12 years ago…
Her parents… to be precise her, mother alone along with her tayiji arrived at the hospital to take her home. She had spent over a month in the hospital room… She had found out… to her utmost disappointment she had no visitors from her home during that duration. That meant only ‘he’ was here for her, taking care of her both physically and mentally. The doctors were happy with her progress too. She had tried subtly asking the nurses on duty about her mystery man but no one seemed to know anything about him. It was as if he had appeared and disappeared in midair… They all jested that she had been hallucinating given her situation and injuries. At the same time they were surprised she didn’t have any contractures or any kind of stiffness and bedsores. There was a physiotherapist who came daily during her stay in the hospital. But she knew for sure… he was there. He had actually saved her life and nursed her back to health.
She didn’t speak a word with her mother and aunt till they arrived home. There was absolutely no change in her house… no one welcomed her, not her extended family, not the servants…no one. She was taken to her room and made to lie down her lunch sent upstairs to her room itself. No one spoke about anything. She wanted to talk. She wanted to vent out…
Later that evening her father and Tayaji came home earlier than usual. She hoped they would at least enquire about her but they were soon followed by the police and she was summoned. She slowly made her way down the stairs and saw grim faces of her father and uncle as the police inspectors were discussing something with each other. There were three of them. As she came downstairs they all stood up. She expected her father to come up to her and encourage her…offer her some support. But nothing like that happened. She slowly made her way to the couch and sat there. A long poignant silence followed.
“Inspector…” Her father spoke in his stern voice breaking the ice. “…you may ask what you want and please make it quick. We don’t have all day…”
Really …that’s it? That’s all he had to say?
The senior most police man cleared his throat and said, “Ms. Sengar, I know you have been through a lot but we have to catch the culprit… So, tell us from the beginning…”
Preeti had rehearsed this many times as she rested. She remembered the mystery man’s warning. So she said softly, “…um… we were returning from school… I slept off in the car… when I woke up I was hurt and Sukhi uncle and Rohit…” She looked at her father who had unshed tears in his eyes and felt guilty. Survivors guilt probably. Tears prickled her eyes as well… could she have saved Rohit if she hadn’t slept off? And how did they land up in that alley? These were questions she would never have answers to… unless she met him. Taking in a deep breath she said, “…I found myself badly beaten up…it was dark in that place and there were few men…I don’t know how many… But one of them kicked me and slapped me and… the next I remember waking up in the hospital…” She blinked back tears shuddering. The memory of that place itself got goose bumps, though she omitted most of the parts. Luckily it must have coincided with whatever the doctors must have told them. They asked a couple of questions more… and then started to leave. One of them Inspector Tanveer Raisingh, turned back and gave her a card. “Ms. Sengar, if you remember anything else please contact me directly. Take care of yourself.”
As they were leaving, her father and uncle stood up too. Her uncle said in his deep baritone. “Inspector I hope you have had your questions answered. We hope this meeting with our daughter will be kept under wraps. We don’t want the world to know that she was held against her will”
What? They didn’t want to learn the truth? Not even knowing Rohit’s killers?
After that day her father rarely ever spoke with her. Even communication with her mother had become sparse. She was always grieving her son. Maasa was the only one who was still the same. Her grandmother even at the age of eighty was going strong and had a little voice in the male dominated household. It was on her insistence that she was allowed to finish her schooling and go to college. Rewa didi was also very close to her.
In the six years following the incident she tried her best to subtly find out what exactly had happened that day… but she still couldn’t figure out so many questions. Why were they targeted… was it because of ransom money? Then why kill Rohit? They would have secured more ransom… her father would have raised heaven and hell and given in to their demands. And… what was about the locker and the map? She was always lost on the sea of questions where each question only gave rise to few of its own. She tried asking maasa many times indirectly about any lockers or maps…but never got any answer.
Only one thing was constant. The feeling of being watched. Every time she travelled to college or market, temple…she had this hair rising sensation. She rarely ventured out alone. Either it was in the car with her mother or Tayiji or Rewa didi accompanying her or it was her group of school and college friends. Once or twice when she was walking alone a group of local boys eve teased her… They apologized to her the very next day and never even looked at her after the episodes. She somehow knew he had to do something with it. If only he would speak with her. Her anxiety levels kept increasing because of uncertainties. But in some twisted way he kept her sane.
Mostly instead of being scared she felt a sense of safety. But within her heart she was never the same carefree stubborn girl with dreams . She was now distrusting… always watching her back, had constant nightmares… rarely had any friends…
One day she overheard her uncle and father talking about the business not doing well… That made it clear to her why Rewa Didi was still not married.
‘…get out of Alwar…’
His statement always kept buzzing in her ears.
So she made up her mind and once she finished her diploma she started looking for jobs in faraway cities. Unfortunately since she didn’t have a degree it was difficult to get a well-paying job but this company in Mumbai agreed to hire her. She announced the same night at the dinner table about her decision to go to Mumbai… and to her surprise her father did not object… nor did anyone else react. Maasa was upset but she eventually agreed. Rewa didi cried her heart out… she would miss talking to her. Her mother was indifferent. She just packed her bags and gave her cash and food for her journey to Mumbai.
Preeti was on cloud nine today… He was meeting her over dinner today. Her insides were mush thinking about the kiss they shared yesterday. She could never come close to any male because of the incident those years ago. Men always repelled her. But with him she was…. She couldn’t name the emotion… she was carefree… knew he would have her back…he would catch her when she stumbled…
But today evening she had to control herself…she had to get some answers from him. He wasn’t forthcoming but she had to try. She took leave from her office and painstakingly prepared an elaborate meal. She was a good cook but didn’t know what he may like. She had prepared Gatte ki sabzi, Tangy kadhi, steamed rice, rotis and mirchi bada… She had purchased Gulab jamuns for dessert… As the clock approached seven, she was dressed in her figure hugging gown, one of her splurges after a performance bonus few months back. She often wore clothes which covered the mark on her neck… or used concealers. But today she didn’t bother. If there was someone who knew about it…its story…it was him. He was the only one she didn’t have to hide the mark from…
Her doorbell rang sharp at 7pm….of course…he had to be punctual…on time…who would know that better than her?
With her heart thumping in anticipation of what was to come she opened the door. He stood dressed in complete black just like yesterday. What was it about this man and black colour? Not that he looked bad…in fact he looked so good her heart fluttered … and those eyes… they were like the ocean full of the swirling waters the waves of emotions brimming to rise up high….His stubble… she longed to feel its softness against her cheeks as he….
She must have been staring at him. He cleared his throat. “..er… Preeti…can I come in?”
She blushed and stepped aside. He filled her house…such was his persona.
“…um…will you have some juice? Orange?” she was wringing her fingers.. He almost smiled as he came close to her. He took her hand in his and rubbed her palms with his thumbs. She caught her breath.
“Preeti…?” he said so softly she felt something in her tummy. “…you don’t have to be nervous around me… got it?”
She only nodded. “.I… I… will g…get that juice…” She released her hands and rushed into the kitchen.
As they sat on her couch, she switched on her TV and connected Netflix… “Any particular choice of movie?” she asked.
Why did she want to watch a movie… had she lost it…?
“Anything will do Preeti…” he said as he made himself comfortable on her couch and spread his long legs ahead. He spread his hands on the back rest and kept watching her every move with those beautiful browns. Preeti’s hands trembled as she selected her favorite movie, Sweet home Alabama…
She came and sat next to him on the couch. She had seen the movie upteen times but always loved watching it from start to end but today her attention was totally on the virile heat next to her. Before she knew he was playing with her hair and she didn’t know how they came close on her couch. They were now sitting with their thighs touching. She bent her head resting it on his chest and he held her close to him. In a couple of moments she felt him kiss her head…she looked up tilting towards him with a hand on his chest. He was looking into her eyes with an intensity that could burn anyone… his hold tightened as he bent his head down and claimed her lips. Her hand rose and cupped his cheek. The soft stubble against her palm only increasing her awareness… His tongue in her mouth aroused sensations she didn’t know existed. He tasted of the orange juice they just had. She started to feel the rush of helplessness with euphoria passing through her as her core throbbed. She felt her back on the couch and his weight partly on her as he held her head tightly with his hand behind her skull., as though she would escape… with his other hand he touched her thigh through the slit in the gown. She jerked up….and gasped the moment suddenly gone. He stopped the kiss and looked into her eyes. She felt her tears falling on the couch and tried to hide them…
He held her hands and pulled her upwards. He sat up on the couch and pulled her close. She snuggled into his chest holding his jacket and she cried softly.
He caressed her head and asked, “What is it Preeti? Did I… Did I hurt you dear? I… I am sorry.”
She shook her head and buried her face further in his chest. He held her tightly. After a couple of minutes she moved away from him and shut the TV. She stood up and on wobbly legs went to the kitchen. She was bent over her kitchen counter and she felt him come behind her.
He turned her around by her shoulders and lifted up her chin with his finger. “tell me…” he whispered. She looked into his stricken eyes.
“…i…i… cant… I can’t get in…intimate with anyone because of…. Of…that incident….You have been the first person I kissed… I can’t bear the touch… I see that man…..” Reflexively she embraced herself and he hugged her. They stood like that for a couple of minutes. Her breathing gradually even out.
He held her hand and brought her out of the kitchen. He made her sit on her couch and sat on his heels in front of her. Holding her hands he said, “Preeti…look…what happened was NOT YOUR FAULT alright? Neither Sukhi’s death nor your brother’s nor what happened to you. The fault was entirely someone else’s. You were the survivor. You fought bravely… tried to save yourself. Even after the incident you didn’t give up…didn’t sink into depression like many others who would have. You have made a name for yourself…built a career… made a life… away from all that. Now listen to me…listen very well… “
She had stopped crying…already feeling better than she had in years.
“…Preeti those memories … are a part of our lives… good and bad all memories are a part of it… we can’t escape them. We can only face them and not let the bad memories affect our lives. When we…succumb to those memories those people have won… if we don’t then we have won the battle. It’s tough…I know it is… but we have to cope and move on… Life is short… we have to live it to the fullest …. Got it?”
“I … I hope when i go to Alwar I can feel as confident as I am feeling now….”
“NO…Absolutely NOT…” He roared.
Startled she looked at him. “Wh…what?”
“YOU ARE NOT GOING BACK TO ALWAR…ALRIGHT? How many times should I make it clear? Not now…not ever. Stay away from that place…” He was breathing hard. She didn’t want to take the topic further. She didn’t want to go there anyway. She had just had a momentary yearning and worry on hearing Rewa didi yesterday. She didn’t tell him that.
Preeti nodded and looked down at her hands in his.
“…I um smelt some lovely dinner in the kitchen… can we have it? I am hungry…” He said with amusement in his voice.
She chuckled and dragged him as she went to the kitchen. She took out the cutlery and gave it to him. “Keep these on the center table…I will get the dinner. Just five minutes.”
Over the next half an hour they enjoyed the lovely spread. Preeti barely ate but she was thrilled to see him devour everything. He appreciated everything she had prepared… her happiness knew no bounds today… by far these had been the happiest moments of her life. After dinner he sat on the couch and she got them gulab jamuns served in two bowls. She handed him the dessert and sat next to him. She loved the feel of his body and craved for it. It was as if he sensed it he further pressed his thighs to hers. She blushed and looked away.
What kind of magic was he doing on her? She felt shy and coy around him in spite of the fact that they had kissed…
He kept the bowl on the table and leaned back on the couch shutting his eyes. It was then she realized he looked very tired.
“Um… Gautam?” She patted his knee and he opened his eyes with a hint of a smile. “…You may…um sleep in my bedroom. … I mean… I will rest here on the couch….”
He frowned “do you want me to stay…?”
She looked down at her clasped hands… “Um…yes…please?”
“Ok…on one condition…you will sleep in your bedroom and I will put up on the couch here…” As she started to argue he raised his palm and said, “…no arguments on that…”
She gave him spare linen, pillow and a blanket and went into her bedroom. She freshened up in the attached bathroom and changed into her new night gown. She usually slept in her camisole but today she felt conscious. She had a pretty spaghetti strapped satin night gown bought last month at a fair. She hadn’t worn it before tonight. She looked into the mirror and saw how the material hugged hr curves just in the right manner…would he like it? Just thinking about his reaction aroused her. She could see her nipples pebble up through the gown… her core throbbed. Why was she acting like this? She knew it was him… No one else could get those hidden forbidden desires to the surface. She thought they didn’t exist in her…
She shook her head… he wouldn’t want to see her… why would he? She was just a cry baby after all…
She went to her bed and lay down…but sleep was far from coming. Last night too she couldn’t sleep in anticipation of seeing him today. And even now as he lay a few feet outside her door…sleep eluded her.
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