss her parents. Ria was in touch with Padma and told her about her parents well-being whenever they chatted or emailed. Ria shuddered to think about the scene that would take place if anyone got to know… She didn’t have a husband to fall back on, she thought chuckling at her misery.
Why was a girl answerable for everything she did… She was expected to study well, get a good job, contribute in every way to the family, marry into a household ‘selected’ for her and at the end of everything… get questioned regarding her virtue. She remembered a famous Bollywood song.. ‘kuch to log kahenge….’ There was the first paragraph which impacted her a lot.
‘Kuchh reet jagat kee ayesee hai
Har yek subah kee shaam huyee
Tu kaun hai, teraa naam hain kyaa
Seetaa bhee yahaa badanaam huyee’
And she was no Seeta… she thought as the tears kept flowing, her agony not seeming to end. Was this feminism… woman empowerment all about? A woman had to prove herself time and again since eternity…
Her leg throbbed driving her attention to the real reason she was here. Instead of worrying about the injury healing and reaching home she was constantly contemplating the worldly debates about her character assassination. She wept her heart out holding his coat around her… just unable to put a lid on those pent up emotions. Her father would be proved right after all when throughout childhood and adolescence he had warned her about partying late, gyrating before strangers and now she had graduated a step further… at least in the eyes of the world.
She had just spent the night with a stranger…
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