Ria kept starting at the closed door, tears streaming down her cheeks… she had been standing like that for a while now with a tiny hope that he would come back. Oh no…she was living in a fool’s paradise… A lot of time had lapsed since he had shut that door the sound still reverberating in her heart and she had been glued to the floor, the throbbing of her leg notwithstanding. Why Gaurav Why?? What is troubling you?
She looked back at the melted kulfi…he had been an epitome of self-control at dinner as they had barely spoken but beneath his calm exterior there was a storm brewing as she saw in his restless poise. It was as if he wanted to say something but held back… It was like he spoke to her in a hundred silent ways. And… what was that out of context monologue when he left?
One week? He actually gave her an off…? She wondered what her colleagues would say. No… she wasn’t going to bother anymore about anyone. Though her heart thundered with anxiety building up at the mere thought she realised she had changed to an extent that she didn’t really care anymore and it was just the first step hiccups that she was facing. She sat on the couch finally reliving her throbbing leg of the burden and looked at the calendar hanging in the corner of the wall. She limped her way to the wall and smiled as she marked a circle over the date 29th July… the day she had her fall resulting in immense pain but it was also the day her life changed hopefully for the better. Yes there were loads of obstacles but she was sure she would tide over it… there were women like Kalyani out there who faced hardships every step of the way. That gave her the needed solace. She only hoped she could control her bubbling feeling for her bossman especially when she returned to office next Friday.
HOwever, Gaurav was avoiding her, she realized with dismay. Her heart sank… he had behaved as if he couldn’t wait to get away from her. She knew he was hiding a lot from the outside world and lived in a shell which couldn’t be penetrated. She wanted to get to know him…the real him. There was a lot more to him than what he projected and he intrigued her. She had seen tiny bits of the real him in the last two days and wanted more. But in one corner of her mind there was a doubt… what if she grossly misread him? What if he was just being kind? Just like he was to Kalyani and others at Parijaath?
Overcome with emotion she moved towards her bedroom and fell on her soft bed beginning to give way to the pent up throes of tugged heartstrings. There was no one at home to hear her and she let go… she sobbed into her pillow till she was hoarse… and didn’t stop till it was late in the night and sleep consumed her.
The next three days passed in a blur. She rested most of the time for first two days. Both the days Keith dedicatedly came with food for her thrice a day even though she refused help. She was now easily able to walk around the house and could cook as well. But Keith didn’t respond and only smiled infact had his meals with her. She loved his company though and they spoke a lot on various topics. Keith was so knowledgeable and frequently discussed her career plans with her… they spoke about recipes over which they bonded. Ria learnt a lot of variations in traditional recipes that could be made by just tweaking the ingredients a little. But neither Keith nor she spoke anything about the perennial elephant in the room… Gaurav. She yearned to ask Keith about him but her lips were sealed. Her parents were to arrive on the third day. She didn’t want to create a scene when she spoke to them about breaking off her engagement. Luckily for her Keith didn’t turn up that day… God bless him to have understood her predicament he had finally relented, she thought.
She had to tie up many lose ends. One of the two days, Preeti called her and profusely apologised on the phone. Ria told her bits and pieces on getting hurt and ruining her dress but omitted the information pertaining to Gaurav. The lesser the people knew the better it was. Thankfully, Preeti was so overcome with guilt that she didn’t bother anything beyond Ria forgiving her and that she did. If she forgave her indiscretions on being drunk, Preeti was the only friend Ria had and she needed one desperately when she had to move out. Preeti wholeheartedly supported her decision and promised to hunt for hostels for Ria. Vikram didn’t call her either. Good riddance, she thought. It would make things easy when she told her parents.
Her thoughts always converged at Gaurav. She wanted to call or text him especially after Keith had got her phone repaired … But whenever she thought about him, it now gave her a strange kind of peace… She couldn’t wait for her leave to get over to have a glimpse of him…it would make her day. Even if he had decided to have nothing to do with her anymore….
Her feeling of euphoria was short-lived with the arrival of her parents and a beaming Pooja. As expected they didn’t noticed her slight limp and she didn’t bother telling them either. Her parents were ranting and raving about their new would-be son in law Anand. Anand this and Anand that. Finally, at the end of the day when they had finished with dinner, she insisted they all gather in the living room. Her father was irritated. “Ria we are very tired with the journey. We need to sleep. Can’t your thing wait till tomorrow morning?”
Ria sighed. Though she was well planned and rehearsed about breaking the news to her parents, she was starting to get cold feet. But she knew she had to do it. It was now or never. She looked at her father and said, “appa, this is very important, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered you.”
“Okay… go on. But make it quick.” Her father sat on the couch and her mom joined him. Pooja who was talking to her fiancé also cut the call short and came to the room.
Ria stood in front of them and with her heart pounding, said, “Amma, Appa, Pooja…um…I have …decided to call of my wedding…”
“WHAT….” Her father bellowed. “… What did you just say?”
Pooja stood and went up to her. “Is this some sort of a joke akka? I am in no mood for this entire nonsense ok?”
Ria’s throat was clogged with emotions. “No… I am serious. I… I can’t be with Vikram anymore. I… don’t like him at all.”
Her father abruptly stood up fury raging in his eyes and walked up to her. “What is not there to like about Vikram. He is an IT professional earning well. He is handsome and belongs to a respectable Iyer family. And… The most important factor, he has agreed to marry a plain dark skinned girl like YOU”
Ria began to cry. For all her newly acquired bravado she couldn’t help it. She felt terrible but knew she couldn’t let go this moment. “Appa, I don’t like him. I can’t imagine spending my life with him. I agreed…only because you were worried about Pooja. But she is engaged now. So… problem solved. I don’t… don’t want to get married.” She said trying to compose herself.
Her father’s tone was on the rise. He looked at his wife and spoke, “Gayathri, can you put some sense into this girl’s head? What on earth has gotten into her? ….” Then looking back at Ria, he continued, “… You idiot, you are not going to get a better match with those looks of yours. Pooja’s marriage has been fixed but what will people say when they hear that the older sister has called off her wedding? What will they think of Pooja? What will they think of our family? You…you are going to do NO SUCH THING. Your wedding will take place as scheduled.”
“…. What do you mean scheduled, appa? When did you schedule my wedding? When was the date fixed?” Ria spoke in hurt and desperation.
“We spoke with Vikram’s parents yesterday before leaving for the station. Their family purohit was visiting. He said, the 25th of September…that is …about two months from now is a very auspicious day….”
“…Just cancel it appa. It isn’t late.” Ria pleaded.
“Ria… “, it was her mother this time. “… Ria, why are you doing this to us? It’s your good fortune that Vikram agreed to this match. It’s a match made in heaven. He is even ok with you working after marriage. He …he has agreed that … you will give us half your monthly salary, wherever you work. His parents have even agreed that we don’t give those couple of necklaces and bangles to you. We can keep it for Pooja. So, you see, it’s not just about you. Stop being selfish Ria. Think about us too”
What? She was selfish? They wanted her to be tied to Vikram just for her salary? And Vikram agreed? If only she could tell her appa everything about his dutiful Vikram… but then she would have to reveal even about the night in Parijath…
“Amma, Appa, you can keep the jewellery even the bracelet I had purchased last year… and I will give you half of my salary every month throughout my life if you just call of this wedding….”
“…That’s enough Ria…” her father said turning to go to his bedroom. “…there will be no more discussion on this.”
He went in followed by her mother.
Pooja stood rigid with anger and told her, “Akka…. why are you doing this to me? Wait… are you jealous?”
“Jealous … about what Pooja?” She couldn’t believe it… her little sister was also blaming her.
“Since childhood you have always felt I had the better deal. Amma, appa showered their affection more on me or gave me more. But don’t you think I deserved it? Just look at you. You dress up like a plain Jane. How will any guy like you? How will a guy be physically attracted to you? But that’s not the case with me. You know it. So now… you are jealous. And… You want to mess my wedding plans…” Pooja went to their room in a huff.
Ria plunked on the couch stunned to even cry any more. She chuckled at the irony of the situation. She was being selfish, and jealous? She …who had always lived for her family, she…who had always tried to be the dutiful daughter…. who had always kept her family first…was called selfish? Ria hugged herself, feeling tormented. The only vision of those intense black eyes boring into hers as they spoke volumes… when she closed her eyes, gave her calm. She decided…. no matter what…. she would call off her wedding and with another month move out of the house.
If only she could connect with Vikram. She shuddered remembering the day he had tried to get physical with her…. NO…. she blocked that thought. Her arm and left boob he had grabbed that night, pained with mere thought of his hands on her. She decided to try and speak with him at the earliest. She had to… before her parents interfered some more. That’s it… if he didn’t bother to return her calls then textual break up it is…She typed him a message.
I am done. I am calling off our engagement. We are two different people and don’t seem to agree on anything… there is no common ground to continue further. Its better we separate than languish in a loveless tussle called marriage. I wish you well. I would have preferred to have met you in person for the exchange of our rings and though I hate asking repeatedly, I would appreciate if you return the money you had borrowed for your bike…
That did the trick and her phone rang in the next five minutes.
“Hey whats wrong…?”
“Vikram… we are wrong… as a couple…”
“No…No Ria… there is a misunderstanding here… Is it about that… night? I was drunk ok…? And I apologised didn’t i…?”
He didn’t get it at all…
“No Vikram… I have made my decision. It’s not just that night… We aren’t compatible at all… we both want different things in life…”
“…But my parents and your’s just fixed the date…” He sounded hurt.
“…See… that’s what I said. I wasn’t consulted at all… we can’t be tied like this Vikram…”
“…look…look Ria…just think about this a little more OK? Pooja and your parents… just think about them… Look…I am in Delhi…” When did he go there? “… I will be back next Friday and we can then meet… but till then just… wait OK…?” He sounded worried. What the hell?
“Fine Vikram… I will wait till Friday and after that… it’s done… And don’t you dare go complaining to my Appa…because he has no say in this…” She disconnected without waiting to hear from him and switched off her phone.
As she slept that night on the couch, she felt a strange calmness descend on her being and she slept well after hours of turmoil…
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