Gaurav paced the hospital like a frustrated predator. He still couldn’t believe all that had transpired and his Ria had been in the eye of storm. When he had seen the footage of her leaving home it was like someone had ripped off his heart and even now as she lay unconscious in the special room of a friend’s hospital, he still felt that vacuum in his chest… He couldn’t see her like that pale and attached to tubes…he was going crazy with worry and Manek who was with him suggested he wait outside. Her mother and Pooja who was discharged after her check-up were with Ria. Her father was waiting in the lobby with his shoulders hunched and Gaurav sat next to him. He couldn’t wait to get her stabilised and move her to his hospital which was better equipped but it was far away from the location of the shootout and he couldn’t waste crucial time travelling with her…
“…So… she will be fine…?” Her father asked.
“…Yea… she will… she has to…” Gaurav’s voice cracked and he struggled to hold back his emotions…
“…She… I mean… I want to apologize… I feel guilty…” her father spoke softly.
Gaurav had never asked Ria the details about her family relationship but he had an idea about the dynamics. He knew she loved her family but somehow, she craved for some strange kind of acceptance. Though he had despised her father for his behaviour towards Ria during the case and for imposing Vikram on her, at this moment his heart went out for the old man. He patted her father’s shoulder. “…Your daughter… she is tenacious…she is a warrior and she will pull through…”
Her father nodded. “…You know Gaurav…? I have been scared ever since the time she was born… its…she was dark you see… I loved my girl but I was scared about her future… in our community… I mean… My Ria… she has always been a good daughter… I … I … I couldn’t be the father who she wanted…. I am a failure… I…mean the money… she was like the son I never had…rock of the family…glue of the family who held us together… But now… I only want her to be happy… Gaurav…?”
“…Just…promise me…” He looked at Gaurav with tear filled eyes… and Gaurav held his hands and nodded encouraging him to talk. “…See…I couldn’t be the reliable man for Ria… just promise me you will be there for her…. Come what may… she has taken care of us for a while now… Its her turn… I am retiring in few months and we will be moving to our home tow near Warangal… So…the onus is now on you… please…” Her father’s shoulders drooped further as he continued with a chocked voice. “…Please…take care of her…”
“…Sir…I promise you…”
“…Gaurav… call me Appa…”
Gaurav chuckled and said. “…Yes…Appa…I will take care of her… Ria is my life…she is everything to me… So yes… don’t worry about her….”
It was over four hours that Ria had been brought here and she had still not regained consciousness. Gaurav sent back her parents and Pooja back home in the vee hours of the morning and he sat next to Ria. Tears flew down his cheeks as he recalled the last few hours…Gaurav had died a hundred deaths when Ria had collapsed and he hadn’t bothered about bullets flying as he had rushed towards her. He had known immediately when that psycho Sujata had gone for the gun and he had reflexively rushed towards Ria… What he hadn’t expected was for Ansari to come in the line of fire… the man had actually taken the bullet for Ria and saved her life. He too was in the same hospital in the ICU well-guarded by the Crime Branch and Keith and Ashok Chitthappa were at the Mumbai office along with Inspector Sehgal for the emergency briefing. Sujata had been arrested and was to be handed over to Interpol. The evidence obtained from Dubai by Naren and Ashok were corroborated by the recording in Ria’s watch. Gaurav had held Ria in the car while getting her to the hospital and Keith had taken the watch before that. So finally, … however surreal it felt…it was actually over…
Gaurav held Ria’s hand, the one without the IV as he wept into her palm. It was she who had been the catalyst for this fight and taking it to a closure. However, all that made no sense, the new lease of life he had just received was empty without her being a part of it… she was his wife…his partner in life…his better half in the true sense of the word. He spoke amidst hiccups hoping that she heard him. “…Ri…Ria…my sweetheart…I am not used to being alone anymore…I have just forgotten that old life i had before you came along… I can’t imagine a life without you in it… my darling…please come back to me…” A sudden wave of sadness engulfed him and he cried holding her hands… “…Ria…I look at you and… I am home… nothing matters anymore… nothing at all… I… can’t take this anymore…Ria…please come back to me… please…” He cried till he had it all out and he continued to hold her had. The night had ended and as he felt the early morning brightness seep into the room through a crack in the curtains, he hoped it would bring the bright ray of happiness in her life as well.
It was mid-morning and Ria hadn’t woken up as yet. Gaurav was glued to her side and it was Manek who coaxed him to freshen up a bit while he sat keeping a watch. Gaurav reluctantly agreed and walked out of the room… He was a blank palate and nothing but Ria could fill the vibrant colours there… The TV in the lobby was on and he saw the media had a field day, based on what had transpired. There had to be some information that was to be revealed to them. He had heard about that discussion last night but hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to process it. Ashok Chitthappa…. God bless his soul… had taken the lead and left him to be with Ria without having to bother about the paperwork. There was lot of Buzz in the Chopra group of hospitals… and that was also one of the reasons he hadn’t taken her there. The reports were throwing light on his vindication and how he had been wrongly accused. There wasn’t any information on Ansari and Sujata because of diplomatic and political reasons and he knew that only too well. It was all too overwhelming and he sat on one of the seats with a thud. He didn’t know how long he remained seated like that lost in thought…
Gaurav didn’t realize he had closed his fists tightly till he felt hands on them. He opened his eyes and saw Ashok chitthappa. The man looked tired to the core but had a smile on his face which gave Gaurav some solace. He stood up abruptly as Ashok patted him on his back. “Ria will be fine son… Don’t worry. She is a born fighter.”
Ashok continued, “…I…er…I wanted to apologize for everything I did…. It was only meant to keep Ria safe…”
“…It’s alright Uncle…I would have done the same …for Ria…” Gaurav said.
Just then the in-charge doctor came rushing with Ria’s blood work results.
Gaurav rushed towards him. “…Wha…what is it Doctor Rao…? Is my wife alright…?”
Dr. Rao who was easily in his 50s smiled and said. “…Ria is absolutely fine…in fact I have some good news for all of you…. Your wife is pregnant Dr. Chopra…. Six weeks… Congratulations…”
Gaurav couldn’t believe his ears. He stood still while Ashok patted him and congratulated him. Soon Keith who had reached there hugged him and wished him. But Gaurav was still serious.”…But doctor Rao… why is she still unconscious…?”
“…Look Dr. Chopra, her vitals are normal. She probably has been under tremendous mental stress for a while now…. Its nature’s way to shut down the body to let it recover… You are a doctor yourself…you should know better. Give her sometime Dr. Chopra. She is fine. Let her rest…” the kind doctor said.
Soon the day passed without Ria gaining consciousness. The doctors were confident but Gaurav was barely hanging by a thin thread. His medical knowledge was blank at the moment… actually ever since Ria had lost consciousness. Ashok updated that Ansari was fine and brought out to the ward but under tight security. He had met up with him and Ansari had officially surrendered to Interpol. He was willing to cooperate and was to be flown to Dubai once he was certified for travel… Sujata was been questioned and she had thrown another shocker about arranging to kill Swara in prison… Gaurav wondered to what extent the lady had gone to cover her tracks and extract money… She was definitely going away for long. In face Ashok Chitthappa told him the paperwork was underway to deport her to Dubai. Also any case lingering against Gaurav was cancelled… he was free…finally…
It was 10PM. Ria’s parents who were there for most of the day and Ashok left promising to get back in the morning. They were worried but in high spirits considering the impending motherhood for both their daughters. Manek wasn’t willing but Gaurav insisted that he leave for the night. Keith wouldn’t hear anything and was sitting outside Ria’s room. Gaurav knew, he was worried too. Gaurav sat on the chair next to the bed where he had spent the remaining of the earlier night and … As he looked at her peaceful form, their life together so far…. flashed before his eyes. He lifted her hand again as if she was the log in the vast ocean, he needed to stay afloat… and kissed her palm. He felt wetness on his cheeks and realized he was crying…he had thought his tears had dried up after the bout earlier. He bent his head and let go the pent-up emotions. What an irony… It was supposed to be the best day of his life. He was finally free from his past shackles and …he was to become a father. But the person who made it possible was lying still….
A finger wiped his cheek and… he looked up with a jerk. Ria was awake and looking at him with tears in her eyes. Her smile was laboured… He stood to call the doctor but she tightened the hold on his hand. She pulled him close and whispered, “…I have… to tell… you something…”
Gaurav nodded. Ria was struggling to speak and his throat was clogged tight to speak anything. He rang the bell for the nurse on duty who in turn called for the doctor. Dr. Rao came in after 5 minutes followed by a harried looking Keith. The nurse had already checked Ria’s vitals. The doctor did the check up and smiled. He said, “So… Ria…you are now free to leave tomorrow morning. Dr. Chopra you can finish the formalities tomorrow. Ria…?” he looked at her again. “…you need to take extra care now on….” Then again looking at Gaurav he said, “… Dr. Chopra, see to it that you follow up with a good obstetrician as soon as possible…. you know that, don’t you…?” He winked at her and left the room. Keith left to call her parents and Manek, to inform them that she was awake now.
They were alone in the room. Ria’s bed was now adjusted so that she sat up with support. She slowly looked at Gaurav who hadn’t left her side and… her hand. He was staring at her…those beautiful blacks in turmoil. Ria raised a questioning eyebrow.
“How long have you known…?” he asked her patting her stomach.
She closed her hand over his. “…I had a doubt about a week ago when I realized I had skipped my period much before actually…. But I couldn’t confirm …got busy…” She looked into his eyes and continued, “…. I …um…stopped my pill quite some time back…. I was getting nauseous…. are you… are you upset…?”
“…What? Upset…? Of course not. I am the happiest man in the world right now. But Ria….you scared me sweetheart. And… And that note? Did you think I could live without you…?” Gaurav sighed and continued, still looking at her, “…Promise me Ria…you will never do anything like this…. EVER AGAIN….” He tightened his hold on her hand.
Ria nodded. She whispered, “I… am… I am sorry… I wasn’t thinking…I saw that clip and ….” Suddenly she gasped and asked, “…. Is Pooja alright…?”, Then she looked at her wrist and said, “…. my…my watch? Did you find it? …It’s got…what about Ansari…? he face the bullet….”
Gaurav left her hand. He cupped her face and said, “…Ria…shhh…. Just relax sweetheart…Pooja is fine. They were all here sometime back. They are home now and will come back tomorrow. And… The watch…. It was brilliant Ria. Keith is on seventh heaven ever since he realized, you had used it. It helped the authorities…Ansari is in the same hospital recuperating and Sujata is in custody. I will fill you up on all the details…everything eventually… Now…you rest ok? Tomorrow we will go home…”
Ria leaned into his palm and closed her eyes. On her insistence, Gaurav lay next to her on the edge of her bed. He put a hand over her shoulder and hugged her sideways and she snuggled into his chest. The clock chimed 11PM.
“…I have been curious about something for a while…”
“…what is it…?”
“…um… that day in the bungalow… just after we were married… when you sent me to a separate room… um… you were speaking to someone when I had come back to your room… you were upset after that and snapped at me as well… which is so unlike you, sweetheart… who was that…?”
Gaurav turned his face towards her. “…darling…it was my… my father…I rarely speak to my parents and I can count on my fingers the number of times I have spoken to my parents in these six years… he was angry with all that had transpired … the case , our marriage… he … he accused me of tarnishing the family image and said never to keep in touch anymore…”
He didn’t know speaking these few words would invoke a surge of emotions and Ria held him close to her as the wave passed. He had never felt such calm before when he had thought about his parents.
“…Gaurav…?” Ria spoke again. “…um…one last question…”
“…Ria… can we have the quiz session tomorrow…? You need to rest…?”
“…This is the last one I promise…” Ria insisted and he nodded. “…Who exactly is Keith…?”
He sighed. “…Ria…uh… Keith is ex homeland security. He took voluntary retirement after an injury but still free lances for them. He was with me after I got back from Dubai… he always believed I was wrongly convicted initially there and doubled up as my butler along with security detail… He takes up other projects as well… but as you see… we have kept him busy with our own… besides he is a damn good cook… and over all he loves you as well…”
Ria nodded and wiped her tears. “…Gaurav you should rest as well… you have been awake for over 24 hours…”
“…How…? Do you know that darling…?” He was surprised.
“… That’s the way you are programmed dear… you are the most caring man on earth and I am lucky to have you as my husband… I know you wouldn’t have slept a wink with me asleep here for hours…” Gaurav hugged her tightly and before he knew… he was fast asleep.
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